Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a French born philosopher, writer and novelist, was part influential personalities of the French revolution and Romantic generation. He defined in his document, The Social Contract, what it truly meant to be free or “being forced to be free.” For Rousseau, being free means a person is not bounded by any limitations to do whatever he wills to do. However, when one enters to a social contract, defined as an implicit agreement between people in a society to behave in an acceptable manner in order for them to achieve their goals (Cafferky 2015, p. 234), they have to give up their other freedoms such as the thought of living for themselves. This is because in a social contract, it is understood that people will deal with each other and that is inevitable.
Having freedom in the context of social contract entails everyone to have morality and be rational with thoughts and actions. Only a civil society will agree to this set up according to Rousseau. Thus, people in a community should have regards to their social contract as this protects them from causing harm to each other, while at the same time, upholding their morals and personal values. Since the freedom a person has is because of the social contract, it is also fitting to know that actions are validated by the society and not only with one person alone for the group collectively is more important than the individuals making the group. At a higher level, Rousseau believes that if people give much regard on the social contract, then the contract itself is far more important than the society or the individuals themselves.
Rousseau explains that later on, people need to come together in order to fulfil a goal and to survive as well. For Rousseau, this is a challenge because people must unite and think as one in order to preserve their social contract and more importantly, their sovereignty and freedom. More so, it is a test because the social contract obliges to give up each individual’s complete surrender under the society which includes their own personal freedom as well but not their natural freedom.
With these notions on hand, Rousseau received critics with his work on the social contract most especially with his statement that a man is “forced to be free.” People who are in a social contract gave up their freedoms in order to join a society that will protect them, but they were forced to respect the laws of the land (Buchanan 1954, p. 122) This is where the ideals of being democratic to Rousseau came in. He believed that a person cannot be free outside the society, he gave up his complete freedoms simply because a different social order might not be aligned to the values and ideals that he has. Rousseau believed that the concept of equality goes hand in hand with the ideas of social contract. However, people in a society are forced to be free as well because they cannot do whatever he pleases to do most especially if it concerns harming another person, most especially if they are in a same society to which same laws apply. This explains why he is mainly a democratic philosopher because people could only be forced in as far as agreeing only on the actions that the society have agreed upon.
An example would be during elections. The winning party is obviously voted by the majority of the public which denotes that it is the general will. More so, the party is aligned with what the majorities would want for their society to be. On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who voted completely opposite from the ideals of the winning camp. People who did not vote for the winning party are forced to be free; blindly, they are following, but being obedient on the social contract. The term “free” in the statement means the freedom that he states when a person enters the social contract: that at the bottom line, everyone should uphold rationality and morals for the common good of everybody. People who violate the laws of the social contract do not only disobey the law itself, but the meeting of the minds within the people in the society.
Many complications may arise when people give up their freedoms for the common will of everybody. Rousseau broke down to three factors. First, everyone will want the rules easy for all since they will be coexistent in one society. Next, since the people gave up their freedoms, they have no right to go against the state since the laws are agreed by all (as stated in the first item. Lastly, as mentioned earlier, people do not lose their natural freedom, defined as simply the capacity to will, to choose, to make choices freely when they entered the social contract. In general, it seems that Rousseau’s idea of freedom is bounded by the fact of people coming together, agreeing on the same concepts and obedience on general public will.
With these notions on hand, Rousseau received critics with his work on the social contract most especially with his statement that a man is “forced to be free.” The term “free” in the statement quite means the freedom that he states when a person enters the social contract: that at the bottom line, everyone should uphold rationality and morals for the common good of everybody. People who violate the laws of the social contract do not only disobey the law itself but the meeting of the minds within the people in the society.
It is by forcing the people to obey the social contract that allows the society to be human with morals, while at the same time, keeping their freedoms. The thought is somewhat close to the saying that one person’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins. If one decides to go against the law of the land, he also chooses to forego any benefits from the freedom he enjoys. By having this, Rousseau meant that people agreeing in a social contract are forced to be free. Rousseau claimed that each citizen still is contained to obey their general will, but the abidance on the social contract and the rules it encompasses for the people in the society guarantees each against personal dependence.
Rousseau rose to fame with his ideals of “Man was born free but chained everywhere (Gauthier 2006, p. 53)” and the people existing in a social contract as “forced to be free”. His ideals about freedom and the composition of a society is much like the ones Marx and Nietzsche’s theories. The basic foundations for it are the strong sense of the people to be as one – in actions and more importantly in principles. However, there are weak points as to the freedom and social contract validity for all and some of the arguments from Rousseau can be quite misleading as well. He believes so much on the freedom of the masses rather than on the personal freedoms of each individual.
Rousseau seems to believe in the weak statement that each person’s freedom is not quite essential as opposed to the freedom of everybody. On one thought, this might be the case since in a social contract, everyone agrees with the rules and manner on how they must act. However, it is not truly free when you are only forced to do something out of your will. Achieving the very same will for all, down to the very complex idea might be a challenge due to the fact that Rousseau wrote his ideals on the social contract way back war era. The harmony between the people, their ideals and the freedom they are willing to forego will all have the law as the common breaking point (Gauthier 2006, p. 57).
With everything taken into consideration, it can be concluded that forced to be free ideal of Rousseau means that the people will come up rules for their society to keep the peace and harmony. By having this in their social contract, the people agreed to abide in it. However, with criticisms on Rousseau’s ideals for individual freedom, it can be also noted that the freedom cited in his social contract can be misleading as well. In the end, in the world today, one would always hope for unity may it be on a nationwide or community wide scale. It cannot be denied that the freedom one will enjoy must still be bounded by laws and morals set by no less than the society he lives with.
Buchanan, J M, 1954, Social Choice, Democracy and Free Markets. Journal of
Political Economy, 62 (2), pp. 114-124.
Cafferky, M E, 2015, Business Ethics in Biblical Perspective: A Comprehensive Introduction. Intervarsity Press, Illinois.
Gauthier, D, 2006, Rousseau: The Sentiment of Existence. Cambridge University Press, New