Notes: The Social Contract

These are my notes from reading Rousseau’s The Social Contract for a libertarian book club meeting.

Book 1.

:quote: Born as I was, the citizen of a free state and member of its sovereign body, the very right to vote imposes on me the duty to instruct myself in public affairs, however little influence my voice may have in them.

Ch 1. The Subject of Book 1
Ch 2. The First Societies
Ch 3. The Right of the Strongest
Ch 4. Slavery
Ch 5. That We Must Always Go Back To an Original Covenant

Ch 6. The Social Pact
:quote: Secondly, since the alienation is unconditional, the union is as perfect as it could be, and no individual associate has any longer any rights to claim; for if rights were left to individuals, in the absence of any higher authority to judge between them and the public, each individual, being his own judge in some causes, would soon demand to be his own judge in all; and in this way the state of nature would be kept in being, and the association inevitably become either tyrannical or void.
Why is there no middle ground here?
:quote: Finally, since each man gives himself to all, he gives himself to no one; and since there is no associate over whom he does not gain the same rights as others gain over him, each man recovers the equivalent of everything he loses, and in the bargain he acquires more power to preserve what he has.
How is that? From where does it come?

Ch 7. The Sovereign
:quote: Hence, in order that the social pact shall not be an empty formula, it is tacitly implied in that commitment — which alone can give force to all others – that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be constrained to do so by the whole body, which means nothing other than that he hall be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to the nation, secures him against all personal dependence, it is the condition which shapes both the design and the working of the political machine, and which alone bestows justice on civil contracts — without it, such contracts would be a absurd, tyrannical and liable to the grossest abuse.

Ch 8. Civil Society
natural (limited by physical power of individual) and civil liberties (limited by the general will) are different
morality derives from civil reciprocity
covers property (legal title) v. possession (force of first occupancy)

Ch 9. Of Estate
Doesn’t seem to much like homesteading, unless the land is worked.
Property is a legal device, requiring recognition of the sovereign body — a half-truth
Prefers legal right over natural right of strength, thinks it’s a good bargain

Book 2.

Ch 1. That Sovereignty is Inalienable

Ch 2. That Sovereignty is Indivisible
Observes that much attention is paid to king, because they hand out favors

Ch 3. Whether the General Will Can Err
Have to avoid special interest groups, because they undermine the general will

Ch 4. The Limits of Sovereign Power
“general” will cannot arbitrate individual contracts?

Ch 5. The Right of Life and Death
No right to suicide?
:quote: Whoever wishes to preserve his own life at the expense of others must give his life for them when it is necessary.
Prince may order the man to die, because it is :quote:”only on such terms that he has lived in security for as long as he has also because his life is no longer the bounty of nature but a gift he has received conditionally from the state.

Ch 6. On Law
:quote: All justice comes from God, who alone is its source…
:quote: So there must be covenants and positive laws to unite rights with duties and to direct justice to its object.
… because they restrain the might of the unjust?
Did this guy never see an unjust law?
Thinks a republic law is fine because its the body politic making the rules about itself, but has no say at the individual level.

Ch 7. The Lawgiver
Best law is that which forces all acts to be cooperative
Elevates lawmakers higher than King (who does mere mechanical application)
Clearly separates legislation vs. executive powers
Actually believes the hoi polloi is too stupid to understand reasons behind the law, therefore invoke divinity as the wellspring, esp. in rhetoric during birth of a nation.

Ch 8. The People
Ascribes to genius “creative and makes everything from nothing”
Speaks of a nation’s people as if they are different fundamentally rather than culturally.

Ch 9. The People: Continued
Recognizes costs of bureaucracy and inconsistencies between layers and problems of remote and removed administration.
:quote: A strong and healthy constitution is the first thing to look for because the strength which comes from good government is more reliable than the resources which large territories yield.
Haiti vs. Dominican republic?
State which finds conquest a necessity for survival precipitates its fall.

Ch 10. The People: Continued
Nation should not have to choose between commerce and war; dependence on neighbors is a weakness.
Is violence the only recourse? Individuals face the same constraints and yet the (advocated and actual) behavior is different.
Outlines a stable anarchy as “the most fit to receive law” (as if it didn’t already have some)
:quote: Which people, then, is fit to receive laws? I answer: a people which finding itself already bound together by some original association, interest or agreement, has not yet borne the yoke of law; a people without deep-rooted customs or superstitions; one which does not fear sudden invasion, and which without intervening in the quarrels of its neighbors, can stand up to any of them, or secure the help of one to resist another; a people in which every member may be known to all; where there is no need to burden any man with more than he can bear; a people which can do without other peoples and which other peoples can do without*; one which is neither rich nor poor, but has enough to keep itself; and lastly one which combines the cohesion of an ancient people with the malleability of a new one. *economic dependence is a trap
Thinks the people require a ruler to preserve freedom.

Ch 11. Various Systems of Law
Wants equality of outcome, at least so that “no citizen shall be rich enough to buy another and none so poor as to be forced to sell himself”.
Wishes to bring the extremes as close together as possible
:quote: Any branch of foreign trade, .., brings only an illusory advantage to the kingdom in general; it may enrich a few individuals, even a few big towns, but the nation as a whole gains nothing and the people is none the better for it.
At least he recognizes that the law should not entangle the individuals but should reflect social custom

Ch 12. Classification of Laws
Has not accounted for the cost of changing laws, claims that it is easy to do so.
I object! :quote:The second relation [of laws] is that of the members of the body politic among themselves, or of each with the entire body: their relations among themselves should be as limited, and relations with the entire body as extensive, as possible, in order that each citizen shall be at the same time perfectly independent of all his fellow citizens and excessively dependent on the republic.

Book 3.

Ch 1. Of Government in General
Be careful, he makes some interesting distinguishments.
Sovereign v. State
Magistrate v. Government
Executive v. Legislative
He speaks of a breakdown of the contract in a way that doesn’t “dissolve the body politic”; subset captures government for itself and becomes tyrannical.

Ch 2. The Constitutive Principle of the Different Forms of Government
:quote: Hence the more numerous the magistrates, the weaker the government.
Magistrate has 3 wills: personal, corporate, sovereign will of the people
:quote: Hence, the general will always the weakest, the corporate will takes second place, and the particular will comes first of all; so much so, that within the government, each member is primarily a private self, secondly a magistrate, an thirdly a citizen. This sequence is exactly the revers of what the social order demands.
:quote: the ratio of magistrates to government should be the inverse of the ratio of subjects to sovereign; that is to say, the more the state is enlarged, the more the government must reduce its ranks, so that the number of magistrates diminishes in proportion to the increase of the people.
:quote: the more numerous the magistrates, the closer their corporate will approaches the general will.
So everyone should be in government? and then it will fully reflect the public will!

Ch 3. Classification of Governments.
– monarchy: best for large state
– aristocracy: best for intermediate state
– democracy: best for small state

Ch 4. Democracy
Notes that democracy prone to war, cue Hans Hermann Hoppe

Ch 5. Aristocracy
Thinks popularly elected aristocracy is the best form of government, because :quote:”the wisest should govern the multitude, if we are sure they will govern it for its advantage and not for their own.”

Ch 6. Monarchy
:quote: An essential and inevitable defect, which will always make monarchical government inferior to republican government, is that whereas in republics the popular choice almost always elevates to the highest places only intelligent and capable men, who fill their office with honour, those who rise under monarchies are nearly always muddled little minds, petty knaves and intriguers with small talents which enable them to rise to high places in courts, but which betray their ineptitude to the public as soon as they are appointed.

Ch 7. Mixed Forms of Government

Ch 8. That All Forms of Government Do Not Suit All Countries
:quote: Freedom is not a fruit of every climate, and it is not therefore within the capacity of every people.
:quote: IN every government in the world, the public person consumes but does not produce anything. … It is the surplus of private production which furnishes public subsistence.
The source is labor + land
:quote: Monarchy is thus suited only to opulent nations.
:quote: Places where an abundant and fertile soil gives a lavish return for little labour will want a monarchical government, so that the luxury of the prince may consume the surplus of the product of the subjects — for it is better that this surplus should be absorbed by the government than dissipated by private persons. [exceptions prove the rule, for they will produce revolutions]

Ch 9. The Signs of Good Government
The increase in native population (because government provides protection and prosperity)
In footnote, he recognizes :quote:”A little disturbance gives vigour to the soul, and what really makes the species prosper is not peace but freedom”.

Ch 10. The Abuse of Government and its Tendency to Degenerate
:quote: Just as the particular will acts unceasingly against the general will, so does the government continually exert itself against the sovereign.
But the beauty of the free market is to align them!
Observes that power concentrates even while government employment expands
:quote: First it [dissolution of the state] takes place when the prince ceases to administer the sate according to the law and usurps the sovereign power.
When state dissolves -> anarchy
democracy -> ochlocracy (mob rule)
aristocracy -> oligarchy
royal -> tyranny

Ch 11. The Death of the Body Politic
laws lasting longer are more respectful, once the trend stops the state dies

Ch 12. How the Sovereign Authority Maintains Itself
Ch 13. The Same — Continued
Thinks that the right to assemble comes from the magistrate!!
Advocates time-sharing round-robin assembly of government among several cities

Ch 14. The Same — Continued

Ch 15. Deputies or Representatives
:quote: compulsory service is less contrary to liberty than taxation. [because the people should be willing to donate their time to public service]
How do we know ‘the will’ is represented? It cannot happen by proxy
:quote: the moment a people adopts representatives it is no longer free; it no longer exists.

Ch 16. That the Institution of the Government is not a Contract
:quote: It is absurd and self-contradictory that the sovereign should give itself a superior; to undertake to obey a master would be to return to absolute freedom.
:quote: We see further that the contracting parties would, between themselves, be subject only to natural law, and so without any guarantee of their reciprocal commitments — and this is wholly repugnant to the civil state.

Ch 17. The Institution of the Government
plays funny games with hats

Ch 18. Means of Preventing the Usurpation of Government
government prevents assembly so as to maintain usurped powers

Book 4.

Ch 1. That the General Will is Indestructible
:quote: A state thus governed needs very few laws, and whenever there is a need to promulgate new ones, that need is universally seen.
implies universal agreement in all things?

Ch 2. The Suffrage
:quote: There is only one law which by its nature requires unanimous assent. This is the social pact: for the civil association is the most voluntary act in the world; every man having been born free and master of himself, no one else may under any pretext whatever subject him without his consent.
Does mere residency imply consent?

Ch 3. Elections
prefers to choose political official by lottery, for it requires no special skills

Ch 4. The Roman Comitia
Ch 5. The Tribunate
Ch 6. Dictatorship
Ch 7. The Censorial Tribunal

Ch 8. The Civil Religion
:quote: From this single fact, that a God was placed at the head of every political society, it follows that there were as many Gods as peoples.
But if communion ties Christians together, why are they not a phyle?