wwrousseaudo - WWRD What Would Rousseau Do Thomas Jefferson...

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WWRD: What Would Rousseau Do? Thomas Jefferson was a highly respected politician, whose hand played a significant role in penning the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, and who – quite mistakenly – is attributed as a devoted follower of the Enlightenment era philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Many charge Jefferson with this adoration of the works of Rousseau due to the many striking similarities between Rousseau’s On the Social Contract and the framework of the United States of America (i.e., the Constitution). They forget, however, about the influence that James Madison – yet another great politician and future President – on the framework of America due to his work on “The Federalist Papers” and the “Bill of Rights.” All of these works make up the basic framework of American democracy, and it is important to note that this framework has essentially stayed the same since the days of the founding fathers until present day. Though the framework shares a basic likeness in philosophy in matters such as civil religion, the social contract, and the goal of government with Rousseau, there are many philosophies of government and ruling where the two depart. This is abundantly clear in the distinctions that can be made between contemporary America and Rousseau’s statements in On the Social Contract . It is important to look to the past, to explore his writings, in order to illuminate just how similar (or different) the modern day United States is to Rousseau’s image of an ideal government. Rousseau imparts that there are several specific needs that must be met in order for a state to be able to govern itself well. He gets quite specific with this, going so far as to say that the physical size – both in terms of land mass and population – are important to the government and how it manages its people. Rousseau states: “Just as nature has 1
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set limits to the status of well-formed man…there are limits to the size it [a state] can have, so as not to be too large to be capable of being well governed, nor too small to be capable of preserving itself on its own.” (Rousseau 167) He claims that the administration would get more difficult and that the government would have less force and speed in terms of enforcing laws and overseeing the public good. Rousseau is correct in assuming that if a state’s citizens are spread apart over distances, the social bond (i.e. the government’s ability to effectively govern) will weaken. Observing the contemporary American governmental structure, we see that this is not at all the case. With an area of 9,631,418 square kilometers and a population hovering below 300
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wwrousseaudo - WWRD What Would Rousseau Do Thomas Jefferson...

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