Book I begins by taking up the subject of men ‘as they are’ and laws ‘as they
might be.’ Here is the grounds of the conflicts and contradictions that make his
Note the conception of citizenship, “Born as I was the citizen of a free state and a
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 upon
Key concept: “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. Those who
think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they,” (49).
Rousseau disproves the argument that might equals right (which can be used to
justify an absolute monarch): “The strongest man is never strong enough to be
master all the time, unless he transforms force into right and obedience into
duty…Force is a physical power; I do not see how its effects could produce
morality. To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will; it is at best an act of
prudence. In what sense can it be a moral duty?” (52). He shows the right of the
strongest is nonsense, it is merely force and vanishes when that force is
vanquished (53). So: “Might does not make right, and…the duty of obedience is
owed only to legitimate powers,” (53). And legitimate powers can only be based
Men are not naturally enemies – all conflict arises over property (55). War,
moreover, is a relation between states, not individuals, who even in war between
states are enemies only by chance and only in their capacity as armed soldiers
(56). War gives no right of untrammeled destruction, and is restricted from
harming the persons and property of private persons wherever possible (57).
There can be no right to slavery – it cannot be justified – and the very words
‘right’ and ‘slavery’ cancel each other out entirely (58). Despots may subdue a
multitude, but they never rule a society (58). Before considering how a people
submits, we ought consider how a people becomes a people, because
the real foundation of society (59).
When nature becomes too inconvenient, our only option is to combine our
powers. The difficult question is how each individual is able to preserve his
powers, remain free and obey no one but himself while still being bound to a
system that unites the force of all under a single will (60).
“These articles of association, rightly understood, are reducible to a single one,
namely the total alienation by each associate of himself and all his rights to the
whole community,” (60). This is done unconditionally.
In sum: “Each one of us puts into the community his person and all his powers,