“The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau Book III (1762)

Book III

Chapter One: Government in General

Free action is based on two causes: Moral – the will that determines the act; and Physical – the power that executes the act. The legislative power is the moral cause based on the general will and is the sovereign. The executive power is the physical cause based entirely on “particular acts”. There must be a means of communication between the two powers and this is the government – often confused with the sovereign. The government is an intermediate body set up between the subjects and the sovereign to secure mutual correspondence, charged with the execution of laws and maintenance of civil and political liberty.

Those called kings, governors or princes are jobs, by way of the social contract the people put themselves under. There merely exercise in their own name the power that makes them depositaries. When they violate the will, there is an end of the association between the depositary and the sovereign.

Government is the supreme administration – the legitimate exercise of the executive power and those entrusted with that administration. If the sovereign wishes to govern, the magistrate begins to give laws, the subjects start to refuse to obey, or disorder occurs regularly – force and will no longer act together and the state is dissolved.

As the number of residents increases, the condition of each subject doesn’t change but the relative power of his single vote diminished. The larger the state, the less liberty there is. There is a shrinking relation between particular wills and the general will and then it is necessary for the government to use repressive force to enforce the general will. The government, to be a good one, must grow proportionately stronger as the number of people rises.

But as the government gives depositaries of public authority more power, there is a likelihood of increased abuse of that power and the government should be given more power to keep the abuse in check – not absolute force but relative force. In this case, smaller, less authoritative offices would increase power but keep abuse low by increasing the ratio of people to the general will smaller.

Depending on the nature of the state, what the general will is, types of authority available and organizational possibilities available and the ability to enforce laws and keep abuse down, the form of government will be decided as best suited to these variables.

Chapter Two: Constituent Principle in the Various forms of Government

We must distinguish  between the government and its principle. The number of magistrates must be larger than the government but the total force of the government is invariable. So, the more force it expends on its own members, the less it has to use on its own people. The more numerous the magistrates, the weaker the government.

In the “person” of the magistrate, there are three wills:

  1. The private will of the individual tending only to his personal advantage.
  2. The common will of the magistrates, which is relatively solely to the advantage of the “prince” or “corporate will” being general in relation to the government and particular in relation to the state of which the government forms part.
  3. The will of the people or sovereign will, which is general both in relation to the state regarded as the whole and to the government regarded as a part of the whole.

A perfect legislation would have no particular will in it – the general or sovereign should always predominate and be the sole guide for the rest. The wills become more active in proportion as they are concentrated. The general will is weakest; corporate will is second and individual/particular will is strongest. Under one man, the wills are united and at the highest intensity. With a legislative authority, general will becomes confounded with corporate will but at its lowest level of activity. As the state grows, its real force grows but its proportional force shrinks. When different magistrates are added, the proportional force grows as a result.

Chapter Three: The Division of Governments

There are 3 major types”

  1. Democracy – the sovereign commits the charge of the government to the whole or majority of the people so that more citizens are magistrates than merely private people.
  2. Aristocracy – the sovereign restricts the government to a small number of people so that there are more private citizens than magistrates.
  3. Monarchy – the whole government is in the hands of a single magistrate from whom all others all others hold their power.

Democracy and aristocracy are possible in many different forms, monarchy less so, but still several forms.

Chapter Four: Democracy

If the executive and legislative powers were to be united, it would be best in this form because they, being confounded, would have the least amount of damage together since private individuals and magistrates would be the same people. But the execution of the laws should not be done by the same man who writes them because there is nothing more dangerous than the influence of private affairs in public affairs.

A real democracy is not possible because there is a natural tendency for many to be governed and a few to govern. It would also be impractical. Perhaps this could function in tiny states where the people could easily be assembled. Equality and a lack of luxuries would also be necessary because the rich tend to corrupt the poor, so you shouldn’t have the relatively poor (the corruptible) and luxuries (instruments of corruption). Also for these sorts of republics to be successful, a virtuous population is needed to make wise decisions – not really possible.

This government is more subject to civil wars and “intestine agitations” because it demands more vigilance and courage for its maintenance against problems and that’s unlikely to happen. Democracy is more suited to gods than men.

Chapter Five: Aristocracy

There are two distinct moral persons: the government and the sovereign; and two general wills: one in relations to all the citizens and the other for members of the administration. Government may regulate internal policy as it pleases but it alone can speak to the people in the name of the sovereign.

The first societies were aristocratic where the heads of families took counsel together on public affairs, then in the form of priests, elders, a senate and gerontes. As artificial inequality (made by institutions) dominated natural inequality (made by riches and power), the aristocracy became elective. With transmission of the father’s power along with his goods, patrician families were created and government became hereditary.

There are three sorts of aristocracy:

  1. Natural – only for simple peoples
  2. Elective – the best kind of all governments
  3. Hereditary – the worst kind of all governments

The difference between the two powers (sovereign and magistrate – or legislative and executive – or general will and particular will) is that magistracy is confined to a few and only becomes so by election. Guarantees of wise government are: uprightness, understanding, experience and other claims to pre-eminence and public esteen. Assemblies are easily held, affairs are better discussed and carried out with more order.

The best and most natural arrangement is for the wisest to govern the many in order to assure that governing is for the profit of the many and not for the few. As the number of these wise elected legislators grows, they can a growing corporate interest and begin to direct public power less under the general will and more in their own interest.

This aristocracy requires fewer virtues of the public in comparison to democracy. It becomes slanted toward the rich but that slant should be shifted back toward those of with great merit.

Chapter Six: Monarchy

The monarch or king is where the moral and collective person is unified by force of laws and the depositary of executive power in the state. The will of the people, will of the prince, public force of the state and particular force of government are in the same hands. There is nothing to cancel out the actions – everything moves toward the same end – but not to that of public happiness – only to the prejudice of the force of administration.

Kings push for absolute power – there may even be some advantage to that. But the love of a king for his people is precious and conditional. Their first interest is for the people to be weak, wretched and unable to resist. Monarchy is suitable only to great states. There is a need for an intermediate power to preserve government strength – princes, etc. – to keep the bond between people and the king – but in a small state, this would lead to ruinous class differences.

The great state governed by a single man is much more difficultly done than by an aristocracy, which leads monarch to be inferior because in a republic, the wisest rise to prominence and in a monarchy, the most crooked and sycophantic rise to the top.

For a monarchy to do well, the population must be proportionate to the powers of the rule. Conquering a people is easier than ruling it. A kingdom should expand and contract with the reign but it doesn’t have the benefit of a senate allowing an easier rule at a distance.

When a kings dies, there is a dangerous internal between the death of the old king and the crowning of a new king. A hereditary line is establish instead of a system of election (which would ensure that good governance is passed) – risking the appointment of idiot children to the throne. A future king seems to be doomed from the start. They are usually not given good instruction as a child. They would be better off learning the art of obedience instead of command. Because times and conditions of the world changing are more influential on a monarchy, this causes the aims of the government to change often – unlike in a Republic where the goals don’t change very much. Plato said that the king by nature is such a rarity. It would take a great coincidence to have a man born to a royal family who was fit to rule. If a royal education spoils a future king, what can you expect from a man poised to be king?

Chapter Seven: Mixed Governments

Governments aren’t simple and rules require subordinate magistrates. The distribution of executive power has a gradation from greater to lesser power in individual magistrates. Simple government is better purely because it is simple. When the executive power doesn’t depend on the legislative power, the lack of proportion must be overcome by a division of government to make them less powerful individually. Intermediate magistrates must also be hindered in the same manner. When the government is too lax, tribunals may be set up to concentrate power. Division weakens a government too strong and tribunals strengthen a government too weak.

Chapter Eight: All Forms of Government Do No Suit All Countries

Liberty isn’t on the cards for everyone. Necessities of the public are supplied out of the superfluities of individuals (income and profit). If they are incapable of doing this, they will be doomed to be beggars. As the distance between the government and the people grows, the more burdensome tributes (taxes) become. The charge is smallest in a democracy, then an aristocracy. The weight of the monarchy is heaviest – only the richest countries can support them. Democracy uses everything for the public advantage. Despotism makes them wretched to rule them but must have something to take.

Places with poorer resources or less abilities to exploit them remain poor and live at subsistence levels – all polity becomes impossible. When a country has greater resources and abilities to exploit them, the more liberty becomes available, but also the more riches available for a despot to take and impoverish the people.

Location, climate and resources have an effect on the polity of a land. Furthermore, “sobriety” or cultural tendencies of a land have an effect as well

MY NOTE The rest of this chapter is pseudo-scientific talk about the types of food a people eat and the color of their skins – sort of a trend of the time to think scientifically about race and culture (which led to scientific racism). He says this affects a people’s moral character and propensity to inability to make money to provide themselves with good government. While I do think the tenets and structure culture and society can necessarily lead to a country being poor and run by thugs, I don’t think food and skin color are at all the factors behind this. So, subsequently, I’m not reading that as at all important to the overall idea of his work. I consider them bullshit and am ignoring them. END NOTE

Chapter Nine: The Marks of a Good Government

There is no best form of government. There are, however, signs of good and bad governments.

Different people will answer the question – What makes a good government? – differently. They may say:

  • Public tranquility
  • Individual liberty
  • Security of possessions
  • Severe governance
  • Mild governance
  • Punishment of crimes
  • Prevention of crimes
  • The country being feared by its neighbors
  • The country being ignored by its neighbors
  • Circulation of money
  • Provision of food to the people

It is impossible for all views to agree. Even if it were possible to agree, how would we measure it, when the moral qualities aren’t exactly measurable?

What is the point of political association? The preservation and prosperity of its members. What is the surest sign of that? Numbers and population. The government under which a people a people wanes and diminishes is the worst.

Chapter Ten: The Abuse of Government and its Tendency to Degenerate

As the particular will acts constantly against the general will, the government exerts itself against the sovereign. As this grows in force, the constitution changes so much to the point where there is no corporate will to resist the prince and the prince will try to break the sovereign and consequently break the social treaty.

There are two courses for a degenerated government:

  • Contraction – The government passes from the many to the the few – from democracy to aristocracy and from aristocracy to monarchy. Governments never change form unless their energy is exhausted and they have become too weak to keep what they have. The spring must be wound up again and tighten to keep the state together.
  • Dissolution No. 1 – The prince ceases to administer the state according to the laws and usurps sovereign power. Then the state – NOT the government – undergoes contraction. The society crumbles and the relationship between prince and people becomes like that of a master and his servants. The people, because the social compact is broken, revert to their natural rights and only obey out of force.
  • Dissolution No. 2 – Members of the government usurp power only meant to be exercised as a body. There are many princes and magistrates and the state becomes divided, and either perishes or changes form altogether

Chapter Eleven: The Death of the Body Politic

Even great states like Rome and Sparta can fall; so we shouldn’t even attempt permanence. The body begins to die as soon as it is born. The constitution of man is a work of nature and that of the state is a work of art. It is within the reach of man at least to prolong the life of the state.

Of the body, the legislative power is the heart of the state and the executive power is the brain. The brain can be paralyzed and the body can still live but when the heart stops, the body dies. The state subsists by legislative power, not laws. Yesterday’s laws aren’t valid today but silence is taken as tacit consent and the laws are not abrogated until the sovereign revokes its declarations.

Old laws continue because their own excellence preserves them. They continue because there has been no reason to do away with them. Their age gives them veneration if they strengthen. If they weaken, this is proof that there is no longer a legislative power and that the state is dead.

Chapter Twelve: How the Sovereign Authority Maintains Itself – Part One

Because the sovereign only has legislative power as its force, it can only act by means of laws, and can only act when its people is assembled. The people’s weaknesses, vices and prejudices are the narrowing bounds on a state. These vices inhibit a state’s justice and greatness. The judge of what can be done is what has already been done. It is likely that if a people acts in a certain manner, have a certain form of government and have certain results of theses, that theses will states of being for a people and its state will repeat themselves or continue.

Chapter Thirteen: How the Sovereign Authority Maintains Itself – Part Two

Setting up a constitution and a perpetual government is not enough. There must be fixed periodical assemblies that cannot be abrogated or prorogued. This is the only way to maintain the legitimacy of the general will. Frequency may very depending on the needs for updates. Stronger governments will need more frequent assemblies.

States made up of several cities will have disadvantages that lead to abuses and weaknesses in the government’s ability to govern. If the state can’t be reduced, the capital must be shifted around from town to town. The population must be evenly spread out so that the state remains strong and well-governed.

Chapter Fourteen: How the Sovereign Authority Maintains Itself – Part Three

When the people is assembled, the jurisdiction of the government lapses, executive power is suspended and the person of the citizen is as inviolable as the magistrate because there are no longer representatives. These periods of suspension when the prince or government must recognize a superior often cause great alarm and the assemblies of the people have been at times the horror of rulers who try to stop the citizens from having them. When citizens are greedy, petty and  cowardly, they do not resist the government’s efforts against them and the sovereign ends and is destroyed.

Chapter Fifteen: Deputies or Representatives

When citizens become lazy and wish to serve with their money, the state will soon fall. They pay soldiers to go to war for them. They get deputies to meet in council and they stay at home. They end up being enslaved and sold off.  Through arts, commerce, self-interest of profit and love of amenities, personal services are replaced by money payments. They give up part of their profit for their leisure. In a “truly free” country, citizens keep their money and do everything with their own efforts. Rousseau – “I hold enforced labor to be less opposed to liberty than taxes.”

The better the constitution is, the more public affairs encroach on private in the minds of the citizen. Private happiness is less important than that of the public because it is a single happiness as opposed to the aggregation of the people of the state. In good cities, citizens run to the assemblies and in bad cities, no one goes or cares. Good laws lead to better laws and bad laws lead to worse laws. When someone says, “What does it matter to me?”, the state is doomed.

The method of the selection and nature of national deputies depend on patriotism, activity of private interest, the vastness of the state, conquest and abuse of government.

Sovereignty cannot be represented because it lies in a state’s general will and representatives are just stewards and cannot carry out definitive acts. The people are only free during elections. Afterwards they become enslaved again. The people make up their minds in the assemblies and then become subject to the particular will of the government, subjugating the general will to that of the particular. Representation in new and comes from feudal government. Before, in republics and democracies, the people’s will was never represented as it is now but was “unknown” or its interpreters were considered above the temptation of usurping the general will.

It seems liberty is maintained by the help of slavery. Modern people get their liberty by making themselves slaves to the state. The sovereign is incapable of preserving the rights of the people unless it is a small state – but then, it is easily conquered.

Chapter Sixteen: The Institution of Government Is Not a Contract

Once the legislative power is established, the executive power follows. It operates only in particular acts – in opposition to the legislative. If it were possible for the sovereign to hold executive power, right and fact would be confounded and the downfall of the state would occur.

All citizens are equal and can prescribe what all can do and doesn’t have the right to demand of others what he doesn’t do himself.

The supreme authority cannot be modified any more than it can be alienated. It would contradict “supremacy” to have an entity with the ability to change it or alienate it. Furthermore, this association would be a particular act – naming an individual to be above the general will and it would be illegitimate. The only contract in the state is the act of association.

Chapter Seventeen: The Institution of Government

The establishment of law is when the sovereign decrees that there will be a government. The execution of the law is when the people chooses the leaders of the government. The body politic changes the sovereign and general will – by way of the government – into particular acts – going from legislation to execution of the law. In a democracy, this process is much simpler and purer than in other forms of government.

Chapter Eighteen: How to Check the Usurpations of Government

Government is not a contract but a law. The depositaries of executive power are not the people’s masters but officers. When a hereditary government is set up, this is merely a form of administration in a provisional form until the people chooses otherwise. These changes are often dangerous and must be done only when the government is incompatible with the public good. This is a policy decision when the sovereign wishes to change its rulers.

Periodical assemblies convene and the citizens ask two questions of themselves:

  1. Do we like the current form of government
  2. Do we like the people we’ve chosen to be in charge of it?

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