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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Undergraduate Lecture on Jean-Jacques Rousseau by Biju P R

In 1837, Victor Hugo wrote to his friend, Juliette Drouet, “A letter is a kiss sent by mail.” Hugo’s brief phrase captures the essence of the rich tradition of epistolary novels in France.
Hugo’s definition underscores the expressive powers of letters to convey through language a sense of intimacy and immediacy of communication that rivals, and sometimes even exceeds, direct contact. 

For Hugo, as for the epistolary novelists, passionate love is the privileged subject of letters.
Rousseau wrote La Nouvelle Héloïse at Monmorency. This novel was in part inspired by his love for Sophie d’Houdetot, who was in turn in love with the poet St.-Lambert. When he was 20, Madame de Warens took him to be her lover. He considered as well for her the love of his life.

1.      Rousseau’s book Confessions effectively invented modern autobiography.
2.      Before Rousseau, not many public figures were prepared to spill the beans about the intimate details of their private lives – their regrets, their desires, their deepest and darkest secrets – but Rousseau bared all, or very nearly all, in his Confessions.
3.      Rousseau is also famous for his Social Contract, and its famous opening – but misunderstood – lines. The Social Contract (1762) begins with the well-known words, ‘Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.’ But contrary to popular understanding, Rousseau is not arguing that the chains are necessarily bad. Indeed, in a paradox that Rousseau never fully explained, man’s chains actually guarantee his freedom. This is because Rousseau saw the metaphorical ‘chains’ which bind us all as part of the general will.
4.      In 1750, Rousseau came to public attention for an essay arguing that the arts and sciences didn’t make people more morally upright. Ironically – given that he had written entries for Diderot’s Encyclopédie on music and had even written an opera, Le Devin du village (1745) – Rousseau argued, in the first Discourse of 1750, for the banning of music and theatre, and thought that the arts damaged people’s morality! Rousseau mostly had the contemporary theatre in mind here, where luxury had replaced the primal purity that Rousseau held so dear.
5.      Indeed, this primal purity led to Rousseau’s concept of the ‘noble savage’ – and made him a proto-Romantic figure. Rousseau’s ‘noble savage’ – an idea central to his Social Contract – is purer than modern man because he is uncorrupted by modern civilisation and by the notion of property. This view not only looks forward to the Romantics’ dream of childhood as a purer time of life because it is untainted by the more materialist realities of existence, but also helps to ‘square the circle’ and explain Rousseau’s argument in the first Discourse that the arts and sciences were corrupting influences, because they took man further away from this purer state.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Swiss born French philosopher and writer who lead a life rich in contradiction. He lived in an unhealthy garret, but taught hygiene. He wrote about nature, but lived in crowded Paris. He promoted virtues that he obviously lacked. He abandoned his children to an orphanage and became a child rearing theorist.
“Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains”. This conspicuous paradox between liberty and human oppression is reflected in Rousseau’s entire politico-moral philosophy and so it is no surprise that he has been much criticized for seeming ambiguities within his works. There is apparent contradiction that Rousseau strongly criticizes the social contract tradition and at the same time defends a social contract theory as the only solution to save mankind from corruption and degeneration.

When he came to Paris he became increasingly aware that ordering society was unjust. The rules were made by the rich to suit their own interests not those of the common people.

Where previous philosophers had spoken of elites, Rousseau became the champion of the common person. His perfect world was one in which the will of the people was most important.
Rousseau was untypical among the Enlightenment philosophers he had arguments with Voltaire, who called him a ‘Judas’; Diderot called him an ‘anti-philosophy
He believed (i) the passions were more important than reason, whilst of course ‘reason’ was the central concern of most of the philosophes.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was born in the independent Calvinist city-state of Geneva in 1712, the son of Isaac Rousseau, a watchmaker, and Suzanne Bernard. Rousseau's mother died nine days after his birth, with the consequence that Rousseau was raised and educated by his father until the age of ten.


In 1762, Rousseau published The Social Contract and another major work, Emile, or On Education (1762). Confessions (1789). Discourse on Inequality (1755). Both works criticized religion, and were consequently banned in France and his native Geneva. As a result, Rousseau was forced to flee his homeland and live under the protection of others for the rest of his life.  The Social Contract influenced governments throughout Europe and helped to promote political reform and revolution. Although Rousseau, for the most part, avoids discussion of contemporary political affairs, his criticism of luxury and his emphasis on popular sovereignty certainly contributed to the ideals of the French Revolution. In addition, many political leaders believed that Rousseau's political theories provided a solid foundation for any state. Rousseau was invited to draft constitutions for both Corsica and Poland, although his recommendations were never implemented because of foreign invasions. The Social Contract is, in many ways, a follow-up to Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality among Men. In the earlier work, Rousseau attacks private property for causing inequality and exploitation. These vices are responsible for the "chains" that Rousseau refers to in the first sentence of On the Social Contract. Accepting that some loss of liberty is inevitable, Rousseau seeks to establish a legitimate, political authority. The Social Contract thus examines what constitutes such an authority.

Human Nature

Rousseau believed that man is naturally good and that vice and error are alien to him. This creates a conflict between “nature” and “artifice” in attitudes to society, education and religion. According to Rousseau, nature is man’s state before being influenced by outside forces. At the same time, he asserts: “If man is left… to his own notions and conduct, he would certainly turn out the most preposterous of human beings. The influence of prejudice, authority… would stifle nature in him and substitute nothing.”
In other words, human beings need outside intervention to develop their natural propensity for good. “We are born weak, we have need of help, we are born destitute… we have need of assistance; we are born stupid, we have need of understanding.”
Humans Deface and Confound
Man needs to work with nature, not against it. Rousseau says, in his treatise, that man is discontented with anything in its natural state and claims that everything degenerates in his hand… “…he mutilates his dogs, his horses and his slaves; he defaces, he confounds.”
The correct balance of these three categories in human nature, enables man to develop naturally. Rousseau claims that outside influences, for example, society and custom, are responsible for deviations from natural, healthy development in humans and this creates a dilemma. Education should respect individuality rather than bow to social conventions.
Citizen or Man?
“Instead of educating a man for himself, he must be educated for others… we must chuse (sic) either to form the man or the citizen; for to do both at once is impossible.” Here Rousseau reinforces the value of reason, abhorring distortion and prejudice, asserting how difficult it is for man to be true to his inner nature and also accommodate the demands of society, “…held in suspense… without being able to render ourselves consistent, and without ever being good for anything to ourselves or others.”
Unnatural Nature and the Woman of Sparta
Rousseau says that feeling is a component of faith, sometimes presenting “nature” in a way that is positively unnatural, yet calling it “noble”. The woman of Sparta, having lost her five sons in a battle, cries, “…who asked you of my sons? – But we have gained the victory.”
Rousseau attempts to present an individual as a whole, therefore, as both true citizen and heroic mother, stretching credibility to its limits. This is an unlikely account of a natural, maternal reaction.  She has repressed her natural behaviour – and this is a problem for Rousseau’s attempt to reconcile citizen and man.  A child must first be a man, before choosing a profession: “Nature has destined us to the offices of human life, antecedent to the destination of our parents.”
Rousseau’s preoccupation with reason and enlightenment leads him to similar conclusions to those of the French philosophes. He argues for what he sees as rational liberation, making objections to the ways in which babies are unnaturally swaddled so that they cannot move, or wet-nursed instead of nursed by their natural mothers.
However, he is not averse to encouraging stoical endurance and abhorring indulgence: “…when she makes an idol of the child… prevents every approach of pain or distress… This is the rule of nature.” 
Later, he becomes even more extreme in his claims: “Man is born to suffer in every stage of his existence… Happy are we, who in our infancy, know only physical evils… We lament the state of infants, whereas it is our own that is most to be lamented.”
This seems to contradict earlier assertions about not swaddling children, and not keeping them from their mother’s breast, but Rousseau’s point is that the swaddling and wet-nursing are man-made evils, due to the caprices of women. “…such is the man made by our own caprices; that of nature is differently constituted.”
Evils that Spring from Weakness
Rousseau believes the education of man commences at birth and that experience is the forerunner of the precept. The child must be guided in order to facilitate its natural, good tendencies: “Prepare early for his enjoyment of liberty and the exercise of his natural abilities… unrestrained by artificial habits.”
Ideally, the child is left free to develop, but by example. When children begin to observe objects, proper choices should be made.  Therefore, a good influence is exerted that does not interfere with the natural propensity of the child to strive for good. Sometimes, the influence is exerted passively, for example, avoiding allowing weakness in a child by not giving in to them.
Design versus Disorder
Rousseau’s ideas are compatible with religion and the argument from design. He denies that matter organises itself by chance, and that disorder is the work of man
The word “powerful” inspires good, since evil springs from weakness. “Many evils, such as the “apprehensions” and “miseries” engendered by medicine, are manmade and constitute an “outrage” to the laws of nature. Natural evils, like physical pain, have a useful function: pain alerts us to the need for a remedy.” So – nature may be harsh but it is ultimately beneficial.”
Rousseau says that manmade evil is separate from divine providence. “Enquire no longer, man is the author of evil; behold him in yourself. There exists no other evil in nature than what you either do or suffer… in the system of nature I see an established order which is never disturbed.”
There is a free choice to be made here, according to Rousseau; man may do good or evil.
Distrust of Revealed Religion
Natural religion, Rousseau, feels, has been tampered with and worship made too ceremonial. “Religion should be studied in the lives of men and in the book of nature.” He disapproved of, and found suspect, revealed religion.
Rousseau’s concept of the word “nature” is that man is naturally good if exposed only to good influence and his goodness is adversely affected only by external forces. There are contradictions in Rousseau’s attempts to reconcile nature with society. While many of his arguments are sound, where he is guided by compassion, this compassion actually fails him because strong traditions influence him.
“Man by nature is formed to suffer with patience.” This is the traditional, stoical fortitude of Rousseau’s era.
There are other instances where he appears cold-hearted, for example, in analysing his ideal student: “…he must have no disabilities” suggesting an elitism which is lacking in compassion in a piece of writing where compassion is held in high regard.
A further example is the argument that men and women are unequal in many respects.
Rousseau’s Ideas: Instrumental to Kant and Marx
Rousseau’s ideas were taken up by the leaders of the French Revolution and were instrumental in influencing both Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx. His greatest work was The Social Contract about freeing man from his chains through the creation of an ideal society.

State of Nature

A social contract implies an agreement by the people on the rules and laws by which they are governed. The state of nature is the starting point for most social contract theories. It is an abstract idea considering what human life would look like without a government or a form of organized society (Lloyd, Sreedhar, 2009). For Rousseau, the purpose of studying the state of nature is three-fold: firstly, it is supposed to deliver an account of the original primitive condition of mankind, secondly, it helps identify the main characteristics of human nature in man’s original state, and thirdly, it helps describe and evaluate the ‘new state of nature’ which, in other words, is present-day society (MacAdam, 1972: 308). Rather than emphasizing the historical aspect of the state of nature, Rousseau uses this concept as mind-play picturing an ideal (Cole, 2007: 11).
According to Rousseau, in the state of nature “man is naturally peaceful and timid; at the least danger, his first reaction is to flee; he only fights through the force of habit and experience” (2002: 417). It seems that primitive men “having no moral relations or determinate obligations … could not be either good or bad, virtuous or vicious” (Rousseau, 20071: 113). Man is ‘pre-moral’ and innocent (Brown, Nardin, Rengger, 2002: 384). He is only concerned with his own well-being and happiness, satisfying his personal needs and disregarding “everything he did not think himself immediately to notice” (ibid: 117); he is solitary and independent (Grimsley, 1973: 116). This feeling of self-love termed ‘amour de soi’ can only accidentally be good or bad (Green, 1950:16). Man has not yet discovered reason, knowing no rights and acting upon his instincts (ibid: 15). He does not know the feeling of love and so beauty has no importance to him; nor does wit or cunning (Rousseau, 2007: 117). Therefore, he hardly knows what inequality is except for physical inequality (ibid.). Locke agrees with Rousseau that man is “born equal and free” but believes natural man to already have certain rights, like freedom, as well as some reason to make moral decisions (Grimsley, 1973: 116). “… that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions” (Locke, 1994: 117). While Locke is more positive than Rousseau, Hobbes’ view is filled with pessimism, describing life in the state of nature as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” and as a war of “every man against every man” (Hobbes, 1968: I. Ch. 13). Though Rousseau accepts that man is irrational (Grimsley, 1973:116), he argues that he is ignorant of the passions, “honour, interest, prejudices and vengeance” (Rousseau, 202: 417); natural law is thus rendered irrelevant (Noone, 1970: 697).
The individual’s first encounter with other men represents a critical juncture in Rousseau’s writings. Man finds out that in certain cases which are of mutual interest, he can cooperate with others and rely on them (Rousseau, 20071: 119). Loose associations are formed, but the absolute turning point is when man begins to live in huts with his family; he starts living in a small society (ibid: 119-120).
Everything now begins to change its aspect. Men, who have up to now been roving in the woods, by taking to a more settled manner of life, come gradually together, form separate bodies, and at length in every country arises a distinct nation… (ibid: 120)
By living with his wife and family, man discovers love and thus develops the ideas of beauty and merit, giving rise to competition, as well as vanity, contempt, shame and envy (ibid.). “With love arose jealousy; discord triumphed, and human blood was sacrificed to the gentlest of all passions.” (ibid.) Man enters an artificial society, thus hoping to be able to produce more through cooperation (Knutsen, 1994: 248). Only from then onwards does he have the ability to act morally and rationally, choosing his own opinions and no longer merely following his instincts, exercising will, reason and conscience (Grimsley, 1973: 116). Through reason a wise man’s ‘amour de soi’ can lead him to humanity and virtue (Voisine, 1996: 32-33). However, constant comparison to others and seeing oneself as ‘above’ others can lead to pride or ‘amour-propre’; man is corrupted by his environment (ibid.). Unlike Hobbes’ and Locke’s atomistic view of mankind, meaning that man is mainly formed before entering society, Rousseau thus depicts man’s psychological transformation in society, emphasizing the importance of his social environment (Chapman, 1968: 98). “I cannot repeat too often, that the error of Hobbes and other philosophers is to confuse natural man with the man before their eyes…” (Rousseau, 2002: 424).
Once man enters society, he enters dependence. The creation of private property and the division of labour generate differences in wealth, power and status (Knutsen, 1994: 249).
The first man who, having bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not anyone have saved mankind … (Rousseau, 20071: 118)
Thus, Rousseau reasons, inequality is created through the corrupt interdependence that constitutes society. Though man originally thought that society would increase his freedom, he has lost it. “All ran headlong to their chains, in hopes of securing their liberty.” (ibid: 124) By giving up his liberty, Rousseau argues, man does not only degrade his life, he “annuls” it (ibid: 127). “Through some fatal accident, which for the public good, should never have happened” (Rousseau, 20071: 121), man has moved from the original state of nature to a ‘new state of nature’ characterized by oppression (MacAdam, 1972: 308).
Unlike Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau thus doesn’t see a civil society as a necessary advancement from the state of nature. He criticizes the form of society and social contract tradition of his day, which he regards as wretched, as well as the theories of previous important and influential social contract thinkers. Above all, he considers Hobbes’ social contract theory endorsing an absolute sovereign Leviathan a “horrible system” (ibid), as he despises despotism. He also frequently criticizes Grotius for supporting the notion of slavery (20072: 29f.). Society has degenerated man, making him both physically and morally weak and dependent on others, and adding to all this pessimism, Rousseau sees no way back to the state of nature; primitive independence is lost (Levin, 1970: 502).
The new-born state of society thus gave rise to a horrible state of war; men thus harassed and depraved were no longer capable of retracing their steps or renouncing the fatal acquisitions they had made … brought themselves to the brink of ruin. (Rousseau, 20071: 123)
He argues that the rich have become dependent on the poor, as they no longer know how to provide for themselves, while peasants are used to manual labour and could be to some extent self-reliant; a point that differentiates his philosophy from that of Marx (Levin, 1970: 497). Rousseau considers this dependence as the greatest deprivation of freedom (Rousseau, 20072: 28) and thus writes in Émile, that man must be reeducated. He still believes that in essence man is perfectable; education is supposed to create a new man who can fend and think for himself and care “nothing for the weight of popular opinion” (Rousseau, 2004: 248), as well as live in society (Charvet, 1980: 69).
In addition to new forms of education, Rousseau sets out to create a better political system; and acknowledges the possibility of moving on from corruption (Charvet, 1980: 69). “It is my purpose to inquire whether it is possible for there to be any legitimate and certain rule of administration in civil society, taking men as they are and laws as they may be” (Rousseau, 20072: ’28). Confusingly, though he has so far criticized the social contract tradition, he names his solution le contrat social or the Social Contract. It is supposed to make men equal and free; the protection of liberty is most important (Grimsley, 1973: 93).
The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before (Rousseau, 20072: 32)
In order to become free, every individual must give up all his rights to the entire community, creating the same conditions for all and thus equality (ibid: 32-33). “Finally, each man, in giving himself to all, gives himself to nobody” (ibid.). After all, it would not be Rousseau if there weren’t a little paradox. Men are thus all subject to what Rousseau names volonté générale or the general will. It is not the will of all the individuals or of the majority, as even the majority may be mistaken, but it is always to public advantage and for the ‘greater good’ (ibid: 33f.). “Whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than he will be forced to be free” (Rousseau, 20072: 34). This again reminds us that man is “everywhere in chains”. Man’s freedom is thus relative, he cannot endanger anyone else’s freedom and he must follow the law and above all, the general will, so to maintain an ordered society (Grimsley, 1973: 93). Man is only free by obedience; he must become dependent (on law) in order to be independent (MacAdam, 1972: 309).
In the Social Contract, Rousseau repudiates two traditional features of society (ibid: 92): Firstly, political authority is not to be based on force, as the use of force can never be right. “Since no man has natural authority over his fellow men, and since might in no sense makes right, conventions remain as the basis of all legitimate authority among men” (Rousseau, 2002: 8). Secondly, man has no innate sociability, which means society is not a natural occurrence; but if he decides to, he has the potential to enter into a relationship with his fellows (Grimsley, 1973: 92). Society must thus be formed upon rational choice; oppression is never right (ibid.). This thus rejects the view of Grotius that permanent enslavement of a captive people is acceptable, and certainly that of Hobbes, who advocates absolutism.
Apart from there being an apparent paradox in Rousseau advocating a social contract in the first place, there are several problems that arise when reading the Social Contract (Noone, 1970: 707f.; Bertram, 2010). First of all, he does not specify what the general will is by giving examples (Noone, 1970: 708). How can the general will be found, how do individuals know what it is and know that it is their best (and only) option to follow it, if it is not, as Rousseau writes himself, “formally set forth” (Rousseau, 20072: 32)? At the same time, the rule of the general will almost seems to be an absolute regime in itself, something that Rousseau so thoroughly rejected in Hobbes, as it must always be obeyed. Furthermore, if any of the relations between the Social Contract, obligation, the state of nature and the general will were changed, this would distort Rousseau’s entire political and moral philosophy (Noone, 1970: 708). “The clauses of this contract are so determined by the nature of the act that the slightest modification would make them vain and ineffective” (Rousseau, 20072: 32). In addition, though Rousseau defines political obligation as following laws and the general will, there is no specification of individual obligations (Noone, 1970: 707). Also, while he defines sovereignty as the “exercise of the general will” (Rousseau, 20072: 36), he does not mention specific laws that should be sovereign (ibid.). Other problems are to be found in Émile; though Rousseau despises the rich, Émile would hardly have a private tutor were he not wealthy ((Levin, 1970: 511). Moreover, though Émile is supposed to learn to think for himself, he is under the ‘guidance will’ of his teacher, which in some way is similar to ‘thought control’ (ibid: 512). Again, this leads to our favourite paradox, Émile, while free, is still “in chains”.

Social Contract

In conclusion, Rousseau is in fact both a critic and an advocate of social contract theory. Throughout his work, he considers society to have corrupted mankind and most of all, he rejects Hobbes’ idea of an absolute Leviathan. At the same time, in order to create his own rather different Social Contract which he sees as the only solution to escape corruption, he uses the ideas of the social contract tradition that the people should give up sovereignty to an authority to preserve their freedom; sovereignty lies within the whole, in this case with the general will. Simply by naming his work le contrat social, Rousseau implies that he wants to be understood in the context of contractarianism. He thus makes a transition from ‘old’ to ‘new’ with his conception of society and politics (Cole, 2007: 10). The system Rousseau sees as the solution to overcome corrupt society is at the same time vague and unalterable. This is problematic, as Rousseau fails to give us practical examples of how to apply his Social Contract and it is therefore unclear how it could function in practice. Furthermore, it seems strange that it cannot be changed, considering that he seems to acknowledge that mankind can evolve. On the other hand, it is important not to take him too literally, after all, his method is to create concrete and universal principles from generalizations of the human condition, based less on facts than on political ‘right’.
Social contract  -  The agreement with which a person enters into civil society. The contract essentially binds people into a community that exists for mutual preservation. In entering into civil society, people sacrifice the physical freedom of being able to do whatever they please, but they gain the civil freedom of being able to think and act rationally and morally. Rousseau believes that only by entering into the social contract can we become fully human.
Freedom or Liberty  -  The problem of freedom is the motivating force behind The Social Contract. In the state of nature people have physical freedom, meaning that their actions are not restrained in any way, but they are little more than animals, slaves to their own instincts and impulses. In most contemporary societies, however, people lack even this physical freedom. They are bound to obey an absolutist king or government that is not accountable to them in any way. By proposing a social contract, Rousseau hopes to secure the civil freedom that should accompany life in society. This freedom is tempered by an agreement not to harm one's fellow citizens, but this restraint leads people to be moral and rational. In this sense, civil freedom is superior to physical freedom, since people are not even slaves to their impulses.
Sovereign  -  Strictly defined, a sovereign is the voice of the law and the absolute authority within a given state. In Rousseau's time, the sovereign was usually an absolute monarch. In The Social Contract, however, this word is given a new meaning. In a healthy republic, Rousseau defines the sovereign as all the citizens acting collectively. Together, they voice the general will and the laws of the state. The sovereign cannot be represented, divided, or broken up in any way: only all the people speaking collectively can be sovereign.
Government  -  This is the executive power of a state, which takes care of particular matters and day-to-day business. There are as many different kinds of government as there are states, though they can be roughly divided into democracy (the rule of the many), aristocracy (the rule of the few), and monarchy (the rule of a single individual). The government represents the people: it is not sovereign, and it cannot speak for the general will. It has its own corporate will that is often at odds with the general will. For this reason, there is often friction between the government and the sovereign that can bring about the downfall of the state.
Law  -  An abstract expression of the general will that is universally applicable. Laws deal only with the people collectively, and cannot deal with any particulars. They are essentially a record of what the people collectively desire. Laws exist to ensure that people remain loyal to the sovereign in all cases.
General will  -  The will of the sovereign that aims at the common good. Each individual has his own particular will that expresses what is best for him. The general will expresses what is best for the state as a whole.
Will of all  -  The sum total of each individual's particular will. In a healthy state, the will of all is the same thing as the general will, since each citizen wills the common good. However, in a state where people value their personal interests over the interests of the state, the will of all may differ significantly from the general will.
State of Nature  -  When Rousseau talks about the state of nature, he is talking about what human life would be like without the shaping influence of society. So much of what we are is what society makes us, so he suggests that before society existed, we must have been very different. In a different book, Discourse on Inequality, he speaks very highly of this prehistoric state, but in The Social Contract he is more ambivalent. In the state of nature, we are free to do whatever we want, but our desires and impulses are not tempered by reason. We have physical freedom but we lack morality and rationality. Still, Rousseau believed that this state of nature was better than the slavery of his contemporary society.
Civil society  -  Civil society is the opposite of the state of nature: it is what we enter into when we agree to live in a community. With civil society comes civil freedom and the social contract. By agreeing to live together and look out for one another, we learn to be rational and moral, and to temper our brute instincts.
Common good  -  The common good is what is in the best interests of society as a whole. This is what the social contract is meant to achieve, and it is what the general will aims at.
General will
The general will, (French, volonté generale) first enunciated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (June 28, 1712 – July 2, 1778), is a concept in political philosophy referring to the desire or interest of a people as a whole. It is most often associated with socialist traditions in politics.
General will is what a fully-informed body politic (community of citizens) would unanimously do if, by using good reasoning and judgment unclouded by bias and emotion, it would make general laws and decisions intended to ensure the common good. General will presupposes the existence of a generally-accepted political and social ideal. Rousseau characterized general will as being always abstract, establishing rules and setting up systems of government, but never being specific about which individuals were subject to the rules or about who the particular members of social classes or the particular rulers in the government were. The general will (volonté générale) was not merely the sum of all the individual wills of those who participate in the social contract, nor was it expressed simply in social customs and mores; rather, it was an over-arching concept that infallibly sought the good of society as a whole. Those who surrendered their individual rights to the general will were exercising their personal freedom, because they themselves were authors of the law.
Though abstract and difficult to articulate in practice, the concept of general will had a powerful influence on modern political thinking and on the structure of modern representative governments and civic institutions.
he idea of "general will" was first formulated by Nicolas Malebranche, who argued that all laws in the phenomenal world are manifestations of God's "general will." Denis Diderot re-interpreted the idea of "general will" as the will of humanity, which desires the goodness of humanity and determines the obligations of human beings. The general will underlies all positive laws and social regulations and is the basis of universal obligations that are applicable to all. Jean-Jacques Rousseau criticized Diderot's concept as "empty" for the reason that we develop our concept of humanity based upon particular society we live in. Rousseau's formulation became the prevailing notion of "general will."
The concept of the general will was first introduced in two of Rousseau’s essays, the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754), and the Discourse on Political Economy (1755), and was further developed in Social Contract (1762). In Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseau asserted that in a savage and uncorrupted state, human beings were guided by feelings of pity and love for each other and had no need of concepts such as morality or duty. In this primitive state there was no inequality among men. When, through mutual cooperation, men began to engage in agriculture and industry and to possess private property, inequalities arose and along with them, the need to establish a stable government by means of a contract that unites many wills into one. Rousseau distinguished two types of freedom—personal freedom that arose from basic human instincts and natural selfishness prompting the individual to act for his own benefit, and social freedom which was achieved when the individual made his individual desires subservient to the general will, in order to receive the benefits that it guaranteed to all individuals.
Rousseau tied the concept of general will directly to sovereignty. True sovereignty did not imply simply having power over the rest of society, but was always directed at the public good. The general will, therefore, infallibly pursued the benefit of the people. Another characteristic of the general will was that it was always abstract, or general. It could establish rules, set up social classes, or even a monarchial government, but it could never specify the particular individuals who were subject to the rules, particular members of the social classes, or the particular rulers in the government. The general will was directed at the good of the society as a whole, and was not to be confused with the collection of the wills of individuals, who would put their own needs, or the needs of their particular factions, above those of the general public.
Rousseau emphasized that the general will (volonté générale) was not merely the cancelled-out sum of all the individual wills of those who participate in the social contract, the will of all (volonté de tous).
There is often a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will. The latter looks only to the common interest; the former considers private interest and is only a sum of private wills. But take away from these same wills the pluses and minuses that cancel each other out, and the remaining sum of the differences is the general will (Rousseau, Social Contract, Vol. IV, 146).
Rousseau warned that the influence of parties representing special interests would impede the kind of public deliberation that could arrive at a consensus regarding the welfare of all. Each individual must completely surrender his own interests to the whole and seek only the welfare of the community.
Although the general will must be arrived at through reasoned deliberation by the state as a whole, its execution depends upon its being embodied in the structure of government. Rousseau examined various forms of government in terms of how well they might be able to execute the sovereign laws. He considered democracy to be dangerous in application to particular cases in which the general will could easily be lost in the pressure of private interests; aristocracy was acceptable as long as it executed the general will rather than serving the welfare of the ruling elite; and monarchy clearly raised the temptation to seek private benefit at the expense of the common good. The appropriate form of government for any state depended upon the character of its people, and even on its physical climate.
Rousseau believed that the establishment of any government should be provisional and temporary, and subject to continued review and appraisal by its subjects. A representative legislative body could not determine the general will, because the social contract depended on the unanimous consent of all the governed. Sovereign general will could only be fully determined in an assembly of the entire population.
The fundamental problem of all social organization was to secure the participation of every individual in the general will. Rousseau maintained that general will, which could be considered in abstract to be a commitment to the welfare of the whole, was in principle indestructible, although in practice it might be obscured by the undesirable motives of some individuals. Since it was impractical to assemble the entire population every time a particular decision was to be made, Rousseau proposed that major questions should be decided upon by a majority of the population, but that matters requiring quick action could be determined by a simple majority. Leadership positions requiring skill should be filled by an election, while those which only require the exercise of good sense should be chosen by lot. In every case, Rousseau assumed that open debate would eventually result in an awareness on the part of each individual of what was truly in the best interests of the community as a whole, the general will.
Rousseau pointed out that general will was distinct from social customs that might be endorsed by public opinion. Social customs were not a conscious and deliberate determination of what was best for all, but simply social expressions of traditional mores. Even when traditional values were incorporated into the civil religion and therefore supposedly sanctioned by God and by the people, they did not necessarily express the general will.


The concept of the general will presented some philosophical difficulties. Rousseau argued that following the general will allowed for individual freedom. However, in promoting the interests of the whole, the general will might easily conflict with the interests of particular individuals. This conflict caused some intellectuals to criticize Rousseau’s political thought as hopelessly inconsistent, while others attempted to find middle ground between the two positions.
Liberal thinkers, such as Isaiah Berlin, criticized the concept of general will on various grounds. Pluralists argued that the “common good” was a balanced aggregate of private interests, rather than one over-arching, quasi-metaphysical concept. Some pointed out that “desire” does not necessarily coincide with “best interest,” and that the imposition of the General Will was not consistent with autonomy or freedom. The distinction between a person's "empirical" (conscious) self and his "true" self, of which he is unaware, was essentially dogmatic and incapable of logical or empirical verification or even discussion. Rousseau did not offer any practical mechanism for the articulation of the general will, and suggested that under some conditions it might not actually be expressed by the majority, making the concept open to manipulation by totalitarian regimes that could use it to compel people against their actual will.
In spite of these difficulties, the concept of general will influenced political thinking during the formation of modern representative governments, and became incorporated in many aspects of civic planning, the judicial system, and institutions of social welfare.

Undergraduate Lecture on John Locke by BIju P R

English philosopher and political theorist John Locke (1632-1704) laid much of the groundwork for the Enlightenment and made central contributions to the development of liberalism. Trained in medicine, he was a key advocate of the empirical approaches of the Scientific Revolution. In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” he advanced a theory of the self as a blank page, with knowledge and identity arising only from accumulated experience. His political theory of government by the consent of the governed as a means to protect “life, liberty and estate” deeply influenced the United States’ founding documents. His essays on religious tolerance provided an early model for the separation of church and state.
John Locke was among the most famous philosophers and political theorists of the 17th century.  He is often regarded as the founder of a school of thought known as British Empiricism, and he made foundational contributions to modern theories of limited, liberal government. He was also influential in the areas of theology, religious toleration, and educational theory.
John Locke was born in 1632 in Wrington, a small village in southwestern England
Locke was successful at Westminster and earned a place at Christ Church, Oxford. He was to remain in Oxford from 1652 until 1667.
Locke left Oxford for London in 1667.
Locke travelled in France for several years starting in 1675.
It was around this time that Locke composed his most famous political work, the Two Treatises Concerning Government.
Locke fled to the Netherlands to escape political persecution. While there Locke travelled a great deal (sometimes for his own safety) and worked on two projects. First, he continued work on the Essay. Second, he wrote a work entitled Epistola de Tolerantia, which was published anonymously in 1689. Locke’s experiences in England, France, and the Netherlands convinced him that governments should be much more tolerant of religious diversity than was common at the time.
Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689 Locke was able to return to England. He published both the Essay and the Two Treatises


Essay Concerning Human Understanding(1690)

Locke’s insight was that before we can analyze the world and our access to it we have to know something about ourselves. We need to know how we acquire knowledge. We also need to know which areas of inquiry we are well suited to and which are epistemically closed to us, that is, which areas are such that we could not know them even in principle. We further need to know what knowledge consists in.  
According to Locke, ideas are the fundamental units of mental content and so play an integral role in his explanation of the human mind and his account of our knowledge. Locke was not the first philosopher to give ideas a central role; Descartes, for example, had relied heavily on them in explaining the human mind. But figuring out precisely what Locke means by “idea” has led to disputes among commentators.
Locke’s Two Treatises on Government
Locke’s two treatises on government were published in October 1689 with a 1690 date on the title page. While later philosophers have belittled it because Locke based his thinking on archaic notions about a “state of nature,” his bedrock principles endure. He defended the natural law tradition whose glorious lineage goes back to the ancient Jews: the tradition that rulers cannot legitimately do anything they want, because there are moral laws applying to everyone.
“Reason, which is that Law,” Locke declared, “teaches all Mankind, who would but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions.” Locke envisoned a rule of law: “have a standing Rule to live by, common to every one of that Society, and made by the Legislative Power erected in it; A Liberty to follow my own Will in all things, where the Rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, Arbitrary Will of another Man.”
Locke established that private property is absolutely essential for liberty: “every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his.” He continues: “The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their Property.”
Locke believed people legitimately turned common property into private property by mixing their labor with it, improving it. Marxists liked to claim this meant Locke embraced the labor theory of value, but he was talking about the basis of ownership rather than value.
He insisted that people, not rulers, are sovereign. Government, Locke wrote, “can never have a Power to take to themselves the whole or any part of the Subjects Property, without their own consent. For this would be in effect to leave them no Property at all.” He makes his point even more explicit: rulers “must not raise Taxes on the Property of the People, without the Consent of the People, given by themselves, or their Deputies.”
Locke had enormous foresight to see beyond the struggles of his own day, which were directed against monarchy: “’Tis a Mistake to think this Fault [tyranny] is proper only to Monarchies; other Forms of Government are liable to it, as well as that. For where-ever the Power that is put in any hands for the Government of the People, and the Preservation of their Properties, is applied to other ends, and made use of to impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the Arbitrary and Irregular Commands of those that have it: There it presently becomes Tyranny, whether those that thus use it are one or many.”
Then Locke affirmed an explicit right to revolution: “whenever the Legislators endeavor to take away, and destroy the Property of the People, or to reduce them to Slavery under Arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of War with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther Obedience, and are left to the common Refuge, which God hath provided for all Men, against Force and Violence. Whensoever therefore the Legislative shall transgress this fundamental Rule of Society; and either by Ambition, Fear, Folly or Corruption, endeavor to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other an Absolute Power over the Lives, Liberties, and Estates of the People; By this breach of Trust they forfeit the Power, the People had put into their hands, for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume their original Liberty.”
To help assure his anonymity, he dealt with the printer through his friend Edward Clarke. Locke denied rumors that he was the author, and he begged his friends to keep their speculations to themselves. He cut off those like James Tyrrell who persisted in talking about Locke’s authorship. Locke destroyed the original manuscripts and all references to the work in his writings. His only written acknowledgment of authorship was in an addition to his will, signed shortly before he died. Ironically, the two treatises caused hardly a stir during his life.

In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke examines the nature of the human mind and the process by which it knows the world. Repudiating the traditional doctrine of innate ideas, Locke believed that the mind is born blank, a tabula rasa upon which the world describes itself through the experience of the five senses. Knowledge arising from sensation is perfected by reflection, thus enabling humans to arrive at such ideas as space, time, and infinity.
Locke distinguished the primary qualities of things (e.g., solidity, extension, number) from their secondary qualities (e.g., color, sound). These latter qualities he held to be produced by the impact of the world on the sense organs. Behind this curtain of sensation the world itself is colorless and silent. Science is possible, Locke maintained, because the primary world affects the sense organs mechanically, thus producing ideas that faithfully represent reality. The clear, common-sense style of the Essay concealed many unexplored assumptions that the later empiricists George Berkeley and David Hume would contest, but the problems that Locke set forth have occupied philosophy in one way or another ever since.
Our knowledge does not extend beyond the scope of human ideas. ideas are limited by experience, and we cannot possibly experience everything that exists in the world, our knowledge is further compromised. However, Locke asserts that though our knowledge is necessarily limited in these ways, we can still be certain of some things. For example, we have an intuitive and immediate knowledge of our own existence, even if we are ignorant of the metaphysical essence of our souls. We also have a demonstrative knowledge of God’s existence, though our understanding cannot fully comprehend who or what he is. We know other things through sensation. We know that our ideas correspond to external realities because the mind cannot invent such things without experience. A blind man, for example, would not be able to form a concept of color. Therefore, those of us who have sight can reason that since we do perceive colors, they must exist.

A Natural Foundation of Reason

Locke argues that God gave us our capacity for reason to aid us in the search for truth. As God’s creations, we know that we must preserve ourselves. To help us, God created in us a natural aversion to misery and a desire for happiness, so we avoid things that cause us pain and seek out pleasure instead. We can reason that since we are all equally God’s children, God must want everyone to be happy. If one person makes another unhappy by causing him pain, that person has rejected God’s will. Therefore, each person has a duty to preserve other people as well as himself. Recognizing the responsibility to preserve the rights of all humankind naturally leads to tolerance, the notion that forms the basis for Locke’s belief in the separation of church and state. If we all must come to discover the truth through reason, then no one man is naturally better able to discover truth than any other man. For this reason, political leaders do not have the right to impose beliefs on the people. Because everything we understand comes through experience and is translated by reason, no outside force can make us understand something in conflict with our own ideas. Locke insists that if men were to follow the government blindly, they would be surrendering their own reason and thus violating God’s law, or natural law.

Political Theory

Locke is most renowned for his political theory. Contradicting Thomas Hobbes, Locke believed that the original state of nature was happy and characterized by reason and tolerance. In that state all people were equal and independent, and none had a right to harm another's "life, health, liberty, or possessions." The state was formed by social contract because in the state of nature each was his own judge, and there was no protection against those who lived outside the law of nature. The state should be guided by natural law.
Rights of property are very important, because each person has a right to the product of his or her labor. Locke forecast the labor theory of value. The policy of governmental checks and balances, as delineated in the Constitution of the United States, was set down by Locke, as was the doctrine that revolution in some circumstances is not only a right but an obligation. At Shaftesbury's behest, he contributed to the Fundamental Constitutions for the Carolinas; the colony's proprietors, however, never implemented the document.
In his works "A Letter Concerning Toleration" (1689) and "The Second Treatise On Civil Government" (1690), philosopher John Locke created what would become the philosophical source for the founding principles of the United States.
Although not strictly a political work, "A Letter Concerning Toleration" presents a view of the means of understanding moral truths that has strong political implications. For although its specific focus is the separation of church and state, in essence it deals with a much wider issue, which is that it is impossible for the state to compel moral behavior. Thus, when more broadly applied, it provides a philosophic foundation for free speech and for the freedom of action that follows from free thought.
In the letter, Locke maintains that there must be an absolute separation between the church and the state,
Further, since this relationship only exists between an individual mind and reality, political leaders are in no superior position to grasp the truth than any other men are, and therefore have no right to even attempt to force their opinions on others.
Finally, Locke maintains that there must be a separation between church and state since the state exists not to enforce public morality, but to protect man's rights from being violated by other men.
A year after publishing "A Letter Concerning Toleration," Locke published "The Second Treatise On Civil Government
There is no way to prove that one has a right to hold political power by reference to one's ancestry. Since forming a government on such a basis leads to rule by brute force, and consequently, to civil disorder, another way must be found to choose political leaders, one derived from an understanding of men's relationships to each other before the existence of government, i.e., of men's relationships to each other in a state of nature.
In a state of nature, each man, as the possessor of reason and free will, is cognitively independent and equal, and so, by implication, politically independent and equal.
Thus, according to Locke, the basis of the equality, independence, and ultimately, the freedom that exists between all individual men is their mutual possession of reason. As an example of this principle, he notes that children do not possess the freedoms possessed by adults until they have reached the age whereby their reason has developed.
In Locke's conception, a proper government exercises three distinct and separate powers, the "legislative, executive, and federative power of the commonwealth."
The first power of government to be established is "the legislative power," which "is that which has a right to direct how the force of the commonwealth shall be employed for preserving the community and the members of it
Once the legislative force creates laws, there arises the need of an executive power "which should see to the execution of the laws
The third power of government, the federative, arises from the fact that, although in relation to one another the members of the commonwealth "are governed by the laws the society, yet… the whole community is one body in the state of Nature in respect of all other states or persons out of its community
The last major topic treated by Locke in the Second Treatise is the right of the citizens to revolt against tyrannies, i.e., governments wherein "the governor… makes not the law, but his will, the rule, and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion." Such a ruler "ceases in that to be a magistrate, and acting without authority may be opposed, as any other man who by force invades the right of another.

State of Nature

The State of Nature is a useful philosophical model which allows social contract theorists to present their understanding of human nature and offer a justification for the erection of government.
Locke begins his second chapter with the explanation that all men exist in a state of perfect freedom and equality. Their actions and choices are unfettered and cannot be limited by other men. All men are born in the exact same state, with no one individual having privileges or advantages over another. Only God is able to bestow some advantage in power upon one man over another.
Locke uses the state of nature as the starting point for his second, and most salient, Treatise. This is a condition where there is for men “a State of perfect Freedom to order their Actions and dispose of their Possessions, and Persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the Law of Nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the Will of any other man.”[1] From this very first sentence, it is evident that Locke follows in the Natural Law tradition which states that men inherently have a moral sense which restricts them from engaging in certain acts.
By virtue of being children of God, we know what is right and wrong and by extension what is lawful, and we can therefore resolve conflicts fairly consistently. As a result, for Locke, the state of nature is not a state of License because man “has not Liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any Creature in his Possession, but where some nobler use, than its bare Preservation calls for it.
Reason teaches us that we ought not to harm one another in life, health, liberty or possessions, and that in fact we have an active obligation to others, much as Cicero had earlier contended. At the same time, we all have “a right to punish the transgressors of [the Law of Nature]”[3] and as such we are all executioners of natural law. However, man is disposed to be partial in his own case and therefore act as a biased judge. This is indeed one of the great shortcomings in Locke’s state of nature. The other two failings are the absence of protection of property rights and the inclusion of irrationals. Nevertheless, it is crucial that man has united even in the absence of government. In all, such a state is inconvenient for man, but not altogether corrupt, and it is characterized by tolerance, reason and equality.
In Chapter 2, Locke explains the state of nature as a state of equality in which no one has power over another, and all are free to do as they please. He notes, however, that this liberty does not equal license to abuse others, and that natural law exists even in the state of nature. Each individual in the state of nature has the power to execute natural laws, which are universal. Locke then posits that proof of this natural law lies in the fact that, even though a person cannot reasonably be under the power of a foreign king, if a person commits a crime in a foreign country they can still be punished. Locke states that natural law simply demands that punishment fit the crime--a person in the state of nature can redress any crime to discourage the offender from repeating it. Locke concludes by noting that all people are in a state of nature until a special compact or agreement between them (which he promises to describe later) makes them members of a political society.

Natural Law and Natural Rights

Perhaps the most central concept in Locke's political philosophy is his theory of natural law and natural rights. The natural law concept existed long before Locke as a way of expressing the idea that there were certain moral truths that applied to all people, regardless of the particular place where they lived or the agreements they had made.
One of the intellectual traditions which stands behind modern classical liberalism is that of natural law and natural rights. This tradition emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries and argues that the world is governed by natural laws which are discoverable by human reason. Human beings, because of their particular natures have a number of natural rights, or what Tom Paine described as “imprescriptible rights”. According to the founding fathers of the American constitution these rights are the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. A key aspect of this intellectual tradition is the notion that natural rights are not created by government but exist anterior to it and that governments are in fact created to “secure these rights.” During the 19th century the natural law/rights traditions was overtaken by English utlitarianism which argued that the government should pursue policies which would do “the greatest good for the greatest number.”
He professed the idea that man has a natural right to life, to liberty, and to property, and he justified his beliefs on the foundation of natural law. Locke’s view of natural law was simple: there are certain laws whose content is set in nature by God and that have validity everywhere.
Locke believed in the natural rights of man, but he also believed in the sin nature of man, which is why he saw the need for government. He said that we should have government because due to the “corruption and viciousness of degenerate men” they would not be able to defend their rights. Without government, man’s sin nature would overcome their sense of natural law, and their rights would be exploited for evil. “The great chief end” for men to have government “is the preservation of their property; to which in the state of nature there are many things wanting,” he wrote. It was his strong opinion that men should give up as much power as is needed to defend themselves in exercising their natural rights, an idea called the “social contract theory.”
John Locke made a major advance to our understanding of natural law, by emphasizing the nature of man as a maker of things, and a property owning animal. This leads to a more extensive concept of natural rights than the previous discussions of natural law. From the right to self defense comes the right to the rule of law, but from the right to property comes a multitude of like rights, such as the right to privacy “An Englishman's home is his castle." Further, Locke repeatedly, in ringing words, reminded us that a ruler is legitimate so far as he upholds the law.
A ruler that violates natural law is illegitimate. He has no right to be obeyed, his commands are mere force and coercion. Rulers who act lawlessly, whose laws are unlawful, are mere criminals, and should be dealt with in accordance with natural law, as applied in a state of nature, in other words they and their servants should be killed as the opportunity presents, like the dangerous animals that they are, the common enemies of all mankind.
John Locke's writings were a call to arms, an assertion of the right and duty to forcibly and violently remove illegitimate rulers and their servants.
This provided the moral and legal basis for many great revolutions, and many governments. After the American revolution the North Americans were governed more or less in accordance with natural law for one hundred and thirty years.
John Locke was writing for an audience that mostly understood what natural law was, even those who disputed the existence and force of natural law knew what he was talking about, and they made valid and relevant criticisms. In the nineteenth century people started to forget what natural law was, and today he is often criticized on grounds that are irrelevant, foolish, and absurd.
Social Contract
According to Locke, the State of Nature, the natural condition of mankind, is a state of perfect and complete liberty to conduct one's life as one best sees fit, free from the interference of others. This does not mean, however, that it is a state of license: one is not free to do anything at all one pleases, or even anything that one judges to be in one’s interest. The State of Nature, although a state wherein there is no civil authority or government to punish people for transgressions against laws, is not a state without morality. The State of Nature is pre-political, but it is not pre-moral. Persons are assumed to be equal to one another in such a state, and therefore equally capable of discovering and being bound by the Law of Nature. The Law of Nature, which is on Locke’s view the basis of all morality, and given to us by God, commands that we not harm others with regards to their "life, health, liberty, or possessions" (par. 6). Because we all belong equally to God, and because we cannot take away that which is rightfully His, we are prohibited from harming one another. So, the State of Nature is a state of liberty where persons are free to pursue their own interests and plans, free from interference, and, because of the Law of Nature and the restrictions that it imposes upon persons, it is relatively peaceful.
The State of Nature therefore, is not the same as the state of war, as it is according to Hobbes. It can, however devolve into a state of war, in particular, a state of war over property disputes. Whereas the State of Nature is the state of liberty where persons recognize the Law of Nature and therefore do not harm one another, the state of war begins between two or more men once one man declares war on another, by stealing from him, or by trying to make him his slave. Since in the State of Nature there is no civil power to whom men can appeal, and since the Law of Nature allows them to defend their own lives, they may then kill those who would bring force against them. Since the State of Nature lacks civil authority, once war begins it is likely to continue. And this is one of the strongest reasons that men have to abandon the State of Nature by contracting together to form civil government.
Property plays an essential role in Locke's argument for civil government and the contract that establishes it. According to Locke, private property is created when a person mixes his labor with the raw materials of nature. So, for example, when one tills a piece of land in nature, and makes it into a piece of farmland, which produces food, then one has a claim to own that piece of land and the food produced upon it. (This led Locke to conclude that America didn’t really belong to the natives who lived there, because they were, on his view, failing to utilize the basic material of nature. In other words, they didn’t farm it, so they had no legitimate claim to it, and others could therefore justifiably appropriate it.) Given the implications of the Law of Nature, there are limits as to how much property one can own: one is not allowed to take more from nature than one can use, thereby leaving others without enough for themselves. Because nature is given to all of mankind by God for its common subsistence, one cannot take more than his own fair share. Property is the linchpin of Locke’s argument for the social contract and civil government because it is the protection of their property, including their property in their own bodies, that men seek when they decide to abandon the State of Nature.
According to Locke, the State of Nature is not a condition of individuals, as it is for Hobbes. Rather, it is populated by mothers and fathers with their children, or families - what he calls "conjugal society" (par. 78). These societies are based on the voluntary agreements to care for children together, and they are moral but not political. Political society comes into being when individual men, representing their families, come together in the State of Nature and agree to each give up the executive power to punish those who transgress the Law of Nature, and hand over that power to the public power of a government. Having done this, they then become subject to the will of the majority. In other words, by making a compact to leave the State of Nature and form society, they make “one body politic under one government” (par. 97) and submit themselves to the will of that body. One joins such a body, either from its beginnings, or after it has already been established by others, only by explicit consent. Having created a political society and government through their consent, men then gain three things which they lacked in the State of Nature: laws, judges to adjudicate laws, and the executive power necessary to enforce these laws. Each man therefore gives over the power to protect himself and punish transgressors of the Law of Nature to the government that he has created through the compact.
Given that the end of "men's uniting into common-wealths"( par. 124) is the preservation of their wealth, and preserving their lives, liberty, and well-being in general, Locke can easily imagine the conditions under which the compact with government is destroyed, and men are justified in resisting the authority of a civil government, such as a King. When the executive power of a government devolves into tyranny, such as by dissolving the legislature and therefore denying the people the ability to make laws for their own preservation, then the resulting tyrant puts himself into a State of Nature, and specifically into a state of war with the people, and they then have the same right to self-defense as they had before making a compact to establish society in the first place. In other words, the justification of the authority of the executive component of government is the protection of the people’s property and well-being, so when such protection is no longer present, or when the king becomes a tyrant and acts against the interests of the people, they have a right, if not an outright obligation, to resist his authority. The social compact can be dissolved and the process to create political society begun anew.
Because Locke did not envision the State of Nature as grimly as did Hobbes, he can imagine conditions under which one would be better off rejecting a particular civil government and returning to the State of Nature, with the aim of constructing a better civil government in its place. It is therefore both the view of human nature, and the nature of morality itself, which account for the differences between Hobbes' and Locke’s views of the social contract.