Man is Born Free and Everywhere he is in Chains

The Social Contract - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Maurice Cranston

This is how Rousseau, an 18th Century philosopher, opens his treatise on good government. The writing is not so much about a good form of government, but rather how government should run to be the best for the people. Of some of the ideas he proposes is that the law giver and the sovereign are two different people. To have the ability to make and execute the laws in the same hands is repugnant to Rousseau. In fact, though he does support monarchies, he goes to pains to explain how the monarch should not have the power to make the laws, only to execute them.


However, being a treatise on how to have good government alongside freedom, really comes down to the tenant at the beginning of chapter 15. The crux of this argument is that as soon as citizens cease to take on board their duty (which is to participate in government) and to pay somebody else to do it for them is the first step to slavery, and thus the sentence 'use money thus, and you will soon have chains' is what I believe to be the pivotal statement in this book.


Obviously the title 'the social contract' is about the contract that exists between everybody in a society, and it is this contract that governs how we conduct ourselves, and being involved in the government beyond election day is an important aspect of our role as citizens. Unfortunately the way our system works, many of us prefer to turn off as soon as we walk out of the election booth, saying 'I've done my duty, now I can go and grab a sausage on the way out and go back to playing Fallout 4'. While there are avenues to influence government, many of us have little opportunity to actually do so beyond paying a visit to our local member of parliament (who pretty much spews out the typical party line anyway).



Rousseau is quite idealistic, but his concept of property is worth mentioning: there is no concept of property. The only reason that property exists is because at some time in the past somebody put a fence up around their land and said 'this is mine'. Thus this person alienates everybody but themselves from this land, and it is through their strength that they maintain this alienation. It is interesting that there still are societies out there that do not have the same concept of property as us westerners do, and ironically governments don't like it. This is very much the case with the Aboriginals in Central Australia. They basically want to live the way they have lived for thousands of years, and the government doesn't want that to happen. They have to concept of ownership in the way that we have it. However there is one tactic that the west has used time and time again to undermine an alien culture – alcohol.