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TRIBUNE – A true genius, the author of the Social Contract nevertheless designed an intellectual system which, after him, favored thought.

TRIBUNE – True genius, the author of Social contract nevertheless designed an intellectual system which, after him, favored totalitarian thought, argues the agrégé in philosophy.

What is most familiar to us is also the most foreign to us. Where does the force of laws come from? And the concentration of power? On what foundation is political reality established? Investigating the nature of what binds us to each other in a community of rights is the task that philosophy has set itself since the Greek fourth century. The dialogue that such a question arouses is not purely theoretical: it is political, because, according to the answer that we bring to the question of the foundations of power, we determine the legitimate extent of its extension over our lives.

In the natural state of man, the social bond does not figure

Among the great answers that history has tried to offer to such a decisive question, the one proposed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau marks a break. The second Speeches and, even more, the Social contract offer a genealogy of the political community that sheds light on contemporary debates. It is indeed a genealogy that is involved, since, according to Rousseau, politics has not always existed: it is therefore not natural. In the natural state of man, the social bond does not figure. Trying, like all modern political thought, to draw a state of nature, Rousseau presents us with man as a self-sufficient solitary, without any link that brings him closer to his fellow men. He does not feel the need for it since, having no desire that exceeds the necessities specific to any animal, it would be useless for him to have recourse to others to obtain what is superfluous to him. Society is first, for Rousseau, the result of a catastrophe which brought us out, unfortunately, of this state of ignorance, innocence and absolute bliss.

Learning to live together

Victims of this irreversible fatality, we must learn to live together. To prevent the shock of our freedoms from placing us at every moment under the threat of others, Hobbes affirmed that the political pact consists in creating a power which holds us all in respect by the fear which it inspires in us. Against the Leviathan State, Rousseau proposes another definition of the social contract: each of us must associate his freedom in a collective body, and thus sovereignty be granted to the general will. Let everyone recognize the public decision as his own decision: in this way, by obeying the law that the State deliberates, we will only obey ourselves, and we will be able to continue to find ourselves as free as before.

By this, Rousseau is of course a precursor of the French Revolution, of which he is undoubtedly one of the greatest inspirations. It revokes the idea that the source of power should be sought in some form of natural or supernatural reality that precedes the act of our freedom. It is the will of the participants in the social contract which brings about the general will, which constitutes it as such: power finds its principle in the people themselves. The "immanentist" ideal of modern democracy was born, with the promise of freedom it brings. But, despite this promise, and even at its heart, lies the major tension that will soon justify threatening, imprisoning, deporting, organizing terror, and killing – that the individual is crushed in the name of freedom.

The general will, Rousseau warns, is not even “the will of all”. Because the will of the people can be wrong, if the people have not judged well

Through it, indeed, Rousseauism surreptitiously installs an unprecedented form of transcendence. The general will is the principle of a new messianism; it is not contained in the addition of individual wills. The general will, Rousseau warns, is not even “the will of all”. For the will of the people can be mistaken, if the people have not judged well; the general will, it, "is always right and always tends to the public utility". To this new transcendence, we understand that everything is due; it shatters what Pascal called the "distinction of orders": for the Christian, political power reigned over "the order of bodies", conscience over "the order of reason", and faith alone over "the order of charity". The sovereign could demand external obedience: everyone was required to conform his action to the common rule. But membership of the heart was reserved for what exceeds “establishment grandeurs” and greats of this world. Christianity wants to give Caesar his due, but nothing more. Henceforth, everything must be returned to power, from which proceeds the very existence of each citizen. By expelling metaphysics from politics, Rousseau frees up God's place only to install the State there, which will soon become providence.

The Social Contract, source of totalitarian madness

Bertrand Russell, in theHistory of Western Philosophy, asserts that the ultimate result of Rousseauism is called Hitler. Such a shortcut is of course risky, and derisory: the reductio ad hitlerum is always too simplistic to honestly challenge a thought. But it would be just as derisory to dispute that the Social contract was one of the sources of totalitarian madness. The earthly redemption that he proposes, by the consented absorption of each individual freedom in the collective freedom; the obligation imposed on the citizen, in order to be recognized as such, to recognize absolutely as his own will the “general will”; death accepted as a fair response for those who, by distancing themselves from sovereign decision-making, are reputed to transform themselves into an enemy of society... Who can doubt that this political vision is conducive to the absolutization of power, which has manifested in the XNUMXth century as never before?

The ancient world knew that politics is the human condition, not a construction of humans; but in the irreducible contingency of the history of our cities, ancient democracy made dialogue the condition of fair deliberation. The new world promises that everything is in our hands, but on condition that we make it the cogs in the great march of history. The obvious exhaustion of partisan divisions has seen our great and dangerous illusion revive: to oppose the need for contradictory dialogue to power would be to oppose the smooth running of the State. Rousseau affirmed that the advent of the “general will” was threatened by “the intrigues and associations”; today, we are told that the pluralism of parties prevents the necessary consensus. This is the very principle of what Popper saw as the refusal of the "open society": there would only be those who walk and those who would like to stop. This is forgetting too quickly that the direction of our itinerary is not obvious; and that preaching the liberation of the individual in the contractualist utopia does not always lead, far from it, to realizing it in practice.

A former student of the École Normale Supérieure, François-Xavier Bellamy is the author of “The disinherited, or the Urgency to transmit” (Plon, 2014).

Source: François-Xavier Bellamy: "Jean-Jacques Rousseau, precursor of totalitarianism?"


  • Rosine Levy
    Posted December 3th 11h10 0Likes

    Jacqueline Quehen what do you think?

    • Jacqueline Quehen
      Posted December 3th 11h13 0Likes

      that Rousseau is the most misread author in the world

    • Rosine Levy
      Posted December 3th 11h19 0Likes

      So? Ready for me?
      The 10/1
      Am curious
      Biz couz

    • Jacqueline Quehen
      Posted December 3th 18h46 0Likes

      Wow, tough week!

  • Jacqueline Quehen
    Posted December 3th 15h24 0Likes

    yes my presentation is already ready don't worry

    • Rosine Levy
      Posted December 3th 17h21 0Likes

      Thank you can I throw the info?
      This is for 10/1

  • Richard Abitbol
    Posted December 3th 15h44 0Likes

    What exposes?

    • Rosine Levy
      Posted December 3th 17h22 0Likes


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