The Social Contract
Jean Jacques Rousseau (Excerpt)
Chapter 24


If, therefore, we take from the social compact every thing that is not essential to it, we shall find it reduced to the following terms: "We, the contracting parties. do jointly and severally submit our persons and abilities, to the supreme direction of the general will of all, and, in a collective body, receive each member into that body, as an indivisible part of the whole."

This act of association accordingly converts the several individual contracting parties into one moral collective body, composed of as many members as there are votes in the assembly, which receives also from the same act its unity and existence. This public personage, which is thus formed by the union of all its members, used formerly to be denominated a CITY, and, at present, takes the name of a republic, or body politic. It is also called, by its several members, a state, when it is passive, the sovereign, when it is active; and simply a power, when it is compared with other bodies of the same nature. With regard to the associates themselves, they take collectively the name of the people, and are separately called citizens, as partaking of the sovereign authority, and subjects, as subjected to the laws of the state. These terms, indeed, are frequently confounded, and mistaken one for the other; it is sufficient, however, to be able to distinguish them, when they are to be used with precision.

* * *

To the end, therefore, that the social compact should not prove an empty form, it tacitly includes this engagement, which only can enforce the rest, viz. that whosoever refuses to pay obedience to the general will, shall be liable to be compelled to it by the force of the whole body. And this is in effect nothing more, than that they may be compelled to be free; for such is the condition which, in uniting every citizen to the state, secured him from all personal dependence; a condition, which forms the whole artifice and play of the political machine: it is this alone that renders all social engagements just and equitable which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical. and subject to the most enormous abuses.

* * *

It is agreed, that what an individual alienates of his power, his possession, or his liberty, by the social compact, is only such parts of them whose use is of importance to the community; but it must be confessed also, that the sovereign is the only proper judge of this importance.

From Jean Jacques Rousseau, A Treatise on the Social Compact, T. Becket edn.

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