Rousseau’s “The Social Contract” in Enlightenment Era
Jacques Rousseau’s thoughts and writings are very highly characteristic of enlightenment beliefs. These latter thoughts and opinions were of the progressive-minded and liberal members of the society who wanted to see the constituents of society in good health and well-being, devoid of illness or despondency. It was also striking that the enlightenment thoughts were of freedom without any kind of bonds or restraints, which underpinned social living during the time of Rousseau. How?
Rousseau was often termed as a romanticist writer, and yet his works speak of class equality or, better still, inequality. He is of the considered opinion that there is an unwritten pact between the government and governed (the working people) that both shall understand and respect their individual turfs. When either of the party violates the agreement, it is broken, and the contract is vitiated. Therefore, it is important that the unspoken contract between the rulers and the ruled be maintained for the well-being of society. “Proper intervention on the part of the Sovereign is, therefore, best understood as that which secures the freedom and equality of citizens rather than that which limits them.”
Rousseau’s writings have been directed towards class inequality. It is necessary, according to him, that there be a good rapport between the individuals among themselves, and also with the rulers, since force or authority cannot always be used to dictate power and create autocratic regimes where the common voice of the people are not heard, but rulers take their own decision, without consensus from the people or public. This kind of autocratic rule would not be in the best interests of nations since, in the final analysis, the voice of the people would sound loud and clear above the din and noise of power squabbles and vested cries. Rousseau’s writings also had a touch of democratic overtures when he reminds us that the rulers are elected by the masses and thus enjoy their status at the will and pleasure of the masses. At any time, it is possible that the plebiscite could withdraw their support to the ruling administrators, and this could bring an end to their domain.
In the enlightenment, it is seen that Rousseau drew heavily from the elements of good governance and modern democratic ideals in which the plebiscite had equal rights of citizenships and exercised their rights and privileges, unlike the bourgeois who were mainly the ruling class and exerted their powers and privileges discretionally and not always for social good.
Rousseau conceived of a just and equitably society, free of power blocs, where human rights were respected and honored, and the general will of the society prevailed over individual dictates. It was necessary that individuals joined the mainstream of the general will of people in their political beliefs, such that even people who were not inclined to do so ran the risk of being separated and possibly ostracized from the social community.
It would not be doing full justice to Rousseau’s ideals if one did not consider the deeper implications of his writing in ushering in a kind of social revolution in the country which did not pay oral service to socialist ideals but actually practiced the kind of mass literary movement that later history has been proud to honor and revel.
Rousseau’s writings have been a fountainhead of mass movement in organized social reforms aimed at uplifting the state of the common people in the country, which was very much needed at that juncture of affairs in the country. However, it is often maintained that in the modern world, much of Rousseau’s thinking could not be relevant since it would be virtually impossible to have a covenanted bond between the rulers and ruled in today’s political settings. Besides, unlike the simpler political systems that existed during that time, the political systems today are far complex and unpredictable, giving rise to heavy speculation about the power distribution system and its impact on the general populace.