Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1712–1778)
Rousseau’s works have helped inspire political reform worldwide. In 1762, Rousseau published The Social Contract, his treatise on the best way to establish a political community. The Social Contract argued against the idea that kings and queens were divinely empowered to legislate. He asserted that monarchies or other authoritarian governments are not sovereign. Only the people are sovereign, and have the sole right to create the laws under which they live. The people’s laws must be the basis of any form of legitimate government. '…Force does not create right, and… we are obliged to obey only legitimate powers.'
Rousseau visualized democracy as two institutions. First, there must be the collective body of all citizens, which he refers to as ‘the sovereign’, and which represents the ‘general will.’ The people must have legislative power to make laws (but not administer them) within the state. The second institution is government, necessary because Rousseau felt an ungoverned people were vulnerable to tyranny by the powerful.
When government exceeds limits established by the people, it is the mission of the people to abolish such government and initiate a new one. This idea strongly influenced the people’s overthrow of privileged monarchy in the French Revolution from 1712 to 1778.
'No man has any natural authority over his fellow men.' –Jean-Jacques Rousseau
'What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?' –Jean-Jacques Rousseau