J.J. Rousseau, the French writer of the 18th century, in his famous book “The Social Contract” (1762) wrote that man in the state of nature was a ‘noble savage’ who led a life of “primitive simplicity and idyllic happiness”. He was independent, contented, self-sufficient, healthy, fearless and good. It was only primitive instinct and sympathy which united him with others. He knew neither right nor wrong and was free from all notions of virtue and vice. Man enjoyed a pure, unsophisticated, innocent life of perfect freedom and equality in the state of nature, Rousseau argued. Men were free from the influence of civilization, and sought their own happiness uncontrolled by social laws and social institutions.
But these conditions did not last long. Population increased and reason was dawned. Simplicity and idyllic happiness disappeared. Families were established, institution of property emerged and human equality was ended. Man began to think in terms of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’. Difference between stronger and weaker, rich and poor, arose.
Emergence of Civil Society
When equality and happiness of the early state was lost, war, murder, conflicts, wretchedness, etc., became the order of the day. The escape from this was found in the formation of a civil society. Natural freedom gave place to civil freedom by a social contract. As a result of this contract a multitude of individuals became a collective unity—a civil society. Rousseau said that by virtue of this contract “everyone while uniting himself to all remains as free as before”.
There was only one contract according to Rousseau which was social as well as political. The individual surrendered himself completely and unconditionally to the will of the body of which he became a member The body so created was a moral and collective body and Rousseau called it the ‘general will’. The unique feature of the general will was that it represented collective good as distinguished from the private interests of its members. The will was ‘inalienable and indivisible & according to him.
The theory of social contract has been widely criticized. (1.) Historically, the theory seems to be a mere fiction. There is nothing in the whole range of history to show that the society has ever been deliberately created as a result of voluntary agreement or contract. “Nor can we suppose that man could ever think of entering into a contract with others when he lived under conditions of extreme simplicity, ignorance and even brutality.
Secondly, the theory is far away from the facts. Nothing like the state of nature has ever existed. The most primitive peoples that the anthropologists have described lived in some form of society or the other, however rudimentary or unorganized it may be. It is quite unhistorical to suppose, that such men would resort to a contract.
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J.J. Rousseau, the French writer of the 18th century, in his famous book “The Social Contract” (1762) wrote that man in the state of nature was a ‘noble savage’ who led a life of “primitive simplicity and idyllic happiness”. More >>