The Enlightenment Period

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Did Rousseau support a free society?

Not exactly. Like Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), he held that structure and government authority are necessary to safeguard individual freedoms. Once they have entered into the social contract, citizens retain sovereignty, but the general will, or what is good for the community, is enacted by legislators into laws. This general will, or communal good, may at times be opposed to what is simply good for the majority. Rousseau’s proposal for the ideal society was thus focused on the end or goal of that society. He thought that direct democracy was usually the best means for achieving that end in small societies, but in larger societies representative democracy, or even monarchy, would be more appropriate. Rousseau also advocated some form of state religion that would be binding on all citizens and require their participation for the sake of social coherence and stability.


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