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Voting with Rousseau’s “total will”

November 7, 2010

Voting as a United States citizen is an incredible right that all who are eligible should take advantage of. This was the first election I was able to vote in, and having the ability to change the future of our country was an empowering feeling that I did not want to pass up. I wouldn’t call myself a political expert by any means, but when given different candidates to vote for, I was able to choose one by comparing their views on different issues, and deciding which was most important to me. People chose a representative who they personally believe will do the best job of accomplishing what they want. This desire to want a specific person in office is the total will, or the will of all, according to Rousseau. He does not believe in this type of power, and instead believes in the general will, which is based on decisions that keep the public interest in mind at all times. The general will also entails that the public must come to a consensus on a law, and everyone who agrees to that law (or in terms of the election, voting for a specific candidate who the entire group believes should be in office) must obey that law. I think that Rousseau’s view on the general will is extremely ideological, while the will of all is a much more realistic outlook on politics. Everyone has their own opinion on any and every subject, and forcing people to come to a general consensus that is “for the good of the public” is not actually in the best interest of the people. The most important thing that can be done for the public is for everyone to have the right to his own opinion. In our government, each individual has “the will of all” to have a specific opinion on an issue and vote for what he believes in. Everyone is intrinsically self-interested and will vote for whatever politician they believe will make them most happy. Even though the outcomes of people voting based on personal interests may not always be what is best for society as a whole, if people were not given the right to their own opinion, our country’s founding principals of freedom would be completely nullified. Rousseau may not agree with our current state of government, but taking away rights that have already been given to us would not go over well in the United States.

7 Comments
  1. aaronyan1123 permalink
    November 7, 2010 2:43 PM

    You are doing a good job on distinguishing the defination of ‘the will of all’ and ‘the general will’. However, I do not argee that taking away rights that have already been given to us would not go over well in the United States. Let’s take a look of the drinking age. About 20 years ago, the drinking age in the States was 18. The number of drunk accidents was in a high level. However, the U.S. government decided to change the drinking age from 18 to 21. After the change of the drinking age, the number of drunk accidents has decreased. Yet, do you think taking away the drinking right of the age group of 18-20, which they had already have long time ago, did not benefit the United States?

  2. jaclburr permalink
    November 7, 2010 4:23 PM

    Interesting views. I agree that this “best for all” drive is somewhat unrealistic. I feel that what needs to be taken into account more is that though people usually care for the general good, they are more likely to be closely considering what is best for their families and immediate concerns.

  3. Samantha Eisler permalink
    November 7, 2010 5:00 PM

    While I do agree with you that the notion of everyone being able to agree on one thing is somewhat idealistic, there are times when a majority opinion is necessary over the opinion of the individual. Yes, each person should be given equal opportunity to voice how they feel, but to think that each opinion can be attended to is somewhat idealistic as well.

  4. Trevor Cookler permalink
    November 7, 2010 5:31 PM

    Completely agree with this post. Rousseau does submit quite the idealistic type of society, but the points and connections you made were valid. The thing about the general will is that there is always going to be difficult decisions where not even close to 100% of the population will agree on. Getting this general consensus is going to start even further debates, and taking rights that were previously created (such as the drinking age mentioned above) will stir up citizens even more. It would be nice to think that such a systematic way of government is possible, but unfortunately I think this is harder than not to achieve.

  5. Zac Hiller permalink
    November 7, 2010 11:09 PM

    This post reminds me of many of the other post discussing the inherent selfishness of human beings. I was unable to vote this past presidential election due to my age, but honestly do not think I would have anyway. I do not feel educated enough to make a decision that influences the entire society. But as you said, people definitely deserve the right to vote, regardless if they feel compelled to do it.

  6. jbrasspolsci permalink
    November 8, 2010 8:36 PM

    One thing you said that I had differing views on was, “The most important thing that can be done for the public is for everyone to have the right to his own opinion.” For everyone to have their own opinion is important, yes that is true, however how is general consensus able to be made? How is a decision made of whose opinions stay and get put into action, and whose do not? In addition when you said, “…and forcing people to come to a general consensus that is “for the good of the public” is not actually in the best interest of the people,” I am not so sure what you meant by this. I was a little confused because I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was between the good of the public, or the best interest of the people. Isn’t the best interest of the people the same as the good of the pubic? Therefore allowing for a general consensus to be met actually a good idea? Moreover, one aspect of society I liked that you mentioned is how everyone is intrinsically self-interested, therefore leading them to vote for the politician containing the views they agree with most. The ability for people to vote and voice their own opinions is indeed significant, thus fulfilling one of the countries principals of freedom.

  7. ann900 permalink
    November 9, 2010 9:41 PM

    I completely agree with this post. Many people feel that our country is very “will of all” like because people vote for what is best for them as far as taxes and other economical values go but isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want a voice? In certain issues like war or supporting those who are elected in office we need to have a “general will” state of mind…but our country’s founding fathers gave us a voice so we have the right to use it individually.

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