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Rousseau definitely a “half glass empty” thinker

November 9, 2010

With the November elections finished.  It seems like a perfect time to examine the difference, or lack thereof, of the “general will” and the “will of all”.  Rousseau would argue that these two principles are unrelated; he argues that only in an ideal society, can these two be identical.  Rousseau believes we live in an era where self-interest is the driving force for human action.  Although he may be correct that self-interest motivates everyone to some degree, there are, nonetheless, real-world examples of where “general will” and the “will of all” are intertwined, even identical.

The “general will” is defined as whatever actions are in the best interest of the whole community.  On the other hand, the “will of all” is the collective interests of all individuals in the society.

Ideally, the goal of a government is to cater to the needs and wants of its citizens.  This would be a better explanation of the general will in a utopia.  Therefore the combined interests of the citizens (the will of all) should accumulate to express the needs of the population as a whole.  Thusly, Rousseau’s theories of general will and will of all actually relate to each other.  The differences between the two emerge in reality once the interests of the individual begin to differ from that of the society.            Tuesday, voters turned out to voice their opinion on who should be our representatives.  In the action of voting, citizens are most likely electing officials who will hold their personal interests at heart.  I highly doubt that voters turn in their ballot only considering what is best for the nation.  At some level, every voter is biased because, everyone is affected by self-interest.

In my opinion, there can be situations where the two wills are indistinguishable.  When an individual believes that his interest is in accordance with the interest of the society as a whole, the will of all and the general will are the same.  Although Rousseau argued that human greed and selfishness has made this situation impossible.  However, for one example, the shareholders of a corporation will support actions in the interest of the corporation as a whole.   To some degree, Rousseau is still correct because this situation is only possible because the individual benefits from the success of the company.  But nonetheless, the principle remains the same, there are real-world situations where the general will and the will of all can be the same.

4 Comments
  1. chris070310 permalink
    November 9, 2010 9:36 PM

    This blog is great. The general will and the will of all is in fact the same in most situations. I see it as a balance in equations. One could not work without the other, because that would unbalance society. For example, if everyone had their community in the best interest for all then there wouldn’t be so many diverse laws and rights for all to go by, because that would be already of self, by looking out for thy neighbor. However, if everyone just thought for themselves then there would be no purpose in bringing change to a community, because everything would be chaotic. Therefore, I strongly believe that in order for the will of all to work, the mutltidue has to have a common self-interest, in order to bring change throught the general will.

  2. tanoodle permalink
    November 9, 2010 10:03 PM

    I think you bring up a good point with the idea that individuals’ interests can correspond with the interests of the whole in your example of a corporation. But as you pointed out, Rousseau still finds his way into the argument with the idea that each individual benefits if the corporation is successful. Another example that could support your argument might be a sports team who come together with the ultimate goal of winning as a team. Even though, once again, Rousseau can argue that the success of the team provides individual benefits, moments of sacrifice can argue your point. For example, we might see one team member sacrifice himself for the good of the team. It is moments like this illustrate that the individual’s interests can correspond to those of the whole, contrary to Rousseau’s beliefs.

  3. whitneyspain permalink
    November 9, 2010 10:35 PM

    In the example that you gave of voting, I have to disagree. Though it is true that a voter is most likely not going to place a ballot for a representative that doesn’t hold their view point, I don’t believe that this makes the general will and the will of all one in the same. I am going to use the example of voting for the President.When a person is at the poll voting, they are taking into account their own opinion. They are going to vote for who they think is the best choice to them.Thus, this represents the will of all. However, when voting for the President, it is not the publics vote who actual chooses which President will win the the election. The votes of the people are mere tools to show the electoral college in which way the state prefers them to vote. This doesn’t mean that they will vote that way. However, if they do, this would represent the General Will because its what the majority of that state wants.
    -Sec 010

  4. mattwales permalink
    November 9, 2010 11:23 PM

    The idea of the corporation does pose an example of the intertwining of the “general will” and the “will of all” but this concept is only applicable to a very small fraction of society. If we consider a company relative to the rest of the country, we find that their individual wills are no longer coinciding with the “general will.” This is why when we consider sports teams and corporations banding together to achieve a common goal, these only represent a small group in the grand scheme of society.

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