Rousseau on America’s Social Contract
America in the 21st century is changing rapidly. Globalization, the decline of the baby-boomers, a struggling economy and new technological advances daily have created quite a different America. Yet one of the largest concerns is a much more centralized and powerful government than ever before. Although there are huge changes affecting the environment around us, as Americans we still have the same goal, which is to remain a nation in which citizens share in the general prosperity as workers and property owners. To obtain this goal, America is in need of a new social contract.
How would philosophers like Locke and Rousseau feel about adapting their social contract to societal changes? Rousseau, Locke, and other theorists referred to an actual or hypothetical social contract among individuals to form a society. The term has evolved so today a social contract commonly refers to agreed-upon social arrangements that provide basic security and access to basic necessities for individuals in modern, industrial societies. We have a multitude of social contracts today, ranging from Health Care to unemployment insurance to educational assistance programs, yet all these contracts aim to provide support by government for individuals who cannot support themselves anymore. So how does Rousseau view America’s social-citizen contract?
Rousseau believe that human nature is problematic, but can be improved by special human efforts. Rousseau wanted to achieve the unity of individual and collective rights, and he believed in uniqueness and hated conformity. But Rousseau not only proposes his theory in “Of the Social Contract” but also tried to apply his contract to his contemporary European situation. For example, when Rousseau applied his social contract to the state of Poland, he decided it would be best to break Poland into a confederation of more than thirty small republics thus giving small governments more control. Rousseau values the role of individuals in the community. The lawgiver in “Of the Social Contract” is the crucial figure. He has to overcome the communication problems between the mass and the leaders to persuade the former to make his proposal into the laws. He has nothing to rely on except his own virtue and wisdom.
My conclusion is that Rousseau believes the integration of individual and collective rights by favoring particular type of individual liberties and individual distinctions, can be traced in his social contract theory, and thus he would not be happy with America’s social contract of one centralized, governing power.