Lecture 5 - Rousseau: Popular Sovereignty and General Will

author: Iván Szelényi, Yale University
recorded by: Yale University
published: June 24, 2012,   recorded: September 2009,   views: 2816
released under terms of: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND)
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Description

Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a colorful early life. Orphaned at ten, he moved in with a woman ten years his senior at sixteen. Their probable love affair is the subject of Stendhal's book Le Rouge et la Noir. Rousseau was friends and sometimes enemies with many major figures in the French Enlightenment. Although he did not live to see the French Revolution, many of Rousseau's path-breaking and controversial ideas about universal suffrage, the general will, consent of the governed, and the need for a popularly elected legislature unquestionably shaped the Revolution. The general will, the idea that the interest of the collective must sometimes have precedence over individual will, is a complex idea in social and political thought; it has proven both fruitful and dangerous. Rousseau's ideas have been respected and used by both liberals and repressive Communist and totalitarian leaders.

Reading assignment:

Rousseau, Of the Social Contract

- Book I-III, pp. 41-120
- Book IV, Chapter 8, pp. 142-151

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