General Will


Although he was hardly the first to employ it, the concept of the general will is inextricably linked to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In Du Contrat Social (The Social Contract, 1762) Rousseau draws a fundamental distinction between man and citizen. That is, we may think of every person as a unique individual with a particular set of interests and as a member of the public who shares a common interest in the welfare of the body politic. As a man, everyone has a private will that aims at his particular good or personal interests; as a citizen, everyone has a general will that aims at the common good or public interest. This general will, Rousseau insists, is different from "the will of all"; it is always right; it is to be found on the side of the majority when votes are cast (presuming that "the characteristics of the general will are still in the majority"); and those who refuse to follow it must be "forced to be free".

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Copyright © 2001 From Reader's Guide to the Social Sciences by Jonathan Michie. Reproduced by permission of Taylor and Francis Group, LLC, a divison of Informa plc.

Copyright © 2001 Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. This article first appeared in Reader's Guide to the Social Sciences.

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