Book Notes: "The Social Contract" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Social ContractThe Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It should come as no surprise that reading piecemeal translations of classic works is no substitute for reading the work cover to cover. I was surprised to find that the words used to justify the American and French Revolutions were much like Adam Smith's "invisible hand" - a small part of an otherwise far-ranging discussion. Rousseau's discussion of religion, the state and marriage holds some key lessons for statecraft in the present, but I daresay the focus on the "social contract" (which should more correctly be referred to as the "social pact" in the Rousseauian sense of the term) has overshadowed any other use of the ideas from this classic work. Yet another reason to read the classics for oneself rather than rely on second-hand reports. Reading The Social Contract has highlighted some major gaps in my knowledge, particularly about ancient Rome but also Hobbes. No doubt I will need to revisit Locke, too. Nevertheless, this short book, along with The Prince, Utopia, and The Communist Manifesto, represents an important part of the modern nation-state and is certainly worth more than a skim-read.

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