A Free Community of Equals?

Joshua Cohen

in Rousseau

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780199581498
Published online May 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722875 | DOI:

Series: Founders of Modern Political and Social Thought

A Free Community of Equals?

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  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Social and Political Philosophy


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Rousseau proposes a political order that ensures the autonomy and security of each member. This chapter sets the stage for exploring the proposal by sketching a Hobbesian objection to Rousseau's program. According to the objection, personal security requires peace; peace requires political submission; and submission means giving up a right of self-government. The Hobbesian critique suggests two doubts about Rousseau's project. First, doubts about content: is the ideal of combining authority for the sake of protection with self-government even coherent? Rousseau thinks it is. Second, there are doubts about realism, about whether such a community is possible, given human nature and the demands of organized society. To respond to the problem of realism, Rousseau defends the idea that human beings are naturally good, that the observed selfishness and vice are not intrinsic to our nature, and that well-ordered institutions can foster motivations that support a free community of equals.

Keywords: utopia; realism; security; freedom; equal concern; interdependence; community; common good; Rousseau; Hobbes

Chapter.  4710 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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