General Will in Rousseau

The Social Contract Rousseau puts forth the structure of an ideal political society, the legislature and laws of which revolve around a notion he terms the'general will'. In his view, the general will is the solution to the fundamental problem of politics: that of having citizens equate their wants with what is best for the society as a whole. Therefore, the general will is not the will of all citizens but the ideal will of all citizens who are ideally committed, peaceful and endowed with civic virtue. A public whose passions have been channelled into patriotism and social motivation will theoretically act for the good of the society as a whole even if they are acting only on behalf of themselves. The introduction of a legislating body that actively involves all citizens and acts on the grounds of the general will ensures peace, the protection of the community and effectively ends rule by brute force that is present in pre-political and corrupt society.

The general will can only exist in a community that has a common social interest. In order to generate such a society Rousseau lays down certain starting conditions in The Social Contract that he believes will encourage unity and check any emerging social inequality. To begin with the society must not be so large as would make it hard to control without the use of an extensive and confusing bureaucracy. All citizens must be in the possession of private property so that they are actively sharing in the wealth (and therefore the fate) of the state. Citizens should be roughly equal in terms of wealth and possessions. Sectional interest groups are not allowed to form as Rousseau sees their existence as a breeding ground for dissenters.
After these general guidelines are in place Rousseau introduces a state education and a state religion that will serve to maintain the cohesiveness established by the institution of the preceding conditions. These conditions create common inte…

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