to inquire if, in the civil order, there can be any sure and
legitimate rule of administration, men being taken as they
are and laws as they might be. In this inquiry I shall endeavour
always to unite what right sanctions with what is prescribed
by interest, in order that justice and utility may in no case
enter upon my task without proving the importance of the subject.
I shall be asked if I am a prince or a legislator, to write
on politics. I answer that I am neither, and that is why I
do so. If I were a prince or a legislator, I should not waste
time in saying what wants doing; I should do it, or hold my
I was born a citizen of a free State, and a member of the
Sovereign, I feel that, however feeble the influence my voice
can have on public affairs, the right of voting on them makes
it my duty to study them: and I am happy, when I reflect upon
governments, to find my inquiries always furnish me with new
reasons for loving that of my own country.
SUBJECT OF THE FIRST BOOK
is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself
the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than
they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What
can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer.
I took into account only force, and the effects derived from
it, I should say: "As long as a people is compelled to
obey, and obeys, it does well; as soon as it can shake off
the yoke, and shakes it off, it does still better; for, regaining
its liberty by the same right as took it away, either it is
justified in resuming it, or there was no justification for
those who took it away." But the social order is a sacred
right which is the basis of all other rights. Nevertheless,
this right does not come from nature, and must therefore be
founded on conventions. Before coming to that, I have to prove
what I have just asserted.
THE FIRST SOCIETIES
most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural,
is the family: and even so the children remain attached to
the father only so long as they need him for their preservation.
As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved.
The children, released from the obedience they owed to the
father, and the father, released from the care he owed his
children, return equally to independence. If they remain united,
they continue so no longer naturally, but voluntarily; and
the family itself is then maintained only by convention.
common liberty results from the nature of man. His first law
is to provide for his own preservation, his first cares are
those which he owes to himself; and, as soon as he reaches
years of discretion, he is the sole judge of the proper means
of preserving himself, and consequently becomes his own master.
family then may be called the first model of political societies:
the ruler corresponds to the father, and the people to the
children; and all, being born free and equal, alienate their
liberty only for their own advantage. The whole difference
is that, in the family, the love of the father for his children
repays him for the care he takes of them, while, in the State,
the pleasure of commanding takes the place of the love which
the chief cannot have for the peoples under him.
denies that all human power is established in favour of the
governed, and quotes slavery as an example. His usual method
of reasoning is constantly to establish right by fact.1
It would be possible to employ a more logical method, but
none could be more favourable to tyrants.
is then, according to Grotius, doubtful whether the human
race belongs to a hundred men, or that hundred men to the
human race: and, throughout his book, he seems to incline
to the former alternative, which is also the view of Hobbes.
On this showing, the human species is divided into so many
herds of cattle, each with its ruler, who keeps guard over
them for the purpose of devouring them.
a shepherd is of a nature superior to that of his flock, the
shepherds of men, i.e., their rulers, are of a nature superior
to that of the peoples under them. Thus, Philo tells us, the
Emperor Caligula reasoned, concluding equally well either
that kings were gods, or that men were beasts.
reasoning of Caligula agrees with that of Hobbes and Grotius.
Aristotle, before any of them, had said that men are by no
means equal naturally, but that some are born for slavery,
and others for dominion.
was right; but he took the effect for the cause. Nothing can
be more certain than that every man born in slavery is born
for slavery. Slaves lose everything in their chains, even
the desire of escaping from them: they love their servitude,
as the comrades of Ulysses loved their brutish condition.2
If then there are slaves by nature, it is because there have
been slaves against nature. Force made the first slaves, and
their cowardice perpetuated the condition.
have said nothing of King Adam, or Emperor Noah, father of
the three great monarchs who shared out the universe, like
the children of Saturn, whom some scholars have recognised
in them. I trust to getting due thanks for my moderation;
for, being a direct descendant of one of these princes, perhaps
of the eldest branch, how do I know that a verification of
titles might not leave me the legitimate king of the human
race? In any case, there can be no doubt that Adam was sovereign
of the world, as Robinson Crusoe was of his island, as long
as he was its only inhabitant; and this empire had the advantage
that the monarch, safe on his throne, had no rebellions, wars,
or conspirators to fear.
THE RIGHT OF THE STRONGEST
strongest is never strong enough to be always the master,
unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into
duty. Hence the right of the strongest, which, though to all
seeming meant ironically, is really laid down as a fundamental
principle. But are we never to have an explanation of this
phrase? Force is a physical power, and I fail to see what
moral effect it can have. To yield to force is an act of necessity,
not of will at the most, an act of prudence. In what
sense can it be a duty?
for a moment that this so-called "right" exists.
I maintain that the sole result is a mass of inexplicable
nonsense. For, if force creates right, the effect changes
with the cause: every force that is greater than the first
succeeds to its right. As soon as it is possible to disobey
with impunity, disobedience is legitimate; and, the strongest
being always in the right, the only thing that matters is
to act so as to become the strongest. But what kind of right
is that which perishes when force fails? If we must obey perforce,
there is no need to obey because we ought; and if we are not
forced to obey, we are under no obligation to do so. Clearly,
the word "right" adds nothing to force: in this
connection, it means absolutely nothing.
the powers that be. If this means yield to force, it is a
good precept, but superfluous: I can answer for its never
being violated. All power comes from God, I admit; but so
does all sickness: does that mean that we are forbidden to
call in the doctor? A brigand surprises me at the edge of
a wood: must I not merely surrender my purse on compulsion;
but, even if I could withhold it, am I in conscience bound
to give it up? For certainly the pistol he holds is also a
us then admit that force does not create right, and that we
are obliged to obey only legitimate powers. In that case,
my original question recurs.
no man has a natural authority over his fellow, and force
creates no right, we must conclude that conventions form the
basis of all legitimate authority among men.
an individual, says Grotius, can alienate his liberty and
make himself the slave of a master, why could not a whole
people do the same and make itself subject to a king? There
are in this passage plenty of ambiguous words which would
need explaining; but let us confine ourselves to the word
alienate. To alienate is to give or to sell. Now, a
man who becomes the slave of another does not give himself;
he sells himself, at the least for his subsistence: but for
what does a people sell itself? A king is so far from furnishing
his subjects with their subsistence that he gets his own only
from them; and, according to Rabelais, kings do not live on
nothing. Do subjects then give their persons on condition
that the king takes their goods also? I fail to see what they
have left to preserve.
will be said that the despot assures his subjects civil tranquillity.
Granted; but what do they gain, if the wars his ambition brings
down upon them, his insatiable avidity, and the vexations
conduct of his ministers press harder on them than their own
dissensions would have done? What do they gain, if the very
tranquillity they enjoy is one of their miseries? Tranquillity
is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them
desirable places to live in? The Greeks imprisoned in the
cave of the Cyclops lived there very tranquilly, while they
were awaiting their turn to be devoured.
say that a man gives himself gratuitously, is to say what
is absurd and inconceivable; such an act is null and illegitimate,
from the mere fact that he who does it is out of his mind.
To say the same of a whole people is to suppose a people of
madmen; and madness creates no right.
if each man could alienate himself, he could not alienate
his children: they are born men and free; their liberty belongs
to them, and no one but they has the right to dispose of it.
Before they come to years of discretion, the father can, in
their name, lay down conditions for their preservation and
well-being, but he cannot give them irrevocably and without
conditions: such a gift is contrary to the ends of nature,
and exceeds the rights of paternity. It would therefore be
necessary, in order to legitimise an arbitrary government,
that in every generation the people should be in a position
to accept or reject it; but, were this so, the government
would be no longer arbitrary.
renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender
the rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces
everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is
incompatible with man's nature; to remove all liberty from
his will is to remove all morality from his acts. Finally,
it is an empty and contradictory convention that sets up,
on the one side, absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited
obedience. Is it not clear that we can be under no obligation
to a person from whom we have the right to exact everything?
Does not this condition alone, in the absence of equivalence
or exchange, in itself involve the nullity of the act? For
what right can my slave have against me, when all that he
has belongs to me, and, his right being mine, this right of
mine against myself is a phrase devoid of meaning?
and the rest find in war another origin for the so-called
right of slavery. The victor having, as they hold, the right
of killing the vanquished, the latter can buy back his life
at the price of his liberty; and this convention is the more
legitimate because it is to the advantage of both parties.
it is clear that this supposed right to kill the conquered
is by no means deducible from the state of war. Men, from
the mere fact that, while they are living in their primitive
independence, they have no mutual relations stable enough
to constitute either the state of peace or the state of war,
cannot be naturally enemies. War is constituted by a relation
between things, and not between persons; and, as the state
of war cannot arise out of simple personal relations, but
only out of real relations, private war, or war of man with
man, can exist neither in the state of nature, where there
is no constant property, nor in the social state, where everything
is under the authority of the laws.
combats, duels and encounters, are acts which cannot constitute
a state; while the private wars, authorised by the Establishments
of Louis IX, King of France, and suspended by the Peace of
God, are abuses of feudalism, in itself an absurd system if
ever there was one, and contrary to the principles of natural
right and to all good polity.
then is a relation, not between man and man, but between State
and State, and individuals are enemies only accidentally,
not as men, nor even as citizens,3
but as soldiers; not as members of their country, but as its
defenders. Finally, each State can have for enemies only other
States, and not men; for between things disparate in nature
there can be no real relation.
this principle is in conformity with the established rules
of all times and the constant practice of all civilised peoples.
Declarations of war are intimations less to powers than to
their subjects. The foreigner, whether king, individual, or
people, who robs, kills or detains the subjects, without declaring
war on the prince, is not an enemy, but a brigand. Even in
real war, a just prince, while laying hands, in the enemy's
country, on all that belongs to the public, respects the lives
and goods of individuals: he respects rights on which his
own are founded. The object of the war being the destruction
of the hostile State, the other side has a right to kill its
defenders, while they are bearing arms; but as soon as they
lay them down and surrender, they cease to be enemies or instruments
of the enemy, and become once more merely men, whose life
no one has any right to take. Sometimes it is possible to
kill the State without killing a single one of its members;
and war gives no right which is not necessary to the gaining
of its object. These principles are not those of Grotius:
they are not based on the authority of poets, but derived
from the nature of reality and based on reason.
right of conquest has no foundation other than the right of
the strongest. If war does not give the conqueror the right
to massacre the conquered peoples, the right to enslave them
cannot be based upon a right which does not exist. No one
has a right to kill an enemy except when he cannot make him
a slave, and the right to enslave him cannot therefore be
derived from the right to kill him. It is accordingly an unfair
exchange to make him buy at the price of his liberty his life,
over which the victor holds no right. Is it not clear that
there is a vicious circle in founding the right of life and
death on the right of slavery, and the right of slavery on
the right of life and death?
if we assume this terrible right to kill everybody, I maintain
that a slave made in war, or a conquered people, is under
no obligation to a master, except to obey him as far as he
is compelled to do so. By taking an equivalent for his life,
the victor has not done him a favour; instead of killing him
without profit, he has killed him usefully. So far then is
he from acquiring over him any authority in addition to that
of force, that the state of war continues to subsist between
them: their mutual relation is the effect of it, and the usage
of the right of war does not imply a treaty of peace. A convention
has indeed been made; but this convention, so far from destroying
the state of war, presupposes its continuance.
from whatever aspect we regard the question, the right of
slavery is null and void, not only as being illegitimate,
but also because it is absurd and meaningless. The words slave
and right contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive.
It will always be equally foolish for a man to say to a man
or to a people: "I make with you a convention wholly
at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I shall keep it
as long as I like, and you will keep it as long as I like."
THAT WE MUST ALWAYS GO BACK TO A FIRST CONVENTION
if I granted all that I have been refuting, the friends of
despotism would be no better off. There will always be a great
difference between subduing a multitude and ruling a society.
Even if scattered individuals were successively enslaved by
one man, however numerous they might be, I still see no more
than a master and his slaves, and certainly not a people and
its ruler; I see what may be termed an aggregation, but not
an association; there is as yet neither public good nor body
politic. The man in question, even if he has enslaved half
the world, is still only an individual; his interest, apart
from that of others, is still a purely private interest. If
this same man comes to die, his empire, after him, remains
scattered and without unity, as an oak falls and dissolves
into a heap of ashes when the fire has consumed it.
people, says Grotius, can give itself to a king. Then, according
to Grotius, a people is a people before it gives itself. The
gift is itself a civil act, and implies public deliberation.
It would be better, before examining the act by which a people
gives itself to a king, to examine that by which it has become
a people; for this act, being necessarily prior to the other,
is the true foundation of society.
if there were no prior convention, where, unless the election
were unanimous, would be the obligation on the minority to
submit to the choice of the majority? How have a hundred men
who wish for a master the right to vote on behalf of ten who
do not? The law of majority voting is itself something established
by convention, and presupposes unanimity, on one occasion
THE SOCIAL COMPACT
men to have reached the point at which the obstacles in the
way of their preservation in the state of nature show their
power of resistance to be greater than the resources at the
disposal of each individual for his maintenance in that state.
That primitive condition can then subsist no longer; and the
human race would perish unless it changed its manner of existence.
as men cannot engender new forces, but only unite and direct
existing ones, they have no other means of preserving themselves
than the formation, by aggregation, of a sum of forces great
enough to overcome the resistance. These they have to bring
into play by means of a single motive power, and cause to
act in concert.
sum of forces can arise only where several persons come together:
but, as the force and liberty of each man are the chief instruments
of his self-preservation, how can he pledge them without harming
his own interests, and neglecting the care he owes to himself?
This difficulty, in its bearing on my present subject, may
be stated in the following terms:
problem is to find a form of association which will defend
and protect with the whole common force the person and goods
of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself
with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free
as before." This is the fundamental problem of which
the Social Contract provides the solution.
clauses of this contract are so determined by the nature of
the act that the slightest modification would make them vain
and ineffective; so that, although they have perhaps never
been formally set forth, they are everywhere the same and
everywhere tacitly admitted and recognised, until, on the
violation of the social compact, each regains his original
rights and resumes his natural liberty, while losing the conventional
liberty in favour of which he renounced it.
clauses, properly understood, may be reduced to one
the total alienation of each associate, together with all
his rights, to the whole community; for, in the first place,
as each gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same
for all; and, this being so, no one has any interest in making
them burdensome to others.
the alienation being without reserve, the union is as perfect
as it can be, and no associate has anything more to demand:
for, if the individuals retained certain rights, as there
would be no common superior to decide between them and the
public, each, being on one point his own judge, would ask
to be so on all; the state of nature would thus continue,
and the association would necessarily become inoperative or
each man, in giving himself to all, gives himself to nobody;
and as there is no associate over whom he does not acquire
the same right as he yields others over himself, he gains
an equivalent for everything he loses, and an increase of
force for the preservation of what he has.
then we discard from the social compact what is not of its
essence, we shall find that it reduces itself to the following
of us puts his person and all his power in common under the
supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate
capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of
once, in place of the individual personality of each contracting
party, this act of association creates a moral and collective
body, composed of as many members as the assembly contains
votes, and receiving from this act its unity, its common identity,
its life and its will. This public person, so formed by the
union of all other persons formerly took the name of city,4
and now takes that of Republic or body politic;
it is called by its members State when passive. Sovereign
when active, and Power when compared with others like
itself. Those who are associated in it take collectively the
name of people, and severally are called citizens,
as sharing in the sovereign power, and subjects, as
being under the laws of the State. But these terms are often
confused and taken one for another: it is enough to know how
to distinguish them when they are being used with precision.
formula shows us that the act of association comprises a mutual
undertaking between the public and the individuals, and that
each individual, in making a contract, as we may say, with
himself, is bound in a double capacity; as a member of the
Sovereign he is bound to the individuals, and as a member
of the State to the Sovereign. But the maxim of civil right,
that no one is bound by undertakings made to himself, does
not apply in this case; for there is a great difference between
incurring an obligation to yourself and incurring one to a
whole of which you form a part.
must further be called to the fact that public deliberation,
while competent to bind all the subjects to the Sovereign,
because of the two different capacities in which each of them
may be regarded, cannot, for the opposite reason, bind the
Sovereign to itself; and that it is consequently against the
nature of the body politic for the Sovereign to impose on
itself a law which it cannot infringe. Being able to regard
itself in only one capacity, it is in the position of an individual
who makes a contract with himself; and this makes it clear
that there neither is nor can be any kind of fundamental law
binding on the body of the people not even the social
contract itself. This does not mean that the body politic
cannot enter into undertakings with others, provided the contract
is not infringed by them; for in relation to what is external
to it, it becomes a simple being, an individual.
the body politic or the Sovereign, drawing its being wholly
from the sanctity of the contract, can never bind itself,
even to an outsider, to do anything derogatory to the original
act, for instance, to alienate any part of itself, or to submit
to another Sovereign. Violation of the act by which it exists
would be self-annihilation; and that which is itself nothing
can create nothing.
soon as this multitude is so united in one body, it is impossible
to offend against one of the members without attacking the
body, and still more to offend against the body without the
members resenting it. Duty and interest therefore equally
oblige the two contracting parties to give each other help;
and the same men should seek to combine, in their double capacity,
all the advantages dependent upon that capacity.
the Sovereign, being formed wholly of the individuals who
compose it, neither has nor can have any interest contrary
to theirs; and consequently the sovereign power need give
no guarantee to its subjects, because it is impossible for
the body to wish to hurt all its members. We shall also see
later on that it cannot hurt any in particular. The Sovereign,
merely by virtue of what it is, is always what it should be.
however, is not the case with the relation of the subjects
to the Sovereign, which, despite the common interest, would
have no security that they would fulfil their undertakings,
unless it found means to assure itself of their fidelity.
fact, each individual, as a man, may have a particular will
contrary or dissimilar to the general will which he has as
a citizen. His particular interest may speak to him quite
differently from the common interest: his absolute and naturally
independent existence may make him look upon what he owes
to the common cause as a gratuitous contribution, the loss
of which will do less harm to others than the payment of it
is burdensome to himself; and, regarding the moral person
which constitutes the State as a persona ficta, because
not a man, he may wish to enjoy the rights of citizenship
without being ready to fulfil the duties of a subject. The
continuance of such an injustice could not but prove the undoing
of the body politic.
order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula,
it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give
force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general
will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means
nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this
is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country,
secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies
the key to the working of the political machine; this alone
legitimises civil undertakings, which, without it, would be
absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful abuses.
THE CIVIL STATE
passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces
a very remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for
instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions the morality
they had formerly lacked. Then only, when the voice of duty
takes the place of physical impulses and right of appetite,
does man, who so far had considered only himself, find that
he is forced to act on different principles, and to consult
his reason before listening to his inclinations. Although,
in this state, he deprives himself of some advantages which
he got from nature, he gains in return others so great, his
faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended,
his feelings so ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted,
that, did not the abuses of this new condition often degrade
him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless continually
the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, instead
of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent
being and a man.
us draw up the whole account in terms easily commensurable.
What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty
and an unlimited right to everything he tries to get and succeeds
in getting; what he gains is civil liberty and the proprietorship
of all he possesses. If we are to avoid mistake in weighing
one against the other, we must clearly distinguish natural
liberty, which is bounded only by the strength of the individual,
from civil liberty, which is limited by the general will;
and possession, which is merely the effect of force or the
right of the first occupier, from property, which can be founded
only on a positive title.
might, over and above all this, add, to what man acquires
in the civil state, moral liberty, which alone makes him truly
master of himself; for the mere impulse of appetite is slavery,
while obedience to a law which we prescribe to ourselves is
liberty. But I have already said too much on this head, and
the philosophical meaning of the word liberty does not now
member of the community gives himself to it, at the moment
of its foundation, just as he is, with all the resources at
his command, including the goods he possesses. This act does
not make possession, in changing hands, change its nature,
and become property in the hands of the Sovereign; but, as
the forces of the city are incomparably greater than those
of an individual, public possession is also, in fact, stronger
and more irrevocable, without being any more legitimate, at
any rate from the point of view of foreigners. For the State,
in relation to its members, is master of all their goods by
the social contract, which, within the State, is the basis
of all rights; but, in relation to other powers, it is so
only by the right of the first occupier, which it holds from
right of the first occupier, though more real than the right
of the strongest, becomes a real right only when the right
of property has already been established. Every man has naturally
a right to everything he needs; but the positive act which
makes him proprietor of one thing excludes him from everything
else. Having his share, he ought to keep to it, and can have
no further right against the community. This is why the right
of the first occupier, which in the state of nature is so
weak, claims the respect of every man in civil society. In
this right we are respecting not so much what belongs to another
as what does not belong to ourselves.
general, to establish the right of the first occupier over
a plot of ground, the following conditions are necessary:
first, the land must not yet be inhabited; secondly, a man
must occupy only the amount he needs for his subsistence;
and, in the third place, possession must be taken, not by
an empty ceremony, but by labour and cultivation, the only
sign of proprietorship that should be respected by others,
in default of a legal title.
granting the right of first occupancy to necessity and labour,
are we not really stretching it as far as it can go? Is it
possible to leave such a right unlimited? Is it to be enough
to set foot on a plot of common ground, in order to be able
to call yourself at once the master of it? Is it to be enough
that a man has the strength to expel others for a moment,
in order to establish his right to prevent them from ever
returning? How can a man or a people seize an immense territory
and keep it from the rest of the world except by a punishable
usurpation, since all others are being robbed, by such an
act, of the place of habitation and the means of subsistence
which nature gave them in common? When Nunez Balboa, standing
on the sea-shore, took possession of the South Seas and the
whole of South America in the name of the crown of Castile,
was that enough to dispossess all their actual inhabitants,
and to shut out from them all the princes of the world? On
such a showing, these ceremonies are idly multiplied, and
the Catholic King need only take possession all at once, from
his apartment, of the whole universe, merely making a subsequent
reservation about what was already in the possession of other
can imagine how the lands of individuals, where they were
contiguous and came to be united, became the public territory,
and how the right of Sovereignty, extending from the subjects
over the lands they held, became at once real and personal.
The possessors were thus made more dependent, and the forces
at their command used to guarantee their fidelity. The advantage
of this does not seem to have been felt by ancient monarchs,
who called themselves Kings of the Persians, Scythians, or
Macedonians, and seemed to regard themselves more as rulers
of men than as masters of a country. Those of the present
day more cleverly call themselves Kings of France, Spain,
England, etc.: thus holding the land, they are quite confident
of holding the inhabitants.
peculiar fact about this alienation is that, in taking over
the goods of individuals, the community, so far from despoiling
them, only assures them legitimate possession, and changes
usurpation into a true right and enjoyment into proprietorship.
Thus the possessors, being regarded as depositaries of the
public good, and having their rights respected by all the
members of the State and maintained against foreign aggression
by all its forces, have, by a cession which benefits both
the public and still more themselves, acquired, so to speak,
all that they gave up. This paradox may easily be explained
by the distinction between the rights which the Sovereign
and the proprietor have over the same estate, as we shall
see later on.
may also happen that men begin to unite one with another before
they possess anything, and that, subsequently occupying a
tract of country which is enough for all, they enjoy it in
common, or share it out among themselves, either equally or
according to a scale fixed by the Sovereign. However the acquisition
be made, the right which each individual has to his own estate
is always subordinate to the right which the community has
over all: without this, there would be neither stability in
the social tie, nor real force in the exercise of Sovereignty.
shall end this chapter and this book by remarking on a fact
on which the whole social system should rest: i.e., that,
instead of destroying natural inequality, the fundamental
compact substitutes, for such physical inequality as nature
may have set up between men, an equality that is moral and
legitimate, and that men, who may be unequal in strength or
intelligence, become every one equal by convention and legal