General Will

Coined by French theologians, secularized by French political theorists, and appropriated by revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries in the French Revolution, the phrase “general will” belongs unmistakably to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. For Rousseau, the general will was the most fundamental of the “principles of political right” referenced in the subtitle to The Social Contract, his most systematic work of political theory. Though it is a complex idea, Rousseau’s general will can be summarized as the set of decisions made by a sovereign body, composed of all persons subject to those decisions, with respect to their true interests, which are identical to the interests they hold in common. In other words, it is a true common good that all who understand their own legitimate interests would voluntarily will—thus, Rousseau’s ...

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