SOCY 151 - Lecture 5 - Rousseau: Popular Sovereignty and General Will

Lecture 5 - Rousseau: Popular Sovereignty and General Will


Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a colorful early life. Orphaned at ten, he moved in with a woman ten years his senior at sixteen. Their probable love affair is the subject of Stendhal's book Le Rouge et la Noir. Rousseau was friends and sometimes enemies with many major figures in the French Enlightenment. Although he did not live to see the French Revolution, many of Rousseau's path-breaking and controversial ideas about universal suffrage, the general will, consent of the governed, and the need for a popularly elected legislature unquestionably shaped the Revolution. The general will, the idea that the interest of the collective must sometimes have precedence over individual will, is a complex idea in social and political thought; it has proven both fruitful and dangerous. Rousseau's ideas have been respected and used by both liberals and repressive Communist and totalitarian leaders.


Rousseau, Of the Social Contract
- Book I-III, pp. 41-120
- Book IV, Chapter 8, pp. 142-151

Course Media





Low Bandwidth Video

mov [100MB]

High Bandwidth Video

mov [500MB]