At the limits of the general will: silence, exile, cunning, and disobedience in Rousseau's political thought

Christopher R Brooke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

Abstract

In response to the striking multiplicity of interpretations of Rousseau’s general will (and as a further contribution to it), this paper defends a procedural reading of the general will as one that is constructed through majority voting in the assembly ; it shows how some of the least promising passages of Rousseau’s text in Book Four of The Social Contract are fully assimilable to this interpretation ; and in opposition to the view that the general will is somehow derivable from the citizens’ common good, it contends that Rousseau generally considers that voting is in fact what gives the idea of the common good its content. Some of the best recent critical literature on Rousseau has focused on the moment when citizens might not subjectively experience the general will as an expression of their freedom. In response to this, often framed as the problem of political dissent, the paper argues that there is no persuasive solution on the level of abstract theory ; nevertheless, that Rousseau’s political thought provides us with a number of resources that help us to think about the problems and possibilities of dissent in a well-ordered republic. Stephen Dedalus’ classic trio of « silence, exile, and cunning » helps to provide a label for three of these, and the paper concludes with some brief remarks on the prospects for Rousseauvian civil disobedience.
Translated title of the contributionAt the limits of the general will: silence, exile, cunning, and disobedience in Rousseau's political thought
Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)425-444
Number of pages20
JournalLes études philosophiques
Volume2007/4
Issue number83
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2007

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