Freedom through Constraint


Jean Jacques Rousseau is a philosopher and influencer thinker. He is highly regarded as a crucial figure in philosophy’s history. His views about the philosophers were mostly negative and is since their self-esteem, self-interest based opinions mostly concerned the philosophers. Rousseau's philosopher was based on human freedom, along with moral freedom as well. Some of the famous philosophy by Rousseau is the suggestion that an individual being forced to obey rules is being obligated to be free. There are both positive aspects as well as negative aspects. Rousseau claims do make sense because an individual who is being forced to obey the rules governing the will of a lawful state to gain a common good required to establish balance in society and, thus, being forced have freedom. However, still, there is a negative side of this philosophy’s claim, but the positive side is stronger than the negative one. This paper will discuss Rousseau’s claim on the idea of a person who is forced to obey the rules is being obligated to be free.

In Favour Of Rousseau

There are two leading ends regarding the claim of Rousseau in which one is the political end, and the other one is the project for child development. Both are important in their domain. The political end refers to the development of human being as a proper human resource by the government intuitions. His ideology was based on the fact that institutions are free to work in their domain. So their contribution can serve the people to enjoy their lives freely without any disruption to society. The claim which Rousseau gave on the context regarding the individual who is bound to obey the legislations is being compelled to be free is quite right. This is evident from the fact that the institutions make laws; besides, legislations are made in a way that makes the individual life much difficult (Rousseau, 1762). The person goes via several formalities in obeying the law, which makes it harder to grasp all the hassle that come across the path.


In reality, Rousseau well claimed the fact about the “forced human freedom”. This is revealed by how institutions make use of their authority to make things worse and complicated instead of making easy for the common man to undergo their daily processes easily without any extra effort (Cranston, 1984).

The work presented by Rousseau is mainly based on the value of the idea of freedom because he has used the concept of freedom in different manners at different places of his writing. Rousseau's first principal aim to emphasize the concept of freedom is to differentiate between human beings from animals, especially when it comes about their liberty within the social context. Within the chapter 7 of the book 1 "The Social Contract," Rousseau talked about the capacity of action through which he tries to reveal about the fact that human beings can act against nature and inclination and, therefore, such ability differentiates human race from animals.

Additionally, Rousseau philosophy is arguing on natural freedom, which is gone forever since man has become socialized (Rousseau, 2018). This claim differs from contract theorists such as Hobbes and Locke, who believe it is possible to get back to the state of natural freedom (Pateman, 2007). In respect to the philosopher’s claim on being forced to freedom, Rousseau was operating under the liberal conception of republicans, which dates back to Roman republicanism (Pettit, 2016). In this liberty, individuals are not subject to the domination of arbitrary of others and instead has some type of autonomy. In mind, the philosopher has the notion of moral freedom; hence, the claim of “forced to be free”. Therefore, from idea, the ideology that is that you are free if you live under moral rules make some sense. Consequently, I support the interpretations of Rousseau where the people in his ideal society are a sort of proto-deliberative democrat; they see the value in communal life and collectively coming together to decide how to live (Pettit, 2016). From ancient society, people sign up to this decision procedure and agree to be bound by its outcomes. So from the claim, it is understandable that the community decided to be committed to the general population will; includes people who wanted a different decision. To critically make sense to this claim; for instance, if groups of friends agree to take either Pepsi or Coca-Cola in a dinner, and vote on that. Pepsi wins. Coca-Cola lovers will be required to take Pepsi, which is the results of the group. Since deliberators agreed to be bound by the decision procedure, they have to live by the decision. Therefore, once the group compels the Coca-Cola drinkers to take Pepsi, they are just compelling the Coca-Cola drinkers to follow the rules. This does not mean that freedom is lost. This supports the philosopher claim of “forced to be free".

Furthermore, from the claim, it is clear that a person “will be compelled to be free". From this claim, by giving each citizen, this state of freedom guards the individual against personal dependences. Some of the critical definitions which can help understand this topic include; “the sovereign”. This serves as the active role of a country. It operates in the best interests of the citizens. The other definition is “subjects”. A subject submits himself without condition to the social contract. Therefore, an individual does not hold any freedom which stands against the state since all citizens are bound unconditionally to social commitments, and none of the citizens loses their rights. Rousseau revealed that to ensure that social compact is not an empty formula. It involves the undertaking, that can compel the other social rules and that any individual, who do not abide the general will should be obligated to comply with the all elements of social compact (Pettit, 2016). Therefore from this claim, being bound unconditionally to the social contract, every citizen retains their rights. Once subject try to go against the social contract, the majority in the society attempts to compel the person to commit to the social contract, which is a set of legislations. Going against the social contract results in individuals’ freedom loss, therefore, the person will be compelled to “be free" or in other words, compelled to retain their freedom as per the social contract conditions (Pateman & Mills, 2007). Looking at a state, citizens must follow the laws set by the State. If they don't, they will be coerced to do so by sorts of policy enforcement. Through laws enforcement and regulation, the order is maintained, and everything runs smoothly. Therefore, this claim by Rousseau.

Furthermore, he also claims that animal species follow a set pattern of behaviour showing a programmed mechanism of living standards of animals. While, on the other side, human beings can deny and act against pressures of nature. Over this claim, Rousseau has tried to shed light on the true nature of human existence over human’s distinguished capacity to act against the natural way of living under same conditions of life showing the fact that not all humans even live in the same terms of life and, therefore, freedom is not yet understood clearly in all human societies. Rousseau suggests that humans are compelled to abide by the law and, consequently, they are being compelled to be free (Rousseau, 2018).

For Rousseau, in a constitutional state, natural freedom replaces by civil liberty. The idea of natural liberty is same for Rousseau as claimed by Hobbes in “right of nature.” Rousseau tried to shed light on his claim whereas revealing about the fact that human beings have their natural rights to enjoy their lives on their own while making decisions suitable according to certain conditions of their individual lives. However, in a lawful state, the civil law replaces the notion of natural law because of the interdependence of each individual and, therefore, their value of being natural free diminishes by the artificial or crafted nature of civil freedom (Rousseau, 1762).

Criticism of Rousseau

On the other side of Rousseau, much has also been discussed by other political theorists who successfully criticized Rousseau's conditions of the social contract. In this regard, for example, Frederick Neuhouser (1993) claims that general will has nothing to with the formation of a lawful state but a governing will. He further explained that general will is something about a person’s own choice of living under certain conditions of life to achieve some a good. However, within the lawful state, it becomes necessary for each individual to attain or desire for the common good. That common good can only be achieved through the governing will and not general will.

Neuhouser also claims that in order to survive with other, interdependence is essential as there is no other option available for many people to live according to their general will and that they cannot achieve what they desire, as a result, own their own and, thus, governing will act like a direction for all members of the society to follow governing will as a only way to achieve common good for all. Neuhouser claimed that Rousseau proposed the notion of the general will as the sole freedom challenge’s solution, but in “Freedom, General Will and Dependence,” Neuhouser offered a new starting point to criticize Rousseau and claims;

"If the solution is to succeed, the general will must regulate social cooperation in accord with the common good and at the same time be the will of the individuals whose behaviour it governs (Neuhouser, 1993).”

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Over the use of claims as mentioned above, Neuhouser tries to criticize Rousseau. In contrast, tries to show that if the general will is the only solution to freedom problems for Rousseau, then each individual of the society are said to be focused on one common good for all and this is not the case for the human community and survival of its individuals. Therefore, if in a lawful state, individuals are forced to obey one governing will over which each individual can achieve a common good, as a result, then the person is said to be free in real sense. At this point, again, it becomes apparent that Neuhouser has logically criticized Rousseau and rejected his idea of the general will as a sole solution to the problem of human freedom and, therefore, Neuhouser tries hard to prove his claim that governing intention is the way of providing immunity to all members of a lawful society and, thus, each individual can go for a common good under governing will and, therefore set free by the legal state accordingly (Neuhouser, 1993).


In conclusion, this paper has talked about Rousseau’s major claim about human freedom and what it truly meant to be free. However, no one has ever perfectly defined the true nature of the idea of freedom. For Rousseau, social and political institutions shape the standards of life and overcome the general will of society and, thus, offer their own set of rules for all and, therefore, freedom of choice and morality diminish by such institutions and forced democracy is imposed to be followed by everyone in the society. The freedom to act is quite different from the mechanism of our senses and psyche of the person. In other words, Rousseau has focused mainly on the idea of the general will. Still, he fails to talks about the concept of common good that is only attainable through the governing will of a lawful state because achieving a common good for an individual by the use of natural way of making decisions freely is harder than to achieve a common good for all in a society by the help of governing rules and set principles. From critics, there are also suggestions that Rousseau is weak over his claim since he failed to talk about the idea of the common good which is only possible through a governing will not a general will, especially imposed by both social and political institutions of a lawful state.


Cranston, M., 1984. Rousseau on equality. Social Philosophy and Policy.

Neuhouser, F., 1993. Freedom, Dependence, and the General Will. The Philosophical Review, Volume 102, Number 3.

Rousseau, J.-J., 1762. The Social Contract. s.l.:s.n.

Rousseau, J.J., 2018. Rousseau: The Social Contract and other later political writings. Cambridge University Press.

Rousseau, J. J., 2012. The Basic Political Writings: Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Discourse on Political Economy, On the Social Contract, The State of War.. s.l.:Hackett Publishing.

Rousseau, J. J., 2018. Rousseau: The Social Contract and other later political writings.. s.l.:Cambridge University Press.

Pettit, P., 2016. Rousseau's Dilemma.

Pateman, C. and Mills, C.W., 2007. Contract and domination. Polity.

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