'Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.'
These are the famous opening words of a treatise that has stirred vigorous debate ever since its first publication in 1762. Rejecting the view that anyone has a natural right to wield authority over others, Rousseau argues instead for a pact, or 'social contract', that should exist between all the citizens of a state and that should be the source of sovereign power. From this fundamental premise, he goes on to consider issues of liberty and law, freedom and justice, arriving at a view of society that has seemed to some a blueprint for totalitarianism, to others a declaration of democratic principles.
Translated by Quintin Hoare
With a new introduction by Christopher Bertram
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712. He spent much of his life travelling around Switzerland and France, working variously as a footman, seminarist and tutor. His writings included entries on music for Diderot's Encyclopedie, the novels La nouvelle Heloise (1761) and Emile (1762), and numerous political and philosophical texts. He also fathered five children - all of whom he abandoned to a foundling home - by Therese Levasseur, a servant girl. The crowning achievement of his political philosophy was The Social Contract, published in 1762. That same year he wrote an attack on religion that resulted in his exile to England. In 1770 Rousseau completed his Confessions. His last years were spent largely in France where he died in 1778. Quintin Hoare has translated from Italian, French, German, Russian and Bosnian, winning the John Florio Prize in 1978/9, the Scott-Moncrieff Prize in 1984 and the Schlegel-Tieck Prize in 1989. He was general editor of the Pelican Marx Library, and since 1997 has been director of The Bosnian Institute. Christopher Bertram is Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Bristol. He is the author of Rousseau and The Social Contract (Routledge, 2002) and is a past President of the Rousseau Association.