Rousseau’s contradictions

Written by Jennifer Paskett on September 8th, 2009

The story of Darryl Kerrigan and his family is the story of the triumph of Lockean ideals over the institutionalized ideas of Rousseau. The Australian laws of compulsory acquisition and their American counterpart, eminent domain, are based on the principle that private property can be confiscated for the public good so long as the owner is compensated. Rousseau can justify this using utilitarian rationalization. The general will is always right because it takes “private interest into account, and is no more than a sum of particular wills: but take away from these same will the pluses and minuses that cancel once another, and the general will remains as the sum of the differences” (Social Contract, II.iii, page 18-19). But as a professor of mine once asked, can you really weigh people’s interests and values like that? Can you really just add up and cancel out people’s desires, gains, losses, and rights? This is the case that Lawrence Hammel, the eloquent (and competent) QC, made before the High Court. I find it strange that Rousseau justifies the social contract using the general will, and then condemns the natural results. With something so utterly immeasurable, it is no wonder that it can be subject to abuses. I agree with Locke, property is the natural result of labor and securing those gains is the most sensible way to organize society. Government does play a vital in this through establishing laws, arbitrating disputes, and executing judgments. (Second Treatise, §124-126).


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