From a poli-sci prof:
ah poor Rousseau, so maligned and yet in many ways so deserving. He gets it
from both sides because there are so many contradictory strands in his thought.
One point about your column – Rousseau makes an important and clear distinction in Book II of the Social Contract between the “general will” and the “will of all.” The general will requires that each member of the community will the common good above their own particular good. The general will is not the
aggregate of everyone’s particular goods. The general will does not exist if
each person is willing their particular good – thus whatever is reflected in
public opinion polls about abortion or whatever, it is certainly not Rousseau’s
general will. That being said the general will has no substantive content –
rights or anything else – all that really matters is that the proper procedure
is involved. The whole point of having a constitution is to bind our law to
certain principles that exist independently of the majority’s belief in them.
If the constitution only means what people think it means, then what the hell
is the point. The general will is not bound to recognize any principle beyond
the one in fact creates it. Under the social contract Rousseau style, citizens
have no rights that the general will is bound to respect – no rights that they
do not surrender as part of the social contract. That is why Madison
(following Locke) thought Rousseau was full of crap. (Jefferson by the way was
a big fan – which is one of the myriad reasons that I am not a fan of
love your stuff.