Recommended Translation: On the Social Contract, with Geneva Manuscript and Political Economy; ed. by Roger D. Masters, trans by Judith R. Masters (New York and Boston: St. Martin's Press, 1978).
The democratic and revolutionary principles put forward in Rousseau’s Social Contract have made it one of the essential texts of political philosophy since its publication in 1762. With this work, Rousseau’s sought to determine how civil society could both ensure the security of individuals and maintain their freedoms. After critiquing the inequities perpetuated by absolutist monarchies, Rousseau argued for a political system based on a social contract agreed upon by all members of society. The “general will” of the people, as expressed by the social contract, would provide the basis for legitimate political authority and ensure that the state’s laws protected the common good.