Thursday, September 29, 2005

Rousseau in Massachusetts

To: Members of PoliSci. 181-601 (Modern Political Thought)
From: Jeff Weintraub
Re: Rousseau in Massachusetts

You are already aware of the fact that some of Rousseau's ideas (or, at least, certain interpretations of those ideas) played a significant role in the French Revolution. If you didn't know that already, it must be clear to you now from reading Robert Nisbet's chapter on "The Two Revolutions" and from the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,"

However, those are not the only ways that Rousseau's ideas can be interpreted, and it's important to remember that his direct and indirect influence has been very broad and complex--politically, intellectually, and ideologically. We will encounter some theoretical echoes of his arguments during the rest of the course. But for the moment, just consider the following selections from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts].1 This was originally ratified in 1780,2 and John Adams (who was later the second President of the United States, from 1796-1800) played a major role in drafting it. It's an open question whether or not the passages I'm about to quote were written with Rousseau specifically in mind ... but do any of these ideas sound vaguely familiar?

Jeff Weintraub



The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: it is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. It is the duty of the people, therefore, in framing a constitution of government, to provide for an equitable mode of making laws, as well as for an impartial interpretation, and a faithful execution of them; that every man may, at all times, find his security in them. [From the Preamble]

Article V. All power residing originally in the people, and being derived from them, the several magistrates and officers of government, vested with authority, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, are their substitutes and agents, and are at all times accountable to them. [From Part I]

Article VII. Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men: Therefore the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity and happiness require it. [From Part I]