Just a few days before Christmas I finished reading Book 1 of The Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau. Somehow I wound up to 4th year never having touched it even though it is a required reading for first-year Political Science students! But the book is quite a bliss to explore with Rousseau’s utopic and almost romantic idealization of how the state came about and the concepts he believes to be fundamental in having an ideal state, republic, or country.
There is a lot to talk about in the book that I will probably explore with you in other newsletters. Today, however, I wanted to focus on his introduction and the reason he gives for writing his book. Rousseau says,
I enter upon my task without proving the importance of the subject. I shall be asked if I am a prince or a legislator, to write on politics. I answer that I am neither, and that is why I do so…
…As I was born a citizen of a free State, and a member of the Sovereign, I feel that, however feeble the influence my voice can have on public affairs, the right of voting on them makes it my duty to study them…
If you are an ardent follower of my writing, then you really understand why Rousseau’s introduction fascinates me. I am a firm believer that political change starts with our ability to understand and critically examine our politics. I have written before on the pitfalls that we fall for as citizens and voters of believing that we are perfect unlike our politicians or being apathetic or even worse clueless about the type of political leadership that we need.
Rousseau says that because he has a right to vote, it is then his duty to study political affairs. This is quite an intriguing thought. Most of my readers are new voters (like I am) and will probably recall the excitement we had when we acquired the right to vote. But that excitement strangely disappears after our first voting experience and a realization a few years down the line, that our vote is never really the key to political change.
Yet this newsletter is to urge and encourage you that your role as a citizen should probably be much more than that as Rousseau says. It should be to take an active stance in public affairs. That stance does not have to be to actively engage in politics but to participate in ways that I have previously described
We need to be willing to be part of these solutions. To become experts in our own field. To believe in a cause. To volunteer, to protest, to speak out, and to work.
Rousseau points out that it is neither force nor nature that brings about social order but a conscious general will by a people. (terming it as the social contract). I think this is an important point to keep in mind. Our society won’t just change naturally or through a messianic dictator (as I often think) but through progressive change that we can all be part of.
Have a great week ahead!