On Sovereignty (V)

Jean Jacques Rousseau

***La versión original en español del artículo se puede encontrar en este enlace. La traducción al inglés la ha realizado uno de los miembros del Círculo Camino Real de Tejas con la supervisión de los traductores del Gremio San Jerónimo***

We transcribe and publish the fifth part of the series on sovereignty, originally published between the end of 1854 and the beginning of 1855. This article simply and succinctly refutes the so-called «social compact» supposedly constitutive of human societies.


It is obviously false that men have come together in society by a compact, as the misanthrope from Geneva proposed. So much had been written about it, and the reasons for denying it were so convincing, that it seemed unnecessary to argue it again. However, since the advocates and propagators of the absurd principle of national sovereignty insist on their discredited theme and base it on the aforementioned compact, it will be well for us to prove here that it is a chimera.

Indeed, if we approach the origin of all the nations of the earth, from the most ancient to the most modern; if we carefully examine their history, we shall find that not one of them has come to form a social body by a mutual and deliberate act of its inhabitants. All of them, without exception, have risen to the rank of States by a series of events, in none of which the free choice of the inhabitants of the country has played any part. Let us confine ourselves to our own fatherland, whose vicissitudes are better known to us. From the scanty information which the history of primitive times supplies, it is known that the peninsula was inhabited by tribes living in caves and huts, governed either by chieftains or under republican or rather patriarchal forms.

Attracted by the richness of its soil, the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians came to settle here: the latter became masters of a large part of its territory and, to complete the conquest, they brought from Carthage numerous armies led by famous captains. War was declared between Rome and the ruler of ancient Hesperia, and the latter became the scene of long and bloody wars until it finally fell under the power of the Romans. Then the barbarians of the north invaded it, made it the prey of their weapons, and established a powerful monarchy in it, which in turn was conquered by the Saracens. They took refuge in Covadonga and San Juan de la Peña, Spaniards of courageous spirit, who came out of those cliffs determined to win or die for the independence of their fatherland, had the good fortune of being victorious in the first encounters and gave birth to the kingdoms of Leon, Castile, Aragon and Navarre. These four monarchies are united by cessions, marriages and inheritances in one that takes the denomination of Kingdom, Monarchy or the Spanish Nation.

We now pose the question: in which of the epochs we have enumerated did the Spaniards agree to live together or to form a society under this or that form? In none, absolutely none. For the same thing has happened in the other nations of the world, so it is a classic error to derive popular sovereignty from the compact that, according to the revolutionaries, preceded the formation of the States.

«The experts with whom we argue say that it is good that there is no explicit and formal compact in the constitution of nations, but it will not be denied that there must have been at least a tacit agreement. That is to say, a secret mutual concurrence of wills to find a form of association which protects and defends, with all the common force, the person and the property of each of the associates, an association by means of which each one, uniting himself to all, obeys only himself and remains as free as before, which is the essence of the Social Compact of J. J. Rousseau.»

He who speaks in this way must be ignorant of the history of the origin of societies. Even if this origin is explained to the philosopher, it will always be an undeniable truth that it could not but be the effect of the most imperious needs. Ascribe it to the mutual love of the two sexes, as well as to the mutual influence of parents and children; ascribe it to the precision of common defense against wild beasts, and to the mutual assistance in foraging food in the supposed state of nature; ascribe it to the pleasure of conversing with their fellows, or to all these causes together, which united men and brought them closer together to form what we call society. It will always logically follow that they did it without previous agreement, being driven by the necessity in which they found themselves to resort to such arbitrariness, either to satisfy vehement desires which stimulated their hearts, or to free themselves from the discomforts and evils which afflicted them in the state in which they lived. It is an insult to human reason to suppose that what is done by agreement is done almost involuntarily by the strongest and most irresistible necessity. It is to assert that the natural motive which exists between the two sexes, the love between parents and children, and the instinctive act of fleeing from threatening danger and seeking the protection of another, proceed from a compact made beforehand.

Is this, you experts, the social contract from which you derive the sovereignty of the people? There is no doubt that you speak like philosophers! There is no doubt that your lucubrations have been portentious, and that posterity must be grateful to you for the marvelous advances you have made in political science! There is no doubt that your era will be remembered forever by future generations!



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