Locke’s ideas, Rousseau’s principles, and the general will

James Farr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


John Locke scarcely appears in discussions of the general will. When he does, he is usually made to play the part of liberal adversary to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose Social Contract gave enduring fame and notoriety to the concept. A crucial exception is to be found in Patrick Riley’s magisterial conceptual history, The General Will before Rousseau. While Locke is by no means a central figure in Riley’s history – as compared to Arnauld, Pascal, Malebranche, Bayle, Montesquieu, and Rousseau himself – he is at least an instructive one, who contrasts with them on key points of theology and politics. One senses more of the presence of Locke, as in the closing sentence of Riley’s preface. “The genesis of the ‘general will’ lies in God; the creation of the political concept – yielding a covenant and law that is a mosaic of the Mosaic, the Spartan, the Roman, and the Lockean – is the testament of Rousseau.” In Riley’s other works, Lockean voluntarism about the will and a psychology based on sensation proved influential on Rousseau. It was Locke, in short, who inspired Rousseau’s insistence that the citizen must will freely to will generally and whose political education must be tailored to his senses and psyche.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe General Will
Subtitle of host publicationThe Evolution of a Concept
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781107297982
ISBN (Print)9781107057012
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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