Chapter One – Liberalism and Eurocentrism

The Social Contract (excerpts)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

On the Social Contract
Principles of Political Right

Translated by
Ian Johnston
Vancouver Island University
Nanaimo, British Columbia
 Second Revised Edition 2018

An HTML version of this text is available online at the following site:

Translator’s Note

This translation is based upon the 1762 French edition of Du Contrat social. Rousseau’s additions to that text in a later edition (1782) are given in the footnotes.

Footnotes from Rousseau’s text begin with the phrase [Rousseau’s note]; those supplied by the translator begin with the phrase [Translator’s note]. The quotations in languages other than French that Rousseau has inserted into his text have been translated into English within the text, and the original words have been included in a footnote. 

This text may be freely (i.e., without permission and without charge) used by teachers, students, and members of the general public, who may also edit the text to suit their purposes and distribute it in printed or electronic form. However, no commercial publication or distribution of it is allowed without written permission of the translator. Please contact the translator for details (at

On the Social Contract
the Principles of Political Right
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Citizen of Geneva

Let us speak of the laws of an equal federation. (Aeneid XI)

Table of Contents


Book I

Which examines how people pass from the state of nature into the civil state and what are the essential conditions of the social pact. 

 On The Social Contract


This small treatise is part of a more extensive work that I carried out earlier, without having taken into account my own powers, and that I abandoned a long time ago. Of the various parts one could extract from what it was, this is the most significant, and to me it seemed the least unworthy of being offered to the public. The rest no longer exists.

Book One 

I wish to explore whether in the civil order, if one takes men as they are and laws as they might be, there can be some sure and legitimate rule of administration. In this search, I will attempt always to unite what right permits with what interest prescribes, so that there will be no division of justice and utility.

I launch my undertaking without demonstrating the importance of my subject. People will ask me if, writing on politics, I am a prince or a lawgiver. My answer is that I am neither, and that is the reason I am writing on politics. If I were a prince or a lawgiver, I would not waste my time talking about what must be done. I would do it, or remain silent.

Since I was born a citizen of a free state and a member of the sovereign, no matter how weak the influence of my voice on public affairs may be, the right to vote on such issues is enough to impose on me the duty to instruct myself about them. And every time I meditate on governments, I am happy that in my research I always find new reasons to love the government of my country!  

Chapter 1

Subject of This First Book

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Someone who believes he is the master of others does not escape being more enslaved than they. How did this transformation come about? I do not know. What can render it legitimate? This question I believe I can resolve.

If I were to consider nothing but power and the effects that  follow from it, I would say: as long as a people is compelled to obey and does obey, it is doing well; as soon as it can throw off its yoke and does shake it off, it is doing even better, for by recovering its liberty through the same right that robbed the people of it, either it is justified in taking it back or those who deprived the populace of freedom had no justification for doing so. But the social order is a sacred right that serves as the foundation for all the others. This right, however, does not come from nature and is thus founded on conventions. It is a matter of knowing what these conventions are. Before coming to that, I ought to establish what I have just asserted.

Chapter 2

On the First Societies

The oldest of all societies and the only natural one is that of the family. Even there, the children remain linked to the father only as long as they need him for their self-preservation. As soon as this need ends, the natural bond dissolves. Once the children are free of the obedience they owed their father and the father is free of the care he owed his children, they all return equally to independence. If they continue to remain united, this is no longer natural but voluntary, and the family maintains itself only by convention.

This common liberty is a consequence of the nature of man. His first law is to look after his own preservation, his first cares are those he owes himself, and as soon as he reaches the age of reason, since he is the sole judge of the means appropriate to preserving himself, he thereby becomes his own master.

Thus, the family is, if you will, the first model of political societies. The leader is viewed as the father, and the people as the children. Since they are all born equal and free, they do not alienate their freedom except for their own advantage. The only difference is that in the family the love of the father for his children repays him for the care he takes of them, and that in the state the pleasure of commanding replaces this love, which the leader does not feel for his people.

Grotius denies that all human power is established for the benefit of those who are governed. He cites slavery as an example. His most characteristic style of reasoning is always to establish right by fact. One could use a more logical method, but not one more favorable to tyrants.

Thus, according to Grotius, it is unclear whether the human race belongs to a hundred men or whether these hundred men belong to the human race, and in his whole work he seems to incline towards the former opinion. That is also Hobbes’s sentiment. And in this way, the human race is divided into herds of cattle, each of which has its chief, who guards it in order to devour it.

As a shepherd has a nature superior to that of his flock, so the shepherds of men, who are their leaders, also possess a nature superior to that of their peoples. The emperor Caligula, according to what Philo reports, reasoned this way, and from this analogy came to the appropriate conclusion that either kings were gods or the people were beasts.

Caligula’s reasoning is the same as the arguments in Hobbes and Grotius. Before all of them, Aristotle had also claimed that men are not naturally equal, but that some are born for slavery and others for dominion.

Aristotle was correct, but he took the effect for the cause. All men born into slavery are born for slavery. Nothing is more certain. Slaves lose everything in their chains, even the desire to escape them. They love their servitude, just as Ulysses’ companions loved their brutish condition. So then if there are slaves by nature, that is because there have been slaves against nature. Force made the first slaves; their cowardice has kept them so.

I have not said anything about king Adam or about emperor Noah, father of three great monarchs who divided up the universe among them, as did the children of Saturn, whom some have claimed they recognize in Noah’s sons. I hope that people will find my moderation agreeable, for since I am a direct descendant of one of these princes—perhaps of the oldest branch—how do I know that with a verification of titles, I might not find myself the legitimate king of the human race? Whatever the case, one cannot deny that Adam was the sovereign of the world, just as Robinson [Crusoe] was of his island, as long as he was the sole inhabitant. And this empire had the advantage that in it, the monarch was secure upon his throne, and had to fear neither rebellions, nor wars, nor conspirators.

Chapter 3

On the Right of the Strongest

The strongest is never strong enough to be master all the time, unless he transforms his power into right and obedience into duty. From that comes the right of the strongest, a right which, although apparently intended ironically, is truly established in principle. But are we never to receive an explanation of this phrase? Force is physical power. I do not see what morality can result from its effects. To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will, at most an act of prudence. In what sense can that be a duty?

Let us assume for a moment this alleged right. I maintain that the result of such a right is nothing but inexplicable nonsense. For as soon as it is force that creates right, the effect changes with the cause. Every force that is more powerful than the first inherits its right. Once we can disobey with impunity, we can do so legitimately, and since the strongest is always right, it is simply a matter of making ourselves the strongest. But what kind of right perishes when force ends? If we must obey because of force, we have no need to obey because it is our duty, and if we are no longer forced to obey, we have no obligation to do so. One can see, therefore, that this word right adds nothing to force. Here it signifies nothing at all.

Obey those in power. If that means yield to force, it is a good precept, but superfluous. I reply that it will never be violated. All power comes from God—that I concede—but all sickness comes from Him as well. Does that mean we are forbidden to summon the doctor? If a brigand surprises me in a part of the forest, am I not merely compelled by force to surrender my purse, but also in conscience obliged to give it to him, when I could withhold it? For in the end, the pistol he holds is also a power.

So let us agree that force does not create right, and that we are obliged to obey only legitimate powers. Thus, we inevitably return to my original question.

Chapter 4

On Slavery

Since no man has a natural authority over his fellow man and since force creates no right, therefore conventions remain as the basis of all legitimate authority among human beings.  

If a particular individual can alienate his liberty, Grotius says, and make himself the slave of a master, why could not an entire people alienate its liberty and make itself subject to a king? In this question there are a number of ambiguous words that require an explanation, but let us restrict ourselves to that word alienate. To alienate means to give or to sell. Now, a man who makes himself the slave of someone else is not giving but selling himself, at least for his subsistence. But why does a people sell itself? A king, far from providing his subjects their subsistence, derives his own only from them, and, according to Rabelais, a king does not live on a pittance. So, do subjects surrender their persons on condition that their goods will also be taken away? I do not see what they have left to preserve.

Some will say that the despot assures his subjects civil tranquility. That may be so, but what do they gain from that, if the wars that his ambition draws them into, if his insatiable greed and the humiliating demands of his ministers bring them more desolation than their own quarrels would have done? What do they gain from it, if this tranquility is itself one of their miseries? People also live peacefully in dungeons. Is that enough to make them a good place to live? The Greeks imprisoned in the cave of Cyclops lived there peacefully, while waiting for their turn to be devoured.

To say that a man gives s himself gratuitously is to make an absurd and inconceivable claim. Such an act is illegitimate and void, for the sole reason that the man who does it is not in his right mind. To say the same thing about an entire people is to assume a population of madmen. Madness creates no rights.

Even if each man were able to alienate himself, he cannot alienate his children. They are born human beings and free. Their liberty belongs to them. They alone have the right to dispose of it. No one else has that right. Before they reach the age of reason, the father can stipulate in their name the conditions for their preservation, for their well-being, but he cannot give them away irrevocably and unconditionally. For such a gift is contrary to the ends of nature and goes beyond the rights of paternity. Thus, for an arbitrary government to be legitimate, in every generation the people would have to have the power to accept or reject it. But then this government would no longer be arbitrary.

To renounce one’s liberty is to renounce one’s quality as a man, the rights of humanity, and even his duties. There is no possible compensation for someone who surrenders everything. Such a renunciation is incompatible with the nature of man, and to remove all liberty from someone’s will is to remove all morality from his actions. Finally, it is an empty and contradictory convention to stipulate, on the one hand, an absolute authority and, on the other, an unlimited obedience. Is it not clear that we have no obligations towards someone from whom we have the right to demand everything? And does this condition alone, where there is no equivalence or exchange, not involve nullifying the act? For what right would my slave have against me, since all he possesses belongs to me? Now that his right is mine, this right I have against myself is meaningless.

Grotius and others derive from warfare another origin for the alleged right of slavery. Since the victor, according to them, has the right to kill the vanquished, the latter can purchase his life back at the expense of his liberty, and this convention is all the more legitimate because it is profitable to both parties.

But it is clear that this alleged right to kill the vanquished in no way results from the state of war. Given the simple fact that human beings living in their original independence have no sufficiently constant relations among themselves to constitute either a state of peace or a state of war, they are not naturally enemies. What constitutes war is a relationship between things and not between men, and since a state of war cannot arise from simple personal relationships, but only from relationships involving property, a private war or a war of man against man cannot exist, either in the state of nature, where there is no definite property, or in the social state, where everything is under the authority of laws.

Individual fights, duels, and confrontations are not acts that establish a state, and as far as private wars are concerned, authorized by the ordinances of Louis IX, king of France, and suspended by the peace of God, these are abuses of feudal government, an absurd system if ever there was one, contrary to the principles of natural right and to all good polities.

Hence, war is a not a relation between one man and another, but between one state and another. In war individuals are enemies only by accident, not as men, nor even as citizens, but as soldiers; not as members of their homeland, but as its defenders. Finally, each state can have as its enemies only other states and not other men, for between things with such different natures we can establish no true relationship.

This principle even complies with the established maxims of all times and with the constant practice of all civilized peoples. Declarations of war are warnings, not so much to those in power as to their subjects. A foreigner—whether king, individual, or people—who steals, kills, or detains the subjects without declaring war on the prince is not an enemy but a brigand. Even in the middle of a war, a just prince in a hostile country rightly seizes everything that belongs to the public, but he respects the persons and the goods of individuals. He respects the rights on which his own are founded. Since the end of war is the destruction of the enemy state, one has a right to kill its defenders as long as they bear arms. But as soon as they lay down their weapons and surrender, thus ceasing to be enemies or tools of the enemy, they return to being simply men, and one no longer has a right to their lives. Sometimes one can kill a state without killing a single one of its members, and war grants no right that is not essential to its purpose. These principles are not those of Grotius, nor are they founded on the authority of poets. But they do derive from the nature of things and are based upon reason.

As far as the right of conquest is concerned, that has no foundation other than the law of the strongest. If war does not give the victor the right to massacre the vanquished, this right that he does not have cannot be the basis of his right to enslave them. One has the right to kill an enemy only when one cannot make him a slave. Hence, the right to make someone a slave does not stem from the right to kill him. It is thus an iniquitous exchange to make him purchase his life, to which one has no right, at the price of his liberty. Is it not clear that by establishing the right of life and death on the right of slavery, and the right of slavery on the right of life and death, one falls into a vicious circle?

Even assuming this terrible right to kill everyone, I claim that someone enslaved in war or a conquered people is bound by nothing at all where their master is concerned, other than to obey him as much as they are forced to do so. By accepting an equivalent for his life, the victor has not done him a favor, for instead of killing him without profit, he has killed him for his own use. And thus, it is far from the case that he has acquired any authority over him that is not linked to force, and the state of war continues between them as before. The very relationship between them is the effect of war, and using the right of war does not presuppose any treaty of peace. They have established a convention. That may well be so. But this convention, far from destroying the state of war, assumes its continuation.

Thus, however one examines the issue, the right of slavery is non-existent, not only because it is illegitimate, but also because it is absurd and signifies nothing. The words slavery and right are contradictory and mutually exclusive. Whether one man is speaking to another or one man is speaking to a people, the following statement will always be equally absurd: “I am making an agreement with you entirely at your expense and entirely to my advantage, which I will observe as long as it pleases me, and you will observe it as long as it pleases me.”

Chapter 5

That It is Always Necessary to Go Back to a First Agreement

Even if I were to concede everything I have refuted up to this point, the apologists for despotism would not have advanced their cause any further. There will always be a great difference between subduing a multitude and governing a society. If scattered individuals were successively enslaved to one man, no matter how many there might be, I still see nothing there but a master and slaves. I do not see a people and its leader. It is, if you will, an aggregation, but not an association. There is in it no public good and no body politic. Even if that man had enslaved half the world, he is still merely an individual. His interest, separate from the interest of the others, is always merely a private interest. If this same man happens to die, after he is gone his empire remains scattered and disconnected, as an oak tree, once fire has consumed it, collapses and dissolves into a heap of ashes.

A people, Grotius says, can give itself to a king. According to him, therefore, a people is a people before it gives itself to a king. This gift is itself a civil act. It assumes a public deliberation. Hence, before examining the act by which a people chooses a king, it would be good to examine the act by which a people becomes a people. For since this act is necessarily prior to the former, it is the true foundation of society.

In fact, if there were no previous agreement, unless the election was unanimous, how would there

be an obligation for the minority to submit to the choice of the majority? Where would the hundred people who want a master acquire the right to vote on behalf of the ten who do not? The law of majority vote is itself established by convention and presupposes unanimity on at least one occasion.

Chapter 6

On the Social Compact

I assume that men have reached the stage where the obstacles harmful to their preservation in a state of nature are winning out, because these obstacles resist the forces that each individual can employ in order to maintain himself in this condition. At that point, this primitive state can no longer continue, and the human race would die out if it did not change its way of life.

Now, since men are incapable of creating new forces but only of uniting and directing existing ones, they have no way of preserving themselves other than to form by aggregation a sum of their forces, something that could prevail over that resistance, then to bring these forces to bear by a single motive power and to make them work in concert.

This sum of forces cannot arise except through several people combining together. But since the power and liberty of each man are the principal instruments of his preservation, how will he commit them to others without harming himself and without neglecting the care he owes himself? If we apply this difficulty to my subject, we can define it in these terms:

 “To find a form of association that defends and protects with full communal force the person and the possessions of each member and in which each person, by uniting with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before.” Such is the fundamental problem to which the social contract provides the solution.

The clauses of this contract are determined by the nature of the act in such a way that the least modification renders them empty and ineffectual. As a result, even though they perhaps have never been formally stated, they are the same everywhere and are tacitly admitted and recognized everywhere, until the moment when, once the social pact has been violated, each person then returns to his original rights and resumes his natural liberty, losing the conventional freedom for which he renounced it.

These clauses, properly understood, all come down to one, that is, the total alienation of each member of the association, along with all his rights, to the entire community. For, first of all, since each person gives himself entirely, the condition is equal for all, and since the condition is the same for everyone, no one has an interest in making it burdensome for the others.

Furthermore, because the alienation is made without reservation, the union is as perfect as it can be, and no member of the association has any further demands. For, given that there would be no shared superior who could decide between particular members and the public, if individuals retained certain rights, each one would, on some point, be his own judge and would soon claim to be that in all things. The state of nature would remain, and the association would necessarily become tyrannical or pointless.

Finally, since each person gives himself to everyone, he gives himself to no one, and since there is no member of the association over whom he does not acquire the same right that he grants that person over himself, he gains the equivalent of everything he loses, as well as more power to preserve what he has.

If then we remove from the social pact what is not part of its essence, we will find that it is reduced to the following terms: Each one of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and as a body we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.  

This act of association immediately replaces the individual personality of each member of the contract with a moral and collective body composed of as many members as there are voices in the assembly. From this same act, the assembly acquires its unity, its common self, its life, and its will. The public person produced in this way by the union of all the others in earlier days took the name of city and now bears the name of republic or body politic. It is called the state by its members when it is passive, the sovereign when it is active, and a power when it is being compared to others like itself. So far as the members of the association are concerned, they take on collectively the name of people, calling themselves, as individuals, citizens, since they are participants in the sovereign authority, and subjects, since they submit to the laws of the state. These terms, however, are often confused and taken for one another. It is sufficient to know how to distinguish them when they are used with complete precision.

Chapter 7

On the Sovereign

We see in this formulation that the act of association contains a reciprocal commitment between the public and the individual, and that, by making a contract with himself, so to speak, each individual finds himself bound in a double relationship: that is, as a member of the sovereign towards each individual, and, as a member of the state, towards the sovereign. However, we cannot apply here that principle of civil law that no person is bound by commitments made to himself, for there is a significant difference between having an obligation to oneself and having an obligation to a whole of which one is a part.

We must also observe that public deliberations that can impose obligations on all subjects to the sovereign, given the two different relationships under which each citizen-subject is regarded, cannot, for the opposite reason, impose obligations on the sovereign to itself and thus that it is contrary to the nature of the body politic for the sovereign to impose a law on itself that it cannot break. Since the sovereign can view itself in terms of only one single relationship, it is then in the position of a particular individual making a contract with himself. From that we see that there is not and cannot be any sort of fundamental law imposing obligations on the body of the people, not even the social contract. That does not mean that this body cannot properly enter into undertakings with other political bodies concerning matters that do not violate this contract, for as far as foreigners are concerned, the body politic becomes a single entity, an individual.

But since the body politic or the sovereign derives its being only from the sanctity of the contract, it can never commit itself, even towards foreigners, to anything that violates this original act, for instance, by alienating some part of itself or by submitting itself to another sovereign. To violate the act by which it exists would be to annihilate itself, and what is nothing produces nothing.

As soon as this multitude is thus unified into a body, one cannot offend against one of its members without attacking the body; still less can one harm the body without its members feeling the effects. Thus, obligation and interest require the two contracting parties equally to provide mutual help to one another, and in this double relationship the same people should seek to combine all the advantages that depend on it.

Now, since the sovereign is composed only of individuals who make it up, it does not have and cannot have an interest contrary to theirs. Therefore, the sovereign power has no need to give its subjects a guarantee, because it is impossible that the body would want to harm all its members, and later on we shall see that it cannot harm any particular individual. From the very fact that it exists, the sovereign is always everything it ought to be.

However, it is not the same for the subjects with regard to the sovereign, since, despite their common interest, the sovereign would have no guarantee of their commitments unless it found ways of assuring itself of their loyalty.

In fact, each individual, as a man, can have a particular will at odds with or different from the general will that he has as a citizen. His particular interest can speak to him in an entirely different way from the common interest. His absolute and naturally independent existence can lead him to look on what he owes the common cause as a gratuitous contribution, the loss of which will be less injurious to the others than the payment is onerous to him, and by viewing the moral person who constitutes the state as a notional being, because he is not a man, he may want to enjoy the rights of a citizen without being willing to fulfill the duties of a subject, an injustice whose progress would lead to the ruin of the body politic.

Therefore, to ensure that the social pact is not an empty formula, it tacitly includes this commitment, which alone can give force to the others: whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be constrained to do so by the entire body. This simply means that he will be forced to be free. For that is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his native land, protects him from all personal dependency, a condition that makes the artifice and the working of the political machine, and which alone confers legitimacy on civil commitments—which would otherwise be absurd, tyrannical, and subject to the most enormous abuses.

Chapter 8

On the Civil State

This transition from the state of nature to the civil state produces in man a very remarkable change, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct and by giving his actions a moral quality they previously lacked. Only then, when the voice of duty takes over from physical impulses and right takes the place of appetite does a man, who up to that point has considered only himself, see himself compelled to act on other principles and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations. Although in this state he deprives himself of several of the advantages he derives from nature, those he gains in return are so great that his faculties are stimulated and developed, his ideas grow more extensive, his sentiments are ennobled, and his whole soul is uplifted, so much so that, if the abuses of this new condition did not often degrade him below the condition he left, he ought never to stop blessing the happy moment that tore him away from it forever, and that changed him from a stupid and limited animal into an intelligent being and a man.

Let us reduce this balance sheet to terms we can easily compare. Through the social contract, man loses his natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything which tempts him and which he is able to reach. What he wins is civil liberty and the ownership of everything he possesses. In order not to be mistaken about these compensations, we must make a clear distinction between natural liberty, which has no limits other than the powers of the individual, and civil liberty, which is limited by the general will, and between possession, which is merely a result of force or the right of the first occupant, and property, which can be founded only on a positive title.

To the preceding we could add to those things a man acquires in the civil state moral liberty, which alone makes him truly master of himself. For following the impulses of mere appetite is slavery, while obeying the law that one has set down for oneself is liberty. But I have already said too much on this topic, and the philosophical meaning of the word liberty is not part of my subject here.

Chapter 9

On Real Property

Each member of the community gives himself to it at the moment it is formed, just as he presently is, his person and all his powers, a part of which is the goods he possesses. This does not mean that through this act of changing hands, possession changes its nature and becomes property in the hands of the sovereign. However, since the forces of the city are incomparably greater than those of an individual, public possession is also, in fact, stronger and more irrevocable, without being more legitimate, at least from the point of view of foreigners. For where its members are concerned, the state is master of all their goods thanks to the social contract, which within the state serves as the basis for all rights. However, where other powers are concerned, the state is master only by the right of the first occupant, which it derives from particular individuals.

Although the right of the first occupant is more real than the right of the strongest, it does not become a true right until after the establishment of the right of property. Every man by nature has a right to everything that is necessary to him, but the positive act that makes him the owner of some goods excludes him from all the rest. Once his share is determined, he should limit himself to that; he has no further right with respect to the community. That is why the right of the first occupant—so weak in the state of nature—is respected by everyone in civil society. In this right, a person is respecting not so much what belongs to other people, as what does not belong to him.

Generally speaking, in order to authorize the right of first occupant over any territory, the following conditions must apply: first, this territory must not yet be inhabited by anyone; second, one must occupy only as much land as one requires to subsist; third, one must take possession of the land, not by an empty ceremony, but by toil and cultivation, the only sign of ownership which, when legal titles are not available, should be respected by others.

In fact, by according the right of first occupant to need and labor, are we not extending this right as far as it can go? Is it possible to assign this right without limits? Will it be sufficient to place one’s foot on some common land in order to claim immediately that one is its master? Will it be sufficient to have the power to push other men aside for a moment in order to remove from them the right ever to return there? How can a man or a people seize an immense territory and take it away from the entire human race other than by a punishable usurpation, since such an act deprives the rest of humanity of the habitable places and the food that nature gives them in common? When Nuñez Balboa, standing on the seashore, took possession of the South Sea and all of South America in the name of the crown of Castille, was that enough to dispossess all the inhabitants there and to exclude from the region all the princes of the world? If so, it is quite pointless to multiply these ceremonies, and the Catholic king in his private rooms merely has to take possession all at once of the entire universe, provided he later removes from his empire what was possessed first by other princes.

We can conceive how the unified and contiguous lands of particular individuals become public territory and how the right of sovereignty, by extending from the subjects to the land they occupy, becomes at once real and personal. This process makes those who possess the land more heavily dependent and turns even their own forces into guarantees of their fidelity. This advantage does not seem to have been fully perceived by ancient monarchs, who called themselves only kings of the Persians, Scythians, or Macedonians, apparently considering themselves rulers of men rather than masters of countries. Today’s rulers are more astute and call themselves kings of France, Spain, England, and so on. By thus holding the land, they are quite confident of holding its inhabitants.

What is significant about this alienation is that, by taking the goods of individuals, the community, far from depriving them, merely assures them of legitimate possession, for it changes usurpation into a genuine right and enjoyment into ownership. Thus, given that the possessors are considered agents of the public good and that their rights are respected by all the members of the state and maintained with all their forces against foreigners, these owners, by a surrender advantageous to the public and even more so to themselves, have, so to speak, acquired everything that they have given up. This paradox is easily explained by the distinction between the rights that the sovereign and the owner have over the same resources, as we will see later.

It can also happen that men begin to unite before they possess anything and then later take over a territory sufficient for all, which they enjoy in common or which they divide up among themselves, either equally or according to proportions determined by the sovereign. However this acquisition is accomplished, the right of each particular individual over his own land is always subordinate to the right of the community over everything, without which there would be no strength in the social bond and no real force in the exercise of the sovereignty.

I will end this chapter and this book with a comment that should serve as the foundation for the entire social system: instead of destroying natural equality, the fundamental pact, by contrast, substitutes for the physical inequalities which nature could have established among men a moral and legitimate equality, and people who could be unequal in power or intelligence all become equal by convention and by right.

End of Book 1

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