6.28.2017 Doc of the Day

1. Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1762.
2. James Madison, 1788.
3. Luigi Pirandello, 1934.
4. Malcolm X, et al., 1964.

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Numero Uno“For the study of the great writers and thinkers of the past, historical imagination is the first necessity.  Without mentally referring to the environment in which they lived, we cannot hope to penetrate below the inessential and temporary to the absolute and permanent value of their thought.  Theory, no less than action, is subject to these necessities; the form in which men cast their speculations, no less than the ways in which they behave, are the result of the habits of thought and action which they find around them.  Great men make, indeed, individual contributions to the knowledge of their times; but they can never transcend the age in which they live.  The questions they try to answer will always be those their contemporaries are asking; their statement of fundamental problems will always be relative to the traditional statements that have been handed down to them.  When they are stating what is most startlingly new, they will be most likely to put it in an old-fashioned form, and to use the inadequate ideas and formulae of tradition to express the deeper truths towards which they are feeling their way.  They will be most the children of their age, when they are rising most above it.


Rousseau has suffered as much as any one from critics without a sense of history.  He has been cried up and cried down by democrats and oppressors with an equal lack of understanding and imagination.  His name, a hundred and fifty years after the publication of the Social Contract, is still a controversial watchword and a party cry.  He is accepted as one of the greatest writers France has produced; but even now men are inclined, as political bias prompts them, to accept or reject his political doctrines as a whole, without sifting them or attempting to understand and discriminate.  He is still revered or hated as the author who, above all others, inspired the French Revolution.

At the present day, his works possess a double significance. They are important historically, alike as giving us an insight into the mind of the eighteenth century, and for the actual influence they have had on the course of events in Europe. Certainly no other writer of the time has exercised such an influence as his. He may fairly be called the parent of the romantic movement in art, letters and life; he affected profoundly the German romantics and Goethe himself; he set the fashion of a new introspection which has permeated nineteenth century literature; he began modern educational theory; and, above all, in political thought he represents the passage from a traditional theory rooted in the Middle Ages to the modern philosophy of the State. His influence on Kant’s moral philosophy and on Hegel’s philosophy of Right are two sides of the same fundamental contribution to modern thought. He is, in fact, the great forerunner of German and English Idealism.

It would not be possible, in the course of a short introduction, to deal both with the positive content of Rousseau’s thought and with the actual influence he has had on practical affairs. The statesmen of the French Revolution, from Robespierre downwards, were throughout profoundly affected by the study of his works. Though they seem often to have misunderstood him, they had on the whole studied him with the attention he demands. In the nineteenth century, men continued to appeal to Rousseau, without, as a rule, knowing him well or penetrating deeply into his meaning. “The Social Contract,” says M. Dreyfus-Brisac, “is the book of all books that is most talked of and least read.” But with the great revival of interest in political philosophy there has come a desire for the better understanding of Rousseau’s work. He is again being studied more as a thinker and less as an ally or an opponent; there is more eagerness to sift the true from the false, and to seek in the Social Contract the “principles of political right,” rather than the great revolutionary’s ipse dixit in favour of some view about circumstances which he could never have; contemplated.

The Social Contract, then, may be regarded either as a document of the French Revolution, or as one of the greatest books dealing with political philosophy. It is in the second capacity, as a work of permanent value containing truth, that it finds a place among the world’s great books. It is in that capacity also that it will be treated in this introduction. Taking it in this aspect, we have no less need of historical insight than if we came to it as historians pure and simple. To understand—its value we must grasp its limitations; when the questions it answers seem unnaturally put, we must not conclude that they are meaningless; we must see if the answer still holds when the question is put in a more up-to-date form.

First, then, we must always remember that Rousseau is writing in the eighteenth century, and for the most part in France. Neither the French monarchy nor the Genevese aristocracy loved outspoken criticism, and Rousseau had always to be very careful what he said. This may seem a curious statement to make about a man who suffered continual persecution on account of his subversive doctrines; but, although Rousseau was one of the most daring writers of his time, he was forced continually to moderate his language and, as a rule, to confine himself to generalisation instead of attacking particular abuses. Rousseau’s theory has often been decried as too abstract and metaphysical. This is in many ways its great strength; but where it is excessively so, the accident of time is to blame. In the eighteenth century it was, broadly speaking, safe to generalise and unsafe to particularise. Scepticism and discontent were the prevailing temper of the intellectual classes, and a short-sighted despotism held that, as long as they were confined to these, they would do little harm. Subversive doctrines were only regarded as dangerous when they were so put as to appeal to the masses; philosophy was regarded as impotent. The intellectuals of the eighteenth century therefore generalised to their hearts’ content, and as a rule suffered little for their lèse-majesté: Voltaire is the typical example of such generalisation. The spirit of the age favoured such methods, and it was therefore natural for Rousseau to pursue them. But his general remarks had such a way of bearing very obvious particular applications, and were so obviously inspired by a particular attitude towards the government of his day, that even philosophy became in his hands unsafe, and he was attacked for what men read between the lines of his works. It is owing to this faculty of giving his generalisations content and actuality that Rousseau has become the father of modern political philosophy. He uses the method of his time only to transcend it; out of the abstract and general he creates the concrete and universal.

Secondly, we must not forget that Rousseau’s theories are to be studied in a wider historical environment. If he is the first of modern political theorists, he is also the last of a long line of Renaissance theorists, who in turn inherit and transform the concepts of mediæval thought. So many critics have spent so much wasted time in proving that Rousseau was not original only because they began by identifying originality with isolation: they studied first the Social Contract by itself, out of relation to earlier works, and then, having discovered that these earlier works resembled it, decided that everything it had to say was borrowed. Had they begun their study in a truly historical spirit, they would have seen that Rousseau’s importance lies just in the new use he makes of old ideas, in the transition he makes from old to new in the general conception of politics. No mere innovator could have exercised such an influence or hit on so much truth. Theory makes no great leaps; it proceeds to new concepts by the adjustment and renovation of old ones. Just as theological writers on politics, from Hooker to Bossuet, make use of Biblical terminology and ideas; just as more modern writers, from Hegel to Herbert Spencer, make use of the concept of evolution, Rousseau uses the ideas and terms of the Social Contract theory. We should feel, throughout his work, his struggle to free himself from what is lifeless and outworn in that theory, while he develops out of it fruitful conceptions that go beyond its scope. A too rigid literalism in the interpretation of Rousseau’s thought may easily reduce it to the possession of a merely “historical interest”: if we approach it in a truly historical spirit, we shall be able to appreciate at once its temporary and its lasting value, to see how it served his contemporaries, and at the same time to disentangle from it what may be serviceable to us and for all time.

Rousseau’s Emile, the greatest of all works on education, has already been issued in this series. In this volume are contained the most important of his political works. Of these the Social Contract, by far the most significant, is the latest in date. It represents the maturity of his thought, while the other works only illustrate his development. Born in 1712, he issued no work of importance till 1750; but he tells us, in the Confessions, that in 1743, when he was attached to the Embassy at Venice, he had already conceived the idea of a great work on Political Institutions, “which was to put the seal on his reputation.” He seems, however, to have made little progress with this work, until in 1749 he happened to light on the announcement of a prize offered by the Academy of Dijon for an answer to the question, “Has the progress of the arts and sciences tended to the purification or to the corruption of morality?” His old ideas came thronging back, and sick at heart of the life he had been leading among the Paris lumières, he composed a violent and rhetorical diatribe against civilisation generally. In the following year, this work, having been awarded the prize by the Academy, was published by its author. His success was instantaneous; he became at once a famous man, the “lion” of Parisian literary circles. Refutations of his work were issued by professors, scribblers, outraged theologians and even by the King of Poland. Rousseau endeavoured to answer them all, and in the course of argument his thought developed. From 1750 to the publication of the Social Contract and Emile in 1762 he gradually evolved his views: in those twelve years he made his unique contribution to political thought.

The Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, the earliest of the works reproduced in this volume, is not in itself of very great importance. Rousseau has given his opinion of it in the Confessions. “Full of warmth and force, it is wholly without logic or order; of all my works it is the weakest in argument and the least harmonious. But whatever gifts a man may be born with, he cannot learn the art of writing in a moment.” This criticism is just. The first Discourse neither is, nor attempts to be, a reasoned or a balanced production. It is the speech of an advocate, wholly one-sided and arbitrary, but so obviously and naively one-sided, that it is difficult for us to believe in its entire seriousness. At the most, it is only a rather brilliant but flimsy rhetorical effort, a sophistical improvisation, but not a serious contribution to thought. Yet it is certain that this declamation made Rousseau’s name, and established his position as a great writer in Parisian circles. D’Alembert even devoted the preface of the Encyclopædia to a refutation. The plan of the first Discourse is essentially simple: it sets out from the badness, immorality and misery of modern nations, traces all these ills to the departure from a “natural” state, and then credits the progress of the arts and sciences with being the cause of that departure. In it, Rousseau is already in possession of his idea of “nature” as an ideal; but he has at present made no attempt to discriminate, in what is unnatural, between good and bad. He is merely using a single idea, putting it as strongly as he can, and neglecting all its limitations. The first Discourse is important not for any positive doctrine it contains, but as a key to the development of Rousseau’s mind. Here we see him at the beginning of the long journey which was to lead on at last to the theory of the Social Contract.

In 1755 appeared the Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality among Men, which is the second of the works given in this volume. With this essay, Rousseau had unsuccessfully competed in 1753 for a second prize offered by the Academy of Dijon, and he now issued it prefaced by a long Dedication to the Republic of Geneva. In this work, which Voltaire, in thanking him for a presentation copy, termed his “second book against the human race,” his style and his ideas have made a great advance; he is no longer content merely to push a single idea to extremes: while preserving the broad opposition between the state of nature and the state of society, which runs through all his work, he is concerned to present a rational justification of his views and to admit that a little at any rate may be said on the other side. Moreover, the idea of “nature” has already undergone a great development; it is no longer an empty opposition to the evils of society; it possesses a positive content. Thus half the Discourse on Inequality is occupied by an imaginary description of the state of nature, in which man is shown with ideas limited within the narrowest range, with little need of his fellows, and little care beyond provision for the necessities of the moment. Rousseau declares explicitly that he does not suppose the “state of nature” ever to have existed: it is a pure “idea of reason,” a working concept reached by abstraction from the “state of society.” The “natural man,” as opposed to “man’s man,” is man stripped of all that society confers upon him, a creature formed by a process of abstraction, and never intended for a historical portrait. The conclusion of the Discourse favours not this purely abstract being, but a state of savagery intermediate between the “natural” and the “social” conditions, in which men may preserve the simplicity and the advantages of nature and at the same time secure the rude comforts and assurances of early society. In one of the long notes appended to the Discourse, Rousseau further explains his position. He does not wish, he says, that modern corrupt society should return to a state of nature: corruption has gone too far for that; he only desires now that men should palliate, by wiser use of the fatal arts, the mistake of their introduction. He recognises society as inevitable and is already feeling his way towards a justification of it. The second Discourse represents a second stage in his political thought: the opposition between the state of nature and the state of society is still presented in naked contrast; but the picture of the former has already filled out, and it only remains for Rousseau to take a nearer view of the fundamental implications of the state of society for his thought to reach maturity.

Rousseau is often blamed, by modern critics, for pursuing in the Discourses a method apparently that of history, but in reality wholly unhistorical. But it must be remembered that he himself lays no stress on the historical aspect of his work; he gives himself out as constructing a purely ideal picture, and not as depicting any actual stages in human history. The use of false historical concepts is characteristic of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and Rousseau is more to be congratulated on having escaped from giving them too much importance than criticised for employing them at all.

It is doubtful whether the Discourse on Political Economy, first printed in the great Encyclopædia in 1755, was composed before or after the Discourse on Inequality. At first sight the former seems to be far more in the manner of the Social Contract and to contain views belonging essentially to Rousseau’s constructive period. It would not, however, be safe to conclude from this that its date is really later. The Discourse on Inequality still has about it much of the rhetorical looseness of the prize essay; it aims not so much at close reasoning as at effective and popular presentation of a case. But, by reading between the lines, an attentive student can detect in it a great deal of the positive doctrine afterwards incorporated in the Social Contract. Especially in the closing section, which lays down the plan of a general treatment of the fundamental questions of politics, we are already to some extent in the atmosphere of the later works. It is indeed almost certain that Rousseau never attempted to put into either of the first two Discourses any of the positive content of his political theory. They were intended, not as final expositions of his point of view, but as partial and preliminary studies, in which his aim was far more destructive than constructive. It is clear that in first conceiving the plan of a work on Political Institutions, Rousseau cannot have meant to regard all society as in essence bad. It is indeed evident that he meant, from the first, to study human society and institutions in their rational aspect, and that he was rather diverted from his main purpose by the Academy of Dijon’s competition than first induced by it to think about political questions. It need, therefore, cause no surprise that a work probably written before the Discourse on Inequality should contain the germs of the theory given in full in the Social Contract. The Discourse on Political Economy is important as giving the first sketch of the theory of the “General Will.” It will readily be seen that Rousseau does not mean by “political economy” exactly what we mean nowadays. He begins with a discussion of the fundamental nature of the State, and the possibility of reconciling its existence with human liberty, and goes on with an admirable short study of the principles of taxation. He is thinking throughout of “political” in the sense of “public” economy, of the State as the public financier, and not of the conditions governing industry. He conceives the State as a body aiming at the well-being of all its members and subordinates all his views of taxation to that end. He who has only necessaries should not be taxed at all; superfluities should be supertaxed; there should be heavy imposts on every sort of luxury. The first part of the article is still more interesting. Rousseau begins by demolishing the exaggerated parallel so often drawn between the State and the family; he shows that the State is not, and cannot be, patriarchal in nature, and goes on to lay down his view that its real being consists in the General Will of its members. The essential features of the Social Contract are present in this Discourse almost as if they were commonplaces, certainly not as if they were new discoveries on which the author had just hit by some happy inspiration. There is every temptation, after reading the Political Economy, to suppose that Rousseau’s political ideas really reached maturity far earlier than has generally been allowed.

The Social Contract finally appeared, along with Emile, in 1762. This year, therefore, represents in every respect the culmination of Rousseau’s career. Henceforth, he was to write only controversial and confessional works; his theories were now developed, and, simultaneously, he gave to the world his views on the fundamental problems of politics and education. It is now time to ask what Rousseau’s system, in its maturity, finally amounted to The Social Contract contains practically the whole of his constructive political theory; it requires to be read, for full understanding, in connection with his other works, especially Emile and the Letters on the Mount (1764), but in the main it is self-contained and complete. The title sufficiently defines its scope. It is called The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right, and the second title explains the first. Rousseau’s object is not to deal, in a general way, like Montesquieu, with the actual institutions of existing States, but to lay down the essential principles which must form the basis of every legitimate society. Rousseau himself, in the fifth book of the Emile, has stated the difference clearly. “Montesquieu,” he says, “did not intend to treat of the principles of political right; he was content to treat of the positive right (or law) of established governments; and no two studies could be more different than these.” Rousseau then conceives his object as being something very different from that of the Spirit of the Laws, and it is a wilful error to misconstrue his purpose. When he remarks that “the facts,” the actual history of political societies, “do not concern him,” he is not contemptuous of facts; he is merely asserting the sure principle that a fact can in no case give rise to a right. His desire is to establish society on a basis of pure right, so as at once to disprove his attack on society generally and to reinforce his criticism of existing societies.

Round this point centres the whole dispute about the methods proper to political theory. There are, broadly speaking, two schools of political theorists, if we set aside the psychologists. One school, by collecting facts, aims at reaching broad generalisations about what actually happens in human societies! the other tries to penetrate to the universal principles at the root of all human combination. For the latter purpose facts may be useful, but in themselves they can prove nothing. The question is not one of fact, but one of right.

Rousseau belongs essentially to this philosophical school. He is not, as his less philosophic critics seem to suppose, a purely abstract thinker generalising from imaginary historical instances; he is a concrete thinker trying to get beyond they inessential and changing to the permanent and invariable basis of human society. Like Green, he is in search of the principle of political obligation, and beside this quest all others fall into their place as secondary and derivative. It is required to find a form of association able to defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of every associate, and of such a nature, that each, uniting himself with all, may still obey only himself, and remain as free as before. This is the fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides the solution. The problem of political obligation is seen as including all other political problems, which fall into place in a system based upon it. How, Rousseau asks, can the will of the State help being for me a merely external will, imposing itself upon my own? How can the existence of the State be reconciled with human freedom? How can man, who is born free, rightly come to be everywhere in chains?

No-one could help understanding the central problem of the Social Contract immediately, were it not that its doctrines often seem to be strangely formulated. We have seen that this strangeness is due to Rousseau’s historical position, to his use of the political concepts current in his own age, and to his natural tendency to build on the foundations laid by his predecessors. There are a great many people whose idea of Rousseau consists solely of the first words of the opening chapter of the Social Contract, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” But, they tell you, man is not born free, even if he is everywhere in chains. Thus at the very outset we are faced with the great difficulty in appreciating Rousseau. When we should naturally say “man ought to be free,” or perhaps “man is born for freedom,” he prefers to say “man is born free,” by which he means exactly the same thing. There is doubtless, in his way of putting it, an appeal to a “golden age”; but this golden age is admittedly as imaginary as the freedom to which men are born is bound, for most of them, to be. Elsewhere Rousseau puts the point much as we might put it ourselves. “Nothing is more certain than that every man born in slavery is born for slavery…. But if there are slaves by nature, it is because there have been slaves against nature” (Social Contract, Book I, chap. ii).

We have seen that the contrast between the “state of nature” and the “state of society” runs through all Rousseau’s work. The Emile is a plea for “natural” education; the Discourses are a plea for a “naturalisation” of society; the New Héloïse is the romantic’s appeal for more “nature” in human relationships. What then is the position of this contrast in Rousseau’s mature political thought? It is clear that the position is not merely that of the Discourses. In them, he envisaged only the faults of actual societies; now, he is concerned with the possibility of a rational society. His aim is to justify the change from “nature” to “society,” although it has left men in chains. He is in search of the true society, which leaves men “as free as before.” Altogether, the space occupied by the idea of nature in the Social Contract is very small. It is used of necessity in the controversial chapters, in which Rousseau is refuting false theories of social obligation; but when once he has brushed aside the false prophets, he lets the idea of nature go with them, and concerns himself solely with giving society the rational sanction he has promised. It becomes clear that, in political matters at any rate, the “state of nature” is for him only a term of controversy. He has in effect abandoned, in so far as he ever held it, the theory of a human golden age; and where, as in the Emile, he makes use of the idea of nature, it is broadened and deepened out of all recognition. Despite many passages in which the old terminology cleaves to him, he means by “nature” in this period not the original state of a thing, nor even its reduction to the simplest terms: he is passing over to the conception of “nature” as identical with the full development of capacity, with the higher! idea of human freedom. This view may be seen in germ even in the Discourse on Inequality, where, distinguishing self-respect (amour de soi) from egoism (amour-propre), Rousseau makes the former, the property of the “natural” man, consist not in the desire for self-aggrandisement, but in the seeking of satisfaction for reasonable desire accompanied by benevolence; whereas egoism is the preference of our own interests to those of others, self-respect merely puts us on an equal footing with our fellows. It is true that in the Discourse Rousseau is pleading against the development of many human faculties; but he is equally advocating the fullest development of those he regards as “natural,” by which he means merely “good.” The “state of society,” as envisaged in the Social Contract, is no longer in contradiction to the “state of nature” upheld in the Emile, where indeed the social environment is of the greatest importance, and, though the pupil is screened from it, he is none the less being trained for it. Indeed the views given in the Social Contract are summarised in the fifth book of the Emile, and by this summary the essential unity of Rousseau’s system is emphasised.

Rousseau’s object, then, in the first words of the Social Contract, “is to inquire if, in the civil order, there can be any sure and certain, rule of administration, taking men as they are and laws as they might be.” Montesquieu took laws as they were, and saw what sort of men they made: Rousseau, founding his whole system on human freedom, takes man as the basis, and regards him as giving himself what laws he pleases. He takes his stand on the nature of human freedom: on this he bases his whole system, making the will of the members the sole basis of every society.

In working out his theory, Rousseau makes use throughout of three general and, to some extent, alternative conceptions. These are the Social Contract, Sovereignty and the General Will. We shall now have to examine each of these in turn.

The Social Contract theory is as old as the sophists of Greece (see Plato, Republic, Book II and the Gorgias), and as I elusive. It has been adapted to the most opposite points of view, and used, in different forms, on both sides of every question to which it could conceivably be applied. It is frequent in mediæval writers, a commonplace with the theorists of the Renaissance, and in the eighteenth century already nearing its fall before a wider conception. It would be a long, as well as a thankless, task to trace its history over again: it may be followed best in D. G. Ritchie’s admirable essay on it in Darwin and Hegel and Other Studies. For us, it is important only to regard it in its most general aspect, before studying the special use made of it by Rousseau. Obviously, in one form or another, it is a theory very easily arrived at. Wherever any form of government apart from the merest tyranny exists, reflection on the basis of the State cannot but lead to the notion that, in one sense or another, it is based on the consent, tacit or expressed, past or present, of its members. In this alone, the greater part of the Social Contract theory is already latent. Add the desire to find actual justification for a theory in facts, and, especially in an age possessed only of the haziest historical sense, this doctrine of consent will inevitably be given a historical setting. If in addition there is a tendency to regard society as something unnatural to humanity, the tendency will become irresistible. By writers of almost all schools, the State will be represented as having arisen, in some remote age, out of a compact or, in more legal phrase, contract between two or more parties. The only class that will be able to resist the doctrine is that which maintains the divine right of kings, and holds that all existing governments were were imposed on the people by the direct interposition of God. All who are not prepared to maintain that will be partisans of some form or other of the Social Contract theory.

It is, therefore, not surprising that we find among its advocates writers of the most opposite points of view. Barely stated, it is a mere formula, which may be filled in with any content from absolutism to pure republicanism. And, in the hands of some at least of its supporters, it turns out to be a weapon that cuts both ways. We shall be in a better position to judge of its usefulness when we have seen its chief varieties at work.

All Social Contract theories that are at all definite fall under one or other of two heads. They represent society as based on an original contract either between the people and the government, or between all the individuals composing the State. Historically, modern theory passes from the first to the second of these forms.

The doctrine that society is founded on a contract between the people and the government is of mediæval origin. It was often supported by references to the Old Testament, which contains a similar view in an unreflective form. It is found in most of the great political writers of the sixteenth century; in Buchanan, and in the writings of James I: it persists into the seventeenth in the works of Grotius and Puffendorf. Grotius is sometimes held to have stated the theory so as to admit both forms of contract; but it is clear that he is only thinking of the first form as admitting democratic as well as monarchical government. We find it put very clearly by the Convention Parliament of 1688, which accuses James II of having “endeavoured to subvert the constitution of the kingdom by breaking the original contract between king and people.” While Hobbes, on the side of the royalists, is maintaining the contract theory in its second form, the Parliamentarian Algernon Sidney adheres to the idea of a contract between the people and the government.

In this form, the theory clearly admits of opposite interpretations. It may be held that the people, having given itself up once for all to its rulers, has nothing more to ask of them, and is bound to submit to any usage they may choose to inflict. This, however, is not the implication most usually drawn from it. The theory, in this form, originated with theologians who were also lawyers. Their view of a contract implied mutual obligations; they regarded the ruler as bound, by its terms, to govern constitutionally. The old idea that a king must not violate the sacred customs of the realm passes easily into the doctrine that he must not violate the terms of the original contract between himself and his people. Just as in the days of the Norman kings, every appeal on the part of the people for more liberties was couched in the form of a demand that the customs of the “good old times” of Edward the Confessor should be respected, so in the seventeenth century every act of popular assertion or resistance was stated as an appeal to the king not to violate the contract. The demand was a good popular cry, and it seemed to have the theorists behind it. Rousseau gives his refutation of this view, which he had, in the Discourse on Inequality, maintained in passing, in the sixteenth chapter of the third book of the Social Contract. (See also Book I, chap, iv, init.) His attack is really concerned also with the theory of Hobbes, which in some respects resembles, as we shall see, this first view; but, in form at least, it is directed against this form of contract. It will be possible to examine it more closely, when the second view has been considered.

The second view, which may be called the Social Contract theory proper, regards society as originating in, or based on, an agreement between the individuals composing it. It seems to be found first, rather vaguely, in Richard Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity, from which Locke largely borrowed: and it reappears, in varying forms, in Milton’s Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, in Hobbes’s Leviathan, in Locke’s Treatises on Civil Government, and in Rousseau. The best-known instance of its actual use is by the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower in 1620, in whose declaration occurs the phrase, “We do solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and of one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic.” The natural implication of this view would seem to be the corollary of complete popular Sovereignty which Rousseau draws. But before Rousseau’s time it had been used to support views as diverse as those which rested on the first form. We saw that, in Grotius’s great work, De Jure Belli et Pacis, it was already possible to doubt which of the two theories was being advocated. The first theory was, historically, a means of popular protest against royal aggression. As soon as popular government was taken into account, the act of contract between people and government became in effect merely a contract between the individuals composing the society, and readily passed over into the second form.

The second theory, in its ordinary form, expresses only the view that the people is everywhere Sovereign, and that, in the phrase of Milton’s treatise, “the power of kings and magistrates is only derivative.” Before, however, this view had been worked up into a philosophical theory, it had already been used by Hobbes to support precisely opposite principles. Hobbes agrees that the original contract is one between all the individuals composing the State, and that the government is no party to it; but he regards the people as agreeing, not merely to form a State, but to invest a certain person or certain persons with the government of it. He agrees that the people is naturally supreme, but regards it as alienating its Sovereignty by the contract itself, and delegating its power, wholly and for ever, to the government. As soon, therefore, as the State is set up, the government becomes for Hobbes the Sovereign; there is no more question of popular Sovereignty, but only of passive obedience: the people is bound, by the contract, to obey its ruler, no matter whether he governs well or ill. It has alienated all its rights to the Sovereign, who is, therefore, absolute master. Hobbes, living in a time of civil wars, regards the worst government as better than anarchy, and is, therefore, at pains to find arguments in support of any form of absolutism. It is easy to pick holes in this system, and to see into what difficulties a conscientious Hobbist might be led by a revolution. For as soon as the revolutionaries get the upper hand, he will have to sacrifice one of his principles: he will have to side against either the actual or the legitimate Sovereign. It is easy also to see that alienation of liberty, even if possible for an individual, which Rousseau denies, cannot bind his posterity. But, with all its faults, the view of Hobbes is on the whole admirably, if ruthlessly, logical, and to it Rousseau owes a great deal.

The special shape given to the second Social Contract theory by Hobbes looks, at first sight, much like a combination, into a single act, of both the contracts. This, however, is not the view he adopts. The theory of a contract between government and people had, as we have seen, been used mainly as a support for popular liberties, a means of assertion against the government. Hobbes, whose whole aim is to make his government Sovereign, can only do this by leaving the government outside the contract: he thus avoids the necessity of submitting it to any obligation whatsoever, and leaves it absolute and irresponsible. He secures, in fact, not merely a State which has unbounded rights against the individual, but a determinate authority with the right to enforce those rights. His theory is not merely Statism (étatisme); it is pure despotism.

It is clear that, if such a theory is to be upheld, it can stand only by the view, which Hobbes shares with Grotius, that a man can alienate not merely his own liberty, but also that of his descendants, and that, consequently, a people as a whole can do the same. This is the point at which both Locke and Rousseau attack it. Locke, whose aim is largely to justify the Revolution of 1688, makes government depend, not merely at its institution, but always, on the consent of the governed, and regards all rulers as liable to be displaced if they govern tyrannically. He omits, however, to provide any machinery short of revolution for the expression of popular opinion, and, on the whole, seems to regard the popular consent as something essentially tacit and assumed. He regards the State as existing mainly to protect life and property, and is, in all his assertions of popular rights, so cautious as to reduce them almost to nothing. It is not till we come to Rousseau that the second form of the contract theory is stated in its purest and most logical form.

Rousseau sees clearly the necessity, if popular consent in government is to be more than a name, of giving it some constitutional means of expression. For Locke’s theory of tacit consent, he substitutes an active agreement periodically renewed. He looks back with admiration to the city-states of ancient Greece and, in his own day, reserves his admiration for the Swiss free cities, Berne and, above all, Geneva, his native place. Seeing in the Europe of his day no case in which representative government was working at all democratically, he was unable to conceive that means might be found of giving effect to this active agreement in a nation-state; he therefore held that self-government was impossible except for a city. He wished to break up the nation-states of Europe, and create instead federative leagues of independent city-states.

It matters, however, comparatively little, for the appreciation of Rousseau’s political theory in general, that he failed to become the theorist of the modern State. By taking the State, which must have, in essentials, everywhere the same basis, at its simplest, he was able, far better than his predecessors, to bring out the real nature of the “social tie,” an alternative name which he often uses for the Social Contract. His doctrine I of the underlying principle of political obligation is that of all great modern writers, from Kant to Mr. Bosanquet. This fundamental unity has been obscured only because critics have failed to put the Social Contract theory in its proper place in Rousseau’s system.

This theory was, we have seen, a commonplace. The amount of historical authenticity assigned to the contract almost universally presupposed varied enormously. Generally, the weaker a writer’s rational basis, the more he appealed to history—and invented it. It was, therefore, almost inevitable that Rousseau should cast his theory into the contractual form. There were, indeed, writers of his time who laughed at the contract, but they were not writers who constructed a general system of political philosophy. From Cromwell to Montesquieu and Bentham, it was the practically minded man, impatient of unactual hypotheses, who refused to accept the idea of contract. The theorists were as unanimous in its favour as the Victorians were in favour of the “organic” theory. But we, criticising them in the light of later events, are in a better position for estimating the position the Social Contract really took in their political system. We see that Locke’s doctrine of tacit consent made popular control so unreal that he was forced, if the State was to have any hold, to make his contract historical and actual, binding posterity for all time, and that he was also led to admit a quasi-contract between people and government, as a second vindication of popular liberties. Rousseau, on the other hand, bases no vital argument on the historical nature of the contract, in which, indeed, he clearly does not believe. “How,” he asks, “did this change [from nature to society] come about?” And he answers that he does not know. Moreover, his aim is to find “a sure and legitimate rule of administration, taking men as they are and laws as they might be”; that is to say, his Social Contract is something which will be found at work in every legitimate society, but which will be in abeyance in all forms of despotism. He clearly means by it no more and no less than the fundamental principle of political association, the basis of the unity which enables us, in the State, to realise political liberty by giving up lawlessness and license. The presentation of this doctrine in the quasi-historical form of the Social Contract theory is due to the accident of the time and place in which Rousseau wrote. At the same time, the importance of the conception is best to be seen in the hard death it dies. Though no-one, for a hundred years or so, has thought of regarding it as historical, it has been found so hard to secure any other phrase explaining as well or better the basis of political union that, to this day, the phraseology of the contract theory largely persists. A conception so vital cannot have been barren.

It is indeed, in Rousseau’s own thought, only one of the three different ways in which the basis of political union is stated, according to the preoccupation of his mind. When he is thinking quasi-historically, he describes his doctrine as that of the Social Contract. Modern anthropology, in its attempts to explain the complex by means of the simple, often strays further from the straight paths of history and reason. In a semi-legal aspect, using the terminology, if not the standpoint, of jurisprudence, he restates the same doctrine in the form of popular Sovereignty. This use tends continually to pass over into the more philosophical form which comes third. “Sovereignty is the exercise of the general will.” Philosophically, Rousseau’s doctrine finds its expression in the view that the State is based not on any original convention, not on, any determinate power, but on the living and sustaining rational will of its members. We have now to examine first Sovereignty and then the General Will, which is ultimately Rousseau’s guiding conception.

Sovereignty is, first and foremost, a legal term, and it has often been held that its use in political philosophy merely leads to confusion. In jurisprudence, we are told, it has the perfectly plain meaning given to it in Austin’s famous definition. The Sovereign is “a determinate human superior, not in a habit of obedience to a like superior, but receiving habitual obedience from the bulk of a given society.” Where Sovereignty is placed is, on this view, a question purely of fact, and never of right. We have only to seek out the determinate human superior in a given society, and we shall have the Sovereign. In answer to this theory, it is not enough, though it is a valuable point, to show that such a determinate superior is rarely to be found. Where, for instance, is the Sovereign of England or of the British Empire? Is it the King, who is called the Sovereign? Or is it the Parliament, which is the legislature (for Austin’s Sovereign is regarded as the source of law)? Or is it the electorate, or the whole mass of the population, with or without the right of voting? Clearly all these exercise a certain influence in the making of laws. Or finally, is it now the Cabinet? For Austin, one of these bodies would be ruled out as indeterminate (the mass of the population) and another as responsible (the Cabinet). But are we to regard the House of Commons or those who elect it as forming part of the Sovereign? The search for a determinate Sovereign may be a valuable legal conception; but it has evidently nothing to do with political theory.

It is, therefore, essential to distinguish between the legal Sovereign of jurisprudence, and the political Sovereign of political science and philosophy. Even so, it does not at once become clear what this political Sovereign may be. Is it the body or bodies of persons in whom political power in a State actually resides? Is it merely the complex of actual institutions regarded as embodying the will of the society? This would leave us still in the realm of mere fact, outside both right and philosophy. The Sovereign, in the philosophical sense, is neither the nominal Sovereign, nor the legal Sovereign, nor the political Sovereign of fact and common sense: it is the consequence of the fundamental bond of union, the restatement of the doctrine of Social Contract, the foreshadowing of that of General Will. The Sovereign is that body in the State in which political power ought always to reside, and in which the right to such power does always reside.

The idea at the back of the philosophical conception of Sovereignty is, therefore, essentially the same as that we found to underlie the Social Contract theory. It is the view that the people, whether it can alienate its right or not, is the ultimate director of its own destinies, the final power from which there is no appeal. In a sense, this is recognised even by Hobbes, who makes the power of his absolute Sovereign, the predecessor of Austin’s “determinate human superior,” issue first of all from the Social Contract, which is essentially a popular act. The difference between Hobbes and Rousseau on this point is solely that Rousseau regards as inalienable a supreme power which Hobbes makes the people alienate in its first corporate action. That is to say, Hobbes in fact accepts the theory of popular supremacy in name only to destroy it in fact; Rousseau asserts the theory in its only logical form, and is under no temptation to evade it by means of false historical assumptions. In Locke, a distinction is already drawn between the legal and the actual Sovereign, which Locke calls “supreme power”; Rousseau unites the absolute Sovereignty of Hobbes and the “popular consent” of Locke into the philosophic doctrine of popular Sovereignty, which has since been the established form of the theory. His final view represents a return from the perversions of Hobbes to a doctrine already familiar to mediæval and Renaissance writers; but it is not merely a return. In its passage the view has fallen into its place in a complete system of political philosophy.

In a second important respect Rousseau differentiates himself from Hobbes. For Hobbes, the Sovereign is identical with the government. He is so hot for absolutism largely because he regards revolution, the overthrow of the existing government, as at the same time the dissolution of the body politic, and a return to complete anarchy or to the “state of nature.” Rousseau and, to some extent, Locke meet this view by sharp division between the supreme power and the government. For Rousseau, they are so clearly distinct that even a completely democratic government is not at the same time the Sovereign; its members are sovereign only in a different capacity and as a different corporate body, just as two different societies may exist for different purposes with exactly the same members. Pure democracy, however, the government of the State by all the people in every detail, is not, as Rousseau says, a possible human institution. All governments are really mixed in character; and what we call a democracy is only a more or less democratic government. Government, therefore, will always be to some extent in the hands of selected persons. Sovereignty, on the other hand, is in his view absolute, inalienable, indivisible, and indestructible. It cannot be limited, abandoned, shared or destroyed. It is an essential part of all social life that the right to control the destinies of the State belongs in the last resort to the whole people. There clearly must in the end be somewhere in the society an ultimate court of appeal, whether determinate or not; but, unless Sovereignty is distinguished from government, the government, passing under the name of Sovereign, will inevitably be regarded as absolute. The only way to avoid the conclusions of Hobbes is, therefore, to establish a clear separation between them.

Rousseau tries to do this by an adaptation of the doctrine of the “three powers.” But instead of three independent powers sharing the supreme authority, he gives only two, and makes one of these wholly dependent on the other. He substitutes for the co-ordination of the legislative, the executive, and the judicial authorities, a system in which the legislative power, or Sovereign, is always supreme, the executive, or government, always secondary and derivative, and the judicial power merely a function of government. This division he makes, naturally, one of will and power. The government is merely to carry out the decrees, or acts of will, of the Sovereign people. Just as the human will transfers a command to its members for execution, so the body politic may give its decisions force by setting up authority which, like the brain, may command its members. In delegating the power necessary for the execution of its will, it is abandoning none of its supreme authority. It remains Sovereign, and can at any moment recall the grants it has made. Government, therefore, exists only at the Sovereign’s pleasure, and is always revocable by the sovereign will.

It will be seen, when we come to discuss the nature of the General Will, that this doctrine really contains the most valuable part of Rousseau’s theory. Here, we are concerned rather with its limitations. The distinction between legislative and executive functions is in practice very hard to draw. In Rousseau’s case, it is further complicated by the presence of a second distinction. The legislative power, the Sovereign, is concerned only with what is general, the executive only with what is particular. This distinction, the full force of which can only be seen in connection with the General Will, means roughly that a matter is general when it concerns the whole community equally, and makes no mention of any particular class; as soon as it refers to any class or person, it becomes particular, and can no longer form the subject matter of an act of Sovereignty. However just this distinction may seem in the abstract, it is clear that its effect is to place all the power in the hands of the executive: modern legislation is almost always concerned with particular classes and interests. It is not, therefore, a long step from the view of Rousseau to the modern theory of democratic government, in which the people has little power beyond that of removing its rulers if they displease it. As long, however, as we confine our view to the city-state of which Rousseau is thinking, his distinction is capable of preserving for the people a greater actual exercise of will. A city can often generalise where a nation must particularise.

It is in the third book of the Social Contract, where Rousseau is discussing the problem of government, that it is most essential to remember that his discussion has in view mainly the city-state and not the nation. Broadly put, his principle of government is that democracy is possible only in small States, aristocracy in those of medium extent, and monarchy in great States (Book III, chap. iii). In considering this view, we have to take into account two things. First, he rejects representative government; will being, in his theory, inalienable, representative Sovereignty is impossible. But, as he regards all general acts as functions of Sovereignty, this means that no general act can be within the competence of a representative assembly. In judging this theory, we must take into account all the circumstances of Rousseau’s time. France, Geneva and England were the three States he took most into account. In France, representative government was practically non-existent; in Geneva, it was only partially necessary; in England, it was a mockery, used to support a corrupt oligarchy against a debased monarchy. Rousseau may well be pardoned for not taking the ordinary modern view of it. Nor indeed is it, even in the modern world, so satisfactory an instrument of the popular will that we can afford wholly to discard his criticism. It is one of the problems of the day to find some means of securing effective popular control over a weakened Parliament and a despotic Cabinet.

The second factor is the immense development of local government. It seemed to Rousseau that, in the nation-state, all authority must necessarily pass, as it had in France, to the central power. Devolution was hardly dreamed of; and Rousseau saw the only means of securing effective popular government in a federal system, starting from the small unit as Sovereign. The nineteenth century has proved the falsehood of much of his theory of government; but there are still many wise comments and fruitful suggestions to be found in the third book of the Social Contract and in the treatise on the Government of Poland, as well as in his adaptation and criticism of the Polysynodie of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre, a scheme of local government for France, born out of its due time.

The point in Rousseau’s theory of Sovereignty that offers most difficulty is his view (Book II, chap, vii) that, for every State, a Legislator is necessary. We shall understand the section only by realising that the legislator is, in fact, in Rousseau’s system, the spirit of institutions personified; his place, in a developed society, is taken by the whole complex of social custom, organisation and tradition that has grown up with the State. This is made clearer by the fact that the legislator is not to exercise legislative power; he is merely to submit his suggestions for popular approval. Thus Rousseau recognises that, in the case of institutions and traditions as elsewhere, will, and not force, is the basis of the State.

This may be seen in his treatment of law as a whole (Book II, chap, vi), which deserves very careful attention. He defines laws as “acts of the general will,” and, agreeing with Montesquieu in making law the “condition of civil association,” goes beyond him only in tracing it more definitely to its origin in an act of will. The Social Contract renders law necessary, and at the same time makes it quite clear that laws can proceed only from the body of citizens who have constituted the State. “Doubtless,” says Rousseau, “there is a universal justice emanating from reason alone; but this justice, to be admitted among us, must be mutual. Humbly speaking, in default of natural sanctions, the laws of justice are ineffective among men.” Of the law which set up among men this reign of mutual justice the General Will is the source.

We thus come at last to the General Will, the most disputed, and certainly the most fundamental, of all Rousseau’s political concepts. No critic of the Social Contract has found it easy to say either what precisely its author meant by it, or what is its final value for political philosophy. The difficulty is increased because Rousseau himself sometimes halts in the sense which he assigns to it, and even seems to suggest by it two different ideas. Of its broad meaning, however, there can be no doubt. The effect of the Social Contract is the creation of a new individual. When it has taken place, “at once, in place of the individual personality of each contracting party, the act of association creates a moral and collective body, composed of as many members as the assembly contains voters, and receiving from the act its unity, its common identity (moi commun), its life and its will” (Book I, chap. vi). The same doctrine had been stated earlier, in the Political Economy, without the historical setting. “The body politic is also a moral being, possessed of a will, and this general will, which tends always to the preservation and welfare of the whole and of every part, and is the source of the laws, constitutes for all the members of the State, in their relations to one another and to it, the rule of what is just or unjust.” It will be seen at once that the second statement, which could easily be fortified by others from the Social Contract, says more than the first. It is not apparent that the common will, created by the institution of society, need “tend always to the welfare of the whole.” Is not the common will at least as fallible as the will of a single individual? May it not equally be led away from its true interests to the pursuit of pleasure or of something which is really harmful to it? And, if the whole society may vote what conduces to the momentary pleasure of all the members and at the same time to the lasting damage of the State as a whole, is it not still more likely that some of the members will try to secure their private interests in opposition to those of the whole and of others? All these questions, and others like them, have been asked by critics of the conception of the General Will.

Two main points are involved, to one of which Rousseau gives a clear and definite answer. “There is often,” he says, “a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will; the latter takes account only of the common interest, while the former takes private interest into account, and is no more than a sum of particular wills.” “The agreement of all interests is formed by opposition to that of each” (Book II, chap. iii). It is indeed possible for a citizen, when an issue is presented to him, to vote not for the good of the State, but for his own good; but, in such a case, his vote, from the point of view of the General Will, is merely negligible. But “does it follow that the general will is exterminated or corrupted? Not at all: it is always constant, unalterable, and pure; but it is subordinated to other wills which encroach upon its sphere…. The fault [each man] commits [in detaching his interest from the common interest] is that of changing the state of the question, and answering something different from what he is asked. Instead of saying by his vote ‘It is to the advantage of the State,’ he says, ‘It is to the advantage of this or that man or party that this or that view should prevail.’ Thus the law of public order in assemblies is not so much to maintain in them the general will as to secure that the question be always put to it, and the answer always given by it” (Book IV, chap. i). These passages, with many others that may be found in the text, make it quite clear that by the General Will Rousseau means something quite distinct from the Will of All, with which it should never have been confused. The only excuse for such confusion lies in his view that when, in a city-state, all particular associations are avoided, votes guided by individual self-interest will always cancel one another, so that majority voting will always result in the General Will. This is clearly not the case, and in this respect we may charge him with pushing the democratic argument too far. The point, however, can be better dealt with at a later stage. Rousseau makes no pretence that the mere voice of a majority is infallible; he only says, at the most, that, given his ideal conditions, it would be so.

The second main point raised by critics of the General Will is whether in defining it as a will directed solely to the common interest, Rousseau means to exclude acts of public immorality and short-sightedness. He answers the questions in different ways. First, an act of public immorality would be merely an unanimous instance of selfishness, different in no particular, from similar acts less unanimous, and therefore forming no part of a General Will. Secondly, a mere ignorance of our own and the State’s good, entirely unprompted by selfish desires, does not make our will anti-social or individual. “The general will is always right and tends to the public advantage; but it does not follow that the deliberations of the people are always equally correct. Our will is always for our own good, but we do not always see what that is: the people is never corrupted, but it is often deceived, and on such occasions only does it seem to will what is bad” (Book II, chap. iii). It is impossible to acquit Rousseau in some of the passages in which he treats of the General Will, of something worse than obscurity—positive contradiction. It is probable, indeed, that he never quite succeeded in getting his view clear in his own mind; there is nearly always, in his treatment of it, a certain amount of muddle and fluctuation. These difficulties the student must be left to worry out for himself; it is only possible to present, in outline, what Rousseau meant to convey.

The treatment of the General Will in the Political Economy is brief and lucid, and furnishes the best guide to his meaning. The definition of it in this work, which has already been quoted, is followed by a short account of the nature of general willsas a whole. “Every political society is composed of other smaller societies of various kinds, each of which has its interest and rules of conduct; but those societies which everybody perceives, because they have an external or authorised form, are not the only ones that actually exist in the State: all individuals who are united by a common interest compose as many others, either temporary or permanent, whose influence is none the less real because it is less apparent…. The influence of all these tacit or formal associations causes by the influence of their will as many modifications of the public will. The will of these particular societies has always two relations; for the members of the association, it is a general will; for the great society, it is a particular will; and it is often right with regard to the first object and wrong as to the second. The most general will is always the most just, and the voice of the people is, in fact, the voice of God.”

The General Will, Rousseau continues in substance, is always for the common good; but it is sometimes divided into smaller general wills, which are wrong in relation to it. The supremacy of the great General Will is “the first principle of public economy and the fundamental rule of government.” In this passage, which differs only in clearness and simplicity from others in the Social Contract itself, it is easy to see how far Rousseau had in his mind a perfectly definite idea. Every association of several persons creates a new common will; every association of a permanent character has already a “personality” of its own, and in consequence a “general” will; the State, the highest known form of association, is a fully developed moral and collective being with a common will which is, in the highest sense yet known to us, general. All such wills are general only for the members of the associations Which exercise them; for outsiders, or rather for other associations, they are purely particular wills. This applies even to the State; “for, in relation to what is outside it, the State becomes a simple being, an individual” (Social Contract, Book I. chap. vii). In certain passages in the Social Contract, in his criticism of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s Project of Perpetual Peace, and in the second chapter of the original draft of the Social Contract, Rousseau takes into account the possibility of a still higher individual, “the federation of the world.” In the Political Economy, thinking of the nation-state, he affirms what in the Social Contract (Book II, chap, iii) he denies of the city, and recognises that the life of a nation is made up of the whole complex of its institutions, and that the existence of lesser general wills is not necessarily a menace to the General Will of the State. In the Social Contract, he only treats of these lesser wills in relation to the government, which, he shows, has a will of its own, general for its members, but particular for the State as a whole (Book III, chap. ii). This governmental will he there prefers to call corporate will, and by this name it will be convenient to distinguish the lesser general wills from the General Will of the State that is over them all.

So far, there is no great difficulty; but in discussing the infallibility of the General Will we are on more dangerous ground. Rousseau’s treatment here clearly oscillates between regarding it as a purely ideal conception, to which human institutions can only approximate, and holding it to be realised actually in every republican State, i.e. wherever the people is the Sovereign in fact as well as in right. Book IV, chap, ii is the most startling passage expressing the latter view. “When in the popular assembly a law is proposed, what the people is asked is not exactly whether it accepts or rejects the proposal, but whether it is in conformity with the general will, which is its will…. When, therefore, the opinion that is contrary to my own prevails, this proves neither more nor less than that I was mistaken, and that what I thought to be the general will was not so.” On his own principles laid down elsewhere, Rousseau would have to admit that it proves nothing of the sort, except in so far as the other voters have been guided by the general interest. Though he sometimes affirms the opposite, there is no security on his principles that the will of the majority will be the General Will. At the most it can only be said that there is a greater chance of its being general than of the will of any selected class of persons not being led away by corporate interests. The justification of democracy is not that it is always right, even in intention, but that it is more general than any other kind of supreme power.

Fundamentally, however, the doctrine of the General Will is independent of these contradictions. Apart from Kant’s narrow and rigid logic, it is essentially one with his doctrine of the autonomy of the will. Kant takes Rousseau’s political theory, and applies it to ethics as a whole. The germ of mis application is already found in Rousseau’s own work; for he protests more than once against attempts to treat moral and political philosophy apart, as distinct studies, and asserts their absolute unity. This is brought out clearly in the Social Contract (Book I, chap, viii), where he is speaking of the change brought about by the establishment of society. “The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions the morality they had hitherto lacked…. What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything he tries to get and succeeds in getting; what he gains is civil liberty … which is limited by the general will…. We might, over and above all this, add to what man acquires in the civil state moral liberty, which alone makes him truly master of himself; for the mere impulse of appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law which we prescribe to ourselves is liberty.

This one chapter contains the gist of the Kantian moral philosophy, and makes it quite clear that Rousseau perceived its application to ethics as well as to politics. The morality of our acts consists in their being directed in accordance with universal law; acts in which we are guided merely by our passions are not moral. Further, man can only possess freedom when his whole being is unified in the pursuit of a single end; and, as his whole being can be unified only in pursuit of a rational end, which alone excludes contradiction, only moral acts, only men directing their lives by universal law, are free. In Kantian language, the will is autonomous (i.e. prescribes to itself its own law) only when it is directed to a universal end; when it is guided by selfish passions, or particular considerations, it is heteronomous (i.e. receives its law from something external to itself), and in bondage. Rousseau, as he says (Book I, chap, viii), was not directly concerned with the ethical sense of the word “liberty,” and Kant was, therefore, left to develop the doctrine into a system; but the phrases of this chapter prove false the view that the doctrine of a Real Will arises first in connection with politics, and is only transferred thence to moral philosophy. Rousseau bases his political doctrine throughout on his view of human freedom; it is because man is a free agent capable of being determined by a universal law prescribed by himself that the State is in like manner capable of realising the General Will, that is, of prescribing to itself and its members a similar universal law.

The General Will, then, is the application of human freedom to political institutions. Before the value of this conception can be determined, there is a criticism to be met. The freedom which is realised in the General Will, we are told, is the freedom of the State as a whole; but the State exists to secure individual freedom for its members. A free State may be tyrannical; a despot may allow his subjects every freedom. What guarantee is there that the State, in freeing itself, will not enslave its members? This criticism has been made with such regularity that it has to be answered in some detail.

“The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.” “The clauses of the contract … are everywhere the same and everywhere tacitly admitted and recognised…. These clauses, properly understood, may be reduced to one—the total alienation of each associate, together with all his rights, to the whole community…; for, if the individuals retained certain rights, as there would be no common superior to decide between them and the public, each, being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all, and the state of nature would continue” (Book I, chap. vi). Rousseau sees clearly that it is impossible to place any limits upon the power of the State; when the people combine into a State, they must in the end submit to be guided in all things by the will of the effective majority. Limited Sovereignty is a contradiction in terms; the Sovereign has a right to all that reason allows it, and as soon as reason demands that the State shall interfere, no appeal to individual rights can be made. What is best for the State must be suffered by the individual. This, however, is very far from meaning that the ruling power ought, or has the moral right, to interfere in every particular case. Rousseau has been subjected to much foolish criticism because, after upholding the State’s absolute supremacy, he goes on (Book II, chap, iv) to speak of “the limits of the sovereign power.” There is no contradiction whatsoever. Wherever State intervention is for the best, the State has a right to intervene; but it has no moral right, though it must have a legal right, to intervene where it is not for the best. The General Will, being always in the right, will intervene only when intervention is proper. “The Sovereign,” therefore, “cannot impose upon its subjects any fetters that are useless to the community, nor can it even wish to do so.” As, however, the infallibility of the General Will is not enough to make the State infallible, there still remains an objection. Since the General Will cannot always be arrived at, who is to judge whether an act of intervention is justified? Rousseau’s answer fails to satisfy many of his critics. “Each man alienates, I admit, by the social compact, only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the community to control; but it must also be granted that the Sovereign is sole judge of what is important.” This, we are told, is mere State tyranny over again. But how is it possible to avoid such a conclusion? Rousseau has already given his reasons for objecting to a limited Sovereignty (Book I, chap, vi): it follows absolutely that we must take the best machinery we can find for the execution of the State’s functions. No doubt the machinery will be imperfect; but we can only try to get as near the General Will as possible, without hoping to realise it fully.

The answer, therefore, to the critics who hold that, in securing civil liberty Rousseau has sacrificed the individual may be put after this fashion. Liberty is not a merely negative conception; it does not consist solely in the absence of restraint. The purest individualist, Herbert Spencer for example, would grant that a certain amount of State interference is necessary to secure liberty; but as soon as this idea of securing liberty is admitted in the smallest degree, the whole idea has undergone profound modification. It can no longer be claimed that every interference on the part of the State lessens the liberty of the individual; the “liberty-fund” theory is as untenable as that of the “wages-fund”: the members of a State may be more free when all are restrained from doing one another mutual damage than when any one is left “free” to enslave another or be himself enslaved. This principle once admitted, the precise amount of State interference that is necessary to secure freedom will be always a matter for particular discussion; every case must be decided on its own merits, and, in right, the Sovereign will be omnipotent, or subject only to the law of reason.

It has often been held that Rousseau cannot really have inspired the French Revolution because this view is totally inconsistent with the “rights of man,” which the revolutionaries so fervently proclaimed. If every right is alienated in the Social Contract, what sense can there be in talking of “natural rights” afterwards? This, however, is to misrepresent Rousseau’s position. The rights of man as they are preached by the modern individualist, are not the rights of which Rousseau and the revolutionaries were thinking. We have seen that the theory of the Social Contract is founded on human freedom: this freedom carries with it, in Rousseau’s view, the guarantee of its own permanence; it is inalienable and indestructible. When, therefore, government becomes despotic, it has no more right over its subjects than the master has over his slave (Book I, chap, iv); the question is then purely one of might. In such cases, appeal may be made either to the terms of the Social Contract, or, putting the same idea another way, to the “natural right” of human freedom. This natural right is in no sense inconsistent with the complete alienation supposed in the Contract; for the Contract itself reposes on it and guarantees its maintenance. The Sovereign must, therefore, treat all its members alike; but, so long as it does this, it remains omnipotent. If it leaves the general for the particular, and treats one man better than another, it ceases to be Sovereign; but equality is already presupposed in the terms of the Contract.

It is more profitable to attack Rousseau for his facile identification of the interests of each of the citizens with those of all; but here, too, most of the critics have abused their opportunity. He does not maintain that there can be no opposition between a man’s particular interests and the General Will as present in him; on the contrary, he explicitly and consistently affirms the presence of such opposition (Book I, chap. vii). What he asserts is, first, that the Sovereign, as such, cannot have any interest contrary to the interest of the citizens as a whole—that is obvious; and, secondly, that it cannot have an interest contrary to that of any individual. The second point Rousseau proves by showing that the omnipotence of the Sovereign is essential to the preservation of society, which in turn is necessary for the individual. His argument, however, really rests on the fundamental character of the General Will. He would admit that, in any actual State, the apparent interest of the many might often conflict with that of the few; but he would contend that the real interest of State and individual alike, being subject to universal law could not be such as to conflict with any other real interest. The interest of the State, in so far as it is directed by the General Will, must be the interest of every individual, in so far as he is guided by his real will, that is, in so far as he is acting universally, rationally and autonomously.

Thus the justification of Rousseau’s theory of liberty returns to the point from which it set out—the omnipotence of the real will in State and individual. It is in this sense that he speaks of man in the State as “forced to be free” by the General Will, much as Kant might speak of a man’s lower nature as forced to be free by the universal mandate of his higher, more real and more rational will. It is in this recognition of the State as a moral being, with powers of determination similar to the powers of the individual mind, that the significance of the General Will ultimately lies. Even, however, among those who have recognised its meaning, there are some who deny its value as a conception of political philosophy. If, they say, the General Will is not the Will of All, if it cannot be arrived at by a majority vote or by any system of voting whatsoever, then it is nothing; it is a mere abstraction, neither general, nor a I will. This is, of course, precisely the criticism to which Kant’s “real will” is often subjected. Clearly, it must be granted at once that the General Will does not form the whole actual content of the will of every citizen. Regarded as actual, it must always be qualified by “in so far as” or its equivalent. This, however, is so far from destroying the value of the conception that therein lies its whole value. In seeking the universal basis of society, we are not seeking anything that is wholly actualised in any State, though we must be seeking something which exists, more or less perfectly, in every State.

The point of the Social Contract theory, as Rousseau states it, is that legitimate society exists by the consent of the people, and acts by popular will. Active will, and not force or even mere consent, is the basis of the “republican” State, which can only possess this character because individual wills are not really self-sufficient and separate, but complementary and inter-dependent. The answer to the question “Why ought I to obey the General Will?” is that the General Will exists in me and not outside me. I am “obeying only myself,” as Rousseau says. The State is not a mere accident of human history, a mere device for the protection of life and property; it responds to a fundamental need of human nature, and is rooted in the character of the individuals who compose it. The whole complex of human institutions is not a mere artificial structure; it is the expression of the mutual dependence and fellowship of men. If it means anything, the theory of the General Will means that the State is natural, and the “state of nature” an abstraction. Without this basis of will and natural need, no society could for a moment subsist; the State exists and claims our obedience because it is a natural extension of our personality.

The problem, however, still remains of making the General Will, in any particular State, active and conscious. It is clear that there are States in which visible and recognised institutions hardly answer in any respect to its requirements. Even in such States, however, there is a limit to tyranny; deep down, in immemorial customs with which the despot dare not interfere, the General Will is still active and important. It does not reside merely in the outward and visible organisation of social institutions, in that complex of formal associations which we may call the State; its roots go deeper and its branches spread further. It is realised, in greater or less degree, in the whole life of the community, in the entire complex of private and public relations which, in the widest sense, may be called Society. We may recognise it not only in a Parliament, a Church, a University or a Trade Union, but also in the most intimate human relationships, and the most trivial, as well as the most vital, social customs.

But, if all these things go to the making of the General Will in every community, the General Will has, for politics, primarily a narrower sense. The problem here is to secure its supremacy in the official institutions and public councils of the nation. This is the question to which Rousseau chiefly addressed himself. Here, too, we shall find the General Will the best possible conception for the guidance of political endeavour For the General Will is realised not when that is done which is best for the community, but when, in addition, the community as a whole has willed the doing of it. The General Will demands not only good government, but also self-government—not only rational conduct, but good-will. This is what some of Rousseau’s admirers are apt to forget when they use his argument, as he himself was sometimes inclined to use it, in support of pure aristocracy. Rousseau said that aristocracy was the best of all governments, but he said also that it was the worst of all usurpers of Sovereignty. Nor must it be forgotten that he expressly specified elective aristocracy. There is no General Will unless the people wills the good. General Will may be embodied in one man willing universally; but it can only be embodied in the State when the mass of the citizens so wills. The will must be “general” in two senses: in the sense in which Rousseau used the word, it must be general in its object, i.e. universal; but it must also be generally held, i.e. common to all or to the majority.[1]

The General Will is, then, above all a universal and, in the Kantian sense, a “rational” will. It would be possible to find in Rousseau many more anticipations of the views of Kant; but it is better here to confine comment to an important difference between them. It is surprising to find in Kant, the originator of modern “intellectualism,” and in Rousseau, the great apostle of “sentiment,” an essentially similar view on the nature and function of the will. Their views, however, present a difference; for, whereas the moving force of Kant’s moral imperative is purely “rational,” Rousseau finds the sanction of his General Will in human feeling itself. As we can see from a passage in the original draft of the Social Contract, the General Will remains purely rational. “No-one will dispute that the General Will is in each individual a pure act of the understanding, which reasons while the passions are silent on what a man may demand of his neighbour and on what his neighbour has a right to demand of him.” The will remains purely rational, but Rousseau feels that it needs an external motive power. “If natural law,” he writes, “were written only on the tablets of human reason it would be incapable of guiding the greater part of our actions; but it is also graven on the heart of man in characters that cannot be effaced, and it is there it speaks to him more strongly than all the precepts of the philosophers” (from an unfinished essay on The State of War). The nature of this guiding sentiment is explained in the Discourse on Inequality (p. 197, note 2), where egoism (amour-propre) is contrasted with self-respect (amour de soi). Naturally, Rousseau holds, man does not want everything for himself, and nothing for others. “Egoism” and “altruism” are both one-sided qualities arising out of the perversion of man’s, “natural goodness.” “Man is born good,” that is, man’s nature really makes him desire only to be treated as one among others, to share equally. This natural love of equality (amour de soi) includes love of others as well as love of self, and egoism, loving one’s self at the expense of others, is an unnatural and perverted condition. The “rational” precepts of the General Will, therefore, find an echo in the heart of the “natural” man, and, if we can only secure the human being against perversion by existing societies, the General Will can be made actual.

This is the meeting-point of Rousseau’s educational with his political theory.  His view as a whole can be studied only by taking together the Social Contract and the Emile as explained by the Letters on the Mount and other works.  The fundamental dogma of the natural goodness of man finds no place directly in the Social Contract; but it lurks behind the whole of his political theory, and is indeed, throughout, his master-conception.  His educational, his religious, his political and his ethical ideas are all inspired by a single consistent attitude.  Here we have been attending only to his political theory; in the volume which is to follow, containing the Letters on the Mount and other works, some attempt will be made to draw the various threads together and estimate his work as a whole.  The political works, however, can be read separately, and the Social Contract itself is still by far the best of all text-books of political philosophy.  Rousseau’s political influence, so far from being dead, is every day increasing; and as new generations and new classes of men come to the study of his work, his conceptions, often hazy and undeveloped, but nearly always of lasting value, will assuredly form the basis of a new political philosophy, in which they will be taken up and transformed.  This new philosophy is the work of the future; but, rooted upon the conception of Rousseau, it will stretch far back into the past.  Of our time, it will be for all time; its solutions will be at once relatively permanent and ceaselessly progressive.

…Since no man has a natural authority over his fellow, and force creates no right, we must conclude that conventions form the basis of all legitimate authority among men.If an individual, says Grotius, can alienate his liberty and make himself the slave of a master, why could not a whole people do the same and make itself subject to a king?  There are in this passage plenty of ambiguous words which would need explaining; but let us confine ourselves to the word alienate.  To alienate is to give or to sell.  Now, a man who becomes the slave of another does not give himself; he sells himself, at the least for his subsistence: but for what does a people sell itself?  A king is so far from furnishing his subjects with their subsistence that he gets his own only from them; and, according to Rabelais, kings do not live on nothing.  Do subjects then give their persons on condition that the king takes their goods also?  I fail to see what they have left to preserve.

It will be said that the despot assures his subjects civil tranquillity. Granted; but what do they gain, if the wars his ambition brings down upon them, his insatiable avidity, and the vexatious conduct of his ministers press harder on them than their own dissensions would have done? What do they gain, if the very tranquillity they enjoy is one of their miseries? Tranquillity is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them desirable places to live in? The Greeks imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops lived there very tranquilly, while they were awaiting their turn to be devoured.

To say that a man gives himself gratuitously, is to say what is absurd and inconceivable; such an act is null and illegitimate, from the mere fact that he who does it is out of his mind. To say the same of a whole people is to suppose a people of madmen; and madness creates no right.

Even if each man could alienate himself, he could not alienate his children: they are born men and free; their liberty belongs to them, and no one but they has the right to dispose of it. Before they come to years of discretion, the father can, in their name, lay down conditions for their preservation and well-being, but he cannot give them, irrevocably and without conditions: such a gift is contrary to the ends of nature, and exceeds the rights of paternity. It would therefore be necessary, in order to legitimise an arbitrary government, that in every generation the people should be in a position to accept or reject it; but, were this so, the government would be no longer arbitrary.

To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man’s nature; to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts. Finally, it is an empty and contradictory convention that sets up, on the one side, absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited obedience. Is it not clear that we can be under no obligation to a person from whom we have the right to exact everything? Does not this condition alone, in the absence of equivalence or exchange, in itself involve the nullity of the act? For what right can my slave have against me, when all that he has belongs to me, and, his right being mine, this right of mine against myself is a phrase devoid of meaning?

Grotius and the rest find in war another origin for the so-called right of slavery. The victor having, as they hold, the right of killing the vanquished, the latter can buy back his life at the price of his liberty; and this convention is the more legitimate because it is to the advantage of both parties.

But it is clear that this supposed right to kill the conquered is by no means deducible from the state of war. Men, from the mere fact that, while they are living in their primitive independence, they have no mutual relations stable enough to constitute either the state of peace or the state of war, cannot be naturally enemies. War is constituted by a relation between things, and not between persons; and, as the state of war cannot arise out of simple personal relations, but only out of real relations, private war, or war of man with man, can exist neither in the state of nature, where there is no constant property, nor in the social state, where everything is under the authority of the laws.

Individual combats, duels and encounters, are acts which cannot constitute a state; while the private wars, authorised by the Establishments of Louis IX, King of France, and suspended by the Peace of God, are abuses of feudalism, in itself an absurd system if ever there was one, and contrary to the principles of natural right and to all good polity.

War then is a relation, not between man and man, but between State and State, and individuals are enemies only accidentally, not as men, nor even as citizens,[1] but as soldiers; not as members of their country, but as its defenders. Finally, each State can have for enemies only other States, and not men; for between things disparate in nature there can be no real relation.

Furthermore, this principle is in conformity with the established rules of all times and the constant practice of all civilised peoples. Declarations of war are intimations less to powers than to their subjects. The foreigner, whether king, individual, or people, who robs, kills or detains the subjects, without declaring war on the prince, is not an enemy, but a brigand. Even in real war, a just prince, while laying hands, in the enemy’s country, on all that belongs to the public, respects the lives and goods of individuals: he respects rights on which his own are founded. The object of the war being the destruction of the hostile State, the other side has a right to kill its defenders, while they are bearing arms; but as soon as they lay them down and surrender, they cease to be enemies or instruments of the enemy, and become once more merely men, whose life no one has any right to take. Sometimes it is possible to kill the State without killing a single one of its members; and war gives no right which is not necessary to the gaining of its object. These principles are not those of Grotius: they are not based on the authority of poets, but derived from the nature of reality and based on reason.

The right of conquest has no foundation other than the right of the strongest. If war does not give the conqueror the right to massacre the conquered peoples, the right to enslave them cannot be based upon a right which does not exist No one has a right to kill an enemy except when he cannot make him a slave, and the right to enslave him cannot therefore be derived from the right to kill him. It is accordingly an unfair exchange to make him buy at the price of his liberty his life, over which the victor holds no right. Is it not clear that there is a vicious circle in founding the right of life and death on the right of slavery, and the right of slavery on the right of life and death?

Even if we assume this terrible right to kill everybody, I maintain that a slave made in war, or a conquered people, is under no obligation to a master, except to obey him as far as he is compelled to do so. By taking an equivalent for his life, the victor has not done him a favour; instead of killing him without profit, he has killed him usefully. So far then is he from acquiring over him any authority in addition to that of force, that the state of war continues to subsist between them: their mutual relation is the effect of it, and the usage of the right of war does not imply a treaty of peace. A convention has indeed been made; but this convention, so far from destroying the state of war, presupposes its continuance.

So, from whatever aspect we regard the question, the right of slavery is null and void, not only as being illegitimate, but also because it is absurd and meaningless.  The words slave and right contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive.  It will always be equally foolish for a man to say to a man or to a people: ‘I make with you a convention wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I shall keep it as long as I like, and you will keep it as long as I like.’

…Even if I granted all that I have been refuting, the friends of despotism would be no better off.  There will always be a great difference between subduing a multitude and ruling a society.  Even if scattered individuals were successively enslaved by one man, however numerous they might be, I still see no more than a master and his slaves, and certainly not a people and its ruler; I see what may be termed an aggregation, but not an association; there is as yet neither public good nor body politic.  The man in question, even if he has enslaved half the world, is still only an individual; his interest, apart from that of others, is still a purely private interest.  If this same man comes to die, his empire, after him, remains scattered and without unity, as an oak falls and dissolves into a heap of ashes when the fire has consumed it.A people, says Grotius, can give itself to a king.  Then, according to Grotius, a people is a people before it gives itself.  The gift is itself a civil act, and implies public deliberation.  It would be better, before examining the act by which a people gives itself to a king, to examine that by which it has become a people; for this act, being necessarily prior to the other, is the true foundation of society.

Indeed, if there were no prior convention, where, unless the election were unanimous, would be the obligation on the minority to submit to the choice of the majority?  How have a hundred men who wish for a master the right to vote on behalf of ten who do not?  The law of majority voting is itself something established by convention, and presupposes unanimity, on one occasion at least. …

I suppose men to have reached the point at which the obstacles in the way of their preservation in the state of nature show their power of resistance to be greater than the resources at the disposal of each individual for his maintenance in that state.  That primitive condition can then subsist no longer; and the human race would perish unless it changed its manner of existence.But, as men cannot engender new forces, but only unite and direct existing ones, they have no other means of preserving themselves than the formation, by aggregation, of a sum of forces great enough to overcome the resistance. These they have to bring into play by means of a single motive power, and cause to act in concert.

This sum of forces can arise only where several persons come together: but, as the force and liberty of each man are the chief instruments of his self-preservation, how can he pledge them without harming his own interests, and neglecting the care he owes to himself? This difficulty, in its bearing on my present subject, may be stated in the following terms—

“The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.” This is the fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides the solution.

The clauses of this contract are so determined by the nature of the act that the slightest modification would make them vain and ineffective; so that, although they have perhaps never been formally set forth, they are everywhere the same and everywhere tacitly admitted and recognised, until, on the violation of the social compact, each regains his original rights and resumes his natural liberty, while losing the conventional liberty in favour of which he renounced it.

These clauses, properly understood, may be reduced to one—the total alienation of each associate, together with all his rights, to the whole community for, in the first place, as each gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all; and, this being so, no one has any interest in making them burdensome to others.

Moreover, the alienation being without reserve, the union is as perfect as it can be, and no associate has anything more to demand: for, if the individuals retained certain rights, as there would be no common superior to decide between them and the public, each, being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all; the state of nature would thus continue, and the association would necessarily become inoperative or tyrannical.

Finally, each man, in giving himself to all, gives himself to nobody; and as there is no associate over whom he does not acquire the same right as he yields others over himself, he gains an equivalent for everything he loses, and an increase of force for the preservation of what he has.

If then we discard from the social compact what is not of its essence, we shall find that it reduces itself to the following terms—

“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”

At once, in place of the individual personality of each contracting party, this act of association creates a moral and collective body, composed of as many members as the assembly contains votes, and receiving from this act its unity, its common identity, its life and its will.  This public person, so formed by the union of all other persons, formerly took the name of city, and now takes that of Republic or body politic; it is called by its members State when passive, Sovereign when active, and Power when compared with others like itself.  Those who are associated in it take collectively the name of people, and severally are called citizens, as sharing in the sovereign power, and subjects, as being under the laws of the State.  But these terms are often confused and taken one for another: it is enough to know how to distinguish them when they are being used with precision.”    Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract & Discourses; 1762, Introduction, Chapters IV, V, & VI, translated by Douglas Howard Cole, 1920.  

CC BY-NC by Jim Surkamp
CC BY-NC by Jim Surkamp
Numero Dos“To the People of the State of New York:AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a wellconstructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.  The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice.  He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it.  The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations.  The valuable improvements made by the American constitutions on the popular models, both ancient and modern, cannot certainly be too much admired; but it would be an unwarrantable partiality, to contend that they have as effectually obviated the danger on this side, as was wished and expected.  Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.  However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true.  It will be found, indeed, on a candid review of our situation, that some of the distresses under which we labor have been erroneously charged on the operation of our governments; but it will be found, at the same time, that other causes will not alone account for many of our heaviest misfortunes; and, particularly, for that prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other.  These must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it was worse than the disease.  Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires.  But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time; yet what are many of the most important acts of legislation, but so many judicial determinations, not indeed concerning the rights of single persons, but concerning the rights of large bodies of citizens? And what are the different classes of legislators but advocates and parties to the causes which they determine? Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them. Yet the parties are, and must be, themselves the judges; and the most numerous party, or, in other words, the most powerful faction must be expected to prevail. Shall domestic manufactures be encouraged, and in what degree, by restrictions on foreign manufactures? are questions which would be differently decided by the landed and the manufacturing classes, and probably by neither with a sole regard to justice and the public good. The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets.

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.

The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed. Let me add that it is the great desideratum by which this form of government can be rescued from the opprobrium under which it has so long labored, and be recommended to the esteem and adoption of mankind.

By what means is this object attainable? Evidently by one of two only. Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression. If the impulse and the opportunity be suffered to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control. They are not found to be such on the injustice and violence of individuals, and lose their efficacy in proportion to the number combined together, that is, in proportion as their efficacy becomes needful.

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union.

The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.

The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose. On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people. The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter by two obvious considerations:

In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude. Hence, the number of representatives in the two cases not being in proportion to that of the two constituents, and being proportionally greater in the small republic, it follows that, if the proportion of fit characters be not less in the large than in the small republic, the former will present a greater option, and consequently a greater probability of a fit choice.

In the next place, as each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than in the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried; and the suffrages of the people being more free, will be more likely to centre in men who possess the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.

It must be confessed that in this, as in most other cases, there is a mean, on both sides of which inconveniences will be found to lie. By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects. The federal Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.

The other point of difference is, the greater number of citizens and extent of territory which may be brought within the compass of republican than of democratic government; and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter. The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.

Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic,–is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it.  Does the advantage consist in the substitution of representatives whose enlightened views and virtuous sentiments render them superior to local prejudices and schemes of injustice?  It will not be denied that the representation of the Union will be most likely to possess these requisite endowments.  Does it consist in the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties, against the event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest?  In an equal degree does the increased variety of parties comprised within the Union, increase this security.  Does it, in fine, consist in the greater obstacles opposed to the concert and accomplishment of the secret wishes of an unjust and interested majority?  Here, again, the extent of the Union gives it the most palpable advantage.

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.  A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.  A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.

In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.  And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists.”     James Madison, “The Union As a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction & Insurrection;” Federalist Papers, Number 10, 1788.  

african american civil rights-Malcolm_X_NYWTS_2a

Numero Tres“I take deep satisfaction in expressing my respectful gratitude to Your Majesties for having graciously honoured this banquet with your presence.  May I be permitted to add the expression of my deep gratitude for the kind welcome I have been given as well as for this evening’s reception, which is a worthy epilogue to the solemn gathering earlier today at which I had the incomparable honour of receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1934 from the august hands of His Majesty the King.

I also wish to express my profound respect and sincere gratitude to the eminent Royal Swedish Academy for its distinguished judgment, which crowns my long literary career.

For the success of my literary endeavours, I had to go to the school of life.  That school, although useless to certain brilliant minds, is the only thing that will help a mind of my kind: attentive, concentrated, patient, truly childlike at first, a docile pupil, if not of teachers, at least of life, a pupil who would never abandon his complete faith and confidence in the things he learned.  This faith resides in the simplicity of my basic nature.  I felt the need to believe in the appearance of life without the slightest reserve or doubt.

The constant attention and deep sincerity with which I learned and pondered this lesson revealed humility, a love and respect for life that were indispensable for the assimilation of bitter disillusions, painful experiences, frightful wounds, and all the mistakes of innocence that give depth and value to our experiences.  This education of the mind, accomplished at great cost, allowed me to grow and, at the same time, to remain myself.

As my true talents developed, they left me completely incapable of life, as becomes a true artist, capable only of thoughts and feelings; of thoughts because I felt, and of feelings because I thought.  In fact, under the illusion of creating myself, I created only what I felt and was able to believe.

I feel immense gratitude, joy, and pride at the thought that this creation has been considered worthy of the distinguished award you have bestowed on me.

I would gladly believe that this Prize was given not so much to the virtuosity of a writer, which is always negligible, but to the human sincerity of my work.”       Luigi Pirandello, Nobel Literary Laureate’s Banquet Speech; 1934.  

Numero CuatroPledging unity…

Promoting justice…

Transcending compromise…

We, Afro-Americans, people who originated in Africa and now reside in America, speak out against the slavery and oppression inflicted upon us by this racist power structure.  We offer to downtrodden Afro-American people courses of action that will conquer oppression, relieve suffering, and convert meaningless struggle into meaningful action.

Confident that our purpose will be achieved, we Afro-Americans from all walks of life make the following known:


Having stated our determination, confidence, and resolve, the Organization of Afro-American Unity is hereby established on the 15th day of February, 1965, in the city of New York.

Upon this establishment, the Afro-American people will launch a cultural revolution which will provide the means for restoring our identity that we might rejoin our brothers and sisters on the African continent, culturally, psychologically, economically, and share with them the sweet fruits of freedom from oppression and independence of racist governments.

1. The Organization of Afro-American Unity welcomes all persons of African origin to come together and dedicate their ideas, skills, and lives to free our people from oppression.

2. Branches of the Organization of Afro-American Unity may be established by people of African descent wherever they may be and whatever their ideology — as long as they be descendants of Africa and dedicated to our one goal: freedom from oppression.

3. The basic program of the Organization of Afro-American Unity which is now being presented can and will be modified by the membership, taking into consideration national, regional, and local conditions that require flexible treatment.

4. The Organization of Afro-American Unity encourages active participation of each member since we feel that each and every Afro-American has something to contribute to our freedom. Thus each member will be encouraged to participate in the committee of his or her choice.

5. Understanding the differences that have been created amongst us by our oppressors in order to keep us divided, the Organization of Afro-American Unity strives to ignore or submerge these artificial divisions by focusing our activities and our loyalties upon our one goal: freedom from oppression.



We assert that we Afro-Americans have the right to direct and control our lives, our history, and our future rather than to have our destinies determined by American racists, we are determined to rediscover our true African culture, which was crushed and hidden for over four hundred years in order to enslave us and keep us enslaved up to today…

We, Afro-Americans — enslaved, oppressed, and denied by a society that proclaims itself the citadel of democracy, are determined to rediscover our history, promote the talents that are suppressed by our racist enslavers, renew the culture that was crushed by a slave government and thereby — to again become a free people.

National unity

Sincerely believing that the future of Afro-Americans is dependent upon our ability to unite our ideas, skills, organizations, and institutions…

We, the Organization of Afro-American Unity pledge to join hands and hearts with all people of African origin in a grand alliance by forgetting all the differences that the power structure has created to keep us divided and enslaved. We further pledge to strengthen our common bond and strive toward one goal: freedom from oppression.


The program of the Organization of Afro-American Unity shall evolve from five strategic points which are deemed basic and fundamental to our grand alliance. Through our committees we shall proceed in the following general areas.

I. Restoration

In order to enslave the African it was necessary for our enslavers to completely sever our communications with the African continent and the Africans that remained there. In order to free ourselves from the oppression of our enslavers then, it is absolutely necessary for the Afro-American to restore communications with Africa.

The Organization of Afro-American Unity will accomplish this goal by means of independent national and international newspapers, publishing ventures, personal contacts, and other available communications media.

We, Afro-Americans, must also communicate to one another the truths about American slavery and the terrible effects it has upon our people. We must study the modern system of slavery in order to free ourselves from it. We must search out all the bare and ugly facts without shame for we are still victims, still slaves — still oppressed. Our only shame is believing falsehood and not seeking the truth.

We must learn all that we can about ourselves. We will have to know the whole story of how we were kidnapped from Africa; how our ancestors were brutalized, dehumanized, and murdered; and how we are continually kept in a state of slavery for the profit of a system conceived in slavery, built by slaves and dedicated to keeping us enslaved in order to maintain itself.

We must begin to reeducate ourselves and become alert listeners in order to learn as much as we can about the progress of our motherland — Africa. We must correct in our minds the distorted image that our enslaver has portrayed to us of Africa that he might discourage us from reestablishing communications with her and thus obtain freedom from oppression.

II. Reorientation

In order to keep the Afro-American enslaved, it was necessary to limit our thinking to the shores of America — to prevent us from identifying our problems with the problems of other peoples of African origin. This made us consider ourselves an isolated minority without allies anywhere.

The Organization of Afro-American Unity will develop in the Afro-American people a keen awareness of our relationship with the world at large and clarify our roles, rights, and responsibilities as human beings. We can accomplish this goal by becoming well-informed concerning world affairs and understanding that our struggle is part of a larger world struggle of oppressed peoples against all forms of oppression. We must change the thinking of the Afro-American by liberating our minds through the study of philosophies and psychologies, cultures and languages that did not come from our racist oppressors. Provisions are being made for the study of languages such as Swahili, Hausa, and Arabic. These studies will give our people access to ideas and history of mankind at large and thus increase our mental scope.

We can learn much about Africa by reading informative books and by listening to the experiences of those who have traveled there, but many of us can travel to the land of our choice and experience for ourselves. The Organization of Afro-American Unity will encourage the Afro-American to travel to Africa, the Caribbean, and to other places where our culture has not been completely crushed by brutality and ruthlessness.

III. Education

After enslaving us, the slave masters developed a racist educational system which justified to its posterity the evil deeds that had been committed against the African people and their descendants. Too often the slave himself participates so completely in this system that he justifies having been enslaved and oppressed.

The Organization of Afro-American Unity will devise original educational methods and procedures which will liberate the minds of our children from the vicious lies and distortions that are fed to us from the cradle to keep us mentally enslaved. We encourage Afro-Americans themselves to establish experimental institutes and educational workshops, liberation schools, and child-care centers in the Afro-American communities.

We will influence the choice of textbooks and equipment used by our children in the public schools while at the same time encouraging qualified Afro-Americans to write and publish the text books needed to liberate our minds. Until we completely control our own educational institutions, we must supplement the formal training of our children by educating them at home.

IV. Economic security

After the Emancipation Proclamation, when the system of slavery changed from chattel slavery to wage slavery, it was realized that the Afro-American constituted the largest homogeneous ethnic group with a common origin and common group experience in the United States and, if allowed to exercise economic or political freedom, would in a short period of time own this country. Therefore racists in this government developed techniques that would keep the Afro-American people economically dependent upon the slave masters — economically slaves — twentieth-century slaves.

The Organization of Afro-American Unity will take measures to free our people from economic slavery. One way of accomplishing this will be to maintain a technician pool: that is, a bank of technicians. In the same manner that blood banks have been established to furnish blood to those who need it at the time it is needed, we must establish a technician bank. We must do this so that the newly independent nations of Africa can turn to us who are their Afro-American brothers for the technicians they will need now and in the future. Thereby we will be developing an open market for the many skills we possess and at the same time we will be supplying Africa with the skills she can best use. This project will therefore be one of mutual cooperation and mutual benefit.

V. Self-defense

In order to enslave a people and keep them subjugated, their right to self-defense must be denied. They must be constantly terrorized, brutalized, and murdered. These tactics of suppression have been developed to a new high by vicious racists whom the United States government seems unwilling or incapable of dealing with in terms of the law of this land. Before the emancipation it was the Black man who suffered humiliation, torture, castration, and murder. Recently our women and children, more and more, are becoming the victims of savage racists whose appetite for blood increases daily and whose deeds of depravity seem to be openly encouraged by all law enforcement agencies. Over five thousand Afro-Americans have been lynched since the Emancipation Proclamation and not one murderer has been brought to justice!

The Organization of Afro-American Unity, being aware of the increased violence being visited upon the Afro-American and of the open sanction of this violence and murder by the police departments throughout this country and the federal agencies — do affirm our right and obligation to defend ourselves in order to survive as a people.

We encourage the Afro-Americans to defend themselves against the wanton attacks of racist aggressors whose sole aim is to deny us the guarantees of the United Nations Charter of Human Rights and of the Constitution of the United States.

The Organization of Afro-American Unity will take those private steps that are necessary to insure the survival of the Afro-American people in the face of racist aggression and the defense of our women and children. We are within our rights to see to it that the Afro-American people who fulfill their obligations to the United States government (we pay taxes and serve in the armed forces of this country like American citizens do) also exact from this government the obligations that it owes us as a people, or exact these obligations ourselves. Needless to say, among this number we include protection of certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In areas where the United States government has shown itself unable and/or unwilling to bring to justice the racist oppressors, murderers, who kill innocent children and adults, the Organization of Afro-American Unity advocates that the Afro-American people insure ourselves that justice is done — whatever the price and by any means necessary.


General terminologies:

We Afro-Americans feel receptive toward all peoples of goodwill. We are not opposed to multiethnic associations in any walk of life. In fact, we have had experiences which enable us to understand how unfortunate it is that human beings have been set apart or aside from each other because of characteristics known as “racial” characteristics.

However Afro-Americans did not create the prejudiced background and atmosphere in which we live. And we must face the facts. A “racial” society does exist in stark reality, and not with equality for Black people; so we who are nonwhite must meet the problems inherited from centuries of inequalities and deal with the present situations as rationally as we are able.

The exclusive ethnic quality of our unity is necessary for self-preservation. We say this because our experiences backed up by history show that African culture and Afro-American culture not be accurately recognized and reported and cannot be respectably expressed nor be secure in its survival if we remain the divided, and therefore the helpless, victims of an oppressive society.

We appreciate the fact that when the people involved have real equality and justice, ethnic intermingling can be beneficial to all. We must denounce, however, all people who are oppressive through their policies or actions and who are lacking in justice in their dealings with other people, whether the injustices proceed from power, class, or “race.” We must be unified in order to be protected from abuse or misuse.

We consider the word “integration” a misleading, false term. It carries with it certain implications to which Afro-Americans cannot subscribe. This terminology has been applied to the current regulation projects which are supposed]y “acceptable” to some classes of society. This very “acceptable” implies some inherent superiority or inferiority instead of acknowledging the true source of the inequalities involved.

We have observed that the usage of the term “integration” was designated and promoted by those persons who expect to continue a (nicer) type of ethnic discrimination and who intend to maintain social and economic control of all human contacts by means of imagery, classifications, quotas, and manipulations based on color, national origin, or “racial” background and characteristics.

Careful evaluation of recent experiences shows that “integration” actually describes the proccess by which a white society is (remains) set in a position to use, whenever it chooses to use and however it chooses to use, the best talents of nonwhite people. This power-web continues to build a society wherein the best contributions of Afro-Americans, in fact of all nonwhite people, would continue to be absorbed without note or exploited to benefit a fortunate few while the masses of both white and nonwhite people would remain unequal and unbenefited.

We are aware that many of us lack sufficient training and are deprived and unprepared as a result of oppression, discrimination, and the resulting discouragement, despair, and resignation. But when we are not qualified, and where we are unprepared, we must help each other and work out plans for bettering our own conditions as Afro-Americans. Then our assertions toward full opportunity can be made on the basis of equality as opposed to the calculated tokens of “integration.” Therefore, we must reject this term as one used by all persons who intend to mislead Afro-Americans.

Another term, “negro,” is erroneously used and is degrading in the eyes of informed and self-respecting persons of African heritage. It denotes stereotyped and debased traits of character and classifies a whole segment of humanity on the basis of false information. From all intelligent viewpoints, it is a badge of slavery and helps to prolong and perpetuate oppression and discrimination.

Persons who recognize the emotional thrust and plain show of disrespect in the Southerner’s use of “nigra” and the general use of “nigger” must also realize that all three words are essentially the same. The other two. “nigra” and “nigger” are blunt and undeceptive. The one representing respectability, “negro,” is merely the same substance in a polished package and spelled with a capital letter. This refinement is added so that a degrading terminology can be legitimately used in general literature and “polite” conversation without embarrassment.

The term “negro” developed from a word in the Spanish language which is actually an adjective (describing word) meaning “black,” that is, the color black. In plain English, if someone said or was called a “black” or a “dark,” even a young child would very naturally question: “a black what?” or “a dark what?” because adjectives do not name, they describe. Please take note that in order to make use of this mechanism, a word was transferred from another language and deceptively changed in function from an adjective to a noun, which is a naming word. Its application in the nominative (naming) sense was intentionally used to portray persons in a position of objects or “things.” It stamps the article as being “all alike and all the same.” It denotes: a “darkie,” a slave, a subhuman, an ex-slave, a “negro.”

Afro-Americans must re-analyze and particularly question our own use of this term, keeping in mind all the facts. In light of the historical meanings and current implications, all intelligent and informed Afro-Americans and Africans continue to reject its use in the noun form as well as a proper adjective. Its usage shall continue to be considered as unenlightened and objectionable or deliberately offensive whether in speech or writing.

We accept the use of Afro-American, African, and Black man in reference to persons of African heritage. To every other part of mankind goes this measure of just respect. We do not desire more nor shall we accept less.

General considerations:

Afro-Americans, like all other people, have human rights which are inalienable. This is, these human rights cannot be legally or justly transferred to another. Our human rights belong to us, as to all people, through God, not through the wishes nor according to the whims of other men.

We must consider that fact and other reasons why a proclamation of “Emancipation” should not be revered as a document of liberation. Any previous acceptance of and faith in such a document was based on sentiment, not on reality. This is a serious matter which we Afro-Americans must continue to reevaluate.

The original root-meaning of the word emancipation is: “To deliver up or make over as property by means of a formal act from a purchaser.” We must take note and remember that human beings cannot be justly bought or sold nor can their human rights be legally or justly taken away.

Slavery was, and still is, a criminal institution, that is: crime en masse. No matter what form it takes. subtle rules and policies, apartheid, etc., slavery and oppression of human rights stand as major crimes against God and humanity. Therefore, to relegate or change the state of such criminal deeds by means of vague legislation and noble euphemisms gives an honor to horrible commitments that is totally inappropriate.

Full implications and concomitant harvests were generally misunderstood by our foreparents and are still misunderstood or avoided by some Afro-Americans today. However, the facts remain; and we, as enlightened Afro-Americans, will not praise and encourage any belief in emancipation. Afro-Americans everywhere must realize that to retain faith in such an idea means acceptance of being property and, therefore, less than a human being. This matter is a crucial one that Afro-Americans must continue to reexamine.


The time is past due for us to internationalize the problems of Afro-Americans. We have been too slow in recognizing the link in the fate of Africans with the fate of Afro-Americans. We have been too unknowing to understand and too misdirected to ask our African brothers and sisters to help us mend the chain of our heritage.

Our African relatives who are in a majority in their own country have found it very difficult to gain independence from a minority. It is that much more difficult for Afro-Americans who are a minority away from the motherland and still oppressed by those who encourage the crushing of our African identity.

We can appreciate the material progress and recognize the opportunities available in the highly industrialized and affluent American society. Yet, we who are nonwhite face daily miseries resulting directly or indirectly from a systematic discrimination against us because of our God-given colors. These factors cause us to remember that our being born in America was an act of fate stemming from the separation of our foreparents from Africa; not by choice, but by force.

We have for many years been divided among ourselves through deceptions and misunderstandings created by our enslavers, but we do here and now express our desires and intent to draw closer and be restored in knowledge and spirit through renewed relations and kinships with the African peoples. We further realize that our human rights, so long suppressed, are the rights of all mankind everywhere.

In light of all of our experiences and knowledge of the past, we, as Afro-Americans, declare recognition, sympathy, and admiration for all peoples and nations who are striving, as we are, toward self-realization and complete freedom from oppression.

The civil rights bill is a similarly misleading, misinterpreted document of legislation.  The premise of its design and application is not respectable in the eyes of men who recognize what personal freedom involves and entails.  Afro-Americans must answer this question for themselves: What makes this special bill necessary?

The only document that is in order and deserved with regard to the acts perpetuated through slavery and oppression prolonged to this day is a Declaration of condemnation.  And the only legislation worthy of consideration or endorsement by Afro-Americans, the victims of these tragic institutions, is a Proclamation of Restitution.  We Afro-Americans must keep these facts ever in mind.

We must continue to internationalize our philosophies and contacts toward assuming full human rights which include all the civil rights appertaining thereto.  With complete understanding of our heritage as Afro-Americans, we must not do less.

Committees of the Organization of Afro-American Unity:

The Cultural Committee

The Economic Committee

The Educational Committee

The Political Committee

The Publications Committee

The Social Committee

The Self-Defense Committee

The Youth Committee

Staff committees: Finance, Fund-raising, Legal, Membership”        Malcolm X, et al., “Program of the Organization of African-American Unity;” 1964.