Explain what the Estates-General was, and in what way they elucidate our current socio-economic climate.
Simply defined, the Estates-General was a legislative assembly comprised of the three different estates, or classes, in French society during the Old Regime: the clergy; the nobility; the common people. These three estates would come together to discuss social, political, and economic issues (as they affected each of the constituting estates). The Estates General was an advisory assembly, meaning that it had no real legislative power. Considering that the Estate General existed during a time of Absolutism in France, it only naturally follows that they were called forth during times in which the socio-economic climate was grim. In other words, the Estates-General reflected periods of full-scale crisis; it also reflected the monarch’s desire to find a solution that would please all estates (and preserve his power).
In your own words, what is Rousseau’s social contract? How does an individual enter in the contract, and remain part of it?
Rousseau’s social contract is a theory of the best way in which a political community can be set up, thus overcoming any and every problem that might arise in a commercial society. The social contract portends that all men must be equally free and unite in the empowerment of the general will (will of the people). Essentially, the only legitimate political authority springs from man himself, but only after he has abandoned his state of nature and forfeit a given amount of rights so that he can be equally free (relative to other men). Man can only forfeit his freedom voluntarily, meaning that only voluntarily can he enter the social contract and remain a part of it (since man voluntarily abides the laws established by government, which acts in the sovereign’s representation).
In the section “Individual Wills and the General Will” of The Social Contract, Rousseau states that a participant in a society “will be forced to be free” (Sourcebooks). Explain what this phrase means in context of the French Revolution, and what it means to you in today’s society.
This phrase refers to the obligation that all citizens have towards the social contract once they have willingly forfeited their rights in order to become a part of the sovereign (which in turn must abide the government to which it has entrusted its general will). In other words, what this means is that individuals cannot enjoy liberties without fulfilling the duties imposed by the social contract; those unwilling to be free (in a social context) will be forced to be free by laws. What has been said applies in the context of today’s society. In the context of the French Revolution, on the other hand, the phrase means that citizens must be forced into forsaking the monarchy’s absolutist government in order to embrace a free, democratic, republican form of government.