[Du contract social;] Principes du droit politique

Autore: ROUSSEAU, Jean Jacques (1712-1778)

Tipografo: Marc Michel Rey

Dati tipografici: Amsterdam, 1762

Formato: in ottavo

PMM 207 – “L'homme est né libre”

8vo (200x122 mm). [4], VIII, 323, [1] pp. Collation: [π]2 *4 A-V8 X2. Engraved vignette on title page. Contemporary mottled calf, gilt spine with five raised bands and morocco lettering piece, sprinkled edges, marbled endleaves (corners and joints rubbed and worn). On the front flyleaves the ownership entries “Ex Libris P. Champesme presbyteri” and “G. Lurteau”; on the half title is the note “9 M[?] de francs”; on the title page an inked-out ownership entry. Some foxing at the beginning and end, light browning, but overall a good, genuine copy.

FIRST EDITION, issue B, with the title page featuring a vignette of Liberty seated and the contentious section on marriage censored. When the first copies of the book came off the press, Rousseau received a proof of the title page which he disapproved. He then asked his printer to move the upper part of the title (Du contract social;), including the semicolon, to the half title and had the central vignette changed. Rousseau also decided to tone down his note on marriage, wherein he criticises the monopoly of the Catholic clergy, and instructed Rey to change the final section. In this issue the final page contains the Catalogue de livres imprimez chez Rey, Libraire à Amsterdam.

Despite such precautionary measures, the work was nevertheless prohibited in France, and numerous copies were destroyed. In the same year, an official edition in 12mo was also issued, as part of the Rousseau's Oeuvres diverses, and around the same time various counterfeits appeared on the market.

“The Contrat Social remains Rousseau's greatest work… It had the most profound influence on the political thinking of the generation following its publication. It was, after all, the first great “emotional” plea for the equality of all men in the state: others had argued the same theoretically, but had themselves tolerated a very different government. Rousseau believed passionately in what he wrote, and when in 1789 a similar emotion was released on a national scale, the Contract Social came into its own as the bible of the revolutionaries in building their ideal state… [Rousseau's] fundamental thesis that the government depends absolutely on the mandate of the people, and his genuine creative insight into the political and economic problems of society gives his work an indisputable cogency” (Printing and the Mind of Man, no. 207).

“Rousseau's most important political treatise was The Social Contract (1762), a political matrix and symbol of a wider shift in ideas about the nature of reality, the self, and politics in Western society” (W. Gairdner, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Romantic Roots of Modern Democracy, in: “Humanitas”, vol. 12, 1999, p. 77).

“Furthermore, The Social Contract also appears to concur with the argument in Political Economy that the proper politicization of passions is their salvation. While Rousseau offers many criticisms of citizens' private desires, he has none to offer of the general will, the expression of the citizens' public desires. The general will, he contends, is “always right and always tends toward the public utility”. The only problem is that the citizens do not always discern the public good, and “only then does it appear to want what is bad”. Elaborating on this argument a few pages later, Rousseau contrasts private desire with public desire: “Private individuals see the good they reject; the public wants the good it does not see”. In other words, whereas individuals may purposely hold on to desires for bad things, the public only desires such things out of ignorance. Rousseau concludes by asserting the need for a legislator who will enlighten the public, but the point here is the distinction drawn between private and public passions. Apparently, in the move from “I desire” to “we desire”, desire itself is redeemed from any harmful intentions. The “dangerous disposition from which all our vices arise” is “transform[ed] into a sublime virtue”. Although one might argue that Rousseau does not fully explain why the general will is by definition virtuous, it is clear that the key to its virtue is its generality, its link to the common interest. The private will, he says, “tends by its nature toward preferences, and the general will toward equality”. The general will is also, of course, the guarantee of the citizens' freedom. Since equality and freedom are among the supreme virtues in Rousseau's thought, we can begin to see why he praises the citizens' public passion” (C. Hall, Reason, Passion and Politics in Rousseau, in: “Polity”, vol. 34, 2001, p. 69f.).

A. Tchemerzine, Bibliographie d'éditions originales et rares d'auteurs français des XVe, XVIe, XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, Paris, 1977, V, p. 543; J. Sénelier, Bibliographie générale des oeuvres de J.J. Rousseau, Paris, 1950, no. 554; T.A. Dufour, Recherches bibliographiques sur les oeuvres imprimées de J.-J. Rousseau, Paris, 1925, no. 133; R.A. Leigh, Unsolved Problems in the Bibliography of J.-J. Rousseau, Cambridge, 1990 (which describes 3 issues).