The concept of "general will" is considered Rousseau's most important contribution to political science. It is presented as the answer to the gravest problems of civilization, namely, the problems of inequality, amour-propre, and general discontent. The social contract is the foundation of the general will and the answer to the problem of natural freedom, because nature itself provides no guidelines for determining who should rule. The lecture ends with Rousseau's legacy and the influence he exercised on later nineteenth-century writers and philosophers.
This course is intended as an introduction to political philosophy as seen through an examination of some of the major texts and thinkers of the Western political tradition. Three broad themes that are central to understanding political life are focused upon: the polis experience (Plato, Aristotle), the sovereign state (Machiavelli, Hobbes), constitutional government (Locke), and democracy (Rousseau, Tocqueville). The way in which different political philosophies have given expression to various forms of political institutions and our ways of life are examined throughout the course.