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Rousseaus concept of the general will la volont gnrale has been generally misunderstood It has been criticized on the one hand as a form of vacuous idealism and on the other hand as nothing more than another name for majority rule But the concept is in fact neither of these Rousseau constructs a sophisticated and meaningful picture of the general will that manages to avoid both of these extreme positions Situated between those two poles it provides a solid foundation for the state that Rousseau envisions In the role that he has assigned to it the general will does not fall short but that does not mean that the general will is beyond criticism In this paper I will argue that what needs to be questioned in Rousseaus theory is not the general wills efficiency but rather its possibility In order to make this argument my first project will be to clarify just exactly what Rousseau means by the general will Taking him at his word when he says all of my opinions are consistent but I cannot present them all at once1 I will try to piece together the many and various comments on the general will that Rousseau makes throughout the Social Contract in order to form--ultimately--a single coherent picture of the phenomenon After that I will raise some questions about that picture and consider the adequacy of the foundation that it provides for a society Then I want to take up the deeper question concerning what makes Rousseaus general will possible Has the criticism addressed so far against the general will been misdirected Should it be applied not to Rousseaus elaborate notion of the general will but rather to the condition of its possibility2 1 Three Versions of the General Will It seems to me that at least three different meanings or versions of the general will can be identified in The Social Contract Each of these forms of the general
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