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“Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” These are the famous opening words of a treatise which, from the French Revolutionary terror to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, has been interpreted as a blueprint for totalitarianism. But in “The Social Contract” Rousseau (1712-1778) was at pains to stress the connection between liberty and law, freedom and justice. Arguing that the ruler is the people’s agent, not its master, he claimed that laws derived from the people’s general will. Yet in preaching subservience to the impersonal state he came close to defining freedom as the recognition of necessity. Rousseau’s powerful treatise expresses views on the rights, liberty and equality of all people. It remains a classic of political theory and one of the most influential works of abstract political thought in the Western tradition.
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