'Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains'
These are the famous opening words of a treatise that has not ceased to stir vigorous debate since its first publication in 1762. Rejecting the view that anyone has a natural right to wield authority over others, Rousseau argues instead for a pact, or 'social contract', that should exist between all the citizens of a state and that should be the source of sovereign power. From this fundamental premise, he goes on to consider issues of liberty and law, freedom and justice, arriving at a view of society that has seemed to some a blueprint for totalitarianism, to others a declaration of democratic principles.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) the French political philosopher and educationalist, is the author of A Discourse on Inequality, and Emile.
Maurice Cranston was Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics and wrote and published widely on Rousseau, including two volumes of biography.