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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
March 2024
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Book description

What is freedom? What is equality? And what is sovereignty? A foundational text of modern political philosophy, Rousseau's Social Contract has generated much debate and exerted extraordinary influence not only on political thought, but also modern political history, by way of the French Revolution and other political events, ideals, and practices. The Social Contract is regularly studied in undergraduate courses of philosophy, political thought, and modern intellectual history, as well as being the subject of graduate seminars in numerous disciplines. The book inspires an ongoing flow of scholarly articles and monographs. Few texts have offered more influential and important answers to research questions than Rousseau's Social Contract, and in this new Cambridge Companion, a multidisciplinary team of contributors provides new ways to navigate this masterpiece of political philosophy- and its animating questions.


‘An instantly indispensable guide to the Social Contract, this Cambridge Companion delves deeply into Rousseau’s magnum opus to explore themes such as political psychology, civil religion, sovereignty, government, and negative versus positive liberty. Moreover, the volume investigates the Social Contract’s intricate relationship with Rousseau’s other works such as Émile, and his essays on political economy, Poland, Corsica, and D’Alembert. A landmark moment in Rousseau studies.’

John P. McCormick - University of Chicago

‘Rousseau’s masterpiece, the Social Contract is, by all accounts, his most important contribution to political philosophy. But it is also a notoriously paradoxical and difficult text, which has both inspired, enraged, and confounded its readers since its publication 250 years ago. David Lay Williams and Matthew W. Maguire have here assembled an outstanding team of experts to help us understand why it continues to fascinate.’

Helena Rosenblatt - The Graduate Center, City University of New York

‘This sterling volume gathers a range of insightful commentary on a notoriously slippery text. A fitting companion to Rousseau’s masterwork, it will be of immense value to all those who read, teach, and struggle with this foundational intervention in modern political thought.’

Darrin M. McMahon - Dartmouth College

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