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The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Penguin Classics)

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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 debate since its 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.

Translated and Introduced by Maurice Cranston