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Descartes Views on Legislator Versus Smith & Rousseau

Western Political Thought Midterm: Part II, Question 1

[i:325dd847f8]Is Descartes’ idea of the role of the founder/legislator types similar to those put forth by Smith and Rousseau? Indeed, are Descartes’ and Rousseau’s ideas of founders indistinguishable?[/i:325dd847f8]

The sovereign’s role within a government of a state has been debated for hundreds of years. From this debate has sprouted several forms of thinking, which have been expressed in different types of governments, such as a democracy, aristocracy, or a monarchy. The general role of the sovereign is to maintain the state of peace, by creating laws that enforce the principles of justice; however, the amount of power which the sovereign is endowed differs depending on the school of thought. Upon comparing René Descartes’ Discourse on Method and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Basic Political Writings, it is evident that their methodologies differ. Unlike Descartes’ view of the sovereign as the only and ultimate power whose laws represent the monarch’s private interests, Rousseau believes that because the sovereign is composed of individuals, that the general will is represented.

In Descartes’ Discourse on Method he explains his belief in monarchy. He initially came to this realization after spending a day in solitude due to snow. He describes the most important conclusion that he arrived at on this day, “it occurred to me to consider that there is often not so much perfection in works composed of many pieces and made by the hands of various master craftsmen as there is in those works on which but a single individual has work” (7). For, he notes that one man’s mind is more capable of designing an organized, stable method of governing than many men can. He cites buildings, cities and peoples as examples of that which would benefit from this approach. Thus, Descartes is supportive of a monarchy for he recognizes that, due to the one sovereign leader, all of the peoples will be working towards the same end. Accordingly, there will be little inconsistency of values between the people. Descartes explains that in such a society the citizens would form a covenant with the sovereign, promising to uphold and follow his every command and to never accuse the sovereign of wrong-doings. Although there can be no harm in a single architect designing a building or a city, one sovereign leader can, under certain circumstances, cause turmoil within that society. For a leader who creates all the rules, yet he,...

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