Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Liberty and equality allow the greatest good of all

The best legislation in the world is the one that guarantees the motto of the French Republic!

In any case, part of the motto: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Fraternity is undoubtedly important for Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but he insists more on the first two words: liberty and equality.

Of course, it is anachronistic to associate Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who lived from 1712 to 1778, with the formula first used by Maximilien Robespierre in December 1790:” Liberté, égalité, fraternité ». And there is no need to add that you will not make this mistake in your copies.

However, for purely pedagogical considerations, we hope that this is an excellent way to engrave forever in your minds: the two main goals, the two main aims of the best possible legislation: liberty and equality.

At least that is what Jean-Jacques Rousseau says in the Social Contracta text in which he seeks to define the principles of political systems.


be careful not to misunderstand what Jean-Jacques Rousseau means by equality. One should not think of equality as a set of people who would share exactly the same amount of money, the same wealth, the same powers, the same ranks. On the contrary, citizens may have different degrees of power, of power, and of wealth, but:

  1. citizens are equal before the law and according to their rank
  2. citizens must not be so poor that they would have to sell themselves, nor so rich that they could buy others

If we investigate in what precisely the greatest good of all consists, which must be the end of every system of legislation, we will find that it is reduced to two principal objects, liberty and equality: liberty, because all particular dependence is so much strength taken away from the body of the state; equality, because liberty cannot subsist without it.
I have already said what civil liberty is: with respect to equality, it is not necessary to understand by this word that the degrees of power and wealth are absolutely the same; but that, as for power, it is above all violence, and is never exercised except by virtue of rank and laws; and, as for wealth, that no citizen is so opulent as to be able to buy another, and no one so poor as to be forced to sell himself: which supposes, on the side of the great, moderation of goods and credit, and, on the side of the small, moderation of avarice and covetousness.
This equality, they say, is a chimera of speculation which cannot exist in practice. But if abuse is inevitable, does it follow that it should not at least be regulated? It is precisely because the force of things always tends to destroy equality that the force of legislation must always tend to maintain it.

Chapter 11. – On the various systems of legislation. – Jean-Jacques Rousseau


: In this extract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau mentions very briefly what he means by freedom, and only to refer the reader to his other writings:“I have already said what civil freedom is”.

It must be said that Jean-Jacques Rousseau has already elaborated at length on liberty in the whole previous book of the Social Contract. Thus, to understand what Jean-Jacques Rousseau means by liberty, it is imperative to go back to the whole of the First Book of the Social Contract.

You can either read the summary we have made for you: if you have more time.

+ More articles on Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

  1. 3 kinds of education, purpose and origins – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  2. Summary of the 1st book of the Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  3. The Family, the oldest of societies – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  4. A state of nature in Jean-Jacques Rousseau?
  5. The most useful and important rule for raising a child – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  6. There has never been and there will never be a democracy! – Jean-Jacques Rousseau