In a state with just one hundred people, I will constitute 1 percent of the sovereign. In a state with ten thousand people, I will constitute only one one-hundredth of 1 percent of the sovereign. The larger the state becomes, the less I constitute the sovereign. Rousseau concludes that the larger the state becomes, the more my particular will shall take precedence over my participation in the general will. Thus, in a large state, each individual will care less about the well-being of the state, and will care more about himself. To prevent selfish anarchy, Rousseau argues that a large population needs a strong government to keep it in line.

A strong government does not mean a large government. On the contrary, Rousseau asserts that the smaller a government is the stronger it is. In a large state, each individual's particular will is so much stronger than his general will because his particular will concerns only himself, while his general will concerns a large group of which he is only a small part. Similarly, in a large government, the corporate will of each magistrate will be weak, and he will be more interested in his own particular will. In a small government, the corporate will of each magistrate will be stronger.

The larger the population, the smaller the government that controls them should be. The danger, then, is that the corporate will of a small government will be so much stronger than the general will that the general will shall be ignored. The danger, it seems, of large states, is that each individual will feel less committed to the general will, and so the general will might be neglected. Rousseau's ideas are deeply indebted to Greek political philosophers, especially Aristotle, and so he thinks of the ideal political unit as a small city-state, like Athens or Sparta, or the Geneva that he grew up in. A large country is ill suited to his recommendations.

Popular pages: The Social Contract