Rousseau and A Well Constituted State

After reading Rousseau's On the Social Contract, it is even more clear to me how difficult it is to have a legitimate government in theory. Even Rousseau believes that right from the founding of a state, there are internal institutions that seek to destroy it, “The body politic, like the human body, begins to die from the very moment of its birth, and carries within itself the causes of its destruction...The best constituted state will come to an end, but later than another,”

Therefore, the question essentially becomes on how to delay the death of the state. However, what makes constituting a state even more delicate, is to design it so that it does not destroy itself too quickly from its success. Allow me to explain.

According to Rousseau, the sign of a good government is none other than the growth of the population, “the government under which, without external means, without naturalizations, without colonies, the citizens become populous and multiply the most, is infallibly the best government.” The reason behind this is because the goal of the government is “the preservation and prosperity of its members.”

However, in another part of this discourse, Rousseau writes that the state is destroyed when the population institutes representatives. “Sovereignty cannot be represented for the same reason that it cannot be alienated. It consists essentially in the general will, and the will does not allow of being represented. It is either itself or something else; there is nothing in between.” He further writes, “the moment a people gives itself representatives, it is no longer free; it no longer exists.”

Now the question arises on why people choose to give itself representatives. Rousseau mentions a few reasons, “The cooling off of patriotism, the activity of private interest, the largeness of states, conquests, the abuse of government: these have suggested the route of using deputies or representatives of the people in the nation's assemblies.”

The necessity of representatives due to the largeness of a state is quite understandable as the practicality of popular involvement diminishes as the distance required to travel is increased. Not to mention the superior order and discipline people must have to not occupy the time with other issues. If this logic is applied to Rousseau's reasoning, then a good government will lead to its destruction because the increase of population would require the implementation of representatives.

To be clear, Rousseau does not say that representatives are necessary in a large state, but he also does not prove this suggestion to be odious. In fact, he does not mention it any further. Therefore, it may be safe to assume that he agrees with this logic, although it would lead to the destruction of the state.

Rousseau concludes by saying the following. “All things considered, I do not see that it is possible henceforth for the sovereign to preserve among us the exercise of its rights, unless the city is very small.” Again, Rousseau does not explicitly mention that large states require representatives and therefore states should be kept small. However, he does not attempt to discredit this logic so I am speculating that it is one of the things he considered.

Ultimately, from his two beliefs we can understand that there is only a small window in which a well constituted state can exist which is the time between when the population prospers and when the city becomes larger than very small. Hence, the very success of a state would lead to its destruction. So the question I pose is, “Is one of the ways to delay the destruction of the state to slow down its success?”