Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Theory Of Law And Civil State And It’s Relevance To Nigerian Democracy

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy


Rousseau’s ideas of law and civil state are his efforts to improve the government processes in France during the 18th century enlightenment era. The situation of France at this time was not palatable as there were social injustices and inequalities which characterized the state of nature on ground. Among the three social classes that existed in France at that time, it was the third estate comprising the third class citizens with less land that paid the highest taxes. The first and second estates consisting of the first and second class citizens were exempted from it. This boils down to the state of nature idea of the strong getting stronger and the weak getting weaker. This gave rise to all the evils that people perpetrated on one another in this state. Although Rousseau formulated his theory after reading and analyzing those of Hobbes and Locke, the scope of his project was not significantly different from theirs’. He understood society to be an invention, and he attempted to explain the nature of human beings by stripping them of all of the accidental qualities brought about by socialization.

Thus, understanding human nature amounts to understanding what humans are like in a pure state of nature, unlike Aristotle’s classical view which claimed that the state of civil society was the natural human state. Furthermore, Rousseau acknowledged that self-preservation was one principle of motivation for human actions, but not the only principle unlike Hobbes. He concludes that self-preservation or generally self-interest, is only one of the two principles of the human soul. The second principle is pity; it is an innate repugnance to see his fellow suffer. Unlike other creatures Rousseau believes that human beings have reason, although such is not yet developed in the state of nature. It is this faculty that makes the long transition from the state of nature to the civil society possible. In the same vein, a proper application of this Rousseau’s theory of law and civil state can also serve as a conceptual tool for improving on Nigerian democracy.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

The choice of this topic was motivated by the way Nigerian system of government has been run since the return of democratic rule in the country in 1999. Presently, Nigerian system of government lacks the true character which depicts what democracy is all about. This of course is not different from the situation in pre-revolutionary France during the time of Rousseau that contributed to his idea of the state of nature. Suffice to note that during this time in France the state was bankrupted due to mismanagement of the economy. This economic crisis was as a result of the overwhelming costs incurred by fighting two major wars – the seven years’ war and the American Revolutionary war.

There was also severe amount of injustice culminating in social inequality in the tax system. Here the third estate with the less land was made to pay the highest tax while the first and second estates that had more lands paid little or none at all. Because of this, there was “an insistent demand” for reform of these abuses of privilege, for an equitable means of taxation and for improved government processes. In fact, it was Rousseau’s reaction in the face of these ugly situations that is believed to have inspired the 1789 French Revolution. For him, perpetual peace can only be achieved at the price of revolution. Now tracing the political history of our country Nigeria since independence in 190 it is clear that the first democratic government ushered in an independent Nigeria was cut short by a coup in 1966, a counter coup in 1967, civil war from 1967 to 1970, military rule from 1970 when the civil war ended until another coup in 1975 and still another unsuccessful one in 1976.

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