'Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.' These are the famous opening words of a treatise that has stirred vigorous debate ever since its first publication in 1762.
Rejecting the view that anyone has a natural right to wield authority over others, Rousseau argues instead for a pact, or 'social contract', that should exist between all the citizens of a state and that should be the source of sovereign power.
From this fundamental premise, he goes on to consider issues of liberty and law, freedom and justice, arriving at a view of society that has seemed to some a blueprint for totalitarianism, to others a declaration of democratic principles. Translated by Quintin HoareWith a new introduction by Christopher Bertram