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The Social Contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”

ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]

Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762

Contemporary mottled calf, spine gilt, tan leather label. A fine, fresh, wide-margined copy in a very well-preserved binding. Half morocco case.

FIRST EDITION, type B, the definitive authorized version. Observing in his opening words that “man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” Rousseau offered this work as a yardstick with which to judge existing governments. He argued that the central problem is to “find a form of association which can defend and protect with all the power of the community the person and possessions of each associate, and by which each person unites himself with all, but only obeys himself and thereby remains as free as before.”

“The Contrat Social remains Rousseau’s greatest work . . . his fundamental thesis that government depends absolutely on the mandate of the people, and his genuine creative insight into a number of political and economic problems, give his work an indisputable cogency. It had the most profound influence on the political thinking of the generation following its publication . . .” (Printing and the Mind of Man 207).

Before publication Rousseau expressed dissatisfaction with the title-page and objected to its vignette in particular. The publisher offered an alternative title-page with a large vignette and with the phrase “Du Contract [sic] Social” moved to the half-title. At the same time, Rousseau suppressed a concluding passage on civil marriage. The requested changes were made, and thus only a handful of copies survive with the type A title-page.

David Hume wrote to Rousseau on the publication of this work, “Of all the men of letters in Europe, since the death of Montesquieu, you are the person whom I most revere, both for the force of your genius and the greatness of your mind.”

The book remains the bible of popular sovereignty, egalitarian government and, above all, the preservation of individual liberty within civil society. The Contrat Social was an immediate sensation, and both the original publisher and several pirates brought out additional printings in 1762.

Fine copies of the first edition in contemporary bindings are now scarce.

Printing and the Mind of Man 207.