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Rousseau's General Will: A Condorcetian Perspective

Bernard Grofman and Scott L. Feld
The American Political Science Review
Vol. 82, No. 2 (Jun., 1988), pp. 567-576
DOI: 10.2307/1957401
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1957401
Page Count: 10
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Rousseau's General Will: A Condorcetian Perspective
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Abstract

We identify three basic elements of Rousseau's theory of the general will: (1) there is a common good; (2) citizens are not always accurate in their judgments about what is in the common good; and (3) when citizens strive to identify the common good and vote in accordance with their perceptions of it, the vote of the Assembly of the People can be taken to be the most reliable means for ascertaining the common good. We then show that Condorcet's (1785) model of collective judgment shares these assumptions with Rousseau and that understanding the implications of Condorcet's (1785) @'jury theorem@' enables us to clarify many of the most obscure aspects of Rousseaus's treatment of the general will, including his discussion of the debilitating effects of factions and his confidence in the ability of the Assembly of the People to discern the general will by means of voting.

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