The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and relating the concepts to David's "Brutus" and Friedrich's "Wanderer above the Sea of Fog"Published in 1762, The Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau was originally intended to be a segment of a much more extensive work on political institutions.
This abandoned, the Contract remained, and Rousseau's writing has a distinct originality - he disagrees with other contract theorists like Hobbes and Grotius, who have talked of people being virtually enslaved. Rousseau's central argument is that by a principal of unity, and social responsibility to follow the 'general will', people will attain freedom.Rousseau believed that collective person following their own law was freedom, and in this theory, an interesting paradox emerges;"whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole of society, which means nothing more or less that that he will be forced to be free."-Political Writings of Rousseau, ed by C.E Vaughan(Cambridge 1915.)Rousseau does not state that people are forced to commit free acts.
He states people can be forced in relation to acts that can ultimately endanger the state of freedom. The example used would be a person experiencing drug addiction. To subsequently prevent someone from continuing this dangerous addiction would in essence be 'forcing' freedom. Rousseau is saying that a person's free acts can also lead to acts that would be considered not free, and destructive to the state of freedom.Rousseau feels that in order for people to be free, they have a responsibility to follow the general will. The general will, Rousseau states, should be decided by all people.
His idea abstractly holds the assumption that there will always be some situation and policies that serve the common good of society, and he quite clearly mistrusts the idea of any separate political collective, which could jeopardize the allegiance to the general will. However, Rousseau's central argument remains, that the conservation of equality is vital for the safe-guarding of freedom. Rousseau states that the general will must come from, and apply to all citizens. He feels that the instance that any sovereign assembly looks at any individual concerns, it no longer is sovereign and society will collapse.Rousseau feels that it is every citizen's social responsibility to have a notion of the general will at all times.
As a provider of the general will, they have thus formed a law that they must obey. Also, he feels that at all times individuals must consider what would be for the benefit of all citizens as a collective. Rousseau, as mentioned previously feels that people have a duty to ensure that partial interest groups or parties do not emerge, but interestingly thinks that people have a duty to think on their own, and not be influenced by others. Rousseau held the belief that if there was no communication between citizens, the general will would always emerge, and ultimately the liberty of the people.
In the Social Contract, Rousseau appears to be concerned with the morality of the citizens, although it must be commented that it is more political morality that concerned Rousseau, rather than a personal. Maintaining a sense of autonomy and political belonging was far more imperative, according to Rousseau than concerning oneself withpersonal liberty. If collectively, the people always considered the impact of actions and events on the society as a whole, then the general will would be preserved, as would the liberty of the people.The concepts brought forward by Rousseau, can also be seen in the following paintings - The Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of his Sons (1789) by Jacques-Louis David, and The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich. Dealing with David's painting; clearly here we have a representation of a traumatic event. The father, Brutus having just ordered the deaths of his two sons out of obligation to his oath to get rid of the monarchy, has their bodies returned to him.
It is a painting that has great impact. We see Brutus sitting facing away from the bodies of his sons, with a look of indifference, his body shrouded by shadow, as if to emphasize his deed. Brutus is painted as the epitome of power and authority. While we see his weeping family overcome by the tragedy, he sits apparently unaffected, and neglecting to offer comfort or emotion.
The use of light and dark in this painting serves to emphasize its message. We have the raw human effect of Brutus' fatal instruction, his family struck with grief lit by a shaft of light from the opening door. Brutus is painted in the shadows.For Jean-Louis David to bring up such a subject was vastly controversial at the time, and shows us how deeply committed the artist was to the new ideas and the principals of enlightenment. David was an active sympathizer of the French Revolution, and his grandiose historical paintings were acclaimed as artistic demands for action politically. David's artwork did not just involve the use of powerful tone and depth, many of his paintings contained powerful historical and political meanings.
During the French revolution, they had a great cultural impact on social activity, the story of Brutus being extremely popular amongst educated circles of the French public. Like his later "Death of Marat", David's "Brutus" can be seen as an illustration of a type of political valor in which the best interests of society are placed above that of the individual. His painting also emerged at a time when a broad discontent with the autocratic regime was to result in popular support for other examples of government.Caspar David Friedrich was an exceptional 19th-century German romantic painter whose awesome seascapes and landscapes are not only scrupulous interpretations of nature but are also allegories. In Freidrich's Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, we see a reflection of solitude; a lone traveler meets nature in order to meet himself.
We understand this traveler has journeyed from the busy streets and towns below him, in a way removing the disorder of his life and bringing him to a place where he might examine and reflect upon his existence. We do not see the identity of the figure, although many art historians tell us it is the artist himself. It is almost unimportant, for the message is a man absorbed in a contemplative encounter with nature. According to Friedrich's own writings, all the elements in the composition of his paintings have symbolic significance. Friedrich's clear lighting, cool colours and sharp contours increase the feeling of solitude and reflection. The message Friedrich is sending us is that to find our actual path in life, we must separate ourselves from daily binds, and contemplate on a higher, more fulfilling ideal, our true self.
During the revolution many people found they could relate to Rousseau's writings and philosophical ideas, just in the same way as Jean-Louis David and his paintings. Both these influential people helped to ignite a passion amongst the French general public and change French politics. Friedrich too was influenced by philosophical ideals and had great patriotic backing for the restoration movement following the Napoleonic wars.He had an interest and desire for human enlightenment, and this is represented in many of his works. To understand the works of Rousseau and the paintings of David and Friedrich, we must have an understanding of political and social context. We must acknowledge that artistic interests were very often interlinked with wider social issues at the time, and bear this in mind when looking at the concepts that have arisen.