“7. It is to the general will that the individual must address himself to know up to what point he must be a man, a citizen, a subject, a father, a child, and when it is suitable to live or to die. The general will determines the limits of all duties. You have the most sacred natural rights in everything that is not contested by the entire species. They will enlighten you on the nature of your thoughts and your desires. Everything that you will conceive, everything that you will contemplate will be good, noble, exalted, and sublime if it is in the general and common interest. The only essential quality in your species is what you demand from all your fellow men for your happiness and for theirs. It is this conformity of you with all of them and all of them with you that will mark you when you go beyond or stay within the limits of your species. Therefore never lose sight of it; otherwise you will see the notions of benevolence, justice, humanity, and virtue blurred in your understanding. Say often to yourself: I am a man, and I do not have any other truly inalienable rights than those of humanity.” From Diderot in Natural Law(37).
When I first read this passage, I was quite thoroughly confused. The first time I read this, the coinage for the concept of general will threw me off the most. I thought it somehow had a connection to the military as the term general was used, but quickly realized that did not make sense. The passages following this one helped clarify the idea of general will for me. I also looked up the definition for will, general, indignation, and resentment. I understand it now to be the idea that society influences individuals and sets boundaries for the roles humans play. I think the idea of general will is heavily connected with natural law, Diderot’s main argument for this piece. Natural law is the fundamental foundation for human society and general will is the very next layer. Both are needed in order to form a society as natural law is the conduct of humans on a basic scale and general will is the conduct of individuals in a society, the society, as well as other societies. Submission to general will is the basis of all societies as there needs to be limitations and guidelines for how people interact with one another. In her lecture on Thursday afternoon, Professor Quillen talked about the idea that humans consent to join a society, a political community, and how politics become the creation of human beings. Based on her ideas, my question is this: How, if at all, has the general will in the 21st century United States changed as a result of the tumult in the current political system?