Concept of Popular Sovereignty

  1. State of nature was pre-political, solitary, savage, living the happy and carefree life of the brute without a permanent place of living.

  2. Men were independent, contended, self-sufficient and equal.

  3. Advent of agriculture, economic progress which brought the concept of ‘Mine and Thine’, created gap between rich and poor and insecurity and fear.’

  4. They came into social contract to establish civil society through government of general will based on the popular sovereignty. It means where the sovereign power ultimately belongs to the people and is exercised by them or on their behalf.

    • There is a great mass of the people from whom legal sovereign draws his authority and is thus duty bound to take note of the wishes and aspiration of the people.
    • The legal sovereign cannot exercise his authority in vacuum.
    • Sovereignty conceived in these terms is a power which is exercised keeping in view general interest of the community rather than only a group of persons or the ruling elite.
    • Popular sovereignty is the essence of democracy.
  5. Rousseau clearly stated that the body politics (state) that is created through social contract is itself the only possessor of supreme power. Sovereignty belongs to the body politics as a whole and finds expression in general will.

    • Although the concept of popular sovereignty generally implies that it is indeterminate and divisible but Rousseau is certain that it is determinate and indivisible.
    • The general will is sovereign will and this will either is or not general, is that of the whole people or that part of the people.
  6. In the first case, the expression of will is a sovereign act and makes law , in the second case, it merely a particular will or the act of the magistrate at most or decree.

  7. General will emerges in an assembly of equals through free discussions and debate. It is infallible, inalienable and always right tends to the public advantages.

  8. As general will is based on popular sovereignty, it is the government which exists for the good of the people as a whole and big violation of people’s wishes.

  9. It is a legal way of expressing public opinion through frequent elections, active local self government, referendum and recall etc.

It is the absolute submission of the individual to the state, private interest to the public interest.


This concept of general will with popular sovereignty may be an abstract, utopia and vague. But this conception as the people are the ultimate source of all political authority and the government is merely an agent of the sovereign people and will, not force is the basis of the state are his contributions in politics.

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