The first and most important rule of legitimate or popular government, that is to say, of government whose object is the good of the people, is therefore, as I have observed, to follow in everything the general will

Source: a sample passage for interpretation

Would you tell me what the following mean?

The good of the people

follow in everything the general will

In addition, what does will mean here?

  • I read both of these good and will as nouns. The good of the people would refer to the benefit for the people. The general will would refer to public opinions/thoughts/determination or people's opinions/thoughts/determination in general. Mar 9, 2014 at 14:16
  • @DamkerngT. I concur. Mar 9, 2014 at 14:43

2 Answers 2


"For the good of the people" means "in the best interests of the citizens". It's an important distinction that the line does not mean that the government should always make the most popular decision. It's saying that the government should always consider what will most benefit the people that they represent or rule.

The second line (follow in everything the general will) does suggest that the government should make the popular choice.

As a whole and without further context, the author is suggesting (wrongly, in my opinion) that the best interests of the people are served by always making the most popular choice.

"Will" in this context means that which the people want and desire. So the government should do what the people want.

It is every parent's "will" that their child be healthy. As children, it is our "will" that our parents always treat us fairly.

EDIT: I addressed the quotes you listed, please do not assume that the answers address the essay in its entirety.


This is a passage from [a translation of] an essay by the 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and it deals in 18th-century style with Very Large Abstractions.

  • The good of the people means that The People—all members of the society, taken as a whole—enjoy The Good—all good things, such as prosperity, security, liberty, happiness, and so forth, taken (again) as a whole.

    A “legitimate or popular government”, says Rousseau, is one which takes achieving this Good as its primary “object” or purpose.

  • Follow means “be led by”, as opposed to “lead”: such a government must obey the “general will”.

  • In everything means with respect to all matters: there are no matters which the government can decide on its own, without consulting the “general will”.

  • The general will is what everybody-taken-together—The People, again—desires, what it requires the government to do. Will is the noun form of the verb to will, which is not the ordinary modal auxiliary but the active verb meaning “desire, wish”.

  • All your explanations are fantabulous and Great. Thank you all so much
    – nima
    Mar 9, 2014 at 14:56

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