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. But to follow this will it is necessary to know it, and above all to distinguish it from the particular will, beginning with one's self: this distinction is always very difficult to make, and only the most sublime virtue can afford sufficient illumination for it.

Source: a sample passage for interpretation

Would you please help me to understand what the portion in boldface means?

And, to continue, is the following a question?

As, in order to will, it is necessary to be free, a difficulty no less great than the former arises

  • Please tell more about the context: what source is the quote from, what is the narrative about in this particular part of the text. Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 15:35
  • 1
    I've taken the liberty of expanding your quotation to include enough context to make the passage intelligible. Remember that readers who come across this question will not necessarily have read your previous question. ... We need you to expand your question, too: explain just what words and constructions you don't understand here, so we can focus on your problem. For instance: You need to start with the meanings of the words; have you looked up sublime and virtue and afford and illumination in a dictionary? Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 17:01

1 Answer 1


Rousseau calls on readers to distinguish—to recognize a difference between—the general will and the particular will: the Will of the People on the one hand and the will of particular individuals on the other.

He says that one must begin with oneself: that is, the most important and most difficult thing is distinguishing the general will from my own will, presumably because we all tend to think that what we want (especially in political matters) is what everybody wants (or ought to want).

He goes on to say that making this distinction requires an unusual degree of illumination or enlightenment; in fact, it is so difficult that only the most sublime virtue can provide sufficient illumination.

I do not address your second question here; it should be posted separately, with its context.

  • Thank you so much. Would you explain more about the fact that what these mean:who is ONE in this sentence? He says that one must begin with oneself:
    – nima
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 3:37
  • And, finally, what are the general will the particular will?
    – nima
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 3:38
  • Finally, I can not understand the following- could you please explain it more readily and kindly? Many thanks
    – nima
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 3:39
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    The general will and the particular will are defined in my first sentence. General will=The will of the people; particular will=the will of each individual. "One" is here an indefinite pronoun meaning approximately "any one person"; today we usually say you, but this is the old formal use. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 4:15
  • Thank you ver much. And what does the following mean here ?one must begin with oneself:
    – nima
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 6:15

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