Making Silence Speak: on the Role of Silence in Rousseau’s Political Theory

In: Silence, Implicite et Non-Dit chez Rousseau / Silence, the Implicit and the Unspoken in Rousseau

Abstract

There are two silences in Rousseau’s theory of sovereign power, corresponding to two dimensions of the general will, one substantive and one procedural. The first silence secures the substantive integrity of the general will at the moment when the content of the general will is imagined; the second secures the general will’s procedural integrity at the moment when citizens assemble to deliberate. Rousseau turns to silence at the most critical moments in his theory of sovereign power. In stripping these moments of language, Rousseau is able to evoke an ethos of unanimity that would otherwise be threatened by the particularizing effect of language. In this chapter, I locate and explain the significance of the two silences in Rousseau’s theory of sovereignty, each of which performs an important function in Rousseau’s argument, allowing him to defer problems he takes up elsewhere – problems which, the chapter concludes, lie at the core of Rousseau’s political theory.