Abstract

This paper examines the definition and the role of silence in Rousseau’s political thought. While Rousseau defines the collective expression of the general will as the essential condition for a vivid political life, he also reflects on how to express this will in silence. The apparent stillness of the people is always meaningful and significant, precisely because the people can never be completely silenced as a political actor. Thus, in modern times, when political discourse can no longer be held out loud on the public square, it is still possible to participate to public life, provided that we devise forms of expression adapted to modern politics. Rousseau uses his own political writing as an example when he implicitly refutes both Montesquieu and Genevan aristocrats on the issue of the vote by ballot: in times of growing inequality, silent political procedures could be the safest way to curb abusive power and avoid domination.