Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau on the natural tendency of governments to degenerate into tyranny (1762)

Found in: The Social Contract and Discourses

The Swiss political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) warned that there is a strong tendency for members of the government to usurp the sovereign power in order to pursue their own private interests, leading to tyranny:

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

First, when the prince ceases to administer the State in accordance with the laws, and usurps the Sovereign power. A remarkable change then occurs: not the government, but the State, undergoes contraction; I mean that the great State is dissolved, and another is formed within it, composed solely of the members of the government, which becomes for the rest of the people merely master and tyrant. So that the moment the government usurps the Sovereignty, the social compact is broken, and all private citizens recover by right their natural liberty, and are forced, but not bound, to obey.