Rousseau and the Workers’ Co-operative: Property Rights, Firms and the Deliberative General Will

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This chapter draws on Rousseau’s understanding of property to highlight the problematic association between possession, property, and power in the capitalist firm. By subjecting firms to this Rousseauian critique, it has highlighted the possibility for alternative systems such as the workers’ co-operative. The need for this reconsideration of the status quo rests on critiques of the liberal capitalist firm from twointerlinked perspectives– firstly, a republican argument outlining the firm as an arena of domination and dependence, and secondly an argument that democratic theory needs to apply to the firm in much the same way as it does to the state given the weaknesses of consent theory and the difficulties of exit. The chapter
proposes that legitimate authority within a firm can come only from the members themselves in the form of a general will. Drawing on Rousseau’s democratic theory, it suggests that this general will can be drawn out through deliberative democracy within the co-operative. This form of democracy allows for discussion of what the common good might look like for the members. The chapter suggests that features of the cooperative, notably its small size, established norms and principles, and broad agreements on its terms of reference, allow for deliberative consensus to be reached and for decisions to be made in accordance with a general will.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRousseau Today
Subtitle of host publicationInterdisciplinary Essays
EditorsNeal Harris
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9783031292439
ISBN (Print)9783031292422
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • Rousseau
  • Co-operative
  • Republican
  • Political theory
  • Worker ownership
  • Economic democracy
  • Worker democracy


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