Rousseau is kind enough to give us his intention right away: "I want to inquire whether there can be a legitimate and reliable rule of administration in the civil order, taking men as they are and laws as they can be." (p. 280)
In short order, this is followed up with the famous line: "Man was born free, everywhere he in chains." (p. 281) This is hyperbole, but it is effective. We are ready to follow where Rousseau leads in examining the evils of civilization to see if we can't find something better.
Like Hobbes, Rousseau believes in a contract, and for similar reasons. Unlike with Hobbes, however, men do not place all authority in the sovereign, but rather in themselves under the general will: "Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and in a body we receive each members as an indivisible part of the whole." (p. 282)
It is unclear, to me at least, in what this will consists. Logically, it should be akin to simple majority, but as it is clear that the general will may run counter to it, this can not be the case. In any event, the difference between the role of contracts in Rousseau and Hobbes is clear enough.
Rousseau's contract involves a trade off: "What man loses by the social contract is his natural freedom and an unlimited right to everything that tempts him and that he can get; what he gains is civil freedom and the proprietorship of everything he possesses." (p. 282) This latter claim is hard to swallow. If we are to give up all of our rights, surely that includes our possessions. But if we do not have property rights, some means must be enacted to handle disputes. If the general will solves this dilemma for us, it must be demonstrated, for this would be an extraordinary accomplishment.
We see the general will sketched to some extent in the next book. It may not be alienated; it also tends toward equality. (p. 283) We also learn that it is rare for a man's private will to agree forever with the general will. Since the latter is binding, those entering the contract must understand this. Rousseau also asserts that the general will is indivisible.
We see that "the general will is always right and does not err." (p. 284) Yet this is different from the will of all, which is liable to err. This comes about through the creation of factions. The only solution is to ensure that all men speak their own opinion, which is presumably different from that of the faction. (p. 284)
Toward the end of this section, Rousseau hints at some limit to the general will's infallibility. It can only apply itself to a case of an entire people. In the next section, we learn that it is therefore competent to make laws. Determining whether or not the laws have been broken, in an individual case, is thus beyond the purview of the general will.
We need only remind the collectivists that society is comprised of individuals. One can have the latter without the former, but the latter are a necessary prerequisite to the former.
I'll try to add commentary for the rest of the book some time later this week.