It is not an empirical fact so much as a moral fact. It is an outcome of the moral attitude in the hearts of citizens to act justly. It is produced whenever all individual members of group, sacrificing their private interests, unite in aiming at some object believed to be good for the whole group. The general will comes from all and apply to all and embodies the free rational will of all.
Rousseau, however, recognises that unanimity amongst members on general will may not be possible at times, because while people may be willing the good; they might not always be understanding or knowing it correctly. This happens, particularly when factions make it difficult for independent citizens to pursue the common good.
In such a situation, Rousseau suggests that if we “take away from the wills the various particular interests which conflict with one another, what remains as the sum of the differences is the general will.”
But there is-one important condition here the result will be general will, only if and so far as, all the individuals of a group are moved (even in the pursuit of their private interest) by the thought of themselves as members of a group, all of whose members have interests deserving respect and consideration.
Such being the nature of general will, there is no problem in obeying the general will but if someone refuses to obey it. Rousseau says that he will be compelled to do so: “This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free”, otherwise the social contract will become an empty formula.
Moreover, such compulsion is justified because the individual has given his prior consent for being restrained by the state, knowing well that socially cohesive conduct in the long run best promotes his own interests, and knowing also that he will occasionally find the attractions of some more immediate selfish good too strong to resist and therefore he should be restrained whenever he yields to such temptation.
In other words, when a man is being compelled to obey the general will, by the whole body of citizens, it only means that he is being asked to follow his own best interest, which he at a particular instance is unfortunately unaware of. Obeying the General Will is then, an expression of the moral freedom of the individuals.
Thus, when general will rules over the people, the latter should have no grumble about the corrosion of their liberty. Because obedience to the sovereign is no longer an obedience to any external authority or arbitrary rule by one or few; it is actually an obedience to the rational part of their own selves or to a self-government a government that would do what one’s rational self would, indeed, want to do.