Bible Open

Discourse on Inequality J. J. Rousseau (1754)

Compiled by Lewis Loflin


See Part 1 Critical Examination Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau was one of the first modern writers to seriously attack the institution of private property, and therefore is considered a father of modern socialism and Communism. Rousseau (at times) also questioned the assumption that the will of the majority is always correct. He argued that the goal of government should be to secure freedom (as he defines it), equality, and justice for all within the state, regardless of the will of the majority. (This would become an excuse to oppress the individual for the 'good' of society.)

In his "Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men," also commonly known as the "Second Discourse", Rousseau's main emphasis is moral inequality and differences in wealth are to blame. He operates on faith that man is "good", but now he finds a secular answer as to why the evidence proves him wrong.

Rousseau takes a negative view of civil society in general, where man has strayed from his mythical "natural state" of isolation and consequent freedom to satisfy his individual needs and desires. For Rousseau, civil society is "a trick perpetrated" by the rich and powerful to exploit the weak to protect their power and money. Advocating 'primitivism" this mythical "natural man" hasn't yet acquired language or abstract thought. He is a happy animal or 'noble savage' nonsense. (He didn't invent the term.)

"The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land," said "This is mine," and found people naive enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody."

In one example Rousseau idolized American Indians and their primitivism as an "ideal man" despite the fact they slaughtered each other in big batches and played havoc on their ecological surroundings. This is the mystical view of the modern environmental movement as well. Rousseau had never been to America or met an American Indian. Like most of his philosophy it's based on emotional speculation and not reason or empirical proof.

Rousseau's 'natural man' is at odds with the atheistic Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). He is best known for the epic Leviathan (1651) that reveals his negative view of human nature. Hobbs believed people are so bad the only way to have a civilized society is through absolutist rule. To quote of Hobbs,

...that any group of men who ascend to positions of great power will be prone to abusing it, seeking more power than necessary for the stability of society. Thus, he reasons, a single absolute ruler is better than an oligarchy or democracy; because that ruler's wealth and power is largely equivalent to the wealth and power of the nation, he will seek to lead the nation on a stable and prosperous course.

On the polar opposite from Hobbs was John Locke (1632-1704). His essay "Concerning Human Understanding" (1690), in which Locke puts forth his optimistic idea that man's mind is a blank slate and that man can subsequently learn and improve through conscious effort. This has largely been disproved, but his ideas were more popular than Hobbs.

Rousseau contradicts Hobbs negative view of humans as "overly cynical" and agrees more with Locke. Rousseau's natural man is basically like any other animal, where "self-preservation being his chief and almost sole concern" and "the only goods he recognizes in the universe are food, a female, and sleep..." and, "few qualities that allow him to distinguish himself from the animals over a long period of time." Hobbes viewed man as "in constant state of fear and anxiety."

To quote,

Rousseau's natural man possesses a few qualities that allow him to distinguish himself from the animals over a long period of time. Of importance is man's ability to choose, which Rousseau refers to as "free-agency". However Rousseau's proclamation of man's free will is undermined by his belief that man is "a being that always acts in accordance with certain and invariable principles", and indeed contradicts the basic premise of the Discourse itself: that we can logically infer what actions man must have taken over the course of his development. In addition, Rousseau argues that "another principle which has escaped Hobbes" is man's compassion. This quality of man also motivates him to interact.

A tragic belief of Rousseau is "perfectibility," one of the main underpinnings of the Humanist French Enlightenment and the French Revolution in general. This has led to endless efforts by later elites to "perfect" man and society and create endless failed utopias. Fascism, Marxism, and Nazism being among the worst extremes of this humanist philosophy.

More on The Social Contract

In The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right (1762) Rousseau theorized about the best way to create a society to solve the problems he stated in his Discourse on Inequality (1754). His basic theme:

  • Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.
  • The Sovereign, having no force other than the legislative power, acts only by means of the laws; and the laws being solely the authentic acts of the general will, the Sovereign cannot act save when the people is assembled.
  • Every law the people has not ratified in person is null and void - is, in fact, not a law.
  • The legislative power belongs to the people, and can belong to it alone.

"The Social Contract was a progressive work that helped inspire political reforms or revolutions in Europe, especially in France. The Social Contract argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered to legislate; as Rousseau asserts, only the people, in the form of the sovereign, have that all powerful right." He was for a pure democracy (often ending us as mob rule) and his vague view of "general will" that undermines individual liberty. What it comes down to is six wolves are voting with one sheep on what's for dinner.

The idea of the social contract simply stated: "Each of us places his person and authority under the supreme direction of the general will, and the group receives each individual as an indivisible part of the whole..." Again the individual counts for nothing outside the collective whole and must subordinate themselves to it. I'm sure great humanists such as Stalin and Mao would agree. Lamb chops anyone?

Other ref. Some extracts from Wikipedia, text books, etc.

Gateway Pages for this website:
  » Archive 1   » Archive 2   » Archive 3   » Archive 4
  » Archive 5   » Archive 6   » Archive 7
  » Archive 8   » Archive 9