How does the discourse of inequality explain Rousseau's opinion on equality?
- 9 years agoFavorite Answer
Addressing both Rousseau's criticism of injustice, and his counter-Enlightenment at the same time, author David Kelly writes: "Rousseau hated the cosmopolitanism and refinement of Enlightenment life and vehemently criticized inequality, which he thought was an inescapable consequence of civilization. He offered an idealized image of primitive man not yet corrupted by civilization and of life in a nature not yet polluted by cities or machines. The source of those primitivist views was Rousseau's antipathy to reason. He felt that emotion and instinct should be our guides to action."
Rousseau was speaking in his "Discourse" about how other writers had "...inquired into the foundations of society, [and] have all felt the necessity of going back to a state of nature; but not one of them has got there. Some of them have not hesitated to ascribe to man, in such a state, the idea of just and unjust, without troubling themselves to show that he must be possessed of such an idea..."
He goes on to suggest other ideas pertaining to man and society, but most especially to man and justice, always in the form of "injustice" over and over, while sticking with the idea that other writers have "transferred to the state of nature ideas which were acquired in society; so that, in speaking of the savage, they described the social man. It has not even entered into the heads of most of our writers to doubt whether the state of nature ever existed..."
What was 'natural man'? "While the earth was left to its natural fertility and covered with immense forests.....[man would] thus attain even to the instinct of the beasts, with the advantage that, whereas every species of brutes was confined to one particular instinct, man, who perhaps has not any one peculiar to himself, would appropriate them all....human perfectibility, the social virtues, and the other faculties which natural man potentially possessed, could never develop of themselves, but must require the fortuitous concurrence of many foreign causes that might never arise, and without which he would have remained for ever in his primitive condition, I must now collect and consider the different accidents which may have improved the human understanding while depraving the species, and made man wicked while making him sociable; so as to bring him and the world from that distant period to the point at which we now behold them."
Modern man is "wicked", whereas 'natural man' was not? It is this idea that leads many to claim Rousseau as the first of the 'counter-Enlightenment thinkers', away from the idea that man is just, and capable of reason that dissuades him from any desire to be wicked, let alone to have 'wickedness' as one of his attributes.
"In his 1996 article for The American Political Science Review (Vol. 90, No. 2), Arthur M. Melzer identifies the origin of the Counter-Enlightenment in the religious writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, showing Rousseau as the man who fired the first major shot in the war between the Enlightenment and its enemies." (Others consider Kant to be the first counter-Enlightenment thinker.)
It was just such ideas by Rousseau that impressed the French during their Revolution (whereas the Americans were impressed by Locke); and it is said that Rousseau's ideas led directly to the worst part of their revolution--the Reign of Terror.
"In fact, Rousseau has been called the precursor of the modern pseudo-democrats such as Stalin and Hitler and the "people's democracies." His call for the "sovereign" to force men to be free if necessary in the interests of the "General Will" harks back to the Lycurgus of Sparta instead of to the pluralism of Athens; the legacy of Rousseau is Robespierre and the radical Jacobins of the Terror who followed and worshipped him passionately."
How do you "force men to be free"? You chop off 1500 heads of people you think are preventing you from being free--including, on the last day, your two best friends (we are here speaking of Robespierre)--and then you get the guillotine yourself because "the people" have had enough of you.
Becoming the last person to get the guillotine is very much "justice" as far as I'm concerned, and essentially put an end to the assention of Rousseau's ideas (not to mention that the success of America caused Locke to overshadow Rousseau).
- Anonymous3 years ago
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