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Political Theory

Political Theory

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Political theory
Perhaps Jean Jacques Rousseau's most important work is 
,which outlines the basis for a legitimate political order within a framework of  classical republicanism.Published in 1762, it became one of the most influential works of political philosophy in the Westerntradition. It developed some of the ideas mentioned in an earlier work, the article
 Economie Politique
(
 Discourse on Political Economy
), featured in Diderot's 
.The treatise begins with the dramatic opening lines, "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. Oneman thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they."Rousseau claimed that the state of nature was a primitive condition without law or morality,which human beings left for the benefits and necessity of cooperation. As society developed,division of labor and private property required the human race to adopt institutions of law. In thedegenerate phase of society, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow menwhile at the same time becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom. According to Rousseau, by joining together into civil societythrough the social contract and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. This is because submission to the authority of the generalwill of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law.Although Rousseau argues that sovereignty (or the power to make the laws) should be in the hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between the sovereign and thegovernment. The government is composed of magistrates, charged with implementing andenforcing the general will. The "sovereign" is the rule of law, ideally decided on by directdemocracy in an assembly. Under a monarchy, however, the real sovereign is still the law.Rousseau was opposed to the idea that the people should exercise sovereignty via arepresentative assembly (Book III, Chapter XV). The kind of republican government of whichRousseau approved was that of the city state, of which Geneva, was a model, or would have been, if renewed on Rousseau's principles. France could not meet Rousseau's criterion of an idealstate because it was too big. Much subsequent controversy about Rousseau's work has hinged ondisagreements concerning his claims that citizens constrained to obey the general will arethereby rendered free:The notion of the general will is wholly central to Rousseau's theory of political legitimacy ... Itis, however, an unfortunately obscure and controversial notion. Some commentators see it as nomore than the dictatorship of the proletariat or the tyranny of the urban poor (such as may perhaps be seen in the French Revolution). Such was not Rousseau's meaning. This is clear fromthe
 Discourse on Political Economy
, where Rousseau emphasizes that the general will exists to protect individuals against the mass, not to require them to be sacrificed to it. He is, of course,sharply aware that men have selfish and sectional interests which will lead them to try to oppressothers. It is for this reason that loyalty to the good of all alike must be a supreme (although notexclusive) commitment by everyone, not only if a truly general will is to be heeded but also if itis to be formulated successfully in the first place".
 
n common with other philosophers of the day, Rousseau looked to a hypothetical State of Nature  as a normative guide. Rousseau deplores Hobbes for asserting that since man in the "state of  nature . . . has no idea of goodness he must be naturally wicked; that he is vicious because hedoes not know virtue". On the contrary, Rousseau holds that "uncorrupted morals" prevail in the"state of nature" and he especially praised the admirable moderation of the Caribbeans inexpressing the sexual urge
 despite the fact that they live in a hot climate, which "always seemsto inflame the passions".
 This has led Anglophone critics to erroneously attribute to Rousseauthe invention of the idea of the noble savage,an oxymoronic expression that was never used in France
 and which grossly misrepresents Rousseau's thought.
 (The expression, "the noblesavage" was first used in 1672 by British poet John Dryden in his play 
.The French word "
 sauvage
" means "wild", as in "a wild flower", and does not have theconnotations of fierceness or brutality that the word "savage" does in English, though in theeighteenth century the English word was closer in connotation to the French one.) Rousseau diddeny that morality is a construct or creation of society. He considered it as "natural" in the senseof "innate", an outgrowth of man's instinctive disinclination to witness suffering, from whicharise the emotions of compassion or empathy, sentiments whose existence even Hobbesacknowledged, and which are shared with animals.
 Contrary to what his many detractors have claimed, Rousseau never suggests that humans in thestate of nature act morally; in fact, terms such as "justice" or "wickedness" are inapplicable to pre-political society as Rousseau understands it. Morality proper, i.e., self restraint, can onlydevelop through careful education in a civil state. Humans "in a state of Nature" may act with allof the ferocity of an animal. They are good only in a negative sense, insofar as they are self-sufficient and thus not subject to the vices of political society. In fact, Rousseau's natural man isvirtually identical to a solitary chimpanzee or other ape, such as the orangutan as described byBuffon;and the "natural" goodness of humanity is thus the goodness of an animal, which isneither good nor bad. Rousseau, a deteriorationist, proposed that, except perhaps for brief moments of balance, at or near its inception, when a relative equality among men prevailed,human civilization has always been artificial, creating inequality, envy, and unnatural desires.In Rousseau's philosophy, society's negative influence on men centers on its transformation of 
amour de soi
, a positive self-love, into 
,or   pride. 
 Amour de soi
represents theinstinctive human desire for  self-preservation,combined with the human power of  reason.In contrast,
amour-propre
is artificial and encourages man to compare himself to others, thuscreating unwarranted fear  and allowing men to take pleasure in the pain or weakness of others. Rousseau was not the first to make this distinction; it had been invoked by, among others,Vauvenargues. In 
 Rousseau argues that the arts and sciences have not been beneficial to humankind, because they arose not from authentic human needs but rather as aresult of pride and vanity.Moreover, the opportunities they create for idleness and luxury have contributed to the corruption of man. He proposed that the progress of  knowledge had made governments more  powerful and had crushed individual liberty;and he concluded that material  progress had actually undermined the possibility of true friendship  by replacing it with  jealousy,  fear ,and suspicion.
 
In contrast to the optimistic view of other Enlightenment figures, for Rousseau, progress [1] has  been inimical to the well-being of humanity,
that is
, unless it can be counteracted by thecultivation of civic morality and duty. Only in Civil Society, can man be ennobled
 — 
through theuse of reason:The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions the morality they hadformerly lacked. Then only, when the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses andright of appetite, does man, who so far had considered only himself, find that he is forced to acton different principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations. Although, inthis state, he deprives himself of some advantages which he got from nature, he gains in returnothers so great, his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended, his feelingsso ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted, that, did not the abuses of this new condition oftendegrade him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless continually the happy momentwhich took him from it for ever, and, instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him anintelligent being and a man.
 Society corrupts men only insofar as the Social Contract has not
de facto
succeeded, as we see incontemporary society as described in the 
 (1754). In this essay, whichelaborates the ideas introduced in the 
,Rousseau traces man'ssocial evolution from a primitive state of nature to modern society. The earliest solitary humans  possessed a basic drive for self preservation and a natural disposition to compassion or pity. They differed from animals, however, in their capacity for free will and their potential perfectibility. As they began to live in groups and form clans they also began to experiencefamily love, which Rousseau saw as the source of the greatest happiness known to humanity. Aslong as differences in wealth and status among families were minimal, the first coming together in groups was accompanied by a fleeting golden age of human flourishing. The development of agriculture, metallurgy, private property, and the division of labour  and resulting dependency on one another, however, led to economic inequality and conflict. As population pressures forced them to associate more and more closely, they underwent a psychological transformation: they began to see themselves through the eyes of others and came to value the good opinion of othersas essential to their self esteem. Rousseau posits that the original, deeply flawed Social Contract  (i.e., that of Hobbes), which led to the modern state, was made at the suggestion of the rich and powerful, who tricked the general population into surrendering their liberties to them andinstituted inequality as a fundamental feature of human society. Rousseau's own conception of the Social Contract can be understood as an alternative to this fraudulent form of association. Atthe end of the 
,Rousseau explains how the desire to have value in theeyes of others comes to undermine personal integrity and authenticity in a society marked byinterdependence, and hierarchy.In the last chapter of the
Social Contract 
, Rousseau would ask "What is to be done?" He answers that now all men can do is to cultivate virtue in themselvesand submit to their lawful rulers. To his readers, however, the inescapable conclusion was that anew and more equitable Social Contract was needed.
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