Similar to other animals, humans possess the instinctual drive towards self-preservation and are individually well-equipped with the means to satisfy their natural needs. The animal-like human can physically survive without cooperating with his kind. For Rousseau, while nature completely directs the operation of machine-like animals, humans are free in the sense that they are able to contribute to their operation as free agents. The closely linked qualities of freedom i.
Obviously, in the absence of social relations, humans without these qualities are mere beasts. It is crucial to note that Rousseau implicitly emphasizes that in the absence of interaction and social relations, no trace of conflict between humans exists. While the philosopher asserts that humans do not subsist in the solitary condition since certain biological urges of reproduction coerce humans to a minimal level of interaction, the theoretical emphasis remains on the notions of absence of endemic conflict and the inevitability of socialization in the process of actualizing human potentials.
In contrast to the conditions of the state of nature, the subsequent stages of human evolution are inevitably associated with a constant pace of moral corruption and growing inequality, with human faculties ironically generating dependence, oppression and domination. In this context, Rousseau considers the immediate consequence of amour propre to be limited conflict among individuals, yet far from a Hobbesian condition of endemic conflict.
The general characteristics of this final moment of evolution are dependency, inequality and specialization, all reinforced by economic innovations. Therefore, when all land is possessed by the intellectually or physically superior, slavery or theft remains as the only options for the disadvantaged. Such a state is nothing but a class state, designed for protecting the rich by imposing subordination and unfreedom on the poor through a law which is meant to convert usurpation to right. Since freedom is a fundamental characteristic of humanity, without it we are less human.
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In addition, under the poisonous influence of amour propre , fully flourished within the social context, we have lost our moral capacities in exchange with those rational faculties required for social recognition, making us even less human. In a competition to overcome each other, private property has become the hallmark of power and competence, reinforcing natural inequalities among men.
Conflict looms between the propertied and propertyless, causing a state of endemic conflict. Craving security, we accept a trade-off between freedom and security. The result is a dystopia without liberty and equality. Rousseau, however, is unwilling to accept such a trade-off and argues that it is possible to have both security and freedom. Therefore, Rousseau defines the general will as the property of the collective and the individual as long as the individual recognizes himself as a part of the collective.
Setting the general principle, the question of how the general will should be identified remains. He argues that it is only through a direct democracy that the general will and the objective common good can be realized. Advocating a system similar to the model of Athenian direct democracy of general assemblies where sovereign citizens were constantly engaged in the process of self-legislation, Rousseau argues that only such system is legitimate and able to ensure the freedom of its citizens.
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Therefore, the immediate consequence of the new system would be political equality. Rousseau instantly adds that in order to achieve full socio-political equality, economic equality should necessarily be enforced too. Finally, Rousseau sets his constitutional manual for the operation of his model.
On the Origin of Language
He offers three institutional settings for maximizing the level of popular sovereignty necessary for realizing the general will. Second, and closely linked to his fears of political activity, Rousseau argues that individuals must not be swayed by others and retain independent thinking. Skip to main content. European Journal of Political Theory.
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Bernard Gagnebin and Marcel Raymond, vol. Victor Gourevitch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.