Loading...

An examination of the extent to which Rousseau reconciled the claims of the individual and the community

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2004 25 Pages

Politics - Political Theory and the History of Ideas Journal

Excerpt

Index

Introduction

Competing claims, irreconcilable claims? The individual and the community in Rousseau’s The Social Contract
1 Leaving the state of nature
1.1 Rousseau’s and Hobbes’ state of nature compared
1.2 From the disruption to a state of illegitimate political authority
2 Problems: Rousseau’s concept of a socio-political mode of existence
2.1 Becoming a people
2.1.1 The nature of the general will
2.1.2 The realisation and maintenance of the general will: the legislator
2.1.3 The education of a citizen
2.2 Making and living the social contract
2.2.1 The contracting parties
2.2.2 The making of the law and the city-state
2.2.3 The (un)limited sovereign power
2.2.4 The subjection to the law and “forced to be free”
3 Being an individual and a citizen: concepts of freedom according to
Berlin and their application to Rousseau’s thought
3.1 Negative freedom: the liberal view
3.2 Positive freedom: the idealist and the republican view
3.2.1 The idealist view – freedom towards oneself
3.2.2 The republican view – freedom towards one another

Conclusion

Bibliography

Introduction

A free man[1], according to Rousseau, is independent, responsible, morally competent and master of his own will. Freedom is man’s essential property (Levine 59). The political community, on the other hand, is to invoke in the citizen a feeling of social affiliation and duty rather than a sense of individuality (Parry 2001, 263). Most important, citizenship presupposes the right to subject every member of the society to the law, which is produced by the general will, that is by the permanent aspiration of the common good.

In The Social Contract (1762), Rousseau sets out to reconcile the claims of freedom and the constrains that arise with the necessary establishment of political authority: What humans need is “a form of association which will defend and protect […] the person and goods of each associate and in which each, whilst uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone and be as free as before“ (191). In his opinion, the social contract can bring about such a change by means of law, that is by allowing every citizen to vote “on matters of common interest” in an assembly (Mason 125). The regulations thus set up are an expression of every single man’s will and therefore binding for all. Those who do not subject to it voluntarily will be “forced to be free” (Rousseau 195). Instead of reconciling the competing claims, Rousseau seems to have erected a verbal paradox.

The aim of the following essay is to show to what extent, if at all, the paradox is the solution to the competing claims of the individual and the community. I will begin with a description of the state of nature, the loss of it and the subsequent unsatisfactory alternative. Those are factors which make another form of political association indispensable. Then, I will introduce Rousseau’s problematic concept of socio-political integration, followed by two major concepts of freedom according to Isaiah Berlin. Finally, I will argue that the solution of the paradox, the unification of liberty and citizenship, hinges primarily on the definition of freedom and in a wider sense on the weighting of obstacles to the practicability of Rousseau’s theory.

In my opinion, a reconciliation of the claims of the individuals and the community is possible only in civil but not in moral and liberal terms.

Competing claims, irreconcilable claims? The individual and the community in Rousseau’s The Social Contract

1 Leaving the state of nature

1.1 Rousseau’s and Hobbes’ state of nature compared

In A Discourse on the Origins of Equality, Rousseau gives an account of “a speculative history of human psychology and social institutions” (Hampsher-Monk 163). He depicts man’s natural life in the phases which precedes socialisation. Unlike Hobbes, who characterises life in the state of nature with the key words “nasty, brutish and short”, Rousseau sees it as the very form of existence which guaranteed peace and harmony between the individuals. (Levine 24 and 66). In fact, humans hardly ever met since they had no social institutions, no language and no common culture (Levine 61). Their mental capacities were not yet elaborate enough to recognise the scarcity of resources and the dangerous potential of the competition that could arise from it (Levine 62). Hence, there was no reason for any conflict.

This may convey the picture of a primitive being if one compares it with modern man. However, natural men were nevertheless privileged in many ways. They possessed fourfold liberty: metaphysical, anarchic, and personal freedom as well as freedom from want (Cranston 231-32). The first rendered their will free. The second, which Dent calls “discretionary freedom”, signifies the independence from written law, simply because there was none in the state of nature (120). Enslavement was made impossible by the third kind of liberty, freedom from the subjection of one’s will or body to the rule of a master, an employer or any other superior man (Cranston 231). There was freedom from want because men had learned to frame their wishes within the possibilities provided, which avoided the disappointment of wishing things that were not attainable (Plamenatz 326).

In the following paragraph, I will describe how and with what consequences the state of nature was lost.

1.2 From the disruption to a state of illegitimate political authority

Levine argues that humans in the state of nature, according to Rousseau, must have possessed some “innate intelligence”, which was emerging over the years. The decisive change was marked by the introduction of property in land (Levine 64). As soon as a piece of soil was taken by a person, it was no longer available for others, which provoked a feeling of lack. Freedom from want was thus lost (Cranston 232).

When men tried to fill the gaps of what they lacked, they invented metallurgy and agriculture. Both resulted in a social categorisation with employers and employees, rendering some men dependent on others. This was the end of personal freedom (Cranston 232).

As property was now distributed unequally, the rich, according to Rousseau, tricked the poor into agreeing to laws that would defend everybody’s property (Levine 67). However, as only the rich had something worth defending, the deal was more to the advantage of the rich. The poor suffered the loss of anarchic freedom. They were now subject to restricting laws (Cranston 233).

This is what Rousseau means by saying that “man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains” (181). The “chains” are tied to men’s hands by illegitimate political authority within “ de facto states” (Levine 67), that is by states that may have come into existence legally (using legal methods like persuasion to consent) but do not act legitimately anymore because they do not achieve what they actually should. As long as there is no legitimate state (“de jure”), inequality will provoke an uproar of passions like the pursuit of fame and reputation so that eventually, there will be a ‘war of all against all’ (Levine 66). If there is no remedy, man is in danger of “perish[ing]” (Rousseau 190).

2 Problems: Rousseau’s concept of a socio-political mode of existence

Remedy must be found in some kind of social co-existence possessing a mechanism to bridle the “amour propre” (self-love), which has replaced “amour de soi” (self-concern in the sense of self-preservation) and “pitié” (compassion, empathy) after the state of nature has been irretrievably lost. This mechanism is called ‘political authority’. Rousseau understands it as “the rightful, legitimate title to command or require actions and forbearances form others” (Dent 38). As he loathes the idea of a ‘state de facto’ imposed on the people, the crucial feature of this new authority must be a device that includes men in the establishment and the running of their community and at the same time allows them to keep their freedom:

“The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect […] the person and goods of each associate and in which each, whilst uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone and be as free as before“ (Rousseau 191).

2.1 Becoming a people

The solution, according to Rousseau, is the social contract. With its establishment, the people who is to perform this task is to become a people in the first place. In the state of nature and its aftermath, men were on their own or loosely organised into small groups. Now, they recognise the advantage of combining their own strength with other men’s abilities in order to protect their body, their property, and their status (Dent 39). They assemble and act as follows:

“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole” (Rousseau 192).

The particular will is what each person would like to do or have for his own good. The term “general will” is opposed to this and signifies what the members of the assembly “ought to decide” (Hampsher-Monk 180). Rousseau presupposes the existence of some common good which everyone aspires for the whole of the community without considering whether it coincides with his private particular will.

Three things strike me as problematic: the nature of the general will, the way it is realised and subsequently maintained, and the education of a citizen.

[...]


[1] Throughout this essay, I will only refer to males since Rousseau excluded females from the theory of the social contract. As a woman is dependent on her husband, she is, strictly speaking, not endowed with the properties of an individual. As she is also excluded from the public sphere, she is no citizen either. Following Rousseau’s logic, there is thus no need to reconcile the claims of the individual and the citizen as far as females are concerned.

Details

Pages
25
Year
2004
ISBN (eBook)
9783638313049
File size
520 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v29905
Institution / College
University of Warwick
Grade
Tags
Rousseau Political Theory Hobbes

Author

Share

Previous

Title: An examination of the extent to which Rousseau reconciled the claims of the individual and the community