Political Thoughts, Quotes and Comment
Rousseau

QUOTES ------------------------------------ COMMENT



ROUSSEAU (1712 - 1778)

In his Dissertation on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality of Mankind.

Man in the State of Nature (before society)

1. "We see around us hardly a creature in civil society, who does not lament his existence: we even see many deprive themselves of as much of it as they can, and laws human and divine together can hardly put a stop to the disorder. I ask, if it was ever known that a savage took it into his head, when at liberty, to complain of life or to make away with himself. Let us judge, with less vanity, on which side the real misery is found."

2. "Man is weak when he is dependent, and is his own master before he comes to be strong."

3. "in spite of all their morality, men would have never been better than monsters, had not nature bestowed on them a sense of compassion, to aid their reason:"

4. "It is then certain that compassion is a natural feeling, which by moderating the violence of love of self in each individual, contributes to the preservation of the whole species."

5. "I hear it constantly repeated that, in such a state (state of nature), the strong would oppress the weak; but what is here meant by oppression? Some, it is said, would violently domineer over others, who would groan under a servile submission to their caprices. This indeed is exactly what I observe to be the case among us:"

6. "as the bonds of servitude are formed merely by the mutual dependence of men on one another and the reciprocal needs that unite them, it is impossible to make any man a slave, unless he be first reduced to a situation in which he cannot do without the help of others: and, since such a situation does not exist in a state of nature, every one is there his own master, and the law of the strongest is of no effect."

7. "Taught by experience that the love of well-being is the sole motive of human actions, he found himself in a position to distinguish the few cases, in which mutual interest might justify him in relying upon the assistance of his fellows; and also the still fewer cases in which a conflict of interests might give cause to suspect them. In the former case, he joined in the same herd with them, or at most in some loose association, that laid no restraint on its members, and lasted no longer than the transitory occasion that formed it. In the latter case, everyone sought his own private advantage, either by open force, if he thought himself strong enough, or by address and cunning, if he felt himself the weaker."

8. "in a word, so long as they undertook only, what a single person could accomplish, and confined themselves to such arts as did not require the joint labor of several hands, they lived free, healthy, honest and happy lives,....." But from the moment one man began to stand in need of the help of another; from the moment it appeared advantageous to any one man to have enough provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, work became indispensable, and vast forests became smiling fields, which man had to water with the sweat of his brow, and where slavery and misery were soon seen to germinate and grow up with the crops."


The Development of Society

1. "The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real 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 impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody."

2. After the development of early community: "Men began now to take the difference between objects into account, and to make comparisons; they acquired imperceptibly the ideas of beauty and merit, which soon gave rise to feelings of preference... with love arose jealousy; discord triumphed, and human blood was sacrificed to the gentlest of all passions."

3. "Each one began to consider the rest, and to wish to be considered in turn; and thus a value came to be attached to public esteem. Whoever sang or danced , whoever was the handsomest, the strongest, the most dexterous, or the most eloquent, came to be of most consideration; and this was the first step towards inequality, and at the same time towards vice. From these first distinctions arose on the one side vanity and contempt and on the other shame and envy: and the fermentation caused by these new leavens ended by producing combinations fatal to innocence and happiness."

4. "how very far they already are from the state of nature, that so many writers have hastily concluded that man is naturally cruel, and requires civil institutions to make him more mild: whereas nothing is more gentle than man in his primitive state, as he is placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes, and the fatal ingenuity of civilised man."

5. "equality might have been sustained, had the talents of individuals been equal,"

6. In society: "It now became in the interest of men to appear what they really were not. To be and to seem became two totally different things; and from this distinction sprang insolent pomp and cheating trickery, with all the numerous vices that go in their train."

7. "Usurpation's by the rich, robbery by the poor, and unbridled passions of both, suppressed the cries of natural compassion and the still feeble voice of justice, and filled men with avarice, ambition and vice."

CONSOLIDATION OF SOCIETY AND POLITICAL POWER

1. "numerous enemies united by the common hope of plunder, the rich man, thus urged by necessity, conceived at length the profoundest plan that ever entered the mind of man...... "Let us join," said he "to guard the weak from oppression, to restrain the ambitions, and secure to every man the possession of what belongs to him:..... Instead of turning our forces against ourselves, collect them in a supreme power which may govern us by wise laws, protect and defend all the members of the association, repulse their common enemies, and maintain eternal harmony among us...... too much ambition and avarice to go long without masters, all ran headlong to their chains, in hopes of securing their liberty;"

2. "Such was, or may well have been, the origin of society and law, which bound new fetters on the poor, and gave new powers to the rich; which irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, eternally fixed the law of property and inequality, converted clever usurpation into unalterable right, and, for the advantage of a few ambitious individuals, subjected all mankind to perpetual labor, slavery and wretchedness."

3. "Experience only could show the weakness of such a constitution, and how easily it might be infringed with impunity, from the difficulty of convicting men of faults, where the public alone was to be witness and judge: the laws could not but be eluded in many ways; disorders and inconveniences could not but multiply continually, till it became necessary to commit the dangerous trust of public authority to private persons, and the care of enforcing obedience to the deliberations of the people to the magistrate."

4. "The different forms of government owe their origin to the differing degrees of inequality which existed between individuals at the time of their institution."

DECLINE OF SOCIETY AND GOVERNMENT

1. As time went on, "Ambitious chiefs profited by these circumstances to perpetuate their offices in their own families: at the same time the people, already used to dependence and ease, and the conveniences of life, and already incapable of breaking its fetters, agreed to an increase of its slavery, in order to secure its tranquility. Thus magistrates, having become hereditary, contracted the habit of considering their offices as a family estate, and themselves as proprietors of the communities of which they were at first only the officers, of regarding their fellow citizens as their slaves, and numbering them, like cattle, among their belongings, and of calling themselves the equals of the gods and king