“Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men” Part 2 by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1755)

“Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men” Part 2 by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1755)

Part 2

  • The man who put up a fence around a plot of land & said “this is mine” was the founder of civil society. It should have been ignored but the natural way of life probably necessitated the move
  • Before, man’s first concern was self-preservation. Food was provided by nature & instinct told men to eat, defend himself & to procreate.
    • As the population grew, man’s worries grew. Different climates, soils & seasons brought changes to life, making it tough. He learned to fish, hunt, fight & made clothes of fur – all based on needs & technological advances. He learned about fire from volcanoes & lightning, & learned to use it for warmth & cooking
    • The repeated encounters with things made him familiar concepts like big/small, fast/slow, strong/weak, etc. He used them to defeat animals & obstacles, exerting superiority over the environment & others.
      • He probably still had little contact with other men but noticed them. He learned the difference between man & woman, & could distinguish actions made for him & against him. This could be acting out of mutual self-interest in the present because the future wasn’t important. His success in hunting may harm others but defense is another matter. But required no more communication than monkeys or birds use
  • Later, man began to look for better shelter than the first thing available. He made better weapons. He cut down trees to make huts & even put mud & clay over them. The strongest ones probably did it first & then later the weaker. When everyone had one, it’s no longer special.
  • There was an expansion of the heart that put husbands, wives & children united under one roof. Every family became its own small society but more united because there’s a reciprocal attachment. The sexes adopted a new life. Women stayed in the hut with kids & the husband searched for food. Both lost ferocity & strength. These unions were stronger than individual powers
    • Man ha most of his needs provided for & conveniences led to leisure time. But they stopped pleasing him & actually brought pain when he lost them.
    • Speech improved within the family because it was necessary. The problems they faced & they needed to coordinate with each other in their actions
    • Steadily, these huts were close to each other & small communities were formed, uniting character & manners by custom, not by law. They had the same life, food & climate. Proximity bonded families & communities together
    • Now that they had common physical points of reference, they could talk about preference. They grew to depend on each other, which instilled affection, jealousy, love, hatred & violence
    • As the ability to do so grew, private connections intensified, cultural aspects developed: singing & dancing, leisure & love. Some people actually turned them into professions & became objects of admiration & high consideration
      • This was the first step toward inequality & vice. Distinctions caused vanity, shame, envy – all fatal to happiness & innocence. People tried to claim higher consideration & it was often impossible to refuse it with impunity. The injured part had contempt for the offender & the hatred was worse than the offense. Revenge was terrible & man grew to be cruel & violent
      • This is the state we find most savages in. Many writers see men as naturally cruel & they require civil institutions to make them mild. But he’s too far from others & had too rare of contact for it to come up. It requires civilization for cruelty ever to rise up. Man is confined by instinct & reason to shield himself from harm & it restrained by natural compassion.
      • Locke: there can’t be injury where there’s no property
  • Society was founded on the basis of the changes in people’s personal constitutions from primitives to civilized
    • Morality showed up in actions but each person was the judge & avenger of wrongs done to him. Punishments needed to be sever, as occasions to commit crimes were more available. The fear of vengeance was the active force for “law”. Men became less patient & compassion shrank.
      • The development just before this point was ideal. He wasn’t cruel. He had family & friends. He had all his needs covered. So long as he lived basically, yet provided for himself, life was good. All the work could be done feasibly by just one person. The moment he began to need others, equality ended, & slavery & misery began.
  • Metallurgy & agriculture produced the change – iron & wheat. Savages who never had both never went through the change. These 2 things are the reason why Europe has been civilized longer than other places.
    • It’s hard to imagine savages mining, so first contact with iron probably came from finding it in cooling lava
    • Man must have known plants were a source of food but didn’t know what wheat was or how to use it. They developed sharp stones & sticks to dig up root vegetables
    • Once enough people learned to smelt, they were a burden to feed, so farmers had to be more productive & farming became an art/science.
      • Cultivation led to thinking about land & property distribution & most likely started a form of justice to stop people form stealing each other’s fruits of labor
      • Those with the talent for farming & metallurgy did well but only the strongest did the work. The smartest found ways to make the work easier. The farmer wanted more iron & the smith wanted more wheat. But the farmer was at an advantage because he could feed himself while the smith couldn’t. Inequality grew as time went on, fortunes grew & the use & abuse of them grew too
  • At this point, human faculties were what we know them to be. Memory, reason, egoism – all along with rank & condition assigned to all men. He now had the ability to use faculties & property to serve & injure others. He also could use wit, beauty, strength, skill, merit & talents to command respect
    • It made men want to seem to be what they weren’t, which led to pomp & trickery, & a host of other vices
    • While men were free & independent before, they needed each other to fulfill their needs & wants. The rich needed the poor to serve them. The poor needed resources from the rich to survive. Now men had to worry about how they were seen by others. The rich could use appearance of benevolence to get their way, even without being benevolent. Rivalry & competition in conflicting interests led to profiting at others’ expense. They were the first evils of property
    • Before money, jewels & gold, land & cattle were the only signs of wealth. As the number & size of inheritances grew, all land was claimed & men could only get richer at others’ expense. Also, there was a growing number of people too lazy or weak to make acquisition & they grew poor relatively to the rich. They could only survive by begging or stealing from the rich.
    • This led to dominion & slavery. The wealthy got a taste for command & used slaves to acquire new riches & thought nothing of enslaving their neighbors
    • The powerful & miserable considered misery a catalyst to the right to others’ property. Usurpations by the rich & robbery by the poor suppressed compassion & voice of justice. The title of strongest was given out & had many pretenders to the throne. Blood was spilt over this. All abuse of faculties leading to men’s ruin.
      • The rich felt the sting of constant war financially. Their claim to usurpations of power were based on bullshit claims & used force under a “legitimate” basis. People who had gotten rich were more “deserving” of honor because they actually added benefit to the world & were paid for their work
      • They could claim thugs were holding the public hostage but had no means to defend themselves from large groups. They could only crush individuals through bandits looking for plunder
    • After exposing his neighbors to horrors, he began to see that his safety & their safety was best aligned with some form of protection from oppression & ambition by instituting rules & justice everyone must conform to. We should pool our resources for supreme power against enemies & build harmony
      • These words would be enough to impose on barbarians because their efforts to scramble for power & possession would eventually require masters. They ran to their chains for liberty because they saw some benefit in political institutions but not to the protection from dangers
      • This was the origin of society & laws, placing fetters on the poor & giving the rich powers. It also irretrievably destroyed natural liberty & fixed law of property & inequality by fixing society for the ambitious & subjecting man to perpetual labor, slavery & wretchedness
      • Societies multiplied & spread, & civil right became the common rule within the community & law of nature only existed between different communities & nations. Sometimes this was invoked in cases of international commerce & cosmopolitan spirit, & common religious sentiment with respect to benevolence to all
    • States were in a state of nature, they experienced the problem of being more fatal than individuals that compose them. National wars happened against all reason. The higher-ups felt it was their duty to slit each other’s throats by using the common men as their weapons
    • This is the best explanation of political societies because:
      • 1 – Right of conquest (not a real right) isn’t a foundation to build another society. The winner & loser remain in a state of war until the loser was given back his liberty & voluntarily chose to join the winner. Otherwise surrender is based purely on violence
      • 2 – The words “strong” & “weak” are ambiguous because the periods between the establishment of property rights & prior occupancy & political government, they can be substituted for “rich” & “poor” because before laws, there was no other way to force submission
      • 3 – Because the poor had nothing but freedom to lose, it’d be silly to give up the only positive thing they had only to get nothing in return. The rich were easier to harm & were more likely to take precautions. It was probably their idea
  • The early form of government had no regular or constant form. Those in charge of it were probably just doing what seemed expedient. Even if legislators were wise, the political state was imperfect & only slightly better than flipping a coin. Time revealed its faults & most were never fixed
    • If they fixed anything, they had to sweep aside the old order. Society at first was a few social conventions & performance was left to individuals. This was a weak constitution & could be infringed with impunity. At this point, public trust had to be place in some authority to enforce obedience through magistrates. Chiefs were chosen before formation of confederacies. Administrators were there before the laws
    • It’s silly to think men would put themselves in the hands of an absolute authority, enslaving themselves for security. What would induce such a relationship? The establishment of princes to preserve their liberties makes more sense.
    • Politicians think men are naturally servile because slaves are seen as taking it on the chin willingly. Only those with liberty appreciate it. Only a civilized man would resign himself to a yoke. A savage would never submit to it. The civilizing forces makes a man accept dominion of slavery because it gives a sense of peace from a state of war. No savage or animal would accept it.
    • As for paternal authority, many writers believe it’s the source of absolute government & all society. The father is the master of his child. But in nature, the father is only master so long as help is necessary. Gratitude ought to be paid but it shouldn’t be required. Instead of saying civil society derives from paternal authority, we should say paternal authority gets its principal force from civil society. No one is called the father of many until his children are settled around him
      • Fatherhood is the tie keeping children in dependence. He may choose to give them no property unless he feels they deserve it. If this is translated to society, it would be akin to the arbitrary rule of a despot. They & all their property are his property. He allows them use of it out of mercy
    • There’s no truth to a voluntary tyranny. This is not the system of good & wise monarchs. They must enact laws for the public good & justice, & his happiness is tied to their obedience of these laws
    • God has forbidden man to gratify a cruel or mad master, because it’s see that his creation is spoiled or destroyed, & by what right can a man doom his offspring to eternal servitude? By what right can he sell the handiwork off to a tyrant?
    • Puffendorf says we can sell our liberty just like we can do with our property. I don’t think so. Once you sell property, you are alien to it. But selling yourself links you to use & abuse of you by a master. The right of property is a human convention with respect to disposable property but not gifts of nature like life & liberty. Giving them up degrades our being. Parents have no right to inflict this on their children
      • This government doesn’t begin with arbitrary power. It’s depravation & an illegitimate power, & is no basis for society’s laws or consequently institute inequality
  • Establishment of a political body as a real contract between people & chiefs chosen by them, binding both parties to observe laws forming the ties of their union
    • Social relations are concentrating wills into one body obliging all state members with rules to regulate choice & power of magistrates to administer laws. They’re bound to use power in conformity with the will of constituents & maintain their property & public interest
    • A constitution seemed like a good idea before the abuses of it, to establish rights based on fundamental laws. Once abused/corrupted, the people aren’t obliged to obey. Without a superior power forcing magistrates to respect the constitution, everyone would have the right to renounce the contract upon violation
    • Human government needs a more solid base than reason. Divine will investing a sacred & inviolable character can result in depriving subjects to right to depose the sovereign authority. It would impose the duty of men to adopt & cultivate it
  • Different forms of government are due to different degrees of inequality between individuals. If there was one preeminent man in power, virtue, wealth, influence, he became sole magistrate & government was a monarchy
    • If many people had few differences in fortune or talent, supreme administration became common & government was a democracy. Some people thought nothing of enslaving their neighbors because they’d been deprived of “blessings” others kept
  • In different governments, first offices were elective & later based on merit, leading to a natural ascendancy, or age, based on experience
    • E.g. Hebrew elders, Gerontes in Sparta & Roman Senate
    • However, with older men being chosen all the time, & repetition of elections, they became annoying, plots occurred & parties formed, growing bitter. Civil wars broke out & sacrifices of individuals claimed for state welfare. Ambitious leaders took advantage & used positions to accumulate power, prestige, wealth & ease. Eventually magistrate roles became hereditary & they became the proprietors of the communities where they used to be only officers of treating fellow citizens like slaves or chattel
    • First was the establishment of laws & property rights. Then institution of magistracy & then the conversion of legitimate power into arbitrary power.
    • The flaws that make institutions necessary are the same that lead to their abuse. Government is set up to prevent corruption leads to corruption by government
  • Political distinctions produce civil distinctions. Equality between chiefs & people changed due to passions, talents & circumstances.
    • Magistrates can only usurp illegitimate power by giving distinction to those they will share it with.
    • People allow themselves to be oppressed only by blind ambition, looking to rise in stature & by loving authoring more than independence & submit to slavery so they can enslave others
    • People with no ambitions are easily enslaved. Politicians won’t be able to enslave a people wanting to remain independent
    • In equality usually grows due to cowardice & ambition because they run risks for fortune or are indifferent to commands & obedience.
    • Ambitious men use the desire of others to be great to push them down. The more idle people there are, the greater this effect will be
      • Even without government intervention, inequality of credit & authority would come from continual interaction between neighbors.
        • The differences that occur: riches, nobility, rank, personal merit, power – they all result from this.
        • Harmony & conflict coming from different forces show us if the “Constitution” of the people is good or bad
      • Forms of inequality ultimately come from wealth differences. Wealth tends to push people out of the state of nature the farthest. It excites & multiplies passion & enmity through competition & rivalry, as well as successes & failures. All of this pushes us to distinguish ourselves & most of the results are bad but only some are good
      • Many rich & powerful men get their happiness from others’ misery
    • Because of this, you really have to weigh all the advantages & disadvantages of each kind of government & how it relates to man in a state of nature & what it does for inequality
      • Many might be oppressed within to fight foreign tyranny. Then oppression would increase to where there can be no check against it. Rights & freedom disappear. Complaints, protests & appeals are treated as sedition. Farmers leave the plough for the sword. Horrible & ineffective codes of honor established & eventually aggression is not against oppressors but compatriots
    • From this inequality comes a ton of behavior contrary to reason, happiness & virtue. Magistrates do things to weaken men in society, promoting dissension & division, while trying to give the appearance of harmony but really building hatred & distrust by setting rights & interests at odds with each other
      • This disorder makes despotism stronger by allowing it to eat up everything around it, trampling on laws & people, establishing itself on the ruins of the Republic. A monster will swallow everything up & there’ll be no law or magistrates – only tyrants with no other master
    • This is the last point of where inequality goes. There’s no other law except for the master’s will. This is a return to the law of the strongest but not our origins of innocence & purity but excessive corruption
      • But there’s seemingly not a not of difference between the 2 otherwise. No contract of government. & a despot can’t complain of his own overthrow. Any insurrection that ends in death or deposition is lawful if the despot used those means for his own benefit. Maintaining rule by force alone makes it only natural for him to be forced out
  • In retracing the steps from nature to despotism, you’ll see the difference between the 2 states. Many of the great men in times of tyranny will seem anachronistic. They may have been better off in a different era.
    • The soul & passions of men change their nature. Our wants & pleasures seek new objectives. Original man vanished by degrees & society only shows us men assembled under artificial means.
    • The savage & the civilized are so different in hearts & inclinations, & what makes them happy & sad
      • Savages only want peace & liberty, to be free from labor
      • Civilized man is always moving, sweating, toiling & struggling to find more laborious work. He has a preoccupation with life & death, power hatred, wealth.
      • Savages would hate the civilized life. All that worry over power & reputation, & how to get there. It involves plotting & scheming, & concentrating on what makes others happy & sad. This life is constantly living in the world of others. Savages are not concerned with the opinions of others
    • In spite of our development of morality, honor, friendship & virtue, we have developed vices & the inability to show ourselves as anything other than frivolous & deceitful, seeking honor without virtue, reason without wisdom & pleasure without happiness. This is where inequality leads
  • All inequality comes from the development of the human mind, leading to the permanent & legitimate establishment of private property.
    • Moral inequality, authorized by positive right alone, clashes with natural right

Appendix

  • One writer was comparing the good & bad of human life & found pain outweighs pleasure, & life isn’t a gift. This was based on man in civilization. But if he’d look at man in nature, he’d think the opposite. Man today is the cause of his own unhappiness, mostly due to “progress”
    • Society causes men to hate each other because their interests conflict. Men profit off the misfortune of their neighbors
    • When a savage has eaten, he’s happy & at peace with others
    • When a civilized man has eaten, he’s taken care of his needs but still has all his unnecessary desires to fulfill
    • Civilized man has many more ways to be miserable & to die than the savage. Because he’s involved in so many activities, there are so many ways for it all to go wrong for him. The poor can die from starvation or exposure. The rich can kill themselves with luxury.
      • Living together in cramped quarters in civilization is harmful for all the contagious diseases
    • Agriculture isn’t well paid but it is the most important. The pay has to do with its availability to every person. The best paid industries are ultimately useless. No one starves when they don’t produce
    • Farmers look at well paid & useless industries & get sick of working so hard for such little money. He resents paying taxes to support subsidized industries much more profitable than his. He might be better off panhandling in a city than working on a farm. But leaving the farm denies society a source of food & can endanger the country
    • Barbarians who overran Europe & Africa didn’t gain power & prestige through industry & wisdom. They were able to conquer a well-ordered & disciplined society because it was just on an untenable path.
  • Should societies be abolished? Should we return to the savage life? Le’ts not be reluctant to renounce the vices that living a civilized life exposes us to. The vices are usually a product of advances away from the natural life towards “civilization”.
    • We should look toward virtue in the example of God so that our vices disappear. Focus on God will eliminate all our vicious behavior in society

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