Jean-Jacques Rousseau ( Swiss-born philosopher – 1712 – 1778 )
Rousseau is considered the father of the French revolution. The slogans of the French Revolution – liberty, equality, and fraternity are inspired by him. He has spent his time in Switzerland, Geneva where he has witnessed Direct democracy and has become the champion of Direct democracy as well as a critique of representative democracy. According to Rousseau, English men are free only once in five years.
In a representative democracy, people elect representatives that make laws on their behalf. So Rousseau says you are free only once, but in Direct democracy, you live under laws made by you. It happens at the village level. For Rousseau, Direct democracy is the condition for freedom.
Gandhi was also talking like Rousseau and advocated direct democracy in which people participate. In Rousseau, you will get an idea of a participatory model of democracy.
Rousseau became popular because of publication of his essay. There was an essay competition titled Impacts of science on modern life. This was the time when everyone wrote about the positives of science and how it has made our lives better but Rousseau wrote exactly the opposite that how science has spoiled human life and society. He was one of the earliest post-modernist scholars who were troubled with modernism.
We can see that there is a lot of influence of Rousseau on Gandhi though not acknowledged. What Rousseau is saying Gandhi is also saying. Gandhi also criticized modern civilization. Gandhi has also criticized science and rationality and is also talking about direct participation like Rousseau.
Rousseau was unique. The other thinkers of his time were appreciating science, reason, and modernity. However, Rousseau has shown the negative consequences of reason, science, and modernization. He is known as a thinker of paradoxes. His language is paradoxical too, and also his ideas. For example – Some of his paradoxical quotes are –
eg “English men are free only once in five years.”
“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.”
“Thinking man is a depraved animal.”
” man was ‘noble savage’”
Paradoxical language- Savage means wild, and again with that, he uses the word noble.
It is also a paradox that Rousseau is a source of inspiration for liberals, idealists, socialists, democrats, fascists, and totalitarian leaders. Everyone will get something of their relevance in Rousseau. But if you have to classify him, he belongs to liberalism.
What type of person Rousseau is?
Rousseau represents the psychology of a person coming from a remote area to some metropolitan city and feeling troubled. He is looking at all these things and does not like modernization, rationalism, and science. Rousseau wants to go back to nature. He wants to go back to the original life as a man was living. He is witnessing how society is changing and feels not comfortable with the so-called progress of western society.
On one hand modernization, science has led to the development of individualism but at the same time, some people recognize that the so-called freedom which we think has been given to us is nothing but isolation. We have been isolated from our natural environment, social environment, and community.
Rousseau central problem
It is expressed in the opening statement of the social contract (his book) –
“Man is born free but is everywhere in chains”. Meaning God has created everyone free but it is a human being that has created society and state which has put everyone in chains.
A long time ago, when the entire world was free, there were no boundaries. It is not like this anymore. For example, India Pakistan is a human creation. All the problems have been because of the type of progress and civilization that has taken place.
What does Rousseau mean by freedom?
According to Rousseau, freedom means freedom to act according to one’s nature, freedom to perform according to one’s will. However, society and state do not give the opportunity to man. In modern society, freedom is an illusion. The so-called freedom is isolation.
Freedom actually means freedom from chains whether it of state or society. So freedom is I should be able to live according to my choice. For many scholars, freedom is the necessary condition for being happy so if I’m not free I may not be happy.
In modern times happiness is in owning commodities. So the source of happiness is money. Modernity has made us the servant of money or the servant of capitalism. Basically, we are working not for ourselves, and capitalists are becoming rich and rich. This creates false needs in us. We are not acting totally according to our thoughts. Finance needs are generated.
Human nature according to Rousseau
“ Like all social contract scholars we will also see what is his opinion about human nature – Freedom is I a must act according to my nature – So what is human nature? “
As per Rousseau, man is essentially good. Man has the feeling of self-love and empathy for others. He is the first person to suggest that instead of reforming man, what is needed is to reform the system (Society) – (cultural, customs, political-economic system).
Hobbes was saying that the man is selfish by nature and has no concerns about others but the importance of Rousseau is that he is the first person to suggest that the man is essentially good and you need not change the man. You have to change society because society is bad.
Therefore, his greatness is that he is the first person to suggest that we need not change the man. Social norms and customs are such that you end up being selfish. We live in a society where our status is linked to money. Since Rousseau wants to change society, he becomes the source of inspiration for socialists because socialism suggest changing the system.
Sometimes even ethical administrators, when they enter the system become part of the system after some time because there is no other option left for them. Even an honest person if put in a corrupt system, either will be isolated or becomes part of it. So change the system, not the man.
Rousseau had a very troubled life. He spent his life in poverty. He did not have a good family and had relations with many women. He was criticized for it. It shows that he feels that he is good, but people are not understanding. So maybe he thinks that there are customs and man-made things that are challenging his freedom.
State of nature and Evolution of society
State of nature is a hypothetical situation where there is no state. It is the state of freedom. The man was free to act as per his choice. He was free to roam from one place to other. In the state of nature, the man was a ‘noble savage’.
The state of nature could not remain in its original state. The man started living settled life. It led to the beginning of a settled civilization that led to the beginning of private property. With the growth of civilization, reason develops in man.
Now man does not work with the heart but with his mind. Man has become rational ( calculative ). Reason taught man the difference between self-interest and the interest of others. It developed the feeling of ‘mine and thine’. According to Rousseau ‘thinking man is a depraved animal’.
In the state of nature, the man was savage but noble. The feeling of empathy for others existed, but a civilized man with reason has become worse than animals. He has become a depraved animal as animals only understand the satisfaction of their desire and do not understand the problem of others. This is the negative impact of modernization, civilization.
Society ways are that we turn out to be selfish. There are norms in society meaning if you are rich you will get respect. So to become rich either one does a lot of hard work or indulges in corruption. One becomes bad because others are bad even if one is good.
For a child’s growth more than nature, nurture also plays a role. So man also starts behaving like a society. Rousseau is not happy with this.
If there would have been no India and Pakistan, things would have been simpler. No one is living in peace. India- Pakistan enmity, USA Russia enmity led to the creation of this monster called terrorism that people in the middle east are affected by. Who is benefitted?
Realism is the status quo, but idealism is you need to change this system. Rousseau is idealist in that sense because he is thinking like that.
Social Contract – Famous book of Rousseau
“Entire western philosophy is about happiness”.
There is no freedom or happiness now.
So what are the options to solve it? 1. Going back to nature – not practically feasible. For example, India Pakistan cannot be one again.
2. Creating a new system – such as make associations like SAARC, regional organization. Its objective is to gain original freedom and real happiness back.
Earlier Europe was common with no borders. Then existed separate nation-state, and borders were created. Now they have entered into a contract and created the EU. The idea is to make travel easy. In other words to give more freedom.
He is troubled with the loss of happiness which means loss of freedom. He wants to construct a society where man gains back his freedom and true happiness. For that, he is suggesting the social contract to give all powers back to the people where the government runs according to the constitution. People are the source of the constitution.
In the social contract, he proposes all men enter into an agreement to act with their original will which may give rise to the General Will.
What is this Will?
Rousseau concept of Will
He classifies Will into two categories:
Real Will – Real Will means Original Will. This is goodwill. Real Will is what people actually want.
Actual Will – It is an adulterated will. This is shaped by society ( social norms ). It is selfish will. It is what actually people do.
For example, laws are non-friendly like we cannot help road accident victims. Our immediate impulse is we want to help that person, but we can not because society is such that it will create unfortunate circumstances for the person trying to help. Laws are such I may end up in trouble.
If the state comes up with a law that if any person brings in a roadside accident victim to the hospital will not be harassed, I will help or not?
In today’s society being impulsive is bad, being calculative and cold-blooded works. Because of impulse one may want to help the victim but will not. If laws are made as per Real Will, the system needs to be changed. Its laws and system to be based on the Real Will of the man, not Actual Will. Rousseau made this concept of the difference between a Real Will and the Actual Will.
Real Will gives happiness, and Actual Will gives pleasure. There is a difference between happiness and pleasure. Pleasure is artificial that one invents to be happy, and happiness is very natural when one acts per real impulse.
Solution Rousseau offers
In the interest of freedom and happiness, all will take this undertaking that we will act with our Real Will. The Real Rill of all will lead to the emergence of the General Will. The General Will is the sum of good wills. The General Will is always right and represent the state.
The General Will is represented in the constitution. e.g. We have to assume that the members of the constituent assembly who creates our constitution were representing the original wills and represents the will of the people. The Will of the people is supreme which means popular sovereignty which is represented in the constitution and laws are made according to the constitution.
According to Rousseau, General Will emerge when people enter into deliberation by direct participation. [ e.g at the village level – all electors of panchayat they are the members – will of the people ].
When we say the constitution is not in my favor, this is because we are acting as per our Actual Will – e.g upper-caste members will look at the reservation as bad. This is because their Actual Will is acting up. But the constitution was made with Real Will and with the realization that certain sections were being historically disadvantaged and now the responsibility to take care of them.
So even if a political party enjoys the majority, it cannot change the constitution. We cannot change the basic structure of the constitution because parliament is not the constituent assembly. Parliament represents political sovereignty, and constituent assembly represented popular sovereignty.
Democracy is misunderstood as a game of numbers. Democracy is not the tyranny of the majority or game of numbers. Democracy is deliberative where people come together and enter into a rational dialogue and try to arrive at a consensus.
We have to make this assumption that the constitution is right and people who are making the constitution are not acting with Actual Will but the Real Will of all. An important concept in politics that is also misused by political leaders.
General Will has been subjected to manipulation by totalitarian leaders like Mussolini, Hitler to justify state absolutism (Totalitarianism is a dictatorial or authoritative government that asserts total control over the lives of its citizens). Hence some scholars regarded Rousseau as the father of totalitarianism. But why?
Rousseau held that General Will is always right, and man should be “forced to be free” meaning he can be punished if does not follow General Will.
You are free when you follow the General/Real Will. Real Will is represented by the law made by the state. If it is disobeyed then the state will punish and force one to follow the General Will.
Mussolini used this concept and said everything they are doing is people’s will.
Rousseau is more dangerous than Hobbes. At least Hobbes did not claim that the state gives freedom. Rousseau’s theories can be subjected to manipulation. The impact of Rousseau’s General Will and Hobbes’s leviathan (State) is the same. Both end up in justification of state absolutism.
At least Hobbes said that the state cannot make laws that prevent the self-preservation of man. Both justified states using force to make people obey the law.
Leviathan is a third party i.e state. One can identify that the power lies with the government. In Rousseau it is confusing because he says power lies with people, but in reality people cannot see their power. Thus it is said that “General Will is Hobbes Leviathan with its head chopped off. ” – something that cannot be seen
For the article on Hobbes Leviathan – Click Here
But Rousseau was not a totalitarian thinker. He said General Will comes out when people come and enter into deliberations. Rousseau though is a champion of rights but history can be misused by autocrats and totalitarian leaders.