Rousseau’s Social Contract theory & Discourse On Inequality

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a French-Genevan philosopher and writer of the 18th century. He was an influential figure in the Enlightenment movement. He is best known for his political philosophy. Rousseau’s ideas have had a significant impact on modern political thought and have influenced the development of democracy.

Rousseau’s Social Contract theory

In 1762, Rousseau’s book “The Social contract” was published. In this book, he explains the origin of the state through his theory of social contract. Rousseau presented a vision to liberate the masses from the clutches of the exploitative regimes.

  1. “Man was born free but he is everywhere in chains” is the opening sentence of Rousseau’s book “the social contract”. He emphasized that during the early phase of human life the people were free and happy because there was no state system.
  2. According to Rousseau, community-managed public affairs during the early phase of human life. Property/resources were communally owned. The community looked after the needs of everyone.
  3. Rousseau emphasized that as the population increased and the needs of people expanded, the community found it difficult to maintain order and to fulfill the needs of people.
    • In this situation, the community elected one of its members as King, and an agreement known as the social contract was signed between the community and the king.
    • Through this agreement, the community transferred some of its power to the king. The king promised to use this power for the welfare and progress of the people.
  4. According to Rousseau, the community has the authority to overthrow the king, if he violates the provision of the social contract and misuses its authority to exploit the masses. In this way, Rousseau justified a mass Revolution against an exploitative regime.
  5. Since King received his power from the community as per Rousseau’s theory of social contract, elements of democracy can be seen in Rousseau’s philosophy. He was a firm believer in the idea of popular sovereignty.
  6. Rousseau considered community as all-powerful, the community was above the state as well as the king. It could overthrow the king if the King violates the social contract. In this way, elements of absolutism can also be seen in Rousseau’s philosophy.

Rousseau Discourse On Inequality

In 1754, Rousseau published a pamphlet title “Discourse on the origin of inequality”. In this pamphlet, Rousseau explained that there were two types of inequality among people that are “natural” and “artificial” inequality.

Rousseau’s Natural inequality

The natural inequality represented by age difference or other natural physical differences among the people was considered functional by Rousseau. He emphasized that natural inequality does not result in the exploitation or suffering of people.

Rousseau’s Artificial inequality

According to Rousseau, artificial inequality caused by material forces results in exploitation and suffering a people. The rich use their wealth to exploit the poor.

Rousseau emphasizes that artificial inequality must be shattered by abandoning materialism. He asked the people to go back to nature.

In this way the elements of socialism can be seen in Rousseau Philosophy

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