Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

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Oxford University Press, 1994 - Law - 127 pages
In his Discourses (1755), Rousseau argues that inequalities of rank, wealth and power are the inevitable result of the civilising process. If inequality is intolerable - and Rousseau shows with unparalledled eloquence how it robs us not only of our material but also of our psychological independence - then how can we recover the peaceful self-sufficiency of life in the state of nature? We cannot return to a simpler time, but measuring the costs of progress may help us to imagine alternatives to the corruption and oppressive conformity of modern society. Rousseau's sweeping account of humanity's social and political development epitomises the innovative boldness of the Englightment, and it is one of the most provocative and influential works of the 18th century.

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Contents

DISCOURSE ON THE ORIGIN
1
Preface
14
Remark about the Notes
20
Copyright

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About the author (1994)

Jean Jacques Rousseau was a Swiss philosopher and political theorist who lived much of his life in France. Many reference books describe him as French, but he generally added "Citizen of Geneva" whenever he signed his name. He presented his theory of education in Emile (1762), a novel, the first book to link the educational process to a scientific understanding of children; Rousseau is thus regarded as the precursor, if not the founder, of child psychology. "The greatest good is not authority, but liberty," he wrote, and in The Social Contract (1762) Rousseau moved from a study of the individual to an analysis of the relationship of the individual to the state: "The art of politics consists of making each citizen extremely dependent upon the polis in order to free him from dependence upon other citizens." This doctrine of sovereignty, the absolute supremacy of the state over its members, has led many to accuse Rousseau of opening the doors to despotism, collectivism, and totalitarianism. Others say that this is the opposite of Rousseau's intent, that the surrender of rights is only apparent, and that in the end individuals retain the rights that they appear to have given up. In effect, these Rousseau supporters say, the social contract is designed to secure or to restore to individuals in the state of civilization the equivalent of the rights they enjoyed in the state of nature. Rousseau was a passionate man who lived in passionate times, and he still stirs passion in those who write about him today.

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