Skip to comments.Individualism vs. Collectivism: Jean-Jacques Rousseau vs. John Locke
Posted on 01/22/2012 11:35:18 PM PST by stevelackner
There were two thinkers who were greatly influential in forming philosophies that would affect the future political theories that followed. The greatest thinker of the modern age was John Locke, who provided the framework that would allow for liberal democracy. A thinker who perhaps inadvertently laid down the foundation for totalitarianism was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Both Locke and Rousseau were grand thinkers, but Rousseau was an advocate of his own form of collectivism while Locke believed in individualism, the basis for a truly free society.
It is sensible to begin by analyzing Locke, as he preceded Rousseau. John Locke writes in his Second Treatise of Government that the state of nature was a state of perfect freedom and a state also of equality. After establishing the state of nature as both free and equal, Locke states that society must emulate the state of nature. The sovereignty of the state is defined by its ability to make law. The state is there to ensure equality in the eyes of the law and Lord. Locke envisioned a state that protects an individuals rights.
Locke mentions the importance of numerous natural rights. The most important natural right that government is meant to protect is the right to private property. Locke is in fact one of the first modern thinkers who is an apologist for private property. He wrote that the great and chief end of mens uniting into common-wealths, and putting themselves under government is the preservation of their property. This, however, is not the only natural right of men under government. He argues that the state must have a known and indifferent judge. This judge is not an all-powerful magistrate, but rather someone with the authority to determine the established, settled, known law, received and allowed by common consent. The right to appeal the government is critical as it precludes the state of war, which violates equality and freedom. He writes that where there is an authority from which can be had by appeal, there the continuance of the state of war is excluded. Locke also eloquently argues against slavery. The key element of Lockes philosophy is that the government rests on consent of the governed, and government is created to protect the natural rights of life, liberty, and property. It is individual rights that are so dear to Locke and must be protected.
Private property is so important to Locke because man earns the right to property through his labor. Labor creates a distinction between the common and the private. If a man were to pick apples in the woods they become his private property. Labor has added something more than nature, the common mother of all, had done; and so they [the apples] became his private right. Locke says that a man deserves the reward of his hard work. Private property is the result of personal responsibility, and once you have worked to gain it the government must protect it.
Princeton University political philosopher Sheldon S. Wolin argues that this view of Lockes viewpoint is argued in most interpretations, and that it suffers from misplaced emphasis. Wolin writes: Locke made it abundantly clear that in the act of joining political society men submitted their possession to its control. Security of possessions did not, to his mind, mean the absence of political regulation, but only that such regulation ought not be arbitrary; that is, incapable of being defended as in the common interest.
Wolin is reading the same treatise and deriving a faulty understanding. Locke is clearly emphasizing that property existed before civil society, that property is a right, and that that man did not surrender that right when entering the commonwealth. It is in fact a right that both limits and defines the commonwealths power. Locke himself defines tyranny as the the exercise of power beyond right, which no body can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those under it, but for his own private separate advantage. The governments chief duty is preservation of property. Hence, tyranny is when the state extends its power violating that individual right. It is for this reason that Lockes thinking was so very influential on the American revolutionaries, especially Thomas Jefferson.
In contrast to Locke, Rousseau did not emphasize individualism. Rousseaus political philosophy was encapsulated in the idea of the general will. Wolin correctly explains that Rousseau believed that the precondition for dependence upon the whole as opposed to nature, individuals, or classes, required the voluntary and total surrender by each individual of all his rights and powers. As Rousseau himself stated, each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will. Rousseau claims that there is a great difference between the general will, which considers only the common interest, and the will of all, which considers the sum of private wills. At the same time Rousseau argues that the general will is always right and always tends toward the public utility.
It is his straying from the groundbreaking thinking of Lockean individualism that makes Rousseaus philosophy dangerous. Rousseau naively assumes that there is one general will which benefits everyone. In my estimation, the common good is an aggregate of private interests. A truly free society must protect competing interests. Rousseau also makes no distinctions between will and utility saying the general will is always in the best interest. What makes this thinking perilous is that, despite the fact that Rousseau attempts to differentiate between general will and will of all, he leaves unexplained the mechanism to determine whether something is general will or not. This only leads to the worst forms of tyranny as totalitarian regimes can exploit this concept and force the people to act against their true will. Furthermore, an inevitable result on reliance on the general will is tyranny of the majority. Rousseau famously said that if someone does not abide by the general will then he must be forced to be free, a paradox to the very concept of freedom from a classical liberal perspective.
Locke is the greatest modern thinker because of his emphasis on freedom and equality. He provides the framework for a government that is meant to protect the rights of its citizens. He importantly argues that property is the result of hard labor, recognizing that not only are individual rights important, but the advancement of individual interests as well. Rousseau thought he could increase freedom through the general will because private interest tends always to preferences, the public interest to equality. Rousseau was paving a dangerous path that would be taken up by succeeding writers stressing subordination of the individual to the group, a concept that I do not value. In my opinion, it is important to value individual rights and preferences. It is essential to encourage hard work with incentive and property. It is imperative to have a government that protects the peoples rights.
 Princeton Readings in Political Though, Second Treatise of Government, p. 243-344  Princeton Readings in Political Though, Second Treatise of Government, p. 262  Princeton Readings in Political Though, Second Treatise of Government, p. 262  Princeton Readings in Political Though, Second Treatise of Government, p. 249 Princeton Readings in Political Though, Second Treatise of Government, p. 251  Sheldon S. Wolin, Politics and Vision, (Princeton University Press, 1960) p.278  Princeton Readings in Political Though, Second Treatise of Government, p. 270  Sheldon S. Wolin, Politics and Vision, (Princeton University Press, 1960) p.335  Princeton Readings in Political Though, On The Social Contract, p. 282  Princeton Readings in Political Though, On The Social Contract, p. 284  Sheldon S. Wolin, Politics and Vision, (Princeton University Press, 1960) p.335  Sheldon S. Wolin, Politics and Vision, (Princeton University Press, 1960) p.335
Wow. This was timely.
These are the two basic philosophers who exemplify the basic war of ideas we see all around us today. Rousseau has won the war in most of the world. Locke hangs on among a few die hards here in the US, primarily among the ordinary people who make this country work. Most of them haven’t read him, but they live him.
Their leaders by and large have sold their souls to Rousseau.
Before Locke there was nothing but tyranny and after Locke until our Revolution it was still so. But our Revolution brought forth the fire of freedom and liberty that spread through the Western and to some extant the Far Eastern world. But the forces of tyranny have not given up and have been progressively on the rise for the last hundred years and the hard won freedom and liberty are on the verge of being snuffed out.
Rousseau was a madman. Cradled by the elite he eventually went insane.
One should note that almost all of Locke’s political ideas come straight from Samual Rutherford and his mounumental work “Lex Rex”. Locke just strips away the Christian foundations which Rutherford considered essential.
There will never be a shortage of people willing to tell you how to live your life and how much freedom you need. They will do this at very reasonable rates too.
Excellent. Thank you, Steve. Tip: later in the day catches more readers.
bump, thanx for the morning reading!
It is so easy to see throughout history that where ever Locke’s philosophy has reined people prosper. Yes there will always be poverty but in those societies even the “poor” are much better off. And conversely where ever Rousseau’s philosophy has reined you see misery, poverty, death. The record is absolutely, positively, crystalline clear. So how is it in the 21st century that so many people hold to the latter philosophy?
While I’m more of believer in the right of property ala Locke, I don’t believe in it absolutely. During crises, like wars,national emergencies, catastrophes, things can change. I certainly believe in free-market capitalism and the protection of property rights as the cornerstone of a civilized society. But I do so not only because I think it’s the best way to create wealth, I do so because I think it does indeed “promote the general welfare.” Rousseau’s belief in the “general will” deciding everything only leads to tyranny. And the majority can be just as tyrannical as a minority. But that tyrannical majority inevitably leads to a tyrannical minority. That has happened in every country in the world that went communist.
These two men Locke and Rousseau are the "spiritual fathers" of two completely different revolutions, the American and the French respectively. (Earlier on, Locke had been the spiritual father of the Glorious Revolution of 1688....)
You've done an excellent job concerning Locke; I think a little more might profitably be said about Rousseau ... first including a little backgrounder on certain salient facts about his life that may have affected the development of his political theory.
For openers, as Paul Johnson writes in his book Intellectuals, Rousseau "believed he had a unique love for humanity and had been endowed with unprecedented gifts and insights to increase its felicity." Unfortunately, the facts of Rousseau's life indicate that, while he might have "loved" mankind in the abstract, he was loveless, cruel, and abusive to man in the particular, especially to those who had ever been his benefactors, a great many of whom were aristocratic married women, the salon hostesses and doyennes of French cultural life. Lots of juicy tidbits there; but I'm trying to keep this short.
Yet Rousseau aligned himself if that's what one can call it with a distinctly lower-class person who, according to multiple reports, he held in public contempt.
In 1745, Rousseau met a young laundress, Thérèse Levasseur, ten years his junior, who agreed to become his mistress on a permanent basis.In return, Rousseau wrote, "I told her I would never leave her and never marry her." Thérèse remained with him thirty-three years until his death, in 1778.
Of Thérèse, he wrote:
I never felt the least glimmering of love for her ... the sensual needs I satisfied with her were purely sexual and were nothing to do with her as an individual.Meanwhile, along the line, Thérèse bore him five children. As Paul Johnson wrote:
Since a large part of Rousseau's reputation rests on his theories about the upbringing of children more education is the main, underlying theme of his Discours, Émile, the Social Contract and even La Nouvelle Héloïse it is curious that, in real life as opposed to writing, he took so little interest in children.... Even so, it comes as a sickening shock to discover what Rousseau did to his own children.Of course, there was no way to keep these things out of public view; and Rousseau had to defend himself; e.g., against Voltaire and other critics (mainly former benefactors) who knew him well. He argued that what he did with his children was
The first was born to Thérèse in the winter of 174647. We do not know its sex. It was never named. With (he says) 'the greatest difficulty in the world', he persuaded Thérèse that the baby must be abandoned 'to save her honor'. She 'obeyed with a sigh'. He ... told the midwife to drop off the bundle at the Hopital des Enfant-trouvés. Four other babies he had by Thérèse were disposed of in exactly the same manner.... None had names. It is unlikely that any of them survived long. A history of this institution which appeared in 1746 ... makes it clear that it was overwhelmed by abandoned infants, over 3000 a year. In 1758 Rousseau himself noted that the total had risen to 5082. By 1772 it averaged near 8000. Two-thirds of the babies died in their first year. An average of fourteen out of every hundred survived to the age of seven, and of these five grew to maturity, most of them becoming beggars and vagabonds. Rousseau did not even note the dates of the births of his five children and never took any interest in them....
...'a good and sensible arrangement'. It was exactly what Plato had advocated. The children would 'be all the better for not being delicately reared because it would make them more robust'. They would be 'happier than their father'. 'I could have wished', he wrote, 'and still do wish I had been brought up and nurtured as they have been'. ... In short, by transferring his responsibilities to the State, 'I thought I was performing the act of a citizen and a father and I looked on myself as a member of Plato's Republic'.Rousseau has a "theory of man" and a "theory of State." Man is born "in a state of nature" as the "noble savage." A human infant is a pure, pristine thing at birth. Also it is effectively a "tabula rasa" at birth. So much so that it is entirely defenseless against the corruption it will be relentlessly exposed to from its inevitable immersion in industrial society, starting with "bad parents." The only way to rescue the kid is to "educate" him. Again, this is the State's business, no one else's.
Rousseau asserts that brooding on his conduct towards his children led him eventually to formulate the theory of education he put forward in Émile. ... What began as a process of personal self-justification in a particular case a series of hasty, ill thought-out excuses for behavior he must have known, initially, was unnatural gradually evolved, as repetition and growing self-esteem hardened them into genuine convictions, into the proposition that education was the key to social and moral improvement and, this being so, it was the concern of the State. The State must form the minds of all, not only as children (as it had done to Rousseau's in the orphanage) but as adult citizens. By a curious chain of infamous moral logic, Rousseau's iniquity as a parent was linked to his ideological offspring, the future totalitarian State.
State education will largely take the form of condemning some things i.e., private property, as the main source of social conflict and advocating others i.e., embrace of the idea of the General Will. Rousseau wanted
...to replace the existing society by something totally different and essentially egalitarian; but this done, revolutionary disorder could not be permitted. The rich and the privileged, as the ordering force, would be replaced by the State, embodying the General Will, which all contracted to obey. Such obedience would become instinctive and voluntary since the State, by a systematic process of cultural engineering, would inculcate virtue in all. The State was the father, the patrie, and all its citizens were the children of the paternal orphanage.... It is true that the citizen-children, unlike Rousseau's own babies, originally agreed to submit to the State/orphanage by freely contracting into it. They thus constitute, through their collective will, its legitimacy, and thereafter they have no right to feel constrained, since, having wanted the laws, they must love the obligations they impose.When France annexed Corsica, Rousseau was engaged to write its constitution. This was his idea of an oath of submission to the General Will of that State:
Though Rousseau writes about the General Will in terms of liberty, it is essentially an authoritarian instrument, an early adumbration of Lenin's 'democratic centralism'. Laws made under the General Will must, by definition, have moral authority. 'The people making the laws for itself cannot be unjust'. 'The General Will is always righteous'. Moreover, provided the State is "well-intentioned' (i.e., its long-term objectives are desirable) interpretation of the General Will can safely be left to the leaders since 'they know well that the General Will always favours the decision most conducive to the public interest'....
Rousseau's state is not merely authoritarian: it is also totalitarian, since it orders every aspect of human activity, thought included.
'I join myself, body, goods, will and all my powers, to the Corsican nation, granting her ownership of me, of myself and all who depend on me'.The statement speaks for itself. It can be profitably compared to what We the People said in the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution so redolent of the spirit of John Locke....
BTW, am I alone in sensing the spirit of Rousseau very much animates our Gangsta President right about now? In a national election year....
Thank you again, stevelacker, for your outstanding essay!
And since Obama famously referred to the unborn as it might apply to his daughters as a "punishment" there is a disturbing similarity.
Thank you so much for sharing all of these insights, dearest sister in Christ!
It seems that, to Rousseau, children were indeed a punishment:
Twice in [the Confessions] he defends himself about [abandoning] the babies, and he returns to the subject in his Reveries and in various letters. In all, his efforts to justify himself, publicly and privately, spread over twenty-five years.... They merely make matters worse, since they compound cruelty and selfishness with hypocrisy. First, he blamed the wicked circle of intellectuals among whom he then moved for putting the idea of the orphanage into his innocent head. Then, to have children was 'an inconvenience'. He could not afford it. 'How could I achieve the tranquillity of mind necessary for my work, my garret filled with domestic cares and the noise of children?' He would have been forced to stoop to degrading work, to 'all those infamous acts which fill me with such justified horror'. 'I know full well no father is more tender than I would have been' but he did not want his children to have any contact with Thérèse's mother: 'I trembled at the thought of entrusting mine to that ill-bred family.' As for cruelty, how could anyone of his outstanding moral character be guilty of such a thing? '...my ardent love of the great, the true, the beautiful and the just; my horror of evil of every kind, my utter inability to hate or injure or even to think of it; the sweet and lively emotion which I feel at the sight of all that is virtuous, generous and amiable; is it possible, I ask, that all these can ever agree in the same heart with the depravity which, without the least scruple, tramples underfoot the sweetest of obligations? Never, for a single moment in his life, could Jean-Jacques have been a man without feeling, without compassion, or an unnatural father.'Jeepers, this dude is a nut-job! Whatta bunch of double-speak. Johnson points out that "one modern academic" [I. W. Allen] lists Rousseau's "shortcomings" as follows:
he was a 'maochist, exhibitionist, neurasthenic, hypochondriac, onanist, latent homosexual afflicted by the typical urge for repeated displacements, incapable of normal or parental affection, incipient paranoiac, narcissist introvert rendered unsocial by his illness, filled with guilt feelings, pathologically timid, a kleptomaniac, infantilist, irritable and miserly'.An "interesting madman," indeed!
But back to the President's seeming to regard children at least pre-born ones as possibly being "punishments." Which brings us to the horror of the Hopital des Enfants-trouvés the State-run orphanage of Rousseau's day, and all the abandoned infants in its "care," with such poor nurturing and survival prospects.
A Progressive Leftist would say that this is the very situation that abortion-on-demand obviates. So if a woman feels "punished" (in whatever way she can justify to herself) by the child in her womb, it is just perfectly "rational" to abort it it helps her, it helps "society."
Of course, the Progressive Left is rooted in Rousseaean "thought." And as such it is motivated, bottom-line, by selfishness, envy, cruelty, contempt for life and liberty, hypocrisy....
Seems to me Obama's rhetorical style (and probably his morality) closely resembles Rousseau's....
Thanks so much for writing dearest sister in Christ!
Rousseau’s utopian philosophy informed and fueled the French Terror and ultimately, the utopianist agenda of the scientific materialists in control of the Soviet Union.
Catholic philosopher, historian, and political theorist Dr. Thomas Molnar (1921-2010) conducts a penetrating examination of utopian thought in his work, Utopia: The Perennial Heresy. After examining the thought of major utopians, including the Gnostics, the Manicheans, Saint-Simon, Karl Marx and Teilhard de Chardin, he concludes that utopianism is a persistant historical phenomenon seriously at odds with orthodox Christian realism, the main support of Western civilization.
Molnar adds that the utopianwhether religious or atheisticaims at the deification of man....not all men by any means but rather the few, the select.
But deification has a very high price, said Dostoevskys Grand Inquisitor, who goes on to describe in detail the secret motivations underlying the utopian thinking of Rousseau, Marx, et al.
The Inquisitor is not the Devil. He is rather someone like Marx (or Rousseau) whose mind is in tune with the Devils’. He does the Devil’s work. In the following dialogue, both the Inquisitor and the devil will be speaking.
The Inquisitor reveals that men really do not want to be free in the knowledge of good and evil and adds that it is Gods fault that things are in such a bad way.
During His time spent here on earth as the Christ, His cardinal error was in exalting spiritual freedom and the spiritual bread of heaven above everything else. The Christ sought mans love through faith freely chosen, but the effect of this has been to create man the rebel, said the Inquisitor. This is because Gods greatest gift to man is spiritual freedom, but freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil is a torment to man, his greatest anguish.
The devil, the spirit of nihilism, that wise and dread spirit, the spirit of destruction and non-existance had warned Jesus Christ of the true nature of man during His temptation in the wilderness. The secret was made known but ignored by Christ because He would not deprive men of freedom.
The secret is this: the promised bread of heaven can never compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man. Mankind wants to worship its belly in a utopian community of worship, said the devil.
The devil explains that the community of worship requires certain characteristics in confomity with mans true nature.
It must be established so that there is no disputing about it. This requirement can only be met through the Devil’s own virtues: moral relativism, tolerance, inclusion, hedonism, and androgynydenial of male and female distinctions. Earthly bread of every sort fills these requirements better than heavenly bread.
Man is fully capable of deceiving himself into surrendering his freedom, observed the devil, but only to those who are skillful enough to appease his conscience. Man wants to hear the words, Its not your fault You could not help yourself You could not be expected to know better
In conclusion, the devil tells the Christ that men are essentially slaves incapable of free love, thus their God-given freedom is an anguish that manifests itself as self-destructive rebellion. Despite this, they crave a universal state so ordered as to promote free indulgence of their sin nature without any feelings of guilt and without the risk of spiritual suicide.
The sum of human nature explained the Inquisitor, is the desire to have someone to worship, someone to keep his conscience, and some means of uniting all in one unanimous and harmonious ant-heap, for the craving of universal unity (egalitarian oneness)is the third and last anguish of men. (Political Apocalypse: A Study of Dostoevskys Grand Inquisitor, Ellis Sandoz, 117-1i9)
Locke’s “Two Treatises” along with Hobbes’ “Liberty” and “Leviathan” should be mandatory reading for every high school graduate.
Indeed the last anguish of alienated men.... I agree with the insight that "The Inquisitor is not the Devil. He is rather someone like Marx (or Rousseau) whose mind is in tune with the Devils. He does the Devils work."
Thank you so very much, dear spirited irish, for your outstanding essay/post!