Rousseau quote

An excerpt of the United States declaration of independence states: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The United States became a force to be reckoned with as regards the role of democracy in the world. That is, man having a say in how he should be rule, basing a huge part of this philosophy on the political theory postulated by John Locke, which states that Government obtains its authority from the consent of the governed. That is no Government is legitimate unless the people voluntarily agree to it. Locke’s theory was liberal and anti-authoritarian, making it a perfect model for the colonies is the Americas to model their political and ethical arena around – a great break and relieve from the tyranny the monarchy and papacy that was rife in Europe.

This system seems very laudable and would be difficult to assail especially when looked at superficially, that is why till today many people still consider the United States as the land of freedom. But practically nowhere in the world is the land of freedom when we scrutinize the political systems based on the principles of liberalism that talk about the liberties of men. Locke says for a sense of safety, to deliver oneself from the state of nature, which is known to be excessive dangerous, brutish, solitary and unpredictable one has to give up some rights in terms of social contract by giving up certain liberties so as to get protection from the state that is only legitimate because of the consent of the man in question. This is one of the tenets of the western democracy. One must give up certain liberties to the state to live safely within the state. This does not sound like being free to me. Freedom I believe should be full and for the fact that I have to relinquish that freedom in any way to the state, I find it unlikely that I would call such a state free.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was responsible for the political theory that underlined the French revolution, socialism and would later be used by the totalitarian governments of the 20th century said all rights belong to the state. All men are noble savages, and would try to do anything to satisfy themselves from nature; which eventually put all men against one another. For Rousseau it is possible to live with one another in a state of equality, but when social institutions began to change, that is man stops hunting and gather and states farming, the need to use the help of other men becomes advantageous, the need to acquire property and land become crucial, inequality sets in and all forms of injustices and debauchery follows. The answer Rousseau says lies in the state. A man must submit himself to the will of the state and in cases where the individual will of man collides with the general will of the community, the general will must take precedence. Since an individual in the social contract commits himself and everything he has to the community, yielding to the general will isn’t merely an obligation for the greater good it’s an expression of his own freedom and those whose personal wills collide with the will of the state must be crushed for their own good, in essence they must be forced to be free.


It is not a surprise that the totalitarian governments of the 20th century used Rousseau model as a back bone for their political systems, what is surprising it that Rousseau’s model of might is right has become what the western democracies in the world practice today. I do not single out western democracy because it is inherently flawed; it is I believe still one of the best forms of democracy in the world – if not the best. But my dilemmas become evident when the exemplary democracies of the world begin to run themselves by the same autocratic principles that they were supposed to have gotten away from. Western democracies today have become an embodiment of might is right. They force people to pay tax, which in my opinion is an act of state robbery. If today my country is at war with another country, and they mandate every young adult to enlist, and I choose not to saying “I have no quarrel with the enemy, I see no reason why I should fight them”, I would be detained and charged with treason. My freedom would be taken away me. I might even be executed; all because I disagreed with the mandate by government, I am crushed – as recommended by Rousseau. So in the same light, if members of a certain group are in the majority within a country, and it is voted, maybe in parliament, that all members of the opposition, which are in the minority, be killed as long as they refuse to convert to the majority’s side, would be a fair judgement, since majority carries the vote. We can see that when we push these principles we run our country’s to the extreme the inherent flaws begin to take shape. This is what we see in the western democracies of this world

So why should we have a state? Why should we let anyone rule us? Thomas Hobbes says because a world without a state would be solitary, brutish and short. It would be everyone for himself or herself, and the weak would suffer beyond measure. It would be indeed, might is right. Locke seems to agree with Hobbes so the solution is the social contract in which we let go of some liberties for security within a state. A rational bargain; but because of the autocratic and arbitrary powers of the monarchy at that time throughout the world Hobbes and Locke believe that no state or government has the right to rule or is legitimate except the ruled submits to it voluntarily. We need a state for the protection of life and property. But this does not have to involve us handing some or all of our liberties to the state, because by so doing we stop being free.

Every man was born free and this should be the way he leads his life throughout his life time. He is free, and he becomes a member of state with that in mind. The state’s interest is to protect its citizenry from injustice against itself. Hobbes said no man should interfere with me and me him. This is the major tenet of the liberal state we are pushing for. Every man has the right to do whatever he wants as long as he does not interfere with another man’s freedom without that man’s consent. This also goes for the state. If the state feels the need to tax, they have no right to make people who do not want to pay tax do. They have the right to try and persuade, presenting rational arguments why tax should be paid, so that anyone who pays tithe only does so by paying voluntarily. Once the state makes it mandatory it infringes on the liberty of its citizens. Such a state losses what it truly means to be a liberal state.

I feel the need to reiterate; as long as a man does not interfere with the liberties of another man, directly or indirectly, without compelling evidence of the full consent of the other man, a state has no business in the affairs of men. In essence for an individual’s will to be trumped by the general will the individual has to give full consent to this, if not he is being robbed by the state. In many western democracies, once there is a majority on a vote concerning a law, everyone including the minority is compelled to follow. This should not be. Why should there be a ban on substances or anything for that matter. If indeed a substance is found to be dangerous it is the state’s business to present the fact with evidence why it is dangerous and should not be taken, so everyone can decide for themselves if they still want to ingest the substance or not. Not for the state to create a law compelling under the threat of punishment, prohibiting that substance. We are the state as individuals that make up a community, and not as communities that make up an individual.

It is high time for the western democracies to begin to rethink their philosophies, so that indeed they can become exemplary to the world, and not try to police the world, dishing out totalitarian proclamations because they do not agree with others. It makes no sense to tell someone why he should not drink filthy water, when all could do is put clean water beside the filthy water and allow the individual make his choice. Western democracy continues to look more like a model of Rousseau’s ‘absolute’ political philosophy, especially as regards to it practice in recent time, it needs a renaissance.


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