Jean-Jacques Rousseau is a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer. His political philosophy influenced the progress of the Age of Enlightenment throughout Europe, as well as aspects of the French Revolution and the development of modern political, economic, and educational thought.
3:16: What made you become a philosopher?
Jean Jacques Rousseau: Richard, I realised that the philosophers, far from ridding me of my vain doubts, only multiplied the doubts that tormented me and failed to remove any one of them. I consulted the philosophers, I searched their books and examined their various theories; I found them all alike proud, assertive, dogmatic, professing, even in their so-called scepticism, to know everything, proving nothing, scoffing at each other. This last trait, which was common to all of them, struck me as the only point in which they were right. Braggarts in attack, they are weaklings in defence. Weigh their arguments, they are all destructive; count their voices, every one speaks for himself; they are only agreed in arguing with each other.
I could find no way out of my uncertainty by listening to them. If the philosophers were in a position to declare the truth, which of them would care to do so? Every one of them knows that his own system rests on no surer foundations than the rest, but he maintains it because it is his own. Where is the philosopher who would not deceive the whole world for his own glory? If he can rise above the crowd, if he can excel his rivals, what more does he want? Among believers he is an atheist; among atheists he would be a believer.
3:16: That’s a bit harsh Jean Jacques. So what did you do ?
JR: I chose another guide and said, “Let me follow the Inner Light; it will not lead me so far astray as others have done, or if it does it will be my own fault, and I shall not go so far wrong if I follow my own illusions as if I trusted to their deceits.”
3:16: Which philosophers were you reading ?
JR: Beginning with some philosophical work, such as the logic of Port−Royal, Locke's essays, Mallebranche, Leibnitz, Descartes, etc. I soon found that these authors perpetually contradict each other, and formed the chimerical project of reconciling them, which cost me much labor and loss of time, bewildering my head without any profit. At length (renouncing this idea) I adopted one infinitely more profitable, to which I attribute all the progress I have since made, notwithstanding the defects of my capacity; for 'tis certain I had very little for study. On reading each author, I acquired a habit of following all his ideas, without suffering my own or those of any other writer to interfere with them, or entering into any dispute on their utility.
I said to myself, "I will begin by laying up a stock of ideas, true or false, but clearly conceived, till my understanding shall be sufficiently furnished to enable me to compare and make choice of those that are most estimable." I am sensible this method is not without its inconveniences, but it succeeded in furnishing me with a fund of instruction. Having passed some years in thinking after others, without reflection, and almost without reasoning, I found myself possessed of sufficient materials to set about thinking on my own account, and when journeys of business deprived me of the opportunities of consulting books, I amused myself with recollecting and comparing what I had read, weighing every opinion on the balance of reason, and frequently judging my masters.
Though it was late before I began to exercise my judicial faculties, I have not discovered that they had lost their vigor, and on publishing my own ideas, have never been accused of being a servile disciple or of swearing 'in verba magistri'.
3:16: You’re a friend of the Encyclopedists – you’ve contributed – and yet also have dealings with Jesuits too haven’t you?
JR: Diderot I always count as a friend even though we have of late fallen out. I had always perceived, notwithstanding the wheedling of Father Berthier, that the Jesuits did not like me, not only as an Encyclopedist, but because all my principles were more in opposition to their maxims and influence than the incredulity of my colleagues, since atheistical and devout fanaticism, approaching each other by their common enmity to toleration, may become united; a proof of which is seen in China, and in the cabal against myself; whereas religion, both reasonable and moral, taking away all power over the conscience, deprives those who assume that power of every resource. After having been afraid of the Jesuits, I begun to fear the Jansenists and philosophers.
3:16: You knew Hume didn’t you?
JR: He had acquired a great reputation in France amongst the Encyclopedists by his essays on commerce and politics, and in the last place by his history of the House of Stuart, the only one of his writings of which I had read a part, in the translation of the Abbe Prevot. For want of being acquainted with his other works, I was persuaded, according to what I heard of him, that Mr. Hume joined a very republican mind to the English paradoxes in favor of luxury. In this opinion I considered his whole apology of Charles I as a prodigy of impartiality, and I had as great an idea of his virtue as of his genius. The desire of being acquainted with this great man, and of obtaining his friendship, had greatly strengthened the inclination I felt to go to England, induced by the solicitations of Madam de Boufflers, the intimate friend of Hume. After my arrival in Switzerland, I received from him, by means of this lady, a letter extremely flattering; in which, to the highest encomiums on my genius, he subjoined a pressing invitation to induce me to go to England, and the offer of all his interest, and that of his friends, to make my residence there agreeable.
3:16: You admire Hume’s ability to be self critical and change his mind if shown to be wrong don’t you?
JR: I found in the country to which I had retired, the lord marshal, the countryman and friend of Hume, who confirmed my good opinion of him, and from whom I learned a literary anecdote, which did him great honor in the opinion of his lordship and had the same effect in mine. Wallace, who had written against Hume upon the subject of the population of the ancients, was absent whilst his work was in the press. Hume took upon himself to examine the proofs, and to do the needful to the edition. This manner of acting was according to my way of thinking. I had sold at three pence a piece, the copies of a song written against myself. I was, therefore, strongly prejudiced in favor of Hume, when Madam de Verdelin came and mentioned the lively friendship he expressed for me, and his anxiety to do me the honors of England; such was her expression.
3:16: It didn’t end well though did it?
3:16: So what’s one of your central philosophical problem?
JR: Legitimacy. Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Here’s one who thinks he is the master of others, yet he is more enslaved than they are. How did this change come about? I don’t know. What can make it legitimate? That’s a question that I think I can answer.
3:16: Isn’t that based on force? If I have the power, I rule?
JR: No. The social order ·isn’t to be understood in terms of force; it· is a sacred right on which all other rights are based. But it doesn’t come from nature, so it must be based on agreements.
3:16: What do you mean when you say it doesn’t come from nature?
JR: The most ancient of all societies, and the only natural one, is the society of the family. Yet the children remain attached to the father only for as long as they need him for their preservation; as soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved. This common liberty is an upshot of the nature of man. You could call the family the prime model of political societies: the ruler corresponds to the father, and the people to the children; and all of them—ruler, people, father, children—because they were born free and equal don’t give up their liberty without getting something in return. The whole difference is that in the family the father’s care for his children is repaid by his love for them, whereas in the state the ruler’s care for the people under him is repaid not by love for them (which he doesn’t have!) but by the pleasure of being in charge.
3:16: Hobbes might disagree. Some people are born to be rulers and others their slaves.
JR: The reasoning of Caligula’s is on a par with that of Hobbes and Grotius. Aristotle, before any of them, had said that men are not naturally equal because some are born for slavery and others for command. Aristotle was right; but he mistook the effect for the cause. Every man born in slavery is born for slavery—nothing is more certain than that. Slaves lose everything in their chains, even the desire to escape from them: they love their servitude, as Ulysses’ comrades loved their brutish condition ·when the goddess Circe turned them into pigs·. So if there are slaves by nature, that’s because there have been slaves against nature. Force made the first slaves, and their cowardice kept them as slaves.
3:16: So it’s not about being the strongest? Might isn’t right in your book.
JR: The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty. Suppose for a moment that this so-called ‘right of the strongest’ exists. I maintain that we’ll get out of this nothing but a mass of inexplicable nonsense. If force makes right, then if you change the force you change the right (effects change when causes change!), so that when one force overcomes another, there’s a corresponding change in what is right. The moment it becomes possible to disobey with impunity it becomes possible to disobey legitimately. And because the strongest are always in the right, the only thing that matters is to work to become the strongest. Now, what sort of right is it that perishes when force fails? If force makes us obey, we can’t be morally obliged to obey; and if force doesn’t make us obey, then ·on the theory we are examining· we are under no obligation to do so. Clearly, the word ‘right’ adds nothing to force: in this context it doesn’t stand for anything.
3:16: Some will say that if you have a powerful autocratic leader, someone like Putin say, at least you get security and protection?
JR: The despot guarantees civic peace in the state’, you may say. Granted; but what do the people gain if the wars his ambition brings down on them, his insatiable greed, and harassments by his ministers bring them more misery than they’d have suffered from their own dissensions? What do they gain if this peace is one of their miseries? You can live peacefully in a dungeon, but does that make it a good life? The Greeks imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops lived there peacefully while waiting for their turn to be eaten.
3:16: Some people would prefer to give up liberty and live in peace though.
JR: To renounce your liberty is to renounce your status as a man, your rights as a human being, and even your duties as a human being. There can’t be any way of compensating someone who gives up everything. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man’s nature; to remove all freedom from his will is to remove all morality from his actions.
3:16: Doesn’t winning a war give the winners a right to rule the losers, or even kill them?
JR: This supposed right to kill the loser is clearly not an upshot of the state of war. Men are not naturally one anothers’ enemies. War is constituted by a relation between things, not between persons; and because the state of war can’t arise out of simple personal relations but only out of thing-relations, there can’t be a private war (a war of man against man) in the state of nature, where there is no ownership, or in the state of society, where everything is under the authority of the laws. War is a relation not between man and man but between state and state, and individuals are enemies only accidentally, not as men nor even as citizens but as soldiers; not as belonging to their country but as defenders of it.
When a full-scale war is going on, a prince is entitled to help himself to anything in the enemy country that belongs to the public, but if he is just he will respect the lives and goods of individuals—he will respect rights on which his own are based. The purpose of the war is to destroy the enemy state, so we have a right to kill its defenders while they are bearing arms; but as soon as they lay down their weapons and surrender, they stop being enemies or instruments of the enemy and resume their status as simply men, and no-one has any right to take their lives. Sometimes it is possible to kill a state without killing any of its members; and a war doesn’t give any right that isn’t needed for the war to gain its objective.
3:16: What are the rights of conquest then?
JR: If war doesn’t give the winner the right to massacre the conquered peoples, you can’t cite that right—a ‘right’ that doesn’t exist—as a basis for a right to enslave those peoples. I maintain that someone enslaved in war isn’t committed to do anything for his master except what he is compelled to do; and the same goes for a conquered people. the ‘right of slavery’ is null and void—not only as illegitimate but also as absurd and meaningless. The words ‘slave’ and ‘right’ contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive. It will always be crazy to say to a man, or to a people: ‘I make an agreement with you wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I shall keep it as long as I like, and you will keep it as long as I like.’
3:16: So how do you propose to ensure the master slave relationship doesn’t occur?
JR: Find a form of association that will bring the whole common force to bear on defending and protecting each associate’s person and goods, doing this in such a way that each of them, while uniting himself with all, still obeys only himself and remains as free as before.
3:16: And have you found it?
JR: There’s the basic problem that is solved by the social contract.
3:16: So how does it work?
JR: The total alienation of each associate, together with all his rights, to the whole community.
3:16: Wow. That seems a bit drastic.
JR: I know. But three features of it make it reasonable.
3:16: Oh really? Ok, what are these?
JR: Firstly, because each individual gives himself entirely, what is happening here for any one individual is the same as what is happening for each of the others, and, because this is so, no-one has any interest in making things tougher for everyone but himself. Secondly, because the alienation is made without reserve, that is, without anything being held back, the union is as complete as it can be, no associate has anything more to demand. And finally, each man in giving himself to everyone gives himself to no-one; and the right over himself that the others get is matched by the right that he gets over each of them.
3:16: So this is where we get your idea of ‘the general will’ from?
JR: Yes. Filtering out the inessentials, we’ll find that the social compact comes down to this: Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.
3:16: Aren’t you getting rid of my individuality with this? I’m getting absorbed into a collective? It’s like the Borg in Star Trek. It sounds sinister.
JR: I guess. This act of association instantly replaces the individual- person status of each contracting party by a moral and collective body, composed of as many members as the assembly has voix and receiving from this act its unity, its common identity, its life and its will.
3:16: And this collective is what you call ‘the People’ isn’t it?
JR: Those who are associated in it are collectively called ‘a people’, and are separately called ‘citizens’ (as sharing in the sovereign power) and ‘subjects’ (as being under the state’s laws). But these terms are often muddled and confused with one another: it is enough to know how to distinguish them when they are being used with precision.
3:16: So each member of this is committed to every one else?
JR: As soon as this multitude is united into one body in this way, any offence against one of the members is an attack on the body, and any offence against the body will be resented by the members. Thus, the two contracting parties—the individual member and the body politic—are obliged by duty and by self-interest to give each other help.
3:16: But what if I don’t like what the body politic is doing?
JR: Because the sovereign is made out of nothing but its constituent individuals, it doesn’t and can’t have any interest contrary to theirs; so there’s no need for it to provide its subjects with guarantee ·of treating them well·, because the body can’t possibly wish to hurt all its members, and—as we’ll see later on— it can’t hurt any individual one of them either. The sovereign, merely by virtue of what it is, is always what it ought to be.
3:16: Still, I might not agree with the general will. I like being free to think what I like. I don’t like to conform. You don't seem to have any mechanism to deal with bullies, dictators and people acting in bad faith in the name of the General Will. It sounds like a formula for a dictatorship.
JR: To protect the social compact from being a mere empty formula it silently includes the undertaking that anyone who refuses to obey the general will is to be compelled to do so by the whole body. This single item in the compact can give power to all the other items. It means nothing less than that each individual will be forced to be free.
3:16: Force me to be free?
JR: This is the key to the working of the political machine; it alone legitimises civil commitments which would otherwise be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to frightful abuses.
3:16: It sounds like a self contradiction.
JR: This passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in man: the role that instinct used to play in his conduct is now taken over by a sense of justice, and his actions now have a moral aspect that they formerly lacked. The voice of duty has taken over from physical impulses and ·a sense of what is· right has take over from appetite; and now—only now—the man who has until now considered only himself finds himself forced to act on different principles and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations.
3:16: Aren’t you just crushing my individuality though?
JR: What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unrestricted right to anything he wants and can get. What he gains is civil liberty and the ownership of everything he possesses.
3:16: What happens to property and possessions?
JR: At the moment when the community comes into existence, each of its members gives himself to it—himself just as he is, with any powers that he has, including all his possessions.
3:16: Is the idea then that we all become equal?
JR: A fact that should be the basis for any social system, namely: The basic compact doesn’t destroy natural inequality; rather, it replaces such physical inequalities as nature may have set up between men by an equality that is moral and legitimate, so that men who may be unequal in strength or intelligence become equal by agreement and legal right.
3:16: But what happens if we have competing interests?
JR: The clashing of particular interests made it necessary to establish a society, and the agreement of those same interests made it possible to do so. It’s the common element in these different interests that forms the social tie; and if there were there nothing that they all had in common, no society could exist. It is solely by this common interest that every society should be governed.
3:16: So sovereignty is inalienable. What other features should it have?
JR: For the same reason that makes it inalienable, sovereignty is indivisible.
3:16: Can the general will be wrong?
JR: The general will is always in the right and always works for the public good; but it doesn’t follow that the people’s deliberations are always equally correct. Our will is always for our own good, but we don’t always see what that is; the populace is never corrupted, but it is often deceived, and then—but only then—it seems to will something bad.
3:16: So how do you deal with that problem?
JR: If the general will is to emerge clearly it’s important that there should be no partial society within the state, and that each citizen should think only his own thoughts: which was indeed the sublime and unique system established by the great Lycurgus. And if there are partial societies, it’s best to have as many as possible and to prevent them from becoming unequal, as was done by Solon, Numa and Servius. These precautions are the only ones that can ensure that the general will is always enlightened and that the populace is never in error.
3:16: Does the social contract have limits?
JR: Just as nature gives each man absolute power over all his members, the social compact gives the body politic absolute power over all its members; and I repeat that it is this power which, under the direction of the general will, is called ‘sovereignty’.
3:16: Does privacy exist in such a society?
JR: Each man alienates by the social compact only the part of his powers, goods and liberty that it is important for the community to control. But something else should also be agreed: the sovereign is sole judge of what is important. Any service a citizen can give to the state should be performed as soon as the sovereign demands it; but the sovereign on its side can’t impose upon its subjects any fetters that are useless to the community. Indeed it can’t even want to do so, because ·there’s no reason for it to want to, and· ‘Nothing can happen without a cause’ applies under the law of reason as much as it does under the law of nature.
The sovereign power—utterly absolute, sacred and inviolable as it is—doesn’t and can’t cross the boundaries set by general agreements, and that every man can do what he likes with any goods and liberty that these agreements leave him; so that it is never right for the sovereign to burden one subject more heavily than another, because that involves a particular decision and ·therefore· isn’t within the range of the sovereign’s legitimate activity.
3:16: So there are still things an individual can do which has nothing to do with the social contract?
JR: Yes. Once these distinctions are admitted, it is seen to be false that the social contract involves any real renunciation on the part of the individuals; so false that the situation that the contract puts them into is really preferable to the one they were in before.
3:16: You think criminals in such a social contract are enemies don’t you? It all seems a bit harsh.
JR: Every criminal by attacking social rights becomes a rebel and a traitor to his country; by violating its laws he stops being a member of it—he even makes war on it. He has broken the social treaty—the investigation and trial show this, and the judgment declares it—so he is no longer a member of the state. But he has recognised himself as a member if only by living there; so he must be lopped off by exile, as a violator of the compact, or by death, as a public enemy. Such an enemy isn’t a moral , he’s a man; and in such a case the right of war is to kill the vanquished.
We may add that frequent punishments are always a sign that the government is weak or lazy. Every wrong-doer could be turned to some good. There’s no right to put to death, even for the sake of making an example, anyone who could safely be left alive. The right of pardoning a guilty man, or letting him off from a penalty imposed by the law and pronounced by the judge, belongs only to the authority that is above the judge and the law, i.e. the sovereign; and even its right in this matter is far from clear, and it’s hardly ever called for. A well-governed state has few punishments, not because there are many pardons, but because criminals are rare: it’s easier to get away with crimes when there are a great many of them and the state is terminally ill.
3:16: What’s the law in such a state then?
JR: The social compact gives the body politic existence and life; legislation gives it movement and will. When the whole people decrees for the whole people, it is not looking outside itself, but considering only itself; and if a relation is then formed, it is not between two separate objects, but only between two aspects of a single entire object, with no need to split it into two parts. In that case the matter about which the decree is made is, like the decreeing will, general. This act is what I call a law.
3:16: So who gets to make the laws?
JR: They are acts of the general will.
3:16: Is anyone above the law?
3:16: What if a law is unjust in some way, or flawed?
JR: It can’t be because nothing is unjust towards itself.
3:16: But aren’t we back in chains again and not free anymore?
JR: There’s no problem about this·, because the laws are nothing but records of our volitions.
3:16: So are laws made in this way what makes a republic?
JR: I give the name ‘republic’ to any state governed by laws, whatever form its administration takes; for only when the laws govern does the public interest govern, and the public thing is something real. Every legitimate government is republican.
3:16: So how are these republics to make the laws and how do they understand what is in their interests and what isn’t?
JR: Individuals see the good that they reject; the public wills the good that it doesn’t see. Both need guidance. Individuals must be made to bring their wills into line with their reason; the populace must be taught to know what it wills. If that is done, public enlightenment leads to the union of understanding and will in the social body: the parts are made to work exactly together, and the whole is raised to its highest power. For this there has to be a law-maker.
3:16: What’s a law-giver in this context?
JR: The law-giver is the engineer who invents the machine; the prince is merely the mechanic who sets it up and makes it go. ‘At the birth of societies,’ says Montesquieu, ‘the rulers of republics establish institutions, and then the institutions mould the rulers’.
3:16: So this law giver is a social engineer?
JR: Yes. Someone who ventures to tackle the task of making a people needs to have a sense of being able to change human nature, so to speak—to transform each individual, who on his own is a complete and solitary whole, into part of a greater whole from which he in a way receives his life and his being; to alter man’s constitution in order to strengthen it; to replace the physical and independent existence that nature gave us by a partial and moral existence. In short, he must deprive man of his own resources, replacing them by new ones that are alien to him and that he can’t employ without help from others. The more completely those natural resources are annihilated, the greater and more lasting are the new ones that he acquires, and the more stable and perfect are the new institutions.
3:16: That sounds terrifying.
JR: If you find that last statement extravagant, consider: If each citizen is nothing and can do nothing without all the others, and if the resources acquired by the whole are equal or superior to the natural forces of all the individuals put together, it can be said that legislation is at the highest point of perfection.
3:16: So you are giving the power to do all this to one individual? That sounds like handing all the real power to this individual who then moulds the collective will to his own will.
JR: No, no, no. The law-giver is an extraordinary man in the state. If his intellectual abilities make him so, his office does also. It’s not magistracy or sovereignty. This work that constitutes the republic isn’t part of its constitution; it is an individual and superior role that has nothing in common with human power; for if anyone who commands men oughtn’t to have command over the laws, then anyone who has command over the laws oughtn’t to have it over men; for if he did, his laws would be the servants of his passions and would often merely perpetuate his injustices; his private aims would inevitably mar the sanctity of his work. He who draws up the laws doesn’t or shouldn’t have any right to legislate; and the populace can’t deprive itself of this non-transferable right, even if it wants to, because according to the basic compact the only thing that can bind individuals is the general will, and the only way to be sure that a particular will is in conformity with the general will is to put it to a free vote of the people. Thus in the task of law-giving we find two things together that seem incompatible: an enterprise that surpasses human powers, and for its execution an authority that isn’t anything!
3:16: If these guys are so superior, how can the ordinary citizen understand what they’re saying and accept them?
JR: The law-maker, being unable to appeal either to force or to reason, must resort to an authority of a different order that can constrain without violence and get people on-side without giving them reasons for this.
3:16: What, like saying that God says this is what should be done?
JR: Why not? That’s what has down the centuries compelled the fathers of the nations to appeal to divine intervention and credit the gods with their own wisdom, in order that the peoples— submitting to the laws of the state as to the laws of nature, and recognising the power that formed the city as the very one that formed mankind—might obey freely, and bear with docility the yoke of the public happiness. What the legislator puts into the mouth of the immortals are decisions based on a high-flying reason that is far above the range of the common herd, the aim being to constrain by divine authority those who can’t be moved by human prudence. But it’s not just anyone who can make the gods speak, or be believed when he claims to be their interpreter. The only miracle that can prove a legislator’s mission is his great soul.
3:16: So do religion and politics have the same ends?
JR: No. The right conclusion to draw from all this is not that among us politics and religion have a common object, but that when nations are first starting up religion is used as an instrument for politics.
3:16: What size of state is best for your kind of government then? How many people make a people?
JR: When a body is too big for its constitution: it cracks, and falls crushed under its own weight. On the other hand, it’s bad for a state to be too small. A state needs a secure base if it is to be stable—not shaken to pieces by the shocks that are bound to come its way or by the efforts it will be forced to make to maintain itself. All populations have a kind of centrifugal force by which they continually act against one another, and tend to enlarge themselves at their neighbours’ expense—like Descartes’s vortices! Thus the weak run the risk of being soon swallowed up; and it is almost impossible for any one ·state· to survive except by putting itself in a sort of equilibrium with all ·the others· so that the pressure on all sides is about equal. So you can see that there are reasons for contraction and reasons for expansion; and it’s no small part of the statesman’s skill to balance out the two sides in the way that is best for the preservation of the state. To these conditions for establishing a people there’s another that must be added; it doesn’t take the place of any of the others, but without it they are all useless. This is the enjoyment of peace and plenty.
3:16: So you seem to have liberty and equality at the heart of all this – but aren't they just pipe-dreams?
JR: What precisely is the greatest good of all, the good that should be the goal of every system of legislation? It comes down to two main things: liberty and equality—liberty because any constraint on one individual means that that much force is taken from the body of the state, and equality because liberty can’t exist without it. For equality: we should take this to mean not that the degrees of power and riches are to be absolutely the same for everyone, but that those with power shan’t sink to the level of using violence, and that their power will always be exercised by virtue of rank and law; and that no citizen will ever be wealthy enough to buy another, and none poor enough to be forced to sell himself.—which implies, on the part of the great, no extremes of goods and credit and on the side of the ordinary folk no extremes of miserliness or greed.
3:16: But that's what I mean - how will this come about? You're dreaming.
JR: You say that this equality is a theoretical pipe-dream that can’t exist in practice. But Richard, even if it is certain to be abused, is that a reason for not at least making regulations concerning it? It’s precisely because the forces at work in the world always tend to destroy equality that the force of legislation should always tend to maintain it.
3:16: But even you grant that people aren’t equal in many respects don't you?
JR: I conceive two species of inequality among men; one which I call natural, or physical inequality, because it is established by nature, and consists in the difference of age, health, bodily strength, and the qualities of the mind, or of the soul; the other which may be termed moral, or political inequality, because it depends on a kind of convention, and is established, or at least authorized, by the common consent of mankind. This species of inequality consists in the different privileges, which some men enjoy, to the prejudice of others, such as that of being richer, more honoured, more powerful, and even that of exacting obedience from them.
3:16: So you’re talking about this moral or political equality not the natural kind?
JR: Yes. I want to point out, in the progress of things, that moment, when, right taking place of violence, nature became subject to law; to display that chain of surprising events, in consequence of which the strong submitted to serve the weak, and the people to purchase imaginary ease, at the expense of real happiness.
3:16: So when you do this and talk about man in a state of nature you’re not doing history but more a kind of ‘just-so’ thought experiment to illustrate how we might have made such progress without drawing on supernatural causes?
JR: Yes, my researches, in which we may engage on this occasion, are not to be taken for historical truths, but merely as hypothetical and conditional reasonings, fitter to illustrate the nature of things, than to show their true origin, like those systems, which our naturalists daily make of the formation of the world.
3:16: So does your idealised state of nature show us?
JR: Hobbes would have it that man is naturally void of fear, and always intent upon attacking and fighting. An illustrious philosopher thinks on the contrary, and Cumberland and Puffendorff likewise affirm it, that nothing is more fearful than man in a state of nature, that he is always in a tremble, and ready to fly at the first motion he perceives, at the first noise that strikes his ears. Allowing that nature intended we should always enjoy good health, I dare almost affirm that a state of reflection is a state against nature, and that the man who meditates is a depraved animal. Man therefore, in a state of nature where there are so few sources of sickness, can have no great occasion for physic, and still less for physicians; neither is the human species more to be pitied in this respect, than any other species of animals.
Nakedness therefore, the want of houses, and of all these unnecessaries, which we consider as so very necessary, are not such mighty evils in respect to these primitive men, and much less still any obstacle to their preservation. Alone, idle, and always surrounded with danger, savage man must be fond of sleep, and sleep lightly like other animals, who think but little, and may, in a manner, be said to sleep all the time they do not think: self-preservation being almost his only concern, he must exercise those faculties most, which are most serviceable in attacking and in defending, whether to subdue his prey, or to prevent his becoming that of other animals: those organs, on the contrary, which softness and sensuality can alone improve, must remain in a state of rudeness, utterly incompatible with all manner of delicacy; and as his senses are divided on this point, his touch and his taste must be extremely coarse and blunt; his sight, his hearing, and his smelling equally subtle: such is the animal state in general, and accordingly if we may believe travellers, it is that of most savage nations.
3:16: What about his metaphysical, spiritual condition? Is man a machine?
JR: I can discover nothing in any mere animal but an ingenious machine, to which nature has given senses to wind itself up, and guard, to a certain degree, against everything that might destroy or disorder it. I perceive the very same things in the human machine, with this difference, that nature alone operates in all the operations of the beast, whereas man, as a free agent, has a share in his.
3:16: So this freewill is the basic distinction between animals and man?
JR: It’s one of the things. The specific distinction of man is his quality of a free agent. Nature speaks to all animals, and beasts obey her voice. Man feels the same impression, but he at the same time perceives that he is free to resist or to acquiesce; and it is in the consciousness of this liberty, that the spirituality of his soul chiefly appears: for natural philosophy explains, in some measure, the mechanism of the senses and the formation of ideas; but in the power of willing, or rather of choosing, and in the consciousness of this power, nothing can be discovered but acts, that are purely spiritual, and cannot be accounted for by the laws of mechanics.
3:16: Right. And what else make man more than a machine?
JR: There is another very specific quality that distinguishes them, and a quality which will admit of no dispute; this is the faculty of improvement; a faculty which, as circumstances offer, successively unfolds all the other faculties, and resides among us not only in the species, but in the individuals that compose it; whereas a beast is, at the end of some months, all he ever will be during the rest of his life; and his species, at the end of a thousand years, precisely what it was the first year of that long period.
3:16: What about our moral capacities? Don't they distinguish us from other animals?
JR: Let moralists say what they will, the human understanding is greatly indebted to the passions, which, on their side, are likewise universally allowed to be greatly indebted to the human understanding. It is by the activity of our passions, that our reason improves: we covet knowledge merely because we covet enjoyment, and it is impossible to conceive why a man exempt from fears and desires should take the trouble to reason. The passions, in their turn, owe their origin to our wants, and their increase to our progress in science; for we cannot desire or fear anything, but in consequence of the ideas we have of it, or of the simple impulses of nature; and savage man, destitute of every species of knowledge, experiences no passions but those of this last kind; his desires never extend beyond his physical wants; he knows no goods but food, a female, and rest; he fears no evil but pain, and hunger; I say pain, and not death; for no animal, merely as such, will ever know what it is to die, and the knowledge of death, and of its terrors, is one of the first acquisitions made by man, in consequence of his deviating from the animal state.
3:16: So natural man has limited understanding of anything, is trapped in a world of sensations rather than understanding?
JR: The more we meditate on this subject, the wider does the distance between mere sensation and the most simple knowledge become in our eyes; and it is impossible to conceive how man, by his own powers alone, without the assistance of communication, and the spur of necessity, could have got over so great an interval. How many ages perhaps revolved, before men beheld any other fire but that of the heavens? How many different accidents must have concurred to make them acquainted with the most common uses of this element? How often have they let it go out, before they knew the art of reproducing it? And how often perhaps has not every one of these secrets perished with the discoverer?
3:16: Language is presumably something that aided the cultivation of knowledge?
JR: Consider how many ideas we owe to the use of speech; how much grammar exercises, and facilitates the operations of the mind; let us, besides, reflect on the immense pains and time that the first invention of languages must have required: and judge how many thousand ages must have been requisite to develop successively the operations, which the human mind is capable of producing.
3:16: So in the state of nature mankind was very different from now?
JR: It appears at first sight that, as there was no kind of moral relations between men in this state, nor any known duties, they could not be either good or bad, and had neither vices nor virtues, unless we take these words in a physical sense, and call vices, in the individual, the qualities which may prove detrimental to his own preservation, and virtues those which may contribute to it; in which case we should be obliged to consider him as most virtuous, who made least resistance against the simple impulses of nature.
3:16: So is the civilised modern man better than those in a state of nature?
JR: it is proper to suspend the judgment we might form of such a situation, and be upon our guard against prejudice, till, the balance in hand, we have examined whether there are more virtues or vices among civilized men; or whether the improvement of their understanding is sufficient to compensate the damage which they mutually do to each other, in proportion as they become better informed of the services which they ought to do; or whether, upon the whole, they would not be much happier in a condition, where they had nothing to fear or to hope from each other, than in that where they had submitted to an universal subserviency, and have obliged themselves to depend for everything upon the good will of those, who do not think themselves obliged to give anything in return.
3:16: So you don’t agree with Hobbes that we’re naturally vicious and need strong government to crush our evil ways?
JR: Let us beware concluding with Hobbes, that man, as having no idea of goodness, must be naturally bad; that he is vicious because he does not know what virtue is; that he always refuses to do any service to those of his own species, because he believes that none is due to them; that, in virtue of that right which he justly claims to everything he wants, he foolishly looks upon himself as proprietor of the whole universe. Hobbes very plainly saw the flaws in all the modern definitions of natural right: but the consequences, which he draws from his own definition, show that it is, in the sense he understands it, equally exceptionable. This author, to argue from his own principles, should say that the state of nature, being that where the care of our own preservation interferes least with the preservation of others, was of course the most favourable to peace, and most suitable to mankind; whereas he advances the very reverse in consequence of his having injudiciously admitted, as objects of that care which savage man should take of his preservation, the satisfaction of numberless passions which are the work of society, and have rendered laws necessary.
3:16: Where does Hobbes go wrong then in drawing the conclusions he does?
JR: Hobbes did not consider that the same cause, which hinders savages from making use of their reason, as our jurisconsults pretend, hinders them at the same time from making an ill use of their faculties, as he himself pretends; so that we may say that savages are not bad, precisely because they don't know what it is to be good; for it is neither the development of the understanding, nor the curb of the law, but the calmness of their passions and their ignorance of vice that hinders them from doing ill.
3:16: So Hobbes discounts crucial realities about animals and our own natural inclinations?
JR: Yes. There is another principle that has escaped Hobbes, and which, having been given to man to moderate, on certain occasions, the blind and impetuous sallies of self-love, or the desire of self-preservation previous to the appearance of that passion, allays the ardour, with which he naturally pursues his private welfare, by an innate abhorrence to see beings suffer that resemble him. I shall not surely be contradicted, in granting to man the only natural virtue, which the most passionate detractor of human virtues could not deny him, I mean that of pity, a disposition suitable to creatures weak as we are, and liable to so many evils; a virtue so much the more universal, and withal useful to man, as it takes place in him of all manner of reflection; and so natural, that the beasts themselves sometimes give evident signs of it.
3:16: And you think it’s civilised mankind rather than natural mankind that has inflamed, destructive passions don’t you?
JR: Yes. For example, begin by distinguishing between what is moral and what is physical in the passion called love. The physical part of it is that general desire which prompts the sexes to unite with each other; the moral part is that which determines that desire, and fixes it upon a particular object to the exclusion of all others, or at least gives it a greater degree of energy for this preferred object. Now it is easy to perceive that the moral part of love is a factitious sentiment, engendered by society, and cried up by the women with great care and address in order to establish their empire, and secure command to that sex which ought to obey. This sentiment, being founded on certain notions of beauty and merit which a savage is not capable of having, and upon comparisons which he is not capable of making, can scarcely exist in him: for as his mind was never in a condition to form abstract ideas of regularity and proportion, neither is his heart susceptible of sentiments of admiration and love, which, even without our perceiving it, are produced by our application of these ideas; he listens solely to the dispositions implanted in him by nature, and not to taste which he never was in a way of acquiring; and every woman answers his purpose.
Confined entirely to what is physical in love, and happy enough not to know these preferences which sharpen the appetite for it, at the same time that they increase the difficulty of satisfying such appetite, men, in a state of nature, must be subject to fewer and less violent fits of that passion, and of course there must be fewer and less violent disputes among them in consequence of it. The imagination which causes so many ravages among us, never speaks to the heart of savages, who peaceably wait for the impulses of nature, yield to these impulses without choice and with more pleasure than fury; and whose desires never outlive their necessity for the thing desired. Nothing therefore can be more evident, than that it is society alone, which has added even to love itself as well as to all the other passions, that impetuous ardour, which so often renders it fatal to mankind; and it is so much the more ridiculous to represent savages constantly murdering each other to glut their brutality, as this opinion is diametrically opposite to experience.
3:16: And this is where inequalities come from, from artificial distinctions that are not apparent to the man in a state of nature?
JR: Savage man, wandering about in the forests, without industry, without speech, without any fixed residence, an equal stranger to war and every social connection, without standing in any shape in need of his fellows, as well as without any desire of hurting them, and perhaps even without ever distinguishing them individually one from the other, subject to few passions, and finding in himself all he wants, let us, I say, conclude that savage man thus circumstanced had no knowledge or sentiment but such as are proper to that condition, that he was alone sensible of his real necessities, took notice of nothing but what it was his interest to see, and that his understanding made as little progress as his vanity. If he happened to make any discovery, he could the less communicate it as he did not even know his children. The art perished with the inventor; there was neither education nor improvement; generations succeeded generations to no purpose; and as all constantly set out from the same point, whole centuries rolled on in the rudeness and barbarity of the first age; the species was grown old, while the individual still remained in a state of childhood.
3:16: So inequalities and differences that we take to be natural aren’t really natural at all but are more often than not caused by civilised practices , institutions and habits?
JR: Yes. we may easily perceive that among the differences, which distinguish men, several pass for natural, which are merely the work of habit and the different kinds of life adopted by men living in a social way. Thus a robust or delicate constitution, and the strength and weakness which depend on it, are oftener produced by the hardy or effeminate manner in which a man has been brought up, than by the primitive constitution of his body. It is the same thus in regard to the forces of the mind; and education not only produces a difference between those minds which are cultivated and those which are not, but even increases that which is found among the first in proportion to their culture; for let a giant and a dwarf set out in the same path, the giant at every step will acquire a new advantage over the dwarf.
Now, if we compare the prodigious variety in the education and manner of living of the different orders of men in a civil state, with the simplicity and uniformity that prevails in the animal and savage life, where all the individuals make use of the same aliments, live in the same manner, and do exactly the same things, we shall easily conceive how much the difference between man and man in the state of nature must be less than in the state of society, and how much every inequality of institution must increase the natural inequalities of the human species.
3:16: So because natural man doesn’t value the differences even natural differences aren’t important to him?
JR: Exactly. What advantage could the most favoured derive from her partiality, to the prejudice of others, in a state of things, which scarce admitted any kind of relation between her pupils? Of what service can beauty be, where there is no love? What will wit avail people who don't speak, or craft those who have no affairs to transact? Authors are constantly crying out, that the strongest would oppress the weakest; but let them explain what they mean by the word oppression. One man will rule with violence, another will groan under a constant subjection to all his caprices: this is indeed precisely what I observe among us, but I don't see how it can be said of savage men, into whose heads it would be a harder matter to drive even the meaning of the words domination and servitude.
One man might, indeed, seize on the fruits which another had gathered, on the game which another had killed, on the cavern which another had occupied for shelter; but how is it possible he should ever exact obedience from him, and what chains of dependence can there be among men who possess nothing? If I am driven from one tree, I have nothing to do but look out for another; if one place is made uneasy to me, what can hinder me from taking up my quarters elsewhere? But suppose I should meet a man so much superior to me in strength, and withal so wicked, so lazy and so barbarous as to oblige me to provide for his subsistence while he remains idle; he must resolve not to take his eyes from me a single moment, to bind me fast before he can take the least nap, lest I should kill him or give him the slip during his sleep: that is to say, he must expose himself voluntarily to much greater troubles than what he seeks to avoid, than any he gives me. And after all, let him abate ever so little of his vigilance; let him at some sudden noise but turn his head another way; I am already buried in the forest, my fetters are broke, and he never sees me again. The inequality, which may subsist between man and man in a state of nature, is almost unperceivable, and has very little influence.
3:16: So what invented inequality?
JR: The first man, who, after enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say, "This is mine," and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.
3:16: So private property is inequality’s foundation?
JR: How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how many misfortunes and horrors, would that man have saved the human species, who pulling up the stakes or filling up the ditches should have cried to his fellows: Be sure not to listen to this imposter; you are lost, if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong equally to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!
3:16: And once this gets accepted we end up developing all the visible refinements and differences that were never even dreamed of in the state of nature?
JR: Yes. From the moment one man began to stand in need of another's assistance; from the moment it appeared an advantage for one man to possess the quantity of provisions requisite for two, all equality vanished; property started up; labour became necessary; and boundless forests became smiling fields, which it was found necessary to water with human sweat, and in which slavery and misery were soon seen to sprout out and grow with the fruits of the earth.
3:16: Technologies are a key in this development aren’t they?
JR: Metallurgy and agriculture were the two arts whose invention produced this great revolution. With the poet, it is gold and silver, but with the philosopher it is iron and corn, which have civilized men, and ruined mankind. Things might have remained equal, if men's talents had been equal, and if, for instance, the use of iron, and the consumption of commodities had always held an exact proportion to each other; but as this proportion had no support, it was soon broken. The man that had most strength performed most labour; the most dexterous turned his labour to best account; the most ingenious found out methods of lessening his labour; the husbandman required more iron, or the smith more corn, and while both worked equally, one earned a great deal by his labour, while the other could scarce live by his. It is thus that natural inequality insensibly unfolds itself with that arising from a variety of combinations, and that the difference among men, developed by the difference of their circumstances, becomes more sensible, more permanent in its effects, and begins to influence in the same proportion the condition of private persons.
3:16: So technology and arts led to refinements of thought that exacerbated inequalities?
JR: Yes. All our faculties developed; our memory and imagination at work, self-love interested; reason rendered active; and the mind almost arrived at the utmost bounds of that perfection it is capable of. Behold all our natural qualities put in motion; the rank and condition of every man established, not only as to the quantum of property and the power of serving or hurting others, but likewise as to genius, beauty, strength or address, merit or talents; and as these were the only qualities which could command respect, it was found necessary to have or at least to affect them. It was requisite for men to be thought what they really were not. To be and to appear became two very different things, and from this distinction sprang pomp and knavery, and all the vices which form their train. On the other hand, man, heretofore free and independent, was now in consequence of a multitude of new wants brought under subjection, as it were, to all nature, and especially to his fellows, whose slave in some sense he became even by becoming their master; if rich, he stood in need of their services, if poor, of their assistance; even mediocrity itself could not enable him to do without them.
3:16: And now with this distinction between rich and poor inequality becomes very noxious?
JR: Riches, before the invention of signs to represent them, could scarce consist in anything but lands and cattle, the only real goods which men can possess. But when estates increased so much in number and in extent as to take in whole countries and touch each other, it became impossible for one man to aggrandise himself but at the expense of some other; and the supernumerary inhabitants, who were too weak or too indolent to make such acquisitions in their turn, impoverished without losing anything, because while everything about them changed they alone remained the same, were obliged to receive or force their subsistence from the hands of the rich. And hence began to flow, according to the different characters of each, domination and slavery, or violence and rapine. The rich on their side scarce began to taste the pleasure of commanding, when they preferred it to every other; and making use of their old slaves to acquire new ones, they no longer thought of anything but subduing and enslaving their neighbours; like those ravenous wolves, who having once tasted human flesh, despise every other food, and devour nothing but men for the future.
3:16: And it’s to protect everyone from these wolves that civil society and its laws were begun?
JR: Not exactly. Destitute of solid reasons to justify, and sufficient force to defend himself; crushing individuals with ease, but with equal ease crushed by numbers; one against all, and unable, on account of mutual jealousies, to unite with his equals against banditti united by the common hopes of pillage; the rich man, thus pressed by necessity, at last conceived the deepest project that ever entered the human mind: this was to employ in his favour the very forces that attacked him, to make allies of his enemies, to inspire them with other maxims, and make them adopt other institutions as favourable to his pretensions, as the law of nature was unfavourable to them.
3:16: So it was because the rich found it impossible to feel secure that they decided to set up laws and civil society?
JR: He easily invented specious arguments to bring them over to his purpose. "Let us unite," said he, "to secure the weak from oppression, restrain the ambitious, and secure to every man the possession of what belongs to him: Let us form rules of justice and peace, to which all may be obliged to conform, which shall not except persons, but may in some sort make amends for the caprice of fortune, by submitting alike the powerful and the weak to the observance of mutual duties. In a word, instead of turning our forces against ourselves, let us collect them into a sovereign power, which may govern us by wise laws, may protect and defend all the members of the association, repel common enemies, and maintain a perpetual concord and harmony among us."
3:16: So you think it had to be something like this that happened in order to explain how laws and government got established in the first instance to maintain the property rights of the rich and the exploitation of the poor?
JR: Societies once formed in this manner, soon multiplied or spread to such a degree as to cover the face of the earth; and not to leave a corner in the whole universe, where a man could throw off the yoke, and withdraw his head from under the often ill-conducted sword which he saw perpetually hanging over it. The civil law being thus become the common rule of citizens, the law of nature no longer obtained but among the different societies, in which, under the name of the law of nations, it was qualified by some tacit conventions to render commerce possible, and supply the place of natural compassion, which, losing by degrees all that influence over societies which it originally had over individuals, no longer exists but in some great souls, who consider themselves as citizens of the world, and forcing the imaginary barriers that separate people from people, after the example of the Sovereign Being from whom we all derive our existence, make the whole human race the object of their benevolence.
3:16: Several writers have assigned other origins of political society; as for instance, the conquests of the powerful, or the union of the weak. What do you say to them?
JR: in the first case, the right of conquest being in fact no right at all, it could not serve as a foundation for any other right, the conqueror and the conquered ever remaining with respect to each other in a state of war, unless the conquered, restored to the full possession of their liberty, should freely choose their conqueror for their chief. Second, because these words strong and weak, are ambiguous in the second case; for during the interval between the establishment of the right of property or prior occupation and that of political government, the meaning of these terms is better expressed by the words poor and rich, as before the establishment of laws men in reality had no other means of reducing their equals, but by invading the property of these equals, or by parting with some of their own property to them. Third, because the poor having nothing but their liberty to lose, it would have been the height of madness in them to give up willingly the only blessing they had left without obtaining some consideration for it.
3:16: What do you say to those who say that people are quite content to be treated as slaves?
JR: Political writers argue in regard to the love of liberty with the same philosophy that philosophers do in regard to the state of nature; by the things they see they judge of things very different which they have never seen, and they attribute to men a natural inclination to slavery, on account of the patience with which the slaves within their notice carry the yoke; not reflecting that it is with liberty as with innocence and virtue, the value of which is not known but by those who possess them, though the relish for them is lost with the things themselves. I know the charms of your country, said Brasidas to a satrap who was comparing the life of the Spartans with that of the Persepolites; but you can not know the pleasures of mine.
As an unbroken courser erects his mane, paws the ground, and rages at the bare sight of the bit, while a trained horse patiently suffers both whip and spur, just so the barbarian will never reach his neck to the yoke which civilized man carries without murmuring but prefers the most stormy liberty to a calm subjection. It is not therefore by the servile disposition of enslaved nations that we must judge of the natural dispositions of man for or against slavery, but by the prodigies done by every free people to secure themselves from oppression. I know that the first are constantly crying up that peace and tranquillity they enjoy in their irons, and that miserrimam servitutem pacem appellant: but when I see the others sacrifice pleasures, peace, riches, power, and even life itself to the preservation of that single jewel so much slighted by those who have lost it; when I see free-born animals through a natural abhorrence of captivity dash their brains out against the bars of their prison; when I see multitudes of naked savages despise European pleasures, and brave hunger, fire and sword, and death itself to preserve their independency; I feel that it belongs not to slaves to argue concerning liberty.
3:16: Puffendorf says that, as we can transfer our property from one to another by contracts and conventions, we may likewise divest ourselves of our liberty in favour of other men. What do you say to that?
JR: This, in my opinion, is a very poor way of arguing; for, in the first place, the property I cede to another becomes by such cession a thing quite foreign to me, and the abuse of which can no way affect me; but it concerns me greatly that my liberty is not abused, and I can not, without incurring the guilt of the crimes I may be forced to commit, expose myself to become the instrument of any. Besides, the right of property being of mere human convention and institution, every man may dispose as he pleases of what he possesses: But the case is otherwise with regard to the essential gifts of nature, such as life and liberty, which every man is permitted to enjoy, and of which it is doubtful at least whether any man has a right to divest himself: By giving up the one, we degrade our being; by giving up the other we annihilate it as much as it is our power to do so; and as no temporal enjoyments can indemnify us for the loss of either, it would be at once offending both nature and reason to renounce them for any consideration.
But though we could transfer our liberty as we do our substance, the difference would be very great with regard to our children, who enjoy our substance but by a cession of our right; whereas liberty being a blessing, which as men they hold from nature, their parents have no right to strip them of it; so that as to establish slavery it was necessary to do violence to nature, so it was necessary to alter nature to perpetuate such a right; and the jurisconsults, who have gravely pronounced that the child of a slave comes a slave into the world, have in other words decided, that a man does not come a man into the world.
3:16: Where do these inequalities leave us?
JR: From the vast inequality of conditions and fortunes, from the great variety of passions and of talents, of useless arts, of pernicious arts, of frivolous sciences, would issue clouds of prejudices equally contrary to reason, to happiness, to virtue. We should see the chiefs foment everything that tends to weaken men formed into societies by dividing them; everything that, while it gives society an air of apparent harmony, sows in it the seeds of real division; everything that can inspire the different orders with mutual distrust and hatred by an opposition of their rights and interest, and of course strengthen that power which contains them all. 'Tis from the bosom of this disorder and these revolutions, that despotism gradually rearing up her hideous crest, and devouring in every part of the state all that still remained sound and untainted, would at last issue to trample upon the laws and the people, and establish herself upon the ruins of the republic.
This is the last term of inequality, the extreme point which closes the circle and meets that from which we set out. 'Tis here that all private men return to their primitive equality, because they are no longer of any account; and that, the subjects having no longer any law but that of their master, nor the master any other law but his passions, all notions of good and principles of justice again disappear. 'Tis here that everything returns to the sole law of the strongest, and of course to a new state of nature different from that with which we began, in as much as the first was the state of nature in its purity, and the last the consequence of excessive corruption. There is, in other respects, so little difference between these two states, and the contract of government is so much dissolved by despotism, that the despot is no longer master than he continues the strongest, and that, as soon as his slaves can expel him, they may do it without his having the least right to complain of their using him ill.
The insurrection, which ends in the death or despotism of a sultan, is as juridical an act as any by which the day before he disposed of the lives and fortunes of his subjects. Force alone upheld him, force alone overturns him. Thus all things take place and succeed in their natural order; and whatever may be the upshot of these hasty and frequent revolutions, no one man has reason to complain of another's injustice, but only of his own indiscretion or bad fortune.
3:16: So throughout your thinking about the social contract this contrast between the natural man and the civilised one guides your thinking about inequalities?
JR: Yes. Savage man and civilised man differ so much at bottom in point of inclinations and passions, that what constitutes the supreme happiness of the one would reduce the other to despair. The first sighs for nothing but repose and liberty; he desires only to live, and to be exempt from labour; nay, the ataraxy of the most confirmed Stoic falls short of his consummate indifference for every other object. On the contrary, the citizen is always in motion, is perpetually sweating and toiling, and racking his brains to find out occupations still more laborious: He continues a drudge to his last minute; nay, he courts death to be able to live, or renounces life to acquire immortality. He cringes to men in power whom he hates, and to rich men whom he despises; he sticks at nothing to have the honour of serving them; he is not ashamed to value himself on his own weakness and the protection they afford him; and proud of his chains, he speaks with disdain of those who have not the honour of being the partner of his bondage.
The real source of all those differences, is that the savage lives within himself, whereas the citizen, constantly beside himself, knows only how to live in the opinion of others; insomuch that it is, if I may say so, merely from their judgment that he derives the consciousness of his own existence. It is foreign to my subject to show how this disposition engenders so much indifference for good and evil, notwithstanding so many and such fine discourses of morality; how everything, being reduced to appearances, becomes mere art and mummery; honour, friendship, virtue, and often vice itself, which we at last learn the secret to boast of; how, in short, ever inquiring of others what we are, and never daring to question ourselves on so delicate a point, in the midst of so much philosophy, humanity, and politeness, and so many sublime maxims, we have nothing to show for ourselves but a deceitful and frivolous exterior, honour without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness.
It is sufficient that I have proved that this is not the original condition of man, and that it is merely the spirit of society, and the inequality which society engenders, that thus change and transform all our natural inclinations.
3:16: Ok, so what is government in this state?
JR: An intermediate body set up between the subjects and the sovereign to enable them to communicate with one another; its job is to apply the laws and to maintain civil and political liberty.
3:16: So are the people in a contract with the government?
JR: The members of this body are called ‘magistrates’ or ‘kings’, that is, governors, and the body as a whole has the name ‘prince’. Thus, those who claim that the act by which a people puts itself under leaders is not a contract are quite right. It is simply a commission, a job, in which the leaders—mere officials of the sovereign—exercise in its name the power that it has lodged with them. The sovereign can limit this power, modify it or take it back, just as it wishes; because the alienation of such a right is incompatible with the nature of the social body, and contrary to the goal of association. So in my usage ‘government’ (or ‘supreme administration’) names the legitimate exercise of the executive power, and ‘prince’ or ‘magistrate’ names the man or the body entrusted with that administration. Between the government and the state there is this essential difference: the state exists in its own right, whereas the government exists only through the sovereign.
3:16: what’s the best form of government then?
JR: There have always been fights about what the best form of government is, ignoring the fact each form is in some cases the best and in others the worst. If in the different states the number of supreme magistrates ought to be in inverse ratio to the size of the population, it follows immediately that democratic government suits small states, aristocratic government those of middle size, and monarchy great ones. But there are countless possible circumstances that would provide exceptions.
3:16: What do you make of democracy?
JR: There never was and never will be a real democracy in the strict sense of the word. It’s against the natural order for the many to govern and the few to be governed. It is unimaginable that the people should be continually in session dealing with public affairs, and obviously they couldn’t set up commissions for that purpose without changing the form of the administration. In fact, I can confidently lay down as a principle that when the work of government is shared out among several tribunals, the less numerous ·of these· will eventually acquire the greatest authority, if only because it’s a natural consequence of their ability to act quickly. There is no other government so subject to civil wars and internal agitations as democratic or popular government, because there is none that has such a strong and continual tendency to change to another form, or that needs more vigilance and courage for its maintenance as it is. It is in a democratic system above all that the citizen should arm himself with strength and constancy, and say every day of his life what a virtuous Count Palatine said in the Polish parliament: ‘I prefer liberty with danger to peace with slavery’ A population of gods could have a democratic government. A government as perfect as that is not for men.
3:16: What about Aristocratic government then? Is it better than democracy?
JR: The first societies were governed aristocratically. The heads of families consulted with one another on public affairs. The young had no problem giving way to the authority of experience. The savages of North America govern themselves in this way even now, and their government is admirable. Comparing aristocracy with democracy , besides the advantage that comes from keeping the two powers distinct from one another, aristocracy has the advantage that in it the government’s members are chosen. In popular, democratic· government, all the citizens are born magistrates; but in aristocracy the role of magistrate is confined to a few, who are elected to that position. By this means uprightness, understanding, experience and all other claims to preminence and public esteem become further guarantees of wise government.
Moreover, assemblies are more easily held, affairs are discussed better and done with more order and diligence, and the state’s credibility in the eyes of other states is better maintained, by venerable senators than by a multitude that is unknown or despised. In brief, the best and most natural arrangement is for the wisest to govern the multitude, when it is assured that they will govern for its profit and not for their own.
3:16: So aristocracy is pretty good in many circumstances?
JR: Well, the state shouldn’t be so small, or the people so simple and upright, that the execution of the laws follows immediately from the public will, as it would in a good democracy. Nor should the nation be so large that its rulers—scattered in order to govern it—are able to play the sovereign each in his own department, and make themselves independent as a step towards becoming masters. But although aristocracy doesn’t demand all the virtues needed by popular government, it demands others that are all its own; for instance, moderation on the part of the rich and contentment on the part of the poor. ·Note that I am not demanding the abolition of the rich/poor divide·, because it seems that thorough-going equality would be out of place; they didn’t have it even at Sparta.
If this form of government carries with it a certain in- equality of fortune, that is a good thing because it lets the administration of public affairs be entrusted to those who are most able to give them their whole time, but not for Aristotle’ reason, namely that the rich should always be put first.
3:16: What do you make of monarchies?
JR: No government is more vigorous than this, and also there’s no government in which the particular will holds more sway and more easily rules the other wills. It is indeed true that ‘the whole moves towards a single end’, but the end in question is not public happiness, and all the energy of this administration is constantly being used to harm the state. Kings want to be absolute, and the distant cry comes to them ‘The best way to do that is to be loved by your people’. This is a fine maxim, and there’s even some truth in it; but unfortunately the court will always make fun of it. The power that comes from a people’s love is no doubt the greatest; but it is precarious and , and princes will never rest content with it. The best kings want to be so placed that they can be wicked if they want to, without losing their mastery.
3:16: You think monarchical gvernment like this is a defective sort of government then?
JR: Yes. Monarchical government has an essential and inevitable defect that will always put it below republican government, namely: Whereas in a republic the public voice hardly ever raises to the highest positions men who aren’t enlightened and capable, men who will fill those positions honourably, in monarchies those who rise to the top are most often merely little muddle-heads, little crooks, little intriguers, whose little talents get them into the highest positions at court and then, once they are there, reveal to the public how incompetent they are.
3:16: Most governments are a mixture? Which is to be preferred, a mixed or simple, unmixed government?
JR: Political writers are always debating this question. Simple government is better in itself, just because it is simple. But when the executive power isn’t sufficiently dependent upon the legislative power, i.e. when the prince pushes harder on the sovereign than the people push on the prince, this imbalance should be cured by dividing the government; for all the parts still have as much authority over the subjects, while their division makes them all together less strong against the sovereign.
3:16: Is there a blue print for all governments everywhere?
JR: No. Liberty isn’t a fruit of every climate, so it isn’t within the reach of every people. The more you think about this principle that Montesquieu laid down, the more you feel its truth; and the more you fight it, the more evidence you find in its favour. In every climate there are natural causes that determine which form of government would be best for it; and we can even say what sort of inhabitants would be best for it.
3:16: And what is the best government?
JR: Some say the question is unanswerable as well as being indeterminate; it has as many good answers as there are possible combinations in the absolute and relative situations of all nations. I say I am continually astonished that such a simple sign of good government isn’t recognised, or perhaps men do recognise it but aren’t honest enough to say so. What is the purpose of any political association? The preservation and prosperity of its members. And what is the surest sign of their preservation and prosperity? Their number and their population·-growth·. That’s the sign you are looking for. Other things being equal, the unquestionably best government is the one under which the population increases most, without external help from naturalising foreigners or establishing colonies. The government under which the population shrinks is the worst.
3:16: Is there a problem in the constant battle between governance – the prince as you have it - and the will of the people – the sovereign?
JR: Yes. Just as the individual will is constantly acting in opposition to the general will, so the government is continually exerting itself against the sovereignty. The more strenuously it does this, the more the constitution changes; and because in this situation there’s no other corporate will to create an equilibrium by resisting the will of the prince, eventually the prince will bear down hard on the sovereign and break the social treaty.
3:16: Is it realistic nowadays to have all the people assemble to express the common will?
JR: The sovereign, having no force except the legislative power, acts only through the laws; and because the laws are just the authentic acts of the general will, the sovereign can’t act except when the populace is assembled. ‘The populace in assembly—what a fantasy!’ you’ll want to say. It is so today, but 2000 years ago it wasn’t. Has man’s nature changed? The bounds of human possibility are not as confining as we think they are; they are made to ·seem to· be tight by our weaknesses, our vices, our prejudices that confine them. Low-grade souls have no belief in great men; vile slaves grin mockingly at the name of liberty.
Let’s think about what can be done, remembering what has been done. Frequent assembling of the vast population of this capital and its neighbourhood—what a labour that must have been! Yet the Roman people did assemble almost weekly and sometimes even more often. ‘Something exists, so it is possible’—that looks to me like good logic.
3:16: But in our modern age populations are vast. It just seems impractical. And by having this kind of active citizenship, aren’t you making everything in life political despite what you said earlier?
JR: As soon as public service stops being the chief business of the citizens, and they prefer to serve with their money rather than with their persons, the state is not far from its collapse. They are needed to march out to war? they pay troops and stay at home. They are needed to meet in council? they name deputies and stay at home. By force of laziness and money, they end up with soldiers to enslave their country and representatives to sell it. The better a state’s constitution is, the more public affairs outrank private concerns in the minds of the citizens. The lukewarmness of patriotism, the activity of private interest, the vastness of states, conquest and the abuse of government suggested the method of having deputies or representatives of the people in the national assemblies. Some men in some countries have presumed to call these ‘the Third Estate’; notice third!—putting the individual interest of the nobility and the clergy first and second, and the public interest third. Sovereignty can’t be represented, for the same reason that it can’t be alienated.
3:16: So are you saying representative government is a form of alienation from the general will?
JR: The idea of representation is modern; it comes to us from feudal government, from that iniquitous and absurd system that degrades humanity and dishonours the name of man. The moment a people allows itself to be represented, it stops being free—it stops being.
3:16: Did a contract establish government?
JR: No. There’s only one contract in the state; it is the contract of association, which single-handedly rules out any others. It is impossible to conceive of any public contract that wouldn’t violate the first one.
3:16: How then does a government get established? It seems to require that the general will establish a government by law and that they pick who is the government – but the first of these seems to be a law and therefore presupposes the existence of a government! Paradox!
JR: At this point we encounter one of the astonishing properties of the body politic, by means of which it reconciles apparently contradictory operations: this is done by a sudden conversion of sovereignty into democracy, so that with no change that anyone could see and purely through a new relation of all to all, the citizens become magistrates and pass from general acts to particular acts, from legislation to the execution of the law. This change of relationship isn’t a theoretician’s subtlety with no examples out there in the world. It happens every day in the English parliament, where on certain occasions the Lower House turns itself into a ‘committee of the whole’ so as to have a better discussion of affairs, so that from being at one moment a sovereign court it becomes at the next a mere commission, ·an organ of government·; then it reports the upshot of these discussions to itself as House of Commons, where it debates under one name what it has already settled under another.
3:16: You think democracy is the form that can be produced just through the general will don’t you?
JR: That’s the special advantage of democratic government— that it can be brought into existence by a simple act of the general will. And then this provisional government remains in power, if that’s what was decided, or else it, acting in the name of the sovereign, establishes the government that is prescribed by law; and thus the whole thing is done by the rules. That’s the only possible way to set up government legitimately and in accordance with the principles I have laid down.
3:16: Is voting important hen?
JR: Every man is born free and his own master, so no-one on any pretext—any pretext—can make any man a subject without his consent. Apart from this primal contract, the vote of the majority always binds all the rest. This follows from the contract itself.
3:16: How can a man be both free and forced to conform to wills that are not his own?
JR: When a law is proposed to the assembled people, what they are being asked is not :Do you approve or reject this proposal? but rather :Is this proposal in conformity with the general will? —the general will being their will.
3:16: Is election by lottery as democratic a way of selecting government as choosing?
JR: ’Election by lottery’, says Montesquieu, ‘is democratic in nature’. I agree that it is, but how is it? ‘The lottery’, he goes on, ‘is a way of electing that isn’t unfair to anyone; it leaves each citizen with a reasonable hope of serving his country.’ Those aren’t reasons! The real reason is that in any real democracy, magistracy isn’t a benefit—it’s a burdensome responsibility that can’t fairly be imposed on one individual rather than another. If the individual is selected by a lottery, the selection is being made by the law that establishes the lottery; but the law doesn’t lose its universality by itself picking out one individual, and no choice has been made that depends on any human will. Election by lottery would have few drawbacks in a real democracy, where it would hardly matter who was chosen because all the people would be on a par as regards mœurs and talents as well as principles and fortunes. But I have already said that there aren’t any democracies.
3:16: What’s the role of religion in your republics?
JR: Wherever the clergy is a corporate body, it is master and legislator in its own country. There are thus two powers, two sovereigns, in England and in Russia, as well as elsewhere. The philosopher Hobbes is the only Christian writer who has seen the evil and seen how to remedy it, and has dared to propose bring the two heads of the eagle together again, restoring the total political unity without which no state or government will ever be rightly constituted. But he should have seen that Christianity’s dominating spirit is incompatible with his system, and that the priests’ side of the divide would always be stronger than the state’s. What has drawn down hatred on his political theory is not so much what is false and terrible in it as what is just and true.
3:16: So what kind of religion is ok?
JR: Religion, considered in relation to society, can be divided into two kinds. With the relevant ‘society’ taken as the whole of mankind, we have the religion of man; with ‘society’ understood at the society of this or that nation we have the religion of the citizen of this or that nation. The first is the religion of the Gospel pure and simple, the true theism, what may be called natural divine law. The second is codified in a single country, to which it gives its gods and its own patron saints; it has its dogmas, its rites, and its external forms of worship prescribed by law; it views all the other nations as unbelievers, foreign, barbarous; it doesn’t regard the duties and rights of man as extending far beyond its own altars. The religions of early peoples were all of this sort. We could label them as civil or positive divine law.
There’s a third bizarre sort of religion that gives men two codes of law, two rulers, and two countries, imposes contradictory duties on them, and makes it impossible for them to be believers and citizens. The religion of the Lamas is like that, and so is the religion of the Japanese. Another example is Roman Catholic Christianity. This version leads to a sort of mixed and anti-social code and anything that destroys social unity is worthless; all institutions that set man in contradiction to himself are worthless. The second has good features but it is bad in that, being based on lies and error, it deceives men, makes them credulous and superstitious, and drowns the true worship of the Divinity in empty ceremonies.
That leaves us with the first one but this religion, having no special relation to the body politic, leaves the laws with only the force they draw from themselves without adding anything to it; which means that one of the great bonds for uniting the society of the given country is left idle. Worse: so far from binding the citizens’ hearts to the state, it detaches them from that and from all earthly things. I know of nothing more contrary to the social spirit.
3:16: So none of these are any good. What do you endorse then?
JR: Now, it matters very much to the community that each citizen should have a religion that makes him love his duty; but that religion’s dogmas are no concern of the state’s or of its members’ except insofar as they involve morality and the believer’s duties towards others. In addition to all that, a man may have any opinions he likes without that being any of the sovereign’s business. Having no standing in the other world, the sovereign has no concern with what may lie in wait for its subjects in the life to come, provided they are good citizens in this life. So there’s a purely civil profession of faith, the content of which should be fixed by the sovereign—not exactly as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments that are needed for to be a good citizen and a faithful subject.
3:16: Presumably education is about ensuring that adults can live in this kind of republic. You’re very suspicious of the way civilisation corrupts people so is a good education one that works to prevent such corruption and ?
JR: The origin of our passions, the root and spring of all the rest, the only one which is born with man, which never leaves him as long as he lives, is self-love; this passion is primitive, instinctive, it precedes all the rest, which are in a sense only modifications of it. In this sense, if you like, they are all natural. I have always observed that young men, corrupted in early youth and addicted to women and debauchery, are inhuman and cruel; their passionate temperament makes them impatient, vindictive, and angry; their imagination fixed on one object only, refuses all others; mercy and pity are alike unknown to them; they would have sacrificed father, mother, the whole world, to the least of their pleasures.
A young man, on the other hand, brought up in happy innocence, is drawn by the first stirrings of nature to the tender and affectionate passions; his warm heart is touched by the sufferings of his fellow-creatures; he trembles with delight when he meets his comrade, his arms can embrace tenderly, his eyes can shed tears of pity; he learns to be sorry for offending others through his shame at causing annoyance. If the eager warmth of his blood makes him quick, hasty, and passionate, a moment later you see all his natural kindness of heart in the eagerness of his repentance; he weeps, he groans over the wound he has given; he would atone for the blood he has shed with his own; his anger dies away, his pride abases itself before the consciousness of his wrong-doing. Is he the injured party, in the height of his fury an excuse, a word, disarms him; he forgives the wrongs of others as whole-heartedly as he repairs his own. Adolescence is not the age of hatred or vengeance; it is the age of pity, mercy, and generosity.
Yes, I maintain, and I am not afraid of the testimony of experience, a youth of good birth, one who has preserved his innocence up to the age of twenty, is at that age the best, the most generous, the most loving, and the most lovable of men. You never heard such a thing Richard; well, I can well believe that philosophers such as you, brought up among the corruption of the public schools, are unaware of it.
3:16: Just a quick question - is self love not selfishness and isn't that a bad thing? Yet you talk about it as if it's a good thing.
JR: Self-interest, so they say, induces each of us to agree for the common good. But how is it that the good man consents to this to his own hurt? Does a man go to death from self-interest? No doubt each man acts for his own good, but if there is no such thing as moral good to be taken into consideration, self-interest will only enable you to account for the deeds of the wicked; possibly you will not attempt to do more. A philosophy which could find no place for good deeds would be too detestable; you would find yourself compelled either to find some mean purpose, some wicked motive, or to abuse Socrates and slander Regulus. If such doctrines ever took root among us, the voice of nature, together with the voice of reason, would constantly protest against them, till no adherent of such teaching could plead an honest excuse for his partisanship.
3:16: So conscience is nature's way of ensuring self-interest brings about good deeds?
JR: They say we are indifferent to everything but self-interest; yet we find our consolation in our sufferings in the charms of friendship and humanity, and even in our pleasures we should be too lonely and miserable if we had no one to share them with us. If there is no such thing as morality in man’s heart, what is the source of his rapturous admiration of noble deeds, his passionate devotion to great men? What connection is there between self-interest and this enthusiasm for virtue? Why should I choose to be Cato dying by his own hand, rather than Caesar in his triumphs? Take from our hearts this love of what is noble and you rob us of the joy of life. The mean-spirited man in whom these delicious feelings have been stifled among vile passions, who by thinking of no one but himself comes at last to love no one but himself, this man feels no raptures, his cold heart no longer throbs with joy, and his eyes no longer fill with the sweet tears of sympathy, he delights in nothing; the wretch has neither life nor feeling, he is already dead.There are many bad men in this world, but there are few of these dead souls, alive only to self-interest, and insensible to all that is right and good. We only delight in injustice so long as it is to our own advantage; in every other case we wish the innocent to be protected.
3:16: You encourage happy childhoods don’t you?
JR: Love childhood; encourage its sports, its pleasures, its lovable instincts. Who among us has not at times looked back with regret to the age when a smile was continually on our lips, when the soul was always at peace? Why should we rob these little innocent creatures of the enjoyment of a time so brief, so transient, of a boon so precious, which they cannot misuse? Why will you fill with bitterness and sorrow these fleeting years which can no more return to them than to you? Do you know, you fathers, the moment when death awaits your children? Do not store up for yourselves remorse, by taking from them the brief moments nature has given them. As soon as they can appreciate the delights of existence, let them enjoy it. At whatever hour God may call them, let them not die without having tasted life at all.
3:16: And children shouldn’t be treated as if they are just small adults should they?
JR: He ought to be neither an animal nor a man, but a child. He should feel his weakness, and yet not suffer from it. He should depend, not obey; he should demand, not command. He is subject to others only by reason of his needs, and because others see better than he what is useful to him, what will contribute to his well-being or will impair it. No one, not even his father, has a right to command a child to do what is of no use to him whatever. Over-strictness and over-indulgence are equally to be avoided. Locke's great maxim was that we ought to reason with children, and just now this maxim is much in fashion. I think, however, that its success does not warrant its reputation, and I find nothing more stupid than children who have been so much reasoned with. Treat your pupil as his age demands.
3:16: But shouldn’t we try and educate them into having good habits and knowing intricate things?
JR: The only habit a child should be allowed to form is to contract no habits whatever. Let him not be carried upon one arm more than upon another; let him not be accustomed to put forth one hand rather than the other, or to use it oftener; nor to desire to eat, to sleep, to act in any way, at regular hours; nor to be unable to stay alone either by night or by day. Prepare long beforehand for the time when he shall freely use all his strength. Do this by leaving his body under the control of its natural bent, by fitting him to be always master of himself, and to carry out his own will in everything as soon as he has a will of his own. We must love the child, and encourage his playing. To make him realize his weakness and the narrow limits within which it can work, to keep the child dependent only on circumstances, will suffice, without ever making him feel the yoke of the master. The best education is accomplished in the country.
3:16: You also worry that too much education is devoted to endless activities to stimulate thinking.
JR: May I venture to state here the greatest, the most important, the most useful rule in all education? It is, not to gain time, but to lose it. Keep his organs, his senses, his physical strength, busy; but, as long as possible, keep his mind inactive. Guard against all sensations arising in advance of judgment, which estimates their true value. Keep back and check unfamiliar impressions, and be in no haste to do good for the sake of preventing evil. For the good is not real unless enlightened by reason. Regard every delay as an advantage; for much is gained if the critical period be approached without losing anything. Let childhood have its full growth.
3:16: You’re keen that education should be to educate the fully grown child, rather than always focusing on preparing the child for adulthood aren’t you?
JR: Every age, every station in life, has a perfection, a ripeness, of its own. We have often heard the phrase “a grown man;” but we will consider “a grown child.” This will be a new experience and none the less pleasing. This ‘grown child’ is keen, eager, and full of life, free from gnawing cares and painful forebodings, absorbed in this present state, and delighting in a fullness of life which seems to extend beyond himself. I look forward to a time when he will use his daily increasing sense, intelligence and vigour, those growing powers of which he continually gives fresh proof. I watch the child with delight. He never says a useless word, and does not exhaust himself by chattering when he knows there is no one to listen to him. His ideas are few but precise, he knows nothing by rote but much by experience. If he reads our books worse than other children, he reads far better in the book of nature; his thoughts are not in his tongue but in his brain; he has less memory and more judgment; he can only speak one language, but he understands what he is saying, and if his speech is not so good as that of other children his deeds are better. Y
ou will find he has a few moral ideas concerning his present state and none concerning manhood; what use could he make of them, for the child is not, as yet, an active member of society. Speak to him of freedom, of property, or even of what is usually done; he may understand you so far; he knows why his things are his own, and why other things are not his, and nothing more. Speak to him of duty or obedience; he will not know what you are talking about; bid him do something and he will pay no attention; but say to him, “If you will give me this pleasure, I will repay it when required,” and he will hasten to give you satisfaction, for he asks nothing better than to extend his domain, to acquire rights over you, which will, he knows, be respected. Maybe he is not sorry to have a place of his own, to be reckoned of some account; but if he has formed this latter idea, he has already left the realms of nature, and you have failed to bar the gates of vanity.
He does not know the meaning of habit, routine, and custom; what he did yesterday has no control over what he is doing to-day; he follows no rule, submits to no authority, copies no pattern, and only acts or speaks as he pleases. Work or play are all one to him, his games are his work; he knows no difference. He has reached the perfection of childhood; he has lived the life of a child; his progress has not been bought at the price of his happiness, he has gained both.
3:16: He doesn’t seem to know much?
JR: This is the essential point in my method—Do not teach the child many things, but never to let him form inaccurate or confused ideas. I care not if he knows nothing provided he is not mistaken, and I only acquaint him with truths to guard him against the errors he might put in their place. Reason and judgment come slowly, prejudices flock to us in crowds, and from these he must be protected.
3:16: Can you summarise your general educational ideas then?
JR: Sure. Locke would have us begin with the study of spirits and go on to that of bodies. This is the method of superstition, prejudice, and error; it is not the method of nature, nor even that of well-ordered reason; it is to learn to see by shutting our eyes. We must have studied bodies long enough before we can form any true idea of spirits, or even suspect that there are such beings. The contrary practice merely puts materialism on a firmer footing. Let all the lessons of young people take the form of doing rather than talking; let them learn nothing from books which they can learn from experience.
3:16: Talking of books, are there five books you can recommend to take us further into your philosophical world?
Other Interviews: Cohen, Machiavelli, La Mettrie, Smith, Buchner ,Lange, Newton, Berkeley, Hobbes, Locke, Cudworth, Hume, Leibniz, Leporin Erxleben, Fichte, Schiller, Herder, Kierkegaard, Schelling, Kant, Dilthey, Marx, Descartes, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche
About the Author
Richard Marshall is still biding his time.