Jean-Jacques Rousseau And The Enlightenment

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In the 17th and 18th centuries, Europe was experiencing a changing of the guard at the hands of the philosophes, a group of social reformers from the nobility and middle class. Branded by the philosophes as an intellectual movement advocating for the application of reason and individualism in all aspects of life, the Enlightenment, influenced by the ideas of the Scientific Revolution, sparked discussion in the hopes of bettering society and rounding it into its most ideal form. Although it was a truly international and cosmopolitan movement, one of its most important proponents was the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), author of works such as Discourse on the Origins of the Inequality of Mankind and The Social Contract.…show more content…
But along the course of human history, something had gone wrong. Humans created the idea of private property, something that Rousseau was against. He wrote, “How many crimes, wars, murders; how much misery and horror the human race would have spared if someone had pulled up the stakes and filled in the ditch, and cried to his fellow men… ‘the fruits of the earth belong to everyone and that the earth itself belongs to no one!’” With this concept of private property came laws and governors, the start of humans becoming shackled in chains. As historian Jackson Spielvogel put it, “government was an evil, but a necessary one.” As Rousseau premised in The Social Contract, “the problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.” Rousseau presented this solution in his treatise, The Social Contract, saying, “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.” If everyone were to buy in on the idea of the social contract and create a general will, then society would be in its most perfect…show more content…
For one, the proposal provided a nice middle ground between humans’ primitive instincts and the necessity of a governing body. It allowed people to maintain their individual liberty while having the structure of a formal government because submission to the authority of the general will guarantees individuals from being subordinated to the wills of others, and also ensures that they themselves obey the law because they are the authors of the law. However, if someone were to disagree with the direction of the general will, he/she should still be compelled to stay in the social contract because he can maintain both his particular interest and the common interest. The idea of a social contract resonated with the people during the Enlightenment as it related to their interest in pursuing of whatever they wanted to, as opposed to adopting the mentality of a
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