Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Grandfather of Modern Leftism

 

More than 300 years ago, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau first wrote of the innately virtuous, pastoral, natural man, he was adding his continental twist to the western ideas of individual rights and the political philosophies of the day. He was the first to espouse the idea that it was expected — in fact, it was right — for these pastoral men, these savages, to claim “the general will,” revolt from time to time, and reject the aristocratic claim of property rights. In Rousseau’s mind, claims of property were the pretext of a so-called civil society, and these claims alone were the source of all conflict and inequality.

Further, Rousseau argued that mankind was capable of achieving an innate moral perfectibility, but only in the natural “state of nature.” The trappings of property in a so-called civil society were antithetical to the achievement of this state, corrupted as it was by envy, distrust, covetousness, and greed.

Sound familiar?

Rousseau’s “general will” predicated the worst of the French Revolution (Rousseau was a favorite among the French revolutionaries) and later the communist and nationalist atrocities that followed. His elevation of “nature” as the pristine state where man could achieve moral perfectibility inspired Thoreau and had much to do with the modern elevation of environmentalism as a neo-religion. And his de-legitimization of property rights and claims of “general will” most certainly were the philosophical pillars that inspired Marx, Engels, and all who followed since their replacement of Rousseau’s savages with workers, and the aristocracy with capitalists, as in the “Communist Manifesto.”

Rousseau is, in my mind, the grandfather of modern Leftism.

The LGBT… movement owes its legitimacy to Rousseau; they are certainly arguing that their “natural” state brings with it a moral superiority that trumps any existing legal, ethical, or moral tradition. The environmental movement most certainly owes a great debt to Rousseau for his elevation of the “natural state” as the only state that can elevate humankind to moral perfection. (This also contributes to the modern rejection of Judeo-Christian tradition in favor of a more spontaneous “natural” notion of morality.)

Of course, there is also the disdain for the rights to property which undergirds all the redistribution programs of the Left. And the very idea of natural moral perfection, the perfection of mankind as a natural progression, is the overarching principle that is the very foundation of leftist thought. Capitalism, in this sense, is anti-humanist as it relies on property rights and, therefore, is antithetical to human perfection. Rather, it is the source of all that is contrary to the achievement of a utopian society where everything is everyone’s and no one’s.

Just as the Left is wrong today about Capitalism and property rights, so too was Rousseau when he first espoused his ideas inspiring collectivism, utopianism, and totalitarianism. Never has a philosopher been more wrong and inspired more human destruction than the vain, egoist Rousseau.

When Thunberg calls for lining those who disagree with her Climate Change agenda against the wall, she is channeling Rousseau. When politicians ignore, even facilitate, those who live in squalor on the street, they are channeling Rousseau. When Democrats attempt to oust Trump from power so that they can restore their authority to take away one citizen’s rights to property so that it may be redistributed more equitably, they are channeling Rousseau. The very idea of evil capitalists owes its origin to Rousseau. So does its binary opposite, the good collectivist and revolutionary (think Che and Fidel).

But here is the rub. Capitalism and individual rights to property in western society have actually led to immense gains in wealth and prosperity in the last three centuries! When Rousseau’s own “general will” supports these two heretical ideas, it undermines the very foundation of Leftist philosophy. Likewise, the environmental call to arms over man-caused climate change has been nothing but a series of dire predictions that never come to pass. Attempts to coerce the “general will” into support of an economically crippling anti-warming agenda have all been DOA.

So, dear reader, the old novelist, essayist, and composer Rousseau had followers, a lot of interesting ideas, and commenced many controversies in his day. Perhaps he does not deserve the throttling I have provided in this essay. Then again, many of his ideas are the basis for much that is wrong and has gone wrong in the last 300-plus years.

I’d like to think that the redoubled success of American capitalism, free markets, liberty, and time’s debunking of climate change will finally discredit old Rousseau and the Left, sending his claims and philosophies into the ash heap of history.

But we all know that the conceits and ambitions of mankind will never give up on a shortcut to power and money through politics and agitprop. So we must remain vigilant lest the next generation fail to recognize the depredations of totalitarianism sold though the plaintive philosophies of one Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

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  1. I Walton Member

    One comment on this first rate article. The environmental comments contains truth, but the first bunch, in those days called conservationists, in the 50s and early 60s fought more or less all alone. They were fishermen, hunters, a few wilderness buffs, they worked over Lawrence Rockerfeller and two key congressional and Senate committee chairman, took them on wild trips and once convinced, these political leaders provided strategy guidance that won battles. That hand full of folks drafted and passed all the important stuff and funded a outdoor recreation study. Then along comes Silent Spring and a bunch of city folks who saw that the topic worked to raise money and gain power. They corrupted the whole thing. The originals are all dead now. The whole thing had some very unfortunate consequences the originals didn’t foresee and the technique the subsequent thugs used were in areas where there was seldom a reason for Federal action. The Feds had the Forest Service and BLM and their reserves for hunting, fishing and skiing et al, the Park service with its fishing, hiking and climbing, so we began with incredible resources vested in the Federal govenment but that did not justify any other Federal empowerment.

    • #1
    • December 16, 2019, at 3:20 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  2. Mark Camp Member

    I agree with you about Rousseau, with cautions.

    My knowledge of Rousseau’s writings is all second-hand and it’s likely to stay that way.

     

     * * * * * * * *

    Notes

    One always has only a few hours left in life for reading ideological apologies, and unlimited books of apologetics on supply. So one must write off carloads at a time of defenses for what one assumes, based on what he’s learned so far, to be the very stupidest ideas.

    So I rely on other persons with intellectual curiosity, critical thinking skills, and sufficient available time for reading, to direct my attention to any sentence, paragraph, chapter, or book of Rousseau they may happen upon that recommends itself as being not stupid.

     

    • #2
    • December 16, 2019, at 6:44 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. The Reticulator Member

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    I agree with you about Rousseau, with cautions.

    My knowledge of Rousseau’s writings is all second-hand and it’s likely to stay that way.

     

    * * * * * * * *

    Notes

    One always has only a few hours left in life for reading ideological apologies, and unlimited books of apologetics on supply. So one must write off carloads at a time of defenses for what one assumes, based on what he’s learned so far, to be the very stupidest ideas.

    So I rely on other persons with intellectual curiosity, critical thinking skills, and sufficient available time for reading, to direct my attention to any sentence, paragraph, chapter, or book of Rousseau they may happen upon that recommends itself as being not stupid.

     

    I’ve tried the same with Karl Marx, but every time I ask about, say, a collection of important excerpts, the response is somebody who thinks I want to be catechized in Marx, telling me that it’s a long and arduous journey and offering to be the one to indoctrinate me.

    • #3
    • December 16, 2019, at 6:59 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  4. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Doug Kimball: Further, Rousseau argued that mankind was capable of achieving an innate moral perfect-ability, but only in the natural “state of nature.” The trappings of property in a so called civil society were antithetical to the achievement of this state, corrupted as it was by envy, distrust, covetousness and g

    Doug,

    Ideas have consequences. Your exposure of the disastrous consequences of Rousseau’ s ideas is well justified. To differentiate Kant, his Private Right is a rock solid defense of property rights with or without a government. Public Right must be invoked to create a government. Public Right’s main purpose is to make private property Right (only provisional without a government) conclusive through a Republican constitutional government.

    I’m not trying to sell you Kant but ideas do have consequences.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #4
    • December 16, 2019, at 8:20 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    Doug Kimball: Further, Rousseau argued that mankind was capable of achieving an innate moral perfect-ability, but only in the natural “state of nature.” The trappings of property in a so called civil society were antithetical to the achievement of this state, corrupted as it was by envy, distrust, covetousness and g

    Doug,

    Ideas have consequences. Your exposure of the disastrous consequences of Rousseau’ s ideas is well justified. To differentiate Kant, his Private Right is a rock solid defense of property rights with or without a government. Public Right must be invoked to create a government. Public Right’s main purpose is to make private property Right (only provisional without a government) conclusive through a Republican constitutional government.

    I’m not trying to sell you Kant but ideas do have consequences.

    Regards,

    Jim

    I’d like to buy it but I Kant.

    • #5
    • December 17, 2019, at 11:41 AM PST
    • 1 like
  6. Mark Camp Member

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):
    I’d like to buy it but I Kant.

    If Kate gets elected and I’m First Gentleman, the charitable project I will use to secure my place in history and the hearts of the people will be Just Say No to Puns on Kant’s name.

    • #6
    • December 17, 2019, at 12:00 PM PST
    • 1 like
  7. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Property rights are presupposed in “Thou shalt not steal.” Seems when you throw away the religious traditions of the West, it becomes a form of suicide.

    • #7
    • December 17, 2019, at 2:34 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  8. Mark Camp Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Property rights are presupposed in “Thou shalt not steal.”

    Profound truth. I hope every one on the “ideas have consequences” side of Ricochet’s bitter family feud reads it.

    • #8
    • December 17, 2019, at 3:24 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. Bill Nelson Member

    Doug Kimball: The LGBT… movement owes its legitimacy to Rousseau

    Disagree. I am sure that the LGBT movement legitimacy is based on a simpler premise: want.

    Rousseau’s understanding of this natural state of man was that man himself could check their inner more primitive desires (such as murder) as that would be driven by his desire for the most perfect free condition.

    Rousseau’s writings are rather dense, it can take several pages to make a point that could be made in a single sentence. And frankly, it is boring. And a lot is made of his supposed sexual hangups.

    But he is credited, to some extent, for providing a basis for “they are endowed by his Creator with unalienable Rights”. And he had a large influence on the French Enlightenment, which did originate much of what we know today as liberal philosophy.

     

    • #9
    • December 18, 2019, at 11:23 AM PST
    • 1 like
  10. J Climacus Member

    I’m sure this wasn’t the intent here, but I hope people don’t close their minds to Rousseau because of this post.

    It’s true his influence has been pernicious in many respects. But the very fact that he had that influence speaks to the fact that he tapped into something deep in human experience. Better than condemning and dismissing him, is to learn what we can from him and provide more satisfying responses to those experiences than did Rousseau and his interpreters.

    The insight Rousseau had into the meaning of the Enlightenment for human experience is shown by the many opinions that, though commonplace, unknowingly echo Rousseau. Anyone who condemns Millenials for being “snowflakes” is just confirming a judgement Rousseau made centuries ago. Paleo-diets are just Rousseau’s idea that civilization has alienated us from our elemental nature taken gastrically. 

    Interpretation of Rousseau doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the left. In fact, the late, great Allan Bloom was profoundly influenced by Rousseau and the latter figures heavily in The Closing of the American Mind, a book dear to the hearts of many conservatives

    I was re-reading some Rousseau for this post, and in his Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences he writes this:

    What would the great soul of Fabricius have felt, if it had been his misfortune to be called back to life, when he saw the pomp and magnificence of that Rome, which his arm had saved from ruin, and his honourable name made more illustrious than all its conquests. “Ye gods!” he would have said, “what has become of those thatched roofs and rustic hearths, which were formerly the habitations of temperance and virtue? What fatal splendour has succeeded the ancient Roman simplicity? What is this foreign language, this effeminacy of manners? What is the meaning of these statues, paintings and buildings? Fools, what have you done? You, the lords of the earth, have made yourselves the slaves of the frivolous nations you have subdued.

    It’s hard to not immediately think of the “pomp and magnificence” of our current Washington DC, with its effeminate, venal men, compared to the DC of the 18th century, home of Washington , Adams and Jefferson. Maybe if there were a little more “thatched roofs and rustic hearths” in Washington, there might be a little more temperance and virtue as well. There’s nothing left-wing about that. 

    I think it was Aquinas who said that philosophers don’t go wrong because they embrace falsehood; they go wrong because they become obsessed with some aspect of the truth to the neglect of the rest of the truth. This is certainly true of Rousseau, and even more true of his followers. But even though unbalanced, he saw deeply into certain aspects of human existence in ways rarely matched since. Use Rousseau to show you those insights… and turn them against the left.

     

    • #10
    • December 18, 2019, at 6:14 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  11. El Colonel Contributor

    Bill Nelson (View Comment):

    Doug Kimball: The LGBT… movement owes its legitimacy to Rousseau

    Disagree. I am sure that the LGBT movement legitimacy is based on a simpler premise: want.

    Rousseau’s understanding of this natural state of man was that man himself could check their inner more primitive desires (such as murder) as that would be driven by his desire for the most perfect free condition.

    Rousseau’s writings are rather dense, it can take several pages to make a point that could be made in a single sentence. And frankly, it is boring. And a lot is made of his supposed sexual hangups.

    But he is credited, to some extent, for providing a basis for “they are endowed by his Creator with unalienable Rights”. And he had a large influence on the French Enlightenment, which did originate much of what we know today as liberal philosophy.

     

    If man in his natural state is innately moral, then any natural, innate desire cannot be immoral. That’s the twist that the LBGT movement takes from Rousseau in my view.

    • #11
    • December 19, 2019, at 7:17 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    I’m sure this wasn’t the intent here, but I hope people don’t close their minds to Rousseau because of this post.

    It’s true his influence has been pernicious in many respects. But the very fact that he had that influence speaks to the fact that he tapped into something deep in human experience. Better than condemning and dismissing him, is to learn what we can from him and provide more satisfying responses to those experiences than did Rousseau and his interpreters.

    The insight Rousseau had into the meaning of the Enlightenment for human experience is shown by the many opinions that, though commonplace, unknowingly echo Rousseau. Anyone who condemns Millenials for being “snowflakes” is just confirming a judgement Rousseau made centuries ago. Paleo-diets are just Rousseau’s idea that civilization has alienated us from our elemental nature taken gastrically.

    Interpretation of Rousseau doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the left. In fact, the late, great Allan Bloom was profoundly influenced by Rousseau and the latter figures heavily in The Closing of the American Mind, a book dear to the hearts of many conservatives.

    I was re-reading some Rousseau for this post, and in his Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences he writes this:

    What would the great soul of Fabricius have felt, if it had been his misfortune to be called back to life, when he saw the pomp and magnificence of that Rome, which his arm had saved from ruin, and his honourable name made more illustrious than all its conquests. “Ye gods!” he would have said, “what has become of those thatched roofs and rustic hearths, which were formerly the habitations of temperance and virtue? What fatal splendour has succeeded the ancient Roman simplicity? What is this foreign language, this effeminacy of manners? What is the meaning of these statues, paintings and buildings? Fools, what have you done? You, the lords of the earth, have made yourselves the slaves of the frivolous nations you have subdued.

    It’s hard to not immediately think of the “pomp and magnificence” of our current Washington DC, with its effeminate, venal men, compared to the DC of the 18th century, home of Washington , Adams and Jefferson. Maybe if there were a little more “thatched roofs and rustic hearths” in Washington, there might be a little more temperance and virtue as well. There’s nothing left-wing about that.

    I think it was Aquinas who said that philosophers don’t go wrong because they embrace falsehood; they go wrong because they become obsessed with some aspect of the truth to the neglect of the rest of the truth. This is certainly true of Rousseau, and even more true of his followers. But even though unbalanced, he saw deeply into certain aspects of human existence in ways rarely matched since. Use Rousseau to show you those insights… and turn them against the left.

    Underlying most of Rousseau’s ideas is the thought of man’s universal and natural compassion. He invested much of his philosophy in this interesting, but flawed premise. If compassion and empathy are man’s natural state, how does Rousseau square this with the realities of man’s depredation, corruption and evil? Poorly. Calvin’s ideas left no incentive for redemption nor did Rousseau’s, but by different means. Rousseau’s castigation of the aristocracy could be seen as a justification of revolt, of an incentive for the exercise of the “general will.”

    • #12
    • December 19, 2019, at 7:35 AM PST
    • 1 like
  13. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    I’m sure this wasn’t the intent here, but I hope people don’t close their minds to Rousseau because of this post.

     

    Underlying most of Rousseau’s ideas is the thought of man’s universal and natural compassion. He invested much of his philosophy in this interesting, but flawed premise. If compassion and empathy are man’s natural state, how does Rousseau square this with the realities of man’s depredation, corruption and evil? Poorly. Calvin’s ideas left no incentive redemption nor did Rousseau’s, but by different means. Rousseau’s castigation of the aristocracy could be seen as a justification of revolt, of an exercise of the “general will.”

    I’m guessing he never had children.

    • #13
    • December 19, 2019, at 7:40 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  14. The Reticulator Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    I’m sure this wasn’t the intent here, but I hope people don’t close their minds to Rousseau because of this post.

     

    Underlying most of Rousseau’s ideas is the thought of man’s universal and natural compassion. He invested much of his philosophy in this interesting, but flawed premise. If compassion and empathy are man’s natural state, how does Rousseau square this with the realities of man’s depredation, corruption and evil? Poorly. Calvin’s ideas left no incentive redemption nor did Rousseau’s, but by different means. Rousseau’s castigation of the aristocracy could be seen as a justification of revolt, of an exercise of the “general will.”

    I’m guessing he never had children.

    If I remember correctly, he had children but didn’t take responsibility for them.

    • #14
    • December 19, 2019, at 1:18 PM PST
    • 1 like
  15. J Climacus Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    I’m sure this wasn’t the intent here, but I hope people don’t close their minds to Rousseau because of this post.

    Underlying most of Rousseau’s ideas is the thought of man’s universal and natural compassion. He invested much of his philosophy in this interesting, but flawed premise. If compassion and empathy are man’s natural state, how does Rousseau square this with the realities of man’s depredation, corruption and evil? Poorly. Calvin’s ideas left no incentive redemption nor did Rousseau’s, but by different means. Rousseau’s castigation of the aristocracy could be seen as a justification of revolt, of an exercise of the “general will.”

    I’m guessing he never had children.

    If I remember correctly, he had children but didn’t take responsibility for them.

    That’s correct. He’s the granddaddy of deadbeat dads. Not a good guy. If you want a really entertaining takedown of Rousseau, read Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals.

    You can learn something, though, even from bad men. Rousseau attributes man’s corruption to civilization. As soon as man abandoned his original, natural life and began to create civilization with agriculture and cities, he began the degeneration into the men we see now. This view is behind the leftist “root cause” idea that inner city crime is caused by poverty and inequitable social structures.

    The thing is, the idea is unbalanced but does reflect an important truth that Rousseau saw, which is that modern life is alienating in many ways. Is working as a cubicle slave, staring at a screen all day and spending most of your time with people you neither love nor (often) particularly like, really the way nature or nature’s God intended things? Or how do men become men in a society where martial values, or the values of the hunt, no longer have a place? The degeneration Rousseau is talking about is simply what happens when you take any organism out of its natural environment and place it in an environment alien to it. It’s why we no longer allow killer whales at Seaworld. He’s on to something profound here that we shouldn’t ignore, even if his prescriptions for the cure are profoundly wrong.

    • #15
    • December 19, 2019, at 2:21 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. Henry Castaigne Member

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Then along comes Silent Spring and a bunch of city folks who saw that the topic worked to raise money and gain power.

    City folks are the worst environmentalists. 

    • #16
    • December 19, 2019, at 8:31 PM PST
    • 1 like
  17. Henry Castaigne Member

    Doug Kimball: The LGBT… movement owes its legitimacy to Rousseau; they are certainly arguing that their “natural” state brings with it a moral superiority that trumps any existing legal, ethical, or moral tradition.

    From what I’ve read from Douglas Murray and Milo Yiannopoulos, many homosexuals are moving away from that the natural fallacy argument. Evolutionary psychology is also revealing that there are many natural dark parts of humanity that are completely natural but should not be encouraged. We are naturally selfish, superstitious and inclined to hatred towards outgroups. 

    However, in the 1990s it was all about nature all the time. 

     

     

    • #17
    • December 19, 2019, at 8:52 PM PST
    • 1 like
  18. Henry Castaigne Member

    I think this article should be consider for the top ten best ricochet articles.

    • #18
    • December 19, 2019, at 8:52 PM PST
    • Like

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