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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.
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.