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Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the greatest philosophers of the 18th century. Rousseau was a philosopher, writer, composer, and influenced both the French Revolution as well as the development of modern thought. Rousseau’s work, The Social Contract is a book filled with ideas about how Rousseau believes a society should be run. He gives us ideas and suggestions in The Social Contract, but no concrete decisiveness. Rousseau was a strong believer in what is called Social Contractarianism: the idea that all societies should be governed by a social contract agreed upon by all the citizens of a sovereign nation. Rousseau‘s social contract defines what he sees as legitimate government and discusses the roles of religion, education, citizenship, and community within a society. Rousseau suggests that a social contract is the only way for an authority or government to be legitimate. This is because the social contract entails that all members of a society share common goals and values. To be free and live together we must recognize that we are all part of the same society and that we all share common goals for the achievement of our sovereign state. This phenomenon can occur when a society lives under the structure of something similar to a social contract.
Rousseau begins his The Social Contract by defining the concept of sovereign. The sovereign is defined as the general will, an authority that only has power over public affairs. According to Rousseau,
“This formula shows us that the act of association comprises a mutual undertaking between the public and the individuals, and that each individual, in making a contract, as we may say, with himself, is bound in a double capacity; as a member of the Sovereign he is bound to the individuals, and as a member of the State of the Sovereign.”
Rousseau discusses the roles that citizens play in being members of the sovereign. Rousseau makes the point that being a member of the sovereign—and living under the social contract –is an important responsibility. He believes that anyone who violates the social contract should be executed. The contract is vital to the well-being of the society, so one must know where they stand within their community and within the sovereign in order to contribute to society. Rousseau’s contract also talks about religion and its importance in independence. Rousseau believes that everyone should be able to practice their own religion. He does not believe that the state should have a common religion. Rousseau states the following:
“Now that there is and can be no longer an exclusive national religion, tolerance should be given to all religions that tolerate others, so long as their dogmas contain nothing contrary to the duties of citizenship.”
This is an important quote because it favors freedom of religion, but it also favors aspects of religion that bring people together and unite them under common beliefs…an important part of a flourishing society.
The 21st century representative democracy of America is close to the ideals of the society that Rousseau describes in the Social Contract. The gap in our society comes from our class division. The biggest difference that can be seen between modern day America and Rousseau’s work is the social class system. Rousseau would say that the gap between the rich and poor in America is too great, and the society cannot truly flourish while this gap exists. Rousseau speaks strongly on this point. “The will of the people, the will of the prince, the public force of the state, and the particular force of the government, all answer to a single motive power” -pg.49 Rousseau believes we must have one power that motivates and binds us all to common goals and ideals. Currently, this does not exist for all American citizens. The opportunities and lives of our citizens do not represent an equal motive power.
Another important aspect of the social contract is the definition of territory. This is an important aspect because it talks not simply about territory, but what makes up territory, and how to maintain it. People dwell within the state’s lands. Citizens make the sovereign state their home and define the state itself. The citizens are a crucial factor. To maintain citizens the state must have territory— and Rousseau recognizes this. In the book, Rousseau relates that
“The men make the State, and the territory sustains the men; the right relation therefore is that the land should suffice for the maintenance of the inhabitants, and that there should be as many inhabitants as the land can maintain.”
Rousseau speaks about and defines in his social contract is important. His ideals are important to societies and all members of communities and states around the world. His ideas were straightforward and his views on the correct society are not far off from what we have today. Most importantly, what Rousseau brings to the attention of the modern day reader are the flaws in modern day society. Rousseau shows the reader where and how our American government has gone wrong.
Many scholars can take opposing view points about the different roles that Rousseau has played throughout history
. Some say he is the father of extreme nationalism and Nazism, while at the same time also being the father of the hippie movement. Rousseau believed that we are all born free as individuals, and that society puts us in chains. This is an idea that can capture both the good and the bad aspects of human nature. Some might interpret that freedom as a justification for movements or purging of a nation. They might believe that their freedom is better than others’, or perhaps that their freedom is being subdued by the greatness of others. During the sixties many people took these ideas literally and took to living in alternate societies outside of the normal social boundaries. They could live free and healthily lives without the restrictions of 1960’s culture, and influenced by such thinkers such as Rousseau. However, it is very interesting to note that according to scholars, Rousseau had no clear ideas for what a society should be.
The world we live in today is susceptible to many forms of social and political thought. Jean Jacques Rousseau is someone who could identify the general will of the people and write to reflect their interests. Today, in 21st century America. The general will of the people is not being heard, and that is one of our greatest problems. We cannot feed many of the people who live in our society, and many of our citizens have lost the ideals of community. How we act within our society is going to be what determines if our society can continue to be successful or not. Right now our society is struggling with success because we are lacking fundamental values of community and pride. We let our lower class slip further and further into decline while our 1% (the highest earners & biggest spenders) continue to prosper. This is the problem that Rousseau would see with our society today: the stifling of the true general will of our population. Not all of us are receiving our basic human rights. This is the area where we have to focus our attention. We need to mend the gaps in today’s society.
Although we are close to what Rousseau describes as an ideal society, we are not there yet. The lack of structure and restrictions around our capitalist trickle-down economy would not be something that he would support. Rousseau believes a society governed by a king (a monarchy) is closer to fulfilling the general will of the sovereign than a society that is run by corrupted individuals distorted by society. Today, the men who are leading our corporations and are in charge of our nation’s wealth are those who have been corrupted. Rousseau would rather have us live in a monarchy than to be in the position we seem to be in today. To have a flourishing society, we cannot be split down the middle and we cannot have rulers corrupted by society.
What we are doing isn’t right. The gap in our society between socio-economic classes will eat our society away from the inside out. We can be free and live together in this world by understanding that we all come from and are part of the same nation. We are all fighting for the same goals and we are all members of the same society. If we can all recognize what we have in common we will begin the journey down the road to freedom and improvement.
There is obviously no chance that 21st century America is going to be ruled by a king. However, there is a chance that our trickle down, unregulated, and capitalistic market places might one day stop breeding socially screwed up leaders. The one chance we have as a nation is to at least recognize what we are going through. If we can come together under one general will, one will influenced by data, structure, and community, we will have the means to move forward as a world. As long as we continue to stay separated and see our nation in two different ways, we will find ourselves against a wall. Finding our sense of community, and our one common will to succeed and be equal will bring us on the path toward true freedom.
1 “Jean Jacques Rousseau.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2012. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rousseau/>.
2 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “The Social Contract [Unabridged] [Paperback].” Maestro Reprints, n.d. Web. 23 May 2012. <http://www.amazon.com/The-Social-Contract-Maestro-Reprints/dp/1453754202/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340809021&sr=8-1&keywords=the+social+contract>. Page 9
3 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “The Social Contract [Unabridged] [Paperback].” Maestro Reprints, n.d. Web. 23 May 2012. <http://www.amazon.com/The-Social-Contract-Maestro-Reprints/dp/1453754202/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340809021&sr=8-1&keywords=the+social+contract>. Page 97
4 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “The Social Contract [Unabridged] [Paperback].” Maestro Reprints, n.d. Web. 23 May 2012. <http://www.amazon.com/The-Social-Contract-Maestro-Reprints/dp/1453754202/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340809021&sr=8-1&keywords=the+social+contract>. page 31
5 “ROUSSEAU, Jean-Jacques (1712-78).” ROUSSEAU, Jean-Jacques (1712-78). N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2012. <http://history-world.org/rousseau.htm>.
What does Obama’s support of gay marriage mean for our country? With North Carolina against giving same sex couples the right to marry, where does this leave us? We are now becoming a country divided by a singular issue, an issue that overarches same sex marriage. The issue that our country is now divided by is human rights. Will we be able to live with ourselves if we become a country that denies its citizens basic rights? The major theme is division. Political, religious, and fundamentalist ideologies are creeping into our daily lives and taking more control then the 21st century should allow. Instead of wasting our time fighting about who has a better religion, who was born in this country, and who slept with what secretary, can we focus on something that matters? Can we fight about who is going to be getting the best teachers, schools, railways, roads, bridges, jobs, and companies? Can people fight over superior science textbooks? Can Romney and Santorum have a wrestling match, where the winner gets to teach evolutionary sciences in the classroom and the loser has to take notes? Can people fight for who gets the right to teach their kids the basic levels of mathematics? Can we want to repair our world?
The ultimate question is “can we work together?”. Right now, I don’t think we can. Our country is divided. Maybe we aren’t divided evenly, or in plain sight. But we are divided: intellectual versus non-intellectual, those with goals and those without, those who see hope in the world and those who have given up, those who will stop at nothing to win and those who will crouch down and give there fellow human a leg up. Obama has only made this distinction in our country one morsel clearer. Only drawn the line a little darker. After all, we are human. We will always have differences. The one thing we should all share as Americans is the ability to work together.
Sometimes I feel that the best way to deal with the issues in our country is to be like Sacha Baron Cohen. He is on a mission to rid us of the ignorance and stupid mentalities our country holds so dear. As a fan of his I have learned his work is not always pretty, but it still makes me feel good to know that he sees the world for as screwed up as it really is. In the end, he always makes me laugh.
Feb. 12th, 2012
The Promise of Politics written by Hannah Arendt in the latter half of the 1950‘s sheds new light on the condition of politics around the world. Although this book might be considered out of date by some, its message has never been more true. Hannah Arendt discusses the meaning, justification, and importance of politics in the modern world. She draws on sources such as Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates to further her points and opinions. The section that this paper deals with is the beginning of an essay entitled Introduction into Politics, which begins on page 93. Arendt develops and discusses a sophisticated thesis that draws the reader into a thought provoking conversation about the philosophy behind politics. Arendt argues that politics is freedom expressed in the form of the “coexistence and association”(Arendt 93) of different individuals.
Arendt’s analysis of the origins of politics illuminates the deeper purpose of the political system. Her first key point is that politics represents the way in which individuals bridge their differences so that they may live in a society. “Men organize themselves politically according to certain essential commonalities found within or abstracted from an absolute chaos of differences.” (Arendt 93) This quote describes Arendt’s analysis about how politics brings people together who have so little in common. When one truly thinks about it, each of us have so many differences, and it is sometimes impossible for people to find ways to compromise or agree on what should be done. Politics does this. Politics provides the means for individuals to bridge their differences and private interests so they may come together and agree on how things will be. This process enables society to form and function smoothly.
Arendt also elaborates to her reader how politics can create individual equality and freedom. “…the world is organized in such a way that there is no place within it for the individual, and that means for anyone who is different.” (Arendt 94) The idea that there is no place for anyone who is different is a very interesting concept in Arendt’s argument. Arendt views politics as the place where everyone can go. We all belong to the political system, it is the backbone of our society. For this reason there is no individual in the system of politics, and there is truly no space for one who decides to opt out of the political system. We are all in it together. “From the very start, politics organizes those who are absolutely different with a view to their relative equality and in contradistinction to their relative differences.” (Arendt 96) Arendt stresses that when everyone is part of the political system they are equal. However, the reader must also remember that Arendt has already stated that everyone is so chaotically different. These are interesting distinctions to consider. Even though people are so different, politics is the tool that makes everyone equal. Politics provides the means for people to come together to problem solve and inevitably create freedom for all, when honored and performed in the correct way.
Arendt does not state that this is always how politics is, but it is certainly her philosophy on why politics is. “Politics, so we are told, is an absolute necessity for human life, not only for the life of society but for the individual as well.” (Arendt 115) Now these quotes and concepts become even more complex. Arendt has already told the reader that there is no place within politics for the individual, but does that mean politics does not serve the individual? The meaning of politics is freedom and its focus is on the world, but it also serves the people who engage in it. It rewards those who work together and respect the power of community, and equality.
Hannah Arendt tells the reader about the fundamental working and purpose of politics. The very title of her book: The Promise of Politics, gives the reader a sense of her feelings toward the political system. “For at the center of politics lies concern for the world, not for man—a concern in fact, for a world, however constituted, without which those who are both concerned and political would not find life worth living.” (Arendt 106) This quote dives into the more complex meaning of politics for Arendt. What does she feel politics accomplishes? Politics is the way for those of different backgrounds to come together and solve the problems of our world. Politics is a uniter and a bond that holds us together. “…the meaning of politics is freedom.” (Arendt 108) Even though Arendt wrote this book during the mid-20th century, it rings truer then ever today. The Arab Spring is about people rising up and demanding inclusion and equality through a legitimate political process. 21st century citizens do not want oligarchical and militaristic dictatorships, but rather they crave the freedom of true democracy. We must never give up on the ideals of the political system, and we must never stop using democratic politics to support and promote freedom.
-Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books
This week was an amazing initial experiance. Ralph and I spent quality time reviewing my reading from the Socrates section of Hannah Arendt’s The Promise of Politics, as well as I.F. Stone’s The Trail of Socrates. I had many points I wished to discuss from these books, mainly focusing around the idea of Doxa(Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005), 7-8), and Socratic Ideology, ie. Virtue vs. Knowledge(Stone, Feinstein Isidor, (1989), 40). I had many ideas focusing around Arendt’s work and the challenge of defining the abstract. How can we do this? Arendt tackles this challenge beautifully by helping her reader cope with many of the challenges that all philosophers have dealt with. The major theme that I took away from her writing is that philosophy is defining the abstract to help others.
Socrates made people think. Obviously there is no one way or set of ideals that makes the world go round or that one should solely live by. However, there are key points from Socrates teachings and important lessons that can help one live a better life and understand different aspects of life. Socrates wanted to make people think and question life. It was the power of the individual mind that Socrates was trying to unlock not just use his own knowledge to bestow upon everyone else. Socrates challenges people to unlock new ideas and depths in their minds to help answer the questions that haunted them. Obviously all one can ask is that you understand and take in these teachings as best you can for who you are, but as Ralph said, to make these teachings truly meaningful; one must always be aware of what is around them and always be open to new points of view.
I am beginning to grapple with these ideas and beginning to think about how they are related to government and the modern day. Socrates and Plato both had strong ideas about politics and how their philosophy related to their government. It is these lessons that I am focusing on and thinking about how they are relevant to my time. I cannot wait to get my first full week in, and I am looking forward to how my study unfolds and what my reader responses and new types of blogging look like!
-Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books
-Stone, Feinstein Isidor, (1989). The Trail of Socrates. Mew York: Anchor Books