Saturday, June 14, 2008

The independent being

From Keith Ansell-Pearson's study of Rousseau and Nietzsche:

Rousseau argues that society exists not only to provide individuals with peace and happiness, though this is one of its aims, but also to educate them into moral beings. With Rousseau politics has becomes education. In contrast to Hobbes and Locke, the transition from the pre-political state of nature to civil society is construed by Rousseau in terms of a process by which human beings forsake their natural liberty in exchange for a higher moral or ethical liberty. In other words, Rousseau’s argument is that we only become truly free an independent when we become moral beings united in society.

I do have quite a degree of difficulty with this. Enamoured though I am of the concept of civil society, I get very edgy when it is described in quite such stark terms. I think my problem is the way that Rousseau seems to elevate the civil society above the individual: the individual only becomes realised when he gives up his liberty for the general ethic, when he combines into a common morality. I see and accept that this is important, but the typically strident way in which Rousseau describes the process seems, to me, to ascribe little, and certainly not enough, importance to the individual. It is in this way that all right-wing orthodoxy wilfully and all left-wing orthodoxy unintentionally goes awry. It leaves behind the individual and allows too much power to 'society' which, in time, becomes 'the state'.

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