Rousseau And Totalitarianism Essay Research Paper Rousseau

Rousseau And Totalitarianism Essay, Research Paper Rousseau and Totalitarianism Rousseau clearly promotes totalitarianism in The Social Contract, and hints at it in a few passages from his Second Discourse. He desperately attempts to lay down a form of government that eliminates any chance for the people to be victims.

Rousseau And Totalitarianism Essay, Research Paper

Rousseau and Totalitarianism

Rousseau clearly promotes totalitarianism in The Social Contract, and hints at it in a few passages from his Second Discourse. He desperately attempts to lay down a form of government that eliminates any chance for the people to be victims. Rousseau specifically shows us the faults in the other types of government and tries to prevent them in his ideas. He wants to create a political situation where people have as much sovereignty as possible.

In order to reduce the chance of victimhood among the peoples there must be equality between them all. Rousseau discusses ‘the right of the first occupant’ in The Social Contract. He writes, “…the claimant occupies no more than he needs for subsistence…he takes possession…by actually working and cultivating the soil – the only sign of ownership…”(Social, p.66) Each man receives what he needs from the common good and no more. Rousseau obviously wants people to be as equal as possible, and believes that once you enter the civil society you only have the right to what is yours and no more.

In a democracy this would not exist at all. There is no equality between everybody’s property, meaning anyone can have more than he needs. In a democratic society people are encouraged to take as much as one can. The more someone has the more they have used democracy in its purest form. People have the freedom to be greedy and take whatever they can under a democratic society. Rousseau wants a society where everyone only gets what they need, no more no less, almost holding back those individuals in a position to acquire more.

Rousseau’s society has a very controlling government with a lot of power that could be damaging if given to the wrong people. When he writes “the social pact gives the body politic absolute power over all its members”(Social, p.70) he emulates a government set up in a socialistic or even in a communistic manner. To give absolute power to its government is the exact opposite of a democratic society. In a democratic government the political body has limited power. In America this is seen in the separation of powers into three bodies each sharing power with the others.

Book I Chapter 7, titled “The Sovereign” encourages a more controlling government and society. In the last paragraph (Social, p.64) he shows the reader a necessity for force among those who disagree with the general will. Rousseau thinks that anyone who refuses to obey the general will should be forced to be free. Freedom exists only by living under the general will. He is claiming that the general will is always correct and should not tolerate anyone who disagrees. This is the perfect way to ensure a totalitarianistic society.

Rousseau argues the need for force further in Book IV. He claims that there should be the social pact that requires voluntary and unanimous agreement between all. (Social, p.152) As long as everyone inhibits the state’s territory, they are consenting to the sovereign. If anyone in particular disagrees with the general will, they must be “forced to conform to the wills which are not his own.” (Social, p.153) Rousseau wants the opinion of the majority to force all others to understand and believe with them. Anyone unwilling to conform to the general will is never free.

Just the word ‘conform’ gives direction to where Rousseau is headed with his thoughts. When anyone is forced to conform, all individuality is lost. Without the right to be an individual democracy does not exist. Justice does not allow forced conformity. This would be as if the United States government forced all homosexuals into heterosexual relationships and if they protested they would be punished. This could never happen in the United States as long as justice and democracy are practiced.

He believes that the general will alone can direct the state to achieve the common good. The conflict between private interests made civil societies a necessity, but it is the harmony between them that has made it possible to have civil societies. The commonality of those interests allows for a social bond. Without a social bond the society could never exist. (Social, p.69) This point of view is very Marxian and stresses the importance of everyone being equal and the same.

He goes on to write, “the general will studies only the common interest while the will of all studies private interest.”(Social, p.72) Anyone outside of the common interest is alienated and not included. Rousseau believes that individuals need the general will to keep equality present and to have a peaceful society. Human nature wants more so the general will holds them back. In a democracy this is not the case. Even those outside the common interest have rights, and are protected and included by the government. With the will of all having a part in the government, there is democracy. Rousseau wants to leave out the will of all to avoid more conflict.

In Rousseau’s society the sovereign can demand services from the citizens whenever necessary. This commitment of everybody to render services to the state is legally constraining. The general will must be general in purpose and nature in order to provide equal rights and justice. The general will must come from all and apply to all, it must not be directed towards any particular object or being. Each man must think of him as part of a ‘we’ and nothing else. (Social, pages 74-75)

The whole idea of an individual is lost from this angle of thought. What one own truly belongs to the sovereignty, which means the state. Everybody must be given property to live with, but it is not really theirs to own as long as it can be taken away from them at any given moment. Rousseau creates a faceless, wealthless society in this section of his book.

On pages 76 and 77 in The Social Contract he elaborates even more on this faceless society. He has all the citizens pledge themselves to the same conditions and they all enjoy the same rights. To have everyone pledge to the same conditions has everyone living socialistic, not allowing anyone to better themselves. He also has every act of sovereignty apply to every citizen equally and makes no distinction between each of the members. This is the social contract that is common to all, and is enforced by the armed forces and the supreme power. Even if the sovereignty acts against an individual, there will be armed forces to make sure it happens because it is for the common good.

In a democratic society this would be seen as cruel and inhumane. The government cannot hurt a certain group of people for the benefit of everybody else. At least in a democracy the small groups of people have the right to speak against and protest what the government is doing. They are able to disagree openly without fear of being forced to agree.

When Rousseau describes democracy in Book III Chapter 4, he does not depict a government that is typical in the present time. He seems to get half of it right when he writes, “It is not good that he who makes the law should execute it, or that the body people should turn its attention away from general perspectives and give it to particular objects.” (Social, p.112) He sees the need for different branches of government, which holds true even today. His fault lies when he starts to describe what a democracy looks like and needs. He writes a very good description of a socialistic society. By wanting a very small state with simple manners and morals. He sees the need for “a large measure of equality in social rank and fortune” with “little or no luxury.” (Social, p.113) If Rousseau was trying to make this all sound like a democracy, he should have analyzed what he wrote more carefully. I do not know if Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin read him, but he sure seems to be speaking to them from the past.

Rousseau showed hints of these ideas in his Second Discourse, which predicts what was to become of The Social Contract. He tells the reader that in a new society it was “necessary for punishment to become more severe as the occasions for offense became more frequent.” He sees that civil society needs to instill fear of punishment in the members otherwise they will not obey the laws. He finds that this type of action will be the least likely to cause a revolution. (Second, pages 150-151) This would be an extremely oppressive behavior of a government that does not try to really fix a problem, but rather destroy it.

Rousseau desperately tries to set up a society with the most equality. Inequality seems to be his greatest concern. Rousseau tries to avoid competition, jealousy, abuse of wealth or fortunes, and the desire to profit at the expense of others. He feels that “These evils are the first effect of property and the inseparable consequence of nascent inequality.”(Social, p.156) Rousseau wants everyone to have the same, which is not much of anything. If everyone does not have property than there would be no reason for all of those evils.

The only way that a society could achieve such equality would require a government that effects every aspect of everyone’s life. A government with total control mirrors socialism or totalitarianism. Rousseau rationalizes this type of government by wanting magistrates and those in control to value the interests of the general will over their private interests. He even sees the need for appointed temporary dictators in times of crisis. This is a far cry from democracy. Democracy does not allow an individual to “silence all the laws and temporarily suspend the sovereign authority.” (Social, p.171) Rousseau has blind optimism for those in his state.

Rousseau attacks religion in the final chapter of The Social Contract. He believes that all forms of religion are threatening to the government and weaken it. Religion distracts everyone from attending to matters of the state. He believes that each member should put the well being of the civil society before the well being of his or her religion. Religion tends to get in the way or conflict with the well being of the state. (Social, p.179)

Religion can become tyrannical and intolerant to those who will not accept their Gods. (Social, p.182) Rousseau notices examples with the Christian Crusades and Inquisitions. There was no form of tolerance when these occurred. Christianity disconnects people from what is truly important to the state and can destroy the social bond. (Social, p.182) Rousseau argues if religion is necessary, it should also be provided by the government. He sees how religion can be used to the benefit of the state. Rousseau writes, “it is very important to the state that each citizen should have a religion which makes him love his duty.”(Social, p.185) Religion can promote unity among all.

A civil religion can express religious dogmas as well as a social conscience. It could be used as an extra way to make sure that everyone in the state behaves accordingly, along with laws. Everyone should publicly commit to the civil religion, with all of its dogmas. If someone behaves against those beliefs, then that person should be put to death. (Social, p.186) This leaves a connection between the government and religion, with a government enforcing the religion.

Rousseau might have seen civil religion as a positive way to create a more equal society. If everyone abided by the same religion, they would be with the same beliefs as they would be with the same property and behaviors. No one could be a victim if everyone believed in the same religious dogmas. Religion could be used as another tool for control and total equality.

The idea of a civil religion could not be included in a democratic government. The framers of the constitution clearly wanted to keep religion separate and out of politics. They witnessed what a terrible mess it can be when they are both mixed together. Even though a civil religion can eliminate conflict and inequality, democracy is not willing to sacrifice that freedom of choice to each individual.

At first glance Rousseau seems to be promoting some form of democracy in The Social Contract. Upon closer inspection Rousseau’s description of democracy takes on the form of a more totalitarianistic nature, giving almost total control to the government over all the members of the state. His views are very optimistic assuming that no one would take advantage of the power given. Some might even label him as wanting utopianism.

Works Cited

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Trans. Maurice Cranston. New York: Penguin Books, 1968.

—. The First and Second Discourses. Trans. Roger D. and Judith R. Masters. Ed. Roger D. Masters. New

York: St. Martin’s, 1964.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Trans. Maurice Cranston. New York: Penguin Books, 1968.

—. The First and Second Discourses. Trans. Roger D. and Judith R. Masters. Ed. Roger D. Masters. New

York: St. Martin’s, 1964.

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