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Rousseau: 'The Discourses' and Other Early Political Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
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"Man are born free, but everywhere they are in chains."
What a glorious line! Who would not want to shake off the chains and be free? The question is, what kinds of freedom is Rousseau talking about, and where is the source of the evil chain?
Rousseau talks about two kinds of freedom, the freedom to act and the freedom to enjoy the fruits of action, both of which serve the goal of the preservation of life. The freedom to act is called "free will"; it differentiates men from animals and is directed by one's desires.
In the state of nature, the "free will" of men allows them to find creative sources of subsistence as the environment changes, and each is free to enjoy the fruits of their labor because he has labored independently. In civil society, however, men must labor together and share their produces. Under these new conditions, "free will" will lead men to excessive desire which result in the usurpation of the others' freedom to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The loss of the freedom to enjoy puts the life of every member of the society under danger, and hence, in the civil society, "free will" has contributed negatively to its goal of the preservation of life.
The chain of life, therefore, is in fact "free will", which was beneficial for the preservation of life in the state of nature, but detrimental to this goal in the civil society. Hence, for the civil society to achieve its end of preserving life, each individual must give up their "free will" and succumb their freedom to act to the general will of the society.Read more ›