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Chapter 4 - Liberalism : Alternative Visions
2nd alternative branch of classical liberalism that criticizes the dominant individualistic emphasis
while maintaining the central importance of liberty.
Jean Jacques Rousseau - Offered a critical challenge to the vision of humanity & a free society
offered by Locke & Hobbes.
Rousseau's State of Nature
Hobbes & Locke - Imaginative constructions of what "civilization" would look like if gov.
vanished. Rousseau presented a historical, evolutionary description of humanity from prehistoric
times to the relative present.
Rousseau tried to describe how natural humans initially evolved into social beings & then moved
to civilization, while H & L described people as already quite civilized.
The Natural Condition Reconsidered
Asocial, amoral creatures blessed with sufficient food & resources; lacked any reason for
sustained interaction among themselves. R's model of humans, begins with 2 interdependent
characteristics of self-preservation & commiseration (consolation; compassion).
Over many years, the primitive needs of the noble savages slowly began to expand, & it became
necessary for these creatures to expend additional energy to meet the new, largely superfluous
wants. Eventually wants exceed needs.
This process also developed the need for other people. By laboring together, they could produce
more than by laboring alone. Thus, humans developed into social creatures.
R believed humanity to be a developing species that changes over time.
The Origins of Inequality
As psychological needs developed, more permanent relationships were desired, & families were
formed. It was in the settled context of early communities where the 1st steps toward inequalities
emerged. People began to give public esteem a value.
Bases of civil society → facing the prospect of losing their wealth in war & violent conflict, the
rich devised a clever scheme to deceive the rest of the people into establishing a government
designed to protect the vast amount of property they had unjustly acquired.
Social contract → designed to protect the rich from the poor in the name of achieving justice for
Rousseau provided a critical interpretation of the Lockean state → the modern individualistic
liberal state is constructed upon a false contract perpetuated by the rich upon the poor; & as such,
it must be overthrown in order to establish a legitimate community.
The Social Contract
"Man is born free, & everywhere he is in chains. One believes himself the master of other, and
yet is the greater slave than they." → Self-deceptive nature of modern life. P a g e | 2
Individuals agreed to establish a state, believing it would bring them freedom & opportunity;
instead they established class inequality & the rule of the rich for the rich, but with the
appearance of the rule of all for all.
How can we create a legitimate community & was there a way out of this unequal condition?
Prescription → Property, Positive Freedom, & the full participation of individual citizens.
The role of gov. was to help opposing class relationships by passing legislation - income &
luxury taxes for ex - designed to redistribute wealth.
To guard again class conflict, he argued that everyone in society needed to own at least a limited
amount of property; "the most sacred" of all rights.
Limited property was key in securing freedom; freedom remained the ultimate goal, but w/o the
economic security provided by every citizen owning property, freedom for all could not be
Rousseau wanted to create a one-class society where everyone had access to the means of
sustaining himself or herself.
He argued that people who have recognized the inequality & inhumanity of their condition in
modern society could come together & bond themselves to one another in such a way as to
produce a true community.
R was speaking of a new, moral entity, which would be the product of individuals pledging
themselves to one another - not to a 3rd party - in an effort to govern themselves in a way that
was best for all. They would reject their selfish, individual wills, & in community seek to govern
themselves according to what R called the general will.
The general will is that will which is the true interest of both whole community & each of the
Central figure in The Social Contract called "the Legislator." Function is to lead individuals to
a stage of self-awareness where they come to understand both their individual selves & their
common history; they must rediscover their natural sentiments in a modern world & learn that
there is no Self without Other.
Rousseau rejected the possibility of representative government. The citizens of a representative