Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Chapter II The First Societies and Chapter III The Right of the Strongest

I feel the need to spend some time concerning this second chapter as well as the third chapter. I think these two ideas are central in developing the philosophy of Rousseau concerning the nature of society in general. I hope that we will have some interesting feedback here. I here present Chapters II and III together. I feel we need some time to reflect on this concept, time to let these ideas sink in and decide their particular validity. I am aware up front that some of what is stated here will not sit well with everyone depending on their particular perspective and this is why I feel it important to discuss all the possible implications involved.

THE most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural, is the family: and even so the children remain attached to the father only so long as they need him for their preservation. As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved. The children, released from the obedience they owed to the father, and the father, released from the care he owed his children, return equally to independence. If they remain united, they continue so no longer naturally, but voluntarily; and the family itself is then maintained only by convention.

This common liberty results from the nature of man. His first law is to provide for his own preservation, his first cares are those which he owes to himself; and, as soon as he reaches years of discretion, he is the sole judge of the proper means of preserving himself, and consequently becomes his own master.

The family then may be called the first model of political societies: the ruler corresponds to the father, and the people to the children; and all, being born free and equal, alienate their liberty only for their own advantage. The whole difference is that, in the family, the love of the father for his children repays him for the care he takes of them, while, in the State, the pleasure of commanding takes the place of the love which the chief cannot have for the peoples under him.

Grotius denies that all human power is established in favour of the governed, and quotes slavery as an example. His usual method of reasoning is constantly to establish right by fact.1 It would be possible to employ a more logical method, but none could be more favourable to tyrants.

It is then, according to Grotius, doubtful whether the human race belongs to a hundred men, or that hundred men to the human race: and, throughout his book, he seems to incline to the former alternative, which is also the view of Hobbes. On this showing, the human species is divided into so many herds of cattle, each with its ruler, who keeps guard over them for the purpose of devouring them.

As a shepherd is of a nature superior to that of his flock, the shepherds of men, i.e., their rulers, are of a nature superior to that of the peoples under them. Thus, Philo tells us, the Emperor Caligula reasoned, concluding equally well either that kings were gods, or that men were beasts.

The reasoning of Caligula agrees with that of Hobbes and Grotius. Aristotle, before any of them, had said that men are by no means equal naturally, but that some are born for slavery, and others for dominion.

Aristotle was right; but he took the effect for the cause. Nothing can be more certain than that every man born in slavery is born for slavery. Slaves lose everything in their chains, even the desire of escaping from them: they love their servitude, as the comrades of Ulysses loved their brutish condition.2 If then there are slaves by nature, it is because there have been slaves against nature. Force made the first slaves, and their cowardice perpetuated the condition.

I have said nothing of King Adam, or Emperor Noah, father of the three great monarchs who shared out the universe, like the children of Saturn, whom some scholars have recognised in them. I trust to getting due thanks for my moderation; for, being a direct descendant of one of these princes, perhaps of the eldest branch, how do I know that a verification of titles might not leave me the legitimate king of the human race? In any case, there can be no doubt that Adam was sovereign of the world, as Robinson Crusoe was of his island, as long as he was its only inhabitant; and this empire had the advantage that the monarch, safe on his throne, had no rebellions, wars, or conspirators to fear.

THE strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty. Hence the right of the strongest, which, though to all seeming meant ironically, is really laid down as a fundamental principle. But are we never to have an explanation of this phrase? Force is a physical power, and I fail to see what moral effect it can have. To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will — at the most, an act of prudence. In what sense can it be a duty?

Suppose for a moment that this so-called "right" exists. I maintain that the sole result is a mass of inexplicable nonsense. For, if force creates right, the effect changes with the cause: every force that is greater than the first succeeds to its right. As soon as it is possible to disobey with impunity, disobedience is legitimate; and, the strongest being always in the right, the only thing that matters is to act so as to become the strongest. But what kind of right is that which perishes when force fails? If we must obey perforce, there is no need to obey because we ought; and if we are not forced to obey, we are under no obligation to do so. Clearly, the word "right" adds nothing to force: in this connection, it means absolutely nothing.

Obey the powers that be. If this means yield to force, it is a good precept, but superfluous: I can answer for its never being violated. All power comes from God, I admit; but so does all sickness: does that mean that we are forbidden to call in the doctor? A brigand surprises me at the edge of a wood: must I not merely surrender my purse on compulsion; but, even if I could withhold it, am I in conscience bound to give it up? For certainly the pistol he holds is also a power.

Let us then admit that force does not create right, and that we are obliged to obey only legitimate powers. In that case, my original question recurs.


Blogger Jibril said...

Why does the post start all the way down here?

Tue Jul 12, 08:53:00 PM CDT  
Anonymous Captain Carnage said...

Comments on The First Societies:

On this showing, the human species is divided into so many herds of cattle, each with its ruler, who keeps guard over them for the purpose of devouring them.

From this point of view, you must regard the American constitutional model that mandates a change of supreme leader every 8 years at most as a significant departure from Grotius.
And to a lesser extent, any genuine democracy without such term limits is necessarily a great leap forward from the cattleyards of the past.

Leaders of democracies cannot so much devour their charges, as be forced to cultivate them. Without the approval of the people, the leadership cannot persist.

Since you are an avowed communist (please correct me here if I'm wrong), how do Hobbes/Grotius/Caligula sit with reference to the demonstrated weakness of communist societies in terms of accountability to their own people? Actually, leave Caligula out of it...

On The Right of the Strongest:

Let us then admit that force does not create right, and that we are obliged to obey only legitimate powers.

To object to such a statement would be foolish on the face of it. I think it is correct from an objective (and moral?) standpoint.

Subjectively, the actors in the drama of oppressor and oppressed may have very different views. Issues of culture exist to obscure objectivity.

In a contemporary example, Islamic terrorists believe very strongly in righteous warfare. But from any objective stance, could anyone look at their methods, and then their goals (which are eminently fascist), and not recoil?

Yet these people believe they act in a moral and correct fashion.

Clearly, the caveman with the biggest club is not by any means the best leader, but is more likely to assume the dominant position in more primitive cultures.

Wed Jul 13, 04:36:00 AM CDT  
Blogger JasonJ said...

Captain, you said:
"From this point of view, you must regard the American constitutional model that mandates a change of supreme leader every 8 years at most as a significant departure from Grotius.
And to a lesser extent, any genuine democracy without such term limits is necessarily a great leap forward from the cattleyards of the past."

First of all, I said nothing of the sort. If you are following the storyline set up here, This is an excerpt from Rousseau's Social Contract. My comments, when posting excerpts, are always going to be written in italics to differentiate from Rousseau. There are certain things that I feel the need to interject in the posts but his text is not mine.

Ok, so no; leaders of democracies are inherently unable to shepherd their flock as cattle for their own personal amusement due to checks and balances in the system. This is assuming that the system is well designed from the start. We will later talk about despotism though and how it enters the picture.

What is most important about this reference to Grotius is his assumption that rulers rule for their (the ruler's) exclusive benefit, whereas Rousseau is arguing that all rule must be based on the benefit of the ruled by contrast. He is merely stating that Grotius' assumptions are wrong but he doesn't look for a more plausible explanation because that wouldn't be favorable to tyranny.

Ok, so on to your Communist question. I am not an avowed Communist. I am an avowed Socialist. There is a difference. If you need my assistance in delineating these differences I would be happy to help you out. Now by referring to the demonstrated weakness of communist societies you are referring to what??

I will assume you speak of the failed Soviet state when you are making such references. But this is kind of an equivocation if you follow the Aristotlian sense of the word. The Soviet Union was in fact called a Socialist Republic by their own definition. And I might add that from a Marxist perspective, it was not a good example of that either. This is where I find most of the arguments with Socialism, Marx himself was no fan of Russia and thought it the worst place to ever attempt his political system. Russian history and cultural mindset made the Soviet Socialism doomed from the beginning. The ideology is however strong, and one day there will be a great state that is Socialist in nature.

But I will counter you with this question. What is it about socialism that you abhor so much; and ideologically speaking what do you find so different about it as compared to democracy?

I'm not trying to dance around the Hobbes/Grotius/Caligula question; but there are bigger fish to fry at the moment in this argument. So we will get back to that.

Moving on, let us then talk about the Right of the Strongest, while I try to extract what it is exactly that you are trying to say here. Where you start has very little to do with what Rousseau is trying to convey in this chapter. What Rousseau is trying to get across to us is that power, and to borrow from Nietzsche, will to power are not enough to be considered a right to authority. I knew that I needed to further elaborate on this subject and I am posting the next two chapters tonight. But I fear that we must stop adding information at that time. I feel that it is in the best interest of every view of this topic to reflect on what has been said up to this point. We need to plant these ideas and points of view and let them grow and ferment, in Rousseau's words "...like those solid and tasty foods or those full bodied wines which are appropriate for nourishing and strngthening robust constitutions that are used to them."

As for your example of oppressed and oppressor, I fail to see the relevence at this moment. This is something to discuss, but bears no direct connection with the present statements.

In close, I wonder why you chose to speak of contemporary terrorism scenarios. I also find it interesting that you are quick to equivocate terrorism in general with Islam. While I understand tht there are individuals who profess Islamic faith who are known terrorists there are also devout catholics and protestants who are known terrorists. While I have stated up front that I will not censure anyone posting on my website, I will voice my disapproval of your bigotted comment here. I will be doing a piece soon enough on religion and faith along with the implilcations but Muslim-bashing has no place in a discussion of the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Thu Jul 14, 07:16:00 PM CDT  
Anonymous Captain Carnage said...

But I will counter you with this question. What is it about socialism that you abhor so much; and ideologically speaking what do you find so different about it as compared to democracy?

Apologies, after posting this I happened upon your bio...

I don't abhor socialism at all - I have some ideals which people may labe socialist, particularly in terms of public ownership of utilities and infrastructure, health and welfare.

Communism in my opinion has a very short half-life - it's proved to be vulnerable to hijacking by power-seekers, and always seems to gravitate towards a dictatorship of some flavour or other.

I also apologise if I came across as a Muslim-hater... nothing could be further from the truth. Islam as a whole has certain challenges at the moment, which the adherents of the faith are struggling to recognise and address.

Mon Jul 18, 03:12:00 AM CDT  
Blogger JasonJ said...

Captain, no apologies necessary. Perhaps I may have misjudged your message as well. I will agree that communism, like democracy, is full of holes that are ready to exploit by ambitious persons. Later we will see that Rousseau speaks of the decline of the state; and while he offers no remedy for eternal life for any state, he does offer some thoughts that we can reflect on.

But to touch on the subject of Socialism with regards to Rousseau if I may be indulged; Manning accused Rousseau of being a Socialist on warblogging.com as I quote:

"12. The same pattern was adopted by Marx , Lenin, And Stalin, where the General Will was replaced by the State.

13. Such a philosophy leads directly to tyranny, as we have seen.

So this is your philosophy? You are to be pitied."

I feel I need to take a few moments to answer these accusations here, even though as of yet Mannning refuses to take part in this debate that I initiated on his behalf. Now I will grant that Marx studied Rousseau. You do not have to read too much beyond his Communist Manifesto to understand that; however, Marx was also a student of Hegel, whom I have as yet to hear called a Socialist. Rosseau did not call for the end of property rights. He did refer to the establishment of private property as the beginning of modern civilisation with all the headaches that go along with it; but apart from that you can see clearly in his writing that he was a pragmatist concerning such matters. Consider the statement made in the beginning of chapter II concerning the first societies. He states that the oldest existing social arrangement was the family. Of course, this was not a new concept with Rousseau. I read about such ideas in John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government which was written in the 17th century, and I would assume this to go further back than that. I just haven't found anyone else saying yet myself.

Reading into Rousseau's Discourse on Political Economy, he starts out by comparison of political economy as it relates to domestic economy asserting that children are obligated to assisting in increasing the wealth of the father while in his care in order to take part in the dispersement of this wealth upon his death. Again this is almost verbatim what Locke states in his theory. This hardly sounds like the inner working of a mad Socialist.

We will discuss this separation of Marx from Rousseau more as time goes on and I hope that I will get more insight from others as well as you concerning these various issues.

Now, concerning the Islamic problem; I can appreciate the fears that you and others feel post September 11. I can appreciate it even more when I stop and look at all the fearmongering that goes on in the world media. I just wanted to state up front that if anyone wants to make generalizations on this site I will not censure their remarks; but I will voice my disapproval if they are not backed up by concrete evidence. That goes for anyone with whom I may agree also.

Mon Jul 18, 08:53:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

You are right about Rousseau not being recognized as a Socialist. He WAS recognized as a "forerunner" of Marx and Lenin, and the French Revolution, however.

I see his position on private property to be a small compromise between total state ownership and full private ownership. All that the citizen owns is to become the property of the Sovereign, less, it seems, what little he needs to maintain his family, and that only if he works the place.

If I read correctly, any profits beyond what is necessary for life goes to the Sovereign as well, so the citizen does not become wealthy. There is a dichotomy here in that Rousseau seems on the one hand to want everyone at about the same economic level,(or at least the lowest above poverty, and the wealthy not too wealthy!) and on the other hand he recognizes that it is not possible to simply start with a uniform wealth for everyone.
He seems to be focused on an agrarian society only.

Rousseau does not speak about industry, utilities, or the specialization of occupations that occur as cities grow. Thus he does not seem to grasp the fact that city dwellers will by and large accumulate wealth far beyond what the farmers can do.

Whoever owns the means of services, production or trade will tend to become wealthy, unless he must indeed turn over all or most of his profits to the Sovereign. (I am not entirely clear from this text that this is so, but it seems to be. No fair bringing in other writings!)

If one supposes that the owners can keep a good proportion of their profits, then the result will point towards money power blocks, and strong pressures to bend the common will in a favorable direction with profitable laws. Or, again, dissolution of the State.

Thus, as I see it, we have a society suggested by Rousseau that is "essentially" commonly owned, with a common will to keep it that way, and a common sharing of the profits, over and above subsistence, by means of a "return" to the citizens of some unspecified sort.

The Capitalistic idea of making profits which lead to further investments to increase gains and employment is not heard from at all.

This all seems quite socialistic of Rousseau to me!

Mon Aug 15, 09:00:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

One main problem I have with Socialism is that I was an aggressive entrepreneur for most of my working career, and came to believe in Capitalism because of the great benefits it has for most people, including me!

A second problem is with Marx. He clearly states that the only way to install Socialism is to erase the existing society and rebuild it all over, and to raise a socialist man from the ground up. This has always led to tyranny before the socialism gets to start.

Third, I do not like confiscatory taxes on my income.

In socialist Holland, I had to pay 62% of what I made to the government, plus my share of mandatory health insurance.

I love the idea of a flat tax instead of progressive taxes, obviously because I want to keep more of what I make instead of supporting a couple of illegal immigrants I never saw. I loathe the idea of wealth redistribution for its own sake as well. This is pure robbery by the government. Why people think it is "fair" I have no idea.

If free handouts to people who can work for a living are "fair", then I am nonplussed.
In Holland, there were many people I knew personally that were on disability with 70% pay forever because of "bad backs" or other illnesses. Their backs were so bad one couple had a terrible time with bicycle hikes of over 50 km.

Anyway, my experiences with a Socialistic government gave me many headaches and pains. I almost had to retire there with a disability myself!

Sat Aug 27, 12:31:00 AM CDT  

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