Rousseau’s Middle Position
On page 398 of Jean-Jaque Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Men, Rousseau states that “the middle position between the indolence of our primitive state and the petulant activities of our egocentrism, must have been the happiest and most durable epoch.” What is this middle position though? It is made apparent by Rousseau that the evolution of human thought brought about society with the binding affects of laws, but the harmonious stage he speaks of is unclear.
With the development of human faculties came the limiting power of laws. In Rousseau’s realm of total freedom in a state of nature, man can take justice into his own hands and exact his own punishment for offenses committed against him. Despite Rousseau’s glorification of this state of nature, he characterizes the medium between this state and civil society as supreme. Although “natural pity had already undergone some alteration” (398), laws were not yet necessary to deter human vengeance. It was the advent of society that ruled this system as damaging to a coherent group of people and their common interest. Out of fear of vengeance, laws stripped would be avengers of their own methods of justice and as offenses became more frequent law would become more limiting proportionally.
Rousseau’s “middle position” is therefore a balance between the evolution of human morality and the onset of society. As society became more binding, laws took more freedoms of man in an effort to preserve order. Desire for human perfection caused the natural functions of man to be abated and the machine of society to grow as his own source of reason. Therefore man lives most happily when he does not have to rely on others for his own subsistence. It is society that causes us to forfeit independence in a hope to better ourselves.