The Civil Society: Rousseau Vs. Locke
Rousseau seems to strongly believe that a government is only truly “free” if all of its citizens have the ability to voice their opinions and vote. The natural levels of inequality based on age, gender, and race that are apparent in the state of nature, are eliminated with the creation of a civil society and “social contract”
According to Rousseau, in the State of Nature, the right of Autonomy and personal freedom reign supreme. Based off of this philosophy one is able to infer that Rousseau believes that an individual has the most freedom in the state of nature, and that this is ideal for man. However, he goes on to say that man has the innate desire to be a part of a social setting, and additionally, man possesses the ability to put his actions in prospective and may realize what is best for himself and the greater community. Thus a free and equal society is accomplished by deriving a social contract.
So what exactly is this “social contract” that is necessary for a man to derive in order to exit the “state of nature”? As Rousseau puts it:
“each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and in our capacity, we receive each member as indivisible part of the whole” (Rousseau. P. 192).
This idea of the social contract is somewhat contradictory to Rousseau’s original belief in the ability for autonomy to take supreme importance for a man. In this social contract described, man relinquishes his ability to act in full accordance to himself, giving power to the legislature, which is representative of the entire people, as opposed to just the individual. When it comes down to it, individuals enter the social contract in the first place because they are looking to for a way to best fend for themselves. Being a part of a social contract, can, and almost always is, a very beneficial mechanism for an individual to be a part of, as it ensures strong protection against enemies and crime.
John Locke’s central belief is that society is set up to protect the indivdual’s personal property and to avoid disputes over property. These disputes can either be local or international, and can go as far as causing civil, or world wars.
In Lockes’ social contract, men have unequal amounts of posessions on earth, which is contrary to the understanding of Rousseau. What seems to undermine Lockes reasoning is the fact that Lockes underlying basis for man having personal property is that there is enough to go around for everyone. I find this reasoning to be completely flawed based on society today.
Comparing Locke and Rousseau is not as black and white as it may appear. Both believe in the power of the “civil society,” but for different reasons. Each of the thinker’s reasonings ultimately lead to one point: the power of the community to provide protection; whether it be for an individual’s personal property, or for the protection of the society as a whole.