Rousseau’s State of Nature Impossible to Reoccur
Rousseau’s state of nature continues to confuse me. When I sat down to write this post, I began by thinking of examples of Hobbes’, Locke’s, and Rousseau’s state of nature in modern-day society. What I ended up with was numerous examples for Locke and Hobbes, and not one for Rousseau. While books such as Lord of the Flies emphasizes a brutish, Hobbesian state of nature that is possible to resort back to, numerous blog posts are dedicated to Locke’s state of nature and the ability for people to band together for a common good when a crisis occurs (for example, the recent devastation in Japan). After this I began to think—is it possible to resort back to Rousseau’s concept of the state of nature? In my opinion, the answer is no.
To begin, Rousseau’s state of nature revolves around the idea that there is no society—he wants to focus on people before society. Rousseau wants to look farther back in history to when modern-society wasn’t yet institutionalized and when people were actually free and equal. This is a place where reason is not necessary; a time when people don’t need communication because they are focused on their own personally and bodily needs (food, sleep, and sex). The need for no society and no reason is essential for Rousseau’s state of nature to occur—this is why it is impossible for us to resort back to it. People already exist in a state where society is in place, and even if a sovereign is taken out of power and mad chaos occurs, we still rely and communicate with others. We have language and we know the huge benefits of communication—whether it is to hurt and steal from a fellow person or to work together (the difference between Hobbes’ and Locke’s state of nature). Why would we ever resort back to a time without such beneficial communication skills? We have language and we understand reason can help us out in the toughest of situations, so why would we let all of this go even if, say, our sovereign were overthrown?
On the other hand, Locke and Hobbes’ state of nature are plausible to reoccur if something were to happen with the sovereign and a social contract is destroyed or disposed of. We still communicate with others and use reason in a beneficial manner; the only difference is our cognition and motivations in their state of nature. Motivations and cognitive beliefs are easily swayed by current events, yet actions that are proven beneficial (such as interpersonal communication and language) do not necessarily change with the times. Because of this, it is impossible to ever resort back to Rousseau’s state of nature.