…for Rousseau, the first evil…historically…which began the loss of innocence within the human race, was ownership. That was the beginning of inequality. Rousseau is a precursor to Marx. He believes that equality is the proper condition of society…he longs for a time government didn’t impose equality…[the second evil] was making individuals dependent on each other…people become, Rousseau believes, in the modern world, concerned with the status of what he called “the love of self as it is seen by others”, instead of manifesting simple healthy “love of self.” That is to say, for Rousseau, all human animals rightly have “love of self”…so the primitive man and woman loves self and so feeds him and wants to go on living—that’s healthy, that’s natural— …but “love of self as it is seen by others” is different…[it] is the desire for me to get other people to think highly of me: that becomes more important than anything else. This is what happens in modern, cosmopolitan, educated circles. ..
Rousseau added to his legacy with another book, which is politically the most important of his books: The Social Contract. In that book…Rousseau claimed that if we cannot return to the state of nature (which we can’t) we can at least organize society into a self-ruling community of equality, and rule as democratic equals—all serving not their private interests, but the general will, or what’s good for society as a whole. He imagined this as, in a somewhat romantic way, peasants under the oak tree, passing their laws with simple common sense…[he was saying] democratic equality can capture a lot of what was present in the ancient condition, the primitive condition…
Rousseau literally did believe…regarding peasants around the oak tree… “They’re not smart enough to be duped”…their wants are so simple you can’t bribe them and trick them into adopting policies that aren’t good for them.
Rousseau…helped to fuel the most radically progressive event of the century: The French Revolution of 1789. This is a bit ironic. The Social Contract inspired all younger political figures on the continent to make freedom their ideal…[Rousseau once wrote] “Man is born free but is everywhere in chains.” So, Roussea’s plea for freedom and equality and democracy (and he did mean democracy in the direct sense)…this was taken to heart by everyone…
[as some people said]…There are two common notions of freedom in the West. One is that liberty is simply the absence of coercion. When am I free? When I am not in jail. When am I free? When you get out of my way and let me do what I want. The other [common notion] is that liberty and freedom is self-determination. I’m free when my self determines my actions, rather than something else determining my actions.
Now, these can certainly overlap…However, they can depart…It’s possible to follow one by not the other. We can illuminate this difference by asking a simple question: Is a rich drug addict free?...Poor junkies are presumably not free. They have a need for something that they don’t have and they have to commit crimes to get it. My case: I’m a junkie, that’s all I want, and I have unlimited access to it…So I experience no obstacles to getting what I want. Now, if freedom is simply the absence of coercion, we must say the rich junkie is free. But we may not want to say the rich junkie is free. Some of you may say, “That’s not really freedom, is it?” The question is: if we think he’s not free, what idea of freedom must we be implicitly using?...
Now, if you don’t think the rich junkie is free you are probably saying something like, “He’s not because he’s not himself—he’s under control of the drug.” But this implies that his openly expressed desire for the drug is not the real him, not his true self.
And indeed, historically, those who accept self-determination as the definition of freedom, rather than absence of obstacle, have to distinguish between a true or higher self and a false or lower self, so they can on occasion, “It looks like Cahoone is acting freely, but it’s not real freedom. His lower self is getting what it wants: that’s true…but his higher self has ceased to determine his actions, he’s acting out of his lower self. For this tradition, freedom is not just the absence of coercion. It’s whether the true or higher or good self acts, rather than the petty or vicious or immoral desires within me act.
…Rousseau not only accepted liberty as self-determination, he then identified a person’s true self , which anyone who starts with self-determination has to distinguish the true or false self…Rousseau took the self of identifying the true self with the community. My true self—my higher self—is identified with what’s best for the community. My lower, false self is selfish, petty, and filled with commercial interests. So the real me is the me that wants to do what is right for the whole community as well as myself. Therefore true freedom is the determination of oneself by one’s higher self—the self which is in effect the citizen that is identified with the good of the community.
What does this all lead to? It leads to a rather remarkable claim. It leads to Rousseau saying if a member—once they’ve engaged in a social contract and joined together to make a society with each other…—if they refuse to follow the general will that is what’s best for the community, then they must be he famously said, “Forced to be free. It is legitimate to coerce the individual to obey.”
But notice it’s more than that. It is not merely the case that when I disobey the community it’s legitimate to force me to obey: while you are forcing me to obey…”you are actually making me free.” So it’s not force. It’s not obedience. Because my true self is the community, all you have done is remind me what my true self is.—Lawrence Cahoone. The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida. “The Enlightenment and Rousseau.” Lecture Six. The Teaching Company.