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Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau$

John Plamenatz, Mark Philp, and Zbigniew Pelczynski

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199645060

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199645060.001.0001

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Reason, Freedom, and Justice

Reason, Freedom, and Justice

(p.222) 15 Reason, Freedom, and Justice
Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau

Mark Philp

Z. A. Pelczynski

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Plamenatz distinguishes between the freedom secured in the Social Contract (freedom in a just society) and Emile (the freedom of the just man in the unjust society) and inquires whether a just man in an unjust society can really be free. Rousseau suggestion that only just principles can be rational and stable is examined, alongside the idea that morality is rational. Much that Rousseau says seems to root morality in feeling, rather than reason, but he also has a conception of an ordered life, lived in accord with coherent and realistic principles and pursuing coherent aims in conditions of equality, and that view, particularly the concern with equality, is more contentious. So too is the suggestion that the rich are more than ordinarily subject to vanity and are thus necessarily unfree.

Keywords:   Rousseau, reason, freedom, justice, morality, order, natural law, amour de soi, pity, inequality, order, vanity, dependence


i Though Rousseau does not say so in so many words, he does imply that moral freedom is attainable only in a just society, or at least only by the just in a corrupt and unjust society. It is in the Social Contract, in which he describes a just society, that he defines moral freedom as obedience to a law one has prescribed to oneself. Emile, of course, is brought up to live in a society which is in fact corrupt and unjust, and in which most people are not free, but he is himself uncorrupt, just, and free. Though he is not politically free, he is so morally; he has not merely been trained to act on certain principles but has seen the point of doing so. These principles are, and are seen by him to be, in the common interest, and he accepts them, not from motives of prudence, but because he cares for others and for the common interest and not just for himself.

Of the citizens of the ideal community described in the Social Contract no less than of Emile, we can say that they ‘order their lives with regard to the whole’. The laws of that community serve, directly or indirectly, the interests of all its members, and inequalities of power—for example, as between magistrates and ordinary citizens—are justified only to the extent that they are necessary to ensure that the laws are effectively administered. As for inequalities of wealth, they are kept within narrow limits, so that the rich should not influence the poor politically or be able to drive hard bargains with them economically. The citizens make the laws and maintain the system deliberately, just as Emile accepts deliberately, and not just from force of habit, the principles he lives by.

ii Now, if moral freedom is defined, not just as obedience to laws one prescribes to oneself (which is how Rousseau actually defines it in the Social Contract), but as obedience to self-prescribed laws or principles which are in the common interest (and therefore moral), then it would seem to follow that it can be attained fully only in a just society—only in a society whose laws and practices are in fact in keeping with principles which are moral. Even Emile, since he lives in an unjust society, must tolerate many practices which he believes to be unjust but which he is powerless to reform. He cannot help but live and collaborate with his neighbours to some extent on their terms. He can no doubt justify his doing so. Nevertheless, justified or not, he has to live to some extent as he would not do in a just society in which all men lived by the principles he accepts.

(p.223) But Rousseau’s arguments often seem to imply more than this: more than that moral freedom can be attained fully only in a just society because, when society is unjust, most people are not firmly attached to just principles, and those who are have in practice to compromise with injustice. He seems often to suggest that principles are not rational, in the sense of consistent and realistic, unless they are just; that, in principle, only the just are able to live in obedience to laws they prescribe to themselves, though in the world as it is they have to compromise with injustice. Nevertheless, even in an unjust world, the just have a great advantage over the unjust: the principles they seek to live by are consistent and in the common interest, and are also realistic in the sense that those who try to live by them are on the whole the better off for doing so, whereas the principles of the unjust are incoherent, some of them being in the common interest and others against it, and the attempt to live by them is often harmful to those who make the attempt. What is more, the unjust do not ordinarily have a firm hold on their principles, whatever they are, and are a prey to the insatiable passions born of vanity.

This idea that the unjust man has incoherent and unstable principles, and therefore cannot live a rational and ordered life, and so attain the freedom that consists in the ability to live such a life, is not original with Rousseau. But in the form that it takes with him, it does have implications that it did not have for earlier thinkers because of his much more egalitarian conception of justice. To be sure, earlier thinkers had agreed that justice is a common interest, but they had not insisted, as Rousseau did in the Social Contract, that the laws should impose the same burdens or the same benefits on everyone. This principle, taken literally, is hopelessly unrealistic, since many laws apply, not to all members of the community, but to certain categories of them; and it may be that Rousseau did not mean it to be taken literally. But he did put forward as the ideal purpose of law some sort of equality of burdens and benefits, even though he never succeeded in defining it precisely, and he also condemned inequalities of power and wealth inconsistent with this purpose.

Thus, though Rousseau does not deny that an unjust man can live an ordered life, or that the members of an unjust class can do so, the bias of this theory, of his account of freedom and justice and of how they are related, is to suggest that this is so. That is to say, though he does not deliberately argue to this conclusion, he does put forward in different connections arguments which, taken together, seem to point to it.

iii We have noticed already that Rousseau does not bring the idea of justice into his definition of moral freedom. He does not say that this freedom consists in obedience to just laws prescribed to oneself. We can justifiably read into Rousseau’s definition the stipulation that the laws prescribed should be mutually consistent and realistic, for otherwise it will be impossible to obey them, but we cannot read into it the stipulation that the laws should be just. For it is not obvious that the laws must be just if it is to be possible to obey them: this is something that has to be proved.

Let me distinguish, as Rousseau did not trouble to do, between two kinds of freedom, calling the first rational and the second moral. Rational freedom I define (p.224) as the willing observance of consistent and realistic principles prescribed to oneself (i.e. accepted, not on trust but for reasons which seem good to the acceptor). Though Rousseau speaks, not of principles, but of laws, it is clear that he has in mind something more than merely legal rules; and I use the word principles to refer to rules of conduct which seem important to the persons who observe them or are required to observe them. Moral freedom I define as the willing observance of self-prescribed principles which are not only consistent and realistic but also just. Rousseau was inclined to believe that what I have called rational freedom in practice always, or nearly always, takes the form of what I have called moral freedom. Moral freedom, as I have defined it, is a species of rational freedom; and I am now suggesting that, in Rousseau’s opinion, it is virtually the only species of it. Not that a rational freedom that is not also moral is inconceivable, but that, human nature and the human condition being what they are, this is virtually impossible, or at least very rare. If he had not taken this for granted, he would surely have included the notion of justice in his definition of moral freedom, so as to avoid misunderstanding.

This equating of rational with moral freedom, which I here attribute to Rousseau, seems to me open to serious question. In contesting it, I shall not be refuting an argument that he actually put forward, for he never made the equation unequivocally, let alone argued for it systematically. I shall be contesting a bias rather than a sustained argument, though in the course of doing so I shall question some assumptions that he and other moralists have made and some beliefs that they have held. For the bias is not peculiar to him: it is recurrent in the social and moral philosophies of the West.

But before I do this, I must look again at what Rousseau says about the place of reason in morality, inconclusive and confused though it is.


i It is in the Discourse on Inequality that Rousseau comes closest to rejecting what he took to be the traditional account of the law of nature.1 He does not there confine himself to saying that man in the state of nature, with his ability to reason not yet developed, could not have known the laws of nature. To say this is merely to put natural man on a level with an infant, whose capacities must develop before it can apprehend moral truths: a proposition that believers in natural law would never have denied. They might have rejected Rousseau’s account of the state of nature, but they would not have denied that, if natural man was as Rousseau depicted him, he could have had no conception of the laws of nature. Nor would they have denied that men are not born already able to reason but acquire the ability as they grow up; that they must learn to reason; and that they do so largely through intercourse with others.

(p.225) Rousseau seems at times in this Discourse to doubt that there are moral ‘truths’ in the sense that philosophers had claimed that there were: propositions about how men should behave which anyone can see to be true, if his ability to reason is developed. Speaking of these philosophers, he says in the Preface to this Discourse: ‘They begin by enquiring what rules it would be proper (à propos) for men to agree to in their common interest, and then they give the name of natural law to the collection of these rules, with no further proof than the good they believe would result from their being universally observed.’2 Rousseau calls this method arbitrary because, until we know what man’s nature is, we cannot know what laws best suit him.3 But Rousseau seems also to have another objection to this method. At best it explains only what rules are in the common interest; it does not explain how it is that men come to have rules and to be attached to them as they are.

Rousseau claims to see in man two ‘principles’ which he says are prior to reason, a concern for his own well-being and preservation, and a reluctance to see a sentient being, and especially one of his own species, perish or suffer.4 These principles, since they are prior to reason, are clearly not maxims or rules: they are motives for action, appetites, emotions. and perhaps also instincts. We need not attribute to Rousseau the belief that there are only two of them prior to reason, but rather that, however many there are, they form two groups, one of which moves man to behaviour conducive to his own survival and well-being, and the other to behaviour beneficial to other sentient beings, especially men.

It is, says Rousseau, from these two principles, or rather from the operations of the mind on them, that all the rules of natural law derive.5 But he does not explain these operations in the Discourse on Inequality, or make it clear what he means by the laws of nature deriving from them. Presumably, he has vaguely in mind a process of learning how to reconcile these two principles and how to live peacefully with others. Moral rules are, as it were, the terms on which beings moved to action by these two principles, these two kinds of motives, learn to live together and to cooperate in pursuing their various purposes. This is not actually what Rousseau says in the Discourse, though it is, I hope, a fair inference from what he does say. For, clearly, he (p.226) has in mind some rational process which he thinks is different from the a priori reasoning which he attributes to the philosophers. He claims for himself that, unlike them, he does not make a philosopher of man before making a man of him.6 In other words, in explaining how it is that man is a moral being, he does not assume that he must be able to reason as philosophers do.

It is in Emile, more than any other work, that Rousseau explains what it is to be moral; and there, in spite of the obscurity of his explanation at various points, he does make it clear that being moral involves more than merely recognizing that certain rules of conduct are in the common interest and being willing to observe them because it is to one's enduring interest to do so. It involves also a willingness to observe them, even to one’s own detriment, which makes sense only to a being capable of affection for others, of a concern for their good for its own sake and not as a means to his own.7

ii I have said that Rousseau seems at times to doubt that there are moral truths. He does not, of course, any more than Hume does, deny that moral rules are discovered by reason, in the obvious sense that it is only rational beings who can reflect on their experience and conclude that it is to everyone’s interest that certain rules should be generally obeyed. But, as Hume explained, the recognition that a rule of conduct is in the common interest is not in itself a motive for observing it.8 To recognize that its general observance is in everyone’s interest is not eo ipso to recognize an obligation to observe it. The assertion that one ought to observe it because its general observance is in the common interest means nothing except to someone who is concerned for that interest. A fortiori, the assertion that one ought to observe it for that reason, even to one’s own lasting hurt, means nothing to someone who is incapable of making such a sacrifice. To explain how he comes to be capable of it, we must point not to truths that he apprehends, but to feelings and motives that he has.

To see the force of this position which I have attributed—I hope not unfairly—to Hume, we do not have to accept his account of what it is that we do when we call things good or evil, or of what it is to be morally obliged. We do not have to agree that moral judgements express feelings of approval or disapproval, or that to be under an obligation to do something is to be uneasy at the thought of not doing it. We may hold that the language of morals serves neither to refer to feelings nor to express them but rather to influence behaviour, partly by pointing to the likely consequences of it and partly by evoking attitudes and feelings that move people to behave in the desired way. According to this view of moral language, to understand it is not merely to understand what it is used to describe or predict, but also to respond to it appropriately, or at least (p.227) to be capable of so responding. Or, in other words, the understanding is as much a matter of proper feeling, or of the capacity for it, as it is a matter of distinguishing true from false statements.

I am not now claiming for Rousseau that he had sophisticated ideas about the language of morals, about moral judgements and moral argument—even ideas as sophisticated as those of Hume. I am suggesting only that, if we look at parts of the Discourse on Inequality and above all of Emile, we get the impression, not so much that moral principles are truths apprehended by reason, as that understanding moral judgements and arguing correctly about moral matters is as much a capacity to feel properly and to respond adequately as it is a capacity to distinguish true from false propositions and to make correct inferences. Reason can enlighten us about the probable and possible consequences to ourselves and others of various forms of behaviour, and can therefore teach us what forms to avoid and to discourage in others, what forms to choose and to encourage in others, in order to achieve our aims or to help others to achieve theirs. But true propositions about forms of behaviour and their likely consequences are not moral truths, nor are precepts as to how best to achieve what we and others want, or what we all believe is in the enduring interest of us all, moral principles. We must be able to apprehend the truth of such propositions, to see the point of such precepts, if we are to be moral, but the apprehension and the seeing are not in themselves enough to make us so.

This, I take it, is the point of Rousseau’s saying in Emile that, if it were the place to do so, he would try to show that no natural law can be established by reason alone apart from conscience, and that the whole of natural law is merely a chimaera if it is not grounded in a need natural to the human heart.9 He has clearly explained how Emile, by reflecting on his experiences, has learnt that there are rules which it is in his interest to observe provided that others do so too. But to become a properly moral being Emile must learn more than this; for ‘even the precept that we should do to others as we would have them do to us has no true foundation but conscience and feeling’.10 It is, says Rousseau, reasonable for us to act on this precept, when we think it unlikely that we’ll be placed as others are, only if we feel about the precept and about others in certain ways.

There are many digressions in Emile, and I don’t see that it would have been at all out of place for Rousseau, at that stage of his account of Emile’s moral education, to have tried to do what he said he would have attempted, had it been the place to do it. I can think of no attempt better worth a moralist’s while. I suspect that he both felt intuitively that moralists in the past had assigned too great a role to reason in the moral sphere, or at least had explained that role incorrectly, and also had doubts about his (p.228) own ability to improve on their explanations. There are not a few tasks left undone and even promises unkept by Rousseau. This was perhaps part of his attraction for later thinkers, not least among them Immanuel Kant.11

A concern for others deriving from and transcending concern for oneself is at the root of morality and justice: this is the doctrine common to Emile and to the Social Contract, though differently presented in these two works, and in both presented far from adequately. To recognize an obligation to be just or to do good to others where there is no question of benefit to oneself is not the same thing as affection for or sympathy with others, or as the disinterested desire to help them, for affection, sympathy and benevolence are feelings not confined to moral beings. Yet moral judgements and moral reasoning are pointless except to beings capable of such feelings and desires. To this extent Rousseau, especially in parts of Emile, takes up a position not unlike Hume’s. This is not to suggest that he would have accepted Hume’s account of morality in general, or of justice or obligation in particular. Almost certainly he would not have done so. Still less is it to suggest that he produced an account of his own different from Hume’s and not open to the same objections. As we have seen, in Emile he absolved himself from making the attempt at just the point when he might have made it. If he had made it, his account no doubt would have been different from Hume’s, and less clear, though perhaps not less ingenious. He would have had less to say than Hume had about the association of ideas and the formation of habits, and more to say about deliberate commitment. As he puts it, speaking of natural or moral law in the ‘Preface’ to the Discourse on Inequality, ‘in order that it should be the law [that is to say, obligatory], whoever is obligated by it must be able to subject his will to it knowing what he is about [avec connaissance]’.12

iii Rousseau was not a thinker who saw clearly the implications of any position he took up and who took elaborate care to achieve consistency. He quite often spoke of natural or moral law as if reason alone revealed it to us, as if reason not only taught us what rules of conduct it is in our interest should be generally observed, but also revealed to us the obligatory character of these rules. He spoke as if reason, in the form of critical reflection on our experience, taught us the utility of the rules, and then again, in the form of rational intuition, revealed to us that we ought (in a moral non-prudential sense of the word) to observe them. But he did not speak of morality only in this way.


i Philosophers had long held that the principles of natural law are in the common interest without feeling committed thereby to condemn existing social inequalities. (p.229) Some had argued that in an ideally just society, there would be no such inequalities, but they had done so perfunctorily and had seldom appealed to an ideal justice to condemn the established social order.13 In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when more elaborate theories of natural law were put forward, jurists had taken it for granted that its principles did not forbid large inequalities of wealth or power, and had felt no need to reconcile these inequalities with principles supposed to be in the common interest.14

If we take moral principles which are widely accepted in many different types of society—such principles, for example, as ‘Keep your promises’, ‘Help those that help you’, ‘Deal justly with everyone’—it would seem that people could observe them scrupulously even in a society in which there were great social inequalities. ‘Deal justly with everyone’ is ordinarily understood to mean ‘Give everyone his due’, his ‘due’ being for most people what he is entitled to by the laws and conventions of the community to which he and they belong. These principles are in the common interest, for people are the better off for them being generally observed. And yet they are not socially egalitarian; for they can in fact be observed without any need to challenge such social inequalities as may exist, even though they are large.

No doubt, where there are great social inequalities, the rich and the powerful often disregard these principles in their dealings with the poor and the powerless, and do so with impunity. On the whole, it pays them to respect these principles in their dealings with their equals, but they can often disregard them, safely and to their own benefit, in their dealings with their social inferiors. Rousseau certainly believed that large social inequalities encourage unjust or bad behaviour, the breaking of rules whose general observance is a common interest.

We can hold that these inequalities encourage injustice without also holding that they are themselves unjust, but this was not Rousseau’s position, for he believed both that they encourage injustice and that they are unjust. He spoke as if they would be unjust, even though both superiors and inferiors respected the laws and conventions of their community.

ii To condemn social inequality in the way that Rousseau did, we have to appeal to principles other than moral rules widely accepted in a community, or even in most communities, even though the rules are, or are believed to be, in the common interest. We must appeal to egalitarian and perhaps also libertarian principles that go beyond widely accepted moral rules. We must appeal to principles which are philosophical in the sense that they are products of critical reflection about the human condition. These principles are, no doubt, likely to be compatible with conventional moral rules accepted in nearly all societies, presumably because experience has everywhere shown them to be in the common interest. But these ‘universal’ rules of conventional (p.230) morality do not logically entail these principles. Or, at least, it is not clear that they do: that anyone who accepts these moral rules is logically committed to accepting these egalitarian and libertarian principles, even though he may not be aware that he is.

In any case, if we look at Rousseau’s arguments, it is clear that it was not by reflecting on the rules of conventional morality and spelling out their implications that he arrived at his egalitarian and libertarian principles. He employed a quite different method, a method which was at bottom much the same as Hobbes’s method, though he used it less systematically and to very different purpose.15 He arrived at his principles by reflecting on man’s nature as a rational being and a maker of deliberate choices, as a provident creature who wants to lead an ordered life, as a self-conscious agent concerned for his dignity and aspiring to freedom, and by considering what claims it would be reasonable for such a being to make on his fellows and to expect them to recognize. Man, according to Rousseau, is the sort of creature who, when his capacities are developed by living with his fellow men, acquires needs that can only be satisfied in a society whose members are socially equal and morally free. Rousseau would no doubt have agreed that conventional moral rules everywhere accepted because they are in the common interest are compatible with equality and moral freedom, as he conceived of them, and even have argued that such rules are never more likely to be observed scrupulously than where men are equal and free. Nevertheless, he did not justify equality and freedom on the ground that they encourage this observance, just as he did not hold that it was enough for men to be conventionally moral for them to be equal and free. He justified equality and freedom by pointing to needs which he believed to be natural to man in the sense that he is so made that he acquires them in all societies, though in some he comes much closer than in others to satisfying them, and therefore to achieving happiness.16

iii The need of social man that Rousseau has in mind above all others is the need to lead an ordered life.17 Not, of course, a ‘regular’ life, for the regularity could be an effect of habituation, or of conformity to conventional rules accepted ‘blindly’, or of the pursuit of conventional ambitions. The ordered life must be a life lived according to (p.231) coherent and realistic principles, or in the pursuit of coherent and realistic aims, recognized to be such, not just by other people more perceptive and better informed than the man whose way of life is in question, but by the man himself. This much, at least, is implicit in Rousseau’s account of the education of Emile, and in his definition of moral freedom in the eighth chapter of Book I of the Social Contract, even though there are some parts of his teaching inconsistent with it.18

Rousseau believed that social equality is a condition, not just of everyone’s satisfying this need fully, but of anyone’s doing so. Where there are great social inequalities, not even the privileged satisfy this need fully. Someone properly educated, as Emile was, comes much closer than other men do to satisfying this need, even in an egalitarian and corrupt society, and the sort of education that Emile has, since it requires one tutor for one pupil, is expensive and therefore out of the reach of all but the rich. But this sort of education, quite apart from not being the sort that rich people ordinarily want for their children, would, if it were at all widespread among the rich, be subversive of the social order. Rousseau may not say in so many words that it would, but we are entitled to draw this conclusion from what he does say. Emile is not just brought up to respect conventional moral rules more scrupulously than other people do; he is also brought up in such a way as to accept ideas of justice and freedom in the light of which he cannot but condemn the established order as unjust and corrupting. When he turns his mind to politics, he accepts principles like those put forward by his tutor in the Social Contract. Given enough rich young men educated as Emile is, they must surely try to reform society drastically so as to make its institutions consistent with these principles.

Rousseau seems to have had two reasons for believing that even the privileged cannot satisfy the need to live an ordered life in a society of unequals. The simpler and clearer (but not therefore the more convincing) reason is that social inequality, by exacerbating vanity, produces passions in men which prevent their forming coherent and realistic aims.19 The other is that in the process of acquiring coherent and realistic aims they acquire principles of justice which require them to condemn social inequality.

The second reason is never clearly stated, let alone supported by systematic argument, by Rousseau. But it is, I suggest, implicit in his account of Emile’s education, and in what he says about moral freedom in the Social Contract. The mere definition of moral freedom, as ‘obedience to the law one has prescribed to oneself’, does not imply that the law so prescribed must be just, must be in the interest of all; but the general argument of the Social Contract does imply it. In other words, it implies that what, earlier on, I called rational freedom—behaviour in accordance with principles that are (p.232) coherent and realistic, and are recognized as such by the agent—can in practice be achieved only in the form of moral freedom. That is why, though Rousseau’s definition of moral freedom, taken literally, refers to what I have called rational freedom, I venture to define moral freedom rather differently from the way he did—in a way which seems to me to come closer to what he meant than his own definition does. As Rousseau himself at times invites his readers not to take him too literally (and so mistake apparent contradictions for real ones) but to consider what he says in relation to his general argument, I do not think that I am taking an unwarranted liberty in correcting his definition of moral freedom so as to bring it closer to what I believe to be his meaning.

I find unconvincing both of Rousseau’s reasons for believing that the need to live an ordered life cannot be satisfied, even for a privileged minority, in a society of unequals. They are both ingenious reasons, but neither is conclusive. I want to deal first with the second of these reasons, which is that rational freedom can in fact be achieved fully only in the form of moral freedom. [Here, of course, I’m putting an argument which I attribute to Rousseau, not in his words, but in mine.]


i There is an argument for justice from the natural equality of men which, though it goes back a long way before Hobbes, is very much to the fore in his philosophy. The gist of it might be put in these words: the inequalities which make some men much more powerful than others, and the distinctions which enable them quickly to recognize one another as equals or superior or inferior in respect of power are social; in the state of nature inequalities of power are much smaller and much more uncertain, and so it is the interest of each in that state, if he wants to get out of it, to accept conditions which favour nobody against anybody else.20 This theme is at least as prominent in Rousseau’s writings as in those of Hobbes.

But Rousseau was not content merely to put forward his own version of this theme. He wanted also to suggest that nobody can be rationally free, can lead an ordered life in society—and it is only in society that he can lead it—unless social conditions are such as to favour nobody against anybody else. Now this is a very different argument from the one which is common to Hobbes and Rousseau, in spite of the formal similarity between the two arguments. The common argument imagines a situation in which men are in fact pretty much equal, a situation they want to get out of, and concludes that they cannot reasonably expect to get out of it except on terms which favour none of them against the others. The argument, peculiar to Rousseau, does not imagine a situation in which men are in fact equal; it asserts rather that in any social situation, no matter how unequal men may be, they acquire a need, (p.233) the need to lead an ordered life, which none of them can satisfy except in conditions that allow them all to do so.

ii The ordered life, as Rousseau conceives of it, is not, as we have seen, merely a regular life—for a slave could lead a regular life just as easily as his master could, and perhaps more easily. It is a life lived according to coherent and realistic principles by an intelligent being who understands the point of having such principles and who observes them willingly. To be able to lead such a life is to be free.

No doubt, one man could not be free, in this sense, and everyone else not be so. For no one man could be so much more powerful than all the others as to be able to compel them to do what he wished, and so be able to order his life as it pleased him to do at the cost of their not being able to do the same. But, though one man could not do this, why should not a group or class of men be able to do it? Why should there not be a union of the strong, the socially superior, who are free and happy at the expense of the freedom and happiness of others? Rousseau never put this question squarely, and never tried to answer it, so we cannot be sure how he would have answered it. He merely took it for granted that rational freedom must take the form of moral freedom. Or, rather, he felt no need to distinguish between the two, so certain was he that man cannot lead an ordered and satisfying life, a life that brings happiness, except in a just society.

The question, remember, is not whether the socially strong can have privileges that they value greatly, and to which they give the name of freedom, at the expense of the weak. Nobody doubts that they can, and least of all Rousseau, who believed that this was precisely what they were doing in the civilized societies of the West. The question is whether they can lead an ordered life, a life in keeping with coherent and realistic principles that they understand and observe willingly, at the cost of others not being able to do the same. It is implicit in Rousseau’s account of natural goodness that they cannot—that it is irrational, even for the socially strong, to be unjust.21

iii I do not think that Rousseau ever explained satisfactorily why this should be so. And I doubt whether it is possible to explain it satisfactorily. But there have been arguments used since Rousseau’s time to support this conclusion of his—arguments which may well have been inspired partly by his condemnation of society as he knew it. One such argument goes like this: To maintain their superiority the socially strong must act together effectively to protect it, which they cannot do unless they deal justly at least with one another. Within their own circle they must have principles in the interest of all who belong to that circle and which they all ordinarily respect. But this respect for justice in their dealings with one another is inconsistent with their disregard for it in their dealings with the socially weak. Or, rather, it is so, unless it can be shown that the strong differ from the weak in some respects which justifies this difference of treatment and is not an effect of it. But this, (p.234) if some such account as Rousseau’s of human nature is true, cannot be shown. For that account, though it allows that there are natural differences between men, denies that they are such as to justify depriving some men of freedom for the benefit of others. There are, no doubt, some abilities and skills which are useful, not only to their possessors or to privileged groups, but to the community generally, and that some people possess more abundantly than others, not only because they have been better placed socially to acquire them, but because of their natural talents. There are rare natural gifts that ought to be developed and exercised in the common interest, and that are most likely to be so exercised in a just society. But above all there is the need common to all intelligent and moral beings, the need to lead a free and ordered life; and a community of such beings is just only to the extent that it allows all its members to satisfy this need.

The strong may come to believe that they are naturally superior to the weak in ways that justify the inequalities between them, but if they do, they are mistaken. They deceive themselves. Those who benefit from injustice cannot be secure in their injustice; they are involved in what a Hegelian or Marxist would call a contradiction. They cannot maintain their social superiority unless they deal justly with their equals, but they also cannot maintain it unless they deal unjustly with their inferiors. To justify this discrimination they must either claim a natural superiority they do not possess or they must pretend that the inequalities from which they benefit are in the common interest, when in fact they are not. In either case they must resort to self-deception or illusion, and the illusion is vulnerable.

The socially strong, the privileged, are insecure also for another reason. Their social inferiors, at whose expense they enjoy their privileges, are never truly reconciled to their inferiority, though they put up with it while they are too weak to challenge it and even go so far as to accept explanations of it which make it more bearable to them. This must be so, I think, if Rousseau’s account of what freedom means to social man is true. The resentment of those deprived of freedom, though it is not conscious and acute all the time, is endemic and potentially dangerous. They may be too ignorant to use arguments that would impress a philosopher to justify their resentment, but they feel it all the same. Given the truth of Rousseau’s account of man as a social being, then slaves are never resigned to their lot, and the poor never think it just that the rich should live luxuriously on their labour. Thus, even if it were true that the privileged could enjoy, at the expense of the unprivileged, not only their privileges, but also the kind of free and ordered life which (according to Rousseau) is a condition of happiness, the enjoyment must be precarious.

iv I shall not dispute the assertion that, where there are great inequalities of wealth and power, the poor and the powerless are never reconciled to their lot but always regard it as a standing injustice at their expense. I do not see why this should always be true, though I dare say that it often is—much more often, probably, than the rich and the powerful believe. But I shall neither accept nor reject the assertion.

(p.235) I shall confine myself, for the moment, to questioning the belief that a privileged minority cannot lead a free and ordered life satisfying to themselves at the expense of the rest of the community. To be sure, they cannot be morally free, since moral freedom, as Rousseau conceives of it, entails that men do not live morally unless they order their lives in ways which are in keeping with principles whose general observance is in everyone’s interest.22 Privileges enjoyed at the expense of others are by definition not in keeping with such principles.

But why should the privileged few, though not exactly morally free, be free in an analogous sense, even though some of the rules and practices they accept are in their interest alone, provided that they are aware that this is so and accept them on that account? If that is their condition, they accept the rules and practices, not blindly because they have been brought up to do so, but because they see the point of them. Just as much as any rules which are in the common interest that they accept, the rules which are only in their sectional or class interest, provided they recognize them to be so and accept them on that account, are rules they prescribe to themselves.

Rules which are in the common interest and rules which are only in a sectional or class interest need not be incompatible with one another. There are, in every society, rules which prescribe how people shall treat each other, no matter what social class or group they belong to, and others which apply only to dealings with members of one’s own class or group, or with members of one or more other classes and groups. That is to say, there are general as well as sectional and cross-sectional rules, even in the most inegalitarian societies. These different categories of rules may sometimes be inconsistent with one another, but then so too may different rules within the same category. But I see no reason why the general rules must be inconsistent with the sectional or cross-sectional rules (or with some of them) unless the society is egalitarian. I see no reason why a privileged group in an inegalitarian society should not accept rules, some of which are general and others sectional or cross-sectional, but which are all consistent with one another.

In Emile, Rousseau himself concedes that it is not irrational for the individual to break a law or social rule for his own benefit while relying on others to keep it.23 Only if he moves beyond his self-centredness and is truly concerned for others can he have adequate motives, and therefore be relied upon, to obey laws and social rules even to his own hurt. But if this is so—and the argument looks sound to me—in the case of the individual, why should it not be so also in the case of a group having important interests in common? Why should it be irrational for them in their dealings with outsiders to disregard rules (p.236) which they respect in their dealings with one another? Not, of course, completely, but only to the extent that they need to do so to maintain their separate group interests.24

The cases of the individual and the group—especially when the group is highly privileged (and it is with this kind of group that we are concerned at the moment)—differ, of course, in important respects. The mere individual in relation to an entire community is much weaker than are the members of a privileged group. He can afford to break rules which are in the common interest only occasionally, whereas they can afford to do so more often. But, much more important, they can accept openly rules and practices which favour the group they belong to against other groups, rules and practices which, on Rousseau’s egalitarian principles, are unjust. They can acknowledge in their dealings with their equals obligations which they do not acknowledge in their dealings with their inferiors, and can do it because they see that it is to their interest as a group to have these obligations only to their equals. And this they can do without seeking to justify their behaviour on the ground that it is in the interest of all groups that there should be some such group as theirs inside the community. All this they could do, even though they were, on the whole, more scrupulous than other groups in carrying out all their obligations and not just their obligations to their equals. They could be more scrupulous than other groups in observing what I have called general as well as sectional and cross-sectional rules.

I do not see that there is anything irrational about the acceptance by the privileged of special obligations to one another, of a code confined to their own group and serving their own group interest to the detriment of other groups. To be sure, if they are not in fact naturally superior and the existence of their group and its privileges is not in the common interest, and they try to persuade themselves of the contrary, they resort to illusion. But if they accept the code because they see that by doing so they preserve interests they greatly value against the rest of the community, they accept it on rational grounds. Nor is it irrational in them to recognize that they also have interests in common with their inferiors, or to value these interests as highly as the ones peculiar to their group.

Indeed, their accepting this group code does not even entail their being egoists, their acting only out of concern for the interests of their group, when they carry out their obligations to their inferiors. An aristocratic code can require a man on certain occasions to risk his life for an inferior, even though it forbids his treating him as an equal.

In Emile Rousseau argues that the individual, if he is to pass beyond rational egoism and a merely prudential morality (which is not, in his opinion, true morality) must feel for others, must be concerned for their good, to the extent that he is willing to carry (p.237) out his obligations to them, even to his own hurt.25 The argument—which I discussed earlier—is not altogether clear, but that seems to be the import of it.26 To be concerned for the good of others, he must be able to ‘identify himself’ with them, or with the community or group that he and they belong to: a capacity which, though born of love, extends beyond it. But Rousseau also, on several occasions, suggests that these feelings of identity or community, though not confined to social equals, are apt to be much stronger between them than between unequals. Hence, according to him, the pitilessness of the rich towards the poor.27

But, if this is so, if these feelings can vary so much in scope and intensity, if people can care so much more for members of groups or communities they belong to than for outsiders, why should it be irrational for them to accept rules and practices which favour those groups or communities against others? Or why should it be psychologically difficult for them to do so? Why should it create in them the uneasiness, the tension, that seeks relief in illusion? If the self-centred egoist does not act irrationally when he breaks to his own advantage rules whose general observance he recognizes to be in the common interest, why should a privileged group act irrationally when it adopts rules and practices which it recognizes to be in its own interest and not to the interest of other groups? Its accepting such rules and practices does not prevent its also accepting others which are in the common interest. Only if it accepted the egalitarian principles of Rousseau, which forbid preferring sectional to common interests when the two conflict, would it be acting irrationally. But this it need not do; it can accept some rules and practices which are in the common interest, and others which are in its own interest and against the interest of other groups, and yet all the rules and practices can be compatible with one another, in the sense that observing some of them does not involve breaking others.

Did Rousseau believe that anyone who accepts any rule or practice because it is in the common interest is logically committed to preferring the common to a sectional interest, when the two conflict—to being an egalitarian in the sense in which he was one himself? If he did believe it, he certainly never proved it. And, surely, it is not true.

Nor is it true—and Rousseau never pretended that it was—that the individual, when he transcends his egoism, when he feels for others, and is concerned for their well-being, or puts himself in their place or into the groups or communities they belong to, must feel or be concerned for or ‘identify’ with them all equally. He not only admitted but insisted that these feelings are limited in scope and that they vary in (p.238) intensity.28 These feelings are not, to be sure, moral feelings (or attitudes), but they are the feelings that move men to accept social rules and to observe them even to their own hurt. They are feelings indispensable—if we are to believe what Rousseau tells us in Emile—to the individual’s becoming a truly moral being.

Rousseau, of course, takes it for granted that the truly moral being will prefer the common to a sectional interest, when the two conflict and he is aware that they do. This I do not deny, just as I do not deny that moral freedom, as he conceives of it, can be achieved only in a just society. These are conclusions that follow necessarily from his conceptions of morality, justice and moral freedom—conceptions which have been widely shared by moralists and political theorists since his time, though many have tried to improve on Rousseau’s definitions of them. I merely see no reason why a privileged group in a society that Rousseau would condemn as unjust should not be free in a sense of freedom analogous to moral freedom as he understood it; why they should not lead ordered lives in keeping with principles and in the service of ideals which allow them to discriminate in favour of their own group, even though they also require them to conform to many practices which are in the common interest. For the practices may be in that interest without undermining their privileges.

v No doubt, the position of such a group would be vulnerable. Its privileges might be challenged by the other groups, and there might arise inside it individuals who cared more for justice than for the privileges of their group. It is not possible to ensure that feelings and attitudes, whether inside the group or outside it, never change in ways that threaten the supremacy of the group. But then, as Rousseau himself admits, even in a society of equals it is not possible to ensure that group interests and loyalties which threaten equality do not arise. Injustice is precarious, but then so too is justice.

Justice is in everyone’s interest—so Rousseau tells us, and rightly—so long as conditions are such that nobody profits by injustice, and the important problem is to discover what these conditions are and how to establish and maintain them. But he also tells us, no less rightly, that these conditions are difficult to establish and to maintain.


i There is another reason why, according to Rousseau, moral freedom is beyond the reach of even the privileged in a society with large inequalities of wealth and power. This reason, if it is a good one, would place what I have called rational freedom out of their reach in all its forms, and not only in the form of moral freedom.

(p.239) These inequalities affect all men, and above all the rich and the powerful, in ways that increase their dependence on ‘opinion’, that make them—as Riesman puts it—‘other-directed’.29 They strengthen vanity: the desire to be approved or admired by others, especially one’s social equals, or—failing that—to be feared or thought formidable by them, or to occupy their minds. Vanity makes men not only acquisitive and competitive, and therefore provokes conflicts between them; it also produces in them ambitions that are highly unstable, since nothing is more changeable than the ‘opinion’ on which they depend. The more ambition takes the form of wanting to be popular or to impress others or to prove oneself superior to them or in some other way to outdo them, the more uneasy, restless, and insatiable it becomes, and the more it puts the freedom that consists in being able to lead an ordered life out of reach of the ambitious and their victims.

ii Rousseau, as it seems to me, takes too narrow a view of human nature. I suspect that the need to lead an ordered life is not as strong in most men as he supposed, and that their failing to satisfy it does not make them deeply unhappy. Rousseau was perhaps too ready to believe that a need which he felt strongly (and failed to satisfy) is strong also in others, even though overlaid by vanities making for unhappiness. How many people there are able to drift through life, to be ‘other-directed’, without being any the less happy on that account is not to be discovered by the moralist by even the closest inspection of his own feelings.

I suspect also that Rousseau takes too simple a view of how social inequality is related to the dependence on opinion which he thinks is so harmful and so strong, particularly among the privileged and the rich. For though he sometimes speaks as if this dependence were great in all classes, he also quite often speaks as if it were greatest of all in the socially dominant classes.30

No doubt, people in grinding poverty are more immune than others from the ambitions born of vanity which Rousseau finds so destructive of freedom, but then they are also not free. These ambitions presuppose some measure of security and of material well-being. In a society with extremes of wealth and poverty inside it, the very rich will be much more a prey to vanity than the very poor. But where the poor have security and a measure of well-being, it is not easy to see why they should be less ‘dependent on opinion’ (in the harmful sense that Rousseau gives to those words) than the rich.31

(p.240) Nor is it obvious that this harmful dependence, when it is great among both rich and poor, is primarily an effect of social inequality. The styles of life of the rich and the poor differ widely, and they belong to non-competing groups. That is to say, the rich compete with the rich and the poor with the poor. To be sure, competitors need not be equals, but if the inequalities between them become really great, they cease to be competitors. Rousseau sometimes speaks as if the vanities and the rivalries of the poor were imitations of those of the rich, as if society first grew rotten at the top and the corruption then spread lower. But why should it not have much the same causes at different levels, though taking rather different forms at each level? Why should it not be much more an effect of affluence and of other things that come with it than of social inequality?

A generation or two after Rousseau’s death, some of the early socialists spoke of social equality as if it would put an end to all striving for superiority and bring with it parity of esteem for all useful occupations, and even for all that were not harmful.32 In a society of equals, though men and women would have their preferences among the occupations open to them, no occupation would carry greater prestige than another. There would therefore be little scope for vanity and for the emotions it inspires.

Now, it may well be that a community could not be egalitarian in this sense, unless there were a rough equality of wealth inside it and also the sort of democracy that Rousseau describes in the Social Contract. But, even if this were so, equality of wealth and popular democracy would only be necessary conditions of this further equality—which might perhaps be called cultural, for want of a better word. They would not be sufficient conditions of it. Indeed, in the absence of the other necessary conditions, these two—equality of wealth and popular democracy—might even strengthen rather than weaken ‘dependence on opinion’, might exacerbate rather than moderate the unstable and insatiable desires which (according to Rousseau) are marks of this dependence, might encourage the self-deceptions and illusions to which men resort to hide their pitiful condition from themselves and one another.33

iii Speaking in Emile of the man of the world, Rousseau says that he ‘puts himself altogether into his mask. Being hardly ever himself, he is always a stranger to himself, and is ill at ease when he is obliged to turn in upon himself’.34 He takes it for granted that the ‘man of the world’ is found only in the upper classes of a class society, which is true enough as that term is ordinarily used. Yet, if we take that man literally as Rousseau describes him, there is no reason to believe that he is confined to the higher levels of a class society, or even to class as contrasted with classless societies.

(p.241) Nor is it obvious that a privileged class must be a prey to vanity. Could the privileged not be trained to be a highly disciplined class, devoted to the community and to their group inside it—as, for example, Plato wanted the guardians to be in his ideal republic? There is nothing absurd, nothing unrealistic, about the idea of a society of unequals (and therefore an unjust society, as Rousseau understood justice) in which the dominant class are public-spirited, uncompetitive, and have a high sense of duty. At least, this idea is no more unrealistic that Rousseau’s idea of a society of equals. The children of this class could be taught, as Emile was, to have independence of mind enough to look for satisfaction, not in attempts to outdo or impress their neighbours, but in trying to live well by standards accepted on rational grounds and not as a result of mere conditioning or indoctrination.

As a matter of history, the autonomy and self-knowledge that Rousseau set up as ideals have been attractive above all to the sophisticated, who in his day belonged mostly to the wealthy and privileged classes. These ideals may not have been actively pursued to any great extent even in those classes, but they were probably more widely understood and approved among those classes than among others. In their social origins, these ideals are surely rather more ‘upper class’ than the vanity and self-estrangement (the condition of being hors de soi-même), the need to seem different from what one is and to be deceived by the appearance, which Rousseau so often and so bitterly condemns. It is, I suggest, much less social masks and self-deception that are sophisticated—for they are found even in primitive societies—than feeling guilty about them and wishing to be rid of them. Indeed, what ideal is more sophisticated than the sincerity so much prized by Rousseau?

iv Rousseau’s verdicts on ‘dependence on opinion’, though mostly hostile, are not so always. He does not always speak of it as an evil which can never be entirely abolished but which ought to be kept within the narrowest possible limits. Sometimes he speaks of it as a force which can be used to good purpose, not only in children who have not yet learned to overcome it, but in adults who remain in thrall to it. It is also to the legislator and not only to the schoolmaster that he looks to exploit vanity for the common good. He says in the Project for Corsica:

To stir up a nation to activity, you must set large hopes, large ambitions, great and positive motives for action before them. Closely examined the chief motives for action among men come down to two, sensuality and vanity; and if you take from the first all that belongs properly to the other, you will see that in the last analysis almost everything comes down to vanity alone…Now, vanity is the fruit of opinion; it is born of it and feeds upon it. Whence it follows that those who control the opinions of a people control their action. People want things in proportion to the value they set upon them; and to show them what they should hold valuable is to tell them what they ought to do…Opinion which sets a high value on frivolous things produces vanity; but when it turns to objects which are great and fine in themselves it produces pride.35

(p.242) It is clear from this passage that there are distinctions to be made between one kind of ‘dependence on opinion’ and another, just as there are between vanity and pride. But Rousseau never succeeded in making these distinctions clearly, though he did, from time to time, point to considerations which might help one to make them.

A child—even a child like Emile educated under ideal conditions—is keen to earn the good opinion of those who bring him up by behaving in ways they approve of, even before he learns their reasons for approving of such behaviour. But so long as he remains in this condition, he is closer to vanity than to pride, and he may grow into an adult whose concern is above all to be well thought of by the people he associates with or depends on. He must learn why they approve of what they call his good behaviour, he must accept their standards, or else must acquire other standards which seem to him better, if he is to go beyond vanity and to acquire pride. Vanity and pride are perhaps not quite the right words here: for the desire to please and to gain approval of children not old enough to have standards of their own is not ordinarily called vanity, nor is the self-respect of adults who have such standards and abide by them ordinarily called pride. Nevertheless, these sentiments are closely related to vanity and pride, and Rousseau sometimes used these words broadly enough to cover them.

The work of the parent or tutor or schoolmaster who seeks to produce out of childish vanity and sentiments akin to it something more like adult pride is quite different from the work of the legislator who seeks to use adult vanity to good purpose. Though Rousseau, in the passage I quoted from the Project for Corsica contrasts vanity with pride in a way that suggests that, while there is something immature, irrational, and servile about vanity, pride is more proper to the rational, the resolute, and the free man, he does not explain how the vanity of adults is to be converted into pride. Perhaps he believed that it could not be, and that even the wisest legislator can do no more than reduce the bad effects of vanity and increase its good effects. But, clearly, he did at times believe that the legislator could go a long way in doing this. He sometimes came close to accepting with a good grace the vanity and the ‘dependence on opinion’ which he at other times condemned so vigorously.


(1) Cf. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, ‘Preface’ (7), Vaughan I, p. 137; Cole, p. 40; Gourevitch I, p. 126. See Jean Starobinski, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction, trans. A. Goldhammer (Chicago, 1988), pp. 307–8.

(2) Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, ‘Preface’ (7): Vaughan I, p. 137; Cole, p. 41; Gourevitch I, p. 127.

(3) Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, ‘Preface’ (8), Vaughan I, p. 137; Cole, p. 41; Gourevitch I, p. 127: ‘But as long as we are ignorant of the natural man, it is in vain for us to attempt to determine either the law originally prescribed to him, or that which is best adapted to his constitution.’

(4) Rousseau writes that we ought to start our investigation into morality with ‘two principles prior to reason, one of them deeply interesting us in our own welfare and preservation, and the other exciting a natural repugnance at seeing any other sensible being, and particularly any of our own species, suffer pain or death. It is from the agreement and combination which the understanding is in a position to establish between these two principles, without its being necessary to introduce that of sociability, that all the rules of natural right appear to me to be derived—rules which our reason is afterwards obliged to establish on other foundations, when by its successive developments it has been led to suppress nature itself’ (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, ‘Preface’ (9): Vaughan I, p. 138; Cole, p. 41; Gourevitch I, p. 127).

(5) M. Sonenscher, Sans Culottes: An Eighteenth Century Emblem in the French Revolution (Princeton, NJ, 2008), pp. 29–31.

(6) Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, ‘Preface’ (10): Vaughan I, p. 138; Cole, p. 42; Gourevitch I, p. 127: ‘In proceeding thus, we shall not be obliged to make man a philosopher before he is a man.’

(7) See Emile IV: Foxley, pp. 196–7; Bloom, p. 235: ‘justice and kindness are…no mere moral conceptions framed by the understanding, but true affections of the heart enlightened by reason’—although the note to the text at this point does suggest that I care for another because I care for myself, but the core sense of the text is that ‘the first sentiment of justice is…inborn in the human heart’ (Emile IV: Foxley, p. 241; Bloom p. 279).

(8) For example, David Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (Oxford, 1902), sects. 232–3.

(9) Emile III: Foxley, p. 196; Bloom, p. 235: ‘by reason alone, unaided by conscience, we cannot establish any natural law, and that all natural right is a vain dream if it does not rest upon some instinctive need of the human heart.’

(10) Emile IV: Foxley, p. 196, fn. 1; Bloom, p. 235, fn. 1.

(11) On the influence of Rousseau on Kant, see for example, Ernst Cassierer, The Question of Jean-Jaques Rousseau (Bloomington, 1963).

(12) Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, ‘Preface’ (8): Vaughan I, p. 138; Cole, p. 171; Gourevitch I, p.127: ‘All we can know with any certainty respecting this law is that, if it is to be a law, not only the wills of those it obliges must be sensible of their submission to it; but also, to be natural, it must come directly from the voice of nature.’

(13) Plamenatz may be thinking here of Thomas More’s Utopia (1516).

(14) As in Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.

(15) For a comparison between Hobbes and Rousseau, see Donald Winch, ‘Man and Society in Hobbes and Rousseau’, in Maurice Cranston and Richard S. Peters, eds., Hobbes and Rousseau, A Collection of Critical Essays (New York, 1972); and Robert Derathé, Jean-Jacques Rousseau et la Science Politique de son temps (Paris, 1974).

(16) For Rousseau’s definition of happiness, see for example, Emile II: Foxley, p. 44; Bloom, p. 80: ‘Man’s happiness in this world, is but a negative state; it must be reckoned by the fewness of his ills.… All desire implies a want, and all wants are painful; hence our wretchedness consists in the disproportion between our desires and our powers. A conscious being whose powers were equal to his desires would be perfectly happy.’ On Rousseau’s conception of happiness, see Stephen G. Salkever, ‘Rousseau and the Concept of Happiness’, Polity, 11(1), 1978; Ronald Grimsley, ‘Rousseau and the Problem of Happiness’, in Maurice Cranston and Richard S. Peters, eds., Hobbes and Rousseau (New York, 1972).

(17) Emile II: Foxley, p. 49; Bloom, p. 85: ‘dependence on men; being out of order, gives rise to every kind of vice, and through this master and slave become mutually depraved. If there is any cure for this social evil, it is to be found in the substitution of law for the individual; in arming the general will with a real strength beyond the power of any individual will.’

(18) Social Contract I, 8(3): Vaughan II, p. 37; Cole, p. 178; Gourevitch II, p. 54: ‘moral liberty, which alone makes him truly master of himself; for the mere impulse of appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law which we prescribe to ourselves is liberty.’

(19) For example, Emile II: Foxley, p. 49; Bloom, p. 85: ‘The rich and great, the very kings themselves are but children; they see that we are ready to relieve their misery; this makes them childishly vain, and they are quite proud of the care bestowed on them, a care which they would never get if they were grown men.’

(20) Hobbes, Leviathan XII and XIV.

(21) See Joshua Cohen, Rousseau: A Free Community of Equals (Oxford, 2010), ch 4.

(22) [JP: There are difficulties about deciding what is in everyone’s interest, and in particular about distinguishing inequalities which are in the common interest from others which are not. I doubt whether Rousseau gives much help to anyone grappling with such difficulties—but in this respect he does not differ much from most other egalitarians.]

(23) Emile IV: Foxley, p. 196; Bloom, p. 235: where Rousseau denies that reason can ground the precept of ‘do unto others’, ‘for what valid reason is there why I, being myself, should do what I would do if I were someone else, especially when I am morally certain I never shall find myself in exactly the same case?’

(24) Indeed this seems implied by Rousseau’s comment that ‘The smaller social group, firmly united in itself and dwelling apart from others, tends to withdraw itself from the larger society. Every patriot hates foreigners; they are only men, and nothing to him. This defect is inevitable but of little importance. The great thing is to be kind to our neighbours’ (Emile I: Foxley, p. 7; Bloom, p. 39).

(25) ‘[J]ustice and kindness are no mere abstract terms, no mere moral conceptions framed by the understanding, but true affections of the heart enlightened by reason, the natural outcome of our primitive affections…by reason alone, unaided by conscience, we cannot establish any natural law, and that all natural right is a vain dream if it does not rest upon some instinctive need of the human heart…The love of others, springing from self-love, is the source of human justice’ (Emile IV: Foxley, pp. 196–7; Bloom, p. 235).

(26) See above, Chapter 12, B, iii–iv.

(27) Emile IV: Foxley, p. 310; Bloom, p. 345: ‘if I were rich, I should have done all that is required to gain riches; I should therefore be insolent and degraded, sensitive and feeling only on my own behalf, harsh and pitiless to all besides, a scornful spectator of the sufferings of the lower classes, for that is what I should call the poor, to make people forget that I was once poor myself.’

(28) See above, fn. 25. Moreover, the subsequent claims (Emile I: Foxley, p. 8; Bloom, p. 40)—‘He who would preserve the supremacy of natural feelings in social life knows not what he asks. Ever at war with himself, hesitating between his wishes and his duties, he will be neither a man nor a citizen’—seem to undermine any basis for trumping group interests on the basis of claims about a stronger and wider natural impulse.

(29) See David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd (New Haven, 1950), ch. 1.

(30) For example, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (9): Cole, p. 5; Gourevitch I, p. 7: ‘Civilised peoples, cultivate such pursuits: to them, happy slaves, you owe that delicacy and exquisiteness of taste, which is so much your boast, that sweetness of disposition and urbanity of manners, which make intercourse so easy and agreeable among you—in a word, the appearance of all the virtues, without being in possession of one of them.’

(31) For example, Discourse on Arts and Sciences (60): Cole, p. 26; Gourevitch I, pp. 27–8: ‘Why should we build our happiness on the opinions of others, when we can find it in our own hearts?’ And, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality II (57): Vaughan I, p. 195; Cole, p. 104; Gourevitch I, p. 187: ‘social man lives constantly outside himself, and only knows how to live in the opinion of others, so that he seems to receive the consciousness of his own existence merely from the judgment of others concerning him.’

(32) See Plamenatz’s discussion in Man and Society, Vol. II (London, 1962), ch. 2, which begins with a comparison to Rousseau (2nd ed., Volume II, ch. 6).

(33) Indeed, see above, fn. 25, Rousseau himself wants to encourage some forms of interdependence: see comments immediately below, in sect. iv.

(34) Emile IV: Foxley, p. 191; Bloom, p. 230: ‘The man of the world almost always wears a mask. He is scarcely ever himself and is almost a stranger to himself; he is ill at ease when he is forced into his own company.’

(35) Constitutional Project for Corsica: Vaughan II, p. 344; Watkins, p. 325.