Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rousseau at 300

"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains."

 I have always had mixed feelings about Rousseau. Today marks the 300th anniversary of his birth. I remeber spending quite a bit of time in Annecy on the lake in Savoy, visiting his old haunts.

Here was a man who thought we humans perfect until destroyed by society and a man who believed truly in the ideal of a social contract. He was a man also estranged from time to time from his peers but a man held up by many. In ways a counterpart of Voltaire and yet distant from him as well.

His works may seem strange to many Americans today but to the "intellectuals" of the mid 18th century they caused bells to ring.

Consider his words:

The most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural, is the family: and even so the children remain attached to the father only so long as they need him for their preservation. As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved. The children, released from the obedience they owed to the father, and the father, released from the care he owed his children, return equally to independence. If they remain united, they continue so no longer naturally, but voluntarily; and the family itself is then maintained only by convention.

 Strange is it not for he was the one who abandoned his own children. But read deeper, does he justify this action, is it not now a natural progression?

After these 300 years, one should at least reflect briefly on what this man meant to us today. On the one hand the Progressives and their view of a social contract, on the other, the Individualists and their ideal of the independence of man.