Origins of Inequality

Published: 2019-09-03 01:00:00
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The purpose of Rousseaus Discourse is to inspect the origins of inequality among men and to establish the possibility that this inequality is permitted by natural law. Rousseaus main argument is that present day moral inequality is developed as an agreement between humans and is not related to the true nature of human beings. According to Rousseaus argument, modern moral inequality is therefore not natural. To scrutinize natural law, Rousseau believed that it was necessary to take into deliberation human nature and to map out the evolution of human nature through the centuries resulting in the establishment of modern society and existence of modern man. John Locke on the other hand was of the belief that the main aim of society was to protect an individuals personal property and in this way, evade conflicts over this property. John Locke, in his Two Treatise of Government puts forward an argument that proposes inequality is justified and implies that it is a necessary aspect in a properly run society.

In his work Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseaus argument differs extensively from Lockes. Rousseaus argument condemns society today for promoting inequality and praises the savage life for having equality (Masters, Masters, and Rousseau 12). To begin with Rousseau traces the beginning of inequality to the building of the hut. The building of the hut is also the beginning of the concept of property. According to Rousseau, mane made men advances, grew enlightened and became industrious. This led to the beginning of the first revolution when men learned to make and use tools that led them to fashion huts (Masters, Masters, and Rousseau 10). The building of huts led to the establishment of first families. As the strong were probably the first to build huts, the weaker men could only imitate as trying to dislodge them could lead to a battle with the whole family living in the hut. The building of huts led to advances in society that Rousseau argues grew into inequality. When an individual realized that he had power when he had provisions for two, inequality was conceived.

In Lockes discussion, he contradicts Rousseau with the assertion that men always had unequal quantities of possessions on earth. However, Lockes reasoning may be challenged by the fundamental belief that there is enough property on earth to go around for everyone. Based on modern society, this reasoning is flawed. Given the prevailing conditions of radical inequality in the world, it would be untrue to assert that there is enough property to go around for everyone. There is stark contrast between those with a lot of property and those on the bottom rungs of the property ladder.

Locke is of the opinion that God gave all of the earth to men and the creatures on earth are for the benefit of mans consumption (Locke and Laslett 27). Although man is not provided with the earth as personal property, the property that he is given as private is his own person that nobody else but himself has a right to (Locke and Laslett 27). By virtue of his body being his own property, Locke asserts that the fruits of a mans labor are his too (Locke and Laslett 27). The claim that the human body belongs to each individual person is plausible. However, the claim that an individuals body can be related to property is a bit odd in itself. Locke tries to explain human life in a manner that seems like a legal arrangement including the relationship people have with themselves.

Locke argues that common land ceases to be public property and turns into private property when utilized. For instance, when one tills a piece of land, their labor has been used on the land and it ceases to be public property and turns into private property. This reasoning is in contrast to Rousseau s belief and can be identified as a cause of inequality. This argument is what Rousseau faults in Lockes reasoning. Lockes argument on nature is a depiction of the events of modern society. The irony is that Locke has asserted that property rights occur in nature and are not a product of the social contract that carries man out of nature and into organized society. At this level, Locke is struggling to sustain his initial argument.

The development of property as initiated by the building of the hut and division of labor led to the introduction of inequality. Property paved the way for exploitation of the poor and domination by the wealthy. Relations between the wealthy and the poor when politicized are cause for war. This makes it dangerous and unstable in discussion. The rich therefore create a political society that apparently seems to secure freedom and safety for the poor. However, the political society merely reinforces the status quo and creates laws that maintain inequality. Inequality is now less related to the original nature of human beings, but is a moral inequality that has been established in place of a physical inequality. Rousseaus observation of modern society where money is the only measure of value is true in the present. As Rousseau observes, inequality continues to persist, it may end up to a point where despotism is the way of life. As Rousseau points out, inequality is only natural when it is linked to physical differences between men as opposed to the modern inequality where human evolution has corrupted his nature to support property that justifies inequality.

Marx and Rousseau

Marx was of the opinion that capitalism was the cause of inequalities in modern society. However, Marx would have considered Rousseaus style as inappropriate to alleviate the human condition. For Marx, revolution was the best way to overcome the class struggle (Marx and Engels 3). Marxs philosophy is fundamentally based on the economic situation unlike Rousseaus that is based on the social aspect. However, Marx unlike Rousseaus argument does not ignore the political aspect of the strife of the proletariat. On the other hand, Marx and Rousseau are similar in that they both believe in the use of politics to keep the bourgeoisie in power over the proletariat. In essence, they both argue that the state is an extension of the wealthy classes. Max would therefore be in agreement with a lot of Rousseaus beliefs.

Marx believed that contemporary capitalism was the cause of increased tensions between laboring, wage-earning class (the proletariat) and the capital-owning middle class (the bourgeoisie) (Marx and Engels 4). For Marx, the inevitable end would d be a violent revolution pitting the oppressed against the oppressors. However, Rousseaus argument did not end the same as Marxs would. Marx would probably view Rousseaus end as an unlikely end and possibly ineffective in eliminating the class struggle.

Works Cited

Locke, John, and Peter Laslett. Two Treatises of Government. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993. Print.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto: Annotated Text. New York: W.W. Norton, 1988. Print.

Masters, Roger D., Judith R. Masters, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The First and Second Discourses. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1964. Print.

The Portable Nietzsche. New York: Viking Press, 1968. Print.


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