Discuss about Interpretation of Inequality as posited by Rousseau……………
Inequality has been described as the root cause of all evil in society. Philosophically, the concept of inequality has been ‘immortalized’ by Rousseau in his ‘Discourse on Inequality.’ Rousseau talks about two fundamental types of inequality in existence in the world. Firstly he posits that there is physical inequality [a derivative of the disparities in physical strength between organisms and more so human beings] and Rousseau explains that this inequality is nature’s product because a person cannot choose their physical characteristics. This type of inequality is inherent and is never dictated by a person. Therefore it cannot be used to discuss the inequalities present in society. His second categorization, and what I think is even more appropriate is what Rousseau refers to as moral inequality. I strongly associate with this category because just as Rousseau posits it has been the cause of all endemics realized in society. throughout this paper, I am going to be discussing what I think and what I understand by the position of Rousseau when he was discussing moral inequality in his discourse and how relevant and true his position has been and still being exemplified in society.
I think the importance of morality in society is very relevant. By morality I mean the way people and government institutions behave on their own as well as their relationship towards each other. It is through such civil relationship that a person finds it easy to live in a society. I compare societies; especially those that have ‘attained’ civility and those still struggling to attain civility and it really bothers me. The fundamental question that I ask myself is this: “why that is my society [for instance]has better lifestyle compared to a society like Somalia which is full of atrocities beyond human comprehension?” I did not choose to be born in a more civil society, my thoughts about civility [I presume] are the same thoughts shared by a suffering person in Somalia. Just as Rousseau posited, a person does not choose their physical characteristics neither does a person choose where they are born. When he was writing his discourse on inequality Rousseau was tempted by the inequality he witnessed in Geneva [which was his birth place]. He says that had he been handed the opportunity to choose where to be born, he would have chosen a society where there were limitations to the crude potential of human being [that was to mean a place where a person was limited in his evil deeds in order to ensure the enjoyment of society by other members too].
The potential of a human being to do well is unprecedented; the opposite is always true. Human being is capable of evil in a scale that cannot be measured. For instance, take the example of Adolf Hitler, before he led the Nazis and his involvement in the World War, he was elected democratically to lead the people of German. This I think is what Rousseau was referring to when he posited that the ultimate society according to him was where people adored citizenship and were primarily motivated to shun vices in the society and embrace virtues. But a sharp contrast is realized when Hitler changed, and changed for the worst. The atrocity [especially the public lynching of Jews] shows how delusional a human mind can be. The idea that Germans were superior to the Jews exemplified inequality that Rousseau said would lead to moral inequality. What Hitler did was show that truly what Rousseau wrote a few centuries back was actually true; moral inequality was the root of all evil in the society.
But, what is the Basis of such moral inequality? I believe that moral inequality is an idea that has been structured by the ruling class to enhance their rule over people. This inequality, has not been placed in the public domain, rather it is hidden within the confines of the social contract [an idea that Rousseau came up with]. I say this because, the inequality in society has been furthered by the actions of the ruling class. They have been given the power [by their subjects] to rule over their fellow citizens. This way, people have decided to forgo their individual power [and hence responsibility in society] and vest this power in the hands of a person who has been able to convince them [the subjects] to be ruled over. This form of trick or ‘political magic’ is a scheme by people who perceive themselves as superior to others in society and are of the idea that they deserve to rule and consequently protect their investment in society. This way just as Rousseau posited; Inequality in terms of strength is not consequential in determination of structures of society. The physically strong survive on issues that require physical strength [and which quite frankly are very limited] while a person who has been able to convince others that he is more superior to them [either in terms of leadership or education] usually carries the day on more fundamental issues.
This type of thinking is what has lead to the current political stalemates in some countries. When I began this paper, I gave the example of Somalia which has been experiencing civil war for close to a decade now. The problems in that country are not brought about by physical inequalities. Rather they are brought by moral inequalities with some of the leaders not wanting to be regarded as worthless. They perceive themselves as better than other leaders and therefore they continue fighting for a share of leadership.
The position stated above reflects to leadership inequality through the lens of moral inequality just as posited by Rousseau. Apart from leadership inequality, personal inequality is also an issue which I think reflects on inequality as discussed by Rousseau in his discourse. Human being throughout civilization has always tried to express the view that they can function alone. That is why, the most basic structure of any society is considered to be an individual. It is through the efforts of an individual that they are able to achieve their best. When a person achieves their best, they tend to shun the rest [however accomplished they might also be]. A person considers himself as superior and more equal than his counterparts. This is the position that Rousseau furthered in his discourse when he posits that man having fenced his own piece of land he declared that it was his and when the other naïve people believed him he became the founder of the civil society. It is from this moment according to Rousseau that wars, crimes, murders and all the horrors we see in society began.
However I do not think that Inequality is almost as bad as Rousseau posits. The beginning of atrocities in society saw man gang up against this evil. Before this the savage man did not have any form of reasoning (Rousseau, 66). Due to the mental corruption that made man think he could dominate others, the birth of institutions was realized (Rousseau, 72). It is through these institutions that man intended to solidify his power and his rule over others. I tend to think that man originally had no idea that this conflict of interest would lead to the birth of civilization as we know it today. It is through inequality in society that man was able to realize that he possessed the ‘perfectibility’ quality (Rousseau, 45) which through the ages has allowed man to improve his environment as well as his physical conditions while at the same time engaging himself in discovery of survival tactics that are more sophisticated in nature.
I think that that it is through moral inequality that human being has been able to differentiate himself from animals by evolving from his animal nature to embrace civility. I think that if inequality did not emerge, human beings would still be fighting like animals over the limited resources that are present in the world today. However, just like Rousseau posited in his discourse of inequality, the repercussions of inequality have been profound. Human being has achieved great strides as result of inequality but at the same time he has also destroyed a lot in the process of asserting his authority over another.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Discourse on the Originality of Inequality. New York: Hackett Pub Co, 1992
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