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Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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In the famous fragment on the origin of inequality, Rousseau seems to believe that private property was simply invented by a madman; yet we do not know how this diabolical contrivance, opposed as it was to innate human drives, was taken up by other people and spread all over the human societies.
--
Leszek Kolakowski, "The Death of Utopia Reconsidered" (1982).

 
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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For Rousseau, man’s nature is essentially good, but he was corrupted by various “advances” in human civilization (especially the institution of private property). Although man’s natural “innocence” has been lost, Rousseau thought that it could be replaced by a new form of moral goodness through the establishment of new political institutions. When we compare this to St. Augustine, we can see what a departure this is from the mainstream of Pauline Christianity. Augustine held that man is inescapably sinful and concludes that, as such, the City of God cannot be achieved on earth. Rousseau’s major contribution to the foundation of socialist thought is in his rejection of human sinfulness and his commitment to human improvement through institutional change. With this foundational belief, he set the stage for perfectionist political doctrines that moved focus from “the next world” of Christianity by arguing that this world can be transformed into “heaven on earth.”

 
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
 

The most important misunderstanding seems to me to lie in a confusion between the human necessities which I consider part of human nature, and the human necessities as they appear as drives, needs, passions, etc., in any given historical period. This division is not very different from Marx’s concept of "human nature in general", to be distinguished from "human nature as modified in each historical period". The same distinction exists in Marx when he distinguishes between "constant" or "fixed" drives and "relative" drives. The constant drives "exist under all circumstances and ... can be changed by social conditions only as far as form and direction are concerned". The relative drives "owe their origin only to a certain type of social organization".

 
Erich Fromm
 

The enduring assumption that human behaviour is governed by innate morality and reason is at odds with the persistence of human deprivation, inequality, injustice, misery, brutality and conflict.

 
Nayef Al-Rodan
 

A utopian vision, once it is translated into political idiom, becomes mendacious or self-contradictory; it provides new names for old injustice or hides the contradictions under ad hoc invented labels. This is especially true of revolutionary utopias, whether elaborated in the actual revolutionary process or simply applied in its course. The Orwellian language had been known, though not codified, long before modern totalitarian despotism. Rousseau’s famous slogan, “One has to compel people to freedom,” is a good example.

 
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
 

I cannot inquire into whether the abolition of private property is expedient or advantageous. But I am able to recognize that the psychological premisses on which the system is based are an untenable illusion. In abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, certainly a strong one, though certainly not the strongest, but we have not altered the differences in power and influence which are misused by aggressiveness, nor have we altered anything in its nature. Aggressiveness was not created by property. It reigned almost without limit in primitive times, when property was still very scanty, and it already shows itself in the nursery almost before property has given up its primal, anal form; it forms the basis of every relation of affection and love among people (with the single exception, perhaps, of the mother's relations to her male child).

 
Sigmund Freud
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