"The Social Contract"
by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.
One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a
slave than they are."
"I have asked God for only one thing in my life
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his dramatic
opening lines to his immensely powerful treatise "The Social Contract," wrote
that man was naturally good but becomes corrupted by the pernicious
influence of human society and institutions. He preached a mankind
improved by returning to nature and living a natural life at peace
with his neighbors and himself. He claims to be in favor of democracy,
but what he really favors is egalitarianism. Rousseau's influence
both in art and politics was huge in his own day and continues to
be strong today.
Voltaire and Rousseau
"To hold a pen is to be at war!"
Voltaire to Mme. d' Angenthal
Octiber 4, 1748
Voltaire and Rousseau
Although they are two of the most famous
of the great French philosophes, Rousseau and Voltaire hated
each other. In fact, it would be hard to ever envision the urbane
and suave Voltaire and the radically democratic Rousseau ever seeing
eye to eye on much: Voltaire believed that through education and
reason man could separate himself from the beasts while Rousseau
thought that it was precisely all this which made men "unnatural" and
corrupted. As Betrand Russell put it so eloquently: "It is not surprising
that Rousseau and Voltaire ultimately quarreled; the marvel is that
they did not quarrel sooner." Like many intellectuals, Rousseau was
a great lover of mankind as a collective but singularly unable to
appreciate or get along with any individual persons who he encountered
in his life. On the other hand, Voltaire was not a person you wanted
to engage in a literary tÍte-a-tÍte as his scorn and ridicule were
Rousseau sent Voltaire a copy of his "The Social Contract" and
Voltaire wrote him the following:
"I have received your new book against the human
race, and thank you for it. Never was such a cleverness used
in the design of making us all stupid. One longs, in reading
your book, to walk on all fours. But as I have lost that habit
for more than sixty years, I feel unhappily the impossibility
of resuming it. Nor can I embark in search of the savages of
Canada, because the maladies to which I am condemned render
a European surgeon necessary to me; because war is going on
in those regions; and because the example of our actions has
made the savages nearly as bad as ourselves."
Voltaire, a young man in the France of King Louis' XIV, supposedly
was seen talking too loudly at the opera in December of 1725 by
a certain French aristocrat named the Chevalier de Rohan-Chabot.
In the France of that time, anyone who did not have a de at
the end of their name denoting royal patronage was immediately
looked down upon. Rohan confronted him superciliously with the
haughty question: "Monsieur de Voltaire, Monsieur Arouet - comment
vous appelez-vous? [what really is your name?]" Voltaire is said
to have replied:
"One who does not trail after a great name,
but knows how to honor that which he has!"
Yikes! The enraged Chevalier raised his cane to strike while
Voltaire tried to draw his sword before the fight was broken
up and the two separated. Voltaire spent the next day practicing
swordsmanship for a duel to the death with Rohan when the aristocrat
simply had Voltaire arrested and thrown into the Bastille. Soon
thereafter, Voltaire was exiled to England where men and minds
and that is that he should make people laugh at my enemies.
And he did."