Monthly Archives: November 2014

A Discourse on Inequality

Some initial reactions:

I am torn between Rousseau’s and Hobbes’ accounts of the natural state of man. From an emotional and empirical standpoint, I am more for Rousseau than Hobbes. But from a logical standpoint, I tend to agree more with Hobbes. That may just be a virtue of the length of Hobbes’ text– he is more categorical and takes more time in establishing the fundamentals of his arguments, whereas Rousseau’s Discourse reads more like a train of thought that makes sense to the writer, but would not easily be pressed on someone who disagrees with any of Rousseau’s fundamentals. His notes read like defensive responses to inevitable objections to his unsubstantiated claims.

I find in the Discourse two Rousseaus. There is dramatic disparity between the tone and values apparent in the letter to Geneva and the Preface, and in the Discourse itself. He seems to exalt in the precursors to the discourse all those things that he condemns in the actual essay. In particular, the role of women in society, and the role of laws in shaping a man’s nature. He waxes poetical about the divine right of women to dominance over men in the letter to Geneva, but in the Discourse, he verges on misogyny. As well, I can see no evidence of a belief in positive liberty in the Discourse, but it is clear that he is no libertarian from the preamble.

Voltaire’s notes are hysterical. I can’t say, however, that they didn’t colour my interpretation of the text.