I chanced upon a promotional piece by the United Nations on Rousseau and tweeted against it. A respondent on Facebook asked me to explain my tweet.
Rousseau was a major enemy of liberty.
One of the most significant classical liberals of all time, Professor Isaiah Berlin, showed in his BBC lectures (which were incorporated into a book, Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty) how Rousseau's conception of liberty, combined with Hegelian statist worldviews, led to the depredations of communism and socialism.
Rousseau expounded an ENTIRELY opposite concept of liberty (positive liberty) to that propounded by John Locke (negative liberty).
Berlin summarised Rousseau's position thus, in a famous essay:
Rousseau does not mean by liberty the 'negative' freedom of the individual not to be interfered with within a defined area, but the possession by all, and not merely by some, of the fully qualified members of a society of a share in the public power which is entitled to interfere with every aspect of every citizen's life. [Source - Berlin, I. (1958) “Two Concepts of Liberty.” In Isaiah Berlin (1969) Four Essays on Liberty. Oxford: Oxford University Press.]
You will readily recognise the seed of Marxism in this thought. Rousseau is the direct precursor of Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, Fabian (Nehruvian) socialism, Nazi socialism, and other forms of communism. To Rousseau we can attribute the seed of thought that led Nehru to create policies which have destroyed India's potential.
In brief, Rousseau's ideas have killed HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of innocent people.
Professor Berlin's BBC talk (audio) is linked here.
In addition, Timothy Harris's book, The Science of Liberty, discusses the frightening consequences of Rousseau's ideas in France. (Read my blog post on Harris's book.)
A key problem with Rousseau's ideas is his conception of "general will" which is effectively the overwhelming control of humans by authority. This control is presumably compatible with our liberty. Man, who chooses his own chains, is NOT a prisoner. He is free! That's, of course, a ridiculous idea, which completely violates the basic meaning of liberty.
He claims that what I truly want must be entirely compatible with what everyone else wants. Therefore the state has the capacity to abstract my wants (being representative of all others') and direct me into "freedom". "From Rousseau’s fevered and embittered mind came the dangerous notion that persons could be forced to be free." Because the individual has transferred his liberty to the ENTIRE SOCIETY, he is presumably free. By making us slaves of the state, Rousseau considers we have become free!
Such delusional (but popular) ideas, combined with Hegel's, ended up creating Marxian communism.
Rousseau's is best seen as a theory of collectivism, not a theory of freedom.
Hobbes's absolutist social contract was a feasible solution to the problem of negative liberty (enforcing justice). The Leviathan was obliged to defend INDIVIDUAL liberty.
Rousseau's "social contract", on the other hand, was totally different, being a totalitarian dictatorship.
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