Saturday, April 14, 2007

Dear Mr. Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau April 10, 1763

Dear Mr. Rousseau,

Having just finished reading your essay, The Social Contract, I feel compelled to write to you in the perhaps vain hope of persuading you of the errors in your reasoning. Mayhap you will perceive my attempt as arrogant or rude, though I certainly hope as a man of learning you will be willing to open your mind to the thoughts of one who has read not a little bit on the subject and who cares deeply about it.

Beginning your endeavor with man in a state of nature and attempting to deduce human nature from this situation is an allowable and familiar starting point for political thought. John Locke (have you read his Second Treatise of Government?) began in the same place, though ended up with results quite different from your own. I perceive that your assessment of that state is mostly accurate, that “no man has any natural authority over his fellows and force alone bestows no right”. However, I disagree with you upon one point. You hold that an individual has no right to property before entering into the social compact, and only claims possession. This I cannot accede to for the right to property is a natural extension of the right to life which preexists government, but more on that later.

You rightly conclude that self-preservation leads men to join together in a social contract. The error occurs in your account of how they join. In your essay you describe the union of individuals into “a people” as “the total alienation by each associate of himself and all his rights to the whole community”. Here, sir, lays the difficulty.

I hold that we are each of us endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights including, but not limited to, life, liberty and property. These rights exist in a state of nature (though they may be violated therein) and are based upon human nature. Since our life is a gift from and the property of God, we have no right to destroy our own or any other human life. The great Locke offered these words on the matter; “No body can give more power than he has himself; and he that cannot take away his own life, cannot give another power over it.” Even were I not to appeal to the Almighty as the foundation of human nature, I would have to insist that in all questions of morality, life is the standard of good. The preeminence of the will to survive in human nature negates the possibility of one giving up the right to life.

The rights of liberty and property are the logical extensions of the right to life. For how can man preserve his life if he is not free to act as he best sees fit? He must own his life in order to maintain it. And when, in support of his existence, his labors accrue value to land or materials, they become his property. How would he be free to, say, grow crops for sustenance if he is not entitled to the harvest? It is inconceivable that man would give away the right to the fruit of his labors. To deny man the right of property is to deny the rights of liberty and life.

The logical extension of your premise, that life is a gift “received conditionally from the state” is not only absurd it is blasphemous. Only God creates and gives life. And, if self-preservation is the motivation which draws men into the social contract, why would they desire to give away their right to life? It is preposterous!

According to you all rights are exchanged and placed “under the supreme direction of the general will”. I cannot but foresee disastrous results arising from this unsound foundation. If the people retain no rights, there is no defense against the abuses and usurpations of the majority (which, as you say yourself, is not always enlightened), no safeguards can protect them. If the general will need not be unanimous on all votes, then what is to stop the will of the majority from abusing the minority?

Please don’t tell me about your enlightened lawgiver who will do the Herculean task of producing a body of law so enlightened, so beatific as to never allow for corruption and abuse. Where is this man? Who is he? And what mystical occurrence accounts for his superiority over the rest of the people who, though sovereign, aren’t enlightened enough to know what is best for them?

No, I predict that your incorrect reasoning upon this matter will lead to a totalitarian government that abuses its citizens in the name of the general will. To discourage relations between individuals whilst encouraging relations between individuals and the state is a corruption of human nature. What kind of man would have stronger sympathies and affections towards an amorphous mass called “the sovereign” than towards his own family and friends? If such men existed, it could only spell doom for humanity.

You must forgive my vehemence upon this matter. I submit my candid thoughts to you with respect and implore you to give them due consideration.

Be please to accept Sir a tender of my cordial and respectful salutations.

An American Thinker