Ramble. Focus. Ramble.

Journey to Inequality

According to Rousseau, inequality is bound to arise from the natural state of the individual man. In Part Two of the Discourse Rousseau explains a hypothetical picture of inequality arising from the natural state of man. The opening sentence of part two tells us that the first person to claim property was the one who set the foundation for civil society (34). So the role property plays is to lead to the formation of a civil society where people are divided into classes according to the property they own. This inevitably leads to the establishment of law which takes inequality to a higher level (46). Rousseau hypothesizes every single step of the journey to inequality.

As soon as man understood the advantage of being together than being alone, he developed feelings and emotions. He soon realized what self-esteem was and that lead him to acquire more than he required. And when he realized “it was useful for one man to have provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced” (40). Now, since property was defined according to one’s labor and people do not possess the same talents the first form of inequality arose. Strong people did more work, weaker did less work and they received their share of property accordingly, creating a mild form of inequality. Property created deceit in man because he understood that even if he did not have a lot of talent, he needs to pretend that he does. Man understood deceit and understood that “to be and to appear” were both in his advantage.

The rich wanted their labor repaid so they put boundaries on the land and labeled it their own. The others complained because of jealousy and the rich found it convenient to use them. The rich prepared to unite them in the form of a society and promised to protect their property; this would be the establishment of law. The weak found this beneficial and society was formed. Where there was one society, there were going to be more of them soon (45). Decent people learned that slaughtering was their moral duty and that marked the era of wars and battles (45). These wars brought in people the need for protection of liberty and property and they began to look for a master. They gave in to a master and accepted slavery; inequality worsened (47).

The legitimate power of the master soon became arbitrary because he did nothing and he had no role. People took shelter under the so called master for their own good and soon found themselves comparing each other. They were divided through the inequalities of “wealth, rank, power and personal abilities” (53). The personal inequalities were the origin of the inequality in society and wealth was what all forms of inequalities were reduced to, at the end (53). People came to the state where they were happy only because others were miserable. An oligarchy developed where the rich ruled and the poor paid taxes. Civil war began when poor armed themselves against the rich and killed their citizens (54). This chaos resulted in the dissolution of leaders and laws and a tyrant took over. This, according to Rousseau, was the worst form of inequality. Justice, virtue, principles, laws and ethics all vanished.  Rousseua says “everything here is reduced to the law of the strongest” (55).

The development of rationality brings about the sense of property in us and that leads to the inevitability of inequality. Property creates inequality and the establishment of law legitimizes inequality. Soon the law and order situation is overthrown and with a tyrant comes the worst form of inequality.


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