A Review of Rousseau's "On The Origin of Inequality"


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By Sepp Mannsberger

As I read through Jean Jacques Rousseau’s On The Origin of Inequality, I came to realize just how much of the fundamental tenets of modern “equality” derive from this small booklet written by the French philosopher in 1754. It is with this in mind that I find it of pressing importance to address specific claims made by Rousseau and frequently repeated in modern society.

Rousseau attempts an explanation of man in his natural state [1], a state that is devoid of all government and all civility, stripped of all signs of modernity: a cave man, in other words. It is the contention of Rousseau that institutions are the primary cause of inequality since they require mankind to adapt in a way that is not natural. [2] This perspective on man and the origin of inequality remains to this day a popular one. Countless times I’ve heard it claimed that if two individuals of entirely different races are born in the wild and left to fend for themselves without education, civilization and other “luxuries” there would be absolutely no distinguishable difference between these individuals at all: They would in fact be completely equal. The suggestion, however, is a flawed one, one for which we might be able to forgive Rousseau, but not modern man, for accepting it as evident fact.

What modern man conveniently forgets (and what Rousseau may not have known) is that man’s natural state is never a constant, for we are organic creatures and, like any other organism, we adapt and evolve with one single purpose in mind - survival. Thus, to state that our “natural condition” is that of the caveman is an inaccurate estimation. Institutionalizing and organizing ourselves into a community exponentially increased our ability to survive whatever came our way. Of course, this is an imperfect method, and can in some cases even threaten the survival of the organism. However, man has labored throughout thousands of years to find the best way to govern- In other words, to extract the absolute maximum from the community and thereby to ensure maximum survivability of the organism.

More astonishing is the fact that Rousseau notes that the Negro man in the Caribbean has no future sense at all[3], stating that he would sell his cotton in the morning, then come back later crying for it back in the afternoon, not having realized that he may have needed it later on. This Rousseau believes is man’s natural predisposition, based on the notion that the Negro man is closer to man’s natural state than the European. The issue with this, however, is that there is little consideration given to the fact that different races have different temporalization and temporal cognition, that is to say that each race perceives things differently and in different time spans. If our natural predisposition is, as Rousseau contends, to have no sense of future needs and wants, then European man would never have foreseen the need for cultivating crops, storing large quantities of food, or preparing proper housing for the winter.

It could be argued that the increase in population demanded that we engage in this sort of preparation, and that it was only as a result of this that man foresaw the need to store. However, this contention is flawed as well. It was through agriculture that our population expanded rapidly, and if not for a sense of future, we’d have had no way of foreseeing the starvation that would result from a lack of proper preparation. It is not “civility,” the arts, or “education” which created this future insight, but the manner in which European man’s mind biologically functions.

In support of the contention that any perceived natural differences are merely institutional, Rousseau cites an example as evidence. [4] He argues that if man is to forsake all inclinations toward dominance and behave in a sheep-like manner (to do precisely as everyone else, with no variation) man would immediately be far more equal than he is in a society. But this in itself suggests a contradiction of his previous assertions because man would have to actively force himself to forsake such things as communication, behavioral differences, likes and dislikes, and behave in precisely the same manner as all others. The result would be an unnatural condition, not a natural state. That which is natural comes without force, and is a logical sequence of adaptations that lead inextricably toward a single harmonious goal.

As can be seen from this brief review, many of Rousseau’s beliefs remain common in modern society. It is commonly believed by people that societal institutionalization is the cause of the inequality between European and Negro, that it is “socio-environmental” factors that create this rift between the success of one and the failures of another. The argument remains to this day that, when placed in exactly the same environment, both will have equal success and thrive equally. As discussed above, this is a flawed manner of thought, for it is precisely because of the biological differences between the races that this rift exists. Whether you remedy detrimental socio-environmental factors or not, the end result will remain the same.

The Negro, due to a lack of future sense, would see no need for improvement and only concern himself with issues that relate to the present, while the European will always seek to advance, always feeling an urge to do so. I am certain that there are those who would argue that this is because the Negro lacks the education that the European has. However, consider why this is the case. It is not as though the modern Negro in Western countries has been denied this opportunity. “Yes, but they have a culture that attacks education,” Indeed! Why is that? Perhaps because they see no need for this? Different races - different values. Not even compelled education at Harvard would create a “socio-environment” that is equal to that of European man.

Original article


[1] Rousseau, Jean Jacques, Discourse on The Origin of Inequality, Dover Publications Inc, 2004 P. 4 - 6
[2] Ibid. P. 24 - 25
[3] Ibid. P. 7 - 12
[4] Ibid P. 24 – 25



I wrote an article on this a long time ago back pre yidwife