…you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.
“The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said ‘This is mine’, and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody”. 1)↓
In common with other philosophers of the day, Rousseau looked to a hypothetical State of Nature as a normative guide.
Rousseau criticized Hobbes for asserting that since man in the “state of nature… has no idea of goodness he must be naturally wicked; that he is vicious because he does not know virtue”. On the contrary, Rousseau holds that “uncorrupted morals” prevail in the “state of nature” and he especially praised the admirable moderation of the Caribbeans in expressing the sexual urge 2)↓ despite the fact that they live in a hot climate, which “always seems to inflame the passions”. 3)↓
Rousseau asserted that the stage of human development associated with what he called “savages” was the best or optimal in human development, between the less-than-optimal extreme of brute animals on the one hand and the extreme of decadent civilization on the other. “…[N]othing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man”. 4)↓ Referring to the stage of human development which Rousseau associates with savages, Rousseau writes:
“Hence although men had become less forebearing, and although natural pity had already undergone some alteration, this period of the development of human faculties, maintaining a middle position between the indolence of our primitive state and the petulant activity of our egocentrism, must have been the happiest and most durable epoch. The more one reflects on it, the more one finds that this state was the least subject to upheavals and the best for man, and that he must have left it only by virtue of some fatal chance happening that, for the common good, ought never to have happened. The example of savages, almost all of whom have been found in this state, seems to confirm that the human race had been made to remain in it always; that this state is the veritable youth of the world; and that all the subsequent progress has been in appearance so many steps toward the perfection of the individual, and in fact toward the decay of the species.” 5)↓
The perspective of many of today’s environmentalists can be traced back to Rousseau who believed that the more men deviated from the state of nature, the worse off they would be. Espousing the belief that all degenerates in men’s hands, Rousseau taught that men would be free, wise, and good in the state of nature and that instinct and emotion, when not distorted by the unnatural limitations of civilization, are nature’s voices and instructions to the good life. Rousseau’s ‘noble savage’ stands in direct opposition to the man of culture. 6)↓
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|1.||↑||Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1754), “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, part two”, The Basic Political Writings, Hackett, p. 64.|
|2.||↑||Rousseau, pp. 72–73.|
|3.||↑||Rousseau 1754, p. 78.|
|4.||↑||Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1754), “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, part two”, The Basic Political Writings, Hackett, p. 64.|
|5.||↑||Rousseau 1754, p. 65.|
|6.||↑||“Rousseau’s ‘General Will’ & well-ordered society”. Québecois libre.|