Rousseau’s Critique of The ShortFalls of Modernity Essay Example
Various intellectuals have critiqued modernity on the basis of contributing significantly to the depravity of human condition. Rousseau’s inequality discourse stands out among the famous critiques of modernity. The purpose of the paper is to explore the various points raised by Rousseau to critique the Enlightenment and modernity. He believed that the real nature of all humans is buried beneath layers of historical and cultural baggage. Deprivation from the real human nature came out as an important source of inequality and other social problems. The essay addresses the shortfalls of modernity, such as the lack of equality and true virtues, and the influence of Rousseau’s discourse in humanitarianism, socialism, human rights, and democracy. The majority of all issues of life could be addressed through the appreciation and pursuit of what matters in life. Such thought characterized Rousseau’s discourse, making it relevant to the political and social theories in the contemporary society.
The past and present societies that humans live in have experienced troubles of varying kinds and magnitudes. As such, intellectuals engage their mind in the attempts to unveil the source or relate the course of human challenges to certain things in nature. Consequently, thinkers of varying persuasions have sought to reveal the link of the present troubles experienced in the society to modernity. Traditionalist and postmodernist intellectuals seem to agree that modernity bears the blame for the majority of problems and disparities that separate members of the same society in the process of living their life. The two divides only defer when it comes to defining modernity, with each excluding the elements of the terms that are the least serve in their interests while amplifying others. The post-modernity may have supplanted modernity, but a close examination of the former reveals shared essential elements with the later. Such revelation makes the argument even more valuable and meaningful in the today’s society and politics. Jean-Jacques Rousseau remains among the thinkers whose arguments and thoughts still influence and offer explanations of the postmodern issues and politics. The essay aims to debug Rousseau critique of modernity, his recipe for a less uncertain and more equal world, and the influence experienced in the postmodern social and political thought as a result of Rousseau’s work.
A period in history that corresponded with rapid development in philosophical thoughts acquired the name Enlightenment. The various discourses authored by Rousseau span through that time, qualifying him to be among the Enlightenment thinkers chronologically. Nevertheless, the first discourse appears to have disqualified Rousseau, considering that his thought came out as counter-Enlightenment works. It is through his subsequent dialogue that the redemption occurs, qualifying him to become one of those who laid the foundation of modern philosophy. Modern philosophy expanded its boundaries from science and metaphysics. The power of reason began to be applied to politics and ethics. The initial step that the discourse took in an attempt to diagnose the cause of the problems inherent in the society involved stripping off acquired attributes so as to uncover the character of human nature (Rousseau, 2013). The human nature was and still is believed to be unchanging and universal. Understanding that nature means separating legitimate aspects of the society from the illegitimate ones. Analysis of these philosophical thoughts unveils the predicament that plagues the society and highlights possible remedies that can be adopted to safeguard the happiness of the posterity.
Shortfalls of Modernity
It is this concern of the unhappiness of the posterity and the discontent with the status quo that triggered Rousseau’s moral discourse. Examination of the current situation leads an individual to rebel against modernization. Wish for modernization is to stop and pace backwards to a particular period in history for the sake of averting future misfortunes. According to Rousseau, human development perfectly represents the psychological and moral decay of humankind as much as it portrays the rise of man (Rousseau, 2013). Such views act as the foundation, on which the critique on modernity has springed. The discourse aims to make people feel discontent on the realization that their prideful acts lead to unfair competition between one society member and the other. The critique of modernity outlines the awful nature of competitions that cause individuals to worry constantly about their position. Aware of the foreseeable unfortunate worsening of future, Rousseau argued that humans may at some point wish to rewind time back to a better past (Rousseau, 2013). The various stages of modernity or development have contributed to the current situation that contrasts the human state of nature. The appreciation of the problems caused by modernity awakens the society to the reality of the disparities and inequalities even today. The response needs not to wish for the impossible, like rewinding development or modernity and moving back to the woods, but to provoke people to action.
Contrary to what is expected from modernity, the proliferation of inequalities shed a shadow of doubt on the overrated achievements as a result of development. The unquestionable inequalities aid in furthering the critique of modernity. Rousseau argues that natural things must not be explored based on the depraved modernity, but by the pre-modernity former real nature (Rousseau, 2013). In any society, the people follow what is natural and the incorrect identification of the natural leads people astray. Acceptance of the unnatural as natural creates a society that is depraved and self-centered. Modernity always places the abnormal in the place of the natural, but disguises it in such a form that the members of the community fail to realize the deception. Consider, for instance, the same sex relationship that was completely unnatural in the past. Today it is acceptable and continues to be campaigned for as a natural part of the modern society. The virtue of reproduction alone qualifies such relationship as unnatural. Just as the idea of nature in Rousseau’s days justified the harmful depriving inequality, the same justified the destructive acquired traits that threaten the family unit and future generations. A similar feeling of the desire to move back to a previous stage of development/modernity experienced by Rousseau exists in the conscience of some today. The best way to deal with social problems in modern society is to unmask the issues and expose their unnatural and artificial natures.
Attempting to uncover the natural proves both powerful and arduous. In most case, the forces in support of modernity will label the once exercising powers as counter-enlightened or bigoted. However, this necessary step involves peeling back the layers that have been deposited on the real human nature over the years of modernization (Rousseau, 2013). The endeavor is compelling because it provokes unfavorable contrasting with modern societies. Rousseau’s consideration of the natural aspects of a man reveals that even the most natural qualities like language and reason are unnatural. If the things that appear to occupy the center of life and existence are unnatural, then under no circumstances can structures like law, moral inequality, and property purport to be natural (Rousseau, 2013). It is sad that such profound power cannot be exercised outside the imaginary section of the mind. Unmasking cannot happen in practice, just as time cannot be reversed.
One of the major social-political challenges that emerge in the process of development is corruption. In developing nation, first world countries, and global organization like FIFA the worst form of economic and moral decay has been recorded. Could humans in their real nature walk into a church and shoot innocent people because of their skin color? How about terrorism, misappropriation of public funds, rape, and disintegration of the moral fabric reported daily. It is such forms of corruption that Rousseau desired to strip off to reveal the true nature of human species (Rousseau, 2013). Corruption appears as the part and parcel of the process of becoming modern. The humans’ reason develops at the same rate and as the exaggerated enlightenment comes forth, the man undergoes a rapid decline from the original state and becomes a corrupted species. Through the discourse, the author stated clearly that the process of corruption has both political and mental aspects (Rousseau, 2013). Modernity introduces a new set of needs to any society. The operations of amour propre that humans get subjected to in the attempt to align to the new requirements leads to mental corruption. Even those who have almost everything remain unsatisfied with life. A child in the modern world just wishes to get a meal for each day, while others have in excess and it is unimaginable how they will spent the innumerable wealth. Mental corruption has led to the loss of general pity not only from other animals but to fellows as well. Aware of the depraved realities surrounding the modern man, Rousseau describe him as deceptive, lacking in noble virtues, reasoning, and yet without wisdom and having the pleasure and still unhappy (Rousseau, 2013). Postmodernity has only amplified the bad human state, so the little conscience left after enlightenment has now been dissolved through mental corruption.
As a political phenomenon, corruption aims at deceiving the poor, hence, drift away from the state of nature and the ancient society. Politicians and the political society today confess to lying and manipulating people in their interests of making a political score. A lie when packaged well enough convinces the citizens that the system serves their interests and exists to protect freedom. In the real sense, the modern system of needs has enslaved humans to the extent that they are inherently inauthentic. Prideful life birthed by modernity causes humans to exist in an untrue relation to himself and others (Rousseau, 2013). Those who founded society and property relied on deception just as many governments of today remain false to the people, so as to sustain dominance. Self-deception remains the worst form of deception; surprisingly that is what the modern human suffers from. Inculcated inauthentic nature and ridiculous passions and desires bear the blame for the quagmire the society experience today. The identity crisis has led to a generation of people who don’t even know whether they are male or female, free or slave to their depraved mind. Men want to defy nature and be women, just as women fight to take the place of men. The clamor for modernity has caused the evolution of humans away from the true nature to the point, where Rousseau concludes that savage man would fail to recognize the modern man (Rousseau, 2013). Savage men did not suffer from self-deception, They had limited needs, hence, no need for dominance; the interaction of one with the other happened only in reproduction, eliminating the need for deceit. The savage man could only be contrary to the modern man whose existence depends on force. Lack of authenticity seems to be the foundation of modern life.
Inequality and the Lack of Virtue
Inequality and lack of virtue are at the core of the problems associated with modern society. As illustrated by Rousseau, the evolving list of needs and desires eventually becomes the list of necessities (Rousseau, 2013). Unable to fulfill all personal needs, humans enslave fellow humans to meet their unnatural needs. Dominance creates a society where some people needs are more valuable than those of others. The powerful play tricks on the poor and institutionalize inequality by creating civil societies. Property and ownership directly link to inequalities as evidenced by the small percentage of people who own the majority of the world property. Conflict of any magnitude, both domestic and international, originates from assets and ownership. In the absence of property, people have no need to cause injury (Rousseau, 2013). International wars spring from the fight for dominance and controlling the property. The idea of a society enslaved by imaginary needs reflects the society today, where pleasure, holidays, and other forms of luxury exist as needs. In the age of the limited property, some individuals get discriminated by being denied the right to own property. The Civil War illustrates how modernity created some of the worst events in the history of humanity. According to Rousseau, the solution rests in returning to a state where property belongs to no man. Establishment of freedom for all can only be achieved when humans operate in the true nature (Rousseau, 2013). The freedom does not depend on laws and political institutions alone but also on the ability to free man from needs and psychological slavery. The quality of life that a savage man lived revolved around three basic things: food, rest, and sex. As a result, the former society was free from inequalities and discrimination. That is how a man ought to live. Pursue what is naturally necessary and be content in the absence of other imaginary needs. The solution connected to any form of inequalities shall be found through a critical examination and unmasking of all unnatural needs to reveal the natural ones (Rousseau, 2013). Natural inequalities like physical strength cannot be prevented, but the unnatural inequalities can be confronted and eliminated to establish a better society.
Rousseau’s Influence on Contemporary Thought
The intention of Rousseau’s work was to earn freedom for all humanity. The same ideas influence the society today, as seen in freedom movements. People have become conscious of the disparities in the community. Political movements seek liberty and redistribution of resources. If modernity had not created the need for property ownership, the world would not have the rich and the poor, and majority or minority groups. Democratic thoughts of today can be traced back to the discourse. Rousseau refused to shy away from prescribing legitimate forms of government (Rousseau, 2013). The thoughts had a tremendous influence on the promotion of the notion of human rights that are at the center of the society and government of the United States today. The primary role of the United Nations also involves protecting these rights.
The discourse has also influenced international relations. Although the author does not explicitly explain how states should relate to other countries, the emphasis on the need for entities to exist independently of other entities alluded to the envisioned states independence. Dependencies create conflict and escalate, conflict results in wars. Similarly, Rousseau did not instruct citizens to show compassion for others, but his conclusion was that the uncorrupted man had intrinsic compassion provoked by society to seek to alleviate the sufferings in the world (Rousseau, 2013). Humanitarianism, social thought, and intervention carried out by governments, peoples, and humanitarian organizations like UNHCR borrow a lot from Rousseau’s discourse.
Socialism is one of the major political schools of thought that seemed to offer solutions to the problems of the society. Socialism discourages private ownership of property while promoting the benefits of communal ownership. Some 2016 presidential candidates have proposed the integration of capitalism with socialism as the cure to disparities especially in education and healthcare, experienced in America today. Socialism can be characterized as a step towards going back to the natural state of man.
The essay analyzed Rousseau’s critique on modernity. As it stands, the discourse on inequality remains among the most influential critiques of the modern life ever written. The political and psychological factors have corrupted the original human nature, giving rise to numerous society issues today. The close relationship between modernity evolution, development, and the inequalities was demonstrated throughout the essay. The intention was to explore how modern humans came into being and critic the unequal modern social and political institutions. Having diagnosed modernity as the cause of interpersonal, family, and international conflict; independence and freedom are suggested as viable solutions to social-political challenges. Finally, the influence of Rousseau’s discourse on the political and social thought was examined. Political campaigns, humanitarian activities, human rights, democracy, and sovereignty of states practiced in America and other nations reflect the relevance of Rousseau’s thoughts on the modern world.