Comparing Rousseau And Mill On Liberty

1824 words - 7 pages

The term “civil or social liberties” is one that garners a lot of attention and focus from both Rousseau and Mill, although they tackle the subject from slightly different angles. Rousseau believes that the fundamental problem facing people’s capacity to leave the state of nature and enter a society in which their liberty is protected is the ability to “find a form of association that defends and protects the person and goods of each associate with all the common force, and by means of which each one, uniting with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before” (Rousseau 53). Man is forced to leave the state of nature because their resistance to the obstacles faced is beginning to fail (Rousseau 52). Mill does not delve as far back as Rousseau does and he begins his mission of finding a way to preserve people’s liberty in an organized society by looking to order of the ancient societies of Greece, Rome and England (Mill 5). These societies “consisted of a governing One, or a governing tribe or caste, who derived their authority from inheritance or conquest” (Mill 5). This sort of rule was viewed as necessary by the citizens but was also regarded as very dangerous by Mill as the lives of citizen’s were subject to the whims of the governing power who did not always have the best interests of everyone in mind. Mill proposes that the only time “power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others” (Mill 14) and this is one of the fundamental building blocks of Mill’s conception of liberty. Rousseau, on the other hand, places more importance on the concept of a civic liberty and duty whose virtue comes from the conformity of the particular will with the general will.

     “Man was/is born free, and everywhere he is chains” (46) is one of Rousseau’s most famous quotes from his book. He is trying to state the fact that by entering into the restrictive early societies that emerged after the state of nature, man was being enslaved by authoritative rulers and even “one who believes himself to be the master of others is nonetheless a greater slave than they” (Rousseau 46). However, Rousseau is not advocating a return to the state of nature as he knows that would be next to impossible once man has been exposed to the corruption of society, but rather he is looking for a societal arrangement that would preserve man’s liberty and even provide greater benefits than were found in Rousseau’s idealistic vision of the state of nature. By joining civil society and becoming a part of the general will, man is enriching his actions with a morality and rationality that was previously lacking. As he states in Book I, Chapter VIII, “although in this state he deprives himself of several advantages given to him by nature, he gains such great ones…that changed him from a stupid, limited animal into an intelligent being and a man” (Rousseau 56). What man posses in nature is an...

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