“Has the progress of the arts and sciences contributed more to the corruption or purification of morals? ” Rousseau criticized social institutions for having corrupted the essential goodness of nature and the human heart. Rousseaue believed that by becoming “civilized”, society has actually become worse because good people are made unhappy and are corrupted by their experiences in society… He viewed society as “articficial” and “corrupt” and that the furthering of society results in the continuing unhappiness of man. He also argued that the advancement of art and science had not been beneficial to mankind.
He proposed that the progress of knowledge had made governments more powerful, and crushed individual liberty. He concluded that material progress had actually undermined the possibility of sincere friendship, replacing it with jealousy, fear and suspicion. In his “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” he elaborated on the process of how social institutions must have developed into the extreme unequal rights of aristocratic France where the nobility and the church lived in luxury while the poor peasants had to pay most of the taxes.
And in his “Discourse on Political Economy” he suggested remedies for these injustices. For Rousseau society itself is an implicit agreement to live together for the good of everyone with individual equality and freedom. However, people have enslaved themselves by giving over their power to governments which are not truly sovereign because they do not promote the general will. Rousseau believed that only the will of all the people together granted sovereignty.
Various forms of government are instituted to legislate and enforce the laws. He wrote, “The first duty of the legislator is to make the laws conformable to the general will, the first rule of public economy is that the administration of justice should be conformable to the laws. ” His natural political philosophy echoes the way of Lao Tzu: “The greatest talent a ruler can possess is to disguise his power, in order to render it less horrible, and to conduct the State so peaceably as to make it seem to have no need of conductors. [v]irtue, no virtue without citizens; create citizens, and you have everything you need; without them, you will have nothing but debased slaves, from the rulers of the State downwards. ”
He argued that the goal of government should be to secure freedom, equality, and justice for all within the state, regardless of the will of the majority. Yet Rousseau was not against positive law. On the contrary, laws protect those who are free from the vile enslaved man who violates them. We are free within the law, but again the laws must be in harmony with reason and the general good.