Friday, August 21, 2020

Forced to be free

"The Gospel of Jean-Jacques" argues that today's utopians are directly descendant from Rousseau:
.... Rousseau’s first writings present an anthropology that, in essence, prevails on the cultural Left today. He envisions human beings as bundles of individual desire. He is preoccupied with autonomy, “the power of willing or rather of choosing, ...and the feeling of this power.” He identifies self-love as the predominant human impulse. But (in sharp contrast to the doctrine of original sin and to earlier secular thinkers such as Hobbes and Machiavelli) he sentimentalizes self-love. He argues that human beings are fundamentally unaggressive by nature. He teaches a feelings-based morality and argues that compassion can ensure a benign social order. He imagines a prehistoric libertarian golden age, and he aspires to utopia.

Meanwhile, he denounces existing institutions as corrupt. The Social Contract famously opens, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Rousseau and the cultural Left that follows him must find their way from an autonomy-obsessed, hedonistic notion of human nature to a collectivist, coercive theory of government organized for purposes of reform. Rousseau accomplished this paradox with his theory of the General Will.

Rousseau’s concept is that, human nature being essentially benign, the impulses of the general public inevitably tend toward the common good. He grounds this notion in a sentimental deism (“The voice of the people is in fact the voice of God”). True freedom therefore requires conforming each person’s will to the General Will. It is the “real will” of each citizen. Thus, as Rousseau expressly states in The Social Contract (and as Robespierre despotically asserted), people can be “forced to be free.”

These concepts readily passed from Rousseau’s sentimental deism, to Hegel’s doctrine of world-historical progress, to Marx, and to progressivism today. ....

The gospel of Jean-Jacques is ascendant in America today. Its libertarian strain is found in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, refining the logic of Roe v. Wade to justify abortion on these grounds: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Rousseau himself abandoned his infant children to near-certain death in orphanages, and this is his legacy — human beings conceived as atomized, arbitrary bundles of desire. Rising out of that legacy are assaults on moral norms of every sort: unrestricted abortion, assisted suicide, ubiquitous pornography, marijuana lotus-eating, insistence that all norms are mere social constructions. .... (more

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