Blogs » J.Q. Tomanek of Victoria » The autonomous State individual


As mentioned last Friday, I have been pondering, reading, reflecting, and even holding a dialogue with certain founders of liberalism around the Age of Enlightenment with founders of our country. I find stark contrast and perhaps a return to many of the practices of the dundundun, hisshiss, Dark Ages.

For this blog post, I will focus on one that of course can be dug deeper than what a blog post will allow. One of the main characters of the age of liberalism was a man named Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He wrote plenty of books and the basis of much of his thought is “Man is good by nature and civilization makes him a brute.” This is in contrast to the medieval thought that man is fallen or has a tendency to commit wrongdoing. Notice I did say civilization, or another term that can be used is “society.” For Rousseau, man is an individual that is autonomous and being so he needs to cut his relationships with that which makes man corrupt which is society. Society, it appears to him, is any organization not mandated by the State. For example, the family, guild, associations, neighborhood, jury, doctor-patient, church, and any other types that would hamper man’s freedom. For Rousseau, the second answer to protect man from these organizations is the State. All the social associations that exist between the State and individual ought not exist according to Rousseau. Basically, these organizations corrupt individual man and compete with the social contract and sovereignty of the State. Never worry though; Rousseau has the answer for who gets the freedom when the State and the individual collide: Social Contract, “The social contract involves a total and unconditional surrender by each individual of his own natural rights in order to gain the rights of citizenship.” Again, here is another interesting mind bender in squaring individual autonomy and the State, “If anyone refuses to comply with the general will, then he or she may be forced to comply by the whole body politic (and may be "forced to be free").” The Social Contract was written in 1762.

Fast forward across the pond to 1789-1791. The US has just declared its Independence about 15 years prior which was about 14 years after the Social Contract. Compare Rousseau’s thoughts on society with the First Amendment, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” This recognizes man’s right to make organizations, groups, churches, businesses, families, neighborhoods, hobby teams, etc. I would say that this right to assemble is a recognition that man is a social creature and it is not social groups that make man brutal, but horrible actions chosen by man.

More to compare later as I continue to liberalize my mind from the chains and fetters of the Enlightenment.