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Rousseau vs. Hobbes: Are we better off in a state of nature, or not?

It was once said that we take things for granted in our society, that we should give more appreciation and respect to institutions that diligently organize and take care of all our necessities, i.e: health, education, workplace. Everyday we are fed the redundant rhetoric that a higher power or institution has happily obliged to take on our necessities while treating them like they are their own, so the least we can do is obey the rules, laws, and regulations; making it a win-win situation for the masses. In a nutshell, they provide and we in turn oblige and become apart of the obedient civilization. The system has ingrained into our brains the misleading thought that because they take care of necessities, again, like schools, roads, and health care, that we have to blindly comply. Therefore, if the laws/regulations are breached, we will, by default, incur daunting and heavy costs.


This ‘co-dependent’ situation we got going on here leads us to the mind boggling question as to why we never take a second and think about this one sided relationship, masking itself as otherwise. Moreover, we never stop and ask questions like: Why do I need to follow these rules and regulations? How did they form to begin with? Why do we need a government at all? And most importantly, are we better off without one? Those vital questions lead us to uncover two different schools of thought that were adopted by two profound figures who's ideologies have been around for quite a while and yet never cease to reach their demise, they are none other than Rousseau and Hobbes. In light of both figures and their ideologies being major eye openers, they in turn, enable one to adopt different paradigms while potentially aiding one in choosing which stance they feel more gravitated towards.


An English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, believed that if there was no system nor government (a pure state of nature), then society would be in a constant state of war. He believed that rules that are set in a rigid and planned fashion, in turn, cultivate the thread of morality, which a good and civilized society should clearly ascertain in hoped of avoiding mass mayhem arising at every corner. With that being said, tailored rules and regulations pave the way and allow people to differentiate between good and bad. Hence, if we were to adopt Hobbes’ ideology, it wouldn’t be wrong of someone to go stab another in the foot, take his belongings, and leave him wounded, since there is no law or rule preventing one from doing so if we were indeed living in the state of nature, with no prevalent system or body of government.


Now on the other end of the spectrum arises the prolific John Jacques Rousseau, who’s ideologies are rooted far from the former stance. When we think of Rousseau, we think of Romanticism, which emanates the primacy of the individual and was somewhat of a backlash to the Enlightenment's rigorous focus on reasoning and rationality. So, in hopes of diverging from a stance that focuses solely on rationality and science, Romanticism was curated whilst shedding a potent light on human emotion and carrying it to the forefront. With that being sad, Rousseau essentially believed that humans, when put closer to nature, elicited unique characteristics that flourished and thrived in the sublime presence of nature, including aspects like emotion, feeling, and existing in time and space. In fact, Rousseau wholeheartedly believed that advancement, in any facet of the word, is a bane to humanity as a whole and not a win like it's painted out to be. The further we converge to the arts, sciences, and culture, the more we diverge from the essence of nature. And finally, he eclipses his school of thought in this beautifully written quote: ‘The sciences and the arts spread garlands of flowers over the iron chains which weigh men down, snuffing out in them the feeling of the original liberty for which they appear to have been born and make them love their slavery by turning them into what are called civilized people.’


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