Rousseau and Mill: Differing Concepts of Freedom


Introduction

The notion of liberty, as it has evolved throughout history, has been both absolute in necessity and fluid in principle. Every civilization, in varying degrees, has placed value on concepts such as responsibility, ownership, and choice; thus, every civilization, tacitly or explicitly, affirmed the necessity of freedom.[1] However, the type of freedom predicated within the ancient world’s political institutions, and the value placed on that freedom, has been eclipsed by the liberal doctrine of modern freedom within today’s society. Individual independence and freedom from constraint, two tenets of classic liberal thought, have evolved as two antagonistic (and ultimately dominant) forces against the ideas embodied within the ancient world’s conception of freedom. The ancient world, embedded within Roman tradition, defined liberty not as individual freedom to pursue individual desires, but as subservience to a government which the individual had power to influence. This concept of freedom has been all but forgotten in modern Western government.[2]

The classic liberal conception of freedom, embodied in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, has asserted itself as the prevailing ideology which defines Western liberty, and rightly so. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s projection of neo-Roman beliefs within his The Social Contract, constructs a government based on a concept of freedom which is not only fundamentally insoluble with modern society, but is also a philosophic instrument to dignify great abuses of power and tremendous human suffering.

Two Concepts of Freedom

From the birth of political philosophy, over 2500 years ago, to the present day, the concept of group cohesion has been at a contradistinction with the concept of individual liberty.[3] Group cohesion, defined by allegiance to the state, is rendered legitimate by the consent of the citizenship and enforced by the coercion of the government. Contrastingly, individual liberty is based not on the preservation of the state, but on the freedom to act without constraint in pursuit of individual desires. Too much of the former, and the society collapses under the burden of despotism; too much of the latter, and the society dissolves through a population’s usurped pursuit of individual desires.

From these two philosophical values, group cohesion verses individual liberty, two fundamentally different concepts of freedom have emerged: 1) neo-Romanism, derived from ancient Roman tradition, which conceptually defined freedom merely as the absence of domination by a governmental power not granted legitimacy from the citizenship, and 2) liberalism, defined as freedom from governmental interference on individual action.[4] Both ideologies, and their interpretations, have manifested themselves within fundamentally different governmental structures—both perceived as free. Governmental structures based on subservience to the will of the community, as is the case with neo-Romanism, or governmental structures based on the preservation of the individual over the community, as with liberalism. Governments whose only responsibility is to attend to the needs of the majority (neo-Romanism), or governments who are additionally obligated to preserve individual freedom within the broad framework of majority consent (liberalism). Each of these concepts of liberty, though based on similar principles of republicanism and democracy, can translate into intrinsically unique political institutions.

F Neo-Roman freedom F

History. In 1642, as England descended into Civil War, an ideological crisis precipitated as fundamental questions about the power of parliaments and the power of the monarchs confronted all of Europe. [5] From within the chaos of the Civil War, and emboldened by the disastrously ineffective governmental experiment of Oliver Cromwell, arose a new voice of constitutional authority. A voice which claimed that sovereignty was found not within the monarch but within the consent of the people, a voice which claimed that liberty was defined by self rule, not freedom of action.[6] From within the interregnum between the fall of the Cromwell Commonwealth in 1656 and the reinstitution of the monarchical power of Charles the II in 1660, came the defining literature of the neo-Roman intellectual movement which espoused the ancient concept of freedom—a movement led by Marchamont Nedham who published The Excellencie of a Free State in June 1656[7] and by James Harrington who published what is one of the most influential treatises on liberty ever written that same year, The Commonwealth of Oceana,[8] in an attempt to redefine what it means to be free.

Freedom. The neo-Romanist concept of freedom, as defined by Nedham and Harrington, is understood in a strictly political sense; based on the core idea that freedom of the individual is embedded within the freedom of the state. This freedom, freedom of the state, is not concerned with the individual liberty of the each citizen, but with what Harrington referred to as “the Liberties of a commonwealth.”[9] The neo-Roman school of thought placed great importance on the metaphorical comparison of political institutions to the human body, or, as Harrington asserts in his works System of Politics, “the form of the government [as] the image of man.”[10] Just like the human body, according to the neo-Romans, the predication of liberty within a political institution is determined by its ability to pursue its desired ends, not each individual pursuing individual desired ends. If each ligament within the body worked independently, the Neo-Romans argued, then the body as a whole, the political institution, would not be free, and therefore neither would its citizens.

From this, the neo-Romanists conclude, the freedom of the state, which is intrinsically connected to the freedom of the individual, is based around self government. If a government is based on the consent of the people, then all the citizens within the government are fundamentally free, regardless of the laws imposed on their rights by that government. [11]

A second conclusion derived from this human body analogy is: if a state is not free, if it is not self-ruled, all its citizens are slaves, regardless of the benevolence of the king and their freedom as individuals. This was a radical doctrine to the political structures of seventeenth century Europe: regardless of the coercive initiative taken by the government, the neo-Romanists argue, if each citizen is under the jurisdiction of a monarch, each citizen is enslaved. A citizen is enslaved, they argue, if they are subject to the arbitrary dictations of an individual, regardless of the merits of that individual. Roman law, collected within the Digest, confirms this idea as rooted in the tradition of Ancient Roman. A slave is defined by the Digest as someone who is “subject to the jurisdiction of someone else” not necessarily someone who is physically subjugated by a superior.[12]

Government. These two conclusions about the ideals of freedom by the neo-Romans lead to one fundamental constitutional implication: an individual’s freedom is based solely on his place within a government regulated by citizenship as a whole. Freedom is self-rule, not individualism. Nedham in his works The Excellency of a Free State, founded his beliefs in Romanist tradition, stating that the Romans were “free indeed” because “no laws could be imposed upon them without a consent first had in the people’s assemblies.” Concluding that “the only way to prevent arbitrariness, is, that no laws or dominations whosoever should be made, but by the people’s consent.”[13]

Community. Under neo-Roman constitutional framework, liberty is gained by the citizen through participation in the government: deliberation over public policy, the deliberation over war and peace, the formation of alliances, and the collective process of defining justice; individual liberty is found only through civic involvement pertaining to the good of the community. However, just as the community is entirely free, the individual is entirely subject to the complete authority of that community. Benjamin Constant, in his essay The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns in 1816, noted that, though within the public sector the neo-Roman citizen was free, within the private sector the citizen was enslaved by the absolute authority of the community, “All private actions were submitted to a severe surveillance. No importance was given to individual independence, neither in relation to opinion or labor, nor, above all, to religion.” Roman government, the basis of the neo-Roman ideology, placed its citizens under severe regulation and implemented astringent curtailment of all individualism—the suppression of personal liberty was legitimized by public consent.[14] This, to the neo-Romans, was freedom.

F Liberal freedom F

Liberalism, the prevailing ideology of the modern age, is, in some senses, the antithesis of this neo-Roman conception of freedom. The classic liberal doctrine not only rejects the curtailment of personal liberty, but celebrates the importance of the individual and his near-absolute freedom; classic liberalism, in its broadest sense, is the idea of individualism. [15]

History. The ideological hegemony of the neo-Roman concept of freedom began to deteriorate precipitously from the mid-eighteenth century to the late nineteenth century. The rise of classical liberalism, in many ways, was a response to the continued trend towards individual freedom throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This trend, in large part, was catalyzed by the rise of classic utilitarianism (pioneered by Jeremy Bentham), the steady intellectual emancipation from the absolute authority of the church, an authority replaced by science, and the continued importance of industrial capitalism.[16]

Early philosophy. The bare philosophical framework behind liberalism, the strict idea of individualism, provides no instruction for governmental institutions, so long as no restriction on individual liberty is imposed. From this relatively bare philosophical framework, a confused argument is oft-made in response to the neo-Roman claim that freedom can only be obtained through representative government: early influential liberal writer, William Paley, for example, concludes that, “an absolute form of government” might leave you, “no less free than the purest democracy.”[17] This argument is based on the early liberal truth that individual freedom has no specific correlation with any form of government, so long as this freedom is preserved. This idea, that democracy was not fundamentally connected to individual liberty, did not last long within the liberal tradition.

Government. From these early philosophical foundations of liberalism, rose a more robust and resilient doctrine in the early nineteenth century: championing both individual freedom and civic freedom, freedom from the laws and freedom to arbitrate over those laws. Within liberalism, the idea of a strong government acting as the agent of sovereignty to the will of the community, as supporter of neo-Romanism Jean-Jacques Rousseau advocates, was reconciled with additional obligations of the government to preserve individual liberty, as John Stuart Mill emphatically calls for. The essence of the liberal doctrine is an attempt to escape from the continued oscillation between authoritarian dictatorial control associated with neo-Romanist democracy and the anarchical chaos intrinsically connected with complete individual liberty, and an attempt to unite these two freedoms by ensuring social stability while imposing only necessary constraints on individualism.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the father of Romantic thought, was an influential neo-Roman thinker whose political theory, set forth in the book The Social Contract published in 1762, affected great social change and political unrest. Rousseau was greatly influenced by Calvinist ideals growing up as a citizen of Geneva; this austere and cohesive community is emulated within his political philosophy. Democratic in appearance, but totalitarian in principle, Rousseau’s political philosophy was structured around the belief that liberty was not based on individual prerogative (as the liberal doctrine would assert) but based on the capitulation of an individual’s natural rights to life, individual liberty, and property, to the general will. These beliefs are integral to neo-Roman thought. Rousseau, like his neo-Roman predecessors, believed that freedom was not found within oneself as a result of an absence of governmental constraint, but within the protections afford by that constraint if dictated by the consent of the community.

F Defining Freedom F

In his essay, Discourses on the Origins of Inequality, Rousseau claims that, “man is naturally good, and only by institutions is he made bad.”[18] Modern institutions, like private property, Rousseau argues, have corrupted man’s capacity for natural freedom and have destroyed man’s inclination for pity and benevolence. Because these fundamental emotional impulses have been adulterated by society, the argument continues, man must coalesce for self preservation; this union based on preservation of the whole from the dissent of the individual is the backbone of Rousseau’s society. This ethical philosophy is projected onto his political philosophy. The Social Contract attempts to adumbrate a political order founded on the submission of individual rights, but the maintenance of general interests; a legitimate society which upholds—rather than constrains—his concept of liberty, and grants it to all members. According to Rousseau, within his ideal society, “While uniting himself with all,” a man can, “still obey himself alone, and remain free as before.” Ostensibly, Rousseau claims freedom is his goal; however, Rousseau proposes the near-complete suppression of modern liberty and individuality in exchange for equality and security.

Rejects liberalism. Rousseau unequivocally rejects the liberal concept of freedom as individualism. By equating the formation of society with the development of rationality and morality, Rousseau concludes that duty to the state, involved with both morality and reason, supersedes the duty to oneself, which is based only around impulse. “Then only, when the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses and right of appetite, does man, who so far had considered only himself, finds that he is forced to act on his inclinations.”[19] Rousseau rejects the liberal notion of liberty as freedom from constraint, as he believes those who are free from constrictive laws are merely slaves to their own appetites.

Neo-Romanism. Instead, Rousseau’s idea of liberty consists of, “the total alienation of each associate, together with all his rights to the whole community; for, in the first place, as each gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all; and this being so, no one has any interest in making them burdensome to others.” This alienation of natural rights, not only would it be universal, but it would be without reserve, “If individuals retain certain rights, as there would be no common superior to decide between them and the public, each, being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all; the state of nature would thus continue, and the association would necessarily become inoperative or tyrannical.”[20] Rousseau’s doctrine implies the abrogation of all individual rights, and an unreserved submission of these rights to the community in exchange for equality and security. One loses all freedom of action, unless consented by the majority—dissent and minority opinions are insoluble with Rousseau’s concept of freedom.

The “social contract” proposed by Rousseau, a contract which laid the foundation of his neo-Roman beliefs towards freedom, can be expressed as follows: “Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”[21]

It is important to note that the sovereign, the “common under the supreme direction of the general will,” is based around the near metaphysical definition of the “general will”. The general will, according to Rousseau, is the abstract idea that citizens, when deliberating, can replace their pursuit of individual good with their acknowledgement of general good; general will, as it deals not with individual desires, must be obtained in seclusion, and within a healthy society a vote should procure near unanimity, according to Rousseau. Rousseau himself, however, acknowledged that general will is not a pragmatic goal and therefore is difficult to obtain, so he conceded that most often simple majority rule will suffice.[22] From this, a very important point emerges: just as the individual submits all his rights to the community, all his freedoms which he receives are dictated by the will of the majority; individual liberty is normative based on the whims of the community, not absolute based on universal rights. Each citizen is not under the authority of himself to dictate his own wellbeing; rather, he is completely subject to the authority of the majority, with no guaranteed freedom aside from that which is granted by the majority. Rousseau justifies this controversial assertion by arguing that the sovereign, as it is composed of the people who it arbitrates over, will always act in the people’s best interest: “The sovereign,” Rousseau notes, “merely by virtue of what it is, is always what it should be.”[23] This point is essential to his rejection of the liberal conception of freedom: individuality should be suppressed, and majority consent will dictate all laws and all constraints. No rights are inherent, and no regulations are placed on the government’s right to stifle individual dissent and freedom, except those regulations imposed by the general will.

F Stifling individuality F

Censorship. According to Rousseau, those who do not consent to the general will, a will he felt inherently grounded in the absolute general good, are rejecting a civilized political and social structure grounded in morality, rationality, and duty. [24] Those who reject this contract between the individual and the general will, those who reject society, are therefore refusing mankind’s most intrinsic and defining characteristics; they are rejecting morality, rationality, and duty. Citizens who undermine their humanity and defy the general will, citizens who dissent against the norm, Rousseau’s argument continues, must be “forced to be free” from the society. [25] Felicity Baker, author of Eternal Vigilance: Rousseau’s Death Penalty, notes that though never explicitly stated within The Social Contract, Rousseau feared the subversive powers of dissent to such an extent that he sponsored severe punitive codes against such freedoms, even death penalty. [26] In the Letter to M. d’Alembert on the Theatre, Rousseau made a forceful rejection of liberalism’s confidence in freedom of speech and intellectual pluralism, and also a rejection of his enlightenment compatriots who felt reason eclipses violence, by stating: “Fanaticism is not an error but a blind, mindless passion which can never be restrained by reason. The only way to prevent its occurrence is to hold in check the people who incite others to it...Forget philosophy, close your books, take up the sword and punish the imposters.”[27]

The most important mores within a society, Rousseau contends, are the “sentiments of sociability,” the culturally defining and cohesive forces that give a community its identity. Rousseau flatly rejects freedom of speech, rejecting liberalism and enlightenment thought, and sponsors mandatory conformity to community culture, and a usurped repression by the community of anyone who dissents.[28]

Barring unions. Aside from an overt censorious proclivity, Rousseau viewed any alliance among citizens which interfered with the expression of majority consensus as a subordinate association whose will competed with that of the general good, “It may then be said that there are no longer as many votes as there are men, but only as many as there are associations.”[29] From this, another neo-Roman conclusion can be made: “It is therefore essential, if the general will is to be able to express itself, that there should be no partial society within the State, and that each citizen should think only his own thoughts.”[30] Rousseau, like many philosophers of the time, understood the danger of factious political and social organizations and their ability to undermine general will; rather than many people deliberating on community’s wellbeing, Rousseau notes, these organizations merely propagate their own wellbeing. From this argument, Rousseau concludes that all factions based on individual interests must be dissolved in order to preserve a progressive state which works towards general good.

Repercussions. The political implications of Rousseau’s principles are grave: no churches, no unions, no political parties, no activist groups, no protestors, no power of the citizen to rise up against the dictations of the majority. Additionally, Rousseau rejects the minority’s right to dissent against the governmental juggernaut lest it impose upon itself the inevitable community ostracism and severe punitive ramifications. Rousseau’s philosophy had within it the seeds of tyranny.

By suppressing dissent and by suppressing the citizen’s right to form powerful unions, Rousseau’s ideal governmental structure portended totalitarian hindrance on the power of the citizen and brutal repression of reform. Rousseau’s neo-Roman regard for the individual citizen and his subservience to the restrictive measures imposed by the general will runs contrary to the most fundamental ideals of individuality espoused by the liberal doctrine, and runs contrary to the fundamental concept of liberty which the modern democracies have attempted to emulate.

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill is eulogized by contemporary intellectuals as the paradigmatic classic liberal and champion of individual freedom. Mill’s On Liberty, published in 1860, represents one of the most eloquent and decisive rejections of the neo-Roman conception of liberty, and a powerful articulation of the classic liberal ideal of individual freedom. Mill forcefully counters Rousseau’s claims that individual rights make slaves of the individual to his own desires; instead, he celebrates these very rights as fundamental to the health of a society, the good of its citizens, and the freedom of mankind.

F Defining Freedom F

John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty does not reject the neo-Roman ideal that freedom is associated with self government; instead, he augments this principle, claiming that a government legitimized by the consent of the majority must also guarantee the freedom of the individual. Mill unequivocally defines liberty as freedom from constraint by the government, not defined by, though often associated with, self rule. The harm principle, developed by Mill, continues the argument by fundamentally rejecting Rousseau’s belief that individuality should be suppressed and exchanged for duty to the community: contending that all individual liberty, no matter how abrasive to societal norms, should be expressed, unless explicitly infringing on another’s wellbeing. “That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind is warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection. That is the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to other” (italics mine). [31] Freedom, to Mill, manifested itself negatively as the absence of interference, obstacles, or barriers in the individual’s pursuit of a desired ends, not the presence of institutions which constrain an individual based on predispositions about that individual’s potential for happiness.[32]

Limitations. Though absolute in conviction, Mill acknowledges that certain limitations must be placed on personal liberty. “No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions” Mill asserts. Even opinions, he admits, can inflict harm when “delivered orally to an excited mob.” [33] Though Mill rejects Rousseau’s idea of a social agreement between the individual and the sovereign, claiming that “society is not founded on a contract,” he acknowledges a certain duty the individual has to the community: he is obligated not to violate others’ rights, to contribute to the community, and not to harm others in exchange for protection. [34] Mill even goes so far as to, “fully admit that the mischief which a person does to himself, may seriously affect…those nearly connected with him, and in a minor degree, society at large.”[35] In fact, not only does Mill not reject the idea that society should be critical of people who work to harm themselves, he ardently supports it. Despite this, however, he ultimately concludes that a society’s sanction to guide its citizen ends at the restriction of that citizen’s freedom to act; governmental paternalism used to curtail self-harm would inevitably curtail personal freedom to reject societal mores, and therefore is unacceptable.

F Rejecting Neo-Romanism F

Tyranny of Majority. Some of the most poignant rejections of Rousseau’s neo-Roman beliefs are borne out of John Stuart Mill’s suspicion over the virtue of majority opinion. Mill, in his most overt and fundamental opposition to Rousseau’s doctrine, rejects Rousseau’s claim that the majority opinion, “merely by virtue of what it is, is always what it should be,” [36] asserting that the protection of the government from arbitrary rule is not enough; instead, there has to be placed severe restrictions on the “tyranny of the prevailing opinion” against the freedom of the individual. “The ‘people’ who exercise the power,” Mill contends, “are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised, and the ‘self-government’ spoken of, is not the government of each by himself, but of each by the all the rest.”[37] Rousseau’s core beliefs about the submission of individual rights to the dictations of the community are rebuffed as Mill states, “There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence.”[38] According to Mill, the actions of the government, legitimized by majority will, should not infringe on the liberty of the individual. That is liberalism in its most fundamental rejection of neo-Romanism.

Individuality over tradition. The stark contrast in the value that Rousseau places on the dictated morality of the community, in comparison with the equally high value which Mill places in the individual, is a reflection of contrasting beliefs on the manifestations of moral universalism. Though both Mill and Rousseau believe in universal truths, Mill rejects the notion that these truths can be found through traditional religious doctrine—referring to such doctrine as “despotism of custom”[39] over the individual’s pursuit of morality (a pursuit which Mill ardently sponsors). Rousseau, on the other hand, influenced by Calvinism, places high esteem on the idea of duty to the accepted norms; a Calvinist maxim states: “whatever is not a duty, is a sin.”[40] Mill feels this duty enslaves the individual, forcing conformity to a set of arbitrary and often fallible standards, stating that, “whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether is processes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.”[41]

Censorship. Just as Mill rejects the ethical backbone of neo-Romanism by supporting the notion of individual determination of morality, he also contests Rousseau’s claim that people’s individual determination of opinion and morality should be suppressed as not to undermine the morality consented to by the community. In fact, Mill stages a powerful campaign against Rousseau’s call for censorship by stating that it is, “imperative that human beings should be free to form opinions, and to express their opinions without reserve.”[42] Mill claims that the views of the majority should not be received as infallible; dissent against these views can only bring good, “the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race…If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth…” Dissent, according to Mill, is always beneficial: if the minority opinion is correct, its benefit is self-evident; if it is wrong, then it only further vindicates the truth. Truth, to Mill, is elucidated only by those who disagree. To Rousseau, dissent is subversive and dangerous.

Liberalism over Neo-Romanism in Modern Society

Now that some light has been shed on the various contentions within the evolution of liberty—and two fundamentally contrasting ideologies have been defined and the crystallization of these ideas within their work has been analyzed—it is appropriate to briefly attempt to justify the hegemony of the liberal definition of freedom within today’s society over the neo-Roman definition. Liberalism’s prevalence can be justified both empirically and philosophically, both pragmatically and principally.

F Pragmatically F

The influence that Spartan political institutions played on Rousseau’s political philosophy cannot be overemphasized.[43] It is essential to note that Rousseau’s neo-Roman beliefs about the individual’s subservience to the general will were assumed within the context of a small secluded state much like the polis within ancient Greece. Rousseau’s claim that general will, and near unanimity, can be obtained on most issues regarding state policy is asserted with a comparative diminutive and homogenous society in mind, where the general good can be universally obtained. As Benjamin Constant points out, even the largest of the Greek city states were nowhere near the size of modern states.[44] From this, it can be found that Rousseau’s political doctrine would be inherently insoluble with modern society, as it is designed for a world tremendously different in scale. The simple fact must be illuminated that, the size of a political institution is inversely proportional to the influence each of its constituent members wields within the formation of its public policy.

The size of modern society yields Rousseau’s beliefs that each constituent citizen, if he submits his rights to the sovereign, can, “still obey himself alone”[45] impractical and incorrect. The great variance in desires and wellbeing among modern citizens—caused both by both population size and geographical size—means that the usurped power of the majority, and the submission of all natural rights to it, would be certain to oppress the many legitimate concerns outside the sphere of majority will.

Even Rousseau is not so dogmatic as to assert that his principles are universal. In fact, even he recognizes that all political institutions must be unique in order to be healthy, “every nation has in itself something that gives them a particular application, and makes its legislation particularly its own.”[46] Because of this, he reluctantly concedes the fact that large states restrict wellbeing and freedom of the individual, “the larger the State, the less the liberty,"[47] and therefore modern society would be incompatible with Rousseau’s governmental structure. The individual’s power over the direction of his life, in a modern society based around Rousseau’s political doctrine, would therefore be infinitesimally small. Seeing as Rousseau defined freedom as one’s capacity to arbitrate his own restrictions, this hypothetical institution within the modern world, clearly, would not represent freedom; perhaps even Rousseau would acknowledge this fact.

F Principally F

Dictated Morality. One of the fundamental philosophical questions posed when deciding the virtues of Rousseau’s conception of freedom when compared to those of Mill is: does the individual reign supreme in the determination of good, or is goodness a dictation of society. The debate behind the ethics of neo-Romanism when compared to the ethics of liberalism can be framed as a debate between traditionalism, where tradition dictates the framework of morality, verses individualism, where the individual is the sole arbiter of his own morality. Does the individual consent to the norm of society and tradition, or look within himself?

It’s impossible to deny universal threads of morality which overlap throughout history, like the condemnation of murder; however, it is possible to acknowledge these universal threads but deny their representative organizations. As British Philosopher Bertrand Russell claims, “We are ourselves the ultimate and irrefutable arbiters of value, and in the world of value nature is only a part…in this realm we are kings, and we debase our kingship if we bow down to [arbitrary dictators of morality].”[48] Religious and societal organizations which attempt to impose morality on its members, though often grounded in fundamental concepts, inherently impose arbitrariness not accepted as fundamental by some. Countless examples can be found in today’s society of actions deemed moral and fundamental by some, but immoral and abhorrent by others. German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach sums up this argument against universal theological doctrines, and for individual acceptance of Truth by stating: "Whenever morality is based on theology, whenever the right is made dependent on divine authority, the most immoral, unjust, infamous things can be justified and established. . . . Morality is then surrendered to the groundless arbitrariness of religion."[49] Liberalism, as defined by Mill, liberates the individual from the forced consent to theological arbitrariness sponsored by the majority, and facilitates freedom of thought, not just of speech.

Censorship. Analogous to the installment of universal theological doctrine, a similar argument can be made for intellectual pluralism. No society is ever going to eradicate subversive dissent and prejudice, as Rousseau attempts. Instead, by forcing submission of one’s right to freely express himself, the government is not eradicating prejudice, but merely forcing conformity to one type of prejudice sponsored by the majority. By allowing all ideas to flourish, the extreme factions will counterbalance, and the truth will emerge from the ubiquitous presence of public criticism. This, in essence, defines the liberal credo for freedom of speech—a belief rejected by Rousseau and the neo-Romans.

Conclusion

All of mankind desires to be free. Freedom, like food, water, and shelter, is sought out by the whole of the human race, but enjoyed not by all. Freedom, both intangible and amorphous, throughout the ages has evolved to take on many forms. To some, to be free is merely the capacity to contribute to the imposition of restrictions on individuality; self government, to these individuals, is the constituent rule of liberty. Rousseau, an ardent proponent of the neo-Roman school of thought, believed that by submitting one’s rights to the community, he transcends the boundaries of savage impulse into civilized rationality. Liberty was not, to Rousseau, the freedom from constraint; instead, liberty was the establishment of a society based on general will.

From this conception of liberty emerged another in opposition, borne out of industry and capitalism: liberalism. Philosophical liberalism is a fundamental attempt to amalgamate civic freedom defined by the neo-Romans, which emphasized the power of the government legitimized by the citizen, with the individual freedom to pursue desired goals. As Benjamin Constant concluded about liberalism, “it is not security which we must weaken; it is enjoyment which we must extend. It is not political liberty which I wish to renounce; it is civil liberty which I claim.”[50] The fundamental assumptions made by Jean Jacques Rousseau about the principles of freedom are both misguided and irreconcilable with modern society. The freedom advocated by John Stuart Mill, on the other hand, has given rise to great sociopolitical institutions, facilitated tremendous intellectual prosperity, and founded a world where freedom thrives, rather than dissolves, where knowledge, rationality, and human happiness can exist.



[1] Philip Pettit, A Theory of Freedom: From the Psychology to the Politics of Agency (Oxford, Britain: Oxford University Press, 2001) 7-14.

[2] Quentin Skinner, Liberty Before Liberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

[3] Bertrand Russell, “Introductory,” The History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc, 1945), xiii‑xxiii.

[4] Benjamin Constant, “The liberty of the ancients compared with that of the moderns” The Political Writings of Benjamin Constant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 307-28.

[5] Robert K. Carr, “Liberty under Government,” Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science (1950): 3‑12. [database on-line]; available from JSTOR (accessed 15 July); http://www.jstor.org/search; Internet.

[6] Skinner, 3-59.

[7] Marchamont Nedham, The Excellencie of a Free State, edited by Richard Baron, (London, Britain: n.p., 1767).

[8] James Harrington, “The Commonwealth of Oceana,” The Commonwealth of Oceana and A System of Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

[9] Ibid., 19.

[10] Ibid., 24.

[11] Skinner, 102.

[12] The Digest of Justinian, trans. Alan Watson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 17. This is translated from “alieno iuri subiectae sunt.”

[13] Nedham, 25.

[14] Olivia F. Robinson, Criminal Law of Ancient Rome (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 238.

[15] Gaus, Gerald, and Shane Courtland. Liberalism [the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy on-line] (Stanford: The Metaphysics Research Lab, 2003, accessed 20 July 2005); available from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberalism/; Internet.

[16] Pierre Manent, An Intellectual History of Liberalism, trans. Rebecca Balinski (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1995), 30.

[17] William Paley, The Principle of Moral and Political Philosophy (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002), 445. The claim against neo-Romanism is based, in part, on the idea that neo-Romanism is merely the democratic institutions to preserve freedom, not the freedom itself. This argument, in large parts, confuses the fact that liberty, in the eyes of the neo-Romans, was the civic institutions, not the freedom of individual pursuit of desire.

[18] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality,” The Social Contract and Discourse (London: Everyman, 1993), 31.

[19] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “The Social Contract,” The Social Contract and Discourse (London: Everyman, 1993), 195.

[20] Ibid., 191-192.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Paul Weirich, “Rousseau on Proportional Majority Rule,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 47, no.1 (Sept. 1986): 111‑126.

[23] Rousseau, The Social Contract, 194

[24] See page 8 for further discussion

[25] Rousseau, The Social Contract, 196

[26] Felicity Baker, Eternal vigilance: Rousseau’s death penalty (London, Britain: University College of London, 1995).

[27] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Politics and the Arts: Letter to M.D. Alembert on the Theatre, trans. Allan Bloom. (Glencoe, Ill: Free Press, 1960; reprint, Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1968).

[28] Christopher Kelly, “Rousseau on Proportional Majority Rule,” The Journal of Politics 59, no.4 (Nov. 1997): 1232‑1251. [database on-line]; available from JSTOR (accessed 18 July); http://www.jstor.org/search; Internet.

[29] Rousseau, The Social Contract, 197

[30] Ibid.

[31] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (London: Longman, Roberts & Green, 1869; reprint, London: Penguin Group, 1974), 5.

[32] For the discussion of negative freedom, coined and defended by British philosopher Isaiah Berlin, consult ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ written in 1958

[33] Mill, 26.

[34] Ibid., 36.

[35] Ibid., 39.

[36] See page 10 for discussion on this belief.

[37] Mill, 3.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid., 30.

[40] Ibid., 29.

[41] Ibid., 30.

[42] Ibid., 26.

[43] Marc F. Plattner, “Rousseau and the Origins of Nationalism,” The Legacy of Rousseau (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997), 183-200.

[44] Constant, 307-28.

[45] See page 8 for discussion of this belief

[46] Rousseau, The Social Contract, 226.

[47] Ibid., 231.

[48] Bertrand Russell, “What I Believe,” Why I am Not a Christian (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc, 1957), 48‑87.

[49] Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (Great Books in Philosophy) (1841; reprint, Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1989), 349.

[50] Constant, 307-28.



Bibliography

The Digest of Justinian. Translated by Alan Watson. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

Baker, Felicity. Eternal vigilance: Rousseau’s death penalty. London, Britain: University College of London, 1995.

Carr, Robert. "Liberty under Government." Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science (1950): 3-12.

Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity (Great Books in Philosophy). Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1989.

Gaus, Gerald, and Shane Courtland. Liberalism [the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy on-line]. Stanford: The Metaphysics Research Lab, 2003, accessed 20 July 2005. Available from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberalism/; Internet.

Harrington, James. The Commonwealth of Oceana and A System of Politics. Cambridge, Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Manent, Pierre. An Intellectual History of Liberalism. Translated by Rebecca Balinski. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. London: Longman, Roberts & Green, 1869. Reprint, London: Penguin Group, 1974.

Nedham, Marchamont. The Excellencie of a Free State. Edited by Richard Baron. London, Britain: n.p., 1767

Paley, William. The Principle of Moral and Political Philosophy. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002.

Plattner, Marc. Rousseau and the Origins of Nationalism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Robinson, Olivia. Criminal Law of Ancient Rome. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Politics and the Arts: Letter to M.D. Alembert on the Theatre. Translated by Allan Bloom. Glencoe, Ill: Free Press, 1960. Reprint, Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1968.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Origins of Inequality. London, Britain: Everyman, 1993.

________. The Social Contract. London, Britain: Everyman, 1993.

Russell, Bertrand. The History of Western Philosophy. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc, 1945.

________. Why I am Not a Christian. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc, 1957.

Skinner, Quentin. Liberty Before Liberalism. Cambridge, Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Weirich, Paul. "Rousseau on Proportional Majority Rule." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 47, no. 1 (Sept. 1986): 111-26.



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