Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality

Hi. Just browsing my library and sharing some highlights. Check out some of these quotes from Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a leading Genevan philosopher and political theorist and one of the key figures of the Enlightenment.

Dedication to the Republic of Geneva:

Once peoples once accustomed to masters, they are no longer capable of doing without them. If they attempt to shake off the yoke they still more estrange themselves from freedom, as by mistaking for it an unbridled license to which it is diametrically opposed, they nearly always manage, by their revolutions, to hand themselves over to seducers, who only make their chains heavier than before.

Second Part:

The first person, who, having enclosed a plot of land, thought of saying, “This is mine,” and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, miseries and horrors, would the human race have been spared by someone who, pulling up the stakes or filling up the ditches should have cried to his fellow humans: “Be ware of listening to this imposter; you are lost, if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong equally to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!

The rich in particular must have soon perceived how much they suffered by a perpetual war, of which they alone supported all the expense, and in which, though all risked life, they alone risked any substance. Besides, whatever color they might pretend to give their usurpations, they sufficiently saw that these usurpations were in the main founded upon false and precarious titles, and that what they had acquired by mere force, others could again by mere force wrest out of their hands, without leaving them the least room to complain of such a proceeding.

It would be equally unreasonable to imagine that men at first threw themselves into the arms of an absolute master, without any conditions or consideration on his side; and that the first means contrived by jealous and unconquered men for their common safety was to run hand over head into slavery. In fact, why did they give themselves superiors, if it was not to be defended by them against oppression, and protected in their lives, liberties, and properties, which are in a manner the constitutional elements of their being?

The magistrate can not usurp any illegal power without making himself creatures, with whom he must divide it. Besides, the citizens of a free state suffer themselves to be oppressed merely in proportion as, hurried on by a blind ambition, and looking rather below than above them, they come to love authority more than independence. When they submit to fetters, ’tis only to be the better able to fetter others in their turn. It is no easy matter to make him obey, who does not wish to command;

I could prove, in short, that if we behold a handful of rich and powerful men seated on the pinnacle of fortune and greatness, while the crowd grovel in obscurity and want, it is merely because the first prize what they enjoy but in the same degree that others want it, and that, without changing their condition, they would cease to be happy the minute the people ceased to be miserable.

the despot is no longer master than he continues the strongest, and that, as soon as his slaves can expel him, they may do it without his having the least right to complain of their using him ill. The insurrection, which ends in the death or despotism of a sultan, is as juridical an act as any by which the day before he disposed of the lives and fortunes of his subjects. Force alone upheld him, force alone overturns him.

Thanks for reading,


Scott, John T., “The Major Political Writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau”, University of Chicago, 2012

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