Monday, May 09, 2011

Freedom and bondage in Rousseau's thought

After exploring Rousseau's life and thought for an Alfred the Great Society article, I am struck by the fact that he is the supreme example of someone who, never having learned to be responsible and self-regulate, has difficulty conceiving solution to life’s problems apart from the extremes of complete antinomianism, on the one hand, or complete totalitarianism on the other.
 
In Rousseau we find a tendency towards both of these polarities. The arbitrary despotism towards which his theory of government must inevitably lead (and which was the topic of my second article on him) was born out of his inability to imagine a society in which individuals were self-regulating. (“If government, based on the rule of law, is not possible – and I candidly avow I do not think it is – we must go to the other extreme…and establish the most arbitrary despotism conceivable.”)
 
If this teaches us anything, it is that freedom apart from Christ always leads to bondage. Rousseau and the fascists shared the same schizophrenia of both wanting to free the individual from all external restraints and wanting to squeeze him into a communal mold, of seeing civilization as the problem and seeing civilization (invested with the appropriate political mechanisms) as the solution; desiring both to liberate human nature and to control it; striving to escape the slavery of society while struggling to impose a society of uniformity upon every person. The juxtaposition of these extremes are not unprecedented, having been described in 2 Peter 2: 19: “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.”


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