Rousseau's State of Nature: An Interpretation of the Discourse

Plattner, Marc F.

BOOKS IN REVIEW - "ROUSSEAU'S STATE OF NATURE" AN INTERPRETATION OF THE DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY Marc F. Platmer / Northern Illinois University Press / $7.50 AlanJ. Eade I n his Treason of t~e...

...236 pages, introduction, notes, bibliography, LC 78-54746 ISBN 0-87580-071-8 $15.00 Rousseau's State of Nature An Intrepretation of the Discourse on Inequality Marc Florea Plattner Through his analysis of Rousseau's doctrine of the state of nature as history, rather than metaphor, Professor Plattner argues that Rousseau's conception of the nature of primitive man is the common premise that ur~ierlies both the individualist and the collectivist sides of Rousseau's thought and much subsequent radical thought as well...
...Though a product of chance, reason sticks...
...I I It's just as relevant today as it was then...
...I I ' THE DRAFT , I I I I I I I I I I I I i I I I I I I L 497 pages 83.95 paperback I .-- - - --- ~ Order from: Dept...
...Men who are naturally free and equal cannot owe any obligation to other men unless that obligation is created by their own consent...
...Rousseau puts it this way in Emile: "Good social institutions are those that are best able to denature man...
...Neither Aristotle's assertion that some men are by nature slaves nor Hobbes' argument that only a leviathan can overcome the strife of the state of nature withstands Rousseau's conclusion that no political order can point to nature for its justification...
...LZu ESSEX, CT 06426 USA _9 ;ctives,., In the Tune before Steamships Billy Budd, the Limits of Politics, and Modernity Thomas J. Scorza Much debate has centered on the political implications of Billy Budd...
...I f not from nature, then, how can men justify political rule...
...30 THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR APRIL 1980...
...The Language Quar- I tedy dealing with atl asl~octs of language...
...The social contract is thus an answer to a question in the realm of " r i g h t , " that is, in the realm of morality in which reasoning man chooses from alternative ways of treating his fellows...
...Eade I n his Treason of t~e Intellectuals, Julien Benda thought it necessary to "repeat that throughout this work I am considering the teaching of Nietzsche (and Hegel's too) in so far as it has become the pretext for a great moral preaching, though I know perfectly well that in reality this teaching is something far more complex...
...S.v...
...Platmer shows in arriving at them...
...for he contends that a proper understanding of Rousseau's doctrine about the state of nature, a doctrine most fully elaborated in the Discourse on Inequality, informs a proper understanding of Rousseau's later books...
...Rousseau's answer goes to the root: because natural man was a solitary wild beast that lacked language, reason, virtues, and vices, no man could exercise authority over other men...
...Some critics read the novel as a conservative testament...
...indeed, by speaking of animals as " b r u t e s , " we acknowledge their purely physical, nonreasoning, and, therefore, non-moral being...
...By contrast, nature is the realm of brute fact...
...for authority has meaning only when men have dealings with one another.* In other words, Rousseau rejects both the traditional Aristotelian position that man is by nature a political animal and the supposedly radical Hobbesian view that the state of nature is a war "of every man, against every man...
...Platmer summarizes Rousseau's answer this way: Political authority, insofar as it is not wholly without foundation--that is, illegitimate-must be based on the agreement of those subject to that authority...
...But, again, reason is not natural to man...
...Thus, man cannot return to the innocence of the state of nature, to that simple harmony with himself...
...thus, before language there were apes, not men...
...Read what a panel of experts, | J considering all the alternatives, said in 1966...
...and it transforms man as it transforms civilization...
...Students of Rousseau can easily applaud Benda's qualification...
...If monkeys and wolves have remained in their natural condition, can it not be argued that something in man's nature must have predisposed him to civilization and its trappings, including political authority...
...Present-day analytic philosophers might argue that Rousseau's state of nature could never have existed: By definition, men speak and, therefore, reason...
...To be sure, Rousseau is not altogether guiltless for misreadings of his writings...
...Advanced political society, therefore, requires a human " n a t u r e " that differs greatly from the one that man showed in his original condition...
...Thus, despite its shortness (137 pages) and its ostensibly modest project, Platmer's book elucidates a teaching that rightly "lies at the very heart of [Rousseau's] entire theoretical enterprise...
...In short, man is the historical animal...
...Rousseau concedes that reason propelled man out of the state of nature and into civilization...
...Already the de- J I bate heats up...
...Though Rousseau's State of Nature is subtitled "An Interpretation of the Discourse on Inequality," Platmer concerns himself with more than one book...
...The central question remains, as Platmer aptly notes, just how a study of man in the state of nature pertains to "those crowds of difficulties...
...Platmer does take up, and with penetration, a particularly troublesome aspect of Rousseau's argument...
...Whether Rousseau's social contract and its attendant theory of consent resolve the problem of political obligation is a question Platmer does not take up...
...JS, The University of Chicago Press I ~ - ~ m m - - S 5801 Ellis Avenue, Chicago IL 60637 - - | m ~ m m m m ~ m m m m ~ m ~ m ~ m m A Handbook of Facts and Alternatives _9 Edited by Sol Tax Contributors include: Kenne%h B. Boulding, U~k H. Urtkson, Milton Friedman, Morris Jsnowi%z, Sen...
...Those who withhold such credit prove only that brutishness is not peculiar to men in the state of nature...
...Konrad Lorenz reaches the same conclusion by a different route: "All the tremendous neuro-sensory apparatus of human speech is p h y l o g e n e t i c a l l y evolved, but so constructed that its function presupposes the existence of a culturally developed language which the infant has to learn...
...Rousseau hardly escapes falling into such a "maximalist" delusion...
...For Rousseau, then, as Platmer persuasively argues, the state of nature is a historical account of man's beginnings, not a mere construct of what things could still be like should political authority crumble...
...l~T~D T~ A T k A~ POST OFF,CE BOX S~AS ~LY ~L~%J_~'A }. J...
...he writes the following about the art that most founders of civil society displayed: "People incessantly mended, whereas it would have been necessary to begin by clearing the area and setting aside all the old materials, as Lycurgus did in Sparta, in order to raise a good edifice afterward...
...Rousseau the apostle of unfettered individualism and Rousseau the precursor of totalitarianism-these are familiar rallying cries, not the conclusions of careful scholarship...
...The danger, of course, lies in thinking that human art can readily reconstruct political society...
...Marsh811, Mugsre% Mesd culties which present themselves concerning the origin of moral inequality., the true foundations of the body politic, the reciprocal rights of its members, and a thousand similar questions as important as they are ill explained...
...for few books "that in reality" are "far more complex" have occasioned more preaching and howling than have Rousseau's...
...Can it be fair...
...If, as Rousseau holds, the gap between the state of nature and political society is greater than even Hobbes thought, then political society is correspondingly more unn a t u r a l - t h a t is, the result of artif i c e - t h a n Hobbes imagined...
...Professor Scorza argues that Bilh/Budd, in its critique of modern politics, is part of a larger critique of modernity itself and the rationalism that underlies the achievements of our era...
...Studying "original man," Rousseau asserts, " i s . . . the only good means one could use to remove those crowds of diffiF m m mmmm m m m m m m m m m m n m m m m m m ~ Will the draft be necessary...
...The only possible foundation for the right to exercise political rule is an agreement or contract on the part of those involved...
...Must not this something be reason, the very faculty celebrated by Aristotle and Hobbes...
...Even at his most lucid, Rousseau is not above contradicting himself...
...T h a t enterprise consists in attaining knowledge of a legitimate political order, that is, an order in which men can be both genuine individuals and good citizens...
...rather, it is one of the "artificial faculties," a result of "the different accidents" that allowed man to go beyond his beast-like beginnings...
...Money back if not pleased Allow 6 weeks...
...ROUSSEAU'S STATE OF NATURE: AN INTERPRETATION OF THE DISCOURSE ON INEQUALITY Marc F. Platmer / Northern Illinois University Press / $7.50 AlanJ...
...and he never captures any prizes for consistency in terminology...
...Should women | be included...
...Marc Platmer, no mere sampler, brings a healthy appetite to his study of Rousseau...
...tmm , I you'll love VERBATIM...
...others, as a quasi-revolutionary indictment, but both groups believed Melville to be the proponent of a modern political ideology...
...That he wrote a great deal and in different modes-Eraile and La Nouvelle H~lo'tse, for instance, are full-length romances-has only encouraged those who judge Alan J. Eade lives in Baltimore...
...a banquet by the item or two they deign to taste...
...Bdwsrd M. Kennedy, Brig...
...For Rousseau, knowledge of such an order presupposes an analysis of the state of nature, of man before he took on the incubus of civilization...
...1 Send $5.00 (U S.) or $5.50 (elsewhere) for a 1. 1 year subscription, starting with the current is1 sue...
...143 pages, preface, introduction, LC 78-60453 ISBN 0-87580-074-2 $7.50 NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY PRESS DeKalb, Illinois 60115 THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR APRIL 1980 29 But if "original man" was just another wild beast, and a stupid, solitary one at that, how did he ever emerge from the state of nature and come to develop the arts and sciences...
...Even those readers who question its conclusions should admire the regard for Rousseau's elusiveness that Mr...
...Marc Platmer's book is far more complex and illuminating than 1 can betoken in a few words...
...He enlivens his prose but muddles his meaning with paradoxes and flamboyancies...

Vol. 13 • April 1980 • No. 4


 
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