Rousseau-The Origin of Civil Society

Since the early civilization, humanity has been guided by principles of good governance exercised in a democratic world, freedom of will evidenced in the way people interact within a society and the social norms that are the laws that govern how people execute their duties within a societal setting. However, with the emergence of private property and power, humanity has come to deal with a number of issues that require a philosophical approach. Rousseau and Gasset deal with these topics in their discussion on the issues of democracy, politics and social formation. It is explicit that the approaches of these two philosophers vary even though they deal with similar topics. This paper explores the views of the two philosophers on these concepts of civil society and attempts to bring out the differences in the approach of the two philosophers.

In their discussions on the society, Rousseau and Gasset extensively deal with the topics of democracy, politics and governance in a free society. Nevertheless, the views of the two philosophers on these topics vary extensively and thus require an analysis of a bystander to comprehend the sources of these dissimilarities.

Assumptions of Rousseau and Gasset on Various Issues in a Society

Rousseau views freedom of people in a state of nature as being inalienable from the character of a person. He draws this from the assumption that in a state of nature, a man is ostensibly a physically free creature that is not limited by any other. Equally, Rousseau also argues that artificial needs, as expressed in a modern society, do not annihilate the psychological and the spiritual freedom that man enjoys in state of nature. However, Gasset, who sees freedom of men as an individualistic duty, contrasts this observation. In his opinion, freedom is a product of various circumstances. He therefore believes that it is these circumstances that may act independently or in collaboration to give man freedom.

Rousseau’s view of freedom translates to the kind of governance that a society will have. In retrospect, he points out that freedom of people that is derived from the state of nature must precede the freedom of the government that exists in that society. In contrast, Gasset argues that since freedom depends on individual circumstances of men, it is up to the government to provide necessary machinery and capacity to thwart the evils in that society and provide security to the people.

Another observation about people by Rousseau is the existence of unnatural inequality among people. He proposes that many of the existing forms of inequalities in the society are a result of unnatural actions among people. These include aspects like the establishment of private property and laws that are not universally agreeable. He also believed that the usurping of equality is also the result of creation of artificial needs that with time have become necessities leading to those with power exerting pressure on those without power in pursuit of artificial needs.

On the other hand, Gasset is of the opinion that man has no need to pursue equality since even those who are thought to be free faces some kind of fate. That is, there can be no freedom to human beings since similar fate awaits them all and that what is seen is simply projects of life to cut their knowledge of the common fate. Again, this observation is contrasted by the two philosophers in lieu of their environmental circumstances. For instance, Gasset is making this observation during a dictatorial regime that has stripped off the right to enjoy freedom and therefore generalizes the issue of freedom in a pessimistic manner.

Sovereignty, as perceived by Rousseau, represents the general will and entirely belongs to people, and the government only works to enforce it. This is a departure from the existing forms of government where the government is the author and enforcer of rules. Rousseau’s thinking is informed by the regimes that existed prior to the 18th century, and thus he is drawing this conclusion based on the regimes that did not uphold sovereignty, as he perceived it. However, Gasset’s approach to the issue of sovereignty is based on what he terms as a lack of nature, but history and the belief that the focus should be on the dynamics in a society rather than the static.


From the above observations, it is evident that the two philosophers base their arguments on different points of view. For instance, Rousseau’s ideal society is the one, where people are living in a state of nature with perfect interactions, while Gasset’s view is influenced by the anarchy and dictatorial leadership he had witnessed. The two lived during different eras and such is their view on the topics of freedom, governance and equality in a society.

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