The Relevance of A Discourse on In Equality in the Modern World
"In the long run men inevitably become the victims of their wealth. They adapt their lives and habits to their money, not their money to their lives. It preoccupies their thoughts, creates artificial needs, and draws a curtain between them and the world."
U.S. political philosopher (1869-1930)
Croly's quote captures the essence of modern human existence. Man has become a puppet in the hands of the wealth and the amenities that he created to make life 'simpler and easier'. Tools, techniques and technology had to help man's life become less strenuous. Instead, the exact opposite has happened. Man has gotten further embroiled in the entrapments of modern society. He has become more competitive and dissatisfied with himself and his life.
Rousseau's A Discourse on Inequality aims to explain the nature of man by delving deep into the history of man and tracing the story of how man came to be.
He does so by understanding the nature of savage man- man as he was meant to be by nature. The savage man was animal-like. His motivation came from two values- pity and self-preservation. Pity allowed him to show compassion for fellow men and self-preservation allowed him to take care of himself and his needs. These two values were not contrarian- savage man could show compassion for others and himself at the same time. The only key distinction between savage man and animals was man's ability to mould himself according to his environment i.e. man's perfectibility. His perfectibility allowed him to respond to changes in his environment, a skill that other animals did not have.
After explaining the nature of savage man, Rousseau sheds light on the nature of the modern man. He explains...