Explain Jean Jaques-Rousseau's idea of social stratification.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For Rousseau, social stratification is based on a fundamental perception issue.  Rousseau believed that individuals possess two types of love of self.  One type is called amour de soi and the other one is amour propre. The former represents a love of oneself that is affirmative of one's state of being in the world.  This love of self is one where individuals do not seek to compete with others, and is one that reflects a "man in state of nature" element.  Rousseau contrasts this with amour propre.  This type of love is predicated upon self love, but it is a love of self that is contingent on how others see oneself.  Amour propre is never ending because individuals no longer understand their own sense of self, but rather see themselves as how others see them.  This helps to breed competition and rivalry within society and is responsible for the stratification that exists between people.  For Rousseau, displays of wealth and the sense of vulgarity that results from it does so because individuals view themselves as how others view them, distorting their reality, preventing solidarity, and creating stratification.  Individuals thereby need social stratification as it is a reflection of status and privilege, key elements in amour propre.  For Rousseau, social stratification and division can only be overcome when amour de soi is evident in both politics and social order, eliminating the presence of amour propre.