Examine Rousseau's attempt to bring about a reconciliation between liberty and authority.

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Jean Jacques Rousseau's most influential work, The Social Contract (1762), opens with his famous phrase "Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains." Rousseau's ideas went against the grain of his Enlightenment contemporaries, who believed man is born a savage, and in his natural state is always selfish and instinctually self-interested. 100 years prior to Rousseau, the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes declared life in this 'natural' state was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." (Leviathan 1651) The common thinking of many scholars of Rousseau's time was that this primitive human needed government and civil society to tame and restrict the 'natural' inclinations toward chaos, violence, and a self-serving morality.

Rousseau turned this thinking on its head and asserted that it is civilized life that corrupts a primitive human, who is born essentially innocent, happy and independent (Man is born free). In this original liberated state of freedom man is virtuous and has compassion and empathy. As man became more sophisticated, the idea of private property was introduced—imagine the first person to put a fence around a piece of land and call it 'Mine'; these landowners  started to form societies to protect their property, and thus laws were written to do just that. Rousseau views these laws as unjust, selfish, and inflicted by the rich on the poor. Law removes man from his state of innocence and forces him toward vice and misery; he loses his essential connection to nature.

Authority that guarantees and reconciles with liberty can only come from all of the people, not just property owners. Rousseau envisioned an alternate society run by all citizens, rather than one dictated by churches, kings, and the aristocracy. He imagines the citizen body operating together as a unit to create laws that come from everyone (the general will) and that apply to everyone; all people are considered equal. This freedom to participate in the legislative process that creates authority would have a beneficial effect on society as a whole. It could eliminate inequality and injustice, and promote a feeling of belonging to a society rather than having one imposed from above. Rousseau claimed that his idea of a just civilization would lead to "liberty, equality, fraternity" (his words that later became the rallying cry for the French Revolution, about 30 years after he wrote The Social Contract). Authority is only legitimate if it protects the freedom of all people.

Rousseau's ideas made most of their impact during the time of revolutions immediately after his death. But Karl Marx, about 100 years after Rousseau, was influenced by his work on injustice and inequality. Marx's Communist Manifesto (1848) ends with his declaration that the workers of the world should unite because "they have nothing to lose but their chains." That sounds familiar.