Rousseau prefigured much of the later Romantic criticism of the Enlightenment. He looked upon society as developing organically, with all its elements inextricably linked. This put him in conflict with the mainstream of Enlightenment thought that tended to regard society as a loose collection of individual atoms. Rousseau rejected this conception, as it alienated individuals from each other. According to Rousseau's vision of society, individual citizens were naturally bound to each other, and political institutions needed to reflect this. Everyone needed to be able to see themselves reflected in the society in which they lived, and the institutions of state to whose authority they subjected themselves.
The atomized social ideal of the Enlightenment was unable to do this, thought Rousseau, because it was based on an abstract individualism which failed to take account of how real people actually behaved in real societies. As such, citizens would always be alienated from the state in which they lived, seriously impairing society's harmony as well as its capacity to function.
As the Enlightenment conception of the society was artificial, so too, thought Rousseau, was its understanding of the state. The state, in the minds of Enlightenment thinkers, had become a rational construct set over against the people. But without an intimate, organic connection between state and citizen, it was inevitable, thought Rousseau, that the state and its artificial institutions would distort the natural goodness of man, separating man from his fellow man, and alienating him from his true self.