Essay on Jean-Jacques Rousseau

1692 Words 7 Pages
The concepts of liberty and individuality experienced a critical change in meaning and understanding as Europe shifted from the 18th century Enlightenment era to the age of political economy and utilitarianism of the 19th century. This clear distinction can be seen when comparing the works of enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau to authors of the 19th century, including utilitarian John Stuart Mill and communist Karl Marx. The fundamental differences in the ideas of liberty and individuality between the two centuries can be attributed to the political, economic, and social climates of each author’s time.
Rousseau’s interpretation of liberty was that of true, unlimited freedom. However, this form of liberty only exists in the state
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An emerging leisure class, consisting of the wealthy and even the monarchy itself, caused class polarization and social injustice to be more visible and obvious, with widespread poverty and financial crisis starkly contrasting the extravagance of the royalty in Versailles. This prompted Rousseau to create his social contract theory, which acted as his attempt to resolve the problems of inequality that occurred so blatantly around him.
Unlike Rousseau, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty discusses the 19th century notion of social or civil liberty, or the “the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual” (2008, pg. 5). This individual-centric concept of social liberty distinguishes itself from the ideas of political liberty found in Rousseau’s time. While Rousseau’s social contract proposes that individual liberty should be sacrificed for the sake of the whole, Mill suggests the opposite, suggesting that individual liberty is crucial to the functioning and progress of society. Thus, the formation of liberal democracy that protects the liberty of the individual through law and legislation would be the ideal environment for cultivating individuals and their ideas.
Yet why is the role of the individual so crucial to Mill? The individual is a valuable source of challenging ideas, which oppose the ruling idea of the majority and have the potential to develop society further. The conflict arising from interaction of

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