A Krokerian Analysis of Bloch on Rousseau
Vindication of a Lyric Poet Through Post-Modernity
"Instead of destroying natural inequality, the fundamental compact substitutes, for such physical inequality as nature may have set up between men, an equality that is moral and legitimate, and that men, who may be unequal in strength or intelligence, become every one equal by convention and legal right."
In the project at hand, it will be shown that a critique often raised against Rousseau's social contract theory, in particular the critique against Rousseau's advocation for the right to acquire, own, and retain property, is fallacious. In addition, and perhaps more important considering the context from which this project arose, it will be shown that in the post-modern, the critique becomes ambivalent because the right to acquire, own, and retain property has been so transformed as to be merely an illusory aspect of a simulacrum of freedom and rights.
This essay will begin by addressing Rousseau and introducing The Social Contract as his most influenial work. Following this introduction, a more detailed examination of The Social Contract will be provided from which a discussion of Ernst Bloch's critique against Rousseau may be presented. Due to the somewhat brief analysis this critique receives, this essay opens itself, and its author, to criticism for its lack of depth. However, it is hoped that through an appeal to the post-modern condition and Arthur Kroker's 'possessed individual', addressing such a critique has become pointless if not wasteful.
In saying this, however, it must be emphatically stated that in no way does this essay attempt to demonstrate, illustrate, posit, claim, or suggest that Rousseau has nothing to offer us today. Quite to the contrary, Rousseau and his works offer a great deal. However, an explication of this argument by which justice could be given to Rousseau is beyond the scope of this essay. The intention herein is to demonstrate how the advent of post-modernism has to some degree affected the use of a modern philosopher's work and a critique brought forth against such a philosopher.
A. The Project
The idea for this project was come upon only a short time ago. Having been
introduced to Jean-Jacques Rousseau through a course of study, a personal revelation
began to take hold in that Jean-Jacques had a disposition toward the world similar
to my own. Interest began to increase and connections were uncovered in both
the literary and philosophical realms. Indeed, it has been said that Proust
and Goethe were heavily influenced by Rousseau, most likely from his Confessions.
One step closer to modern literature, Jean Lebris de Kerouac (Jack Kerouac)
had been heavily influenced by both Goethe and Proust. In fact, one of Kerouac's
novels, Dr. Sax, was subtitled Faust Three. In philosophy, the
connection was seen amongst Rousseau, Hegel and Marx. Again, elaboration on
these particular personal discoveries is beyond the scope of this essay.
In the beginning, the idea was to present Rousseau on a particular issue or subject matter and identify five to six distinct views on this same subject matter. However, it was soon realized that many of the critiques against Rousseau were problematic. Problematic not only in themselves, but as seen in the context of post-modernity. Furthermore, what better way to address or silence a particular critique of Rousseau than to use the post-modern condition which has ironically begun to signify the ark of a dead power.
Rousseau was a self-educated person, who lived by his passions and submerged himself in many different lines of professionalism throughout his lifetime. It was not until his mid-years that he began to write philosophy, and only upon the suggestion of friends such as Diderot and Voltaire. He won a prize for his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences and followed this recognized success with the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. In addition to these works, he produced Emile, La Nouvelle Heloise, and The Village Soothsayer. However, at around the same time as he wrote Emile, he composed his perhaps most influential work, The Social Contract. This work was the culmination of ideas presented in the first two discourses. It is this work which many claim to have influenced the French Revolution and the French Declaration. Today, it is evident his influence is felt world-wide.
Thus addressing The Social Contract would be approaching the heart of Rousseauvian philosophy. To truly understand Rousseau's philosophy, it is necessary to understand who he was through his own eyes, as perhaps revealed in Confessions and Reveries of The Solitary Walker. Returning to The Social Contract, it is within this work that Rousseau contributed the most to modern natural law. In particular, he allowed for the absolute, inalienable rights of the individual person to enter the natural law discourse and take a firm hold.
C. The Social Contract
In The Social Contract, Rousseau departs from his contractual predecessors
in removing the aspect of domination from his particular theory on a social
compact. In other words, there is no longer an inherent obligation to be dominated
by a power greater than the individual. The Contract attempted to find
a form of government or political control where individual freedon would not
be alienated from the individual through abdication. In summarizing Rousseau's
two-fold approach to this problem, Ernst Bloch claims Rousseau solved this through
introducing and explicating the voluntariness with which the individual enters
into the social contract and the immediacy in which the individual becomes inextricably
related to the communal whole.(1)
In order to build to these attributes, Rousseau began with the most natural, or perhaps the only natural, societal formation, the family, Rousseau looked toward our past into history and asked the questions as to how we came to be submitted to a form of government, regardless of the particular form of government an individual may enjoy. Some claim that 'the people' give themselves to a form of government. In responding to this suggestion, Rousseau claimed the question must then be worded differently. He suggested that we attempt to determine how a people come to be a collective people which could resolve to submit to a particular form of government. In essence, Rousseau was looking for the first convention within a societal formation. Thus, it is inevitable that he returned to a discussion of the state of nature. From this point, Rousseau demonstrated how a people come to realize and recognize that it is beneficial to their individual freedom to allow themselves to become part of a whole. The collective people as individuals and as a group needed or desired
"to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before."2
In finding this association, Rousseau posited that each individual gives him or herself to the general will. That is, in giving ourselves to the general will, we do not give up (alienate) our freedom (individual), since it is an equal part ofthe collective general will. And, in addition, as we view each of the other individual's freedom as integral to the general will, so an equal number of individuals view our (individual) freedom as integral to the general will, and thus, their, and our, happiness.
We come to recognize that the general will, the collective understanding that what is best for the community at large is sovereign over the individual will, is true to the freedoms the collective regards as inalienable. These freedoms are each individual's individual freedom. This individual freedom is what the social contract has come into existence to protect and nourish and can be if necessary destroyed in order to preserve individual freedom. Individual freedom encompasses human rights which are to be protected by the social contract. The rights included within individual freedom have varied historically from state to state and continent to continent. In the United States of America, the tricolor has been identified as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The French, after Rousseauvian influence took hold, held to liberty, equality and fraternity as their tricolor. Many rights are covered within these tricolor umbrellas. To begin with, the "Bill of Rights", the "Declaration of Independence", and the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen" are documents which begin to identify the rights allowed under a tri-color originating from the individual freeom of which the Rousseauvian general will elects to preserve through a construct such as the social contract.
One freedom in particular which Roosseau addressed was the acquistition, ownership, and retaining of real property. The section entitled "Real Property", within the first book of The Social Contract, may in fact disorient the reader as to whom acquires possession of property and to what use this possession or acquisition has for the individual. As espoused by Rousseau, the individual gives him or herself to the community and all that he or she has. This may appear at first reading to be the relinquishing or dispossession of property to the community. However, on reading further, Rousseau clarifies this ambiguous area and states that "in taking over the goods of individuals, the community, so far from despoiling them, only assures them legitimate possession, and changes usurpation into a true right and enjoyment into proprietership."3 Thus, we relinquish our property to the community and the the community returns this property with the right to own the property and the gaurantee, from this right, that the community, through the customs established, will protect the individual's right to own the property.
This section on property, which may be viewed as being oddly placed and, as Bloch points out, in contradiction to Rousseau's claim in the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality that the creation of property was the origin of all evil, has caused a number of scholars to critique Rousseau's position. One of these scholars is Ernst Bloch. His critique is only partial in that he credits Rousseau with being the completer of the classical doctrine of natural law and a lyric poet in that Rousseau brought a breath of fresh air into contractual philosophy. In addition, Bloch claims that Marxist reason owes a great deal to rationalistic natural law (Rousseau) on both theory of revolution and for creating the possibility for the declaration of human rights. However, Bloch's critique begins where our presentation of Rousseau's social contract broke off, at the introduction of property rights.
Bloch believes that human rights were not properly espoused because the right to property was introduced into the realm of human rights. One can clearly begin to see a Marxist/socialist critique of Rousseau through the work of Bloch. This critique is fallacious. The introduction of property is not the downfall of human rights, or the reason for which they were not properly identified. Property is a complex societal phenomenon. We only have to look at several examples to illustrate the necessity for some policy on property. And, in fact, the Right Honorable Margaret Thatcher, in a lecture at DePauw University, strongly claimed the need to have private property as a basic right protected under rule of law.
There are only three possible alternatives for the allocation of property. Before identifying these alternatives, the use of the term 'property' must be clarified. In using the word property, it is not inteneded to include wealth, excessive buying power and other phenomenon of the capitalist system. Here it is simply defined as the right to acquire property, be it a home, car, books, etc. The first alternative is of no property ownership. If we look back to the land policy American Indians held, we see that their policy/philosophy was that no one could own land. "It was here before the Indian and it will be there after the Indian". So it is for any animal, the land is only by right of first come, first serve; more eloquently stated, the right of first occupier. They believed this of property which existed before their arrival, but did the Indians not individually own and hold to coats, furs, cooking utensils, peace pipes, etc? Was what they created with their own hands given to the community with no ownership quality? It would seem that each indiviual did have something to call his or her own. However, having not lived as an Indian, this author can not say for sure.
The second alternative is that of ownership by the state, or community, or government established by general will or consensus. What occurs when an evil spirit or corrupted official acquires the power to take what he or she chooses and use it for his or her own benefit? In other words, how does one protect oneself from a despot, a tyrannical host, a gluttonness ruler? By allowing the state to acquire rights to property, we have given up the right to be secure in that something is, and can be called, our own. And, it must be pointed out that by allowing the community to take the rights to property from us, we have not abolished rights to proerty, we have simply allowed another to take what used to be ours and have given them the power to claim it as theirs.
The third and final alternative, as espoused by Rousseau, is to allow the individual to retain the right of ownership, and allow the community to have sovereign authority over that property. Thus, in the United States, we are allowed to acquire property and claim things as our own. But, through invoking Imminent Domain, the government can come in and claim any land for the good of the public, and, like it or not, we have to submit.
Without going further, another alternative presents itself. The foregoing discussion on property does not mean a thing in the society and condition in which we live. In what has come to be called the post-modern condition, the question as to what does or what should belong to an individual has become moot. For, as Arthur Kroker has put it, the individual has become transformed from a possessor of goods to a good being possessed by the culture in which he or she lives.4
E. Possession as Re-Defined by Post-Modernity
Modern passed into modernity and modernity, noticed or not, has passed into post-modernity. Post-modernity can be identified by the prevalance and dominanace of a virtual reality, composed of elements from a diverse and all-encompossing mediascape. Today, we are no longer able to be selective of what or who we are influenced by. Through film, television, literature, magazines, art, etc, the mediascape has come to define stereotypes and individuals. This all encompassing mediascape is in a reciprocal relationship with the culture in which it co-exists. Scholars have themselves become caught up in the whirlwind and speed-life of post0modernity. Attempting either to critique post-modernists, or being post-modern, scholars have attempted to define and understand the increasing prevalance of the post-modern condition in which we, as culture victims, are so imposed upon that our sense of philosophical life-being has become not what it used to be, but permanently a survival technique in order to live within culture and mediascape domination. At times, this transformation is completely unnoticed. We observe how the alternative has become the popular alternative, and in such groups certain icons and signs hold out to be identifiable as "coolness." Or, perhaps, youth are caught up in the current phase of rap and exist through indetifying with a media creation. If this is indeed the case, and it is all too evident, subjectivity has become lost. If subjectivity has become lost, the ability to be who we choose to be and the ability to define ourselves has been lost as well. The mediascape has imposed identity upon us; and we are susceptible to this cultural warfare.
In his book, The Possessed Individual, Arthur Kroker explains that in the current cultural milieu in which we live, we have become transformed from modern possessers to post-modern possessed. Once before, under Lockean (and in our present discussion, Rousseauvian) tenets of private property and use value, we have come to be unlike our predecessors which adhered to posessive individualism; regardless of the will to do or be so, we have fallen into possessed individualism, under the tenet (or sign) of abuse value. Having fallen into possessed individualism, where the culture is possessive of who we are by presenting us with cultural icons to acquire, most rights spoken of in Bloch and Rousseau come to have new meaning, if not destroyed altogether. With the loss of subjectivity, we lose the sense of being possessive. Thus, we can not have the true right to possess what we choose. Rather, we consistently and stubbornly follow the paths we used to be fond of, while foolishly living in a simulacrum of rights.
Where have our rights gone? Well, to some extent they do still exist. But, the question as to whether or not human rights have failed or succeeded based on the introduction of property rights is no longer of any use. Who cares? We live in a post-modern culture where we are no longer sure of ourselves, of what rights we do have, of what we possess, if in fact we do posses, and where a crash is likely to occur within the next century. Sadly, for me, to say, Rousseau's advocation for property rights loses some its value in the post-modern as well.
However, as was mentioned before, we do owe something to Rousseau. For, had Rousseau not identified the rights as being required, we would not have noticed their absence, much less their post-modern anhilation. And, Rousseau truly is a lyric poet due to the freshness when he alleviated us, the people, from the contract of domination within natural law. So, perhaps, Rousseau is vindicated by the post-modern condition in rendering many of his critics speechless, or at least useless. And, perhaps, he indeed is affected. But, let us never admit that we have no use for Rousseauvian philosophy; for then we, philosophers, would be foolish.