When being coached in sports I often experienced the phrase “Now, repeat.” Historical perspectives of civilization IMPLY this as well… we seem to breed some brilliant intellectual thought within human history, but we are destined to repeat historical blunders. I am not talking about spilled milk here, I am speaking about the causes of failed civilizations. A template Charles Darwin places on to natural selection.
Rousseau lived during a time of political and societal change. He was a thinker who looked for reasons as to why people are the way they are and tried to describe who we are. He divides people into two camps, the horrible and the miserable. The horrible are those who face terminal illness or tragedy. All others are the miserable. The only exception is early primitive society – we were happy before the development of modern society. At the end of this happy state we entered a new state – two discoveries – agriculture and metallurgy, With agriculture is a division of land and property, metallurgy is the art of war and conquest. Laws and political instiatuions were used to sort out conflict and rights. .
For Rousseau, men who were once free and equal, are now easily moved in other directions. The government is simply a “con game” that the Rich play on the poor. It is based on falsehoods and lies. The Rich are so much happier and relaxed. It brings forth a new kind of human condition; the bourgeois – where people appear to be one thing and actually are something else. Plato’s Just Man. From this distinction, there is deceptive cunning, deception, and in Rousseau’s Second Discourse, he explains The Savage lives within himself, and the bourgeois knows ONLY how to live in the opinions of others. He thinks of only himself with he is with other people, and other people when he is with himself. This is what our perpetual restlessness. Rousseau tries to hint at how to solve this problem.
Here is an excellent video of a lecture from Yale Professor Steven Smith, reviewing the highlights of Rousseau’s Second Discourse.