Democratic Theory and Technological Society

By Richard B. Day; Ronald Beiner et al. | Go to book overview

ROUSSEAU VERSUS INSTANT GOVERNMENT: DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION IN THE AGE OF TELEPOLITICS

Joseph Masciulli


I

Bernard Lonergan has correctly observed the premise of modernity: "the challenge of history is for man progressively to restrict the realm of chance or fate or destiny and progressively to enlarge the realm of conscious grasp and deliberate choice."1 The dominant theme of modernity has been to control chance through technology. Technical mastery has broadened our choice in consumer goods, relieved many of the necessity of burdensome toil, enlarged the amount of free time, and empowered humans to combat disease, hunger and even death. Indeed, technological mastery could be said to be above all an attempt to conquer our mortality. Rousseau, one of the strongest opponents of modernity, was at the same time paradoxically one of its partisans, though he advocated the control of human destiny by political not technological methods.

Rousseau was one of the first critics of the emerging modern state, with its dedication to an unlimited increase in economic prosperity and technological power over nature. He thought its archetypical members, whom he labeled "the bourgeois," were committed to the goal of staying alive as long and as comfortably as possible through "involvement in commerce and the arts, avid interest in profits, softness and love of comforts, that replace personal services by money."2

The English liberal tradition celebrated property and liberty, commerce and representative government. But in Rousseau's view, Hobbes and Locke championed bourgeois subjects of a representative government, not autonomous citizens participating in formulating the rules by which they conducted their lives. Engaged in profitable commercial transactions in a society increasingly characterized by division of labor and technological development, bourgeois subjects would merely pay their taxes and thus hire

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