Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

By Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Patrick Coleman et al. | Go to book overview

PART II

THE true founder of civil society was the first man who, having enclosed a piece of land, thought of saying, 'This is mine', and came across people simple enough to believe him. How many crimes, wars, murders and how much misery and horror the human race might have been spared if someone had pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch, and cried out to his fellows: 'Beware of listening to this charlatan. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and that the earth itself belongs to no one!' Quite evidently, however, things had by this time reached a point at which they could not continue as they had been, for since the idea of property depends on many anterior ideas that could only have arisen in sequential stages, it was not produced in the human mind all at once. Before arriving at this final stage of the state of nature, men had to make a good deal of progress, acquire considerable ingenuity and knowledge, and transmit and increase them from age to age. So let us go further back into the matter, and try to look from a single viewpoint at the slow chain of events and learning in their most natural order.

Man's first sentiment was that of his existence, and his first concern was that of his own preservation. The products of the earth furnished all the necessary support and prompted him to make use of them by instinct. Hunger and other cravings made him in turn experience various ways of living, but one particular craving goaded him to perpetuate his own species: and this blind inclination, devoid of any sentiment of the heart, occasioned only a purely animal act. Once the need was satisfied, the two sexes no longer recognized each other, and even the child meant nothing to the mother once he could do without her.

Such was the condition of nascent man; such was the life of an animal initially limited to pure sensations, scarcely profiting from the gifts supplied him by nature, much less imagining he could wrest anything from it. Difficulties soon

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Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • OXFORD WORLD'S CLASSICS ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • NOTE ON THE TEXT xxxi
  • SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY xxxii
  • A Chronology og Jean-Jacques Rousseau xxxiv
  • To the Republic of Geneva Magnificent, Most Honoured, and Sovereign Lords: 3
  • Preface 14
  • REMARK ABOUT THE NOTES 20
  • Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men 23
  • PART I 26
  • Notes 55
  • PART II 86
  • EXPLANATORY NOTES 121
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