Jean Jacques Rousseau was a highly influential writer, philosopher and composer, a thinker whose political philosophy created an impression upon the French Revolution. Born in Geneva on June 28, 1712, Rousseau is also credited with shaping the sociological, educational and cultural thought of the eighteenth century.
Rousseau is not only credited with politically revolutionizing France, he is also acclaimed for the change he brought in peoples’ taste of music and other arts. He personally touched many lives through his ideas on education and how parents should take keen interest in their child’s education and learning. For Rousseau, liberty was the foremost human right, and he worked greatly during his lifetime to make nations around the world realize the cruciality of this political aspiration.
He studied Hobbes’s State of Nature and criticized him for his idea of wickedness among humans in an uncivilized society. Rousseau said that man as a salvage in a natural society without any political hierarchy is as good as an animal, which is neither good nor bad. He is at least self-sufficient and has no such vices as corruption, jealousy, and inequality like those when living in an unnatural society.
He never said that man in State of Nature is morally right. In fact he believed that morality and justice are concepts suitable only to a politicized society. Moral values can be cultivated only through rigorous education in a civil state. In State of Nature, man will only attempt to save himself and show no restraint, like an animal in the wild.
In his book, Discourse of Arts and Science, Rousseau debates that science and arts did not benefit man as they should have, because they were developed from human vanity and pride, and not from human needs. The comfort and pleasure they bring to men make them more indulgent and corrupt. Materialistic development only created divisions and animosity between men, and friendship was replaced with envy, sense of competition, threat and fear.
In Discourse of Inequality, Rousseau is pessimistic about the Social Contract theory of Hobbes and says that modern states emerged as a result of the desire of the stronger ones to rule over the weak population. The powerful contracted an exchange of liberties with provision of security. Modern states are institutions of inequality according to Rousseau.
At the end, he concludes with a suggestion on what could be done. He believes that men should now cultivate morality on their own and to completely submit to the higher authorities. By doing so threats between fellow men could be prevented as they all obey the higher law as long as no two men remain unequal before the law and that the higher authority is decided on the basis of the general will of the people.
In the field of education, Rousseau penned down Emile, also known as On Education. The book focuses and urges parents to take an interest in the knowledge and information gaining process of their children. Rousseau believed that educating one child is educating a person for entire civil citizenship.
Rousseau’s diverse contributions to the society also include his composition of music. He wrote seven operas and also experimented with other forms of music as a theorist. He blended the Baroque style of music with the Classical to fashion music in new forms. His most famous musical work is arguably the opera Le devin du village.
He died due to a hemorrhage on July 2, 1778 in France. Sixteen years later, he was given the title of a national hero at Panthéon in Paris. His ideas were adopted and embraced by Saint-Just and Robespierre after his death, and they flamed the fire of the French Revolution.