Discourse on Inequality

by: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Important Quotations Explained

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, to whom it occurred to say this is mine, and found people sufficiently simple to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors Mankind would have been spared by him who, pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had cried out to his kind: Beware of listening to this impostor; You are lost if you forget that the fruits are everyone's and the Earth no-one's

The development of institutionalized inequality is a series of tricks played by the powerful on the weak, and so too is the ultimate foundation of civil society. This quotation emphasizes the extraordinary nature of the creation of property. It is after a strange act, which necessitates a supply of gullible people to witness it. Rousseau is very clear that the link between property and inequality is a direct one. Once property has been created, institutional structures emerge to fix it in place, and mankind is then "lost." Wars and conflict result from property because, as Locke says, "without property there is no injury." However, just as human development is irreversible, Rousseau sees no real way to return to a state in which the Earth was "no-one's." It was Marx's insight that only the abolition of property could resolve this situation.