Discourse on Inequality

by: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Observation fully confirms what reflection teaches us on this subject: Savage man and civilized man differ so much in their inmost heart and inclinations that what constitutes the supreme happiness of the one would reduce the other to despair. The first breathes nothing but repose and freedom, he wants only to live and remain idle, and even the Stoic's ataraxia does not approximate his profound indifference to everything else. By contrast, the Citizen, forever active, sweats and scurries, constantly in search of ever more strenuous occupations: he works to the death, even rushes toward it in order to be in a position to live, or renounces life in order to acquire immortality. He courts the great whom he hates, and the rich whom he despises; he spares nothing to attain the honor of serving them; he vaingloriously boasts of his baseness and of their protection and, proud of his slavery, he speaks contemptuously of those who have not the honor of sharing it.

This is an important statement of Rousseau's conclusions. He draws a parallel between the "inmost heart" of savage and civil man, which is the best reflection of their true natures, and their outward behavior. Savage man is concerned inwardly and outwardly with freedom and leisure; ataraxia is a philosophical position of indifference to worldly cares, adopted in response to outward turbulence. Rousseau's point is that the savage does not need to adopt any such position, because his inner and outer life are at one with each other. Civil man, on the other hand, lives outwardly and engages with the world. His amour propre causes him to interact with others ("the great" and those beneath him) to gain advantage. But the citizen's activity and urgency are self- defeating, as he merely hastens his own demise. This is a powerful image of the difference between modern and savage man, but it is an extreme one. Rousseau explains elsewhere that savages hunt as well as laze and, in later stages of development, form small societies. Modern man presumably has some leisure time, too. The point remains unchanged; human nature changed dramatically for the worse, a fact that is reflected in the outward-facing behavior of modern man.

Discourse on Inequality: Popular pages