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Discourse on Inequality

Summary Part Two
Summary Part Two


The first man who enclosed a piece of ground, and then said, "this is mine," and then found enough gullible people to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. People would have stopped many crimes and miseries if they had prevented him from taking that land. But in all likelihood, things back then had reached the point of no return. Much progress had been made before this last stage of the state of nature.

The condition of nascent man was simple: his first care was for self- preservation. He had few needs apart from food, rest and sex. Man scarcely dreamt of exploiting or profiting from Nature. However, difficulties soon arose. Man had to become agile, run, fight and overcome the obstacles of Nature. Difficulties multiplied as man spread. Different climates produced different lifestyles. As man learnt to hunt animals, he began to consider himself preeminent among species. This was the beginning of pride in himself as an individual. Savage man was solitary, but gradually began to see similarities between himself and others. Man was in a position to judge when he should cooperate with others. Such dealings did not require a refined language.

Initial progress became more rapid. Men discovered tools, and how to build huts. This was the first "revolution," which led to the establishment of families and a sort of property. Conjugal love resulted from families living together. Each family was like a small society. Women became sedentary and stayed at home while men foraged. The sedentary individuals became less able to resist wild beasts, but better at co-operating to fight them. Men enjoyed a great deal of leisure in this new state. They acquired new conveniences that weakened their bodies and minds, and which turned into needs. Men were unhappy to possess these needs, but equally unhappy to lose them. Various natural catastrophes made language increasingly necessary. Floods, earthquakes and revolutions of the globe broke up landmasses and brought men together, forcing them to communicate.

Mankind became more settled. Nations eventually formed. Conjugal love increased, as did ideas of merit and preference. Jealousy eventually developed together with love, and discord triumphs. Songs and dances in villages led to comparison amongst people. This was the beginning of inequality and vice. As soon as men began to appreciate each other, civility and consideration became important. Contempt for another became a serious offense. This is the state of contemporary savage peoples, which makes people think that man is naturally cruel and needs political order to survive. In reality, nothing is as gentle as natural man.

Early society was different from the state of nature. However, it was the happiest epoch, representing a middle way between the indolence of the state of nature and the activity of amour propre. It was the state with least revolutions, and the best time for man. Subsequent progress was a step towards the perfection of the individual, and the decrepitude of the species.

As long as men applied themselves only to one-man tasks, they were free and healthy. The moment when one man needed the help of another, and one man wanted what was enough for two, equality disappeared, work became necessary and oppression developed. This second "revolution" was caused by metallurgy and agriculture. The division of land followed its cultivation; from property came the first rules of justice. It is impossible to conceive of early property other than in terms of man's labor. Labor gives a right to land, which is transformed into property. Things could have remained equal in this state if talents and the use of resources had been equal. Natural inequality imperceptibly unfolds together with unequal associations. The differences between men became more obvious and started to influence events.