Linked to Rousseau’s general attempt to understand how modern life differs from life in the state of nature is his particular focus on the question of how authentic the life of man is in modern society. By authentic, Rousseau essentially means how closely the life of modern man reflects the positive attributes of his natural self. Not surprisingly, Rousseau feels that people in modern society generally live quite inauthentic lives.

In the state of nature, man is free to simply attend to his own natural needs and has few occasions to interact with other people. He can simply “be,” while modern man must often “appear” as much as “be” so as to deviously realize his ridiculous needs.

The entire system of artificial needs that governs the life of civil society makes authenticity or truth in the dealings of people with one another almost impossible. Since individuals are always trying to deceive and/or dominate their fellow citizens to realize their own individual needs, they rarely act in an authentic way toward their fellow human beings. Even more damningly, the fact that modern people organize their lives around artificial needs means that they are inauthentic and untrue to themselves as well. To Rousseau’s mind, the origin of civil society itself can be traced to an act of deception, when one man invented the notion of private property by enclosing a piece of land and convincing his simple neighbors “this is mine,” while having no truthful basis whatsoever to do so. Given this fact, the modern society that has sprung forth from this act can be nothing but inauthentic to the core.

Popular pages: Selected Works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau