The Necessity of Freedom
In his work, Rousseau addresses freedom more than any other problem of political philosophy and aims to explain how man in the state of nature is blessed with an enviable total freedom. This freedom is total for two reasons. First, natural man is physically free because he is not constrained by a repressive state apparatus or dominated by his fellow men. Second, he is psychologically and spiritually free because he is not enslaved to any of the artificial needs that characterize modern society. This second sense of freedom, the freedom from need, makes up a particularly insightful and revolutionary component of Rousseau’s philosophy. Rousseau believed modern man’s enslavement to his own needs was responsible for all sorts of societal ills, from exploitation and domination of others to poor self-esteem and depression.
Rousseau believed that good government must have the freedom of all its citizens as its most fundamental objective. The Social Contract in particular is Rousseau’s attempt to imagine the form of government that best affirms the individual freedom of all its citizens, with certain constraints inherent to a complex, modern, civil society. Rousseau acknowledged that as long as property and laws exist, people can never be as entirely free in modern society as they are in the state of nature, a point later echoed by Marx and many other Communist and anarchist social philosophers. Nonetheless, Rousseau strongly believed in the existence of certain principles of government that, if enacted, can afford the members of society a level of freedom that at least approximates the freedom enjoyed in the state of nature. In The Social Contract and his other works of political philosophy, Rousseau is devoted to outlining these principles and how they may be given expression in a functional modern state.