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A Discourse on Political Economy

By Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1755

Critique by Punkerslut

From RadicalGraphics.org
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Start Date: July 14, 2003
Finish Date: July 14, 2003


     In this work, Jean Jacques Rousseau attempts to give his opinion in matters of economics. Though the effort is noble, I find that the end result was not. As to those issues governing economy, such as production, exchanges, and the like, he pays no attention, despite the length of this work. Mostly, this work dealt with how the state deals with the economy, such as taxation. But even more than that, he deals with the philosophical grounds for setting up a government more than anything else. Much like any humane author, he sees the brutality of the Capitalist system. But, unlike the few who have seen what was needed to ammend it, he offers a rather simple response to it, "It is therefore one of the most important functions of government to prevent extreme inequality of fortunes..." The only method that this can justly be accomplished is simple: Communism. However, Rousseau simply stated what the government should do in regards to wealth. Asside from that, much of this work is mostly political and irrelevant to economics. While reading it, though, I discovered some rather frightful social opinions of Rousseau. I shall deal with those now...

The Right to Govern a Family

     In this work, Rousseau is under the influence of the idea that the father ought to have unregulated control of his family. Perhaps "unregulated" is not the most fair of choices to describe it. But, he believes that the father's decisions in a family are to be regarded more than a mother's choices. It is this, which is a sort of Sexism, that I am going to attack. But, perhaps I should not be explaining Rousseau's opinion in this matter. I shall quote him...

In the family, it is clear, for several reasons which lie in its very nature, that the father ought to command. In the first place, the authority ought not to be equally divided between father and mother; the government must be single, and in every division of opinion there must be one preponderant voice to decide. Secondly, however lightly we may regard the disadvantages peculiar to women, yet, as they necessarily occasion intervals of inaction, this is a sufficient reason for excluding them from this supreme authority: for when the balance is perfectly even, a straw is enough to turn the scale. Besides, the husband ought to be able to superintend his wife's conduct, because it is of importance for him to be assured that the children, whom he is obliged to acknowledge and maintain, belong to no one but himself. Thirdly, children should be obedient to their father, at first of necessity, and afterwards from gratitude: after having had their wants satisfied by him during one half of their lives, they ought to consecrate the other half to providing for his.

     First, in regards to the decision-making powers of females, I must say this... That it is presently an antiquated idea that they are less capable of understanding or comprehending than males. The genes which make the human body, for both the female and the male, are identical. The patterns which are followed in producing the female brain, are identical to those patterns which are used in producing the male brain. In the time of Rousseau, however, it was popular to believe that women were incapable of independent thought, that they were naturally inferior in all ways, that whatever passion they displayed was simply imitation, that their love was of an inferior quality, that their meaning to men was limited to sex. It was once believed by the common people, that a woman's love was worthless, that her touch was profane, that her interests were irrelevant, that her intelligence was limited... And so these things may be true in many cases, but one would be a fool to believe that men did not display the same vices in an equal amount. Now that the dogma of women's inferiority has been lifted, it can be seen quite clearly that women today work just as hard as men do. By our own actions today, we have violated the postulates of ancient thinkers. "Women shall not think as men can," they may have reiterated to each other, bestowing a sordid confidence among each other, as the lies perpetrate the minds of the children. Whatever they said, arguing that the nature of women is of a generate nature, it has only gone so far to prove that they themselves of blind, without understanding, and without a connection towards the real world.

     Furthermore... In regards to decisions made on behalf of the family, I believe that, just as autonomy ought to exist in government, it also should exist in a family. The problem here becomes more complicated, though. The parents often are those who make the wealth which supports the life of their children. In this respect, some may argue, that the children are to be in debt to their parents. In some respect, they are right. But by being "in debt" to their parents, it does not mean that they owe their lives to their parents. It does not mean that the son in a family ought to pursue a profession, just because the father desires it. It does not mean that the daughter ought to enter into marriage with someone, just because their father deems it so. Such ideas, as inane and antiquated as they are, were limited to the time of Rousseau -- a time when mankind was only beginning to open its eyes and see for itself, a glorious time called the Enlightenment. But still, it gave birth to a new intellect, one which had not fully developed, and still remains growing, in the hearts of every thinker today. If a child has no right to decide its own course of life -- if a child's happiness and liberty are held at the whim's of a father or mother -- then there is no real freedom. The father holds the role of a tyrant. Rousseau argued that a father fulfills his duty by listening to his heart, but here we find people with heart but without mind, committing some of the greatest atrocities. I have become friends with people who, at the abuse of their parents, were homeless at an age so early as nine years old. When it comes to the decisions of a family, the parents, who had brought these children into the world, children with needs, it is the duty of these parents to attend to these needs. By fulfilling the child's necessity of food and shelter, does that mean that they have the right to extinguish the child's necessity for peace, for understanding, for their own spiritual path in life that they wish to fulfill? They may have provided bread, but does that mean that they have a right to destroy the heart of their child, to force them into unjust relations, to fill their rights with pain and sorrow? Certainly not. And I argue this point on the same that I argue for any case: because if I agreed that a father had the right to abuse his children, then I could not argue for justice or humanity again.


It is certain that the right of property is the most sacred of all the rights of citizenship, and even more important in some respects than liberty itself; either because it more nearly affects the preservation of life, or because, property being more easily usurped and more difficult to defend than life, the law ought to pay a greater attention to what is most easily taken away; or finally, because property is the true foundation of civil society, and the real guarantee of the undertakings of citizens: for if property were not answerable for personal actions, nothing would be easier than to evade duties and laugh at the laws.

     I feel that I also ought to comment on this part of Rousseau's work. He argues, like many of the other authors of his time, that property is a sacred, intrinsic right, and there can be no justice in breaching this right -- except, of course, under taxes, which he attempted to justify. But, like many of the thinkers of his time, Rousseau agreed to the right of property. He simply agreed to it. He did not defend it, other than arguing that it was the basis of society. A more proper term would have been, it is the basis of injustice in society, as he himself denotes on how the poor are exploited by the rich. Besides this, he argues nothing compelling, nothing appealing, that might convince someone that the right to private property is justified. On the ground that he has furthered no evidence for his claim, I see no reason to believe in this claim.


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