Jean-Jacques Rousseau vs. Friedrich Nietzsche

1. What is the main philosophy of Rousseau Explain.
Rousseau takes a communitarian approach to human life. We are human beings because we are a part of the society. It is the society that makes us human, makes us rational and moral beings. Before the advent of society we were noble savages, we had all the physical freedom we could wish for. The society, however, tames us and restrains us. Our physical freedom is curtailed, however by being a part of the society we gain many higher kinds of freedom, we gain the freedom to be our higher rational and moral selves, the freedom to be truly human. The civil society is formed by social contract and only by participating in the society can we become truly human. Left to ourselves, we cannot be much more than savages.

So far, what Rousseau says is commonsensical, but from here onward he brings in his own unique slant upon the overriding importance of the society. The society becomes more important than the individual. The society does not exist for the individual, but the individual exists for the society. This way of thinking is very much in conformity with the prevailing view in most ancient or traditional societies.  Rousseau calls the collective entity as the Sovereign, and in Rousseaus opinion it assumes a life of its own. The Sovereign is almost like an individual to whose will the will of an individual living in the society should become subservient.

Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole. (Rousseau, 24)

We can see clearly that Rousseau is not propounding any new philosophy but trying emphasize an age-old philosophy in the modern times. The whole scientific and technological progress in the past four hundred years or so has happened because the individual has been able to free himself from the oppression of the collective. The story of tremendous progress in the past few centuries has been the story of the rise of the individual. Rousseaus philosophy is definitely atavistic in the 18th century  the Age of Reason  when people in Europe were increasingly realizing the value of thought, reason, and an individualistic approach to life, Rousseaus philosophy was an attempt to throw the zeitgeist back to that of hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Rousseaus philosophy of the state, however, has some virtues in that it sought to establish order and stability in a time when prospects of turbulence and turmoil were dramatically increasing. The ideal society that Rousseau champions is an orderly and smooth-running society in which people are living in harmony with each other. This can be achieved largely by placing a major emphasis on the public lives of the individuals and relegating the private realm to the margins. This was how it was in many ancient societies, most notably in Greece.

In the ancient societies, the life of a person was very closely integrated with the society that he was a part of. The individuals existence was not clearly differentiated from the collective existence. An individuals existence was defined in terms of his participation in the collective enterprise, therefore an individuals happiness was tied up with the well-being of the society. Essentially, a person could achieve happiness only being useful to the society in whatever capacity.  In return, the state does all it can to protect the individual and ensure his freedom.  This way, the conflict between the individual and the state is minimized. Except for the fact that Rousseau seems to prefer aristocracy over democracy, Rousseaus concept of an ideal society appears as a thinly veiled generalized version of the ancient Greek society.

2. What is the main philosophy of Nietzsche Explain.
Nietzsches philosophy stands in sharp contrast to that of Rousseau. Nietzsche takes a thoroughly individualistic approach. He despises the herd mentality. Nietzsches philosophy is encapsulated by the term will to power. Unsublimated, in its natural state, Nietzsches will to power more or less equals the unrestrained instincts of a primitive man living without a framework of the larger society. But while Rousseau emphasizes the role of social contract in taming these primitive instincts, Nietzsche says that the refinement and sublimation of the natural instincts should come from within.

Giving a higher expression to our will to power brings with it its own fulfillment. Indulgence in our desires and instincts may bring us immediate gratification, however our intelligence will help us to learn that when these desires are expressed in subtler ways, they can lead us to a greater enjoyment of power. For example, sex and anger are primitive energies, if we give way to them we may find pleasure and gratification through them, but since human beings are driven the will to power, which means will to more power, we seek ways to find greater fulfillment. And this can happen only when the energies that were being dissipated through instincts such as sex and anger are channelized into higher modes of creative expression.

In Rousseaus philosophy, the grosser instincts have to be subdued by the imposition of law, external force and threat of punishment, but Nietzsche is more concerned with sublimating the baser tendencies of our nature through our own will power or will to power. According to Rousseau, it is the society that makes us moral, for Neitzsche the morality that comes as a result of the societys laws is worthless. True morality comes from within. Nietzsche would think that Rousseaus ideal society turns us all into mediocre people. Rousseau is concerned about orderliness and harmony in the society, peace and happiness for all its people. But these are not Nietzsches priorities. Nietzsches values are power, vitality, aliveness, richness, exuberance, creativity, genius and so on. Nietzsche fears that the domination of herd mentality in a society will suppress and destroy individual creativity. The majority of the populace are submissive to tradition, convention and the collective will. The minority who want to assert themselves and seek to express their inner vitality in creative ways are also generally given little chance to rise above the herd.

Nietzsche does not believe in equality, he believes in valuable individual differences. The concept of equality reduces us all to the least common denominator. That is why Nietzsche condemns democracy. Nietzsche believes in wildness, the force and power of the individual, whereas democracy aims to tame us and render us all equal, mediocre. Rousseaus social contract is a means of ensuring peace and stability within a large group of people, but Nietzsche despises that kind of peace which deadens our soul and blunts our sensibilities.

While Rousseau argues for an effective suppression of an individuals baser instincts for the sake of common good, Nietzsche does not advocate suppression but transformation. There is raw power in all our baser and darker instincts, but in a bid to get rid of our dark side we also kill that enormous motive power associated with it, as a consequence we become impotent. Nietzsche considered the European populace of his time as having been rendered impotent in this way. To him, even violent barbarians are better than such dull and tame people as his fellow humans appeared to him  because the barbarians are at least in touch with the vitality of life flowing through them. But the civilized man is just so-so, flat, mediocre. However, the ideal men to Nietzsche are those artists, scientists, poets and other people, who have learned to transform their barbarian core into something divine.

3. Whose philosophy is more valid Why Explain.

Rousseau and Nietzsche have strikingly different visions of life. Rousseau wants to promote common good, Nietzsche wants to foster individual greatness  and both are required for human well-being. Both Nietzsches and Rousseaus philosophies are valid in their respective spheres, and both also have their limitations with some compromise it may even be possible for them to coexist. At the level of the society, we need peace, stability and communal harmony, but at the level of individual, we need uniqueness, passion, vitality and creativity. And it should be possible to reconcile them both in some way. However, Rousseaus philosophy is essentially nothing new, he is simply making a renewed call for an old form of society that existed in many cultures of the world for hundreds if not thousands of years. Nietzsches philosophy, on the contrary, calls for a new man, Nietzsche wants to awaken the sleeping man and put human evolution back on track. Nietzsches philosophy is much more valid and relevant for the modern times.

We live in a time when herd mentality is ruling supreme, thanks to the overwhelming influence of mass media, advertising and the prevalence of the culture of consumerism but we also live in an age when the opportunities for expression of individual uniqueness and greatness are present in an unprecedented manner. The future of humanity depends on whether the individual can rise above the level of the masses and lead human civilization in new directions. On the other hand, if Rousseaus approach to life gains upper hand, there is every danger that we may end up in nightmarish totalitarian regimes.

The twentieth century witnessed a colossal confrontation between Rousseaus philosophy and Nietzsches philosophy, with the latter triumphing over the former  though the victory is not a decisive one. Communism can be seen as an extension of Rousseau s philosophy, while the capitalist ethic emphasizes individual initiative and enterprise  it can be seen as a variation of Nietzsche s philosophy. The fundamental premise of both Rousseau and Marx is the same, that the society is much more important than the individual, that social forces shapes the course of humanity. Nietzsche, on the other hand, asserts that the individual is primary, that it is the individual who influences the society. The truth works both ways, the society and the individual exert mutual influence  however, to bring about a better society in the future we need to focus more and more upon the individual.

The society is a given fact, the society and its laws have been in place for more than 5,000 years now, and it would go on by its own accord, driven by its own momentum. This society is not an end in itself but is only a means. It becomes a backdrop in which Nietzsche s authentic individual  who is in touch with his own depth and who is aware of the heights to which he can rise  can emerge. Even if Rousseau s perfect society is achieved, not much is achieved a large group of people can go on living in peace and prosperity for thousands of years, but sooner or later this ideal society would die away and nothing would have come out of it. The value of society lies only in the caliber of individuals it produces.

It is only an individual human being who can represent his species, and give a new meaning to human existence through his intelligence, creativity, scientific and artistic excellence.


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