Rousseu’s Modern Version of Assertion on Mans Freedom
Freedom can be defined as the state of being free from constraint in action or choice and coercion. This state grants the power to think, speak and act without external imposition of restraints. This is a utopian state that cannot be arguably reached in its absolute sense in our modern society. Modern nations which we live in grant civil liberty and freedom to their citizens. However, this happens with a trade-off whereby individuals have to give up part of their personal freedoms in order to be part of society. Thus, the question is: can man be actually free in the modern world or is the state we are in a falsehood of freedom and liberty.
Rousseau presents an argument about society and freedom in what he refers as the social contract. In Rousseau’s argument people that agree to be part of societies are both subjects and citizens, and thus; they rule and are ruled at the same time. In modern society and democracies people choose their leaders via elections which is part of their rights and freedom through which they give up their own individual freedom to be governed. This presents a paradoxical situation. When we accept to surrender our state of absolute freedom in uncivilized nature and grant total power to the state in order to be part of civilized society, we become mere slaves to the nation and government leaders with little freedom if any (Westwood, pp 109-112). An exemplary case would be the legislations that were instituted after September 9/11 such as the U.S.A Patriot act. This act is a typical example of how civil liberties and freedom have lost meaning in the modern world. However, it has to be noted that this is a necessary trade-off. The main gain being security, peace of mind and ability to freely move and carry out one’s desires without fear (Strossen, n.pag). Therefore, the trade-off is a necessary evil that serves to foster a free society where people can be able to accomplish their desires. This in essence is freedom itself, and thus; in modern society the giving up of personal freedom is indeed enhancing freedom itself.
As a result, modern society views restriction of freedoms as an actual increase of freedom in itself. In Rousseau’s attempt to resolve the paradox, he explained people gain more by their citizenship or membership in society than what they actually surrender. In his argument equality, liberty and property can not be regarded as personal rights. Instead he refers to them as civil rights granted to citizens by virtue of their membership in the nation (Westwood, p 110). This social contract grants the political body complete control and power to its members. Thus, as the sovereign power it determines what is important. However, the sovereign power cannot impose any fetters upon the subjects which may be deemed useless under the societal view. Therefore, any person that desires what is deemed contrasting to societal social order is deemed capricious and does not understand what is good for him or for society. As a result, that person has to be coerced or suppressed for the good of society (Donohue, 175).
Conclusively, complete personal freedom is an idealistic and utopian state that is un-attainable. Freedom in modern society has to come with restrictions that are meant to ensure one’s personal freedom and rights exercise does not infringe on other peoples freedom.
Donohue, K. Laura. The cost of counterterrorism: power, politics, and liberty. New York, NY: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2008. Print.
Strossen, Nadine. Scapegoating Liberty. Spiked online.com, 2010. Web. 14th June, 2010. <http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/1602/>.
Westwood, Sallie. Power and the social. New York, NY: Routledge Publishers, 2002. Print.