Yesterday, I read a part of "On the Origin of Inequality" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a great French philosopher of the Enlightenment. The entire
essay is about how, as men continue to acquire more and more property, less and less is left for everyone else, and the world, not an infinitely large
place, ends up getting bought up by those who have the most money. One passage struck me as amazingly similar to the issues today we are having with
Wall Street, and the amazing thing is that this was written before the U.S. was even a country - in 1754!
Here it is:
Rousseau's On The Origin of Inequality
Destitute of valid reasons to justify and sufficient strength to defend himself, able to crush individuals with ease, but easily crushed himself
by a troop of bandits, one against all, and incapable, on account of mutual jealousy, of joining with his equals against numerous enemies united by
the common hope of plunder, the rich man, thus urged by necessity, conceived at length the profoundest plan that ever entered the mind of man: this
was to employ in his favour the forces of those who attacked him, to make allies of his adversaries, to inspire them with different maxims, and to
give them other institutions as favourable to himself as the law of nature was unfavourable.
With this view, after having represented to his neighbours the horror of a situation which armed every man against the rest, and made their
possessions as burdensome to them as their wants, and in which no safety could be expected either in riches or in poverty, he readily devised
plausible arguments to make them close with his design. "Let us join," said he, "to guard the weak from oppression, to restrain the
ambitious, and secure to every man the possession of what belongs to him: let us institute rules of justice and peace, to which all without exception
may be obliged to conform; rules that may in some measure make amends for the caprices of fortune, by subjecting equally the powerful and the weak to
the observance of reciprocal obligations. Let us, in a word, instead of turning our forces against ourselves, collect them in a supreme power which
may govern us by wise laws, protect and defend all the members of the association, repulse their common enemies, and maintain eternal harmony among
Just think, how many people in this country, and in this world, support things like "free market capitalism," a faulty theory based on the
fictitious idea of an infinite amount of land and wealth, and then get angry when anyone disagrees with them? But look at the state of this world. 1
billion people are starving, and very few people are happy. The people who benefit most from free market capitalism are the rich, but they have made
us, who should be their adversaries, into their friends. We support the very policies that keep us down, because, as Rousseau says, "The most capable
of foreseeing the dangers were the very persons who expected to benefit by them; and even the most prudent judged it not inexpedient to sacrifice one
part of their freedom to ensure the rest; as a wounded man has his arm cut off to save the rest of his body." It's so much easier to stay quiet and
keep our tiny bit that the rich, powerful, "TPTB", have deigned to give us than to fight back and lose everything.
But yet, is that not how the world has always been? The guy with the biggest stick has always been king. I think Rousseau makes a very good point
throughout this essay that societies have always been like this, and we can see, even in our "wonderful" democratic republic, inequalities that
Rousseau pointed out that were happening BEFORE the French Revolution/Enlightenment/Rise of the Democratic Society are still happening today. And the
richest have figured out the best way to win: to keep us moderately happy, moderately sated, and very, very ill-informed. Then they stand up on their
pedastals and say, "We're BP, here to make the world a better place! Won't you stand by us as we improve life in the Gulf? Isn't it great that we,
Wal-Mart, offer so many jobs and benefits to our associates as well as cheap prices for the great people of the USA? Come, be a part of our team!
Unite with us, be part of the solution! We, the Democrats, want to support the poor, and we, the Republicans, want to support your freedoms - don't
you want to follow the Founding Fathers and unite in the face of this scary, dangerous world?"
Our real enemies are and have always been the people who make those kinds of speeches. And they're the reason that you or your friend lost their job,
the reason that there isn't enough food to go around in the world, and the reason that we as humans across the globe continue to fight trivial
battles with "the enemy" as the rich sell guns and drugs to both sides.