Burke and Rousseau: Inequality and Transformation

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Burke and Rousseau: Inequality and Transformation
During the Enlightenment, many western political and economic philosophers attempted to describe the transition of mankind towards modernity. Specifically, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) were both heavily influenced by the American Revolution (1775-1783) and French Revolution (1789-1799), which compelled each to write about the existence of inequalities in society and transformations that aim to address these inequalities. Burke and Rousseau differed in their interpretations of why inequalities exist within society and had diverging views on radical transformation within society. These differences stem from their conflicting ideology pertaining to the role of the government, private property, liberty and notions of sovereignty. It is imperative to discuss each philosopher’s competing ideological framework of inequality and analyze each philosopher’s assessment regarding the desirability of radical transformation.

Rousseau describes the conception of inequality in A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality by asserting, “there is hardly any inequality in the state of nature, all inequality which now prevails owes its strength and growth to the development of our facilities and the advance of the human mind…” (Rousseau, p. 116). Within the state of nature, Rousseau explains “equality might have been sustained, had the talents of individuals been equal…but, as there was nothing to preserve this balance, it was soon distributed…” (Rousseau, p. 94). Eventually, property rights “gave rise to the first rules of justice…” (Rousseau, p. 94) and “[man] perpetually employed in getting others to interest themselves in his lot…[and] find their advantage in promoting his own” (Rousseau, p. 95-96). He further explains that this inequality is made “permanent and legitimate by the establishment of property and laws.” (Rousseau, p. 116). Rousseau contends that the rich in society began to...
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