Chains and Society

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Rousseau and Marx both address a notion of "chains" in society in their writings and have defined this notion to be very different sets of constraints. Rousseau concluded that the "chains" that restrict society is one in the form of laws. Marx, on the other hand, sees the "chains" to be that of a class struggle. This leaves us with many questions, ranging from the legitimacy of the chains on society and if society could exist without them. Taking both writers views of "chains" into view one can see that no matter how you try to rid society of them, they will always exist. In order to understand how it is possible for a society to function with them, we must first understand both authors' concepts of what the "chains" really are and all forms of them.

In The Social Contract, we are thrown right into Rousseau's notion of "chains" right from the start. "Man was born free and everywhere he is in chains," (Social Contract, I, 1; p. 49). But what are they and where do they come from? As you read further on in The Social Contract, you acquire a sense for this notion. "Chains", at least for Rousseau, are the constraints of the laws one is subjected to and there can either be legitimate or illegitimate constraints. So what type of "chains" is being referred to in the quote? Or better yet if man was born free how can he already be restrained? In that famous line from Rousseau he sums up some of his deepest feelings about the society he is living in. "Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they," (Social Contract, I, 1; p. 49). Here he is claiming that everyone is a slave. This is regardless of your current class as well. Man is a slave for he is forced to follow a false sense of liberty, a sense that goes against the grain of the general will. Therefore every law that is made that follows this structure, is illegitimate for it follows private interests of one and not the general will of the sovereign. Well how does one get this right? His right comes from that of the right of the strongest. "The strongest man is never strong enough to be a master all the time, unless he transforms force into right and obedience into duty," (Social Contract, I, 3; p. 52). But many governments were founded on this notion, look at all the monarchies though out the course of history. Look at the dictators we see though out the world, they all survive because the weak have submitted to their power. "Force is a physical power; I do not see how its effects could produce morality. To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will; it is at best an act of prudence," (Social Contract, I, 3; p. 52). So you submitted to force following one of the greatest instincts of all self preservation. Does this make you a slave; yes, it still went against your wills. You may ask yourself if everything I have lived by for so long is false is there a way to fix it. Rousseau believes that legitimacy of "chains" could be acquired through obedience to laws developed in accordance to that of the general will. This may be a thin line to be treading on based on recent eras in our history, especially that of NAZI Germany. "Hitler rose into power because his party followed that of emotions not of reason," (Lecture, 05 Oct 06). He rose into power legally; therefore it could be argued that you see the rise of NAZI Germany to be that of a legitimate power. However, once in power we see him manipulate it using previous illegitimate laws to become the soul power. This here makes Hitler an illegitimate power, on many levels. The German Jews were part of Germany's general will, and we have concluded that legitimacy comes from laws following the general will. "It also proves that the general will, to be truly what it is, must be general in its purpose as well as in its nature; that it should spring from all for it to apply to all; and that it loses its natural rectitude when it is directed towards any particular...
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