Patricia James YOUR Rousseau Discussion About myself: Tell ‘em what you want ‘em to know, PJ. Why I am interested in the issues: I think any member of modern society should be interested this subject. A few years ago, the response to a direct question about privacy, security, and freedom might have been a more academic or philosophical discussion about freedom in general. but in our post-9/11 society the question of security is on everyone’s mind. As the government moves to respond to the public’s concerns about safety and security, there is becoming an ever-increasing concern among some citizens that the privacy of the individual is being eroded unnecessarily in the name of providing security for the whole. Personally, I am interested in the balance between individual freedoms and societal needs. I think there are valid social concerns on both sides of this issue and I haven’t yet reached a conclusion as to where the line between social safety and individual freedom should be drawn. I am looking forward to this class to inform my opinion and provide insight to the issues.
First reaction to Rousseau’s statement: At first blush, Rousseau’s statement is interesting and provokes consideration of three things. man’s freedom, man’s bondage, and the co-existence of the two. In terms of being “born free,” I am not sure Rousseau means freedom in the same sense that an American in the 21st Century perceives it. For us, being born free is the notion that any individual enters society with full rights and privileges. Yet, Rousseau readily accepted the social strata of his day, which included disenfranchised individuals and the denial of their access to full citizenship. Citizenship and individuality are a set of competing loyalties. will I do what is in my best interest and not consider the social impact, or will I consider societal needs and constrain my behavior. If the former, I am born free.
There is also a social contract between the individuals of a particular society and the communal structure they have adopted. Individuals have roles and responsibilities and there are varying degrees of relationship between the two. pure democracy, constitutional republicanism, or collective and communistic social ideologies serve as examples. The greater the degree of centralization, the less individual freedom afforded members (think North Korea vs. the UK). As for the latter part of Rousseau’s statement, if my individuality is set aside to a large degree in deference or service to social conventions, I am in chains.
And, of course, we are all representative of Rousseau’s comment to one degree or another as these two concepts combine. Even in the most capitalistic of democracies, there is constraint of social and economic nature. In most repressive dictatorship, an individual still has some determination over the course of her life. even if that means violating a societal or governmental standard. In a society such as modern America, there is more of a balance—but while individuals are fundamentally free in some areas such as constitutional freedoms or educational and economic choices, they are certainly constrained by others like social conventions or economic deprivation. Hence, I find Rousseau’s statement to be fundamentally true. Even in 21st Century America, we are born to individuality while being constrained on many sides.