According to Rousseau society’s advancements have come hand in hand with its decline into a primitive mindset, epitomised for many in human form in the rise of Donald Trump.
1750 saw his first philosophical work, “A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences,” published in deference to this philosophical peers. The arts and sciences, he wrote, were “garlands of flowers over the chains which weigh [men] down,” and “our minds have been corrupted in proportion” as human knowledge has increased.
One of the reasons Rousseau will always resonate among those ill at ease with organised power is that according to The New Yorker, he “derived his ideas from intimate experiences of fear, confusion, loneliness and loss, he connected easily with people who felt excluded.”
Observing his remorseless exclusion of the Mexican and Muslim community, Rousseau it seems can provide much philosophical validity to Trump’s stance. In his publication entitled ‘On Education,’ he writes, “Every patriot is severe with strangers. They are nothing in his eyes.”
The promise of the enlightenment, which Rousseau witnessed with varying degrees of ambivalence, warned that the bourgeois values of wealth, vanity and ostentation would hinder rather than allow ideals of equality, morality, dignity, freedom and compassion to flourish.
This new hierarchical social order presided over the power of money and as a result created a system where anything, including a moral system can be bought. The currency of this new system, Rousseau perceived, was envy.
In his “Dissertation on the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality of Mankind he wrote, “In the midst of so much philosophy, humanity, and civilization, and of such sublime codes of morality, we have nothing to show for ourselves but a frivolous and deceitful appearance, honour without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness.”
With Presidential hopeful Donald Trump recently claiming victory as the primary delegate for the Republican Party, it remains a valid question whether we as a society have found ourselves on the wrong side of history.
Wandering the street at night with a newspaper for company, Rousseau happened upon a question that he wrote later shook him to the core and he sat weeping by the road. “Has the progress of the sciences and arts done more to corrupt morals or improve them?” Perhaps we are witnessing today what troubled Rousseau so much.