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On Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality

3,313 words [1]

In order to embrace the Right, whites must first overcome their shame and embarrassment when contemplating race. Our most difficult and dangerous hurdle, I believe, but also our most important one. Much of this involves resisting the temptation to impute a typical white temperament onto non-whites, especially primitive non-whites. From a Christian perspective—most famously expressed in the opening words of the Book of John—such an imputation denies that some races have a greater divine spark than others. From an anthropological one—espoused, for example, by nineteenth-century physician Cesare Lombroso—it denies the atavism found in the “ferocious instincts of primitive humanity.” And from a modern, cultural Marxist perspective, such an imputation serves as a talisman which allows whites to deny the ever-looming charge of racism.

No matter how one arrives at the Right, either via science or spiritualism or out of opposition to the Left, such race denialism must be renounced and such race imputations must never be made. Different races have different temperaments and aptitudes. Some of these are good, some are not good, and all of which are fair game to be judged critically. In the same way that people discriminate on an individual level, groups of people—including races—should have the freedom to discriminate against (and in favor of) other groups and races as necessity, prejudice, and common sense would dictate. The very idea that all humanity is equally noble is anathema to the Right, mostly because it isn’t true. And whites attempting to impute their virtues onto non-whites who in large part lack them has proven to be nigh-suicidal in the face of the mass non-white immigration into Europe and America which has characterized the first two decades of the twenty-first century.

Eighteenth-century Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the great egalitarians of history and also one of its most influential race imputers. Anyone wishing to deny or obfuscate racial differences today can point to Rousseau and his Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men [2] (published in 1755) as his guiding light. For his entire career, Rousseau clung to the “the noble savage” myth which posits that in his original state Man is born free and enjoys the “majestic, celestial simplicity imparted to him by his Maker,” but in civilized society suffers the corruption of inequality, which leads to immorality, poverty, despotism, and slavery. This ideological framework serves today’s anti-white Left since it, at least at first glance, places races that until recently were considered savage (namely, blacks and indigenous Americans and Australians) on a higher moral plane than that of whites and exhorts whites to emulate the savages. Only by modeling civil society on the state of nature that the savage, in his simplistic wisdom, thrives in, can civilized Man throw off the yoke of inequality. Such a counter-factual and counter-racial conclusion requires a leap of imagination, however, and by imputing to savages the highest virtues of civilized man, namely, morality, empathy, gentleness, and the like, Rousseau offers us a nifty little parachute.

This of course has made Rousseau as much a bugbear of the Right as he is champion of the Left. One simply cannot be a serious student of Rousseau or any his cultural relativist or socialist disciples and at the same time adhere to race realism as it is understood today. Thanks to Rousseau, giving all primitive men the blind benefit of the doubt has become linchpin of current Leftist dogma, and any talk of crime statistics [3], prison rape epidemics [4], or how national IQ scores correlate with democracy [5] will be treated as ad hominem (ad savagem?) attacks and rejected with the greatest hostility and malice.

In what for many will be a stunning irony, however—and what will amount to the point of this essay—Jean-Jacques Rousseau arrived at the noble savage concept in spite of race realism rather than in the absence of it. Yes, good old J-J.R. was a racist, and if alive today and spouting some of the things he spouted in his Discourse on Inequality, he’d be ejected from academia in a volley of violence and jeers the way Bell Curve co-author Charles Murray was [6] at Middlebury College last year. In essence, Rousseau uses the idea of the noble savage not for its own sake but as a tool to egg on the progress of civilized men (read: whites). Indeed, I don’t think he ever intended to travel to the Amazon, teach the indigenous peoples there how to read, and then start handing out copies of his work. Despite writing a lot about savage man, he wasn’t writing for savage man. Rather, he was holding them up as a moral ideal towards which all civilized people should strive. Obviously, he need not play up their intellectual equality with whites to accomplish this, and could even expound upon their intellectual inferiority (which he did). What mattered most to him was inspiring his civilized readers to become better people. This plays into Rousseau’s famous notion of the perfectibility of man, for which he received scathing criticism from Edmund Burke and other conservatives. In essence, Rousseau was enamored more with Man than with men, and simply had a novel approach to explaining why that is. Anyway, there was no need in his mind to directly address the savages he places on a pedestal in his writings. Unlike the tyrannical hypocrites and ignorant slaves he surrounded himself with in civilized nations, savages were already in their ideal state of nature. They were already perfect.

Rousseau, at least in his Discourse on Inequality, amounts to little more than well-argued nonsense. Despite this, the role race realism plays in the grand edifice of his philosophy can teach us something about ourselves today as we grapple with critical racial threats not seen since the Turks laid siege to Vienna in 1683. But first, perhaps a crash course on why Rousseau is not all that he is cracked up to be.

Betraying his admiration for enlightenment philosopher John Locke, Rousseau concerns himself foremost with freedom. “Man is born free, and is everywhere in chains”—the first sentence of the first chapter of his 1763 treatise The Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right—amounts to the nut of his philosophy and plays a crucial role in his Discourse on Inequality. But are we really born free? I think the proper answer to that question is, “Who cares?” The answer doesn’t matter because ‘freedom’ can be defined in more than one way, and Rousseau, of course, defines it in the manner most convenient for whatever sophistry he cares to concoct. In fact, throughout his Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau is loosey-goosey about the meaning of a number of loaded terms, for instance slavery, poverty, nature, law, and others. The ‘chains’ he mentions above do not refer to literal chains, of course. But what do they refer to? I guess that would be up to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and whatever point he is trying to make at any given time.

So for Rousseau, ‘freedom’ means living in the state of nature, as God intended, with no law and property rights as we know them, with no magistracy to lord over others, and with no arbitrary power anywhere. “The first gave rise to the distinctions between rich and poor,” he writes, “the second to that of weak and powerful, and the third to that of master and slave.”

From his Discourse on Inequality:

On first consideration it would seem that men in the state of nature, having no kind of moral relations or recognized duties among themselves, could not have been either good or evil, and had neither virtues nor vices, unless we take these words in a physical sense and say that vices are qualities that may be detrimental to the individual’s self-preservation, and virtues are qualities that may be favorable to it; in that case, the man who least resisted the simple impulses of nature would have to be called the most virtuous. But if we take the words in their usual sense, we shall do well to mistrust our prejudices and suspend any judgment we might make concerning such a situation until we have carefully considered these questions: whether there are more virtues than vices among civilized men; whether their virtues are more beneficial than their vices are injurious; whether the progress of their knowledge is sufficient compensation for the increasing harm they do to each other as they learn of the good they ought to do; and whether, on the whole, they would not be in a happier situation if they had neither good nor evil to hope or fear from anyone, rather than being subjected to universal dependence and obliged to receive everything from people who accept no obligation to give them anything.

Armed with the supposition that Man’s state of nature is indeed his ideal and idyllic state, Rousseau can then pull a high horse out of his hat every time he’s he sees something he doesn’t like in civilized society. He can always compare society unfavorably with the savage Eden of his imagination, and then scold them for it. Rich and poor suffer unequally? Well, that’s the result of the corrupting influence of property rights which are “different from that which derives from natural law.” People die in nationalist wars? Well, according to a “shrewdly conceived plan” the rich have tricked the poor into following laws and becoming patriots rather than pursuing their rights to common resources. People are vain about their own virtues and envious over the virtues of others? We can thank “certain notions of merit and beauty” for that. People commit adultery? Well, without the artificial “duty of eternal fidelity” there would be no more adultery. People live materialistic lives and suffer while working for or employing others? Well, civilization had turned them into slaves millennia ago and through Lamarckian evolution, they have retained this slave mentality whether they realize it or not.

Here is Rousseau at his most sublimely ridiculous:

…whereas man had previously been free and independent, his multitude of new needs now placed him in subjection to all of nature, so to speak, and especially to his fellow men. He became their slave, in a sense, even when he became their master: If he was rich, he needed their services; if he was poor, he needed their help; and no condition anywhere between those two extremes enabled him to do without them.

Since savage man lives freely in his natural state and lacks all notion of property rights, nationalism, beauty and merit, conjugal fidelity, and slavery and domination, clearly he must be morally superior and in a better place than those of us who have such notions and are less free as a result.

Why bother disprove an argument when it is cleverly devised never to be disproven? It should appear false on its face, and that should be enough.

Thankfully, history and scientific inquiry have done more to unravel Rousseau than Edmund Burke ever could. In his groundbreaking book War Before Civilization [7], anthropologist Lawrence Keeley demonstrates clearly that primitive man is much more warlike, vicious, and violent than civilized man. He exposes Rousseau’s idea of the innocent, empathetic savage who poses a threat to no one unless hungry as the merest charade. As I stated in a previous review [8], Keeley

…finds that the rates of war and murder among uncivilized peoples always and everywhere dwarf those in civilized societies. And these uncivilized people are always non-white. From the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, to the Kung of Southern Africa, to the Netsilik Eskimo in Northern Canada, to the Yaghan canoe nomads of Tierra del Fuego, life tends to be mean and brutal. And this is only based on data collected from the late-nineteenth century into the mid-twentieth. War Before Civilization includes data from ancient history and pre-history as well. One could almost close one’s eyes and drop a finger anywhere in this book and come up with money quotes like this one: “Moreover, in one Copper Eskimo camp of fifteen families first contacted early in this century, every adult male had been involved in a homicide.”

Keeley delves into how savage societies made war and why civilized soldiers were more likely to defeat primitive warriors in combat. He also provides clear graphs comparing civilized and uncivilized societies in terms of war and violence. For example, one covers “Annual War Deaths as % of Population” and finds such deaths to be far more common in primitive societies. Twentieth century Germany, Russia, and Japan appear at the bottom of this chart, contrary to the prevailing opinion of the day. This, of course, makes sense when all available data shows that primitive, tribal societies—when not controlled by colonial or imperialist forces—typically war with each other several times per year, losing three-to-five per cent of their population each time. The death count is small per society because the populations are small to begin with. But the proportions are higher, and there are a lot of primitive societies spread over huge geographic areas such as Africa or South America. As Keeley eloquently demonstrates, this happens everywhere.

Just as relevant are a pair of frauds perpetuated in the twentieth century that not only prop up Rousseau’s noble savage myth but also point to the hysterical eagerness with which liberal academics wish to believe in it. Most notably, Margaret Mead (who was a dedicated student of Jewish anthropologist Franz Boas) portrayed the Samoans as gentle and wise savages living in a paradise of free love. Then, like Rousseau, she used them to scold traditionalist-minded westerners for being so sexually repressive. Her Coming of Age in Samoa, published in 1928, was a social science bestseller and quickly became required reading in university anthropology classes. But according to anthropologist Derek Freeman (who had spent much more time with the Samoans than Mead ever did), Mead’s research amounted to little more than romantic fiction. The Samoans were more violent than Mead had portrayed and much more sexually restrictive. In fact, the Samoans themselves objected to the conclusions Mead drew and told Freeman as much. Some of the men Freeman interviewed expressed indignation of Mead’s own sexual promiscuity given that when she was on their island, according to them, she had had an affair with a Samoan man. Furthermore, much of Mead’s data came from talking to Samoan girls who were not as forthright about their people’s sexual mores as Mead had presumed. Freeman’s Margaret Mead and Samoa: the Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth [9], published in 1983, unloads on Margaret Mead and her Rousseauian illusions.

Another fraud centered around the Tasaday, a supposedly isolated stone age tribe in the Philippines which lived in idyllic harmony and supposedly had no word for war. Discovered in 1971, they seemed at first the vindication of Rousseau’s noble savage. The media rushed in to report the finding, and scholars worldwide gushed with praise. The Tasaday even made it to the cover of National Geographic. I actually own a beat-up copy of The Gentle Tasaday [10] by John Nance, which was published in 1975, and the unmitigated flattery expressed on the back is downright embarrassing.


Publishers Weekly called it “poignant and full of wonders.” Human Behavior called it “one of the most exciting anthropological events of all time.” Brad Darrach of Time stated that “…modern man is inclined to sniff suspiciously at any breath of air from the morning of the world. But this air is genuine and fresh…” Historian and sociologist Lewis Mumford claimed that the Tasaday

…restores one’s faith and pride in the Family of Man. We have much to learn from the shy, innocent lovable people Nance discovers for us; above all, what it means to be truly human, the lesson that ‘advanced,’ ‘civilized,’ scientifically progressive man has almost forgotten.

Of course, it was all a lie [12]. In 1968, the government of the Philippines, which was run by Ferdinand Marcos at the time, pressured local tribes people to take off their clothes and pretend they were stone-age innocents for the benefit of western journalists. In fact, these were poor villagers who were paid to act like stone-age people living in caves. After Marcos was deposed in the mid-1980s, this was all discovered along with his wife’s vast shoe collection.

So, if the idea of the noble savage is a fiction, then how, exactly, did Rousseau arrive at it? How did he make it so convincing for his readership? I can’t be certain because I wasn’t there, but I imagine that a healthy dose of race realism had something to do with it. While Rousseau had plenty of illusions about the innocence and peacefulness of savage man, he had none about their intelligence.

But without resorting to the uncertain testimony of history, can anyone fail to see that everything seems to ensure that savage man will have neither the means nor the inclination to change his state? His imagination depicts nothing to him; his heart asks nothing of him. His few needs are so easily satisfied, and he is so far from having enough knowledge to make him want to acquire more, that he has neither foresight nor curiosity. He is indifferent to the spectacle of nature because it is so familiar to him: It is always the same order, the same recurring changes. He does not have enough understanding to be astonished by even the greatest wonders, and he cannot be expected to have the philosophy that a man needs in order to observe once what he has seen every day. His placid soul is wholly absorbed in the feeling of his present existence, with no idea of the future, however near it may be; and his plans, as limited as his intentions, scarcely extend to the end of the day. That is still the extent of the Carib’s foresight today: He sells his cotton bed in the morning, then returns in the evening to buy it back, not having foreseen that he would need it that night.

A paragraph like this one, taken in or out of context, would be sufficient to end one’s career in academia forever if written today. In Rousseau’s day, however, it may have served as a reality check, a defense against readers who did have firsthand experience with savages and could refute Rousseau’s thesis if he were not careful. So he accepted the reality of what could be falsified and then promoted the unreality of what couldn’t. After all, what’s easier? Denying the quantifiable intelligence of savages or the idea that they live in a natural state of “majestic, celestial simplicity?”

Rousseau’s conflicting notions of race realism and race idealism tell us much about how whites feel about race. We have a sense of guilt and shame about our successes when compared with most other races which lack them. Perhaps this is weakness of character or a form of empathy. Perhaps it is an artifact of Christianity. In any case, the temptation is always there to somehow make this guilt and shame go away. It would make us feel better, you see. Today, we invite Rousseau’s noble savages into our homelands and enfranchise them and care for them and look the other way when they rape our daughters and murder our sons. In Rousseau’s day, we held them up as a utopian ideal that, try as we might, we could never achieve. In both instances, we condescend to the primitive races, we impute our virtues onto them, and then elevate them up to our level where they really don’t belong. Mass third world immigration (which was in no small part inspired by Rousseau) has turned into a disaster, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau himself has been refuted by the facts.

But, just as importantly, Jean-Jacques Rousseau proves that one can be a race realist and still be wrong.