On Slavery

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Even if we were to suppose that there were this terrible right to kill everyone, I maintain that neither a person enslaved during wartime nor a conquered people bears any obligation whatever toward its master, except to obey him for as long as it is forced to do so. In taking the equivalent of his life, the victor has done him no favor. Instead of killing him unprofitably, he kills him usefully. Hence, far from the victor having acquired any authority over him beyond force, the state of war subsists between them just as before. Their relationship itself is the effect of war, and the usage of the right to war does not suppose any peace treaty. They have made a contract. Fine. But this contract, far from destroying the state of war, presupposes its continuation.

Thus, from every point of view, the right of slavery is null, not simply because it is illegitimate, but because it is absurd and meaningless. These words, slavery and right, are contradictory. They are mutually exclusive. Whether it is the statement of one man to another man, or of one man to a people, the following sort of talk will always be equally nonsensical. “I make an agreement with you that is wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; and, for as long as it pleases me, I will observe it and so will you.”

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract (On Slavery, Chapter 4)

Political Theory, March 26

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I love Marx, and I love Rousseau. I love political philosophy. But I sure am tired of writing papers about “man” and how “he” is alienated from “himself,” because it’s simply not appropriate to use “people” in combination with non-gendered pronouns for the entire paper and lord knows they never once refer to the effects of political ideology or the system’s organization on the female experience of the world.

Rousseau, Political Economy 134-135

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There is no point to believing that one can strike or cut off an arm without pain being transmitted to the head. And it is no more believable that the general will would permit a member of the state, whoever he might be, to injure or destroy another member than that the fingers of a man in his right mind would put out his eyes. Individual welfare is so closely linked to the public confederation that, were it not for the fact that one must take account of human frailty, this convention would be dissolved by right if just one citizen within the state were to perish who could have been saved, if just one citizen were wrongly held in prison, and if a single court case were to be lost because of an obvious injustice. For when these fundamental conventions are violated, it is no longer apparent what right or what interest could maintain the populace in the social union, unless it is restrained by force alone, which brings about the dissolution of the civil state.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Political Economy