Rousseau’s Claim: “There is no genuine democracy”

Graeme Garrard traces the origin of the Counte...

Graeme Garrard traces the origin of the Counter-Enlightenment to Rousseau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What might Rousseau mean when he claims “there is no genuine democracy” (141)? Why not?

According to Rousseau, in a genuine democracy “everything is as equal by virtue of morals and talents as maxims and fortune, because choice would make almost no difference” (Williams 141). In other words, Rousseau is arguing that in a genuine democracy everything is equal, including social status, economic status, individual abilities and morals, language, etc., and if everything is equal then the choice of who is elected makes no difference. He states that “in every genuine democracy, magistracy is not an advantage but a burdensome charge, which one cannot justly impose on one individual rather than another” (Williams 141). For Rousseau, equality is an ideal that can only be approached and never reached, and elections are choices between equivalents. As democracy approaches equality, it becomes more and more unnecessary or meaningless. Thus Rousseau concludes that there is no genuine democracy.

Williams, David. The Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print.

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