Over 200 years ago, the French Enlightenment’s political philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau posited that humans must be “forced to be free.” Rousseau’s counterintuitive principle held that there was a so-called general will, which he roughly defined as “one will which is directed towards their common preservation and general well-being.” The general will is “the will of all,” or at least what it would be if society were rightly ordered. A society operating in obedience to the general will would be truly happy. Thus, societal acceptance of the general will would make everyone free.
However, to determine this general will, a simple survey of citizens’ desires would not suffice: Ordinary people, in Rousseau’s mind, should interpret the general will. A society following the general will must be guided by enlightened leaders who would properly interpret the general will and implement it accordingly. Therefore, enlightened leaders able to interpret the general will, in Rousseau’s view, could and should be society’s masters to bring happiness to all.
Unfortunately, Rousseau’s paradoxical political philosophy is alive and well in President Barack Obama’s administration. Obama seeks to make Americans free to enjoy previously undreamt of “rights,” such as rights to free healthcare (as determined by the government) and sexual rights, which apparently trump such traditional rights as religious liberty and free speech.
The Obama administration has cast aside traditional rights conflicting with these new rights in favor of a radically new conception of freedom. Those who oppose these new rights, such as members of the Catholic Church, must be demonized as destroyers of the public welfare.
In short, America is being “forced to be free” to adopt the Obama administration’s “expert” wishes. Rousseau’s philosophy is truly alive and well in modern America.
This post also appeared on the New Agora.