Theme of Inequality in Locke and Rousseau Works

Both Locke and Rousseau were responding to the demise of an older aristocratic and feudal world, one which had been marked by differences in economic class, rank, and privilege. This is to say, both saw that the order that was fading away had been grounded in profound inequality, and both sought to justify new orders that denied the inequality of feudalism as a legitimate basis of government.

Read also Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau – Who’s Theory of Government is Most Compatible With Biblical Principles?

Below is an essay that explores the theme of inequality as it appears in their respective works. How they differ in defining inequality – its origins, its moral status, and its relationship to a well-formed political order.

John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau on Inequality During Aristocratic and Feudal World – GOVT 302

The aristocratic and feudal world, are two ancient forms of governance that dominated European nation region during ancient times. Aristocracy is a Greek word that denotes the ‘rule of the best’. The best in the Homeric times indicated noble families chiefs who pretended to share descent with a king from the gods. The chiefs were prominent by their prowess and wealth. These chiefs governed the states by the council of the gerontes means. In the early seventh and eighth century BC, aristocrats’ social position was founded on their land ownership, piracy, robbery, and commerce. They organized colonization and dominated the communities (Andriolo, 2014).  Feudalism is a form of governance that dominated Europe from the 9th century to the 15th century. This form of governance was characterized by lords, noble or people, and slaves or fiefs. The lords were the landlords, they owned large track of lands that were tax-exempted. Initially, they were not supposed to sell these lands, and even when allowed, nobles could not afford them. Nobles were rented land to cultivate. However, a good percentage of their products was taken during harvest to cater for the land rent charges. Only a small amount was left for their consumption. This made nobles to remain poor and unable to own the land at any point. In a situation where the harvests were poor, the nobles were left with land rent debt which made them converted into slaves by the landowner as a way of repaying their debt (Brady, 1998). The two forms of governance demonstrated a high level of inequality where wealth was concentrated among the top class that also employed all possible measures to ensure no one else rises out of poverty. In Feudalism, the lords also ensured that the poor’s situation worsens by degrading them into slaves. The paper discusses Locke and Rousseau’s views on the end of aristocratic and feudal governance based on inequality.

Read also The Fundamental Political Ideology of John Locke

John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau on Inequality During aristocratic and feudal world

The kind of inequality while highly displeasing to John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. The two developed social contract theories that acted as a response to the demise of the older aristocratic and feudal world. The Locke theory of social contract postulates that man existed in the state of nature that is characterized by preservation, peace, mutual assistance, and goodwill. In this state, men-owned all rights that nature could provide, as Locke regards it as a state of complete and perfect liberty to conduct individual life as he or she finds best. This state of nature was free from external interference, where all were independent and equal (Laskar, 2014). This was a pre-political state though not a pre-moral state. Based on this theory, Locke believed that private property is what an individual got after integrating raw materials of nature with his labor. However, based on the law of nature’s implications, Locke claimed that there is a restriction on how much property a single person can own. According to the law of nature, one is not permitted to take more than he or she can use from nature. This restriction was meant to prevent depletion of what is available for all before others could get it (Hindess, 2007).

Read also Poverty and Inequality- A Social, Environmental And Political Problem Of Local, National, And Global Concern

Locke defines inequality as taking excess of what nature provides depriving other people of what nature has provided to be shared by all. The lack of balance in the exploitation of raw material of nature is what resulted in the formation of an aristocratic and feudal world. He thus uses an imbalance in natural raw materials exploitation as the source of inequality. When some exploits more than they need, leaving others with nothing to exploit.  This result in the development of inequality as depicted when lords acquired all available lands, leaving noble and slaves with nothing for themselves. It is also depicted when aristocratic secured all fine things through fraudulent means to grow more superior in terms of wealth and power (Hindess, 2007).

Read also Modernization and Dependency Theories on Global Inequality

 According to Laskar (2014), the property is the cornerstone of Locke’s quarrel between civil government and social contract. This is because it is the protection of people’s property that makes them seek when to consider disregarding the state of nature.  In Locke’s view, the property in the state of nature is not secure since state of nature lacks established law, an impartial judge and natural power to implement natural laws. This made humans in a state of nature to feel the need to safeguard their property and for the protection purpose, men got into a social contract, where humans surrendered the right to enforce the law of nature and maintain or preserve order to the government (Lazarski, 2013). In Locke’s view, the purpose of law and government is to protect and uphold the men’s natural rights. As long as the government satisfies this purpose, the laws offered by it are binding and valid. However, when the government stops to satisfy it, then its laws would not have any validity. That kind of government in Locke’s view can be overthrown for a better option of governance (Laskar, 2014). In this case, Locke seems to celebrate the end of aristocratic and feudal governance. The two governments were unable to protect the natural rights of men about the property. By being unable to protect human property given equally by nature, and by being part of those robbing humans of what nature provided them, then the two governments were not worthy to be obeyed. Their act created a huge state of economic and social imbalance in society. People were unable to live independently due to the government’s inability to protect human natural rights to the property. Thus, the two governments were not worth and hence their demise was justified and right.

Read also Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History – Summary And Critical Reflection

Rousseau explains inequality by illustrating how humans that were naturally healthy, roughly equal to each other and good, became highly unequal, intelligent, and sickly evil when they mixed in society. According to (Aondohemba, 2015), the greatest modern society horror was the fact that it was extremely unequal. The man had the capability of being perfect, which permitted him to get out of the state of nature, though in the process, he generated an imbalance between needs and aptitude to satisfy them via civilization. Therefore, civilization had multiplied the needs desire, and the inability to satisfy these needs made humans in a civil society highly unequal and unhappy. Rousseau, therefore, regards civilization as wrong and corrupting since it mirrored artificial inequalities in society (Siroky & Sigwart, 2014).

Read also How John Locke Views Personal Identity – Sample Essay

Rousseau advocated for rough social equality though not total equality. Rousseau was willing to allow two kinds of inequality that included natural inequality that he termed as inequality between the old and young, the strong and weak,  the short and tall, as well as the stupid and wise among others. The second form of inequality was reward inequality that was the inequality that yielded from rewarding people who offered special community services. Rousseau advocated a form of social equality referred to as opportunities equality (Aondohemba 2015). He rejected variations inability as the only justification for social inequalities. As an alternative, Rousseau called attention to how people climbed over each other to get to the top. Based on Feudal and aristocratic world, lords and the chiefs acquired and maintained their status by exploiting others in the society. Even in a situation where the land in feudalism would not produce due to natural causes, the lords still counted debt to the land tenants, to an extend of converting them into slaves. In aristocratic, crude methods were also used to acquire wealth by chiefs. Moreover, wealth was unequally distributed as being chief was a hereditary thing or only happened within the family of chiefs.  Therefore, the powerful and the rich were not vastly wealthier because they were substantially extra-talented and gifted than other people in the society but truly because of the dishonest business practices that they together with their ancestors had used (Siroky & Sigwart, 2014). In Rousseau’s views, they had usually exploited other individuals to attain their peculiar; rich, social status just as described in the feudal world. Rousseau disqualifies this form of social inequality and advocates for social equality where people are offered equal chances in a society (Aondohemba, 2015). Rousseau thus celebrated the fall of feudalism and aristocratic form of governance since it did not practice social equality. On the contrary, the two forms of governance propagated inequality by employing exploitive laws where others will never win but will always remain at the service of the ruling class to aid it in expanding its wealth and power.


The aristocratic and feudal old world was characterized by a high state of inequality created by their government. The ruling group enriched itself by depriving the rest of the society using fraudulent rules that were unfair and unjust. By so doing the society continued experiencing a high level of inequality with noble continuing falling into slavery due to unmanageable debts. This, in Locke’s view, demonstrated poor governance that was unable to safeguard the human natural rights to property offered by the state of nature. These governments thus did not require to be obeyed by the followers. On the contrary, they needed to be overthrown to have a better system that protects the natural rights of all. Rousseau also claimed those in feudal and aristocratic governments that considered themselves rich and powerful did it by oppressing others in the society. Their status was not through any extraordinary talent. In this regard, the social inequality they created was not justified and should not be there. Rousseau also seems to celebrate the fall of the two ancient governments.

Share with your friends
Order Unique Answer Now

Add a Comment