If humans are benevolent by nature, how do societies become corrupt?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau - Wikipedia

Whence arise all those abuses, unless it be from that fatal inequality introduced among men by the difference of talents and the cheapening of virtue? This is the most evident effect of all our studies, and the most dangerous of all their consequences. The question is no longer whether a man is honest, but whether he is clever. We do not ask whether a book is useful, but whether it is well-written. Rewards are lavished on with and ingenuity, while virtue is left unhonoured. There are a thousand prizes for fine discourses, and none for good actions. I should be glad, however, to know whether the honour attaching to the best discourse that ever wins the prize in this Academy is comparable with the merit of having founded the prize.

Emile, or On Education - Wikipedia

Their evil origin is, indeed, but too plainly reproduced in their objects. What would become of the arts, were they not cherished by luxury? If men were not unjust, of what use were jurisprudence? What would become of history, if there were no tyrants, wars, or conspiracies? In a word, who would pass his life in barren speculations, if everybody, attentive only to the obligations of humanity and the necessities of nature, spent his whole life in serving his country, obliging his friends, and relieving the unhappy? Are we then made to live and die on the brink of that well at the bottom of which Truth lies hid? This reflection alone is, in my opinion, enough to discourage at first setting out every man who seriously endeavours to instruct himself by the study of philosophy.

all human sciences the most useful and most imperfect appears to me to be that of mankind: and I will venture to say, the single inscription on the Temple of Delphi contained a precept more difficult and more important than is to be found in all the huge volumes that moralists have ever written. I consider the subject of the following discourse as one of the most interesting questions philosophy can propose, and unhappily for us, one of the most thorny that philosophers can have to solve. For how shall we know the source of inequality between men, if we do not begin by knowing mankind? And how shall man hope to see himself as nature made him, across all the changes which the succession of place and time must have produced in his original constitution? How can he distinguish what is fundamental in his nature from the changes and additions which his circumstances and the advances he has made have introduced to modify his primitive condition? Like the statue of Glaucus, which was so disfigured by time, seas and tempests, that it looked more like a wild beast than a god, the human soul, altered in society by a thousand causes perpetually recurring, by the acquisition of a multitude of truths and errors, by the changes happening to the constitution of the body, and by the continual jarring of the passions, has, so to speak, changed in appearance, so as to be hardly recognisable. Instead of a being, acting constantly from fixed and invariable principles, instead of that celestial and majestic simplicity, impressed on it by its divine Author, we find in it only the frightful contrast of passion mistaking itself for reason, and of understanding grown delirious.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Lecture 2 - Title: ..

It is in fact easy to see that many of the differences which distinguish men are merely the effect of habit and the different methods of life men adopt in society. Thus a robust or delicate constitution, and the strength or weakness attaching to it, are more frequently the effects of a hardy or effeminate method of education than of the original endowment of the body. It is the same with the powers of the mind; for education not only makes a difference between such as are cultured and such as are not, but even increases the differences which exist among the former, in proportion to their respective degrees of culture: as the distance between a giant and a dwarf on the same road increases with every step they take. If we compare the prodigious diversity, which obtains in the education and manner of life of the various orders of men in the state of society, with the uniformity and simplicity of animal and savage life, in which every one lives on the same kind of food and in exactly the same manner, and does exactly the same things, it is easy to conceive how much less the difference between man and man must be in a state of nature than in a state of society, and how greatly the natural inequality of mankind must be increased by the inequalities of social institutions.

The Social Contract and Discourses - Online Library of Liberty

The second theory, in its ordinary form, expresses only the view that the people is everywhere Sovereign, and that, in the phrase of Milton’s treatise, “the power of kings and magistrates is only derivative.” Before, however, this view had been worked up into a philosophical theory, it had already been used by Hobbes to support precisely opposite principles. Hobbes agrees that the original contract is one between all the individuals composing the State, and that the government is no party to it; but he regards the people as agreeing, not merely to form a State, but to invest a certain person or certain persons with the government of it. He agrees that the people is naturally supreme, but regards it as alienating its Sovereignty by the contract itself, and delegating its power, wholly and for ever, to the government. As soon, therefore, as the State is set up, the government becomes for Hobbes the Sovereign; there is no more question of popular Sovereignty, but only of passive obedience: the people is bound, by the contract, to obey its ruler, no matter whether he governs well or ill. It has alienated all its rights to the Sovereign, who is, therefore, absolute master. Hobbes, living in a time of civil wars, regards the worst government as better than anarchy, and is, therefore, at pains to find arguments in support of any form of absolutism. It is easy to pick holes in this system, and to see into what difficulties a conscientious Hobbist might be led by a revolution. For as soon as the revolutionaries get the upper hand, he will have to sacrifice one of his principles: he will have to side against either the actual or the legitimate Sovereign. It is easy also to see that alienation of liberty, even if possible for an individual, which Rousseau denies, cannot bind his posterity. But, with all its faults, the view of Hobbes is on the whole admirably, if ruthlessly, logical, and to it Rousseau owes a great deal.

Jacque Rousseau's Origins of Inequality - BrainMass - …

Having proved that the inequality of mankind is hardly felt, and that its influence is next to nothing in a state of nature, I must next show its origin and trace its progress in the successive developments of the human mind. Having shown that human the social virtues, and the other faculties which natural man potentially possessed, could never develop of themselves, but must require the fortuitous concurrence of many foreign causes that might never arise, and without which he would have remained for ever in his primitive condition, I must now collect and consider the different accidents which may have improved the human understanding while depraving the species, and made man wicked while making him sociable; so as to bring him and the world from that distant period to the point at which we now behold them.