Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the enigmatic political philosopher, was born on this day in 1712. He opened his highly influential 1762 treatise, The Social Contract, his most important work, with the following:
“Man was born free yet he is everywhere in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they.”
Challenging the traditional order of society, he naturally became a champion of the people, whose general will he believed to be more important than the desires of long-established elites. From this came what would be the battle cry of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
And then he was ostracised and went mad.
It got me thinking about John Lennon’s ‘Power To the People’, which brought me back to the impending strikes in the UK, which I’d been trying to resist blogging about all day: public sector workers, most notably teachers, plan industrial action on Thursday in protest against the government’s plans to cut pensions and extend the retirement age. In short, work longer for a lesser reward. For teachers, it will be the first national strike in 25 years. The general reaction to their plan, if you believe what you read, doesn’t seem to be one of sympathy to their cause.
Of course, unpopular austerity cuts are making many people bitter and suspicious, and those in the private sector who already feel hard done by do like to condemn those funded by the public purse, dismissing them as somehow parasitic. You have to hand it to them: when schools close or trains grind to a screeching halt, the knock-on effect reaches everybody. Although we are all supposed to be in this together. I wonder what Rousseau would make of it all.
I’d be equally interested in your random musings, impassioned rants or simple contributions to a setlist for enraged strikers, be you in support of their strike action or in disgust at their selfishness. What more can you do? Make light of, or try to hide from, these tough times through the music of happier days (I suggest The Who and ‘Young Man Blues’, ideally from the Isle of Wight, which nicely expresses my personal sentiments when it comes to pensions and people moaning about theirs), gain a new appreciation for an artist’s insightfulness, or interpret a lyric differently. It’s something to do, anyway.
The first song up for your consideration: ‘The Eton Rifles’ by The Jam. And to answer the second – ‘The Trees’ by Rush – with a sad nod of agreement: isn’t there always unrest in the forest, trouble with the trees? The final line of the song should humble all – man and tree alike. Have a listen.
Ultimately, obviously, what it all boils down to, as David has sung so often, is this:
“Money, it’s a crime
Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie”
Sad, isn’t it? We never feel we have enough, someone always has more whether or not they deserve to, and when informed that our portion must be reduced (always by someone with more pie than they could ever need and their fingers in the pies of others of equal if not greater fortune), we complain loudly even though we know that ours, however paltry it may sometimes appear, is still far more generous than that which is guarded fiercely and no doubt appreciated more sincerely by others. It’s no wonder that Rousseau went mad.