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Jean Jacques Rousseau and the Declaration of Independence - Essay Example

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One of the most fundamental aspects of Rousseau’s understanding of political thought and theory relates to the fact that he believed in the existence of what he termed a “social contract” between “the people”. …
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Jean Jacques Rousseau and the Declaration of Independence
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One of the ways that this can most distinctly be seen is within the founding document of the American movement of independence, the Declaration of Independence. Although many individuals doubtless influenced upon the way in which Thomas Jefferson ultimately authored the Declaration of Independence, Jean Jacques Rousseau is and was one of the most important and prominent influential factors in the way that this particular document was understood and ultimately represented. Accordingly, I will seek to draw a very clear line of distinction between some of the primary and fundamental aspects of the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau within the document of the Declaration of Independence. However, before delving too deeply into comparisons and contrasts of the works of Rousseau and the Declaration of Independence, a further level of analysis with regards to the Declaration of Independence’s most prominent author, Thomas Jefferson, must be engaged with. Thomas Jefferson is known by many historians to be one of the most prominent and influential founding fathers of the United States. However, he was also a very prominent philosopher, inventor, writer, and Francophile. Accordingly, it comes as little surprise that Thomas Jefferson would have leaned heavily upon the writings and understandings exhibited by Jean Jacques Rousseau as a means of crafting this fundamental explanation of how and why the United States determined to free itself from English colonial bonds. (Declaration of Independence 1). One of the most fundamental aspects of Rousseau’s understanding of political thought and theory relates to the fact that he believed in the existence of what he termed a “social contract” between “the people”. Rousseau was fundamentally opposed to the idea that the divine right of kings allowed for an efficient and/or equitable means of governance. This can, of course, be traced back to what many have termed Enlightenment thinking. He, like many enlightenment thinkers questioned whether or not the divine right of kings was sufficient evidence to compel the people into servitude. Further, his works reference the understanding that a rule by the masses would represent a far more equitable approach (Storey 748). Ultimately, this was the same belief system that not only precipitated the American Revolution but also the French Revolution shortly thereafter. Many scholars have referred to this idea as early republicanism; i.e. the belief that the people under the form of an elected government were ultimately much better able to determine their own future then the distant, and ultimately uncaring monarchy that existed at that time. Although it may be convenient to assume that Rousseau was the first political thinker to come up with such a theory, this can be traced as far back as the ancient Greeks in the form of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. The existence and definition of this level of freedom which each and every man should exhibit was defined by Rousseau as something gifted by nature and/or of the natural order (Feinstein 14). At this juncture, the reader can aptly note the idea of self-determination, as exhibited within the Declaration of Independence, was a natural right and not something that was merely created by definition. Thomas Jefferson, and other framers of the Declaration of ...Download file to see next pages Read More
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