Why the Farmer Made the Best Citizen

Trying to rescue virtue from the morally deluded Europe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau took a surprising stance on the question proposed by the Academy of Dijon. In his response, Rousseau stated that the arts and sciences bring about not only the dissolution of morals but also the corruption of tastes. In fact, it is because the arts and sciences “owe their birth to our vices” that he could be certain of their disadvantages (48). Their origin was traced by Rousseau to an even larger issue in European society. Just as in Plato’s Republic, the first harm to the city was luxury: “luxury rarely develops without the science and arts, and they never develop without it” (50). In Rousseau’s Discourse, luxury signified a misuse of time. In addition, Rousseau considered idleness to be one of the greatest evils to society. The issue for Rousseau transformed from the arts and sciences and became the misuse of time, which laid the foundations for art and science to appear: “born in idleness, they nourish it in turn; and irreparable loss of time is the first injury they necessarily cause society” (49). Idleness was the root of evil in a society, and “every useless citizen may be considered a pernicious man” (49). If wasting time and being useless were the causes of corruption, then what was the solution? Somehow, citizens needed to be productive again and to find a correct use for their time.

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