[Hilton’s note: In 1970, anthropologist Robert Ardrey published a book with the same title as Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1762 landmark work, The Social Contract, which established the French philosopher as the father of the Romantic Movement. Ardrey’s text constitutes a logical counterpoint to Rousseau’s thesis about humankind by introducing the discoveries of ethology to the mix.]
From most ancient times we have recognized the demands of outward defense and internal order. They are closest to our evolutionary origins. In more recent times of technological advance we have recognized or begun to recognize the educational imperative, and the unarguable truth that the strongest and most durable of societies will be founded on maximum development of its members. But not even now do we begin to recognize the psychological function—to glimpse even dimly that as security is enhanced, so are boredom and anonymity. The very conquests of production which today promise to reduce material anxiety from human preoccupation have ignored or repressed other innate needs of the individual.
And we do not know what we are doing. There is no contemporary disaster to compare with the bankruptcy of human reason in its confrontation with the human being. The perceptions of Elizabethan theatre, almost five centuries ago, offered insights more profound concerning the nature of man.
In simple bewilderment we watch the spread of violence through what once were peaceful streets. We note in anguish the rise of crime unprecedented in America; and we blame it on our racial problems while ignoring its rise in lands where race is no factor; or we blame it on poverty, forgetting that in the 1930s, when poverty was a common possession, crime was endurable. Earnestly we grope for clues to explain the revolt of the young, the persuasions of alcoholism, hallucinatory drugs, pornography. Explanations become dust even as we touch them. Yet why should such a simple explanation elude our reason?
The hungry psyche has replaced the hungry belly.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau at the beginning of The Confessions wrote, “I am made unlike anyone I have ever met; I will even venture to say that I am like no one in the whole world. I may be no better, but at least I am different. Whether nature did well or ill in breaking the mould in which she formed me, is a question which can only be resolved after the reading of my book.”
That all men are different; that nature, through sexual recombination, breaks every mould in which men are cast: neither comment detracts from a mad night’s accident that presented to mankind a Rousseau.