Victimology 101: Rousseau, Victimhood, and Safe-Spaces

Why do you want to be a victim? Why would anyone want to be a victim?

Liberal victimhood is a philosophical position many conservatives believe liberals adhere to, and many liberals themselves maintain that they are in fact victims. Where does this come from? Why would anyone want to be a victim? In the following essay, the rationale for why victimhood is a mainstay of liberal ideology is addressed. Additionally, the connection between liberal victimhood and “safe-spaces” is made.

 

Many liberals maintain that they themselves are victims. Where does this belief come from? And why would anyone want to be a victim? To understand the origins of victimhood, we must understand the work and thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the godfather and patron saint of liberalism…

Candace Owens, an African American woman, is a recent convert to the conservative movement. Ms. Owens spent most of her life following the popular narrative that the Democratic Party is the political party of African Americans. At some point, it occurred to Ms. Owens that the majority of Democratically controlled cities are in ruins, and their social and fiscal policies consistently fail. This epiphany caused Ms. Owens’ switch to the conservative side.

While presenting on a college campus, Ms. Owens was the recipient of heckling from the crowd. African American college students were unhappy with Ms. Owens’ conservative political positions. Their comments were inaudible, but Ms. Owens responded by asking the following question: Why do you want to be a victim? Why would anyone want to be a victim?

Liberal victimhood is a philosophical position many conservatives believe liberals adhere to, and many liberals themselves maintain that they are in fact victims. Where does this come from? Why would anyone want to be a victim? In the following essay, the rationale for why victimhood is a mainstay of liberal ideology is addressed. Additionally, the connection between liberal victimhood and “safe-spaces” is made.

For those unaware, a safe-space is a place, usually on our college campuses, where individuals are shielded from ideas, thoughts, concepts, and people who may be objectionable. For example, a room on campus can be a designated safe space where topical subjects like guns, anti-transgender ideas, or mentioning conservative pundits like Ben Shapiro and Dennis Prager are forbidden.

To understand the origins of victimhood and their connections to safe spaces, we must understand the work and thought of Jean Rousseau, the godfather and patron saint of liberalism. As the first liberal, Rousseau’s foundational work paved the way for the contemporary iterations of liberalism and liberal practice.

A brief expository introduction to Rousseau is necessary before delving into the nuances and subtleties of his work. The seminal construct in Rousseau’s thought is the natural goodness of man, corrupted by society. In his view, human beings were born benevolent, naturally equal, and independent from one another while living in a fictitious utopian “state of nature.” It was not until a human being first acquired private property did our ensuing corruption begin. This is the foundational premise from which the rest of Rousseau’s work emerged.

Rousseau

Rousseau believed Man lived in “the state of nature,” which was a fictitious utopia. Human beings were naturally benevolent, naturally equals, independent of their fellow beings, and uninhibited when it came to self-expression. It wasn’t until a person took private property for himself did society commence, and with it, the loss of Man’s qualities associated with the state of nature.

As Rousseau proclaimed:

The fundamental principle of all morality, upon which I have reasoned in all my writings and which I developed with all the clarity of which I am capable is that man is a being who is naturally good, loving justice and order; that there is no original perversity in the human heart, and the first movements of nature are always good.[1]

Man is born benevolent, but corrupted by society. Evil comes not from Man’s fallen nature, but is introduced from external forces, via society.

This is the philosophical basis of liberal victimhood. We are not responsible for our choices, but rather are victims of circumstance. We are not responsible for our portions via our choices, but they are instead dictated to us via society. To those who uphold this belief, our portions in life are not earned, nor are our portions something we are capable of changing via our choices, hard work, or good fortune. Instead, our portions in life are dictated to us via society, and we are either dealt a winning hand as victors, or are left with a losing hand as victims.

For Rousseau, according to Judith Shklar, author of Men and Citizens: A Study of Rousseau’s Social Theory, the dictation of our portions in life from society, “confirmed his deepest anxieties and his sense of victimhood. As the creature of sensations, as the product of the environment, man is a passive being, the plaything of external circumstances, weak, defenseless, helpless and dependent.”[2] Irving Babbitt understood Rousseau’s line of reasoning as, “a constant encouragement to evade moral responsibility”; Jean Starobinski understood Rousseau’s natural goodness of Man identically: “For only the exterior burden of persecution relieves him of the interior weight of responsibility. Rousseau discuplates himself by accusing: all defect is outside.”

Rousseau clearly established a premise of victimhood. He also established the exact moment when civilization began and our corruption that followed. That moment began when one man acquired private property for himself. Following that, the division of labor ensued. Rousseau retold this story to his readers thusly: “The poets tell us it was gold and silver, but, for the philosophers, it was iron and corn, which first civilised men, and ruined humanity.”

Men have distinct abilities. Some of us are skilled with the plow, others with the mind, and others with their hands. As the division of labor unfolded, these natural inequalities began to emerge, making men dependent upon one another in areas of their deficiencies:

On the other hand, free and independent as men were before, they were now, in consequence of a multiplicity of new wants, brought into subjection, as it were, to all nature, and particularly to one another; and each became in some degree a slave even in becoming the master of other men: if rich, they stood in need of the services of others; if poor, of their assistance; and even a middle condition did not enable them to do without one another. [3]

Men now needed to curry favor with their neighbors. If a man is insufficiently skilled when it comes to building a house, he must cozy up to the house builder and flatter the house builder for assistance. Certain people are more skilled than others, and earned greater amounts and levels of esteem from the community.

Rousseau interpreted this course of events with the following account:

Each one began to consider the rest, and to wish to be considered in turn; and thus a value came to be attached to public esteem. Whoever sang or danced best, whoever was the handsomest, the strongest, the most dexterous, or the most eloquent, came to be of most consideration; and this was the first step towards inequality, and at the same time towards vice. From these first distinctions arose on the one side vanity and contempt and on the other shame and envy: and the fermentation caused by these new leavens ended by producing combinations fatal to innocence and happiness.[4]

For Rousseau, the false-flattering of another for one’s own personal gain caused by dependence on another human being was wretched. Rousseau wanted nothing to do with either the false flattering or dependence, and believed they were corrupting influences on mankind.

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