I just read What is Property, written in 1840 by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

At the end of the book he attributes a paraphrased quote to Jean-Jaques Rousseau:

The communistic republic of Plato involved slavery; that of Lycurgus employed Helots, whose duty it was to produce for their masters, thus enabling the latter to devote themselves exclusively to athletic sports and to war. Even J. J. Rousseau—confounding communism and equality—has said somewhere that, without slavery, he did not think equality of conditions possible.

Did J.J. Rousseau really say slavery was a necessary condition to reach equality of conditions?

Post Scriptum : I already asked this very question on another StackExchange site without luck : on Skeptics

  • The Republic of Plato was indeed "communistic, but clearly not in the "modern" sense": it needed slavery in order to provide "labour" for the guiding classes that was carachterized by the abolition of private families and sharp limitation on private property. Sep 27, 2016 at 9:06

1 Answer 1


Did J.J. Rousseau really say slavery was a necessary condition to reach equality of conditions?

I do not think so; see A Discourse on Political Economy (Discours sur l'économie politique, 1755) :

About slavery I have nothing to say, because it is contrary to nature and no right can authorize it.

And see The Social Contract (Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique, 1762) :

Aristotle too had said that men are not naturally equal, but that some are born for slavery and some for mastery. Aristotle was right, but he took the effect for the cause. Any man who is born in slavery is born for slavery; there is nothing surer. [...] If there are slaves by nature, it is because slaves have been made against nature. The first slaves were made by force, and they remained so through cowardice.

  • +1, good finds. One thing I thought about: There could be textual support for saying that equality is a feature of 'primary nature', while slavery would be a feature of 'secondary nature', which would explain Proudhon's mistake. But I am not sure about this and Rousseau has been a while.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Sep 27, 2016 at 9:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.