“Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” - Sleepy Classes IAS Skip to main content

“Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.”

By July 5, 2022May 22nd, 2023Mains Answer Writing, PSIR OPTIONAL

Ques. “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” Elaborate on the conception of liberty and constrains on it put forth by Rousseau keeping this statement in mind.


  • Rousseau considered freedom as a collective venture, and as freeing oneself from selfish motives towards a larger good for the entire group. His conception of liberty liberates human beings from the hierarchical and unjust inequality of society. 
  • Rousseau views this inequality as the constraint in the realization of liberty. Unlike Hobbes and Locke, liberty is not a natural right for Rousseau, but liberation from a state of unfreedom which comes into being with the emergence of civil and political society. 
  • For Rousseau, contains on liberty emerge due to two reasons:
    • These are constraints of one’s baser nature (that does not facilitate human nature to think of the good of all (general will). 
    • These constraints emerge from the inequality in society that does not allow for the exercise of liberty. 
  • For Rousseau, one is liberated when one is free of personal servitude which becomes possible through obedience to law. Law is equated with the expression of the general will of the whole community. 
  • This idea of General Will emerging when individuals adhere to their higher selves finds form in what is conceptualized as ‘positive liberty’ by Isiah Berlin. Positive liberty, much like Rousseau, requires higher self, the rational self, to attain mastery over the lower self for an individual or a people to be liberated. 
  • As Rousseau contended, as long as the law directs the individual towards rational ends, it liberates rather than oppresses the individual’s personality. 
  • Positive liberty also includes the idea of collective control over common life as Rousseau argued- ‘force to be free’. Maintaining a pollution-free environment is a collective effort for the common benefit. However, many liberals, including Berlin, have suggested that the positive concept of liberty carries with it a danger of authoritarianism which has led to many scholars questioning Rousseau’s theory as well as the connotations and consequences of positive liberty.