I found this book an interesting read and it does has some interesting concepts. While it sort of reads like Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, much of the ideas are based upon speculation and Rousseau's conclusions seem to be little more than guess work. Mind you, it is interesting to see such a discourse written over one hundred years before [author:Darwin] wrote his [book:Origin of the Species], and it appears that Darwin has borrowed from this text. However, Rousseau did not write this as a scientific text but rather a political discourse.
There are a number of us who would find the idea that we as humans came about from a bestial origin to be offensive, but I think that Rousseau does have a point with some of the things that he suggests. For instance, the moment we invent the sling, our ability to be able to throw a rock diminishes, in the same way that the moment we invent a ladder, our ability to climb a tree also diminishes. However this is one of those things that separates us from animals, and that is our ability to be able to develop and invent tools that enables us to do a job much better than we were able to previously. I find it difficult to accept that before we invented the spear, or the sword, we would have been able to take down a fully grown lion.
There is also his discussion on the development of private property. Private propety began when somebody put up a fence around a block of land and made a declaration to the world at large that that block of land belonged to him. However it was not the act of putting up the fence that created ownership in that land, but rather the acknowledgement of the world at large that that piece of land belonged to that person. If, for instance, this person put up a fence, and the world at large then turned around, pulled down the fence, and then began to tear that person limb from limb, then the law of property would be meaningless.
In reality, law has no power in and of itself. I may declare a law, but it is the people whom are subject to the law that must accept it. If a population does not willingly submit themselves to that law, then the law has no power. However, that problem is solved through coercion, and in the modern state it is the threat of punishment, whether it be a fine, the revocation of some privileges, or even imprisonment, that gives the law some force. It is also the existence of an arm of government, that is the police and the army, that makes sure that that law is enforced.
However, as soon as laws were enacted, or created, to regulate human behaviour, a class of people, known in our day and age as the lawyer, also arose to not only challenge these laws, but to look for ways, usually through fine sounding arguments, as to why this law should not apply. It is not a question of the indigenous tribe that is ruled by the wisdom of the elder, or even the dictatorship where the law is enacted by the will of a single ruler, but a sophisticated law (not necessarily a democracy) where the power to regulate the law is handed to a class of people, generally known as the bureaucracy.
Rousseau suggests that inequality arose at that point in time where one person was able to gather enough food for two people, and then to hold that food for himself. This, once again, is not necessarily a truth, since hunter-gatherers have always been able to gather more than a day's supply of food, and many of these tribes have habits of storing up food for lean years. However, it is not a question of storing food, but collecting it, making it your property, and then using it to make people do your will. This is how government is formed, because a class of people, not necessarily the strong ones, but the cunning and charismatic ones, are able to form a body that is able to administer the population for the best of the population. However, as they must dedicated their time to ruling, and need feed themselves, they must hand that duty over to others: thus a class of workers, or farmers, is formed to produce not so much enough for themselves, but for themselves and the administrative class. With that food the administrative class are able to create another class: enforcers. This class was not created so much as to keep the peace, or defend the realm, but to keep the administrators in power. As long as the administrators have control of the food supply, and are able to control who has it and who hasn't, then they are able to control the populace.
The final thing that I wish to mention has to do with enslavement. Rousseau indicates that when we hand a job over to another person to perform for us that is when we become enslaved. That is very much a truism, and indicates that even those who are in power, or live in their mansions, are really slaves. In fact, the uber-rich are probably the most powerless of them all because if you take away all of their servants they will be unable to do anything for themses. If you don't believe me I have a simple proof:'feed yourself'. As soon as you go down to the shop to buy food, you have demonstrated your reliance upon another human being. In fact, we are also slaves to our inanimate objects, like our cars (take us to the shop) and our television (entertain us) or even the internet (teach us, connect us).