Recommended translation: Second Discourse, in Rousseau: The Discourses and other early political writings, ed. and trans. by Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 111-222. First published in 1754.
Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, also referred to as the Second Discourse, was published in 1755 in response to an essay competition held by the Academy of Dijon on the question of what was the “the origin of inequality among men” and whether such inequality was “authorized by the natural law?” Rousseau maintained that, by nature, humans were peaceable, satisfied, and equal, but socialization had created inequality by making men selfish, competitive and aggressive. Although Rousseau’s did not win the Academy’s competition, it was still widely read and remains one of Rousseau’s most important statements about the corruptive nature of society.