World Treasures of the Library of Congress - Beginnings

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The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions the morality they had formerly lacked.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762.

A Civil Society

French author and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) published The Social Contract, perhaps his most influential work, in 1762. In this treatise, Rousseau suggests that man once lived in a "state of nature," enjoying complete freedom. Rousseau argued that people had to fashion a civil society that they could control and in which they could be free.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Du Contrat Social: ou Principes du Droit Politique (The Social Contract). Amsterdam: ca. 1762. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (36)

A Great Artificial Monster

In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes, influential English philosopher, described man in a "state of nature" as living a harsh and violent life. To end this unacceptable condition, men make a social contract with each other to give up their freedom to a ruler whose only obligation is to protect the people. For Hobbes the state was a great artificial monster or a "leviathan."

Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. London: Andrew Crooke, 1651. Holmes Collection, Rare Book and Special Collection Division, Library of Congress (37)

A Just Government

John Locke, a seventeenth-century philosopher, explored the foundations of individual understanding and political governance. In Two Treatises on Government, he imagined a state of nature in which individuals relied only upon their own strength. He then described how people left this precarious condition to accept a social contract under which the state gains legitimacy by protecting its citizens. According to Locke, a just government depends on the consent of those who are governed, which may be withdrawn at any time.

John Locke. Two Treatises of Government. . . London: A. Churchill, 1690. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (38.1)

In the Beginning was the Deed

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) developed theories concerning human psychology, society and culture. Freud believed that society creates mechanisms to ensure social control of human instincts. At the root of these controlling mechanisms, he thought, is the prohibition against incest. In Totem and Taboo, he speculated that this taboo had its genesis in the guilt stemming from the murder of a powerful patriarch. Thus, he wrote, echoing Goethe, "In the beginning was the Deed!"

Sigmund Freud. “Totem and Taboo.” Right image. Holograph manuscript, 1912-1913. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (39, 39.1)

When Queen Magda [Queen of Sheba] had heard all these stories her soul was drawn to Solomon and she knew no desire but to go and greet this king. . . . Thereupon the Queen set out with much state and majesty and gladness, for by the Will of the Lord, she wished in her heart to make this journey to Jerusalem, to rejoice in the Wisdom of Solomon.

Kebra Negast (Glory of the Kings)

When Queen Magda [Queen of Sheba] had heard all these stories her soul was drawn to Solomon and she knew no desire but to go and greet this king. . . . Thereupon the Queen set out with much state and majesty and gladness, for by the Will of the Lord, she wished in her heart to make this journey to Jerusalem, to rejoice in the Wisdom of Solomon.

Kebra Negast (Glory of the Kings)

Queen of Sheba

"In the Beginning a Serpent ruled Ethiopia" — so begins text on this fabric version of the story of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. The story of her voyage and encounter with King Solomon of Israel has been told for generations and recorded in the Bible and the Kebra Negast, the official Ethiopian account. Haile Selassie I (1892-1975), the last emperor of Ethiopia, claimed his descent from Menelik, the son of the queen and Solomon, and thus his authority to rule as part of the Solomonic dynasty of that country.

Kebra Negast (Glory of the Kings). Gojam, Ethiopia: 1965. Detail. Fabric. African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (55)

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