Andrew McCarthy writes in Jean-Jacques Jihad:
The one thing that absolutely could not be tolerated was true freedom, the liberty of the individual. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the “social compact” would otherwise be “an empty formula.” The irreducible core of the utopia he envisioned, the “undertaking which alone can give force to the rest,” was quite simply this: “Whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body.”
Ah, yes, the “general will.” For this, every modern totalitarian movement is indebted to the 18th-century Genevan philosopher who claimed, in The Social Contract, that a man’s compulsory servitude to the state — the embodiment of this general will — “means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free.” Rousseau was what we today call “Orwellian” long before there was an Orwell. “Freedom” was nothing more than submission.
That is why Rousseau so admired Islam.
This is perhaps most clearly illustrated in Qutb’s tract, Social Justice in Islam. The book teaches that Islam is about the collective, and that those who resist the Muslim ummah must, as Rousseau would have said, be “forced to be free.” According to Qutb, “integrating” humanity in “an essential unity” under sharia is “a prerequisite for true and complete human life, even justifying the use of force against those who deviate from it, so that those who wander from the true path may be brought back to it.” The overarching principle is the “interdependence and solidarity of mankind,” with the individual’s well-being achieved by his submission to the Islamic state. And “whoever has lost sight of this principle must be brought back to it by any means.” Thus, Qutb elaborates, sharia makes “unbelief” a “crime” that is “reckoned as equal in punishment” to the “crime of murder.” Forms of treason such as apostasy and fomenting discord in the ummah are capital offenses. As in all totalitarian systems, freedom is an illusion: security through enslavement.
In Islam, it is Allah’s sharia that fills the role of Rousseau’s general will. Thus did Qutb observe of Rousseau’s great upheaval, the French Revolution, that what it “theoretically established by human laws . . . was established as a matter of practice by Islam in a profound and elevated form more than fourteen centuries earlier.”
Such symmetry had not been lost on Rousseau, for whom statism would be the “religion of the citizen.” Above all, it would merge the sacred and the secular under a single authority. As in the pagan states of antiquity, Rousseau’s vision of the ideal regime included
its gods, its own tutelary patrons; it has its dogmas, its rites, and its external cult prescribed by law; outside the single nation that follows it, all the world is in its sight infidel, foreign and barbarous; the duties and rights of man extend for it only as far as its own altars.
Small wonder, then, that Rousseau lavished praise on Islam. But not just any Islam; his accolades were reserved for the early Muslims, Islam’s first generations. “Mahomet held very sane views,” Rousseau opined in The Social Contract. The prophet “linked his political system well together,” the civil and the spiritual as one. “As long as the form of his government continued under the caliphs who succeeded him, that government was indeed one, and so far good.” It was only when “the Arabs” departed from this model — when, “having grown prosperous, lettered, civilised, slack and cowardly,” they were “conquered by barbarians” — that Islam fell victim to what Rousseau (and Qutb) saw as the Christian dystopia: “the division between the two powers” of religion and the state.