Rousseau seems to argue, on one hand, that moderns are luxurious, lazy, weak, and soft, in opposition to primitive hardiness, vigor, ferocity, and rustic virtue. On the other hand, he depicts modern life as cruel, frenzied, competitive, and harsh, in opposition to primitive gentleness, idleness, abundance, and spontaneity. Is Rousseau, then, simply an imaginative ideologue, forwarding wildly opposed and oscillating characterizations of these eras, merely to be contrarian? This article attempts to demonstrate a degree of coherence in his analyses, by focusing on the various sociopolitical contexts he discusses, and the various moral characterizations and norms which apply to each of these contexts. Building upon a half-century of interpretations, it offers an innovative logical typology of Rousseau's social thought—in terms of social complexity, environmental resources, and normative foundation—which may explain many of his central paradoxes.