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Rousseau Joseph Fornieri Life Rousseau’s influence on the French Revolution and the narcotic effect of his writing are point from which to reflect on his significance. He was born in the Swiss town of Geneva in 1712 and appreciated its civic virtue.

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Rousseau

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Rousseau

Joseph Fornieri


Life

Rousseau’s influence on the French Revolution and the narcotic effect of his writing are point from which to reflect on his significance.

He was born in the Swiss town of Geneva in 1712 and appreciated its civic virtue.

He lived the life of a vagabond philosopher and had a long lasting affair with the Swiss Baroness Madame de Warrens.

He later had five children with the maid and washer woman Therese Levasseur and left the care of these children to state.


Life - continued

Befriended and quarreled with Denis Diderot.

In 1750, his celebrity began when he wrote an ironical essay addressing the question “Has the restoration of the sciences and arts tended to purify morals?”

In 1762, he published The Social Contract and Emile.

His works were condemned as heretical and Rousseau became an international fugitive.

Stayed with and quarreled with David Hume.

He wrote his Confessions as the first autobiographical defense of the modern self.

He died on July 2, 1778, leaving an intellectual and political legacy as complicated as his life.


Rousseau’s Garden: Worldview and Human Nature

Original innocence and solitude in the state of nature: Man’s original condition was marked by natural goodness, self-sufficiency, radical freedom, and amour de soi – the sentiment of his own existence.

The fall – sociality and private property: The qualities of reason and amour propre (vanity or pride) emerge. All vice – greed, lust, jealousy, envy, wrath – stems from amour propre – the prideful comparison of oneself to others. Natural goodness and innocence are lost. Compassion and pity are weakened. The human condition is now marked by war, inequality, inner division between one’s public duty and private inclination, and dependence on others. A bogus social contract provides legal sanction to inequality. These inequalities reach high levels of corruption in civilized bourgeois society, where money defines morality and where there is dependence on elites.


Rousseau’s Garden: Worldview and Human Nature - Continued

Redemption and liberation – the general will: Man’s condition in the good society is marked by political equality, civic virtue, and the reconciliation of one’s particular will with the general will. This prescription for the good society will break down the evils of mass dependence on organized economic, social, and political elites. A legitimate social contract will be based on the general will, in which it will be necessary to force individuals to be free.


Rousseau’s Savage Man as Neither Beast nor God

Aristotle explains that human beings by nature are political animals, and that those who live apart from the city-state are either beasts or gods. How would Aristotle understand the solitary creatures in Rousseau’s Garden – as men? As beasts? Or as something in between?


Rousseau’s Historicism

By claiming that human nature changes as it passes through stages of historical development, does Rousseau’s political thought contribute to the rise of historicism – the idea that human nature and consciousness are not fixed but are relative throughout time, place, and circumstance? If this is the case, it follows that the flux of history, rather than the qualities of an unchanging nature, becomes crucial to understanding the dynamics of man and society. In Natural Right and History, Leo Strauss argues that Rousseau’s political thought represents an early version of historicism and moral relativism that culminates in the 19th century political philosophies of Marx, Hegel, and Nietzsche. Is Strauss correct? What do you think?


Rousseau and Animal Rights

Should Rousseau be considered a forerunner of animal rights? He looks to orangutans as early humans in the state of nature, claiming that human intelligence differs from that of an animal only by degree and that animals, like humans, are capable of pity or commiseration.


Three Modern Political Thinkers: Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau


Three Modern Political Thinkers: Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau


Three Modern Political Thinkers: Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau


Three Modern Political Thinkers: Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau


Three Modern Political Thinkers: Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau


The Natural Goodness of Man and the Problem of Evil

If man is naturally good, in Rousseau’s sense of the term, does it follow that he is corrupted or made bad by his environment? Does evil reside in the human heart or is it acquired through flawed social conditions – for example, vast inequalities and multigenerational dependence on welfare within inner-city neighborhoods? If evil is indeed the result of society, can it be remedied through proper social engineering? How might Bill Cosby and Rousseau differ in their understanding of the poor attitude that many inner-city young people have toward their education.


The Fall: Rousseau’s Diagnosis

Sex was initially random and based on pleasure with no attention of consequences.

Disasters and the development of agriculture and other crafts led to commingling and conjugal relations in a “hut” stage of human development.

Each family was more or less self-sufficient in the “hut” stage of human development and human relations were peaceful and cooperative.


The Fall: Rousseau’s Diagnosis - continued

The discovery of human differences in ability in singing and dancing led to amour propre and resentment.

Pride and dependence create servitude.

“What makes a man essentially good is to have few needs and to compare himself little to others, what makes him essentially wicked is to have many needs and to depend very much on opinions.”


The Civil State, From The Social Contract, Book I, Chapter 8

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. Then only, when the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses and right of appetite, does man, who so far had considered only himself, find that he is forced to act on different principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations.


The Birth of Conventional Inequality and the Swindle

  • Natural inequality exist but such inequalities do not give anyone the right to rule over others.

  • Conventional inequality robs human beings of original freedom in the state of nature.

  • A bogus social contract is entered into:

    • The first person who, having fenced off a plot of ground, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared by someone who, uprooting the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow men: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you forget that the fruits belong to all and the earth to no one!


The Birth of Conventional Inequality and the Swindle - Continue

  • The institution of property leads to the despotism of the rich over the poor.

    • “If we follow the progress of inequality in these different revolutions, we shall find that the establishment of the law and the right of property was the first stage, the institution of the magistracy the second, and the third and last was the changing of legitimate power into arbitrary power.”


The Bourgeois and the Corrupt Society

The people consented to their servitude in order to enjoy tranquility.

Modern society produces the bourgeois, a soulless product of a commercial society that measures happiness and success in terms of the market.

The public good is used as a mask for private interests.

Bourgeois life is filled with petty pleasures built upon the slavery of the poor.


The Bourgeois and the Corrupt Society - Continued

  • Self interest diminishes pity that binds us to our fellow citizens.

  • The original freedom, innocence, and felicity of the state nature is lost.

    • “Man is born free and yet everywhere he is in chains.”

  • Rousseau finds this step desirable because intelligence raises us above the animals.

  • The selfish society can be transcended by a society dedicated to the common good.


The Bourgeois and the Corrupt Society - Continued

  • Some implications of Rousseau’s thought to this point:

    • Human society is conventional.

    • Most societies sanction an arbitrary inequality and are therefore, illegitimate.

    • Government should protect freedom and equality.

    • Sentiment is the key to freedom and happiness.

    • Rousseau is a philanthropist who through his enlightened understanding of human nature and society can benefit mankind.


Rousseau Versus Mary Wollstonecraft on Sex and Politics

  • Rousseau argues men are intended for public life and women are intended for private life.

    • Women can contribute to public life by educating children and civilizing men. The Spartan mother who celebrated her sons death for Spartan glory is given as an example.

    • Women should not be taught math, science, and philosophy, but should be taught coquetry, etiquette, protocol, convention, and literature (concrete examples)

  • Mary Wollstonecraft points to the tragedy of a man who could not be loved by one who could truly understand him as a critique of Rousseau’s commitment to specializations of the sexes.


The Enron Scandal

Is Enron a modern example of Rousseau’s teaching on bourgeois selfishness and the corrupt society where money buys power, access, and influence, and where unequal extremes of wealth lead to the vanity of conspicuous consumption, as well as the dependence of the citizens on the will of the economic elites.


Rousseau’s Prescription: The General Will

The Social Contract offers a public path of redemption through the mechanism of the general will.

Civil freedom is to replace natural freedom according to this construct.

Rousseau effort is an attempt to reconcile duty and freedom.

Private person is transformed into the public citizen and the interest self is replaced by an interest in the common good.


Rousseau’s Prescription: The General Will - Continued

The bogus social contract needs to be replaced by the true social contract.

Civil freedom is obedience to a law that one prescribes to oneself. Any other law is despotism.

The legitimate social contract is a contract among equals committed to the public good.

“The most general will is also the most just, and that the voice of the people is the voice of God”

The “will of all” or selfish interests are contrasted with the general will or the common good.

Property rights are limited by the common good and the general will.

Citizen’s who have given their consent to the general will may be forced to be free.


The General Will: Created of Discovered?

In the general will discovered as something that is preexisting, or is it created by formal political processes through an agreement between the people? In either case, is the general will morally relative to the particular character of each people, or does it enjoin just moral principles that are universal to all?


Question for Reflection

How far is Rousseau willing to permit popular government to apply the political principle of forcing people to be free? To seat belts? Mandatory inoculation?


Rousseau’s Good Society

  • The General Will is only possible under rare and special circumstances:

    • It can only be operative in a small territory.

    • Participatory democracy is the only legitimate form of association.

    • Government is ministerial and sovereignty cannot be divided.

    • Factions are dangerous and worthless and should be avoided.


Rousseau’s Good Society - continued

  • A lawgiver will be needed to illuminate the general will.

    • Rousseau is a criticizer of a vulgar enlightenment but believes in the beneficial role of rare geniuses like himself.

    • The lawgiver must repress people’s desires to act selfishly.

    • Only a great artist is capable of helping human beings to reconcile freedom and duty within a moral and communal existence.

  • Citizens must be virtuous and their sense of pity and amour propre needs to be guided toward patriotic ends.

  • Appropriate habituation is key to the good society. “Statecraft is soulcraft” for Rousseau. Society needs to guard against that which arouses selfish desires. Private life must serve public virtue.


Rousseau’s Good Society - Continued

  • Benjamin Barber endorses Rousseau’s understanding of civic virtue and education in his book, Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole.

  • Inequalities of wealth must be minimized since they weaken social bonds.


Rousseau’s Good Society - Continued

  • Civic Religion is key to Rousseau’s good society but existing religions are not satisfactory:

    • The religion of man is an ascetic Christianity but it tends towards promoting tyranny.

    • The religion of the citizen is pagan, chauvinistic, and intolerant and the ascendance of Christianity makes a return to this pagan faith impossible.

    • The religion of priests i.e. Roman Catholicism, is intolerant, superstitious, authoritarian, and divisive. Its division of the secular and sacred destroys social unity. Interestingly, Rousseau praises Mohammed for keeping church and state unified in Islam.


Rousseau’s Good Society - Continued

  • Civic Religion is key to Rousseau’s good society but existing religions are not satisfactory:

    • The religion of man is an ascetic Christianity but it tends towards promoting tyranny.

    • The religion of the citizen is pagan, chauvinistic, and intolerant and the ascendance of Christianity makes a return to this pagan faith impossible.

    • The religion of priests i.e. Roman Catholicism, is intolerant, superstitious, authoritarian, and divisive. Its division of the secular and sacred destroys social unity. Interestingly, Rousseau praises Mohammed for keeping church and state unified in Islam.


Rousseau’s Good Society - Continued

  • Rousseau’s civic religion proposes to replace the previous inadequate dogmas with a more adequate dogma.

    • “The existence of a powerful, intelligent, beneficent, prescient, and provident divinity, the life to come, the happiness of the just, the punishment of the wicked, the sanctity of the social contract and the laws: these are the positive dogmas. As for the negative dogmas, I limit them to one alone: this is intolerance; it is part of the cults we have excluded.

  • Those not accepting this creed should be banished from the republic.

  • The Lawgiver needs to claim divine sanction for laws to persuade the public to accept them.


On the Social Contract and the General Will, From The Social Contract, Book I, Chapter 6


On the Social Contract and the General Will, From The Social Contract, Book II


Rousseau’s Major Stages of Historical Development and the Sociopolitical Conditions Produced by Each


Participatory Democracy and the SDS’s Port Huron Statement


“Rousseau’s Lawgiver,” From The Social Contract, Book II, Chapter 7


Civil Religion, From The Social Contract, Book IV, Chapter 8


The Individual Path

  • Confessions and Reveries of a Solitary Walker offer a private path to redemption and liberation from a corrupt society.

  • Solitary existence is offered for the great soul who can exist without society.

  • “But I am made unlike any one I have ever met; I will even venture to say I am like no one in the whole world. I may be no better, but at least I am different.”

    • Authenticity and sincerity are Rousseau’s virtues for the individual.

  • Emile offers a possible path through education to be protected against the corrupt society, but Rousseau is pessimistic about this possibility.


Civil Religion in America


Questions for Reflection

What accounts for the differing paths to liberation in Rousseau’s thought? Are these paths compatible with one another?


Conclusion: An Extraordinary Legacy – Who Is the “Real” Rousseau

His emphasis on sentiment as opposed to rationality makes him the father of the romantic movement.

His celebration of people’s local heritage makes him the father of 19th century nationalism.

His critique of economic inequality and his understanding of how history forms human nature makes him an ancestor of Karl Marx.

His views of love and sexual sublimation makes him a precursor of Freud.


Conclusion: An Extraordinary Legacy – Who Is the “Real” Rousseau

  • His theory of the stages of a child’s development and appropriate educational tasks makes him an influence on modern pedagogy.

  • Rousseau has been classified as a liberal, totalitarian, and a republican.

  • He is viewed as a nemesis of conservatives (Burke) and as a traditionalist (de Jouvenal).


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