Rousseau: A Very Short Introduction
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One of the most profound thinkers of modern history, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) was a central figure of the European Enlightenment. He was also its most formidable critic, condemning the political, economic, theological, and sexual trappings of civilization along lines that would excite the enthusiasm of romantic individualists and radical revolutionaries alike. In this study of Rousseau's life and works, Robert Wolker shows how his philosophy of history, his theories of music and politics, his fiction, educational, and religious writings, and even his botany, were all inspired by revolutionary ideals of mankind's self-realization in a condition of unfettered freedom. He explains how, in regressing to classical republicanism, ancient mythology, direct communication with God, and solitude, Rousseau anticipated some post-modernist rejections of the Enlightenment as well.
themselves, even in the state of nature, how best to contend with each situation. Their ﬂexible diet could comprise either fruit or meat; they could run with terrestrial animals but at the same time also climb trees; and they could select to confront or ﬂee from danger (P iii 134–7; G 134–7). In the Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau remarks of savage man that it is ‘particularly in his consciousness of this liberty that the spirituality of his soul is displayed’ (P iii 142; G 141). The human race
occasional ménage à trois of Saint-Preux, Julie, and Wolmar, as well as the incidents around which their relationships turn, as expressions of profound longings which, as a matter of fact, Rousseau could barely articulate, still less satisfy, in his own life. Somewhat like his contemporary, Diderot, who often contrived to be at his most intense through a form 131 of displacement which involved speaking his own mind as if he were reporting claims that had been made by others, Rousseau
village into English, as The Cunning-Man, spoke in his own General History of Music in defence of Rousseau against the critics of both his Letter on French Music and his Dictionary of Music, while Rousseau himself, who had sketched a decidedly mixed assessment of the opera Alceste, by Gluck (1767), is reported to have suggested that Gluck’s remarkable Iphigenia in Aulis (1774), with a French libretto, perhaps ﬁnally belied his contention that it was impossible to write music with French lyrics.
had been unable to arrest its decay into despotism, and the increasing grandeur of Rome and other empires had been accompanied by the decline of their military and political strength. Everywhere, Rousseau remarks, ‘the arts, letters, and sciences are spread like garlands of ﬂowers round the iron chains by which [men] are weighed down’ (P iii 7; G 6). As much as any other theme in his later writings, this principle – in effect, that savoir springs from pouvoir – was henceforth to remain the
d’Alembert conceived their Encyclopédie along much the same lines. Rousseau, by contrast, appeared to extol the merits of a barbarous golden age, from which mankind had fallen and lost grace because of an idolatrous lust for learning. Not only did he thus give the impression of favouring savagery over culture; to his enlightened contemporaries he seemed also to have forgotten that the principal source of misery and despair in the contemporary world, the Christian Church, drew its 10 power from