Modern Engendering: Critical Feminist Readings in Modern Western Philosophy

By Bat-Ami Bar On | Go to book overview

Women and Rousseau's Democratic Theory: Philosopher
Monsters and Authoritarian Equality

Lynda Lange

This essay is a feminist critique of the political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and by extension, that of some other reputedly democratic theorists. My critique proceeds, of necessity, from my own interpretation of Rousseau's political thought, which I present briefly. This is especially necessary in the case of Rousseau, since extant interpretations of him are so diverse--he even shares with Hegel the distinction of having both left and right interpretors politically. In my view, Rousseau found in the ancients, and most especially Plato, a way of thinking that grounded his criticism of modern individualism and rational egoism. I concede that Rousseau is a "democratic" thinker, even though he was not democratic with respect to women. As a democratic thinker, he falls in the geneology of those who espouse what may be called "authoritarian equality".

The analysis also proceeds from a feminist critique of dualism. 1 The critique of dualistic forms of thinking--for example, "the political" versus "the personal", "the public" versus "the private", "reason" versus "emotion", "the universal" versus "the particular", etc., and the claim that they are a specifically male form of thinking, has been a strong theme of feminist theory for the past several years. Without addressing the general feminist claim on this occasion, the argument of this paper is meant to show in detail how one particular political philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is both a dualistic thinker and fundamentally male biased.

Rousseau's view of the social relations of the sexes, and the necessity for women to play a feminine role within the family, has been presented and analyzed by a number of feminist authors. 2 While my analysis is in some ways complimentary to that of Okin, Lloyd, and Pateman, it differs from them on other points, and adds new points. Rousseau is one of the few political theorists who attempts what feminist theory attempts, which is to understand the connections

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