Rousseau and Burke: A Study of the Idea of Liberty in Eighteenth-Century Political Thought

Rousseau and Burke: A Study of the Idea of Liberty in Eighteenth-Century Political Thought

Rousseau and Burke: A Study of the Idea of Liberty in Eighteenth-Century Political Thought

Rousseau and Burke: A Study of the Idea of Liberty in Eighteenth-Century Political Thought

Excerpt

The purpose of this study is to give a statement of the political thought of Jean Jacques Rousseau and of his bitterest contemporary English critic, Edmund Burke. From a comparison of their ideas it becomes evident that, in spite of Burke's scathing denunciations of Rousseau in the years of the French revolution when he regarded him as a false prophet who was leading a great empire to destruction, there was no important divergence of opinion on the question of fundamental principles. Indeed, when on occasion Burke presents a statement of abstract principle, he gives the best possible phrasing of Rousseau's doctrine. Thus when in the Reflections on the French Revolution, he states that 'He who gave our nature to be perfected by our virtue, willed also the necessary means of its perfection. -- He willed therefore the state', he gives the fundamental tenet not only of his own political thought, but of Rousseau's as well. Elsewhere, as here, we find statements that illustrate a remarkable degree of harmony in their basic convictions. It is not necessary to conclude that Burke derived the essentials of his political philosophy from Rousseau, for he did not. He was entirely unaware of the fact that his sovereign principles were in accord with Rousseau's. But this was not surprising because the circumstances of their lives, their characteristic modes of thinking, and their approach to the problems of political philosophy led inevitably to methods of presentation that, in the main, had little in common with each other. Consequently it becomes intelligible why Burke should have regarded Rousseau as a false prophet and should have denounced him accordingly. But in the course of his denunciations of Rousseau and his disciples, Burke showed the essential weaknesses of Rousseau's doctrine, while at the same time he gave it its practical corrective. Thus as he pointed to the dangers and problems which confronted the state that was dedicated to liberty, he supplemented Rousseau's work.

Because this study covers such a wide range of thought, it . . .

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