The Political Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Impossibility of Reason

The Political Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Impossibility of Reason

The Political Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Impossibility of Reason

The Political Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Impossibility of Reason

Synopsis

This exciting new text presents the first overview of Jean Jacques Rousseau's work from a political science perspective. Was Rousseau--the great theorist of the French Revolution--really a conservative? This original study argues that the he was a constitutionalist much closer to Madison, Montesquieu, and Locke than to revolutionaries. Outlining his profound opposition to Godless materialism and revolutionary change, this book finds parallels between Rousseau and Burke, as well as showing how Rousseau developed the first modern theory of nationalism. The book presents an integrated political analysis of Rousseau's educational, ethical, religious and political writings, and will be essential reading for students of politics, philosophy and the history of ideas.

Excerpt

There is a story behind every book. This one is no exception. Whilst a graduate student I worked on a doctorate on the practical impossibility of direct democracy. For rhetorical purposes I wanted to use Rousseau as a philosophical straw-man – i.e. as someone who defended the position I sought to reject. I browsed through the Discourse on Inequality and Du Contrat Social in search for incriminating quotes but found to my surprise (and subsequent delight) that my misgivings about the Genevan thinker had been both ill-informed and wrong. He did not conform to the stereotype as a native participationist, indeed he expressed the very same misgivings about direct democracy that I had reached. In short; Rousseau was closer to Montesquieu than to Robespierre. What I also found was that he had views about social cohesion, European integration (he was against), nationalism (he advocated it), free-trade (he opposed it), sustainable development (he promoted it), and secularism (he lamented it). In other words he took a stand on many of the issues that shape the political debate at the time of writing. This in itself, I found, made him worth studying.

This book seeks to: present an overview of Rousseau's political philosophy and its relation to his general philosophy (his philosophical development, an introduction to his main ideas on philosophy, religion, morality and education); place Rousseau's thought in the context of different traditions in the history of West European thought; show that Rousseau's political thinking was based on a profound (conservative) scepticism, which caused him to embrace institutional mechanisms that could prevent legislation; demonstrate that he shared Burke's opposition to revolutionary change; show that he developed an early case for a nationalist ideology, which could perform the functions of civic religion.

The book does not seek to end all discussion – it rather seeks the opposite; to begin a serious discussion of politics based on the insights of . . .

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