Fugitive Rousseau: Slavery, Primitivism, and Political Freedom

Fugitive Rousseau: Slavery, Primitivism, and Political Freedom

Fugitive Rousseau: Slavery, Primitivism, and Political Freedom

Fugitive Rousseau: Slavery, Primitivism, and Political Freedom


Critics have claimed that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a primitivist who was uncritically preoccupied with "noble savages" and that he remained oblivious to the African slave trade. Fugitive Rousseau demonstrates why these charges are wrong and argues that a fresh, "fugitive" perspective on political freedom is bound up with the themes of primitivism and slavery in Rousseau's political theory. Rather than trace Rousseau's arguments primarily to the social contract tradition of Hobbes and Locke, Fugitive Rousseau places Rousseau squarely in two imperial contexts: European empire in his contemporary Atlantic world and Roman imperial philosophy. Anyone who aims to understand the implications of Rousseau's famous sentence "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains" or wants to know how Rousseauian arguments can support a radical democratic politics of diversity, discontinuity, and exodus will find Fugitive Rousseau indispensable.


Camarade Depestre
C’est un problème assurément très grave
des rapports de la poésie et de la Révolution
le fond conditionne la forme.

—AIMÉ CÉSAIRE, “Le verbe marronner/à René Depestre, poète haïtien”


Why have political theorists whose work is marked by critiques of colonial modernity rejected Rousseau so vociferously over the past decade, while those who still champion Rousseau play a tug of war between liberal and communitarian accounts unmarked by postcolonial concerns? Fugitive Rousseau suggests that, although the charges of Rousseau’s critics are not unfounded, they are wrong to dismiss him, and that, symmetrically, liberal and communitarian interpretations are wrong to ignore imperial and colonial themes in Rousseau’s projects for freedom. This book argues that Rousseau’s political theory of freedom, especially collective freedom, must be reconstructed by way of, not in spite of, a reassessment of themes of empire, cosmopolitanism, and Eurocentric globalism. It thus offers a fresh perspective by bringing questions of empire and civilization to bear on studies of freedom in Rousseau and bringing Rousseau to bear on empire studies. Taking both interventions together, this book thus suggests that those peoples most radically displaced by colonial modernity—the black Atlantic . . .

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