The Meaning of Rousseau

The Meaning of Rousseau

The Meaning of Rousseau

The Meaning of Rousseau

Excerpt

In this little volume I have tried to put down Rousseau's main opinions as a long perusal of his work has led me to believe he meant them. It is surely time we knew his own intention. After all our years of controversy over him we have still no document in English, and but few in any language, that will simply tell us what he meant to say; and in consequence a great deal of our controversy has been over things he never meant at all. If a statement of his meaning may not still the controversy, it may save us at the least from further tilting at the various men of straw who have sprung up in his image. That is all my reason for attempting it.

I could have tried to do an easier thing. It will soon appear that there are reasons in the nature of our author's utterance, and still others in the nature of the criticism that he has encountered, which will make it hard enough to be sure of his meaning at all points. I may therefore have gone wrong in detail, or even upon fundamentals. If so, I shall be the first to welcome a correction. But I would ask a single word of privilege in this regard before beginning. At several points in the following pages I have shown that there are certain passages in Rousseau, often of a rather startling nature, which remain at real or seeming variance with the fundamental meaning I have found throughout his work. If it were not for these passages, indeed, or rather if it were not for the strange interpretations they have all too often suffered, I should never have begun the present essay, for it would have been unnecessary. And while I am freely open to correction, I am fain to hope I may escape a kind of criticism that has already done too much to cloud our author's meaning by only dressing up a few of his auda-

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