The Full Wiki

Rousseau: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


(Redirected to Jean-Jacques Rousseau article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau in 1753, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour
Born 28 June 1712(1712-06-28)
Geneva, Switzerland
Died 2 July 1778 (aged 66)
Ermenonville, France
Era 18th century philosophy
(Modern Philosophy)
Region Western Philosophers
School Social contract theory, Enlightenment
Main interests Political philosophy, music, education, literature, autobiography
Notable ideas General will, amour-propre, moral simplicity of humanity, child-centered learning, civil religion, popular sovereignty, positive liberty

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Geneva, 28 June 1712  – Ermenonville, 2 July 1778) was a major Genevois philosopher, writer, and composer of the 18th-century Enlightenment. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution and the development of modern political and educational thought.

His novel, Emile: or, On Education, which he considered his most important work, is a seminal treatise on the education of the whole person for citizenship. His sentimental novel, Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, was of great importance to the development of pre-Romanticism[1] and romanticism in fiction.[2] Rousseau's autobiographical writings: his Confessions, which initiated the modern autobiography, and his Reveries of a Solitary Walker were among the pre-eminent examples of the late 18th-century movement known as the "Age of Sensibility", featuring an increasing focus on subjectivity and introspection that has characterized the modern age.

Rousseau also wrote a play and two operas, and made important contributions to music as a theorist. During the period of the French Revolution, Rousseau was the most popular of the philosophes among members of the Jacobin Club. He was interred as a national hero in the Panthéon in Paris, in 1794, 16 years after his death.





Rousseau was born in 1712 in Geneva, which, since 1536, was a Huguenot republic and the seat of Calvinism (now part of Switzerland). Rousseau was proud that his family, of the moyen (or middle-class) order, had voting rights in that city and throughout his life he described himself as a citizen of Geneva. In theory, Geneva was governed democratically by its male voting citizens (who were a minority of the population). In fact, a secretive executive committee, called the Little Council (made up of 25 members of its wealthiest families), ruled the city.

In 1707 a patriot called Pierre Fatio protested at this situation, and the Little Council had him shot. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's father Isaac was not in the city at this time, but Jean-Jacques's grandfather supported Fatio and was penalized for it.[3] Rousseau's father, Isaac Rousseau, was a watchmaker who, notwithstanding his artisan status, was well educated and a lover of music. "A Genevan watchmaker," Rousseau wrote, "is a man who can be introduced anywhere; a Parisian watchmaker is only fit to talk about watches."[4]

Rousseau's mother, Suzanne Bernard Rousseau, the daughter of a Calvinist preacher, died of puerperal fever nine days after his birth. He and his older brother François were brought up by their father and a paternal aunt, also named Suzanne.

Rousseau had no recollection of learning to read, but he remembered how when he was 5 or 6 his father encouraged his love of reading:

Every night, after supper, we read some part of a small collection of romances [i.e., adventure stories], which had been my mother's. My father's design was only to improve me in reading, and he thought these entertaining works were calculated to give me a fondness for it; but we soon found ourselves so interested in the adventures they contained, that we alternately read whole nights together and could not bear to give over until at the conclusion of a volume. Sometimes, in the morning, on hearing the swallows at our window, my father, quite ashamed of this weakness, would cry, "Come, come, let us go to bed; I am more a child than thou art." —Confessions, Book 1

Not long afterward, Rousseau abandoned his taste for escapist stories in favor of the antiquity of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, which he would read to his father while he made watches.

When Rousseau was 10, his father, an avid hunter, got into a legal quarrel with a wealthy landowner on whose lands he had been caught trespassing. To avoid certain defeat in the courts, he moved away to Nyon in the territory of Bern, taking Rousseau's aunt Suzanne with him. He remarried, and from that point Jean-Jacques saw little of him.[5] Jean-Jacques was left with his maternal uncle, who packed him, along with his own son, Abraham Bernard, away to board for two years with a Calvinist minister in a hamlet outside Geneva. Here the boys picked up the elements of mathematics and drawing. Rousseau, who was always deeply moved by religious services, for a time even dreamed of becoming a Protestant minister.

Les Charmettes: the house where Jean-Jacques Rousseau lived with Mme de Warens in 1735-6. It is now a museum dedicated to Rousseau.
Palazzo belonging to Tommaso Querini at 968 Cannaregio Venice that served as the French Embassy during Rousseau's period as Secretary to the Ambassador

Virtually all our information about Rousseau's first youth has come from his posthumously published Confessions, in which the chronology is somewhat confused, though recent scholars have combed the archives for confirming evidence to fill in the blanks. At age 13, Rousseau was apprenticed first to a notary and then to an engraver who beat him. At 15, he ran away from Geneva (on 14 March 1728) after returning to the city and finding the city gates locked due to the curfew. In adjoining Savoy he took shelter with a Roman Catholic priest, who introduced him to Françoise-Louise de Warens, age 29. She was a noblewoman of Protestant background who was separated from her husband. As professional lay proselytizer, she was paid by the King of Piedmont to help bring Protestants to Catholicism. They sent the boy to Turin, the capital of Savoy (which included Piedmont, in what is now Italy), to complete his conversion. This resulted in his having to give up his Genevan citizenship, although he would later revert to Calvinism in order to regain it.

In converting to Catholicism, both De Warens and Rousseau were likely reacting to the severity of Calvinism's insistence on the total depravity of man. Leo Damrosch writes, "an eighteenth-century Genevan liturgy still required believers to declare ‘that we are miserable sinners, born in corruption, inclined to evil, incapable by ourselves of doing good'."[6] De Warens, a deist by inclination, was attracted to Catholicism's doctrine of forgiveness of sins.


Finding himself on his own, since his father and uncle had more or less disowned him, the teenage Rousseau supported himself for a time as a servant, secretary, and tutor, wandering in Italy (Piedmont and Savoy) and France. During this time, he lived on and off with De Warens, whom he idolized and called his "maman". Flattered by his devotion, De Warens tried to get him started in a profession, and arranged formal music lessons for him. At one point, he briefly attended a seminary with the idea of becoming a priest. When Rousseau reached 20, De Warens took him as her lover, whilst intimate also with the steward of her house. The sexual aspect of their relationship (in fact a ménage à trois) confused Rousseau and made him uncomfortable, but he always considered De Warens the greatest love of his life. A rather profligate spender, she had a large library and loved to entertain and listen to music. She and her circle, comprising educated members of the Catholic clergy, introduced Rousseau to the world of letters and ideas. Rousseau had been an indifferent student, but during his 20s, which were marked by long bouts of hypochondria, he applied himself in earnest to the study of philosophy, mathematics, and music. At 25, he came into a small inheritance from his mother and used a portion of it to repay De Warens for her financial support of him. At 27, he took a job as a tutor in Lyon.

In 1742, Rousseau moved to Paris in order to present the Académie des Sciences with a new system of numbered musical notation he believed would make his fortune. His system, intended to be compatible with typography, is based on a single line, displaying numbers representing intervals between notes and dots and commas indicating rhythmic values. Believing the system was impractical, the Academy rejected it, though they praised his mastery of the subject, and urged him to try again.

From 1743 to 1744, Rousseau had an honorable but ill-paying post as a secretary to the Comte de Montaigue, the French ambassador to Venice. This awoke in him a lifelong love for Italian music, particularly opera:

I had brought with me from Paris the prejudice of that city against Italian music; but I had also received from nature a sensibility and niceness of distinction which prejudice cannot withstand. I soon contracted that passion for Italian music with which it inspires all those who are capable of feeling its excellence. In listening to barcaroles, I found I had not yet known what singing was... —Confessions

Rousseau's employer routinely received his stipend as much as a year late and paid his staff irregularly.[7] After 11 months, Rousseau quit, taking from the experience a profound distrust of government bureaucracy.

Returning to Paris, the penniless Rousseau befriended and became the lover of Thérèse Levasseur, a pretty seamstress who was the sole support of her termagant mother and numerous ne'er-do-well siblings. At first, they did not live together, though later Rousseau took Thérèse and her mother in to live with him as his servants, and himself assumed the burden of supporting her large family. According to his Confessions, before she moved in with him, Thérèse bore him a son and as many as four other children (there is no independent verification for this number[8]). Rousseau wrote that he persuaded Thérèse to give each of the newborns up to a foundling hospital, for the sake of her "honor". "Her mother, who feared the inconvenience of a brat, came to my aid, and she [Thérèse] allowed herself to be overcome" (Confessions). The foundling hospitals had been started as a reform to save the numerous infants who were being abandoned in the streets of Paris. Infant mortality at that date was extremely high — about 50 percent, in large part because families sent their infants to be wet nursed. The mortality rate in the foundling hospitals, which also sent the babies out to be wet nursed, proved worse, however, and most of the infants sent there likely perished. Ten years later, Rousseau made inquiries about the fate of his son, but no record could be found. When Rousseau subsequently became celebrated as a theorist of education and child-rearing, his abandonment of his children was used by his critics, including Voltaire and Edmund Burke, as the basis for ad hominem attacks. In an irony of fate, Rousseau's later injunction to women to breastfeed their own babies (as had previously been recommended by the French natural scientist Buffon), probably saved the lives of thousands of infants.

While in Paris, Rousseau became a close friend of French philosopher Diderot and, beginning with some articles on music in 1749,[9] contributed numerous articles to Diderot and D'Alembert's great Encyclopédie, the most famous of which was an article on political economy written in 1755.

Rousseau's ideas were the result of an almost obsessive dialogue with writers of the past, filtered in many cases through conversations with Diderot. His genius lay in his strikingly original way of putting things rather than in the originality, per se, of his thinking. In 1749, Rousseau was paying daily visits to Diderot, who had been thrown into the fortress of Vincennes under a lettre de cachet for opinions in his "Lettre sur les aveugles," that hinted at materialism, a belief in atoms, and natural selection. Rousseau had read about an essay competition sponsored by the Académie de Dijon to be published in the Mercure de France on the theme of whether the development of the arts and sciences had been morally beneficial. He wrote that while walking to Vincennes (about three miles from Paris), he had a revelation that the arts and sciences were responsible for the moral degeneration of mankind, who were basically good by nature. According to Diderot, writing much later, Rousseau had originally intended to answer this in the conventional way, but his discussions with Diderot convinced him to propose the paradoxical negative answer that catapulted him into the public eye. Whatever the case, it was the great French naturalist Buffon who had previously suggested that man's moral decline arose from his acquisition of property and culture. Both Rousseau and Diderot would have been aware of Buffon's speculations. Rousseau's 1750 "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences", in which he made that argument, was awarded the first prize and gained him significant fame.

Rousseau continued his interest in music, and his opera Le Devin du Village (The Village Soothsayer) was performed for King Louis XV in 1752. The king was so pleased by the work that he offered Rousseau a lifelong pension. To the exasperation of his friends, Rousseau turned down the great honor, bringing him notoriety as "the man who had refused a king's pension." He also turned down several other advantageous offers, sometimes with a brusqueness bordering on truculence that gave offense and caused him problems. The same year, the visit of a troupe of Italian musicians to Paris, and their performance of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona, prompted the Querelle des Bouffons, which pitted protagonists of French music against supporters of the Italian style. Rousseau as noted above, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Italians against Jean-Philippe Rameau and others, making an important contribution with his Letter on French Music.

On returning to Geneva in 1754, Rousseau reconverted to Calvinism and regained his official Genevan citizenship. In 1755, Rousseau completed his second major work, the Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men (the Discourse on Inequality), which elaborated on the arguments of the Discourse on the Arts and Sciences.

He also pursued an unconsummated romantic attachment with the 25-year-old Sophie d'Houdetot, which partly inspired his epistolary novel, Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (also based on memories of his idyllic youthful relationship with Mme de Warens). Sophie was the cousin and houseguest of Rousseau's patroness and landlady Madame d'Epinay, whom he treated rather highhandedly. He resented being at Mme d'Epinay's beck and call and detested the insincere conversation and shallow atheism of the Encyclopedistes whom he met at her table. Wounded feelings gave rise to a bitter three-way quarrel between Rousseau and Madame d'Epinay; her lover, the philologist Grimm; and their mutual friend, Diderot, who took their side against Rousseau. Diderot later described Rousseau as being, "false, vain as Satan, ungrateful, cruel, hypocritical, and wicked ... He sucked ideas from me, used them himself, and then affected to despise me".[10]

Rousseau's break with the Encyclopedistes coincided with the composition of his three major works, in all of which he emphasized his fervent belief in a spiritual origin of man's soul and the universe, in contradistinction to the materialism of Diderot, La Mettrie, and d'Holbach. During this period Rousseau enjoyed the support and patronage of the Duc de Luxembourg, and the Prince de Conti, two of the richest and most powerful nobles in France. These men truly liked Rousseau and enjoyed his ability to converse on any subject, but they also used him as a way of getting back at Louis XV and the political faction surrounding his mistress, Mme de Pompadour. Even with them, however, Rousseau went too far, courting rejection when he criticized the practice of tax farming, in which some of them engaged.[11]

Rousseau's 800-page novel of sentiment, Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, was published in 1761 to immense success. The book's rhapsodic descriptions of the natural beauty of the Swiss countryside struck a chord in the public and may have helped spark the subsequent nineteenth century craze for Alpine scenery. In 1762, Rousseau published Du Contrat Social, Principes du droit politique (in English, literally Of the Social Contract, Principles of Political Right) in April and then Emile: or, On Education in May. The final section of Émile, "The Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar," was intended to be a defense of religious belief. Rousseau's choice of a Catholic vicar of humble peasant background (plausibly based on a kindly prelate he had met as a teenager) as a spokesman for the defense of religion was in itself a daring innovation for the time. The vicar's creed was that of Socinianism (or Unitarianism as it is called today). Because it rejected original sin and divine Revelation, both Protestant and Catholic authorities took offense. Moreover, Rousseau advocated the opinion that, insofar as they lead people to virtue, all religions are equally worthy, and that people should therefore conform to the religion in which they have been brought up. This religious indifferentism caused Rousseau and his books to be banned from France and Geneva. He was condemned from the pulpit by the Archbishop of Paris, his books were burned, and warrants were issued for his arrest.[12]

A sympathetic observer, British philosopher David Hume, "professed no surprise when he learned that Rousseau's books were banned in Geneva and elsewhere." Rousseau, he wrote, "has not had the precaution to throw any veil over his sentiments; and, as he scorns to dissemble his contempt for established opinions, he could not wonder that all the zealots were in arms against him. The liberty of the press is not so secured in any country … as not to render such an open attack on popular prejudice somewhat dangerous.'"[13] Rousseau, who thought he had been defending religion, was crushed. Forced to flee arrest he made his way, with the help of the Duc of Luxembourg and Prince de Conti, to Neuchâtel, a Canton of the Swiss Confederation that was a protectorate of the Prussian crown. His powerful protectors discreetly assisted him in his flight and they helped to get his banned books (published in Holland) distributed in France disguised as other works using false covers and title pages. In the town of Môtiers, he sought and found protection under Lord Keith, who was the local representative of the free-thinking Frederick the Great of Prussia. While in Môtiers, Rousseau wrote the Constitutional Project for Corsica (Projet de Constitution pour la Corse, 1765).

After his house in Môtiers was stoned on the night of 6 September 1765, Rousseau took refuge in Great Britain with Hume, who found lodgings for him at a friend's country estate in Wootton in Staffordshire. Neither Thérèse nor Rousseau was able to learn English or make friends. Isolated, Rousseau, never emotionally very stable, suffered a serious decline in his mental health and began to experience paranoid fantasies about plots against him involving Hume and others. “He is plainly mad, after having long been maddish”, Hume wrote to a friend.[14] Rousseau's letter to Hume, in which he articulates the perceived misconduct, sparked an exchange which was published in and received with great interest in contemporary Paris.

The tomb of Rousseau in the crypt of the Panthéon, Paris

Although officially barred from entering France before 1770, Rousseau returned in 1767 under a false name. In 1768 he went through a marriage of sorts to Thérèse (marriages between Catholics and Protestants were illegal), whom he had always hitherto referred to as his "housekeeper". Though she was illiterate, she had become a remarkably good cook, a hobby her husband shared. In 1770 they were allowed to return to Paris. As a condition of his return he was not allowed to publish any books, but after completing his Confessions, Rousseau began private readings in 1771. At the request of Madame d'Epinay, who was anxious to protect her privacy, however, the police ordered him to stop, and the Confessions was only partially published in 1782, four years after his death. All his subsequent works were to appear posthumously.

In 1772, Rousseau was invited to present recommendations for a new constitution for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the Considerations on the Government of Poland, which was to be his last major political work. In 1776, he completed Dialogues: Rousseau Judge of Jean-Jacques and began work on the Reveries of the Solitary Walker. In order to support himself, he returned to copying music, spending his leisure time in the study of botany.

Although a celebrity, Rousseau's mental health did not permit him to enjoy his fame. His final years were largely spent in deliberate withdrawal. However, he did respond favorably to an approach from the composer Gluck, whom he met in 1774. One of Rousseau's last pieces of writing was a critical yet enthusiastic analysis of Gluck's opera Alceste. While taking a morning walk on the estate of the marquis René Louis de Girardin at Ermenonville (28 miles northeast of Paris), Rousseau suffered a hemorrhage and died on 2 July 1778. He was 66.

Rousseau was initially buried at Ermenonville on the Ile des Peupliers, which became a place of pilgrimage for his many admirers. Sixteen years after his death, his remains were moved to the Panthéon in Paris in 1794, where they are located directly across from those of his contemporary, Voltaire. His tomb, in the shape of a rustic temple, on which, in bas relief an arm reaches out, bearing the torch of liberty, evokes Rousseau's deep love of nature and of classical antiquity. In 1834, the Genevan government somewhat reluctantly erected a statue in his honor on the tiny Île Rousseau in Lake Geneva. Today he is proudly claimed as their most celebrated native son. In 2002, the Espace Rousseau was established at 40 Grand-Rue, Geneva, Rousseau's birthplace.


A 1766 portrait of Rousseau by Allan Ramsay

Theory of Natural Man

The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine," and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.
— Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, 1754
Frontpiece of an edition of Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality (1754), published in 1755 in Holland.

In common with other philosophers of the day, Rousseau looked to a hypothetical State of Nature as a normative guide.

Rousseau deplored Hobbes for asserting that since man in the "state of nature . . . has no idea of goodness he must be naturally wicked; that he is vicious because he does not know virtue". On the contrary, Rousseau holds that "uncorrupted morals" prevail in the "state of nature" and he especially praised the admirable moderation of the Caribbeans in expressing the sexual urge[15] despite the fact that they live in a hot climate, which "always seems to inflame the passions".[16] This has led Anglophone critics to erroneously attribute to Rousseau the invention of the idea of the noble savage, an oxymoronic expression that was never used in France[17] and which grossly misrepresents Rousseau's thought.[18] (The expression, "the noble savage" was first used in 1672 by British poet John Dryden in his play The Conquest of Granada. The French word "sauvage" means "wild", as in "a wild flower", and does not have the connotations of fierceness or brutality that the word "savage" does in English, though in the 18th century the English word was closer in connotation to the French one.[citation needed]) Rousseau did deny that morality is a construct or creation of society. He considered it as "natural" in the sense of "innate", an outgrowth of man's instinctive disinclination to witness suffering, from which arise the emotions of compassion or empathy, sentiments whose existence even Hobbes acknowledged, and which are shared with animals.[19]

Contrary to what his many detractors have claimed, Rousseau never suggests that humans in the state of nature act morally; in fact, terms such as "justice" or "wickedness" are inapplicable to prepolitical society as Rousseau understands it. Morality proper, i.e., self restraint, can only develop through careful education in a civil state. Humans "in a state of Nature" may act with all of the ferocity of an animal. They are good only in a negative sense, insofar as they are self-sufficient and thus not subject to the vices of political society. In fact, Rousseau's natural man is virtually identical to a solitary chimpanzee or other ape, such as the orangutan as described by Buffon; and the "natural" goodness of humanity is thus the goodness of an animal, which is neither good nor bad. Rousseau, a deteriorationist, proposed that, except perhaps for brief moments of balance, at or near its inception, when a relative equality among men prevailed, human civilization has always been artificial, creating inequality, envy, and unnatural desires.[citation needed]

In Rousseau's philosophy, society's negative influence on men centers on its transformation of amour de soi, a positive self-love, into amour-propre, or pride. Amour de soi represents the instinctive human desire for self-preservation, combined with the human power of reason. In contrast, amour-propre is artificial and encourages man to compare himself to others, thus creating unwarranted fear and allowing men to take pleasure in the pain or weakness of others.[citation needed] Rousseau was not the first to make this distinction. It had been invoked by, Vauvenargues, among others.

In Discourse on the Arts and Sciences Rousseau argues that the arts and sciences have not been beneficial to humankind, because they arose not from authentic human needs but rather as a result of pride and vanity. Moreover, the opportunities they create for idleness and luxury have contributed to the corruption of man. He proposed that the progress of knowledge had made governments more powerful and had crushed individual liberty; and he concluded that material progress had actually undermined the possibility of true friendship by replacing it with jealousy, fear, and suspicion.

In contrast to the optimistic view of other Enlightenment figures, for Rousseau, progress has been inimical to the well-being of humanity, that is, unless it can be counteracted by the cultivation of civic morality and duty.

Only in civil society, can man be ennobled—through the use of reason:

The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions the morality they had formerly lacked. Then only, when the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses and right of appetite, does man, who so far had considered only himself, find that he is forced to act on different principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations. Although, in this state, he deprives himself of some advantages which he got from nature, he gains in return others so great, his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended, his feelings so ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted, that, did not the abuses of this new condition often degrade him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless continually the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent being and a man.[20]

Society corrupts men only insofar as the Social Contract has not de facto succeeded, as we see in contemporary society as described in the Discourse on Inequality (1754).

In this essay, which elaborates on the ideas introduced in the Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, Rousseau traces man's social evolution from a primitive state of nature to modern society. The earliest solitary humans possessed a basic drive for self preservation and a natural disposition to compassion or pity. They differed from animals, however, in their capacity for free will and their potential perfectibility. As they began to live in groups and form clans they also began to experience family love, which Rousseau saw as the source of the greatest happiness known to humanity. As long as differences in wealth and status among families were minimal, the first coming together in groups was accompanied by a fleeting golden age of human flourishing. The development of agriculture, metallurgy, private property, and the division of labour and resulting dependency on one another, however, led to economic inequality and conflict. As population pressures forced them to associate more and more closely, they underwent a psychological transformation: They began to see themselves through the eyes of others and came to value the good opinion of others as essential to their self esteem. Rousseau posits that the original, deeply flawed Social Contract (i.e., that of Hobbes), which led to the modern state, was made at the suggestion of the rich and powerful, who tricked the general population into surrendering their liberties to them and instituted inequality as a fundamental feature of human society. Rousseau's own conception of the Social Contract can be understood as an alternative to this fraudulent form of association. At the end of the Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau explains how the desire to have value in the eyes of others comes to undermine personal integrity and authenticity in a society marked by interdependence, and hierarchy. In the last chapter of the Social Contract, Rousseau would ask "What is to be done?" He answers that now all men can do is to cultivate virtue in themselves and submit to their lawful rulers. To his readers, however, the inescapable conclusion was that a new and more equitable Social Contract was needed.

Political theory

Perhaps Rousseau's most important work is The Social Contract, which outlines the basis for a legitimate political order within a framework of classical republicanism. Published in 1762, it became one of the most influential works of political philosophy in the Western tradition. It developed some of the ideas mentioned in an earlier work, the article Economie Politique (Discourse on Political Economy), featured in Diderot's Encyclopédie. The treatise begins with the dramatic opening lines, "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they."

Rousseau claimed that the state of nature was a primitive condition without law or morality, which human beings left for the benefits and necessity of cooperation. As society developed, division of labor and private property required the human race to adopt institutions of law. In the degenerate phase of society, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men while also becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom. According to Rousseau, by joining together into civil society through the social contract and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. This is because submission to the authority of the general will of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law.

Although Rousseau argues that sovereignty (or the power to make the laws) should be in the hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between the sovereign and the government. The government is composed of magistrates, charged with implementing and enforcing the general will. The "sovereign" is the rule of law, ideally decided on by direct democracy in an assembly. Under a monarchy, however, the real sovereign is still the law. Rousseau was opposed to the idea that the people should exercise sovereignty via a representative assembly (Book III, Chapter XV). The kind of republican government of which Rousseau approved was that of the city state, of which Geneva, was a model, or would have been, if renewed on Rousseau's principles. France could not meet Rousseau's criterion of an ideal state because it was too big. Much subsequent controversy about Rousseau's work has hinged on disagreements concerning his claims that citizens constrained to obey the general will are thereby rendered free:

The notion of the general will is wholly central to Rousseau's theory of political legitimacy. ... It is, however, an unfortunately obscure and controversial notion. Some commentators see it as no more than the dictatorship of the proletariat or the tyranny of the urban poor (such as may perhaps be seen in the French Revolution). Such was not Rousseau's meaning. This is clear from the Discourse on Political Economy, where Rousseau emphasizes that the general will exists to protect individuals against the mass, not to require them to be sacrificed to it. He is, of course, sharply aware that men have selfish and sectional interests which will lead them to try to oppress others. It is for this reason that loyalty to the good of all alike must be a supreme (although not exclusive) commitment by everyone, not only if a truly general will is to be heeded but also if it is to be formulated successfully in the first place".[21]

Education and Child Rearing

‘The noblest work in education is to make a reasoning man, and we expect to train a young child by making him reason! This beginning at the end; this is making an instrument of a result. If children understood how to reason they would not need to be educated.” –Rousseau, Emile.

Rousseau’s philosophy of education is not concerned with particular techniques of imparting information and concepts, but rather with developing the pupil’s character and moral sense, so that he may learn to practice self-mastery and remain virtuous even in the unnatural and imperfect society in which will have to live. The hypothetical boy, Émile, is to be raised in the countryside, which, Rousseau believes, is a more natural and healthy environment than the city, under the guardianship of a tutor who will guide him through various learning experiences arranged by the tutor. Today we would call this the disciplinary method of "logical consequences", since like modern psychologists, Rousseau felt that children learn right and wrong through experiencing the consequences of their acts rather than through physical punishment. The tutor will make sure that no harm results to Émile through his learning experiences.

Rousseau was one of the first to advocate developmentally appropriate education; and his description of the stages of child development mirrors his conception of the evolution of culture. He divides childhood into stages: the first is to the age of about 12, when children are guided by their emotions and impulses. During the second stage, from 12 to about 16, reason starts to develop; and finally the third stage, from the age of 16 onwards, when the child develops into an adult. Rousseau recommends that the young adult should learn a manual skill such as carpentry, which requires creativity and thought, will keep him out of trouble, and will supply a fallback means of making a living in the event of a change of fortune. (The most illustrious aristocratic youth to have been educated this way may have been Louis XVI, whose parents had him learn the skill of locksmithing, though he was beheaded before he had a chance to use it.[citation needed]) The sixteen-year old is also ready to have a companion of the opposite sex.

Although his ideas foreshadowed modern ones in many ways, in one way they do not: Rousseau was a believer in the moral superiority of the patriarchal family on the antique Roman model. Sophie, the young woman Émile is destined to marry, as a representative of ideal womanhood, is educated to be governed by her husband while Émile, as representative of the ideal man, is educated to be self-governing. This is not an accidental feature of Rousseau's educational and political philosophy; it is essential to his account of the distinction between private, personal relations and the public world of political relations. The private sphere as Rousseau imagines it depends on the subordination of women, in order for both it and the public political sphere (upon which it depends) to function as Rousseau imagines it could and should. Rousseau anticipated the modern idea of the bourgeois nuclear family, with the mother at home taking responsibility for the household and for childcare and early education.

Feminists, beginning in the late 18th century with Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792[22] have criticized Rousseau for his confinement of women to the domestic sphere—unless women were domesticated and constrained by modesty and shame, he feared[23] "men would be tyrannized by women... For, given the ease with which women arouse men's senses... men would finally be their victims...."[24] His contemporaries saw it differently because Rousseau thought that mothers should breastfeed their children.[25] Marmontel wrote that his wife thought, "One must forgive something," she said, "in one who has taught us to be mothers."[26]

Rousseau's detractors have blamed him for everything they do not like in what they call modern "child-centered" education. John Darling's 1994 book Child-Centered Education and its Critics argues that the history of modern educational theory is a series of footnotes to Rousseau, a development he regards as bad. Good or bad, the theories of educators such as Rousseau's near contemporaries Pestalozzi, Mme de Genliss, and later, Maria Montessori, and Dewey, which have directly influenced modern educational practices do have significant points in common with those of Rousseau.


Having converted to Roman Catholicism early in life and returned to the austere Calvinism of his native Geneva as part of his period of moral reform, Rousseau maintained a profession of that religious philosophy and of Jean Calvin as a modern lawgiver throughout the remainder of his life.[27] His views on religion presented in his works of philosophy, however, may strike some as discordant with the doctrines of both Catholicism and Calvinism.

At the time, however, Rousseau's strong endorsement of religious toleration, as expounded by the Savoyard vicar in Émile, was interpreted as advocating indifferentism, a heresy, and led to the condemnation of the book in both Calvinist Geneva and Catholic Paris. His assertion in the Social Contract that true followers of Jesus would not make good citizens may have been another reason for Rousseau's condemnation in Geneva.

Unlike many of the more radical Enlightenment philosophers, Rousseau affirmed the necessity of religion. But he repudiated the doctrine of original sin, which plays so large a part in Calvinism (in Émile, Rousseau writes "there is no original perversity in the human heart").[28]

In the 18th century, many deists viewed God merely an abstract and impersonal creator of the universe, which they likened to a giant machine. Rousseau's deism differed from the usual kind in its intense emotionality. He saw the presence of God in his creation, including mankind, which, apart from the harmful influence of society, is good, because God is good. Rousseau's attribution of a spiritual value to the beauty of nature anticipates the attitudes of 19th-century Romanticism towards nature and religion.

Rousseau was upset that his deistic views were so forcefully condemned, while those of the more frankly atheistic philosophes were ignored. He defended himself against critics of his religious views in his "Letter to Christophe de Beaumont, the Archbishop of Paris.".[29]


A plaque commemorating the bicentenary of Rousseau's birth. Issued by the city of Geneva on 28 June 1912. The legend at the bottom says "Jean-Jacques, aime ton pays" ("love your country"), and shows Rousseau's father gesturing towards the window. The scene is drawn from a footnote to the Letter to d'Alembert where Rousseau recalls witnessing the popular celebrations following the exercises of the St Gervais regiment.

Rousseau's idea of the volonté générale ("general will") was not original with him but rather belonged to a well-established technical vocabulary of juridical and theological writings in use at the time. The phrase was used by Diderot and also by Montesquieu (and by his teacher, the Oratorian friar Nicolas Malebranche). It served to designate the common interest embodied in legal tradition, as distinct from and transcending people's private and particular interests at any particular time. The concept was also an important aspect of the more radical 17th-century republican tradition of Spinoza, from whom Rousseau differed in important respects, but not in his insistence on the importance of equality. This emphasis on equality is Rousseau's most important and consequential legacy, causing him to be both reviled and applauded:

While Rousseau's notion of the progressive moral degeneration of mankind from the moment civil society established itself diverges markedly from Spinoza's claim that human nature is always and everywhere the same ... for both philosophers the pristine equality of the state of nature is our ultimate goal and criterion ... in shaping the "common good", volonté générale, or Spinoza's mens una, which alone can ensure stability and political salvation. Without the supreme criterion of equality, the general will would indeed be meaningless. ... When in the depths of the French Revolution the Jacobin clubs all over France regularly deployed Rousseau when demanding radical reforms. and especially anything -- such as land redistribution -- designed to enhance equality, they were at the same time, albeit unconsciously, invoking a radical tradition which reached back to the late seventeenth century.[30]

The cult that grew up around Rousseau after his death, and particularly the radicalized versions of Rousseau's ideas that were adopted by Robespierre and Saint Just during the Reign of Terror, caused him to become identified with the most extreme aspects of the French Revolution.[31] The revolutionaries were also inspired by Rousseau to introduce Deism as the new official civil religion of France, scandalizing traditionalists:

Ceremonial and symbolic occurrences of the more radical phases of the Revolution invoked Rousseau and his core ideas. Thus the ceremony held at the site of the demolished Bastille, organized by the foremost artistic director of the Revolution, Jacques-Louis David, in August 1793 to mark the inauguration of the new republican constitution, an event coming shortly after the final abolition of all forms of feudal privilege, featured a cantata based on Rousseau's democratic pantheistic deism as expounded in the celebrated "Profession de foi d'un vicaire savoyard" in Book Four of Émile.[32]

Opponents of the Revolution and defenders of religion, most influentially the Irish essayist Edmund Burke, therefore placed the blame for the excesses of the French Revolution directly on the revolutionaries' misplaced (as he considered it) adulation of Rousseau. Burke's "Letter to a Member of the National Assembly", published in February 1791, was a diatribe against Rousseau, whom he considered the paramount influence on French Revolution (his ad hominem attack did not really engage with Rousseau's political writings). Burke maintained that the excesses of the Revolution were not accidents but were designed from the beginning and were rooted in Rousseau's personal vanity, arrogance, and other moral failings. He recalled Rousseau's visit to Britain in 1766, saying: "I had good opportunities of knowing his proceedings almost from day to day and he left no doubt in my mind that he entertained no principle either to influence his heart or to guide his understanding, but vanity". Conceding his gift of eloquence, Burke deplored Rousseau's lack of the good taste and finer feelings that would have been imparted by the education of a gentleman:

Taste and elegance ... are of no mean importance in the regulation of life. A moral taste ... infinitely abates the evils of vice. Rousseau, a writer of great force and vivacity, is totally destitute of taste in any sense of the word. Your masters [i.e., the leaders of the Revolution], who are his scholars, conceive that all refinement has an aristocratic character. The last age had exhausted all its powers in giving a grace and nobleness to our mutual appetites, and in raising them into a higher class and order than seemed justly to belong to them. Through Rousseau, your masters are resolved to destroy these aristocratic prejudices.[33]

In America, where there was no such cult, the direct influence of Rousseau was arguably less. The American founders did share Rousseau's enthusiastic admiration for the austere virtues described by Livy and in Plutarch's portrayals the great men of ancient Sparta and the classical republicanism of early Rome, but so did most other enlightenment figures. Rousseau’s praise of Switzerland and Corsica’s economies of isolated and self-sufficient independent homesteads, and his endorsement of a well-regulated citizen militia, such as Switzerland’s, recall the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy. To Rousseau we owe the invention of the concept of a "civil religion", one of whose key tenets is religious toleration. Yet despite their mutual insistence on the self evidence that "all men are created equal", their insistence that the citizens of a republic be educated at public expense, and the evident parallel between the concepts of the "general welfare" and Rousseau's "general will", some scholars maintain there is little to suggest that Rousseau had that much effect on Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers.[34] They argue that the American constitution owes as much or more to the English Liberal philosopher John Locke's emphasis on the rights of property and to Montesquieu's theories of the separation of powers.[35] Rousseau's writings had an indirect influence on American literature through the writings of Wordsworth and Kant, whose works were important to the New England Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his disciple Henry David Thoreau, as well as on such Unitarians as theologian William Ellery Channing. American novelist James Fennimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans and other novels reflect republican and egalitarian ideals present alike in Rousseau, Tom Paine, and also in English Romantic primitivism[36] Another American admirer was lexicographer Noah Webster.[37]

Criticisms of Rousseau

The first to criticize Rousseau were his fellow Philosophes, above all, Voltaire. According to Jacques Barzun:

Voltaire, who had felt annoyed by the first essay [On the Arts and Sciences], was outraged by the second, [Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Among Men], declaring that Rousseau wanted us to “walk on all fours” like animals and behave like savages, believing them creatures of perfection. From these interpretations, plausible but inexact, spring the clichés Noble Savage and Back to Nature.[38]

Barzun states that, contrary to myth, Rousseau was no primitivist, for him:

The model man is the independent farmer, free of superiors and self-governing. This was cause enough for the philosophes' hatred of their former friend. Rousseau’s unforgivable crime was his rejection of the graces and luxuries of civilized existence. Voltaire had sung “The superfluous, that most necessary thing." For the high bourgeois standard of living Rousseau would substitute the middling peasant’s. It was the country versus the city – an exasperating idea for them, as was the amazing fact that every new work of Rousseau’s was a huge success, whether the subject was politics, theater, education, religion, or a novel about love.”[39]

Following the French Revolution, other commentators fingered a potential danger of Rousseau’s project of realizing an “antique” conception of virtue amongst the citizenry in a modern world (e.g. through education, physical exercise, a citizen militia, public holidays, and the like). Taken too far, as under the Jacobins, such social engineering could result in tyranny. As early as 1819, in his famous speech “On Ancient and Modern Liberty,” the political philosopher Benjamin Constant, a proponent of constitutional monarchy and representative democracy, criticized Rousseau, or rather his more radical followers (specifically the Abbé de Mably), for allegedly believing that "everything should give way to collective will, and that all restrictions on individual rights would be amply compensated by participation in social power.”

Common also were attacks by defenders of social hierarchy on Rousseau's "romantic" belief in equality. In 1860, shortly after the Sepoy Rebellion in India, two British white supremacists, John Crawfurd and James Hunt, mounted a defense of British imperialism based on “scientific racism".[40] Crawfurd, in alliance with Hunt, took over the presidency of the British Anthropological Society, which had been founded with the mission to defend indigenous peoples against slavery and colonial exploitation. Invoking "science" and "realism", the two men derided their "philanthropic" predecessors for believing in human equality and for not recognizing that mankind was divided into superior and inferior races. Crawfurd, who opposed Darwinian evolution, "denied any unity to mankind, insisting on immutable, hereditary, and timeless differences in racial character, principal amongst which was the 'very great' difference in 'intellectual capacity.'" For Crawfurd, the races had been created separately and were different species. Since Crawfurd was Scots, he thought the Scots "race" superior and all others inferior; whilst Hunt, on the other hand, believed in the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon "race". Crawfurd and Hunt routinely accused those who disagreed with them of believing in "Rousseau’s Noble Savage". (The pair ultimately quarreled because Hunt believed in slavery and Crawfurd did not). "As Ter Ellinson demonstrates, Crawfurd was responsible for re-introducing the Pre-Rousseauian concept of 'the Noble Savage' to modern anthropology, attributing it wrongly and quite deliberately to Rousseau.”[41]

In 1919 Irving Babbitt, founder of a movement called the "New Humanism", wrote a critique of what he called "sentimental humanitarianism", for which he blamed Rousseau.[42] Babbitt's depiction of Rousseau was countered in a celebrated and much reprinted essay by A. O. Lovejoy in 1923.[43] In France, fascist theorist and anti-Semite Charles Maurras, founder of Action Française, “had no compunctions in laying the blame for both Romantisme et Révolution firmly on Rousseau in 1922." [44]

During the Cold War, some liberals, among them Karl Popper, criticized Rousseau for his association with nationalism and its attendant abuses. This came to be known among scholars as the "totalitarian thesis". An example is J. L. Talmon's, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (1952).[45] Political scientist J. S. Moloy states that “the twentieth century added Nazism and Stalinism to Jacobinism on the list of horrors for which Rousseau could be blamed. ... Rousseau was considered to have advocated just the sort of invasive tampering with human nature which the totalitarian regimes of mid-century had tried to instantiate." But Moloy adds that "The totalitarian thesis in Rousseau studies has, by now, been discredited as an attribution of real historical influence.” [46] Arthur Melzer, however, while conceding that Rousseau would not have approved of modern nationalism, observes that his theories do contain the "seeds of nationalism", insofar as they set forth the "politics of identification", which are rooted in sympathetic emotion. Melzer also believes that in admitting that people's talents are unequal, Rousseau therefore tacitly condones the tyranny of the few over the many.[47] For Stephen T. Engel, on the other hand, Rousseau's nationalism anticipated modern theories of "imagined communities" that transcend social and religious divisions within states.[48]

American conservative author Jonah Goldberg of National Review echoed Talmon's thesis in his book Liberal Fascism, calling Rousseau as the "father of modern fascism".[49]

On similar grounds, one of Rousseau's strongest critics during the second half of the 20th century was political philosopher Hannah Arendt. Using Rousseau's thought as an example, Arendt identified the notion of sovereignty with that of the general will. According to her, it was this desire to establish a single, unified will based on the stifling of opinion in favor of public passion that contributed to the excesses of the French Revolution.

See also


  1. ^ "Preromanticism Criticism". Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  2. ^ See also Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre, chapter 6: "Readers Respond to Rousseau: The Fabrication of Romantic Sensitivity" for some interesting examples of contemporary reactions to this novel.
  3. ^ Leo Damrosch, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005) p. 31.
  4. ^ "And indeed, a British visitor commented, ‘Even the lower class of people [of Geneva] are exceedingly well informed, and there is per fond of reading the works of Locke and Montesquieu,” see Leo Damrosch, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, p. 14.
  5. ^ Damrosch, p. 24.
  6. ^ Rousseau: Restless Genius, p. 121.
  7. ^ Leo Damrosch describes the count as “a virtual parody of a parasitic aristocrat, incredibly stupid, irascible, and swollen with self importance." He spoke no Italian, a language in which Rousseau was fluent. Although Rousseau did most of the work of the embassy, he was treated like a valet. (See Damrosch, p. 168).
  8. ^ Some of Rousseau's contemporaries believed the babies were not his. George Sand has written an essai, "Les Charmettes" (1865. Printed in the same volume as "Laura" from the same year) in which she explains why Rousseau may have accused himself falsely. She quotes her grandmother, in whose family Rousseau had been a tutor, and who stated that Rousseau could not get children.
  9. ^ Rousseau in his musical articles in the Encyclopedie engaged in lively controversy with other musicians, e.g. with Rameau, as in his article on Temperament, for which see Encyclopédie: Tempérament (English translation), also Temperament Ordinaire.
  10. ^ Damrosch (2005), p. 304.
  11. ^ Damrosch (2005), p. 357.
  12. ^ Rousseau's biographer Leo Damrosch, believes that the authorities chose to condemn him on religious rather than political grounds for tactical reasons. See Damrosch Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Restless Genius (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005).
  13. ^ Peter Gay, The Enlightenment, The Science of Freedom, p. 72.
  14. ^ Quoted in Damrosch, p. 432
  15. ^ Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, 72-73
  16. ^ Discourse, 78.
  17. ^ Anglophone writers still use the term "Noble Savage" in describing race relations in New France, see for example: The Libertine Colony by Doris Garraway, There are No Slaves in France by Sue Peabody, The Avengers of the New World by Laurent Dubois, and The French Atlantic Triangle by Christopher Miller; for information about the relationship between the French and English colonial contexts, see Sentimental Figures of Empire by Lynn Festa.
  18. ^ See A. O. Lovejoy's essay on "The Supposed Primitivism of Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality" in Essays in the History of Ideas (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1948, 1960). For a history of how the phrase became associated with Rousseau, see Ter Ellinson's, The Myth of the Noble Savage (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 2001)
  19. ^ In locating the basis of ethics in emotions rather than reason Rousseau agreed with Adam Smith's 1759 Theory of Moral Sentiments.
  20. ^ The Social Contract, Book I Chapter 8
  21. ^ Entry, "Rousseau" in the Routelege Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward Craig, editor, Volume Eight, p. 371
  22. ^ Wollstonecraft, Mary, 1792 (2004). "V". A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (ed. Miriam Brody).. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-14-144125-2. 
  23. ^ Tuana, Nancy (1993). The Less Noble Sex: Scientific, Religious and Philosophical Conceptions of Women's Nature. Indiana University Press. pp. 161. ISBN 0-253-36098-6. 
  24. ^ Rousseau, Emile, book V, p. 359
  25. ^ Damrosch, p. 341-42.
  26. ^ Marmontel, Jean François (1826). Memoirs of Marmontel, written by himself: containing his literary and political life, and anecdotes of the principal characters of the eighteenth century. Whittaker via Google Books. pp. 125–126. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ il n’y a point de perversité originelle dans le cœur humainÉmile,_ou_De_l’éducation_-_Livre_second
  29. ^ The full text of the letter is available online only in the French original: Lettre à Mgr De Beaumont Archevêque de Paris (1762)
  30. ^ Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 274.
  31. ^ Robspierre and Saint-Just's conception of L’intérêt général, or the will of the people, was derived from Rousseau's "general will", and they considered themselves "highly principled republicans, charged with stripping away what was superfluous and corrupt, inspired above all by Rousseau", Jonathan Israel, p. 717.
  32. ^ Jonathan Israel, p. 717.
  33. ^ Edmund Burke. "A letter to a member of the National Assembly, 1791". Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  34. ^ "Rousseau, whose romantic and egalitarian tenets had practically no influence on the course of Jefferson's, or indeed any American, thought." Nathan Schachner, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography. (1957), p. 47. Jefferson never mentioned Rousseau in any of his writings, but made frequent references to Locke. On the other hand, he did have a well-thumbed copy of Rousseau's work in his library and was known to have been influenced by "French philosophers."
  35. ^ A case for Rousseau as an enemy of the Enlightenment is made in Graeme Garrard, Rousseau's Counter-Enlightenment: A Republican Critique of the Philosophes (Albany: SUNY Press, 2003).
  36. ^ Cooper was a follower of Tom Paine, who in turn was an admirer of Rousseau. For the classical origins of American ideals of liberty, see also "Sibi Imperiosus: Cooper's Horatian Ideal of Self-Governance in The Deerslayer"(Villa Julie College) Placed on line July 2005
  37. ^ Mark J. Temmer, "Rousseau and Thoreau," Yale French Studies, No. 28, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1961), pp. 112-121.
  38. ^ From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present (Harper Collins, 2001), p. 384
  39. ^ Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence (2001) p. 384
  40. ^ see Ter Ellingson, The Myth of the Noble Savage, 2001.
  41. ^ "John Crawfurd — 'two separate races'". Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  42. ^ Rousseau and Romanticism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1919).
  43. ^ See "The Supposed Primitivism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau," in Essays in the History of Ideas (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press: [1923] 1948).
  44. ^ See R. Simon Harvey, who goes on: "and mere concern for the facts has not inhibited others from doing likewise. Irving Babbitt’s Rousseau & Romanticism still remains the only general work on this subject though printed as long ago as 1919, but it is grossly inaccurate, discursive and biased ….”See Reappraisals of Rousseau: studies in honor of R. A. Leigh, R, Simon Harvey, Editor (Manchester University press. 1980).
  45. ^ Talmon's thesis is rebutted by Ralph A. Leigh in “Liberté et autorité dans le Contrat Social” in Jean-Jacques Rousseau et son ouevre (Paris 1963). Another tenacious proponent of the totalitarian thesis was Lester C. Crocker, author of Rousseau’s Social Contract, An interpretive Essay (Case Western Reserve Press, Cleveland, 1968). Two reviews of the debate are: J. W. Chapman, Rousseau: Totalitarian or Liberal? (AMS Press New York, 1968) and Richard Fralin, Rousseau and Representation (Columbia University Press, NY, 1978).
  46. ^ J. S. Maloy, “The Very Order of Things: Rousseau's Tutorial Republicanism,” Polity, Vol. 37 (2005).
  47. ^ Arthur Melzer, "Rousseau, Nationalism, and the Politics of Sympathetic Identification" in Educating the Prince: Essays in Honor of Harvey C. Mansfield, Mark Kristol and William Blitz, editors (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000). Others counter, however, that Rousseau was concerned with the concept of equality under the law, not equality of talents.
  48. ^ "Rousseau and Imagined Communities", The Review of Politics, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Summer, 2005), pp. 515-537.
  49. ^ Gordon, David. Fascism, Left and Right.


  • Abizadeh, Arash (2001). "Banishing the Particular: Rousseau on Rhetoric, Patrie, and the Passions" Political Theory 29.4: 556-82.
  • Babbitt, Irving ([1919] 1991). Rousseau and Romanticism. Edison, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers (Library of Conservative Thought)
  • Bertram, Christopher (2003). Rousseau and The Social Contract. London: Routledge.
  • Cassirer, Ernst (1945). Rousseau, Kant, Goethe. Princeton University Press.
  • Cassirer, Ernst ([1935]1989). The Question of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Peter Gay, editor and translator. Series editor, Jacques Barzun. Yale University Press.
  • Conrad, Felicity (2008). "Rousseau Gets Spanked, or, Chomsky's Revenge." The Journal of POLI 433. 1.1: 1-24.
  • Cooper, Laurence (1999). Rousseau, Nature and the Problem of the Good Life. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • Cottret, Monique and Bernard Cottret. Jean-Jacques Rousseau en son temps, Paris, Perrin, 2005.
  • Cranston, Maurice (1982). Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Work. New York: Norton.
  • Cranston, Maurice (1991). The Noble Savage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Cranston, Maurice (1997). The Solitary Self. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Damrosch, Leo (2005). Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Deeb, Benjamin (2010). "The Free Man in Chains". Orange, CA: Zero Gravity Press (ISBN 0452285801).
  • Dent, Nicholas, J.H. (1988). Rousseau : An Introduction to his Psychological, Social, and Political Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Dent, Nicholas, J. H. (1992). A Rousseau Dictionary. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Dent, Nicholas. (2005). Rousseau. London: Routledge.
  • Derathé, Robert.(1948). Le Rationalism de J.-J. Rousseau. Press Universitaires de France.
  • Derathé, Robert ([1950] 1988). Jean-Jacques Rousseau et la Science Politique de Son Temps. Paris: Vrin,
  • Derrida, Jacques (1976). Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
  • Einaudi, Mario (1968). Early Rousseau. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Ellingson, Ter. (2001). The Myth of the Noble Savage. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Farrell, John (2006). Paranoia and Modernity: Cervantes to Rousseau. New York: Cornell University Press.
  • Garrard, Graeme (2003). Rousseau's Counter-Enlightenment: A Republican Critique of the Philosophes. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Gauthier, David (2006). Rousseau: The Sentiment of Existence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hendel, Charles W. (1934). Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Moralist. 2 Vols. (1934) Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs Merrill.
  • de Jouvenel, Bertrand (1962). "Rousseau the Pessimistic Evolutionist." Yale French studies 27 83-96
  • Kateb, George (1961). “Aspects of Rousseau’s Political Thought,” Political Science Quarterly, December 1961.
  • Kitsikis, Dimitri (2006).Jean-Jacques Rousseau et les origines françaises du fascisme. Nantes: Ars Magna Editions.
  • LaFreniere, Gilbert F. (1990). "Rousseau and the European Roots of Environmentalism." Environmental History Review 14 (No. 4): 41-72
  • Lange, Lynda (2002). Feminist Interpretations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. University Park: Penn State University Press.
  • Lovejoy, Arthur O. ([1923] 1948). "The Supposed Primitivism of Rousseau's 'Discourse on Inequality'". Modern Philology: XXI: 165-186. Reprinted in Essays in the History of Ideas (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press). "A classic treatment of the Second Discourse" --Nicholas Dent.
  • Marks, Jonathan (2005). Perfection and Disharmony in the Thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Roger Masters (ed.), 1964. The First and Second Discourses by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, translated by Roger D Masters and Judith R Masters. New York: St. Martin's Press (ISBN 0-312-69440-7).
  • Roger Masters, 1968. The Political Philosophy of Rousseau. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press (ISBN 9780691019895), also available in French (ISBN 2-84788-000-3).
  • Roger Masters (ed.), 1978. On the Social Contract, with the Geneva Manuscript and Political Economy by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, translated by Judith R Masters. New York: St Martin’s Press (ISBN 0-312-69446-6).
  • Melzer, Arthur (1990). The Natural Goodness of Man: On the System of Rousseau's Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Pateman, Carole (1979). The Problem of Political Obligation: A Critical Analysis of Liberal Theory. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Riley, Patrick (1970). “A Possible Explanation of the General Will”. American Political Science Review 64:88
  • Riley, Patrick (1978). "General Will Before Rousseau". Political Theory, vol. 6, No. 4: 485-516.
  • Riley, Patrick (ed.) (2001). The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Robinson, Dave & Groves, Judy (2003). Introducing Political Philosophy. Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-450-X.
  • Scott, John, T., editor (2006). Jean Jacques Rousseau, Volume 3: Critical Assessments of Leading Political Philosophers. New York: Routledge.
  • Simpson, Matthew (2006). Rousseau's Theory of Freedom. London: Continuum Books.
  • Simpson, Matthew (2007). Rousseau: Guide for the Perplexed. London: Continuum Books.
  • Starobinski, Jean (1988). Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Strauss, Leo (1953). Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, chap. 6A.
  • Strauss, Leo (1947). "On the Intention of Rousseau," Social Research 14: 455-87.
  • Strong, Tracy B. (2002). Jean Jacques Rousseau and the Politics of the Ordinary. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
  • Talmon, Jacob R. (1952). The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Virioli, Maurizio ([1988] 2003). Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the 'Well-Ordered Society'. Hanson, Derek, translator. Cambridge University Press, 2003 ISBN 0521531381, 9780521531382
  • Williams, David Lay (2007). Rousseau’s Platonic Enlightenment. Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • Wokler, Robert (1995). Rousseau. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wraight, Christopher D. (2008), Rousseau's The Social Contract: A Reader's Guide. London: Continuum Books.

Major works

Editions in English

  • Basic Political Writings, trans. Donald A. Cress. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1987.
  • Collected Writings, ed. Roger Masters and Christopher Kelly, Dartmouth: University Press of New England, 1990-2010, 13 vols.
  • The Confessions, trans. Angela Scholar. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Emile, or On Education, trans. with an introd. by Allan Bloom, New York: Basic Books, 1979.
  • "On the Origin of Language," trans. John H. Moran. In On the Origin of Language: Two Essays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.
  • Reveries of a Solitary Walker, trans. Peter France. London: Penguin Books, 1980.
  • 'The Discourses' and Other Early Political Writings, trans. Victor Gourevitch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • 'The Social Contract' and Other Later Political Writings, trans. Victor Gourevitch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • 'The Social Contract, trans. Maurice Cranston. Penguin: Penguin Classics Various Editions, 1968-2007.
  • The Political writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, edited from the original MCS and authentic editions with introduction and notes by C.E.Vaughan, Blackwell, Oxford, 1962. (In French but the introduction and notes are in English).

Online texts

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Jean-Jacques Rousseau article)

From Wikiquote

Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (June 28, 1712July 2, 1778) was a Franco-Swiss philosopher of Enlightenment whose political ideas influenced the French Revolution, the development of socialist theory, and the growth of nationalism.



A country cannot subsist well without liberty, nor liberty without virtue.
  • All that time is lost which might be better employed.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Quotations in Most Frequent Use: Taken Chiefly from the Latin and French, but comprising many from the Greek, Spanish, and Italian Languages, translated into English (1809) by David Evans Macdonnel
  • L'accent est l'âme du discours.
    • Accent is the soul of language; it gives to it both feeling and truth.
    • English translation as quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tryon Edwards, p. 2
  • An honest man nearly always thinks justly.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tryon Edwards, p. 277
  • A country cannot subsist well without liberty, nor liberty without virtue.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tryon Edwards, p. 301
  • Days of absence, sad and dreary,
    Clothed in sorrow's dark array,—
    Days of absence, I am weary:
    She I love is far away.
    • Day of Absence, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).

Discourse on Inequality (1754)

Also known as Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men and A Dissertation On the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality of Mankind. Translation by G. D. H. Cole online
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society...
You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.
  • Le premier qui, ayant enclos un terrain, s'avisa de dire: Ceci est à moi, et trouva des gens assez simples pour le croire, fut le vrai fondateur de la société civile. Que de crimes, de guerres, de meurtres, que de misères et d'horreurs n'eût point épargnés au genre humain celui qui, arrachant les pieux ou comblant le fossé, eût crié à ses semblables: Gardez-vous d'écouter cet imposteur; vous êtes perdus, si vous oubliez que les fruits sont à tous, et que la terre n'est à personne.
    • The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.
    • Variant translation: The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine," and found people naive enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society.
  • Never exceed your rights, and they will soon become unlimited.
  • Money is the seed of money, and the first guinea is sometimes more difficult to acquire than the second million.
  • I know that [civilized men] do nothing but boast incessantly of the peace and repose they enjoy in their chains.... But when I see [barbarous man] sacrifice pleasures, repose, wealth, power, and life itself for the preservation of this sole good which is so disdained by those who have lost it; when I see animals born free and despising captivity break their heads against the bars of their prison; when I see multitudes of entirely naked savages scorn European voluptuousness and endure hunger, fire, the sword, and death to preserve only their independence, I feel it does not behoove slaves to reason about freedom.
  • In reality, the difference is, that the savage lives within himself while social man lives outside himself and can only live in the opinion of others, so that he seems to receive the feeling of his own existence only from the judgement of others concerning him. It is not to my present purpose to insist on the indifference to good and evil which arises from this disposition, in spite of our many fine works on morality, or to show how, everything being reduced to appearances, there is but art and mummery in even honour, friendship, virtue, and often vice itself, of which we at length learn the secret of boasting; to show, in short, how abject we are, and never daring to ask ourselves in the midst of so much philosophy, benevolence, politeness, and of such sublime codes of morality, we have nothing to show for ourselves but a frivolous and deceitful appearance, honour without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness.
    • Second Treatise on Inequality, translated by Roger D. and Judith R. Masters

The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right (1762)

Du Contrat Social as translated by G.D.H. Cole (1913) Full text online
Tranquillity is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them desirable places to live in?
From whatever aspect we regard the question, the right of slavery is null and void, not only as being illegitimate, but also because it is absurd and meaningless. The words slave and right contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive.
  • L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers.
    • Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.
    • Variant translations: Man is born free, and everywhere he is in shackles.
      Man was born free, but is everywhere in bondage.
    • I, Ch. 1
  • The strongest is never strong enough always to be master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty.
    • Variant translations: The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty.
      The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms his strength into right, and obedience into duty.
    • I, Ch. 3
  • Tranquility is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them desirable places to live in? To say that a man gives himself gratuitously, is to say what is absurd and inconceivable; such an act is null and illegitimate, from the mere fact that he who does it is out of his mind. To say the same of a whole people is to suppose a people of madmen; and madness creates no right. Even if each man could alienate himself, he could not alienate his children: they are born men and free; their liberty belongs to them, and no one but they has the right to dispose of it. Before they come to years of judgment, the father can, in their name, lay down conditions for their preservation and well-being, but he cannot give them irrevocably and without conditions: such a gift is contrary to the ends of nature, and exceeds the rights of paternity. It would therefore be necessary, in order to legitimize an arbitrary government, that in every generation the people should be in a position to accept or reject it; but, were this so, the government would be no longer arbitrary. To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man's nature; to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts. Finally, it is an empty and contradictory convention that sets up, on the one side, absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited obedience.
    • I, Ch. 4
  • The right of conquest has no foundation other than the right of the strongest. If war does not give the conqueror the right to massacre the conquered peoples, the right to enslave them cannot be based upon a right which does not exist. No one has a right to kill an enemy except when he cannot make him a slave, and the right to enslave him cannot therefore be derived from the right to kill him. It is accordingly an unfair exchange to make him buy at the price of his liberty his life, over which the victor holds no right. Is it not clear that there is a vicious circle in founding the right of life and death on the right of slavery, and the right of slavery on the right of life and death?
  • From whatever aspect we regard the question, the right of slavery is null and void, not only as being illegitimate, but also because it is absurd and meaningless. The words slave and right contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive. It will always be equally foolish for a man to say to a man or to a people: “I make with you a convention wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I shall keep it as long as I like, and you will keep it as long as I like.”
    • I, Ch. 4
  • The mere impulse of appetite is slavery, while obedience to the law we prescribe to ourselves is liberty.
    • I, Ch. 7
  • In the strict sense of the term, a true democracy has never existed, and never will exist. It is against natural order that the great number should govern and that the few should be governed.
    • III, Ch. 4
As soon as any man says of the affairs of the State "What does it matter to me?" the State may be given up for lost.
  • The very right to vote imposes on me the duty to instruct myself in public affair, however little influence my voice may have in them.
  • The body politic, like the human body, begins to die from its birth, and bears in itself the causes of its destruction.
    • Variant: The body politic, as well as the human body, begins to die as soon as it is born, and carries itself the causes of its destruction.
    • III, Ch. 11
  • Good laws lead to the making of better ones; bad ones bring about worse.
    • III, Ch. 15
  • At Genoa, the word Liberty may be read over the front of the prisons and on the chains of the galley-slaves. This application of the device is good and just. It is indeed only malefactors of all estates who prevent the citizen from being free. In the country in which all such men were in the galleys, the most perfect liberty would be enjoyed.
    • IV, (This appears in the footnotes of the translation by G. D. H. Cole.)
  • As soon as any man says of the affairs of the State "What does it matter to me?" the State may be given up for lost.
    • III, Ch. 15

Emile: Or, On Education (1762)

Émile ou De l'éducation Full text online
The happiest is he who suffers least; the most miserable is he who enjoys least.
  • Tout est bien sortant des mains de l'Auteur des choses, tout dégénère entre les mains de l'homme.
    • Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the author of things, everything degenerates in the hands of man.'
    • Variant translations: Everything is good when it leaves the hands of the Creator; everything degenerates in the hands of man.
      God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil.
    • Book I
  • I shall always maintain that whoso says in his heart, "There is no God," while takes the name of God upon his lips, is either a liar or a madman.
    • Book I
  • Men, be kind to your fellow-men; this is your first duty, kind to every age and station, kind to all that is not foreign to humanity. What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness? Love childhood, indulge its sports, its pleasures, its delightful instincts. Who has not sometimes regretted that age when laughter was ever on the lips, and when the heart was ever at peace? Why rob these innocents of the joys which pass so quickly, of that precious gift which they cannot abuse? Why fill with bitterness the fleeting days of early childhood, days which will no more return for them than for you? Fathers, can you tell when death will call your children to him? Do not lay up sorrow for yourselves by robbing them of the short span which nature has allotted to them. As soon as they are aware of the joy of life, let them rejoice in it, go that whenever God calls them they may not die without having tasted the joy of life.
    • Book II
  • Une des preuves que le goût de la viande n’est pas naturel à l’homme, est l’indifférence que les enfants ont pour ce mets-là, et la préférence qu’ils donnent tous à des nourritures végétales, telles que le laitage, la pâtisserie, les fruits, etc. Il importe surtout de ne pas dénaturer ce goût primitif, et de ne point rendre les enfants carnassiers; si ce n’est pour leur santé, c’est pour leur caractère; car, de quelque manière qu’on explique l’expérience, il est certain que les grands mangeurs de viande sont en général cruels et féroces plus que les autres hommes; cette observation est de tous les lieux et de tous les temps.
    • The indifference of children towards meat is one proof that the taste for meat is unnatural; their preference is for vegetable foods, such as milk, pastry, fruit, etc. Beware of changing this natural taste and making children flesh-eaters, if not for their health's sake, for the sake of their character; for how can one explain away the fact that great meat-eaters are usually fiercer and more cruel than other men; this has been recognised at all times and in all places.
    • Book II
  • La gourmandise est le vice des cœurs qui n’ont point d’étoffe. L’âme d’un gourmand est toute dans son palais; il n’est fait que pour manger; dans sa stupide incapacité, il n’est qu’à table à sa place, il ne sait juger que des plats; laissons-lui sans regret cet emploi; mieux lui vaut celui-là qu’un autre, autant pour nous que pour lui.
    • Gluttony is the vice of feeble minds. The gourmand has his brains in his palate, he can do nothing but eat; he is so stupid and incapable that the table is the only place for him, and dishes are the only things he knows anything about. Let us leave him to this business without regret; it is better for him and for us.
    • Book II
Nature never deceives us; it is always we who deceive ourselves.
  • Le plus heureux est celui qui souffre le moins de peines; le plus misérable est celui qui sent le moins de plaisir.
    • The happiest is he who suffers least; the most miserable is he who enjoys least.
    • Book II
  • I hate books; they only teach us to talk about things we know nothing about.
    • Book III
  • Jamais la nature ne nous trompe; c’est toujours nous qui nous trompons.
    • Nature never deceives us; it is always we who deceive ourselves.
    • Book III, More extensive translation: In the sensation the judgment is purely passive; it affirms that I feel what I feel. In the percept or idea the judgment is active; it connects, compares, it discriminates between relations not perceived by the senses. That is the whole difference; but it is a great difference. Nature never deceives us; we deceive ourselves.
  • Puisqu’il nous faut absolument des livres, il en existe un qui fournit, à mon gré, le plus heureux traité d’éducation naturelle. Ce livre sera le premier que lira mon Émile; seul il composera durant longtemps toute sa bibliothèque, et il y tiendra toujours une place distinguée. Il sera le texte auquel tous nos entretiens sur les sciences naturelles ne serviront que de commentaire. Il servira d’épreuve durant nos progrès à l’état de notre jugement; et, tant que notre goût ne sera pas gâté, sa lecture nous plaira toujours. Quel est donc ce merveilleux livre ? Est-ce Aristote ? est-ce Pline ? est-ce Buffon ? Non; c’est Robinson Crusoé.
    • There is one book which, to my thinking, supplies the best treatise on an education according to nature. This is the first book Emile will read; for a long time it will form his whole library, and it will always retain an honoured place. It will be the text to which all our talks about natural science are but the commentary. It will serve to test our progress towards a right judgment, and it will always be read with delight, so long as our taste is unspoilt. What is this wonderful book? Is it Aristotle? Pliny? Buffon? No — it is Robinson Crusoe.
    • Book III
  • Our passions are the chief means of self-preservation; to try to destroy them is therefore as absurd as it is useless; this would be to overcome nature, to reshape God's handiwork. If God bade man annihilate the passions he has given him, God would bid him be and not be; He would contradict himself. He has never given such a foolish commandment, there is nothing like it written on the heart of man, and what God will have a man do, He does not leave to the words of another man. He speaks Himself; His words are written in the secret heart.
    • Book IV
  • I consider those who would prevent the birth of the passions almost as foolish as those who would destroy them, and those who think this has been my object hitherto are greatly mistaken.
    But should we reason rightly, if from the fact that passions are natural to man, we inferred that all the passions we feel in ourselves and behold in others are natural? Their source, indeed, is natural; but they have been swollen by a thousand other streams; they are a great river which is constantly growing, one in which we can scarcely find a single drop of the original stream. Our natural passions are few in number; they are the means to freedom, they tend to self-preservation. All those which enslave and destroy us have another source; nature does not bestow them on us; we seize on them in her despite.
    • Book IV
  • The origin of our passions, the root and spring of all the rest, the only one which is born with man, which never leaves him as long as he lives, is self-love; this passion is primitive, instinctive, it precedes all the rest, which are in a sense only modifications of it. In this sense, if you like, they are all natural.
    • Book IV
  • Il n’y a point de folie dont on ne puisse guérir un homme qui n’est pas fou, hors la vanité.
    • Provided a man is not mad, he can be cured of every folly but vanity; there is no cure for this but experience, if indeed there is any cure for it at all; when it first appears we can at least prevent its further growth. But do not on this account waste your breath on empty arguments to prove to the youth that he is like other men and subject to the same weaknesses. Make him feel it or he will never know it.
    • Book IV
  • We cannot teach children the danger of telling lies to men without realising, on the man's part, the danger of telling lies to children. A single untruth on the part of the master will destroy the results of his education.
    • Book IV
  • Although modesty is natural to man, it is not natural to children. Modesty only begins with the knowledge of evil... Blushes are the sign of guilt; true innocence is ashamed of nothing.
    • Book IV
  • I had been brought up in a church which decides everything and permits no doubts, so that having rejected one article of faith I was forced to reject the rest; as I could not accept absurd decisions, I was deprived of those which were not absurd. When I was told to believe everything, I could believe nothing, and I knew not where to stop.
    I consulted the philosophers, I searched their books and examined their various theories; I found them all alike proud, assertive, dogmatic, professing, even in their so-called scepticism, to know everything, proving nothing, scoffing at each other. This last trait, which was common to all of them, struck me as the only point in which they were right. Braggarts in attack, they are weaklings in defence.
    • Book IV
  • The one thing we do not know is the limit of the knowable. We prefer to trust to chance and to believe what is not true, rather than to own that not one of us can see what really is. A fragment of some vast whole whose bounds are beyond our gaze, a fragment abandoned by its Creator to our foolish quarrels, we are vain enough to want to determine the nature of that whole and our own relations with regard to it.
    • Book IV
  • Leonidas died for his country before Socrates declared that patriotism was a virtue; Sparta was sober before Socrates extolled sobriety; there were plenty of virtuous men in Greece before he defined virtue. But among the men of his own time where did Jesus find that pure and lofty morality of which he is both the teacher and pattern? The voice of loftiest wisdom arose among the fiercest fanaticism, the simplicity of the most heroic virtues did honour to the most degraded of nations.
    • Book IV
Shall we say that the gospel story is the work of the imagination? My friend, such things are not imagined...
  • La mort de Socrate, philosophant tranquillement avec ses amis, est la plus douce qu’on puisse désirer; celle de Jésus expirant dans les tourments, injurié, raillé, maudit de tout un peuple, est la plus horrible qu’on puisse craindre. […] Jésus, au milieu d’un supplice affreux, prie pour ses bourreaux acharnés. Oui, si la vie et la mort de Socrate sont d’un sage, la vie et la mort de Jésus sont d’un Dieu.
    • One could wish no easier death than that of Socrates, calmly discussing philosophy with his friends; one could fear nothing worse than that of Jesus, dying in torment, among the insults, the mockery, the curses of the whole nation. In the midst of these terrible sufferings, Jesus prays for his cruel murderers. Yes, if the life and death of Socrates are those of a philosopher, the life and death of Christ are those of a God.
    • Variant translation: If Socrates lived and died like a philosopher, Jesus lived and died like a God.
  • Dirons-nous que l’histoire de l’Évangile est inventée à plaisir ? Mon ami, ce n’est pas ainsi qu’on invente; et les faits de Socrate, dont personne ne doute, sont moins attestés que ceux de Jésus-Christ. Au fond c’est reculer la difficulté sans la détruire; il serait plus inconcevable que plusieurs hommes d’accord eussent fabriqué ce livre, qu’il ne l’est qu’un seul en ait fourni le sujet. Jamais les auteurs juifs n’eussent trouvé ni ce ton ni cette morale; et l’Évangile a des caractères de vérité si grands, si frappants, si parfaitement inimitables, que l’inventeur en serait plus étonnant que le héros. Avec tout cela, ce même Évangile est plein de choses incroyables, de choses qui répugnent à la raison, et qu’il est impossible à tout homme sensé de concevoir ni d’admettre. Que faire au milieu de toutes ces contradictions ? Etre toujours modeste et circonspect, mon enfant; respecter en silence ce qu’on ne saurait ni rejeter, ni comprendre, et s’humilier devant le grand Etre qui seul sait la vérité.
    • Shall we say that the gospel story is the work of the imagination? My friend, such things are not imagined; and the doings of Socrates, which no one doubts, are less well attested than those of Jesus Christ. At best, you only put the difficulty from you; it would be still more incredible that several persons should have agreed together to invent such a book, than that there was one man who supplied its subject matter. The tone and morality of this story are not those of any Jewish authors, and the gospel indeed contains characters so great, so striking, so entirely inimitable, that their invention would be more astonishing than their hero. With all this the same gospel is full of incredible things, things repugnant to reason, things which no natural man can understand or accept. What can you do among so many contradictions? You can be modest and wary, my child; respect in silence what you can neither reject nor understand, and humble yourself in the sight of the Divine Being who alone knows the truth.
  • A young man when he enters society must be preserved from vanity rather than from sensibility; he succumbs rather to the tastes of others than to his own, and self-love is responsible for more libertines than love. Self-love makes more libertines than love.
    • Book IV, Original French of the last line: L’amour-propre fait plus de libertins que l’amour.
  • He who knows enough of things to value them at their true worth never says too much; for he can also judge of the attention bestowed on him and the interest aroused by what he says. People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little. It is plain that an ignorant person thinks everything he does know important, and he tells it to everybody. But a well-educated man is not so ready to display his learning; he would have too much to say, and he sees that there is much more to be said, so he holds his peace.
    • Book IV
  • Women have ready tongues; they talk earlier, more easily, and more pleasantly than men. They are also said to talk more; this may be true, but I am prepared to reckon it to their credit; eyes and mouth are equally busy and for the same cause. A man says what he knows, a woman says what will please; the one needs knowledge, the other taste; utility should be the man's object; the woman speaks to give pleasure. There should be nothing in common but truth.
    • Book V; Variant translation: A man speaks of what he knows, a woman of what pleases her: the one requires knowledge, the other taste.
  • Où est l’homme de bien qui ne doit rien à son pays ? Quel qu’il soit, il lui doit ce qu’il y a de plus précieux pour l’homme, la mortalité de ses actions et l’amour de la vertu.
    • Where is the man who owes nothing to the land in which he lives? Whatever that land may be, he owes to it the most precious thing possessed by man, the morality of his actions and the love of virtue.
    • Book V

A Lasting Peace Through the Federation of Europe (1756)

  • What good would it be to possess the whole universe if one were its only survivor?

Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1770, published 1782)

Les Confessions Full text online
I propose to show my fellows a man as nature made him, and this man shall be myself.
  • I have entered on an enterprise which is without precedent, and will have no imitator. I propose to show my fellows a man as nature made him, and this man shall be myself.
    • I
  • I know my heart, and have studied mankind; I am not made like any one I have been acquainted with, perhaps like no one in existence; if not better, I at least claim originality, and whether Nature did wisely in breaking the mould with which she formed me, can only be determined after having read this work.
    • Variant translations: I may not be better than other people, but at least I am different.
      If I am not better, at least I am different.
Whenever the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before the sovereign judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I.
  • Whenever the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before the sovereign judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I. With equal freedom and veracity have I related what was laudable or wicked, I have concealed no crimes, added no virtues; and if I have sometimes introduced superfluous ornament, it was merely to occupy a void occasioned by defect of memory: I may have supposed that certain, which I only knew to be probable, but have never asserted as truth, a conscious falsehood. Such as I was, I have declared myself; sometimes vile and despicable, at others, virtuous, generous and sublime; even as thou hast read my inmost soul: Power eternal! assemble round thy throne an innumerable throng of my fellow-mortals, let them listen to my confessions, let them blush at my depravity, let them tremble at my sufferings; let each in his turn expose with equal sincerity the failings, the wanderings of his heart, and, if he dare, aver, I was better than that man.
    • Variant translation: Let the trumpet of the day of judgment sound when it will, I shall appear with this book in my hand before the Sovereign Judge, and cry with a loud voice, This is my work, there were my thoughts, and thus was I. I have freely told both the good and the bad, have hid nothing wicked, added nothing good.
  • Remorse sleeps during a prosperous period but wakes up in adversity.
    • Variant translations: Remorse sleeps during prosperity but awakes bitter consciousness during adversity.
      Remorse goes to sleep during a prosperous period and wakes up in adversity.
    • II
  • It is too difficult to think nobly when one thinks only of earning a living.
    • Variant translation: It is too difficult to think nobly when one only thinks to get a living.
    • II
  • Hatred, as well as love, renders its votaries credulous.
    • V
  • I remembered the way out suggested by a great princess when told that the peasants had no bread: "Well, let them eat cake".
    • Variant: At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, "Then let them eat cake!"
    • This passage contains a statement Qu'ils mangent de la brioche that has usually come to be attributed to Marie Antoinette; this was written in 1766, when Marie Antoinette was 10 and still 4 years away from her marriage to Louis XVI of France, and is an account of events of 1740, before she was born. It also implies the phrase had been long known before that time.
    • VI
  • The thirst after happiness is never extinguished in the heart of man.
    • IX

On the musicians of the Ospedale della Pieta (book VII)

An account of a visit to the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice.
  • A kind of music far superior, in my opinion, to that of operas, and which in all Italy has not its equal, nor perhaps in the whole world, is that of the 'scuole'. The 'scuole' are houses of charity, established for the education of young girls without fortune, to whom the republic afterwards gives a portion either in marriage or for the cloister. Amongst talents cultivated in these young girls, music is in the first rank. Every Sunday at the church of each of the four 'scuole', during vespers, motettos or anthems with full choruses, accompanied by a great orchestra, and composed and directed by the best masters in Italy, are sung in the galleries by girls only; not one of whom is more than twenty years of age. I have not an idea of anything so voluptuous and affecting as this music; the richness of the art, the exquisite taste of the vocal part, the excellence of the voices, the justness of the execution, everything in these delightful concerts concurs to produce an impression which certainly is not the mode, but from which I am of opinion no heart is secure. Carrio and I never failed being present at these vespers of the 'Mendicanti', and we were not alone. The church was always full of the lovers of the art, and even the actors of the opera came there to form their tastes after these excellent models. What vexed me was the iron grate, which suffered nothing to escape but sounds, and concealed from me the angels of which they were worthy. I talked of nothing else. One day I spoke of it at Le Blond's; "If you are so desirous," said he, "to see those little girls, it will be an easy matter to satisfy your wishes. I am one of the administrators of the house, I will give you a collation [light meal] with them." I did not let him rest until he had fulfilled his promise. In entering the saloon, which contained these beauties I so much sighed to see, I felt a trembling of love which I had never before experienced. M. le Blond presented to me one after the other, these celebrated female singers, of whom the names and voices were all with which I was acquainted. Come, Sophia, — she was horrid. Come, Cattina, — she had but one eye. Come, Bettina, — the small-pox had entirely disfigured her. Scarcely one of them was without some striking defect.
    Le Blond laughed at my surprise; however, two or three of them appeared tolerable; these never sung but in the choruses; I was almost in despair. During the collation we endeavored to excite them, and they soon became enlivened; ugliness does not exclude the graces, and I found they possessed them. I said to myself, they cannot sing in this manner without intelligence and sensibility, they must have both; in fine, my manner of seeing them changed to such a degree that I left the house almost in love with each of these ugly faces. I had scarcely courage enough to return to vespers. But after having seen the girls, the danger was lessened. I still found their singing delightful; and their voices so much embellished their persons that, in spite of my eyes, I obstinately continued to think them beautiful.


  • A feeble body weakens the mind.
  • Absolute silence leads to sadness. It is the image of death.
  • All of my misfortunes come from having thought too well of my fellows.
  • As long as there are rich people in the world, they will be desirous of distinguishing themselves from the poor.
  • As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall.
  • At sixteen, the adolescent knows about suffering because he himself has suffered, but he barely know that other being also suffer; seeing without feeling is not knowledge.
  • Base souls have no faith in great individuals.
  • Childhood is the sleep of reason.
  • Cities are the abyss of the human species.
  • Conscience is the voice of the soul; the passions of the body.
    • Variant: Conscience is the voice of the soul; the passions are the voice of the body.
  • Do not judge, and you will never be mistaken.
  • Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?.
    • Variant: Every man has a right to risk his own life for the preservation of it.
  • Every state funeral that shines is on its decline.
  • Falsehood has an infinity of combinations, but truth has only one mode of being.
  • Fame is but the breath of people, and that often unwholesome.
  • Finance is a slave's word.
  • Force does not constitute right... obedience is due only to legitimate powers.
  • Free people, remember this maxim: We may acquire liberty, but it is never recovered if it is once lost.
  • General and abstract ideas are the source of the greatest errors of mankind.
  • Government originated in the attempt to find a form of association that defends and protects the person and property of each with the common force of all.
  • Gratitude is a duty which ought to be paid, but which none have a right to expect.
  • Great men never make bad use of their superiority. They see it and feel it and are not less modest. The more they have, the more they know their own deficiencies.
  • Happiness: a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion.
  • He who is most slow in making a promise is the most faithful in performance of it. ** Variants: He who is slowest in making a promise is most faithful in its performance.
    He who is the most slow in making a promise is the most faithful in the performance of it.
  • He who pretends to look upon death without fear, lies.
  • Heroes are not known by the loftiness of their carriage; the greatest braggarts are generally the merest cowards.
    • Variant: The greatest braggarts are usually the biggest cowards.
  • How many famous and high-spirited heroes have lived a day too long?
  • However great a man's natural talent may be, the act of writing cannot be learned all at once.
  • I feel an indescribable ecstasy and delirium in melting, as it were, into the system of beings, in identifying myself with the whole of nature.
  • I have always believed that good is only beauty put into practice.
  • I have always said and felt that true enjoyment can not be described.
  • I have suffered too much in this world not to hope for another.
  • I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery.
  • Insults are the arguments employed by those who are in the wrong.
  • It is not the criminal things which are hardest to confess, but the ridiculous and shameful.
  • It is to law alone that men owe justice and liberty. It is this salutary organ, of the will of all which establishes in civil rights the natural equality between men. It is this celestial voice which dictates to each citizen the precepts of public reason, and teaches him to act according to the rules of his own judgment and not to behave inconsistently with himself. It is with this voice alone that political leaders should speak when they command.
  • It is unnatural for a majority to rule, for a majority can seldom be organized and united for specific action, and a minority can.
  • Liberty is obedience to the law which one has laid down for oneself.
  • Little privations are easily endured when the heart is better treated than the body.
  • Living is not breathing but doing.
  • Men and nations can only be reformed in their youth; they become incorrigible as they grow old.
  • Men will argue more philosophically about the human heart; but women will read the heart of man better than they.
  • Most nations, as well as people are impossible only in their youth; they become incorrigible as they grow older.
  • My liveliest delight is in having conquered myself.
  • Nothing is less in our power than the heart, and far from commanding we are forced to obey it.
  • One is only happy before he is happy.
  • One loses all the time which he might employ to better purpose.
  • Our affections as well as our bodies are in perpetual flux.
  • Our greatest evils flow from ourselves.
  • Our will is always for our own good, but we do not always see what that is.
  • Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.
  • Reading, solitude, idleness, a soft and sedentary life, intercourse with women and young people, these are perilous paths for a young man, and these lead him constantly into danger.
  • Slaves lose everything in their chains, even the desire of escaping from them.
  • Supreme happiness consists in self-content.
  • Take from the philosopher the pleasure of being heard and his desire for knowledge ceases.
  • Take the course opposite to custom and you will almost always do well.
  • Taste is, so to speak, the microscope of the judgment.
  • Taxes are more injurious to liberty than manual labor.
  • Temperance and labor are the two best physicians of man; labor sharpens the appetite and temperance prevents from indulging to excess.
  • The English are predisposed to pride, the French to vanity.
  • The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during election of members of parliament; as soon as the members are elected, the people is enslaved; it is nothing. In the brief moment of its freedom, the English people makes such a use of that freedom that it deserves to lose it.
    • Variant: The English think they are free. They are free only during the election of members of parliament.
  • The first step towards vice is to shroud innocent actions in mystery, and whoever likes to conceal something sooner or later has reason to conceal it.
  • The less reasonable a cult is, the more men seek to establish it by force.
  • The man who has lived the longest is not he who has spent the greatest number of years, but he who has had the greatest sensibility of life.
  • The mechanism she employs is much more powerful than ours, for all her levers move the human heart.
  • The person who has lived the most is not the one who has lived the longest, but the one with the richest experiences.
    • The person who has lived the most is not the one with the most years but the one with the richest experiences.
  • The person who is slowest in making a promise is most faithful in its performance.
  • Those that are most slow in making a promise are the most faithful in the performance of it.
  • The right of conquest has no foundation other than the right of the strongest.
  • The training of children is a profession, where we must know how to waste time in order to save it.
  • The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.
  • There are two things to be considered with regard to any scheme. In the first place, Is it good in itself? In the second, Can it be easily put into practice?.
  • There is a deportment, which suits the figure and talents of each person; it is always lost when we quit to assume that of another.
  • This novel is not to be tossed lightly aside, but hurled with great force.
  • To endure is the first thing that a child ought to learn, and that which he will have the most need to know.
  • To live is not merely to breathe: it is to act; it is to make use of our organs, senses, faculties — of all those parts of ourselves which give us the feeling of existence.
    • * To live is not breathing; it is action.
  • To write a good love letter, you ought to begin without knowing what you mean to say, and to finish without knowing what you have written.
  • True Christians are made to be slaves, and they know it and do not mind; this short life counts for too little in their eyes.
  • Truth is no road to fortune.
  • Universal silence must be taken to imply the consent of the people.
  • Virtue is a state of war, and to live in it we have always to combat with ourselves.
  • War then, is a relation — not between man and man: but between state and state; and individuals are enemies only accidentally: not as men, nor even as citizens: but as soldiers; not as members of their country, but as its defenders.
  • Watch a cat when it enters a room for the first time. It searches and smells about, it is not quiet for a moment, it trusts nothing until it has examined and made acquaintance with everything.
  • We are born weak, we need strength; helpless, we need aid; foolish, we need reason. All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man's estate, is the gift of education.
  • We are born, so to speak, twice over; born into existence, and born into life; born a human being, and born a man.
  • We do not know what is really good or bad fortune.
  • We pity in others only the those evils which we ourselves have experienced.
    • We pity in others only those evils which we have ourselves experienced.
  • We should not teach children the sciences; but give them a taste for them.
  • When a man dies he clutches in his hands only that which he has given away during his lifetime.
  • When something an affliction happens to you, you either let it defeat you, or you defeat it.
  • When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.
    • Attributed to Rousseau as being from a "Speech at the commune on the 14th of October" in The history of the French revolution. By M. A. Thiers. Translated, with notes and illustrations from the most authentic sources, by Frederick Shoberl., Thiers, Adolphe, 1797-1877., page 359 [1]
  • Whoever blushes is already guilty; true innocence is ashamed of nothing.
    • Variant: Whoever blushes confesses guilt, true innocence never feels shame.
  • With children use force with men reason; such is the natural order of things. The wise man requires no law.
  • Women, in general, are not attracted to art at all, nor knowledge, and not at all to genius.
  • You are worried about seeing him spend his early years in doing nothing. What! Is it nothing to be happy? Nothing to skip, play, and run around all day long? Never in his life will he be so busy again.
  • You forget that the fruits belong to all and that the land belongs to no one.
  • Your first appearance, he said to me, is the gauge by which you will be measured; try to manage that you may go beyond yourself in after times, but beware of ever doing less.
  • There is no subjugation so perfect as that which keeps the appearance of freedom, for in that way, one captures volition itself.

External links

Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Wikipedia has an article about:

Online texts

Project Gutenberg texts:


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Originally a French nickname for someone with red hair. Cognate to English Russell.

Proper noun




  1. A surname.
  2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau Swiss philosopher


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address