The politics of the soul:
the life and times of Jean-Jacques Rousseau1
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his
own soul? (St Matthew, 16.26)
Did Ludwig Wittgenstein write the most successful love story of his century? Did Thomas Hobbes compose an opera – and did it inspire the
work of Mozart? Did Byron write poems about Hume or Leibniz? Did
Schiller compose sonnets about Descartes and Locke? These questions
seem too ridiculous to warrant an answer. Ask the same questions about
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) and the opposite
This book presents an overview of Jean–Jacques Rousseau's work from a political science perspective. Was Rousseau — the great theorist of the French Revolution—really a conservative? The text argues that the author of ‘The Social Contract’ was a constitutionalist much closer to Madison, Montesquieu, and Locke than to revolutionaries. Outlining his profound opposition to Godless materialism and revolutionary change, this book finds parallels between Rousseau and Burke, as well as showing that Rousseau developed the first modern theory of nationalism. It presents an integrated political analysis of Rousseau's educational, ethical, religious and political writings.
Expectant emotion and
the politics of hope
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.
– Woody Allen
On 13 March 1956, Max Horkheimer, in conversation with his friend and
collaborator Theodor Adorno, made the following remark: ‘I do not believe that
things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.’ This double movement of thought, an open dialectic that abjures the
false choice between optimism and pessimism, registers one of the core
motivating affects of critical theory: hope. Indeed, there are
philosopher colleague, the Swiss thinker also believed that political
philosophy should be a continuing dialogue with the classics. In the
introduction to the Discourse sur l’inégalité (The Origin of Inequality),
Rousseau, almost echoing Machiavelli, set out to transcend history and
speak directly to all of mankind.
As my subject of interest is mankind in general, I shall endeavour to make use
of a style adapted to all nations, or rather forgetting time and place, to attend
only to men to whom I am speaking. I shall suppose myself in the Lyceum of
Athens, repeating the
article of faith.
It is debatable if this charge of totalitarianism is justified, and, indeed,
plausible. Totalitarianism is characterised by a deliberate attempt to change
people to fit a political system or a historical development (Barber 1987:
525).1 Proponents of the thesis that Rousseau was a totalitarian seem to
have overlooked that he explicitly set out to inquire ‘whether in civil order
there can be some legitimate and sure rule of administration, taking men
as they are’ (‘tels qu’ils sont’) (III: 351).
Some writers have sought to rescue Rousseau from the
which had been unknown a couple of centuries before. Elie Kedouri
observed – perhaps not entirely accurately – that ‘Nationalism is a political
doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century’
(Kedouri 1960: 1). This might have been an exaggeration but Kedouri
had a point. Nationalism is not only regarded as a relatively recently
established ideology, it is also regarded as a fatherless doctrine, without
the illustrious intellectual ancestry which characterises socialism,
liberalism, and even conservatism. Nationalism, it is asserted, lacks a
Epilogue: in the beginning was song
And the light shineth in the darkness;
and the darkness comprehended it not.
We have (rather deliberately) said very little about the subject of music, as
this is not obviously a part of Rousseau’s social philosophy. Yet music was
– though scholars have often forgotten this1 – Rousseau’s main passion,
and this passion spilled over into his political writings in more ways than
one. Rousseau, the musician and note-copier, was an accidental
philosopher. Had he not seen the prize question from the Academy in
arts he predicted that his essay ‘would live beyond its century’ (III:
3). And so it did. Approaching the tercentenary of his birth, the Swiss
note-copier’s works are on the reading lists in sundry faculties all across
the academic horizon – from anthropology through music and philosophy
to political science and even botany.
Why this continued interest in a man who was ‘from childhood to his
death but an artisan, a bureaucrat or minor employee just as much as a
writer’ (Launay 1963: 22)? This question is as easy to ask as it is difficult to
answer. A short, adequate
The political philosophy of Rousseau
state? Where would we be without the progress of medical technologies
and the tremendous advances in the sciences, which have led to electricity,
the lap-top computer, MTV, the electric guitar, Viagra, Boeing 747s, the
hedonistic pleasures of the welfare state and cellular phones? Have we
ever had it so good? Brave new world! What more could we possibly want?
The history of progress
Certainly the sciences have made life easier in many respects. Yet it is as if
there is a flaw in the heaven of
This book offers a unique and timely reading of the early Frankfurt School in response to the recent 'affective turn' within the arts and humanities. It revisits some of the founding tenets of critical theory in the context of the establishment of the Institute for Social Research in the early twentieth century. The book focuses on the work of Walter Benjamin, whose varied engagements with the subject of melancholia prove to be far more mobile and complex than traditional accounts. It also looks at how an affective politics underpins critical theory's engagement with the world of objects, exploring the affective politics of hope. Situating the affective turn and the new materialisms within a wider context of the 'post-critical', it explains how critical theory, in its originary form, is primarily associated with the work of the Frankfurt School. The book presents an analysis of Theodor Adorno's form of social critique and 'conscious unhappiness', that is, a wilful rejection of any privatized or individualized notion of happiness in favour of a militant and political discontent. A note on the timely reconstruction of early critical theory's own engagements with the object world via aesthetics and mimesis follows. The post-Cold War triumphalism of many on the right, accompanied by claims of the 'end of history', created a sense of fearlessness, righteousness, and unfettered optimism. The book notes how political realism has become the dominant paradigm, banishing utopian impulses and diminishing political hopes to the most myopic of visions.