Philosophy and Critical Theory

Rousseau’s and nationalism

Previously unrecognised by scholars of nationalism, Rousseau was, in fact, the founder of the modern doctrine of nationalism. This chapter shows how Rousseau succeeded in developing a case for social cohesion and the necessity of having a common culture in a society. In developing a case for nationalism as a ‘civic profession of faith’ he continued—and redeveloped—a doctrine begun by Machiavelli, which was later to be further elaborated by Alexis de Tocqueville and present-day theorists and practitioners of social capital, like the political scientist Robert Putnam and the English politician David Blunkett. It is argued that Rousseau accomplished the feat of developing a new doctrine of civic religion (i.e., nationalism) and that he succeeded in combining a defence for this doctrine with a new place for Christianity (which was consistent with the original apolitical teachings of Christ). The chapter also presents an account of Rousseau's thinking on international politics, including something as timely as an account of his opposition against the establishment of a European superstate.

in The political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

This chapter outlines the major philosophical problem for Rousseau: the burden of modernity. It gives an account of Rousseau's place in the emerging world of modernity, and his opposition to secularism and scientism. It shows how his general philosophical—and theological—opposition to modernity underpinned his moral philosophy. Unlike liberal or utilitarian thinkers, Rousseau sought to base his moral judgements on emotions and sensibility, not on rational calculations. It is shown how this made him overcome the poverty of ethical theory that has characterised modernity—and how Rousseau invented post-modernism (with a pre-modern face). The chapter also contains a section on Rousseau's economic philosophy, in which it is shown that he—like Adam Smith—succeeded in transcending the economic theories of mercantilists and physiocrats. An analysis of the relationship between Rousseau and Burke is also presented. Often seen as adversaries, the chapter shows that Rousseau and Burke, in fact, were in agreement on the majority of issues, including opposition to revolutionary change, reverence for religion, and a preference for gradual reform.

in The political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
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In the beginning was song

This chapter presents an account of Rousseau's philosophy of music. Music was Rousseau's main passion, and this passion spilled over into his political writings in more ways than one. The whole tenor of his prose had a musical aura about it. His works were composed rather than written—which, perhaps, explains his eloquence. Readers of Rousseau's work in the original French have been struck by the rhythmical patterns. This musical quality was not unintended. Through the melodious tone he wanted to prove a philosophical point. Musicheld the key to restoring our original emotions, that natural ‘goodness of man’, which manifested itself in the natural compassion with suffering, weak, and unfortunate individuals. It is, perhaps, indicative that Rousseau—the thinker of natural goodness of man and a composer—never tired of stressing that music and song was man's first impulse.

in The political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
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This introductory chapter sets out the purpose of the book, which is to re-open a dialogue with the classics. It attempts not only to see the masters in context—as has become popular among modern thinkers—but rather to seek inspiration from the great minds to deal with contemporary political problems. Rousseau—and indeed any other classic—is politically relevant only if he reveals timeless insights. If a classic cannot inspire he is nothing, and is better confined to the dustbin of failed political doctrines. This book is based on the premise that Rousseau speaks through the ages. It seeks to show that Rousseau, while he may not have the answers to contemporary problems, at the very least provides new angles and perspectives on the debate.

in The political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

This chapter presents some conclusions and shows that there was an internal coherence in Rousseau's thought. As befits a classical thinker, Rousseau's contribution to Western philosophy was rich in detail and even broader in scope. Like other critics of modernity, his philosophy was a showdown with a society marred by Godless materialism, absurd social inequalities, and unnatural inter-human relations. Men, argued Rousseau, would not be set free if left to himself. Liberty, as understood by Rousseau, could only be acquired once man had reconciled his natural, spiritual, and social sides of himself with the requirements of living in an advanced civilisation. He further argued that men could only be free when—or if—they recognised the imperatives of living in a family, in a republic and in harmony with a universe created by God.

in The political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The impossibility of reason

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.

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The life and times of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

This chapter presents an overview of Rousseau's life and times. More than any other writer Rousseau's philosophy has been associated with his life. There is something to be said for this interpretation. Without an understanding of his life it is difficult to appreciate why he wrote the works he wrote, and what he sought to accomplish. Yet his biographers have often presented an incomplete account of his life, one based only on his own autobiographical writings. The chapter challenges this tendency by using Rousseau's letters and eyewitness accounts by comtempories as well as his autobiographical writings to paint a more nuanced picture of the Swiss philosopher. It also presents the range of Rousseau's genius, which included operas, plays, novels, as well as political, economic, botanical, and theological writings. Rousseau's work is related to the geniuses who were inspired by his writings, such as Goethe, Kant, and John F. Kennedy.

in The political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Abstract only

Economically, the liberalism follows classical accounts of human nature undergirded by notions of utility-maximization, rational choice theory, and methodological individualism. In the electoral realm, the managerial liberalism culminated in the phenomenon of 'triangulation', a strategy of appearing bi-partisan in the hope of appealing to a broader range of the electorate. The seismic political events betoken the dominant form of centrist liberalism that has accompanied most post-war capitalist economies. The intrusion of the 'post-truth' storm into the liberal idyll is really just the return of the repressed. The affective underpinning to political theory and praxis has always been there; it has just been overlooked or suppressed for the sake of securing certain ends. Political economy too has always been augmented by affect: hope and fear, pleasure and pain, love and hatred, happiness and discontent.

in Critical theory and feeling
The affective politics of the early Frankfurt School

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.

This chapter aims to chart the dominant narrative of decline within leftist. Writing an intellectual history of the left inevitably involves the construction of narratives. The chapter also aims to excavate the utopian desires of critical theory with a view to reigniting an affective politics centred on hope. The utopian images and productivist dreams of building a better future are supplanted by consumerist nightmares of coercion, conformity, indifference, and subjective deformation. The chapter provides an engagement with the work of Ernst Bloch, since no discussion of the politics of hope can afford to ignore Bloch's major contributions to the topic. Bloch characterizes hope as an expectant emotion. His three-volume opus The Principle of Hope is an imposing, esoteric, unpredictable, often rambling and repetitive text, which spans the fields of anthropology, social and cultural history, philosophy, and theology.

in Critical theory and feeling