Jean Jacques Rousseau

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Jean Jacques Rousseau

Swiss-born political philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was an influential French essayist, prominent liberal and socialist social theorist, leading Enlightenment thinker, and primary philosopher of the French Revolution.[1] As such, he was also considered to be the father of the modern left-wing. He argued that politics and morality could not be separated, and that the will of the majority was not always correct.

However, Rousseau also attacked private property, and laid the groundwork for the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, and by extension, laid the groundwork for future communist writers such as Karl Marx. Rousseau declared that government's goal should be to provide freedom, equality and justice, in contrast with the Founding Fathers who recognized that freedom was already pre-existing and could not be provided by any government.

Background

Rousseau's most famous work was The Social Contract (1762), which supported a direct democracy based on a "general will" rather than republicanism such as that adopted 25 years later by the U.S. Constitution. In it, he further develops the concept of the "social contract" established by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Rousseau disapproved of titles like nobility, and demanded complete equality between all people. He also was a naturalist, believing that people did not need God or the Church for morality, and just needed to look into nature for it.

Rousseau vehemently detested Catholicism along with other institutionalized as well as private forms of Christianity, believing that mankind would be better off with his idea of a civil religion wedded to the state.[2] As such, Rousseau was known for making the claim that followers of Jesus would not be good citizens.[3][4][5]

The Sovereign State, Rousseau argues, can rely on its best citizens in time of war. He wrote: "If war breaks out with another State, the citizens march readily out to battle; not one of them thinks of flight; they do their duty, but they have no passion for victory; they know better how to die than how to conquer." He continued: "imagine your Christian republic face to face with Sparta or Rome: the pious Christians will be beaten, crushed and destroyed, before they know where they are, or will owe their safety only to the contempt their enemy will conceive for them." He concluded: "I shall be told that Christian troops are excellent. I deny it."[6]

Rousseau put government, or "The Sovereign" above all else, and he had that expectation for others. This was the hallmark of good citizenship: willing subjugation. Christians, on the other hand, place God above government. This is why, in his eyes, Christians make for very poor citizens and are ultimately a problem for the state.[7]

He also believed that the society had a duty toward the poor, to care for them, and to look after them, but interestingly he dumped all 19 of his own illegitimate children in charitable institutions, some of them Roman Catholic and expected them to take care of them.

Rousseau is believed to be the first to use the phrase Let them eat cake, in book IV of his Confessions, which would be falsely attributed to French queen Marie Antoinette. It is unclear, however, whether Rousseau actually made up the claim that a French queen said this phrase at all, or whether he was in fact referring to Marie Antoinette's predecessor.[8]

Influence

His most important work, The Social Contract, supplied a blueprint for the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.[9] In addition, the Declaration of the Rights of Man had been made in large part in respect to his philosophical views on governance. Social Contract was translated into English in 1913 by G. D. H. Cole.[10] He was also responsible for several of the aspects of modern education, including especially early childhood education, via his work Emile: or On Education.

Although Rousseau is taught in various educational circles and was valued as an Enlightenment sage, Paul Johnson in his book Intellectuals demonstrated that Rousseau was a veritable psychopath and a liar, also citing other people from that time who expressed similar views.[11]

His anti-Christian rhetoric, as well as that of his various contemporaries within the French enlightenment such as Voltaire, Diderot, D'Alembert, and to a certain extent the Marquis de Sade, ultimately resulted in the attempted persecution and extermination of Christians during the French Revolution by the atheistic government, and is also tied with Sade as being the one most responsible for the horrors that occurred during that time overall.[12]

Quotes

  • "Christianity as a religion is entirely spiritual, occupied solely with heavenly things; the country of the Christian is not of this world." - The Social Contract: Book IV

See also

Bibliography

  • McNeil, Gordon H. The Cult of Rousseau and the French Revolution

References

External links