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 and a leading Enlightenment thinker. 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. But note that freedom often results in inequality.


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.[1] 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.


Aside from his work of The Social Contract as well as his role in supplying a blueprint for the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, 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 veritiable psychopath and a liar, also citing other people from that time who expressed similar views.[2]

Notes and references

  1. Religion as a Public Good, Alan Mittleman, Rowman & Littlefield, 2003 ISBN 0742531252, 9780742531253, 336 pages, pp. 16-17
  2. Excerpt from Paul Johnson's Intellectuals on

See also