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. His ideas were rejected by them, but served as a foundation for the totalitarian governments that were communist, fascist, and national socialist.[2]


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.[3] As such, Rousseau was known for making the claim that followers of Jesus would not be good citizens.[4][5][6]

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."[7]

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.[8]

He taught that society had a duty toward the poor, to care for them, and to look after them, though he personally took no hand in doing so.

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.[9]

Personal Life and Morals

In his private life Rousseau followed the principles of "nature" by being selfish, irresponsible and a callous exploiter of women. He never married, but had many mistresses and affairs throughout his life. As a young man, he had a liaison with an older woman named Mme de Warens. At the age of 32, he took up with an illiterate laundress, Therese Levasseur, who bore him eight children. Rousseau sent all of them to be brought up in an orphanage because, as he explained in the second volume of his own Confessions, he was far too busy writing and being famous to rear or support children. As a modern critic comments "the famed theoretician of enlightened child rearing and family values recounted his decision to place in an orphanage the eight children he had sired by his common-law wife, Therese Levasseur." [10] Rousseau knew that the infant mortality in these institutions was high, more than half, and as it turned out most of the children he sent there died. [11] Rousseau moreover treated his common-law wife like a servant and in later life tried to blame her for his decision to abandon the children, calling her "ignorant, stupid, and a detestable mother". [12] [13] [14] Although Rousseau lived with Thérese for twenty-five years, he had many other mistresses, and in 1769 he told her to leave him and go to live in a convent. She remained as his unpaid housemaid. At his death he made no provision for her. It was only the generosity of the English King George III, who continued to pay Thérese until her death the pension he had granted Rousseau, that saved her from starvation in her old age. [15]

In 1745, Rousseau and Voltaire exchanged letter correspondence. While their discussions were cordial, Voltaire did not hold Rousseau's writing in high regard.


Rousseau's most important work, The Social Contract, supplied a blueprint for the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.[16] 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.[17] 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 revered as a philosopher by the left-wing, Paul Johnson's book Intellectuals demonstrated that the Enlightenment sage was a veritable psychopath and a liar, also citing other people from that time who expressed similar views.[18]

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 persecution and extermination of Christians and many quite innocent people during the French Revolution by the atheistic government.[19]


  • "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


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


  1. Philosophy of Education: An Encyclopedia
  3. Religion as a Public Good, Alan Mittleman, Rowman & Littlefield, 2003 ISBN 0742531252, 9780742531253, 336 pages, pp. 16-17
  4. The History of Political Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard
  5. Jesus and Mary
  6. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  7. The Social Contract: BOOK IV
  8. Religion and the Workplace: Pluralism, Spirituality, Leadership
  9. Did Marie-Antoinette Really Say “Let Them Eat Cake”?
  10. Gender and Utopia in the Eighteenth Century: Essays in English and French Utopian Writing, ed. Brenda Tooley, Routledge, 2016.
  11. World History, Volume I, by William J. Duiker, ‎Jackson J. Spielvogel, 2008
  12. Reason and Revelation: From Paul to Pascal, by Richard H. Akeroyd - 1991.
  13. Defense and Complaint of Therese Levasseur [Defense et Plainte de Therese Levasseur] by Isabelle de Charriere, Paris, 1790.
  14. Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1754, by Maurice Cranston, University of Chicago Press, 1991.
  15. The Architect King: George III and the Culture of the Enlightenment, by David Watkin, Royal Collection, 2004.
  16. Melancholy Duty: The Hume-Gibbon Attack on Christianity, "Rousseau's Contrat Social provided the philosophical and ideological ammunition for the conduct of the Revolution."
  17. On the Social Contract
  18. Excerpt from Paul Johnson's Intellectuals on

External links