Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Importance of Rousseau

I am currently working my way through Helena Rosenblatt's study of Rousseau.  I have previously read her essay on the Christian Enlightenment in my studies of the Religious Enlightenment of the eighteenth century.  Here is what I am learning from the book:

1.  Rousseau's social-cultural context of growing up in eighteenth century Geneva is an understudied aspect of his life.  Rosenblatt is following in the footsteps of Skinner and Pocock in emphasizing this context to understand Rousseau better.

2.  The Geneva of Rousseau was one of economic and political turmoil.  There were great changes since the time of Calvin's Geneva.  Even the Reformed theologians preached a more pragmatic message to fit with the changing world.  Moreover, a separation among an oligarchy and the bourgeois was developing, which directly impacted Rousseau's family.  His upbringing brought him to admire the republican virtues of the Western classics over against the cultural admiration of everything French in Geneva.

3.  Things changed for Rousseau when he became a man of letters in France.  This middle period of his life before he wrote his greatest works was the time period when he hung out with the other French philisophes.  He abandons his love of republicanism and Geneva.

4.  Upon writing the First Discourse, Rousseau begins his turn back to being a "citizen of Geneva."  This is also his turn toward sociological interpretation of humanity and his anti-philisophes writings.  Many commentators like Jonathan Israel see a betrayal of Radical Enlightenment principles, yet perhaps it is better stated that Rousseau is trying to attempt a republican renaissance through classic virtues...

More to come...