The Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses

The Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses

Edited and with an Introduction by Susan Dunn
Gita May
Robert N. Bellah
David Bromwich
Conor Cruise O’Brien
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 328
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses
    Book Description:

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau's ideas about society, culture, and government are pivotal in the history of political thought. His works are as controversial as they are relevant today. This volume brings together three of Rousseau's most important political writings-The Social Contract and The First Discourse (Discourse on the Sciences and Arts)andThe Second Discourse (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality)-and presents essays by major scholars that shed light on the dimensions and implications of these texts.Susan Dunn's introductory essay underlines the unity of Rousseau's political thought and explains why his ideas influenced Jacobin revolutionaries in France but repelled American revolutionaries across the ocean. Gita May's essay discusses Rousseau as cultural critic. Robert N. Bellah explores Rousseau's attempt to resolve the tension between the individual's desire for freedom and the obligations that society imposes. David Bromwich analyzes Rousseau as a psychologist of the human self. And Conor Cruise O'Brien takes on the "noxious," "deranged" Rousseau, excoriated by Edmund Burke but admired by Robespierre and Thomas Jefferson. Written from different, even opposing perspectives, these lucid essays convey a sense of the vital and contentious debate surrounding Rousseau and his legacy.For this edition Susan Dunn has provided a new translation of theDiscourse on the Sciences and Artsand has revised a previously published translation ofThe Social Contract.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12943-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction: Rousseau’s Political Triptych
    (pp. 1-35)

    Is there any deed more shocking, more hateful, more infamous than the willful burning of a library? Is there any blow more devastating to the core of human civilization? In the mid-eighteenth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau startled—and excited—his readers by praising Caliph Omar, who in the year 650 ordered the incineration of the glorious library in Alexandria.¹

    In his first important work,The Discourse on the Sciences and Arts(1750), also known as the FirstDiscourse, Rousseau held that the search for knowledge was so socially and morally destructive that book burning and the subsequent return to ignorance, innocence,...

  4. Chronology of Rousseau’s Life
    (pp. 36-42)

    Rousseau is born in Geneva in a Protestant family of French origin. His mother dies in childbirth. As a child, Rousseau loves to read serious books.

    Rousseau’s father is forced to leave Geneva, and the young Jean-Jacques is raised by a Protestant minister, Lambercier.

    He spends two happy years with Lambercier.

    Rousseau begins work as an apprentice to an engraver.

    Rousseau flees Geneva. In Annecy, France, he meets twenty-nine-year old Madame de Warens, a new convert to Catholicism. She takes in the sixteen-year old young man.

    Years later he credits her with changing his life. With her encouragement, he converts...

  5. The First Discourse: Discourse on the Sciences and Arts
    (pp. 43-68)

    “Has the revival of the sciences and the arts contributed to improving or corrupting morality?” This is the issue to be examined. Which side should I take in this question? The one, Gentlemen, that becomes a respectable man, who knows nothing and thinks himself none the worse for it.

    I sense that it will be difficult to adapt what I have to say for this Tribunal. How can I presume to criticize the sciences before one of the most learned assemblies in Europe, to praise ignorance before a famous Academy and reconcile my contempt for study with the respect due...

  6. The Second Discourse: Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Mankind
    (pp. 69-148)

    Convinced that it belongs only to a virtuous citizen to present his country those acknowledgments it may become her to receive, I have been for thirty years past, endeavoring to render myself worthy to offer you some public homage. In the meantime, this fortunate occasion replacing in some degree the insufficiency of my efforts, I have presumed rather to follow the dictates of zeal, than to wait till I should be authorized by merit. Having had the good fortune to be born a subject of Geneva, how could I reflect on the natural equality of mankind, and that inequality which...

  7. The Social Contract
    (pp. 149-254)

    I want to inquire whether, taking men as they are and laws as they can be made to be, it is possible to establish some just and reliable rule of administration in civil affairs. In this investigation I shall always strive to reconcile what right permits with what interest prescribes, so that justice and utility may not be at variance.

    I enter this inquiry without demonstrating the importance of my subject. I shall be asked whether I am a prince or a legislator that I write on politics. I reply that I am neither; and that it is for this...

  8. Rethinking The First and Second Discourses and The Social Contract
    • Rousseau, Cultural Critic
      (pp. 257-265)
      GITA MAY

      Enlightenment aesthetics generally stressed the social usefulness of the arts. Thephilosophes,unlike the seventeenth-centurymoralistes,were not disabused, world-weary observers of human foibles with no hope for the future betterment of society. They were passionately dedicated to improving social and political conditions, and even though their program was far from monolithic, it rested on a shared belief that the writer and artist should not be content merely to create entertaining, decorative works aimed at pleasing the rich and powerful.

      Such seventeenth-centurymoralistesas La Rochefoucauld and La Bruyère had been conservative misanthropes who harbored a rather dim and pessimistic...

    • Rousseau on Society and the Individual
      (pp. 266-287)

      Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the strangest, and one of the most intelligent, men of the eighteenth century—of any century. He said himself that he was a man of paradoxes, and several of his most important works begin, famously, with paradoxes.The Social Contract:“Man was born free and everywhere he is in chains.”Emile:“Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man.” AndThe Reveries of a Solitary Walker:“So now I am alone in the world, with no brother, neighbor or friend, nor any company...

    • Rousseau and the Self without Property
      (pp. 288-300)

      “The first man,” writes Rousseau in a phrase like a thunderclap, “who after enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say,This is mine,and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.” Rousseau does not much care for this man. Still, the claim to personal property was original, if only in the sense in which the Fall was original. It earns its place therefore at the start of the “conjectural history” of human nature that occupies much of theDiscourse on Inequality. The history takes us broadly speaking from...

    • Rousseau, Robespierre, Burke, Jefferson, and the French Revolution
      (pp. 301-316)

      From the beginning of the second phase of the French Revolution—the manic phase beginning with the deposition of the King by the Paris mob on the 10th August 1792—Revolutionary France saw Rousseau and Burke as polar opposites representing good and evil, respectively.

      For the French Revolutionaries, Rousseau was the great mentor and exemplar. HisSocial Contractwas ‘‘the beacon of legislators.’’ Rousseau had of course been loved and admired by all sorts of French people—including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette—in pre-revolutionary France. But that was the sentimental, idealistic Rousseau ofLa Nouvelle Héloïse, ofThe Reveries of...

    • Back Matter
      (pp. 317-318)