Against Rousseau

Against Rousseau: On the State of Nature and On the Sovereignty of the People

JOSEPH DE MAISTRE
Translated and edited by RICHARD A. LEBRUN
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt816cg
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    Against Rousseau
    Book Description:

    On the State of Nature and On the Sovereignty of the People are Maistre's most comprehensive treatment of Rousseau's ideas and his most sustained critique of the ideological foundations of the revolution. On the State of Nature, a detailed critique of Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality, focuses on Rousseau's belief in the natural goodness of man; On the Sovereignty of the People, a critique of Social Contract, explores Rousseau's theory of popular sovereignty. In Maistre's eyes Rousseau encouraged the socially destructive individualism that lay at the heart of the French Revolution. However, the essays reveal some surprising ambiguities in the relationship between two seminal thinkers who are usually thought of as polar opposites, suggesting that Maistre's vision was more akin to Rousseau's than he would have admitted.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6604-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxx)

    Why, it might be asked, should anyone be interested in Joseph de Maistre’s critique of Jean-Jacques Rousseau? After all, Maistre never completed the two essays in which he undertook his most detailed criticisms of Rousseau, and the pieces remained unpublished until 1870, almost fifty years after Maistre’s death in 1821. Although written in 1794 and 1795, at the very tune Rousseau enjoyed an exaggerated reputation as a progenitor of the French Revolution and its theoretical basis in popular sovereignty, Maistre’s manuscripts obviously had no influence on the contemporary course of events. And while Maistre’s critique is not lacking in force...

  5. Critical Bibliography
    (pp. xxxi-xxxvi)
  6. A Note on the Text
    (pp. xxxvii-xxxviii)
  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxxix-xl)
  8. CHAPTER ONE Man Is Sociable in His Essence
    (pp. 3-33)

    In 1755² the Academy of Dijon proposed the following question:What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law? It is quite evident that this question is poorly posed, for every child knows that it is society that has produced the inequality of conditions. Moreover, what isnatural law?This is a different question.

    So the question that must be asked is:What is the origin of society? And is man social by his nature?This question, however, resembles so many others that academies set perfunctorily, that they do not remember the next day,...

  9. CHAPTER TWO Man Born Evil in a Part of His Essence
    (pp. 34-40)

    Man is an enigma whose knot has not ceased to occupy observers. The contradictions that he contains astonish reason and impose silence on it. So what is this inconceivable being who carries within him powers that clash and who is obliged to hate himself in order to esteem himself?

    All the beings that surround us have only one law and follow it in peace. Man alone has two laws, and both of them attracting him at the same time in contrary senses, he experiences an inexplicable tearing. He has a moral end towards which he feels himself obliged to proceed,...

  10. CHAPTER ONE On the Sovereignty of the People
    (pp. 45-47)

    The people is sovereign, they say; and over whom? Over itself apparently. The people is therefore subject. There is surely something equivocal here, if not an error, for the people thatcommandsis not the people thatobeys.Therefore it suffices to enunciate the general propositionthe people is sovereignto realize that it needs a commentary.

    This commentary will not be long in coming, at least in the French system. The people, they will say, exercises its sovereignty by means of its representatives. We begin to understand. The people is a sovereign that cannot exercise sovereignty. Each individual male...

  11. CHAPTER TWO The Origin of Society
    (pp. 48-52)

    Creating difficulties for himself for the pleasure of resolving them is a strange human mania. The mysteries that surround man on all sides do not suffice for him, and so he rejects clear ideas, and, by an inexplicable prideful detour that makes him regard it as beneath him to believe what everyone else believes, he reduces everything to a problem. So, for example, there have been long disputes on the origins of society; and instead of the quite simple supposition that comes naturally to mind, there has been a lavish use of all kinds of metaphysical theories to construct airy...

  12. CHAPTER THREE Of Sovereignty in General
    (pp. 53-54)

    If sovereignty is not anterior to apeople,at least these two ideas are collateral, since it takes a sovereign to make apeople.It is as impossible to imagine a human society without a sovereign as a hive and a swarm without a queen, for a swarm, in virtue of the eternal laws of nature, exists in this way or it does not exist. Society and sovereignty are therefore born together; it is impossible to separate these two ideas. You can imagine an isolated man, but then there are no longer laws nor government, since he is not altogether...

  13. CHAPTER FOUR Of Particular Sovereignties and Nations
    (pp. 55-59)

    The same power that decreed the social order and sovereignty has also decreed different modifications of sovereignty according to the different characters of nations.

    Nations are bora and perish like individuals; nations haveFathers,literally, andfoundersordinarily more celebrated than their fathers, although the greatest merit of these founders was to penetrate the character of an infant people, and to place it in circumstances that could develop it fully.

    Nations have a commonsouland a true moral unity that makes them what they are. This unity is announced above all by language.

    The Creator laid out the limits...

  14. CHAPTER FIVE Examination of Some of Rousseau’s Ideas on the Legislator
    (pp. 60-62)

    Rousseau wrote a chapteron the legislatorwhere all his ideas are mixed up in the most intolerable way. In the first place, this wordlegislatorcan have two different meanings: usage permits giving this title to the extraordinary man who promulgates constitutional laws, and to the much less admirable man who issues civil laws. It appears that Rousseau understood the word in the first sense, since he talks of the one “who dares to undertake the founding of a people.” But soon afterwards, he says that “the legislator is an extraordinary manIN THE STATEin all respects.”¹Here...

  15. CHAPTER SIX Continuation of the Same Subject
    (pp. 63-65)

    After having seen what the legislatormust not beaccording to Rousseau, let us seewhat he must beaccording to him.

    “The discovery,” he says, “of the best rules of society suited to Nations would requirea superior intelligence,who saw all men’s passions yet experienced none of them; who would had no relationship at all to our nature and yet knew it thoroughly; whose happiness was independent of us, yet who was nevertheless willing to attend to ours.”¹

    This intelligence has already been found. One would have to be very foolish to look for it on earth, or...

  16. CHAPTER SEVEN Of Founders and the Political Constitution of Nations
    (pp. 66-74)

    When we reflect on the moral unity of nations, we cannot doubt that this is the result of a single cause. What the wise Bonnet¹ said about the animal body in refuting Buffon’s dream can be said about the political body: every seed is necessarilyone,and it is always from a single man that each people gets its dominant trait and its distinctive character.

    To know then why and how a man literallyengendersa nation, and how he communicates to it this moral temperament, this character, this common soul that must, through the centuries and an infinite number...

  17. CHAPTER EIGHT The Weakness of Human Power
    (pp. 75-82)

    In all political or religious creations, whatever their object or their importance, it is a general rule that there is never any proportion between effect and cause. The effect is always immense in relation to the cause, so that man knows that he is only an instrument, and that of himself he can create nothing.

    The FrenchNational Assembly,which had the culpable foolishness to call itselfConstituent,observing that all the legislators in the world had decorated the frontispiece of their laws with a solemn homage to the Divinity, believed itself forced to make its own profession of faith....

  18. CHAPTER NINE Continuation of the Same Subject
    (pp. 83-86)

    Paine, in his bad book on the rights of man, said that “the constitution precedes the government, that it is to government what the laws are to the courts; that it must be visible, material, article by article, or else it does not exist; so that the English people do not have a constitution, its government being the fruit of conquest, and not the result of the will of the people.”¹

    It would be difficult to accumulate more mistakes in fewer lines. Not only can a nation not give itself a constitution, but no assembly, a small number of men...

  19. CHAPTER TEN Of the National Soul
    (pp. 87-89)

    Human reason reduced to its own resources is perfectly worthless, not only for creating but also for preserving any political or religious association, because it only produces disputes, and, to conduct himself well, man needs not problems but beliefs. His cradle should be surrounded by dogmas, and when his reason is awakened, it should find all his opinions ready-made, at least all those relating to his conduct. Nothing is so important to him asprejudices.Let us not take this word in a bad sense. It does not necessarily mean false ideas, but only, in the strict sense of the...

  20. CHAPTER ELEVEN Application of the Preceding Principles to a Particular Case
    (pp. 90-101)

    Recently, the National Convention treated the great question of public education. The chairman, speaking in the name of Committee on Public Instruction, said to the would-be legislators, at their session of 24 October 1794:

    Turgot often wished to have absolute power for a year in order to realize all that he had conceived in favour of reason, freedom, and humanity, without obstacles and without delay.

    You lack nothing that Turgot had, and you have everything he lacked. The resolution that you are going to take will be an epoch in the history of the world.¹

    They have already said many...

  21. CHAPTER TWELVE Continuation of the Same Subject
    (pp. 102-108)

    “When I think,” said the king of Prussia, whom I always cite with pleasure, “that afool,animbecilelike Saint Ignatius found a dozen proselytes who followed him, and that I cannot find three philosophes, I have been tempted to believe that reason is good for nothing.”¹

    Although this passage was written in aparoxysm,nevertheless it is precious; the great man was on the right path. Undoubtedly, in a certain sense reason is good for nothing. We have the scientific knowledge necessary for the maintenance of society; we have made conquests in the science of numbers and in...

  22. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Necessary Elucidation
    (pp. 109-112)

    I must anticipate an objection. In reproaching human philosophy for the harm it has done us, do we not risk going too far and being unjust in its regard by swinging to the opposite excess?

    No doubt it is necessary to guard against enthusiasm; but it seems that in this regard there is one sure rule for judging philosophy. It is useful when it does not leave its own sphere, that is to say, that of the natural sciences. In this area, all its endeavors are useful and merit our gratitude. But as soon as it puts its foot in...

  23. CHAPTER ONE On the Nature of Sovereignty in General
    (pp. 115-118)

    Every kind of sovereignty is absolute by its nature; whether it is placed on one or several heads, whether it is divided, however the powers are organized, in the last analysis there will always be an absolute power that will be able to commit evil with impunity, which will therefore, from this point of view, bedespoticin the full sense of the term, and against which there will be no other defence than that of insurrection.

    Wherever powers are divided, the conflicts of these different powers can be considered as the deliberations of a single sovereign, whose reason balances...

  24. CHAPTER TWO Of Monarchy
    (pp. 119-134)

    One can say in general that all men are born for monarchy. This is the oldest and the most universal form of government.¹ Before the time of Theseus, there was no question of a republic in the world. Democracy above all is so rare and so transient, that we are allowed not to take it into account. Monarchical government is so natural that, without realizing it, men identify it with sovereignty; they seem to be tacitly agreed that there is no truesovereignwherever there is no king. I have given several examples of this that it would be easy...

  25. CHAPTER THREE Of Aristocracy
    (pp. 135-141)

    Aristocratic government is a monarchy whose throne is vacant.Sovereignty there is in regency.

    The regents who administer sovereignty being hereditary, it is completely separated from the people, and in this, aristocratic government approaches monarchy. It cannot match it in vigour, but for wisdom it has no equal.

    Antiquity has not left us a model of this form of government. In Rome and Sparta, as in all governments, the aristocracy undoubtedly played a great role, but it did not reign alone.

    It can be said in general that all non-monarchic governments are aristocratic, since democracy is only elective aristocracy.

    “The...

  26. CHAPTER FOUR Of Democracy
    (pp. 142-155)

    Pure democracy does not exist any more than absolute despotism. “In the strict sense of the term,” Rousseau has very well said, “a genuine Democracy has never existed, and never will exist. It is contrary to the natural order that the majority govern and the minority be governed.”¹

    The idea of a whole people being sovereign and legislator so strongly shocks good sense that Greek political writers, who must have understood something about freedom, never spoke of democracy as a legitimate government, at least when they intended to speak exactly. Aristotle, especially, defines democracy as theexcess of republic (politia),...

  27. CHAPTER FIVE Of the Best Kind of Sovereignty
    (pp. 156-158)

    “Therefore when one asks which is absolutely the best Government, one poses a question that is insoluble because it is indeterminate. Or, if you prefer, it has as many correct answers as there are possible combinations of the absolute and relative situations of peoples.”¹

    Rousseau’s observation admits of no reply. He consecrated half of his book to refuting the other; but, in truth, he took too much trouble, these few lines sufficed.

    He saw very well that it is never necessary to ask what is the best government in general, since there is none that is suited to all nations....

  28. CHAPTER SIX Continuation of the Same Subject
    (pp. 159-172)

    The best government for each nation is that one which, in the area of land occupied by that nation, is capable of procuring the greatest possible sum of happiness and power, to the greatest possible number of men, during the longest possible time. I dare to believe that no one can deny the justice of this definition; and it is in following it that comparison of nations in relation to their governments becomes possible. In effect, although we cannot ask absolutely:What is the best form of government?nothing prevents us from asking:which nation is relatively the most numerous,...

  29. CHAPTER SEVEN Summary of Rousseau’s Judgements on the Different Forms of Governments
    (pp. 173-194)

    In hereditary monarchy,everything moves toward the same goal, it is true, but this goal is not that public felicity, and the very force of the Administration isconstantly²detrimental to the State. Kings want to be absolute. ... The best Kings want to be able to be wicked if it so pleases them ... Their personal interest is first of all that the people should be weak,[and]miserable. ... those who attain them [high positions] in monarchies are often merely petty troublemakers, petty rascals, petty intriguers, whose petty talents - which lead to high positions in royal Courts...

  30. Index
    (pp. 195-204)