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Abandoned to Ourselves

Abandoned to Ourselves

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    Abandoned to Ourselves
    Book Description:

    In this extraordinary work, Peter Alexander Meyers shows how the centerpiece of the Enlightenment-societyas the symbol of collective human life and as the fundamental domain of human practice-was primarily composed and animated by its most ambivalent figure: Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Displaying this newsocietyas an evolving field of interdependence,Abandoned to Ourselvestraces the emergence and moral significance of dependence itself within Rousseau's encounters with a variety of discourses of order, including theology, natural philosophy, and music. Underpinning this whole scene we discover a modernizing conception of the human Will, one that runs far deeper than Rousseau's most famous trope, the "general Will." AsAbandoned to Ourselvesweaves together historical acuity with theoretical insight, readers will find here elements for a reconstructed sociology inclusive of things and persons and, as a consequence, a new foundation for contemporary political theory.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17805-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Detailed Contents
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Note on Sources and Uses of Words
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Foreword
    (pp. xix-xxiv)

    Despite the many parts and diverse detours of the argument presented in this book, at least one of its lessons may be stated summarily at the outset. It concerns both a major figure in the history of political theory and his reader in the early twenty-first century, which is to say you.

    Rousseau proposes a “theodicy,” a view of how we human beings relate to God and thus relate to ourselves. The surprising effect of this theodicy is to bring to light a purely social space in which mankind is discovered as “abandoned to ourselves.” Sociology emerges from the working...


    • §1 “Le Tout Est Bien?”
      (pp. 3-6)

      From its origins in the Scottish Enlightenment through developments in France and Germany, the “classical” tradition of social theory adopted Jean-Jacques Rousseau as one of its figureheads.¹ It was, no doubt, a love-hate relationship. But Rousseau made apparent for many a new and general object for inquiry:society

      The ideas Rousseau began to publish around the 1750s came as a sort of revelation and a prod for his own and then for successive generations of thinkers. It is exactly correct to say that “the Enlightenment invented society as symbolic representation of collective human existence and instituted it as the essential...

    • §2 “The Island of the Human Race”
      (pp. 7-10)

      This is where the study of the development of humanity begins. Across the portal of his book Rousseau, as if in emulation of Dante, plasters a declaration alerting readers that they enter here a new and uncharted domain where our human lives have “left the hands of the author of things” (OC IV.245). In this realm—société—evil is our “own creation.” It is something we have made and we must own. It cannot be laid at the doorstep of God or Nature, or of the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”18

      Nor, Rousseau insists, does evil arise in...

    • §3 An Influential Error
      (pp. 11-12)

      Corresponding to this double view, Rousseau’s passionately personal way of thinking is decisively inclusive of the life human beings lead with one another. Within the framework he constructs Rousseau succeeds in linking the problem of evil—or should one always sayevils?—to the problem of freedom. We will return to this link shortly. Suffice it to say for now that Rousseau’s combination of interests opened a whole new continent for sociological investigation, suggested a method with which to pursue that investigation, and, above all, gave it a purpose. That is why the classical theorists of Society could articulate both...

    • §4 Anxieties of Influence: Dépendance as the Key to Société
      (pp. 12-19)

      To the fact that practically every modern social thinker of importance owes something to Rousseau must be added an acknowledgment that efforts to make his vision the vehicle for sociological theory have never been smooth or simple. Rousseau’s little boat loaded with pointed conjectures tossed about in a sea of contradictions.

      In 1932, the greatly underappreciated Ernst Cassirer adopted a familiar German academic genre intending to settle “the problem of Jean Jacques Rousseau.”58As a writer, Rousseau had made political statements from which his readers—philosophers among them—found it convenient to extrapolate. Cassirer reversed this balance to treat Rousseau...

    • §5 “Le Mal” and “La Science des Moeurs”
      (pp. 20-31)

      Leibniz coined the termtheodicy—combining the Greek wordsθ∊ός(“god”) andδίκη(“justice”)—to name as “a kind of science” an old puzzle: “the doctrine of the justice of God—that is, of his wisdom together with his goodness.”93Rousseau takes theodicy to a humanistic extreme. As I suggested earlier, his argument may be understood as exculpating God altogether for the misery of the world. Such a view has sociological significance because, by contrast, it marks humanity as something cosmologically distinct and as the unique source of evil.94Evil without supernatural origin or supernatural powers appears in peculiarly human...

    • §6 Moral Dynamics
      (pp. 31-36)

      With the topic of Rousseau’s moral conception we return to the main line to be considered here. It is not an easy line to draw. It is clear that the topic of morality occupied him in various ways.

      Readers of Rousseau often give special attention to the theme of moral sentiments. One focuses easily on pity or compassion. It has been suggested that this is one central feature of his political thought.

      To say this is not necessarily to say that Rousseau promotes an immediate application of fellow-feeling or love in one’s relations with others. Nor is it to claim that...

    • §7 Rupture: The First Sign of the Will
      (pp. 37-40)

      Once having registered that Rousseau’s primary analytical concern is with patterns by whichsociétéconstantly undergoes transformations,176a more familiar facet of his engagement with politics may be admitted. Rousseau sometimes presents himself as interested in advancing the image of a radical break with the past. Indeed, it is not entirely by way of misunderstanding that he was taken as one of the “first authors of the French revolution” and became a motive for those who tried to extend it or who followed in its wake.177

      This image of rupture may be seen to represent three things. The first is...

    • §8 Judgment: The Significance of the Will
      (pp. 40-44)

      Even though Rousseau asserts the Will as a “first principle” in the context of a “profession of faith,” the problem that structures his thinking is not, as Paul DeMan astutely observed, “how to construe an interpretation of existence by means of a rule of inner assent, but to account, by a critical act of judgment, for the occurrence of such an assent and to establish its epistemological status.” Thus, “the main informing concept of [the “Profession de foi du vicaire savoyard”] is that ofjudgment, not inner light or inner assent.”197Nor is it, we may add, any of the...

    • §9 Persons Versus Things
      (pp. 44-49)

      Rousseau was the first to recognize that there are many ways to read what he wrote.210Whichever way one takes him, however, it is not hard to understand how his thinking began to orbit around the idea ofsociété. He tells us where it came from in a defense of the idea itself as he responds to the condemnation ofÉmileby Christophe de Beaumont, archbishop of Paris, immediately following its publication in 1762.211For it is his “ordinary method” in polemics, he tells the antagonistic Beaumont, to “give the history of my ideas,” and by this means to repeat...

    • §10 Consequences of Intersubjectivity
      (pp. 50-52)

      In Rousseau’s view of Society, the experience of things—to be aided, stumped, or trumped byles choses—is important primarily for psychological reasons. Spatial, physical, or immediately practical effects are secondary.

      This psychology is not a blunt, perception-based cognitivism. It is concerned instead with the relation between mind and object as that relation is mediated through one person’s relations to others.223As much as they shape interaction, psychological functions and developments also derive from interaction.224

      But, within this psychological perspective, things themselves remain merely instrumental. The main point—as we shall soon see—is that they are not supposed...

    • §11 The Political Sociology of the “Golden Rule”
      (pp. 53-59)

      In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus set out an ethical doctrine in striking sentences and with persuasive authority. Circling around issues of human justice, gesturing to God, the speech attains a high point in a powerful maxim where he invites the auditor to place himself or herself at the center of moral life:

      Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.237

      Many intuitions and commitments are reflected here. They are not specific to Christianity. Versions of this “Golden Rule” can be...

    • §12 The Science of Dependence
      (pp. 59-63)

      For several centuries and until quite recently, the study of society and politics has been oriented around a complex but crisp separation of persons from things. For most people—thinking about these matters, learning about them, living through them—this is just self-evident.262It is a prejudice long expressed in and reinforced by a strong conceptual and institutional separation between “human” and “natural” sciences. This way of organizing and thus of creating knowledge is widely taken to be the nineteenth-century invention of John Stuart Mill (1843) and Wilhelm Dilthey (1883), or an offshoot of philosophical inquiry into the foundations of...

    • §13 The New Problem of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
      (pp. 64-65)

      These questions constitute a whole new problem, not only for readers of Jean-Jacques Rousseau but for those who, even without realizing it, see the world his way. This new problem is not, as the old one was, simply parasitic on a literary or philosophical assumption that an author’s contribution to wider culture hinges on the internal coherence of hiscorpus.270

      How one’s ideas hang together is nonetheless important in many other ways. The critical inquirer cannot help but ask: as Rousseau’s arguments form new partnerships with the presuppositions of today, as they invest the space of our lives, can they,...

    • Appendix to Part One. The Text of Rousseau’s “Main Passage”
      (pp. 66-68)

    • A. Dependence and the “Formula for Happiness”

      • §14 Social Theory as Metadidactic: An Apostrophe
        (pp. 71-71)

        Rousseau makes an argument concerning the moral character of dependence.¹ It is synthetically stated in two paragraphs in the second book ofÉmile, his magisterial treatise on education.² The argument occurs at a special kind of apostrophic moment in the text. Rousseau turns to address himself directly to the reader, rather than to the parent, the preceptor, or the child. The address is made in a theoretical mood. This mood is enhanced by writing that is particularly terse and forceful. Subsequently, Rousseau returns to his main task: the didactic plotting out of Émile’s development. Framed by the larger narrative, clearly...

      • §15 The Rule of “Not Speaking Against Yourself”
        (pp. 72-76)

        At first, Rousseau is concerned in a very general way with the deleterious effects of dependence. How are these effects to be measured?

        The proper measure isbonheur(happiness). In choosing this measure, Rousseau has clearly followed his own imperative to the student: “Read Plato’sRepublic.”³

        No one could hope to accommodate in a single gesture Plato’s theory of the good life, or its catalytic element of happiness. This has been the subject of almost twenty-five centuries of remarkably continuous discussion.⁴ Nonetheless, recall that Plato, figuring his views through Socrates, pursues with obsessive insistence dialogical inquiry into the proper ordering...

      • §16 The Amplitude of Besoins
        (pp. 76-81)

        Where, then, shall we look for an expanded account of happiness? Much later, with Émile’s education almost at an end, the tutor-Rousseau focuses in on this topic again. He sees his student’s capacity for reason dulled by love. He decides to deploy Émile’s own passion against him and thus “render [Émile] attentive to my lessons.”18As a “terrible preamble” to his next discourse on happiness, Rousseau plays a shocking trick on his student. He suggests that Émile’s beloved Sophie is dead. In an operatic aside to the reader Rousseau explains, “now I am quite sure he will hear me” (OC...

      • §17 Nature as Untransformed Need and as Hypothesis of Liberté
        (pp. 81-82)

        In the decisive passage ofÉmilethat is the focal point of our investigation,35Rousseau sets the definition ofbonheur(happiness) within a counterfactual framework. His reader—then as now—can recognize this framework from his other masterpieces, theDiscours sur … l’inégalitéandDu Contract social. It is, of course, “the state of nature [l’état de nature].”

        The fact to which the “state of nature” is opposed is explicit from the very first pages ofÉmile. It is not simply that we, readers and author, teacher and pupil, live in society. It is, rather, that as we are “dragged36...

      • §18 “La Femme Est Homme”
        (pp. 82-84)

        It is impossible not to notice that, despite a lexicon rich with words pointing in the singular or the plural to adult persons in general (personne, individu, être, etc.), Rousseau’s texts are riddled with the wordhommeorhommes(“man” or “men”).38I believe that in the pivotal passages considered in the present book, and in literally hundreds of other ones, Rousseau intends by the wordhommes(“men”) to gesture toward the plural members of thegenre humain(“human race”). The prevalence of occasions in Rousseau’s writings where the phrasegenre humainis followed by the wordhommesasamplificatio...

      • §19 The “Formula for Happiness”
        (pp. 85-87)

        So, imaginehommesbefore our natural inclinations have been transformed, before we have allowed others and their anonymous institutions to colonize our fundamental human capacity for judgment. In that counterfactual case “the happiness of children as well as that of men consists in the exercise [usage] of their liberty.”*This speculative frame brings forward an utterly practical fact. “Liberty” is not only a topic of philosophy. What matters for Rousseau is lived experience, even when our own experience is brought before us in fictional terms. Thus, everyone’s happiness consists in actually making use of his liberty.46

        Framing this claim in...

      • §20 Forces
        (pp. 87-97)

        The wordforcesis one of the two variables in the “formula for happiness.” It merits more detailed elaboration than I can give it here, but some comments are in order.55The breadth and complexity of the significance offorcessuggest the range of applicability for the “formula for happiness.”

        As it appears across Rousseau’s pages the wordforcescovers many different kinds and degrees of capacity, potential, motive, pressure, impulsion. Other terms are located within this same discursive field. Related and pivotal notions ofpuissanceandpouvoirare, to an important extent, differentiated by the circumstances in which they...

      • §21 Sometimes a Child Is Not a Child—Syllepsis and Theory
        (pp. 97-101)

        The “main passage” is apostrophic.96It is also continuous with Rousseau’s didactic program. The theoretical content is tied into that longer thread. Having now made explicit the inherent complexity of one of the key terms—forces—of the “formula for happiness,” we can return to the discussion initiated in §19, where a general statement of the “formula for happiness” was drawn from a few lines in the “main passage.” Recall Rousseau’s maxim that “whoever does what he wants is happy if he suffices to himself” and “whoever does what he wants is not happy if hisbesoinsare greater than...

      • §22 Dependence Articulates Bonheur
        (pp. 102-104)

        To this point I have presented the “formula for happiness” (forcesbesoins=bonheur) as though it were primarily applicable to individuals. This approach seems justified by the place Rousseau gives to individuation in the moral development of the capacity for happiness.110

        Why, then, must the problem be restated in the relational terms of dependence? Why is it not sufficient to see the problem of happiness as simply a personal balance offorcesandbesoins?

        There is an easy reply to this question. Look back to where we started. A major theme of this book is the process by...

      • §23 Dependence Is Not Weakness
        (pp. 105-108)

        While we have seen that dependence can be qualified in various ways, it is important to keep in mind that even without qualification Rousseau’s usage also varies grammatically. This produces semantic, and ultimately theoretical, effects. From the beginning ofÉmile, Rousseau uses the verbdépendrealmost exclusively in its logical or causal sense.121The noundépendanceappears just once in Book I. The discourse at this stage is primarily psychological and the word refers to asentimentrather than to a condition in the person’s environment. In Book II, in and around the “main passage,” dependence becomes a circumstantial condition....

      • §24 Problematizing Dependence as Unhappiness: A Platonic Riff
        (pp. 108-112)

        However, it is fair to assume provisionally that dependence can be a form of unhappiness. This assumption will lead us closer to the connection between the “formula for happiness” and the role played by dependence in Rousseau’s social theory of politics.

        It is not clear yet whether or not the maxim {forcesbesoins=bonheur}—the “formula for happiness”—can provide important insight into theétat civil. Before we consider expanding the “formula for happiness” in that way we need to explore somewhat further the conceptual space opened by it.

        Is it possible for a person to be independent...

      • §25 Dependence Joins Weakness and Unhappiness
        (pp. 112-113)

        I now want to illustrate in a slightly different way my claim that the “formula for happiness” is articulated through the figure of dependence. Here is an example: the idea of dependence makes precise the linkage between “weak [faible]” and “miserable [misérable].”

        Stated in Rousseau’s now familiar summary way, dependence in a social context makes us weak relative to needs and thus unhappy.

        Rousseau further offers many terms with which to articulate this connection in approximately the following way:

        Very soon after people come together in society, one can no longer make do without others [“ne pouvant plus se passer...

      • §26 Demise and Reincarnation of the “Formula for Happiness”
        (pp. 113-117)

        Imagine that at least one step in the reasoning above is made too quickly. Is Rousseau really correct in believing that the element of socialforcesgained from others will be a net loss rather than an overall gain? Even if this extra force does constitute additional needs, perhaps it is, so to speak, a good investment? Could it not, all things considered, increase happiness?145

        The answer to this question is rather obvious, if unexpected: one does not know in advance how the balance will come out. The “formula for happiness” is a heuristic of interpretation and judgment, not of...

      • §27 Locating the Problem of Dependence: Uncertainty, Insecurity, Unhappiness
        (pp. 117-119)

        With the express purpose of answering a substantive question, I just digressed to consider a problem of “method.” Let us now return to the substantive question of whether or not socialforcesgained from others will surpass the newbesoinsto which they also give rise. Rousseau seems convinced that they will not. I suggested that one reason for this does not appear directly in the equation betweenforcesandbesoins. It concerns rather the derivative fact that the outcome of this balancing act is uncertain for those who undertake it. One does not know in advance what the outcome...

      • §28 Pragmatic Recourse to Liberty
        (pp. 119-122)

        As the matter stands before us at this point, it seems that there would be only one way to make the balance offorcesandbesoinstip in favor of one’s happiness. This would be to use one’s (natural or social)forcesto guarantee that those people from whom one depends continue to work to satisfy one’s needs. Given that totalforcesare limited,169one would therefore also cease to use some or all of one’sforcesto satisfy those needs directly.170Only full-time masters would have the possibility ofbonheur.

        Such a solution to the problem of happiness is...

    • B. “Il y a Deux Sortes de Dépendance …”

      • §29 Reconfiguring the Problem: From Happiness Back to Dependence
        (pp. 123-125)

        We are still far from solving “the new problem of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.”181What remains valuable in the way Rousseau constitutessocietyas an object of inquiry? Does this conception ofsocietyallow us to grasp characteristic human relations of our own time? Does it provide insight into the political implications of those relations? Can it help us to illuminate the increasingly important and increasingly confusing relationship of human beings to things? I propose that the answer to these questions, and the best way to approach answering them, will be clearer if we can get to the bottom of Rousseau’s thinking...

      • §30 Where Dependence Divides: The Absent Πόλις
        (pp. 125-129)

        Thus far, two major themes in Rousseau’s social theory of politics have occupied much of our attention. The first is the composition of thelien social, the fabric of society. The second is the problem ofbonheur, or happiness.

        In addition, Rousseau draws attention to the fact of dependence. He would have us believe that dependence has two categorically different forms. This distinction very much complicates the ways that thelien socialand the problem ofbonheurfit into his theory. Yet, large as this tension is, from Rousseau’s perspective it is unavoidable. His whole project hinges on giving a...

      • §31 Résoudre: The Art of Breaking Things Down and Putting Them Back Together
        (pp. 129-143)

        A general point may now be presented. I repeat in slightly different terms something brought to the foreground much earlier in this book. Rousseau is profoundly oriented by the following question: how can social Man approximate the liberty he would have had in the “state of nature”?

        In the “state of nature,” liberty derives from a particular unity of the self, a self with access to a coherent set offorcesclearly greater than the limitedbesoinsone has or could have developed in the natural condition. InDu Contract social, Rousseau projects this idea in a somewhat narrower frame:...

      • §32 Système
        (pp. 143-151)

        Whatever Rousseau’s dreams of theΠόλιςorcivitasamount to, the insistent topic of his inquiry iswhat really exists, what is in motion here and now in the life of humankind. He was quite clear regarding this orientation.263What exists for us, aspiring citizens, issociété. Thissociétéis something composed in an entirely modern way. It requires a specifically new, if complex and incomplete, mode ofresolution. The purpose of the new science, the new rhetoric, the new art, will be to bring oneself and others along toward a politics fit for thissystème social. That is where...

      • §33 The Significance of Dependence-from-Things and Dependence-from-Persons
        (pp. 151-152)

        In the “main passage” Rousseau moves the whole theory of society to another level when he makes explicit a division between types of dependence. It refines his position in an important way and it brings us to the nub of the argument here.

        There are two types of dependence: that from things, which is of nature; that from persons, which is of society.*

        At this pivotal juncture, I reiterate a point of translation mentioned earlier (§12). To reduce somewhat the prejudice of interpretation, I render “dépendance de” in English as “dependencefrom.” The purpose of this unpleasantly literal translation is...

      • §34 Morality and Disorder
        (pp. 152-154)

        Dependence-from-persons has everything to do with morality. Rousseau does not state this directly; it is implied by the juxtaposition between the two sorts of dependence and the way in which they are qualified.

        This indirect transfer and, in a sense, quarantine of moral significance is in itself worth noting. It exemplifies Rousseau’s construction and deployment of categorical oppositions. Two types of “liberty” are distinguished in just the same way; likewise two types of “equality.”288This categorical mode of thinking is expressed figuratively in the bridge made by that master trope—“le pacte social”—between a “natural” and a “civil” condition....


    • §35 Another View on Société and Moeurs in the Eighteenth Century
      (pp. 157-166)

      For mankind “abandoned to ourselves,” society is the inherent structuring framework for morality.¹ Society is constituted by dependence and it is a source of disorder; this has an impact on moral life, and therefore on politics.²

      Viewingsociététhrough the optic ofsystèmehas permitted us to see it as concept, as fact, and as rhetoricaltoposall at once.³

      Ways of resolving and composingsociété—as much in practice as in theory—hinge on one preliminary fact that derives from the common sense and commonplaces of the communities of speech that use the word. This conditioning fact appears in...

    • §36 Resolving the Problem of Dépendance: The Harmony of “Equality Before the Law”
      (pp. 166-168)

      To have stated that evil for Man is resident in society is at best a first step toward resolving—in any sense of that word—the problem. Rousseau moves on in this way: “If there is some means to remedy this evil in society, it is to substitute law for Man, and to arm the general Wills [les volontés générales] with a real force, superior to the action of any particular Will” (OC IV.311).*

      We have already mentioned—concerning the scope of Rousseau’s ambition (§§17 and 22 above)—that although this statement is found inÉmileit expresses the program...

    • §37 The “Formula for Happiness” Returns, Writ Large, Between Nature and Société
      (pp. 168-173)

      As Rousseau points us toward aforcethat is bothréelleandsupérieure, you will notice that space opens for a return of the “formula for happiness” (cf. §19 above). It now seems possible to extend it across a broader terrain. This is, of course, not coincidental.

      In the opening pages of the first draft ofDu Contract social, the “formula for happiness” is integrated into an account of social evolution as the precondition for politics.50Rousseau situates his reader at a primordial moment in which the boundary betweenl’etat de natureandsociétéis indistinct and fluid. Nowhere is...

    • §38 The Character of Law as a Problem
      (pp. 173-174)

      Now, one may easily associate the idea of law with the idea of order. But the precise relation between them is not self-evident. It requires some careful unpacking, especially if we are to understand this relation in terms ofdépendance. Rousseau provides an important clue when he proceeds this way in the “main passage”: “If the laws of nations could have, like those of nature, an inflexibility that no human force could ever be able to overcome, dependence-from-persons would thus become again dependence-from-things.”*Let us underscore this extraordinary point. Rousseau is saying that if human law was as overwhelmingly and...

    • §39 Learning from Experience Complicates Dépendance
      (pp. 174-177)

      When Rousseau wrote in the “main passage” that “dependence-from-things … is of nature [dépendances-des-choses … est de la nature],” he glossed over a subtle and important additional distinction that he admits elsewhere. I will now bring this to the foreground and then show why it bears on our central problem.

      We return to the beginning, the first pages ofÉmile, where the entire project to be developed in the book is being set forth: “we are born weak, we have need of forces,” and everything that one lacks at birth and which one needs as an adult “is given to...

    • §40 Tension in the Classifications of Dépendance Intersects with the Conception of Law
      (pp. 178-181)

      Rousseau offers two ways of resolving relations that involvedépendance. The first classification occurs in the “main passage,” where two possibilities are presented. Either

      1) I depend from things, or

      2) I depend from persons.

      The second classification is given in the passage on types of education discussed in the preceding section. In this version three alternatives are present:

      1) nature does not depend from me at all, or

      2) things depend only somewhat from me, or

      3) persons depend from me altogether.

      Although the prospect of a contradiction between these two classifications was raised earlier, this is no reason...

    • §41 The Issue of “Things” and “Nature”
      (pp. 181-185)

      Rousseau classifiesdépendancein a way that distinguishes “things” and “nature” from “persons.” In the preceding section we saw that this way of organizing the problem ofsociétéintersects with the conception of law. This is one way that it bears on the resolution and remedy of that problem.

      The issue of “things” and “nature” is complicated in another way already from the very first page ofÉmile. A kind of semantic latitude brings this before the reader. Rousseau writes both of “the author of things [l’auteur des choses]” and of “the author of nature [l’auteur de la nature].” What...

    • §42 Nature
      (pp. 185-192)

      Seeing every particular thing in the world, an eye that discerns just one thing may be said to be seeingnature. A daunting prospect. One feels easily the frustration that could drive a Voltaire to write, “Nature, you are only a word [Nature,tu n’es que un mot].”82The alternative seems, literally, unimaginable. Yet,natureperforms; it contains and encompasses. Thus, it constrains, and, in the event, it generates.

      If this is a pagan view it is not against theology. Nature is the common dwelling of many gods. The monotheistic eye still sees one thing but may call it by...

    • §43 Rousseau’s Modalities of Nature
      (pp. 192-197)

      How did this “god,”nature, serve Rousseau? Turn back to the opening pages ofÉmile. The author roundly admits that “perhaps the word nature has too vague a sense” and declares that his task is to nail it down (OC IV.247). Now turn page after page to see that in this endeavor Rousseau seems to fail utterly. The book sets off on its kaleidoscopic gallop, as if to say “Do you want to know whatnatureis? Then read me, then live, for ‘il faut que tout homme vive,’ but don’t expect a definition.” Rousseau manifests in every way and...

    • §44 The Immutability of Nature: Priority, Necessity, and Inflexibility
      (pp. 197-209)

      At the beginning of the preceding section, I asserted that Rousseau fails in the task he takes on: he does not fix precisely the sense of the vague wordnature. Perhaps this assessment was too glib; have we overlooked some principle?

      The first hypothesis Rousseau offers himself for analysis is that “nature, they tell us, is only habit” (OC IV.247). While the treatment of this paradigm in the opening pages ofÉmileis mildly derisive, it immediately focuses attention on whatnatureisforhuman beings, the topic Rousseau takes most seriously.145Referring first to plants and then to people,...

    • §45 The Mutability of Nature: The Dialectic of Social Evolution
      (pp. 209-218)

      Rousseau believes that human laws must be adaptive and fluid at the same time that they are inflexible. Does this make a mockery of his program to model our laws onnature?

      The answer depends again on what is involved in that irrepressible wordnature. We have tracked our way through various representations ofnaturethat were important for Rousseau and for his contemporaries (cf. §§42–44 above). What is decisive, finally, is the modal force of that word, that is, how it inflects everything it touches.

      This observation, however, does not settle some very basic questions: Isnaturea...

    • §46 A Provisional Conclusion in Terms of Civic Happiness
      (pp. 219-224)

      What drives the interaction between Man and Nature? The emphasis given just above to circumstance and chance should not allow us to lose sight of the most powerful motor of social evolution. What keeps the pressure on arebesoins. Here, as before,besoinswill be construed broadly to include many senses of the word “needs.”199

      Besoinsdo not stand alone. They are woven into each person’s relationships with the surrounding world. These two primary facts—need and relationship—cross paths.

      Dépendanceis this convergence.Dépendancepoints directly to the strongest pressure all human beings feel to go outside themselves. Although...


    • A. Ordre Comes to the Foreground

      • §47 Why Can’t We Be Happy?
        (pp. 227-230)

        Rousseau tells us that to be happy, one’sforcesmust be at least equal to one’sbesoins. Besoins, or needs, are forms of relationship that are constantly reconstituted as the individual and society evolve. The structure of each and everybesoinisdépendance, of which there are two kinds, from-things and from-persons. In either case, one’sforcesmay be sufficient; but faced with dependence-from-persons the quantity offorcesrequired for happiness is likely to be incompatible with liberty or with virtue. And, in this dynamic scene, needs always involve expectations; there is always a looking-ahead, not just reaction and response....

      • §48 Digression on the “Context” of Rousseau’s Words
        (pp. 230-235)

        The terrain we are about to enter overlaps some of the main and most widely diffused theological and philosophical debates of the eighteenth century. Before crossing the threshold, some further comments are warranted concerning an aspect of the approach that I take in this book.

        Throughout this book I have made many digressions to contextualize our engagement with Rousseau. These forays offer ways to imagine his texts as patterns woven within the larger fabric of eighteenth-century ideas and beliefs. One could pursue this strategy much more rigorously than I have; one could make it the main purpose of this or,...

      • §49 The Architectonics of Metaphor
        (pp. 235-255)

        In what follows we will be in the odd position of setting aside theology to consider Rousseau’s theism. Another perspective is required. What matters here is how this theism operates as a formative element in the structure of Rousseau’s social theory of politics. Moving this way, I mean to awaken a point I will emphasize shortly: theology and natural philosophy are sources of belief for Rousseau or they are propositions for him, but they are also much more than that. Separately, but especially in what they share, these two discourses provide Rousseau with elementary structures which, through a series of...

      • §50 The “Main Passage” as Atlas
        (pp. 255-268)

        When Rousseau asks the question, Why can’t we be happy? he considers the human subject as always already entangled with life in three ways. First, the subject has a relationship with God, which, using a typical eighteenth-century shorthand, we have referred to as Grace. Second, the subject has a relationship with the totality of experience, which we have referred to as Nature. Finally, the subject has relationships with other human beings, a fact we have noted in the plurality of humankind. These three types of entanglements may or may not amount to the same thing; on this point Rousseau holds...

    • B. The Rhetorical Structure of Ordre

      • §51 The Commonplace of Ordre and the Common Sense of Dependence
        (pp. 269-275)

        Rousseau’s use of the wordordrestands, in its context, at the crossroad of theology and natural philosophy. Between them there is a tug-of-war, but both sides are pulling on the same rope. In Part Three of this book we saw something of debates that animated the European intellectual scene throughout the century before Rousseau began his literary career. While theology and natural philosophy each had special ways of mobilizing the notion ofordre, they were profoundly interrelated. This fact provides Rousseau with commonplaces to mark out in several ways at once the conceptual terrain where he will go to...

      • §52 Symbolic Forms of Ordre
        (pp. 276-281)

        Some would have us believe that Rousseau’s relation to Christianity was, at best, instrumental. Judith Shklar seems to imply that this “fact” is well-known.48But this resonates with the kind of convenient smear antagonists make to avoid argument. It is implausible that Rousseau was not a “believer.”49As they issue from a person who spent the majority of his life in solitude and primarily concerned with “his own true and complete self,”50Rousseau’s massive and repeated defenses of his own Christianity cannot be convincingly attributed to political ambition. Isn’t theology always, first or last, an instrument for understanding oneself?51


      • §53 The Performative of Ordre
        (pp. 281-285)

        The sort ofordrehere ridiculed by Jean-Jacques is of long standing. Its categories represent a pre-sociological and profoundly anti-egalitarian way of conceivingle lien social. No one should be surprised that he wants to leave it behind. Yet, embedded within it are ways of organizing the theory of society that Rousseau appropriates; they, again, feed the uses of the wordordrethat he approves.

        It is worth noting here that since it left the Greek wordτάξιςbehind to be reborn in the Latin of Cicero and Vitruvius asordo, one form or another of the word “order” has...

      • §54 The Modalities of Ordre
        (pp. 285-291)

        The fundamental ambivalence that features in the concept of order is what generates, as we saw in the preceding section, its performative effects in political discourse. Before moving on to consider this force (Part Four.C below) I want to develop a somewhat different view of this ambivalence.

        Even when deployed specifically for politics, the termordreopens onto and invites images from other domains. In this course of events those other domains become vehicles for politics and serve political ends. This is not to say thatordrehas several definitions; whatever its various meanings are, they are not distinct. What...

    • C. Ordre as the Deployment of Ambivalence

      • §55 Nature Inside Grace: The Original Will
        (pp. 292-295)

        We return to Rousseau’s philosophical dualism. The principle that distinguishes between matter and motion is Will/volonté. Although it resonates more with seventeenth than with eighteenth-century common sense, Rousseau’s belief is clear:

        The first causes of motion are not at all in matter; matter receives motion and communicates it, but does not produce it. The more I observe the action and reaction of the forces of nature acting upon one another, the more I find that … one must always come back to some Will for the first cause…. In a word, every motion that is not produced by another one...

      • §56 Nature Outside Grace
        (pp. 296-300)

        How does Rousseau imagine a persistent gap between the laws of Nature and God’s ordination of thesystème du monde?

        The point from which to approach this question was discussed in §49 above. It is the answer to what I called the Fundamental Question that sees Nature as inside of Grace (QfundamentalAnature∈grace) and thus takes both to have the same principle of motion (cf. Diagram 2 at page 239). That principle is thevolontéof God; God as the paradigm ofvolonté. In this version, God must continue to act (that is, orderas action) so as to maintain what exists....

      • §57 Miracles: Between Nature and Grace?
        (pp. 300-305)

        Is it God’s Will that constitutes the total inflexibility of Nature, or is theordreof Nature necessary because God has ceased to intervene? We have seen that Rousseau wants to have it both ways. Testing the depth of Rousseau’s dedication to naturalist principles against scripture, sounding for atheism, interlocutors of dogmatic faith inevitably brought before him the question of miracles. Indeed, in the second of theLettres écrites de la montagne(at OC III.722) Rousseau identifies the topic of miracles as the one around which his critics “made the most noise [ont fait le plus de bruit].”

        In one...

      • §58 Two Types of Ordre: Living with Contradiction?
        (pp. 305-313)

        Such words may be after moderation, but Rousseau is not Aristotle. He also seeks to provoke and would, it seems, press interlocutors with what they deny. Is there a breach between what Rousseau demands from others and what he asks of himself? Can he have it both ways? Specifically, can his appeal to the two types of order—orderas actionand orderas condition—be both consistent and contradictory?135

        A trivial answer to this question is “yes.” It is possible that Rousseau has written nonsense, and in nonsense there is often enough sense to make it stick. A more interesting answer—...

    • D. Variations On the Will

      • §59 Will as Final Cause
        (pp. 314-316)

        Rousseau’s account of the relation between God and Nature is not only a claim aboutthe way things really are, if it is that at all. Nor is it simply a didactic move in the game of educating Émile. His answer to the Fundamental Question (that is, Qfundamental, introduced at §49 above) is also a major feature of a theoretical argument about society and politics. However, while that theory is underpinned by the claims of theology and natural philosophy, it is not limited to them.

        Here we need to consider a somewhat narrower implication. The themes discussed in the present...

      • §60 The Ambivalence of Will
        (pp. 317-320)

        In turning from the paradigm case of God’s Will to the moral tribulations of social life, the ambiguity in the concept of order becomes more, not less, striking. In Rousseau’s account of dependence in society, the complex of theological and naturalistic notions he has developed exerts an often unstated influence from the background. Now we consider more carefully how this story unfolds in a context that includes relations among human beings, in addition to the relation between Grace and Nature.

        Rousseau proceeds by analogy. His solution to the social problem of dependence (Qpolitical) takes the same form as his solution...

      • §61 The Unity of Will
        (pp. 320-324)

        I suggested earlier (§§35, 54, 56) that Rousseau refers to the same set of problems when he uses the words “contradictions” and “disorder.” That is, to “resolve all the contradictions of the social system” involves not only theoretical “resolution” (§31) but is also, as a practical matter, to repair the ills of disorder. To cash this out in political and moral terms Rousseau must still show how social life can be ordered, and to show in what way this order is related to the problem of dependence. These topics take up the remainder of this book. In this section we...

      • §62 Does the Attribute of “Unity” Tend Away from Will?
        (pp. 324-327)

        Although the phrase “the laws of order [les loix de l’ordre]” appears fleetingly, it reveals a strong underlying bias. InÉmile, and in Rousseau’s writings more generally, the discourse of natural philosophy often takes precedence. It does not exclude but channels a theology that eventually overflows its bounds.157This is evident in many ways, but perhaps nowhere more striking than when the reflexivity of reason turns theological inquiry back on itself.

        How so? Open again the “Profession de foi.” No sooner has theVicaire Savoyardsealed his sermon than the Tutor jumps in to disavow it. The Author’s voice insists...

      • §63 Is Will the Gravity or the Entropy of Society?
        (pp. 327-333)

        We have just followed a tendency in Rousseau’s social theory of politics that moves away from Will. Still, there is at least one case in which the action of ordering cannot be excised from the concept of order. That is where God commands. Then order must be understood as having a clear and indisputable source. It is created by Will, one Will.

        Although it starts from this straightforward image of divine Will, the creationist way of thinking produces a strange paradox as it is shifted metaphorically to society and as multiple human beings with their heterogenous Wills enter the picture....

      • §64 Will: A Tenacious Symbolic Form for Man and God
        (pp. 334-338)

        How could Rousseau authorize his reader to stop seeing the disorder of social life through the optics of theology? His secular perspective is nearly consistent with his metaphysics; time and time again the former turns back to or relies on the latter.

        While God’s Will, believers must believe, never fails to bring order and the good, the plural Wills of human beings typically fail in both. Divine Providence

        in no way wills the evil done by Man as he abuses the liberty it gives him … [but Providence] does not impede this, either because in her eyes evil done by...

    • E. The Gravity of Dependence

      • §65 The Primary Analytics of Dépendance
        (pp. 339-341)

        What are the sources of order and how are they related todépendance?Rousseau has pressed us to accept Will as a “first principle”; reasons to resist this—including Rousseau’s own reasons—have been advanced. To this point, this resistance has not been against Rousseau, but in favor of one side of his thinking against the other. From now on we shall be less accommodating.

        Earlier in this book (e.g., §§42, 49, 50) I alluded to the possibility that the inherent principle of motion in society isdépendanceitself. That would be by metonymy to God’s Will and Nature’s gravity....

      • §66 The Moral Valence of Dependence-from-Things
        (pp. 341-348)

        Suppose that dependence is the principle of social motion. Does that make it a principle of order? To answer this question, according to Rousseau, is to probe the foundations of morality.

        We have seen that in Rousseau’s view dependence-from-persons is disordered; he arrives at this view by measuring it against dependence-from-things. We have also seen that Rousseau believes dependence-from-persons has moral valence because it is disordered. Whatever sort of dependence is disordered, the “main passage” tells us, “ruins liberty … and engenders all the vices, and it is with this dependence that the master and the slave mutually deprave one...

      • §67 Nonnatural Dependence-from-Things
        (pp. 348-358)

        The issue now is how the architecture of this social theory of politics comes undone.

        Rousseau claimed that politics could find new and stable ground were we to emulate dependence-from-things. Why? Because dependence-from-things is supposed to have no moral valence of its own. It is for this reason a corrective, a source of improvement. The standard that establishes the double relationship ofthingsand dependence-from-things to moral life isordre. What is withoutordrewears away at moral life, what is withordresustains it. We already know that in Rousseau’s system Will is the deepest source ofordre. But...

      • §68 From Will to Dependence I: Ethical Sources of Order Revisited
        (pp. 358-363)

        Rousseau does not want toapplynatural law to human relations; he knows that if such a law exists it always already applies. He seeks to model the laws made within society on certain attributes ascribed to natural law. In the preceding two sections (§§66 and 67) we considered the assumption that natural law is perfectly inflexible, as well as claims concerning the consistency of experience which that inflexibility is supposed to represent.

        Rousseau also assumes that natural laws are perfectly general. As with inflexibility, generality is supposed to be an identifying feature of order. This presents important additional difficulties...

      • §69 From Will to Dependence II: Natural Sources of Order Revisited
        (pp. 364-370)

        Given the way that Rousseau has constructed the problem of social evil and unhappiness the failure of ethical sources of order like Will or reverence brings us to a devastating point. Within this construction, if the analogy between divine and civicordrealways turns us back to particularity, there can in his view be no adequate basis from which to resolve the contradictions of the social system. Human beings and our dependence from them cannot be ordered. Nonnatural things and our dependence from them cannot be ordered. And, if only because of the slippery boundaries betweenla natureandles...

      • §70 From Will to Dependence III: The Ordinal Function of Order Revisited
        (pp. 370-372)

        There is yet another problem issued from thenontotalityof natural orders. I argued earlier (§66) that we cannot identify clearly and without contest which things are natural and which are not and that even if we could make that distinction to follow Rousseau we would have to know with certainty when and how nonnatural things are overwhelmingly governed by a law of nature, which is also not within our reach.232Let us nevertheless leave all that aside and simplify matters to revisit one last time the ordinal function of order.

        Suppose that we could have perfect knowledge of natural...

      • §71 From Will to Dependence IV: The Civic Implication of Order Revisited
        (pp. 373-379)

        In any event, design and creation by a Will, or as the outcome of several Wills, is not a necessary condition for order.

        I cannot say whether this is good news or bad. And let me again be quite clear: in no way do I mean to recommend what counts as order for other animals as an attractive paradigm for the moral and political purposes of human beings.240The fact that such reduced and simplistic generators of order do at times seem to command human behavior—think of crowds241—suggests how important it can be to avoid, manage, or overcome...

      • §72 Conclusion: The Human Remains
        (pp. 379-381)

        For more than a century, it has been easy to begin this kind of inquiry by supposing that God is, so to speak, dead. Had I adopted this posture it might have been possible to bypass many irksome features of Rousseau’s thought. I declined this move for a number of reasons.

        It should be obvious—but often is not—that one cannot argue with or against, or even seriously read, a thinker by ignoring what he says. Even with that in mind, the conclusions I reach in this book, encompassing a strong rejection of one theme in Rousseau and the...

  11. Afterword: A Preliminary Typology of Complex Dependence
    (pp. 382-388)

    We have considered many aspects of Rousseau’s complex theory of the social field from which political relationships emerge. Rousseau correctly identified “dependence” as the primary fabric of that social field and as the generative force of social evolution. We have seen, however, that his analysis of dependence is a variation on the theme I refer to assecular creationismand that it is insufficient for political theory in our time. The question remains: how should we understand the fundamental fact of human dependence so as to bring it to the center of political theory today?

    It is not the purpose...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 389-470)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 471-496)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 497-524)