A Study In What Shaped The Political
Philosophy Of Essay, Research Paper
A Study in what shaped the Political Philosophy of:Jean-Jacques Rousseau Jean-Jacques Rousseau is truly a challenging figure. From whatever point of view he is considered within, he must be accounted as one of the most outstanding personages of the eighteenth century. His influence, for good or ill, is visible in today’s literature, politics, education, and philosophy. In today’s society Rousseau is rapidly being seen as the most influential thinker of the eighteenth century (Einaudi,1967). Rousseau’s writings are the key to understanding the man and the philosopher, and in order to understand his writings you must first understand what influenced these writings. This is one of the greatest challenges to reading and understanding Rousseau. This brilliant man’s writings published both before and after his death are more read now and considered more influential on today’s society than any other eighteenth century writer. These are the very things that mark him as brilliant and secures him a place in history. His writings and his life have also marked him as controversial. This fact did nothing to hurt his securing a future audience for his work. According to Broome (1963), Rousseau himself is responsible for much of the controversy, “because of the frequent ambiguity of his expressions, and also because of his deliberate cultivation of paradox.” Much of this cultivating was done early on in Rousseau’s literary career. His early career is also where Rousseau laid the ground work for all of his philosophies and later works.There are those who believe that we are just now learning how to read Rousseau and his writings (Crocker,1968). This theory is not without merit, Rousseau himself stated twice that he could not be understood by his own time. The relevance of Rousseau’s writings to today’s society shows the depth of his thinking and understanding of society and government on the whole. Rousseau wrote philosophy and action plans and this contributes to some of the confusion surrounding his work. Some of his work was to be take as a way to reform the government that he lived under. For reasons that anyone (even a blind man) could see, these works must have been put forth as ideas concerning only those on a intellectual level and not as what they where treasonist writings stating how he thought the current government could be reformed. Others of his work are purely philosophical in nature or are an attempts to expand on his early writings. It is clear from reading much of his earlier work that when Rousseau started out on his philosophical career he may not have known what he was doing, and certainly had no idea of all the complications and consequences that his work would cause. In order to understand Rousseau’s political philosophy and why he held to them I believe that we must look at his life and the events surrounding it. These hold, in my opinion, the key to his works. It was the life he lead and the progression of the events within it that will clarify his works. The events of his later life brought back the events of his early life and forced him to deal with them. Rousseau had to do this from within the confines that he could understand and had fixed for himself. This is the reasoning for the changing that occurred in his later writings. According to M. Cranston (1991) Rousseau’s early literary life was normal and only later did Rousseau grow increasingly fretful, anxious and suspicious. All of this leading to Rousseau’s slow decent into what became full blown paranoia.I hold that it was Rousseau’s early life that shaped him from the start and never left him. In order to show this we will have to take a look at his early life and examine it for experiences that would shape a young mind into what Rousseau’s would and did become. Rousseau in his early writings laid out much if not all of his beliefs then spent the next forty years of his life trying to explain, clarify, or expand upon these. He seceded in this to a point, but in doing so alienated all of his old friends lived such a poor life that it caused harm to his physical (and in my opinion spiritual) health and in the end caused him to take his own life. It is not known for a fact that he did take his own life. I hold that as my own personal opinion. It is known that his death is unclear on many details and fairly sudden.Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva Switzerland on the 28 of June in the year of our Lord seventeen hundred and twelve. He was the second son of Isaac Rousseau and Suzanne Bernard. It would seem from the account in J.J. Rousseau’s Confessions (1782) that his mother and father where destined to be married. The two of them loved each other from the moment they meet as children and due to the poor status of Isaac’s family Suzanne’s family was not going to allow the marriage. If fate had not stepped in, in the form of Gabriel Bernard (Suzanne’s brother) and his love for one of Isaac’s sisters, the two would never have been married. As it was they were married and shortly there after Jean’s older brother was born. Isaac was a wanderer like his second son after him and left for a period of time to work in Constantinople. Ten months after his return Jean-Jacques was born. Jean was sickly and the stress of his birth killed his mother. The fact that his father blamed Jean for the death of his wife must have had a profound effect on him. The only education that Jean’s father saw fit to give to him was that of teaching him to read. He did this by taking turns at the dinner table reading romances that his dead wife had left behind. From these romances Jean learned not only to read and comprehend, but “knowledge of the passions peculiar at my age(Winwar,1961).” Being exposed to the affairs of adults before he was even a teen-ager would have pushed anyone into a pseudo-maturity. Having some knowledge of what the adults did behind closed doors without the benefit of a realistic view of mature love or even knowing why they where doing these things only served to further confuse Jean. This must have shaped Jean in a negative manor and most modern psychologist would agree that, his father made a drastic error in letting him read these book. Jean himself said (1782) that these books “confused emotions, which I found coming one on the other.” In the Confessions Jean is quick to say that his father loved him and always showed him love even if always reminding him that it was him that killed his mother. Broome (1963) however notes that Isaac Rousseau had a violent temper and may have physically abused young Jean. It is known as fact that, Isaac was in trouble with the Geneva authorities at least twice in his life. The second of these times lead to his leaving Geneva in a hurry. Jean was ten at the time of his fathers sudden departure from Geneva. His father never returned to Geneva and Jean was entrusted to one of his uncles. Jean’s Uncle in order to see that his nephew received some form of a education sent him to live with his cousin in the household of Reveran M. Lambercier. Rev. Lambercier was the pastor of the local protestant congregation in the village of Bossey. Here for two years Jean received a formal education of a sort. Upon finishing his basic education Jean returned to Geneva and was apprenticed to become an attorney. This apprenticeship lasted for all of four months. When it was then determined that Jean would not make a good attorney. With the apprenticeship to the attorney not working out his uncle had him apprenticed to an engraver, M. Ducommun. This was a massive blow to young Jean’s self-confidence. An engraver was a step down in the social standings and lower than the trade of his father. It was while he was apprenticed to the engraver that Jean took up many of the vices that would later affect his life and even his health. Jean was thirteen at the time of the apprenticeship.
He remained and worked for M. Ducommun for five years learning all the time . The things he learned, like gambling, drinking, stealing, and he was even accused by his master one time of trying to counterfeit. All of these things brought with them the discipline of Jeans master, or more properly regular beatings for Jean. On the third of March in the year 1728 a major emotional turning point in his life occurred, Jean found himself locked outside the gates one evening and decided that to run away. To become a free man able to do as he wished. This was by far better than the beating he would receive if he waited till morning and returned to his master. Jean found himself in the country Savoy within the city of Confignon a few short days later dining with a priest named M. de Pontverre who sent Jean off to the city of Annecy and to the Lady Madame Louise-Eleonore de Warens, a noble lady who could relate to Jean. She too had lost her mother shortly after her birth and she had also given up everything in running away to Annecy. Madame de Warens was the wife of M. de Warens of the house of Loys, a very old and noble family. She had run away from her family because of some domestic disputes. She then converted and became a Roman Catholic. The affect that she had on young Jean was most profound, she became for most of Jean’s life the women that he always wanted but could never have.Jean converted himself following after Madame de Warens and with the work he had done in creating a new musical notation system moved to Paris. His hopes of making a real reputation for himself with this new system did not occur, even though the French Academy of Science did send Jean their compliments. Jean’s move to Paris did eventual start his literary efforts.This brief history of Jean’s early life will explain much about his philosophies and beliefs. The effects this kind of a life would have on a person of such intelligent, but so little formal schooling are well known to modern psychiatrist. A person who was repetitively told how much one of their parents loved them even thought it was their fault that the other parent is dead does even more to unsettle a person of higher intelligence than it dose on one of a lower intelligence. Most of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s works are based on his belief that man is basically a good creature, free of original sin. This would hold true with the catholic view point of the time and should not be used against the man to say that he was an atheist. Out of his childhood Jean brings many questions that he was unable to deal with or effectively answer. His social skills are drastically underdeveloped and his ability to interact with others has also been hampered. All of this is admitted by Jean within his work known as the Confessions (1782). Jean learned at an early age to hate work and never adjusted or even liked the day to day grind that most people find themselves working within. In reading many of Rousseau’s works and the commentaries that follow such works I have come to the conclusion that Rousseau’s outlook is based on four basic tenant: 1) As stated above man is basically a good creature(Ebenstien,1992); 2) Society is at odds with mans basic nature(Daugaard,1998);3) Mans intellect and his inability to control it is the start of all evil and society is the first thing man lost control over(Winwar,1961);4) For man to survive himself he must return to what he truly is. (This being the idea of a natural man or entering into the general will)(Crocker,1968)For Rousseau, all of his philosophies begin with his hatred of what society had become, and what man had not done to stop it. Society was the greatest evil that man had precipitated, it therefore was the root cause for all of mans woes. Rousseau felt (I believe) that if he could find a way to bring control of society back to mankind then things would work themselves out for the betterment of the whole human race. This thought lead to his idea of the general will or social contract. Jean’s life was on of searching for the answers to life. It was not a happy life even though it did have happy periods. His early life shaped him into a man who could not function in the society of his time. It left him wanting something more than he could have. It also left him with the outlook that man was not evil and therefore he could not blame man for the problems that he inflicted on him. The society of the time made the woman that he loved out of his reach and allowed him to see man within it as being evil, giving him the direction he needed to lay the blame of his life. He decided that it was society that was to blame for the loss of his mother and the woman that he loved. It was society that did not see the true brilliance that he had. It was society that corrupted mankind into something evil. It was for him society that needed changing and he set about to do it. His works show a genuine concern for mankind as a whole and for the way that man lives and relates to one another. Was Jean’s outlook on life authoritarian? I do not believe that such a case can be made. Rather I think that Jean would say that by entering into the General Will man was just saying, Do to me as I would do to you. A noble and consistent thought if not wholly biblical. What I believe would have been more to the point would have been if Jean had come up with a way to have it work more in line with, Do unto others as I would have done unto me. This is a subtle change but change the entire outlook from the belief that man was basically good to the more correct outlook that man is a fallen creature and basically evil. J. Anthony Kerby ReferencesAmezquita, A. (Dec.4,1992). Rousseau and Locke: The general will.Internet. 2 May 1998. Available http://eserver.org/philosophy/rousseau- and-locke.txt.Bloom, H. (1988). Modern critical views: Jean-Jacques Rousseau. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.Broome, J.H. Rousseau: A study of his thought. London:Edward Arnold (Publishers) LTD.Cranston, M. (1991). The noble savage: Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1754-1762. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Crocker, L.G. (1968). Rousseau’s social contract: An interpretive essay. Cleveland: The Press of Case Western Reserve University.Daugaard, C.L. (1998). ” Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Introduction.” Class lecture, Judson College Elgin, IL 14 & 16 April 1998.Ebenstein, W., & Ebenstein, A.O. (1992) Introduction to political thinkers. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.Einaudi, M. (1967). The early Rousseau. New York:Cornell University Press.Rousseau, J.J. (1955) The confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (A.S.B. Glover Trans.). New York: The Heritage Press. (orig. work published in Geneva Books 1-6 in 1782 and 7-12 in 1789) Winwar, F. (1961) Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Conscience of an era. New York: Random House.