The History of Political Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard

6. Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The History of Political Philosophy
David Gordon

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1778, influenced the French Revolution with his political philosophy and his social contract theory. The perspective of many of today’s environmentalists can be traced back to Rousseau, espousing that all degenerates in man’s hands. The Social Contract (1972), his most important work, outlines the basis for a legitimate political order within a framework of classical republicanism.

Rousseau was proud to have been born in Geneva. When he made his way to Paris he was a popular composer of operas, a novelist, and a botanist. Paranoid, Rousseau was a strange man with an unconventional married life. Although he wrote about child-centered learning, he had little regard for his own children.

Rousseau felt that a positive self-love, amour de soi, is transformed into pride, or amour –propre, through the negative influence of society. Rousseau speculated that man lived in love and compassion until division of labor and private property led to economic inequality and conflict (Discourse on Inequality). Rousseau posited that people could remain free while they gave up any claim of any natural right for the general will.

Religiously, Rousseau was condemned in Geneva for his tolerance which was viewed as indifference – a heresy. Rousseau asserted that true followers of Jesus would not make good citizens.

Lecture 6 of 10 from David Gordon’s The History of Politcal Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard.