Wednesday, April 28, 2010


This was a very well written biography in its ability to illuminate the psychology of the subject, I did find it someone lacking in that it had relatively little to say about Rousseau's politics or philosophy.

When reading biographies, it becomes difficult not to, in some sense, root for the subject. You become so connected to the life of an individual, that you begin to root for them, even if you would ordinarily be entirely opposed to their goals or ideas. This was not the case with Rousseau. I found J.J. to be impossible to like. Consumed by paranoia and self-indulgent bitterness, he alienated almost everyone in his life, including many of the leading thinkers of the period (Hume, Diderot, and Voltaire included).

My relationship with Rousseau's system is unique (for me) in that I am largely sympathetic to many of his conclusions, but not at all to his process. I have the opposite relationship to many thinkers (particularly of this period), in that I appreciate their methods, or their system, but disagree with their ultimate conclusions.

In some ways, Rousseau's philosophy can be seen as a skewed sort of proto-Marxism. He exhibited a strongly negative reaction to Modernity (even beginning the social contract by writing, "everywhere, man is in chains..." a line echoed a century later in the Manifesto), but rather than view Modernity/ Capitalism as an essential step on the way to ultimate progress, he saw it is the original betrayal, forever alienating man from his natural state. He (like Marx) felt that European religion was a tool to keep the people confused and complacent, but rather than desiring the eradication of superstitious fate, desired a pared down, spiritual interpretation of reality, believing himself to be more Christian than the Christians.

While I was aware of Rousseau's (at the time) radical pedagogical theories, I as unaware of the powerful impact he had on the development of psychology. In the confessions, he was the first memoirist to ascribe any importance to early childhood development.

1 comment:

alfa foxtrot said...

wait. rousseau from lost? she craze