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The original German version of the essay was not published until cf. Ernst Cassirer, Rousseau, Kant, Goethe, ed. Bast Hamburg: Meiner, OC: III, To this end, he sketches a conjectural history of man charting how human society has arrived at its present condition. In structure, this projection resembles the earlier natural histories of Grotius, Hobbes, Pufendorf and Locke, yet Rousseau feels he has one crucial new insight — namely, that each of these predecessors has undercut an understanding of the true foundations of society by imputing to natural man attributes which could only have emerged after the onset of civilisation.

From these happy if primitive beginnings, Rousseau maps out, step-by-step, the evolution of social relations and their accompanying effects. CC: III, Contact with fellow humans is, at this stage, fleeting and of scant lasting consequence, limited largely to brief violent struggles, immediately forgotten cf. The matrix of this shift is the subject of the second part of the Discours.

It soon becomes clear, however, that the root cause of the change in human relations lies elsewhere, for the idea of property itself depends, we are told, on a number of prior ideas which must have arisen successively.


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Thus Rousseau begins his account of the social evolution of the species — an account which, as Arthur Lovejoy notes, is couched in proto-Darwinian terms of vital competition. Originally dormant, this attribute now begins to manifest itself, enabling man to craft tools and weapons, to learn the art of making fire, and to adapt to new environmental diversities. Man is by this time positioned at some distance from his original animalistic condition — human faculties have been developed to an advantageous mid-point between the indolence 66 Cf.

Arthur O. Yet there is, however, a supremely ironic codicil here. OC: III, In this communitarian setting, man begins to compare and judge, and to court preference and approval. A new form of self-understanding emerges which solicits esteem from others, alienating the individual from his true self. Social life comes to be driven by competition for ascendancy, and patterns of domination and subjection evolve.

The advent of metallurgy and agriculture, he argues, leads to the establishment of private property and the accumulation of capital. Relations of power and wealth become increasingly unequal, ushering in a period of consuming ambition, competition and rivalry. Under the pressures of such conflict, the rich conceive of a way to protect their material interests by persuading the poor to unite under the aegis of a social contract.

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Here then, Rousseau postulates the origins of society and law in a fraudulent covenant which not only gives new fetters to the poor and power to the rich, but which also irrevocably destroys natural liberty, and condemns all but a few to a life of labour, servitude and misery cf. From this point on, he proceeds to deliver a searing critique of all established forms of government and political organisation, and to brutally expose the trappings of civilisation, the artifice of social life, and the predicament of the modern self. Two vital aspects must, however, be spotlighted here in qualification.

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The second, and arguably the more important, is to underscore the philosophical context in which this history is written — i. At no point does he invite a return to pre-political forms of organisation.

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To be sure, he shows that man was happier then than he is now, but this falls some way short of a call for retrogression — he is very much of the conviction that the process of socialisation is irreversible, and that once perfectibility is set in motion, there can be no turning back. This is not, moreover, something that has to be inferred from without, for Rousseau expressly warns against such misinterpretation in an accompanying footnote: Quoi donc?

OC: III, This emphatic disclaimer shows plainly enough that Rousseau considers a retreat to primitive simplicity neither possible nor desirable. Indeed, as one critic has recently noted, it is quite striking how readily he accepts the actuality of modern conditions. OC: III, The solution he proposes in response is a communitarian society in which citizens selflessly bind themselves to the common good of all under the terms of a new and just social contract. Tracy B.

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Set in the fuller context of the argument as a whole, however, it takes on a much less sinister meaning. The only means of achieving this harmony is, he continues, through the spirit of law. For attempts to defend Rousseau against such charges, see R. Paris: Klincksieck, , pp. OC: III, The organ of law that permits a people to obey and not serve, to have leaders but no masters, is the general will.

It rather articulates the common interest of every citizen as an indivisible and inalienable collective moral conscience. The sovereign authority that enacts the general will thus comes from all and applies to all — each citizen actively partakes in the formulation of laws as part of the sovereign assembly, and each undertakes to abide by their provisions. As the sole parties to the social contract, the people therefore consent to rule over themselves, and no force is exercised except against citizens who have reneged on their commitment to obey laws of their own making. Natural liberty — that is the unrestricted capacity to satisfy private needs — has been lost, and the individual finds himself bound by illegitimate chains of slavery.

Social cohesion demands that the citizen abandons negative natural freedoms, but he acquires in return a new positive civil and moral liberty — freedom from constraint is replaced by freedom for a higher end cf. By suppressing his private will and choosing the common good over personal gain, the citizen emerges as a responsible moral agent, and thus becomes fully human. Caught squarely in the firing line of this critique is the divided human being of modern society. Rousseau unter sich und mit der Vernunft in Einstimmung bringen.


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  • Exploiting the epistolary mode, Rousseau allows differing subjective perspectives to emerge side-byside in a cycle of contradiction, correction and confirmation. At the core of all this is the problem of the relationship between nature and culture — here telescoped through the tension between love and society — which ultimately remains unsolved. The paradoxes that run through his writings are thus, in the main, as Stephen G.

    Hume told me that he had from Rousseau himself the secret of his principles of composition. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Pocock Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, , p. Special emphasis will be given in this context to the twin themes of violence and social change. Man is naturally good but corrupted in society — this dictum provides the terms for a philosophical discourse which, as Cassirer notes, transposes the problem of theodicy onto the terrain of politics, postulating the origins of evil not in original sin but rather in the structures of social life.

    Reason, Rousseau insists, has re-appropriated the violence it set out to dispel, and is now complicit in a number of its own coercive power plays against the competing forces of impulse, instinct and desire — hence the dislocation of the modern self.

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    And yet in addressing the dilemma of political evil, and particularly the cardinal issue of how a state and people might be liberated from tyranny, Rousseau nonetheless does, at points, rehabilitate the use of violence in the name of virtue and the common good. Three aspects are particularly noteworthy here. The first concerns the moral justification of violence in the overthrow of an existing corrupt society and the legitimacy of revolutionary action.

    The second centres on the question of the necessity of violence both in establishing a new polity or nation and in preserving political order, focusing in particular on the ethical implications of capital punishment, sacrifice, and the construction of identity and otherness. Broadly speaking, we can distinguish three general approaches, though these all tend to overlap to varying degrees.

    Second, there are those which tend to focus on inter-personal motives on the level of psychology, individual agency and excesses of cruelty and hatred cf. Berne: Lang, , pp. As we may divine, the field of hypertextual practice is broad, encompassing forms of transformation parody, travesty and transposition and imitation pastiche, caricature, forgery. Firstly, his analysis of hypertexts tends towards a type of structuralist formalism, especially concerned with questions of genre and classification.

    Stephens, The Dramas and the Stories, pp. If one says that X influenced Y it does seem that one is saying that X did something to Y rather than Y did something to X. But in the consideration of good pictures and painters the second is always the more lively reality. Most of these relations just cannot be stated the other way round — in terms of X acting on Y rather than Y acting on X. To think in terms of influence blunts thought by impoverishing the means of differentiation. On the one hand, then, this study returns to the familiar terrain of traditional poetics, reviving notions of influence and inspiration, and tracing a direct lineage between authors.

    Rousseau, p. For those who would doubt that such associations could ever be satisfactorily established in a positivist sense, however, the manner in which the relationship is placed in the wider context of contemporary political and cultural discourse should, at the very least, allow for new perspectives to emerge on the structural outlines of shared concerns and values, which will, in turn, show how the connections between the two are more complex and manifold than have previously been thought. From this it logically follows that the Revolution and its impact should provide a particular point of focus and interest here.

    Amphitryon: Der Feldherr ist eines Krieges wegen von Hause abwesend. Domingo the entire narrative unfolds within the arena of violent revolutionary struggle. The same is true, in a somewhat different sense, of Michael Kohlhaas, whilst in his other tales, Kleist employs a range of alternative devices to generate and convey a similar climate of disorder and instability, from the earthquake that suddenly rocks St.

    In several of these works, moreover, he looks beyond the conditions of revolutionary crisis and subjectivity and deliberately confronts the historical experience of the Revolution and its specific political and ethical implications: in Das Erdbeben, for example, where he inquires into the violent outcomes of sudden socio-political irruptions and the conflict between revolution and reaction, and in both Michael Kohlhaas and Die Verlobung where he probes the tenuous divides between liberty, justice and vengeance. In Penthesilea, meanwhile, Kleist offers a glimpse of post-revolutionary society and critically surveys the slide towards new forms of tyranny and oppression, whilst in his two patriotic dramas Die Herrmannsschlacht and Prinz Friedrich von Homburg , he first provides a brutally graphic sketch of the necessary conditions of revolutionary violence and national insurrection, and then a rather more abstract treatment of patriotic ideals and the legitimacy of state-sanctioned violence.

    Secondly, the adoption of such broad perspectives has distracted from certain more nuanced references to aspects of revolutionary political culture — to the stock of symbols, language and imagery that transmitted new values and identities in France, and that has, since the late s, returned very much to the fore of revolutionary historiography. Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit der Literatur zur Verlobung in St. That I have deliberately chosen to eschew such preliminaries can be explained on three counts.

    The following chapter on Das Erdbeben in Chili looks at questions of theodicy, sacrifice, and the bounds of physical and moral evil, as well as the problematic relationship between patriotism and religion. In Chapter Four, the discussion centres on the dialectic of freedom and slavery and the ethics of violent revolution in Die Verlobung in St.