Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (June 28, 1712July 2, 1778) was a Franco-Swiss philosopher of Enlightenment whose political ideas influenced the French Revolution, the development of socialist theory, and the growth of nationalism.

See also:
Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (1750)
Discourse on Inequality (1754)
The Social Contract (1762)
Emile, or On Education (1762)
Confessions (Rousseau) (1782)


A country cannot subsist well without liberty, nor liberty without virtue.
  • All that time is lost which might be better employed.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Quotations in Most Frequent Use: Taken Chiefly from the Latin and French, but comprising many from the Greek, Spanish, and Italian Languages, translated into English (1809) by David Evans Macdonnel
  • L'accent est l'âme du discours.
    • Accent is the soul of language; it gives to it both feeling and truth.
    • English translation as quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tryon Edwards, p. 2.
  • An honest man nearly always thinks justly.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tryon Edwards, p. 277.
  • A country cannot subsist well without liberty, nor liberty without virtue.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tryon Edwards, p. 301.
  • Days of absence, sad and dreary,
    Clothed in sorrow's dark array,—
    Days of absence, I am weary:
    She I love is far away.
    • Day of Absence, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Chère amie, ne savez-vous pas que la vertu est un état de guerre, et que, pour y vivre, on a toujours quelque combat à rendre contre soi?
  • What good would it be to possess the whole universe if one were its only survivor?
    • A Lasting Peace Through the Federation of Europe (1756)
  • L'offenseur ne pardonne jamais.[1]
    • Translation: The offender never forgives.
    • Émile et Sophie, ou Les Solitaires, "Lettre Première" (1781)

Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (1750)[edit]

Discourse on Inequality (1754)[edit]

The Social Contract (1762)[edit]

Main article: The Social Contract

Emile, or On Education (1762)[edit]

Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1765-1770; published 1782)[edit]

Main article: Confessions

Book I[edit]

  • I have entered on an enterprise which is without precedent, and will have no imitator. I propose to show my fellows a man as nature made him, and this man shall be myself.
    • I
  • I know my heart, and have studied mankind; I am not made like any one I have been acquainted with, perhaps like no one in existence; if not better, I at least claim originality, and whether Nature did wisely in breaking the mould with which she formed me, can only be determined after having read this work.
    • Variant translations: I may not be better than other people, but at least I am different.
      If I am not better, at least I am different.
Whenever the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before the sovereign judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I.
  • Whenever the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before the sovereign judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I. With equal freedom and veracity have I related what was laudable or wicked, I have concealed no crimes, added no virtues; and if I have sometimes introduced superfluous ornament, it was merely to occupy a void occasioned by defect of memory: I may have supposed that certain, which I only knew to be probable, but have never asserted as truth, a conscious falsehood. Such as I was, I have declared myself; sometimes vile and despicable, at others, virtuous, generous and sublime; even as thou hast read my inmost soul: Power eternal! assemble round thy throne an innumerable throng of my fellow-mortals, let them listen to my confessions, let them blush at my depravity, let them tremble at my sufferings; let each in his turn expose with equal sincerity the failings, the wanderings of his heart, and, if he dare, aver, I was better than that man.
    • Variant translation: Let the trumpet of the day of judgment sound when it will, I shall appear with this book in my hand before the Sovereign Judge, and cry with a loud voice, This is my work, there were my thoughts, and thus was I. I have freely told both the good and the bad, have hid nothing wicked, added nothing good.
  • J'adore la liberté; j'abhorre la gêne, la peine, l'assujettissement. Tant que dure l'argent que j'ai dans ma bourse, il assure mon indépendance; il me dispense de m'intriguer pour en trouver d'autre, nécessité que j'eus toujours en horreur; mais de peur de le voir finir, je le choie. L'argent qu'on possède est l'instrument de la liberté; celui qu'on pourchasse est celui de la servitude.
    • I love liberty, and I loathe constraint, dependence, and all their kindred annoyances. As long as my purse contains money it secures my independence, and exempts me from the trouble of seeking other money, a trouble of which I have always had a perfect horror; and the dread of seeing the end of my independence, makes me proportionately unwilling to part with my money. The money that we possess is the instrument of liberty, that which we lack and strive to obtain is the instrument of slavery.

Books II-VI[edit]

  • Le remords s'endort durant un destin prospère et s'aigrit dans l'adversité.
    • Remorse sleeps during a prosperous period but wakes up in adversity.
    • Variant translations: Remorse sleeps during prosperity but awakes bitter consciousness during adversity.
      Remorse goes to sleep during a prosperous period and wakes up in adversity.
    • II
  • It is too difficult to think nobly when one thinks only of earning a living.
    • Variant translation: It is too difficult to think nobly when one only thinks to get a living.
    • II
  • Hatred, as well as love, renders its votaries credulous.
    • V
  • I remembered the way out suggested by a great princess when told that the peasants had no bread: "Well, let them eat cake".
    • Variant: At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, "Then let them eat cake!"
    • This passage contains a statement Qu'ils mangent de la brioche that has usually come to be attributed to Marie Antoinette; this was written in 1766, when Marie Antoinette was 10 and still 4 years away from her marriage to Louis XVI of France, and is an account of events of 1740, before she was born. It also implies the phrase had been long known before that time.
    • VI

On the musicians of the Ospedale della Pieta (book VII)[edit]

An account of a visit to the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice.
  • A kind of music far superior, in my opinion, to that of operas, and which in all Italy has not its equal, nor perhaps in the whole world, is that of the 'scuole'. The 'scuole' are houses of charity, established for the education of young girls without fortune, to whom the republic afterwards gives a portion either in marriage or for the cloister. Amongst talents cultivated in these young girls, music is in the first rank. Every Sunday at the church of each of the four 'scuole', during vespers, motettos or anthems with full choruses, accompanied by a great orchestra, and composed and directed by the best masters in Italy, are sung in the galleries by girls only; not one of whom is more than twenty years of age. I have not an idea of anything so voluptuous and affecting as this music; the richness of the art, the exquisite taste of the vocal part, the excellence of the voices, the justness of the execution, everything in these delightful concerts concurs to produce an impression which certainly is not the mode, but from which I am of opinion no heart is secure. Carrio and I never failed being present at these vespers of the 'Mendicanti', and we were not alone. The church was always full of the lovers of the art, and even the actors of the opera came there to form their tastes after these excellent models. What vexed me was the iron grate, which suffered nothing to escape but sounds, and concealed from me the angels of which they were worthy. I talked of nothing else. One day I spoke of it at Le Blond's; "If you are so desirous," said he, "to see those little girls, it will be an easy matter to satisfy your wishes. I am one of the administrators of the house, I will give you a collation [light meal] with them." I did not let him rest until he had fulfilled his promise. In entering the saloon, which contained these beauties I so much sighed to see, I felt a trembling of love which I had never before experienced. M. le Blond presented to me one after the other, these celebrated female singers, of whom the names and voices were all with which I was acquainted. Come, Sophia, — she was horrid. Come, Cattina, — she had but one eye. Come, Bettina, — the small-pox had entirely disfigured her. Scarcely one of them was without some striking defect.
    Le Blond laughed at my surprise; however, two or three of them appeared tolerable; these never sung but in the choruses; I was almost in despair. During the collation we endeavored to excite them, and they soon became enlivened; ugliness does not exclude the graces, and I found they possessed them. I said to myself, they cannot sing in this manner without intelligence and sensibility, they must have both; in fine, my manner of seeing them changed to such a degree that I left the house almost in love with each of these ugly faces. I had scarcely courage enough to return to vespers. But after having seen the girls, the danger was lessened. I still found their singing delightful; and their voices so much embellished their persons that, in spite of my eyes, I obstinately continued to think them beautiful.

Books VIII-XII[edit]

  • The thirst after happiness is never extinguished in the heart of man.
    • IX

Dialogues: Rousseau Judge of Jean-Jacques (published 1782)[edit]

  • What I had to say was so clear and I felt it so deeply that I am amazed by the tediousness, repetitiousness, verbiage, and disorder of this writing. What would have mad it lively and vehement coming from another's pen is precisely hat has made it dull and slack coming from mine. The subject was myself, and I no longer found on my own interest that zeal and vigor of courage which can exalt a generous soul only for another person's cause.
    • On the Subject and Form of This Writing
  • There as here, passions are the motive of all action, but they are livelier, more ardent, or merely simpler and purer, thereby assuming a totally different character. All the first movements of nature are good and right.
    • First Dialogue
  • Beings who are so uniquely constituted must necessarily express themselves in other ways than ordinary men. It is impossible that with souls so differently modified, they should not carry over into the expression of their feelings and ideas the stamp of those modifications.
    • First Dialogue
  • As for the Soothsayer, although I am certain no one feels the true beauties of that work better than I, I am far from finding these beauties in the same places as the infatuated public does. They are not the products of study and knowledge, but rather are inspired by taste and sensitivity.
    • First Dialogue
  • I want you to read the true system of the heart, drafted by a decent man and published under another name. I do not want you to be biased against good and useful books merely because a man unworthy of reading them has the audacity to call himself the Author.
    • First Dialogue

Quotes about Rousseau[edit]

Quotes are arranged alphabetical per author

A - F[edit]

  • ...whatever his ambiguities of his legacy in respect of totalitarianism, there is no doubt that Rousseau is the key figure in the development of democratic was Rousseau who developed the concept of sovereignty of the people, and he was the first to insist upon the fitness and right of the ordinary people to participate in the political system as full citizens.
    • Ian Adams and R. W. Dyson, Fifty Major Political Thinkers, Routledge, 2003.
  • Binary distinctions are not necessarily motivated by a desire to dominate. David Spurr (1993: 103) discusses the ways in which Rousseau, in the Essay on the Origin of Languages, attempts to validate the ‘life and warmth’ of Oriental languages such as Arabic and Persian. But in employing the ‘logic and precision’ of Western writing to do so, Rousseau effectively negates these languages because they become characterized by a primitive lack of rational order and culture. Although setting out to applaud such languages, he succeeds in confirming the binary between European science, understanding, industry and writing on the one hand, and Oriental primitivism and irrationality on the other.
    • Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin (2000). Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts, second edition, London: Routledge, p. 20, citing Spurr’s The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing and Imperial Administration, Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  • The best-known expression of the idea of the ‘noble savage’ is in Rousseau’s A Discourse on Inequality (1755). The concept arises in the eighteenth century as a European nostalgia for a simple, pure, idyllic state of the natural, posed against rising industrialism and the notion of overcomplications and sophistications of European urban society. This nostalgia creates an image of other cultures as part of Rousseau’s criticism of the failure, as he perceived it, of modern European societies to preserve and maintain the natural innocence, freedom and equality of man in a ‘natural’ state. It creates images of the savage that serve primarily to re-define the European. The crucial fact about the construction is that it produces an ostensibly positive oversimplification of the ‘savage’ figure, rendering it in this particular form as an idealized rather than a debased stereotype.
    • Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin (2000). Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts, second edition, London: Routledge, p. 193
  • It seems to me imperative to re-establish the true dualism—that between vital impulse and vital control—and to this end to affirm the higher will first of all as a psychological fact. The individual needs, however, to go beyond this fact if he is to decide how far he is to exercise control in any particular instance with a primary view to his own happiness: in short, he needs standards. To secure standards, at least critically, he cannot afford, like the Rousseauist, to disparage the intellect.
    • Irving Babbitt, "What I Believe" (1930), Irving Babbitt: Representative Writings (1981), pp. 14-15
  • The average age at which a man marries is thirty years; the average age at which his passions, his most violent desires for genesial delight are developed, is twenty years.  Now during the ten fairest years of his life, during the green season in which his beauty, his youth and his wit make him more dangerous to husbands than at any other epoch of his life, his finds himself without any means of satisfying legitimately that irresistible craving for love which burns in his whole nature.  During this time, representing the sixth part of human life, we are obliged to admit that the sixth part or less of our total male population and the sixth part which is the most vigorous is placed in a position which is perpetually exhausting for them, and dangerous for society.
    “Why don’t they get married?” cries a religious woman.
    But what father of good sense would wish his son to be married at twenty years of age?
    Is not the danger of these precocious unions apparent at all?  It would seem as if marriage was a state very much at variance with natural habitude, seeing that it requires a special ripeness of judgment in those who conform to it.  All the world knows what Rousseau said:  “There must always be a period of libertinage in life either in one state or another.  It is an evil leaven which sooner or later ferments.”
    Now what mother of a family is there who would expose her daughter to the risk of this fermentation when it has not yet taken place?
    • Honore de Balzac (1829) The Physiology of Marriage; or, the Musings of an Eclectic Philosopher on the Happiness and Unhappiness of Married Life “Meditation IV: On the Virtuous Woman”
  • Rousseau’s unforgivable crime was his rejection of the graces and luxuries of civilized existence. Voltaire had sung “The superfluous, that most necessary thing." For the high bourgeois standard of living Rousseau would substitute the middling peasant’s. It was the country versus the city – an exasperating idea for them, as was the amazing fact that every new work of Rousseau’s was a huge success, whether the subject was politics, theater, education, religion, or a novel about love.
  • ...As with any truly great writer, it is foolish to judge Rousseau by the instances where people tried to follow his advice literally, still less by the harmful things done in his name (by which standard Jesus Christ does not exactly come off unblemished.) Rousseau’s influence on modern culture has been far too vast and multifaceted to squeeze into reductive categories of “positive” and “negative” and even his most misguided prescriptions often came accompanied by profound and poetic insights.
    • David A. Bell, "Happy Birthday to Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Why the World’s First Celebrity Intellectual Still Matters",New Republic, June 22nd, 2012.
  • For Rousseau, man’s nature is essentially good, but he was corrupted by various “advances” in human civilization (especially the institution of private property). Although man’s natural “innocence” has been lost, Rousseau thought that it could be replaced by a new form of moral goodness through the establishment of new political institutions. When we compare this to St. Augustine, we can see what a departure this is from the mainstream of Pauline Christianity. Augustine held that man is inescapably sinful and concludes that, as such, the City of God cannot be achieved on earth. Rousseau’s major contribution to the foundation of socialist thought is in his rejection of human sinfulness and his commitment to human improvement through institutional change. With this foundational belief, he set the stage for perfectionist political doctrines that moved focus from “the next world” of Christianity by arguing that this world can be transformed into “heaven on earth.”
    • Nicholas Buccola, “‘The Tyranny of the Least and the Dumbest’: Nietzsche’s Critique of Socialism,” Quarterly Journal of Ideology, Volume 31, 2009, 3 &4, italics as in original
  • The assembly [in revolutionary France] recommends to its youth a study of the bold experimenters in morality. Everybody knows that there is a great dispute amongst their leaders, which of them is the best resemblance of Rousseau. In truth, they all resemble him. His blood they transfuse into their minds and into their manners. Him they study; him they meditate; him they turn over in all the time they can spare from the laborious mischief of the day, or the debauches of the night. Rousseau is their canon of holy writ; in his life he is their canon of Polycletus; he is their standard figure of perfection. To this man and this writer, as a pattern to authors and to Frenchmen, the foundries of Paris are now running for statues, with the kettles of their poor and the bells of their churches. If an author had written like a great genius on geometry, though his practical and speculative morals were vicious in the extreme, it might appear, that in voting the statue, they honoured only the geometrician. But Rousseau is a moralist, or he is nothing. It is impossible, therefore, putting the circumstances together, to mistake their design in choosing the author with whom they have begun to recommend a course of studies.
  • Rousseau, though holding views diametrically opposed to Luther's as to the character of man, finally strengthened his hand by his estimate of man's mind. Luther believed in the utter moral wretchedness of man, but Rousseau believed not only in man's goodness on the plane of character but he also was convinced (like Luther) that man is by nature intelligent. The "democrats" of the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries deducted from Luther's and Rousseau's joint declaration that man is intelligent (either by nature or by an inner light) the further conclusion that the sum total of all minds must be perfection itself.
    • Francis Stuart Campbell, pen name of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1943), Menace of the Herd, or, Procrustes at Large, Milwaukee, WI: The Bruce Publishing Company, p. 41
  • National Socialism is the fulfillment of Continental "liberalism" which stems largely from Rousseau […] The continental Liberals never were liberals in the English sense [i.e., never were classical liberals ]; their "liberalism" was nothing else but the struggle against the existing order and the old tradition. Foolishly enough the English Liberals supported their continental "coreligionists," never being fully aware of the abyss which actually divided them.
    • Francis Stuart Campbell, pen name of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1943), Menace of the Herd, or, Procrustes at Large, Milwaukee, WI: The Bruce Publishing Company, p. 213
  • Jean Jacques Rousseau's many false starts as medical student, clockmaker, theologian, painter, servant, musician, and botanist are noted, as well as his curious letter addressed to God Almighty which he placed under the altar of Notre Dame. Rousseau's expressed repugnance toward the normal sex act is also noted.
  • The Maori of New Zealand committed massacres regularly. The dyaks of Borneo were headhunters. The Polynesians, living in an environment as close to paradise as one can imagine, fought constantly, and created a society so hideously restrictive that you could lose your life if you stepped in the footprint of a chief. It was the Polynesians who gave us the very concept of taboo, as well as the word itself. The noble savage is a fantasy, and it was never true. That anyone still believes it, 200 years after Rousseau, shows the tenacity of religious myths, their ability to hang on in the face of centuries of factual contradiction.
  • Above all, Rousseau is the explorer of that dark continent, the modern self. It is no surprise that he wrote one of the most magnificent autobiographies of all time, his Confessions. Personal experience starts to take on a significance it never had for Plato or Descartes. What matters now is less objective truth than truth-to-self – a passionate conviction that one's identity is uniquely precious, and that expressing it as freely and richly as possible is a sacred duty. In this belief, Rousseau is a forerunner not only of the Romantics, but of the liberals, existentialists and spiritual individualists of modern times.
  • His outlook was that of the petty-bourgeois peasant, clinging to his hard-won independence in the face of power and privilege. He sometimes writes as though any form of dependence on others is despicable. Yet he was a radical egalitarian in an age when such thinkers were hard to find. Almost uniquely for his age, he also believed in the absolute sovereignty of the people. To bow to a law one did not have a hand in creating was a recipe for tyranny. Self-determination lay at the root of all ethics and politics. Human beings might misuse their freedom, but they were not truly human without it.

G - L[edit]

  • Now, you needn't have studied marketing to know that there are two groups of people who can always be convinced to consume more than they need to: addicts and children. School has done a pretty good job of turning our children into addicts, but a spectacular job of turning our children into children. Again, this is no accident. Theorists from Plato to Rousseau to our own Dr. [Alexander] Inglis knew that if children could be cloistered with other children, stripped of responsibility and independence, encouraged to develop only the trivializing emotions of greed, envy, jealousy, and fear, they would grow older but never truly grow up.
    • John Taylor Gatto (2009), Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, p. xxi
  • [W]hat truly makes the French Revolution the first fascist revolution was its effort to turn politics into a religion. (In this the revolutionaries were inspired by Rousseau, whose concept of the general will divinized the people while rendering the person an afterthought.)
    • Jonah Goldberg (2007). Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. NY: Doubleday, ISBN 9780385511841, p. 13
  • Robespierre’s ideas were derived from his close study of Rousseau, whose theory of the general will formed the intellectual basis for all modern totalitarianisms. According to Rousseau, individuals who live in accordance with the general will are “free” and “virtuous” while those who defy it are criminals, fools or heretics. Those enemies of the common good must be forced to bend to the general will. He described this state-sanctioned coercion in Orwellian terms as the act of “forcing men to be free.” It was Rousseau who originally sanctified the sovereign will of the masses while dismissing the mechanisms of democracy as corrupting and profane. Such mechanics -- voting in elections, representative bodies, and so forth -- are “hardly ever necessary where the government is well-intentioned,” wrote Rousseau in a revealing turn of phrase.
    • Jonah Goldberg (2007). Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. NY: Doubleday, ISBN 9780385511841, p. 39
  • Marx, like Rousseau before him, believed that men are good and made bad only by bad social systems. Unlike Rousseau, he believed that these systems arise from historical necessity. It occurred neither to Marx nor to Rousseau-as it did to Madison-that bad men corrupt good systems just as often as vice versa.
    • Ernest Van Den Haag, “Marxism as Pseudo-Science,” Reason Papers No. 12 (Spring 1987) pp. 26-32.
  • This peculiar thinker - although often described as irrationalist or romantic - also latched on to and deeply depended on Cartesian thought. Rousseau's heady brew of ideas came to dominate 'progressive' thought, and led people to forget that freedom as a political institution had arisen not by human beings 'striving for freedom' in the sense of release from restraints, but by their striving for the protection of a known secure individual domain. Rousseau led people to forget that rules of conduct necessarily constrain and that order is their product; and that these rules, precisely by limiting the range of means that each individual may use for his purposes, greatly extend the range of ends each can successfully pursue.
    It was Rousseau who - declaring in the opening statement of The Social Contract that 'man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains', and wanting to free men from all 'artificial' restraints - made what had been called the savage the virtual hero of progressive intellectuals, urged people to shake off the very restraints to which they owed their productivity and numbers, and produced a conception of liberty that became the greatest obstacle to its attainment. (...) The admittedly great seductive appeal of this view hardly owes its power (whatever it may claim) to reason and evidence. (...) Despite these contradictions, there is no doubt that Rousseau's outcry was effective or that, during the past two centuries, it has shaken our civilisation. Moreover, irrationalist as it is, it nonetheless did appeal precisely to progressivists by its Cartesian insinuation that we might use reason to obtain and justify direct gratification of our natural instincts.
    • Friedrich Hayek, The Fatal Conceit (1988), Ch. 4: The Revolt of Instinct and Reason
  • The first great frontal assault on the Enlightenment was launched by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Rousseau has a well-deserved reputation as the bad boy of eighteenth century French philosophy. In the context of Enlightenment intellectual culture, Rousseau’s was a major dissenting voice. He was an admirer of all things Spartan—the Sparta of militaristic and feudal communalism—and a despiser of all things Athenian—the classical Athens of commerce, cosmopolitanism, and the high arts. Civilization is thoroughly corrupting, Rousseau argued -- not only the oppressive feudal system of eighteenth-century France with its decadent and parasitical aristocracy, but also its Enlightenment alternative with its exaltation of reason, property, the arts and sciences. Name a dominant feature of the Enlightenment, and Rousseau was against it.
    • Philosopher Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (2004), Tempe, AZ: Scholargy Press, p. 92.
  • Thus you see, [Rousseau] is a Composition of Whim, Affectation, Wickedness, Vanity, and Inquietude, with a very small, if any Ingredient of Madness. … The ruling Qualities abovementioned, together with Ingratitude, Ferocity, and Lying, I need not mention, Eloquence and Invention, form the whole of the Composition.
  • In the famous fragment on the origin of inequality, Rousseau seems to believe that private property was simply invented by a madman; yet we do not know how this diabolical contrivance, opposed as it was to innate human drives, was taken up by other people and spread all over the human societies.
  • A utopian vision, once it is translated into political idiom, becomes mendacious or self-contradictory; it provides new names for old injustice or hides the contradictions under ad hoc invented labels. This is especially true of revolutionary utopias, whether elaborated in the actual revolutionary process or simply applied in its course. The Orwellian language had been known, though not codified, long before modern totalitarian despotism. Rousseau’s famous slogan, “One has to compel people to freedom,” is a good example.
  • You can lock the door upon them, but they burst open their shaky lattices and call out over the house-tops so that men cannot but hear. You hounded wild Rousseau into the meanest garret of the Rue St. Jacques and jeered at his angry shrieks. But the thin, piping tones swelled a hundred years later into the sullen roar of the French Revolution, and civilization to this day is quivering to the reverberations of his voice.

M - R[edit]

  • In truth,Rousseau was a genius whose real influence cannot be traced with precision because it pervaded all the thought that followed him...Men will always be sharply divided about Rousseau: for he released imagination as well as sentimentalism; he increased men’s desire for justice as well as confusing their minds, and he gave the poor hope even though the rich could make use of his arguments.
    • Kingsley Martin, French Liberal Thought in the Eighteenth Century (1962).
  • In one direction at least Rousseau’s influence was a steady one: he discredited force as a basis for the State, convinced men that authority was legitimate only when founded in rational consent and that no arguments from passing expediency could justify a government in disregarding individual freedom or in failing to promote social equality.
    • Kingsley Martin, French Liberal Thought in the Eighteenth Century (1962).
  • It is not enough to say that Jean-Jacques is close to us; he is one of us. His contemporaries and the generation that followed his have retained his redundancy and his eloquence.
  • [M]y position has nothing in common with a Rousseauistic optimism about human "nature.” […] Rousseau's pedagogy is profoundly manipulative. This does not always seem to be recognized by educators, but it has been convincingly demonstrated and documented.
  • Alice Miller (1972) on Rousseau's educational philosophy as an exemplar of “poisonous pedagogy”, in For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence
  • The disciples of Jean Jacques Rousseau who raved about nature and the blissful condition of man in the state of nature did not take notice of the fact that the means of subsistence are scarce and that the natural state of man is extreme poverty and insecurity.
    • Ludwig von Mises, Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Revolution (1957), p. 173
  • Thus, in the eighteenth century, when nearly all the instructed, and all those of the uninstructed who were led by them, were lost in admiration of what is called civilisation, and of the marvels of modern science, literature, and philosophy, and while greatly overrating the amount of unlikeness between the men of modern and those of ancient times, indulged the belief that the whole of the difference was in their own favour; with what a salutary shock did the paradoxes of Rousseau explode like bombshells in the midst, dislocating the compact mass of one-sided opinion, and forcing its elements to recombine in a better form and with additional ingredients. Not that the current opinions were on the whole farther from the truth than Rousseau's were; on the contrary, they were nearer to it; they contained more of positive truth, and very much less of error. Nevertheless there lay in Rousseau's doctrine, and has floated down the stream of opinion along with it, a considerable amount of exactly those truths which the popular opinion wanted; and these are the deposit which was left behind when the flood subsided. The superior worth of simplicity of life, the enervating and demoralising effect of the trammels and hypocrisies of artificial society, are ideas which have never been entirely absent from cultivated minds since Rousseau wrote; and they will in time produce their due effect, though at present needing to be asserted as much as ever, and to be asserted by deeds, for words, on this subject, have nearly exhausted their power.
  • But Rousseau — to what did he really want to return? Rousseau, this first modern man, idealist and rabble in one person — one who needed moral "dignity" to be able to stand his own sight, sick with unbridled vanity and unbridled self-contempt. This miscarriage, couched on the threshold of modern times, also wanted a "return to nature"; to ask this once more, to what did Rousseau want to return? I still hate Rousseau in the French Revolution: it is the world-historical expression of this duality of idealist and rabble. The bloody farce which became an aspect of the Revolution, its "immorality," is of little concern to me: what I hate is its Rousseauan morality — the so-called "truths" of the Revolution through which it still works and attracts everything shallow and mediocre. The doctrine of equality! There is no more poisonous poison anywhere: for it seems to be preached by justice itself, whereas it really is the termination of justice. "Equal to the equal, unequal to the unequal" — that would be the true slogan of justice; and also its corollary: "Never make equal what is unequal." That this doctrine of equality was surrounded by such gruesome and bloody events, that has given this "modern idea" par excellence a kind of glory and fiery aura so that the Revolution as a spectacle has seduced even the noblest spirits.
    • Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (1889), translator Walter Kauffman
  • I remember once lately discussing with a friend the instance of some one we knew who had become bored with existence and had taken his own way out of it. I said I could not object to suicide on the ethical or religious grounds ordinarily alleged, and I saw nothing but uncommonly far-fetched absurdity in Rousseau's plea that suicide is a robbery committed against society.
    • Albert Jay Nock (1943), Memoirs of a Superflous Man, NY: Harper and Brothers, p. 326
  • Sexuality and eroticism are the intricate intersection of nature and culture. Feminists grossly oversimplify the problem of sex when they reduce it a matter of social convention: readjust society, eliminate sexual inequality, purify sex roles, and happiness and harmony will reign. Here feminism, like all liberal movements of the past two hundred years, is heir to Rousseau.
  • We remain in the Romantic cycle initiated by Rousseau: liberal idealism canceled by violence, barbarism, disillusionment and cynicism.
  • [F]ascism owed something to the Enlightenment idea that society need not be determined by tradition, but could be organized according to a blueprint derived from universal principles. The Enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s notion that society should be governed by one such universal ideal, the ‘general will’, is especially relevant, since it was taken up by the most revolutionary of the French Revolutionaries, the Jacobins. The Jacobins justified violence as a means to construct a new order and weed out those who opposed the general will (or the nation). They were ready to force people to be free.
    • Kevin Passamore, Fascism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0–19–280155–4, p. 34
  • If we prefer to trace a lineage [of facscist ideology] within the [political] Left, drawing on the Enlightenment's own perception that individual liberty can undermine community, some as gone back as far as Rousseau.
    • Robert O. Paxton, "Five Stages of Fascism." The Journal of Modern History, Vol 70 no. 1 (March, 1998).
  • At the present time, Hitler is an outcome of Rousseau; Roosevelt and Churchill, that of Locke.
    • Mathematician/philosopher Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945, p. 685.
  • Liberty is the nominal goal of Rousseau's thought,but in fact it is equality that he values, and he seeks to secure even at the expense of liberty.
  • Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy

S - Z[edit]

  • J.-J. Rousseau, répondit-il, n'est à mes yeux qu'un sot, lorsqu'il s'avise de juger le grand monde; il ne le comprenait pas, et y portait le cœur d'un laquais parvenu... Tout en prêchant la république et le renversement des dignités monarchiques, ce parvenu est ivre de bonheur, si un duc change la direction de sa promenade après dîner, pour accompagner un de ses amis.
    • "Jean Jacques Rousseau," he answered, "is nothing but a fool in my eyes when he takes it upon himself to criticise society; he did not understand it, and approached it with the heart of an upstart flunkey.... For all his preaching a Republic and the overthrow of monarchical titles, the upstart is mad with joy if a Duke alters the course of his after-dinner stroll to accompany one of his friends."
    • Stendhal Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black) (1830) Vol. II, ch. VIII
  • [A] lucid journal of a life so utterly degraded that it has been a bestseller in France ever since.
    • Hugh Trevor-Roper on Rousseau's Confessions, as quoted in Joseph Epstein (2012), Essays in Biography, Axios Press
  • Kant’s moral outlook is also fundamentally determined by a subtle, shrewd, historically self-conscious (and characteristically Enlightenment) conception of human nature and human psychology that most treatments of Kantian ethics (even sympathetic ones) have largely overlooked. This side of Kant owes a great deal to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and it belongs to a radical tradition in the social criticism of modernity whose later representatives include Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Karl Marx. The Kantian mistrust of our empirical desires reflects a Rousseauian picture of the way our natural desires have been influenced by the loss of innocence – the restless competitiveness – characteristic of human beings in the social condition, especially as found in the social inequalities of what Rousseau and Kant called the “civilized” stage of human society but was later renamed “modern bourgeois society” or “capitalism.” Again, to miss this continuity is not only to misread Kant; it is badly to misread the history, and even the living reality, of the social order that is all around us.

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