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Introduction and Biography

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ntroduction to Western Political ThoughtProfessor Mithilesh Kumar JhaDepartment of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.Lecture No. 18Rousseau – I: Intro & Social ContractHello and welcome friends. Today, we will study a new thinker Rousseau. And on Rousseau, we are going to have two lectures. In the first lecture, today, we are going to focus on his life, his major contributions and important treatises. And in the second part, we will focus on his views on human nature, ‘state of nature’ through his texts, Discourses on Inequality and Social Contract.In the second and concluding lecture on Rousseau, we will particularly focus on his idea of ‘general will’. We will look at the critical engagement with works of Rousseau and how his work was interpreted by different thinkers in different century. The image of Rousseau in the eighteenthcentury was different from the nineteenth and twentieth century. That we will discuss in the second or concluding lecture on Rousseau, before we look at the overall contribution of social contract, tradition in the history of western political thought.(Refer Slide Time: 01:59)If you look at Jean Jacques Rousseau, he was like Hobbes and Locke. He was a part of a tradition that we call the social contract tradition. It was based on the idea that human beings on their own would voluntarily come into contract with others and they constituted a political community. And the legitimacy of that community was based on the idea that human beings had voluntarily through contract with equal members agreed to be a part of that political community.And that agreement or contract compelled the individual to have obligations to laws of that community or order of that sovereign as in Hobbes. So, Rousseau was like Hobbes and Locke aspart of the social contract tradition in the western political thought. He was someone who was ruthlessly critical of some of the modern ideas or enlightenment projects, and beliefs the in human reason, rationalities, and science. He was a social contract tradition thinker. But he was someone who was ruthlessly critical of modern civilization and human beliefs in reason and rationality as a way forward for humanity. He was a theorist of popular sovereignty. That means the ultimate power and authority rest with the people themselves and not in their representative whether in the parliament or executive organ of the state. But the real authority and power should reside with the people. He was a theorist of the popular sovereignty in that sense who admired the republican form of government in which each adult would directly and actively participate in legislating or governing the political community. So, Rousseau’s ideas on government or how to legislate and what should be the basis of legitimacy were based on his republican motion. That form of government was legitimate in which every adult citizen directly and pro-actively had participated in legislating.And once they participate in the legislation, they have the obligation to follow that legislation. Thus,they were ruled by themselves and not by other bodies or institutions or through a kind of representative form of government. Rousseau was very critical of that modes of democracy which argued about a representative form of government. He wanted a direct participatory model of democracy in which each citizen would participate both in legislating the laws and rules that govern the society or particular society. Rousseau was a theorist of popular sovereignty with very strong argument for the republican form of government. He was a strong votary of the foundational ideas of modern state or government and these were the ideas of liberty and equality. The whole progress of modern state in society wastowards the attainment of equality of liberty. And as we have discussed in Plato or Aristotle, there was the hierarchy in the society. What was different form the classical or medieval notion of thinking? Is that in modern times, the central idea or primary ambition of human beings or the communities that is the nation-state is to achieve equality among all its members.Now, it is hard. But that is the objective of modern state. That is the legitimacy of modern state that it strived towards achieving equality among its members and then ensuring each member have liberty to lead the life they like. So, Rousseau, in that sense was the strong votary of study of liberty, equality and direct form of democracy, not indirect or representative model of democracy. His philosophy inspired the French revolution in 1789 if you recall the slogan of French revolution was liberty, equality, and fraternity. They wanted to create a new kind of political structure that would be different from the ancient regime based on hierarchy of process. Rousseau had inspired the French revolution. However, many of his ideas and we will discuss particularly in the first discourse, he wrote on ‘Art and Science’ was regarded as contrary to the enlightenment and progressive tradition in Europe. Rousseau was developing his thought or philosophical position in a time, when there was this new belief among the scholars, thinkers, and the populous at large that reason and rationality would lead to progress and enlightenment in the society. However, man of the ideas that Rousseau put forward was regarded as contrary to that of enlightenment and progressive traditions in Europe, particularly, his romantic ideas of pre-modern societies, where human beings were more free and their nature was good and moral. Whether as the science and arts, and exclusive belief in the reason and belief have lead to the moral corruption of human beings. There was this belief that science and human reason or rationality would make societies or communities better off. And that is the very foundation of modern civilization or modern society where we think through reason and rationality, we can make our society more prosperous, progressive which would be more free and equal. In contrast, to that Rousseau argued about corrupting influence of society or culture on individual and that we will discuss later. And then the whole project in the social contract for Rousseau was how to create a society, where men would be as free as they were before the formation of society. And in that sense, he was very passionate or critical of exclusive belief or faith in reason and rationality, and critic of religion.In Rousseau’s thought and personal life, it might come across where he was very critical of atheist. Because he thought like Locke that without faith in religion or god, men’s loyalty or ideas could not be trusted. Rousseau developed a kind of contrary enlightenment particularly the one which focusedexclusively on reason and rationality as the way forward for humanity. He regarded that how that led to the moral corruption among mankind.Rousseau personally led a very adventurous and wandering life. Almost a self-taught person. He had developed interest in a variety of subjects and these subjects were like music, drama, plays, education, politics, philosophy and later on, botany and zoology as well. However, in his interest,the central concern was how to create a political community in which human beings could live a free and equal life. In his other words as well particularly on education or his discourses, the central concern in social contract for which he was so famous and that led to a contradictory interpretation by the conservatives and the radicals. So, the central concern in all his works more so in the social contract was how to create a political community or political society, where each individual would lead a life free or equal as it was before the formation of state and society. Rousseau was critical of the prevalent moral corruption in his times, guided by this idea of reason and rationality. It led men to moral corruption, treacherousbehavior, and Rousseau’s inequality or hierarchies. Rousseau wanted to create a society where there would be equality and liberty for everyone.(Refer Slide Time: 12:36)If you look at the personal life of Rousseau, let us begin with this foundational characteristic of Rousseau’s thought through this statement which he wrote in Emile. A text on education and how to educate a child? Not through the systematic schooling system which robbed the child of his natural abilities or talent. But how to create a child more autonomous or independent in terms of thinking. Rousseau wrote in this text everything is good when it springs from the hands of our creator. That is god. However, everything degenerates when shaped by the hands of man. All kind of artificial construct, therefore, Rousseau was very critical of and he wanted to reassert the savage kind of romantic notion of that savage life without any ties, anxieties, or industry, where human beings lived a natural life, a freer life from all kinds of social ties or moral corruption that prevailed in the society that was artificially constructed. So, this led to a number of romantic movements in Europe as well. Rousseau was born in to a Calvinist family in Geneva on June 28, 1712. His father was a watch maker and his mother died 10 days after his birth. Initially, he lived in the care of his father whointroduced him to many Geeks and Romans works, and their republican traditions particularly though Plutarch’s Lives of the Roman Emperors. However, this care by the father was short-lived and subsequently, he lived under the custody of a puritanical aunt.In 1722 as a teenager, Rousseau fled Geneva and worked as an apprentice to a notary and later on to an engraver. Soon, he left this job and started living under the protection of Madame de Warens. It was under the guidance of Warens that Rousseau took keen interest in music, education, and philosophy. And in this way, Rousseau had a very fascinating childhood or adulthood, where he wasalmost a self-taught person and took interest in variety of subjects on education, music, composition, and plays. He wrote some novels which was popular in his time. So, it was under the guidance of Warens that Rousseau took keen interest in music, education and philosophy. He renounced Calvinism and converted to Roman Catholic Church. However, he took great pride in his citizenship of republican Geneva. Because it was a small polity which operated on the republican principle. Although, it was the executive organ which had more power in the decision making. Yet in the assembly, each adult member in Geneva was supposed to participate and contribute in decision-making.The ideal for Rousseau, therefore, was a kind of polity where every adult member of society would directly participate and he took a great pride in his citizenship of republican Geneva rather than monarchy such as in France, Russia and Italy. He was suspicious of atheist whom he regarded as untrustworthy. In Paris, Rousseau first began to establish himself as a music composer. Hebefriended great philosophers like Denis Diderot with whom he had a close friendship for the next 15 years.He contributed two essays on ‘Music and Political Economy’ and in ‘Encyclopedia’ whoseobjectives were to collect the knowledge that is worth collecting and it was edited by Diderots and many others in which Rousseau first began to reflect on ‘Music or Political Economy’ and developed his interest in philosophical writings and not just literally plays or novels.(Refer Slide Time: 17:59)For a brief period in 1743 and 44, Rousseau worked as a secretary to the French ambassador in Venice, Italy. And he went to Italy before, when he was living under the custody of Madame Warens to study philosophy and develop his educational abilities. Here, in Venice, he had firsthand experienced of how politics shaped every sphere of human life. And from then on, he began to seriously think about how to create a polity which would enable every individual to live the life to the fullest as a free and equal member in the community rather than a life of hierarchy or inequality or subordination of men by other men. So, it was in Venice that he had this firsthand experience of how politics shaped every sphere of human life and the prospect that he had. If a society or a community have a good polity, it will increase the chances of individual and their life prospects whether if the polity in a country or a society is bad or immoral. It would have corrupting influences on the individuals and citizens. So,he developed a keen interest in politics that was reflected in all his works, including, Discourses or education treaties, Emile and it was most exclusively articulated in the social contract. Rousseau’s popularity across the Europe was based on an essay, he wrote for that ‘Academie de Dijon’. This essay is titled as ‘Discourse on the Arts and Science’ which is also known as the ‘First Discourse’. Now, this essay dealt with this question that whether progress in arts and science advanced or corrupt morality or corrupted morality or advanced the morality. That was the question post by this academy. In this essay, Rousseau dealt with this question whether science or arts or progress in science and arts advanced or corrupted the morality in the human society. Rousseau argued that the advancement in science and arts corrupted the good and moral nature of mankind that he draws from the historical examples. So, he mixed a comparison between Greek city-states like Athens and Sparta. And Sparta was more dynamic or stable republic than Athens. Precisely, because in Sparta, the focus was on military virtue or citizen’s participation in the governance rather than exclusive focus on arts and culture in Athens which according to Rousseau led to its destruction and gradual development of empire. Rousseau argued that arts and science,and the progress in arts and science had made individuals ideal.It made them weaker both physically and mentally in comparison to their forefathers. This essay of Rousseau was instant hit which made him popular across the Europe. But it also led to acrimonious relationships with many of his old colleagues and enlightenment thinkers who found his arguments contrary to the enlightenment project. So, the argument of his romantic beliefs in society before the focus or exclusive focus on the development of arts and culture.So, many of the enlightenment thinkers argued that through the cultivation of arts and science, and refinement of human sensibilities overall society would progress and become better off. In contrast,to that Rousseau argued that led to treacherous behavior or moral corruption of human beings and robbed them of their good moral nature which was there in the ‘state of nature’ or before the cultivation of arts and science. He was a kind of subverting the exclusive focus on reason and rationality, and cultivation of human nature and corrected through art and science. This was very problematic for many lettermen thinkers who argued that Rousseau believed in a culture or society, where the ignorance or lack of arts and science or the knowledge of arts and science led to a kind of a tyrannical regime or the absolutist monarchies. Rousseau was unaware of those facts and did not believe in the human capacity to create a better polity or economy or society through art and science. That was the whole purpose of enlightenment project. This essay, although established Rousseau as the popular philosopher across Europe, but it also leads to many acrimonies relationship with his old friends and particularly, critics from the enlightenment thinkers. Rousseau gradually developed a distaste for the city life and retreated into the countryside. In 1750s, over the decades, he produced his master pieces such as Second Discourse titled as Discourse on the Origins of Inequality among Men (1755) and Emile (1762)were treatises on education and social contracts (1762). So, among these the social contract was most famous work which exhibited his philosophical positions and ideally, this social contract should be read with his Discourse on Inequality. And this relationship we will see in a moment.(Refer Slide Time: 25:04)Rousseau in his personal life never had a settled life or a family. He never accepted patronage from anyone royalty or subordination of anyone. His relationship with many of his patrons was therefore somewhat problematic or led to acrimonies relationships. He had many patrons. But he did not take them as a kind of support or gratitude for their patroness. In fact, he refused patroness from the royalty and believed in his own self abilities or freedom to lead the life which was invasive in many of his philosophical treaties such as the Social Contract or Emile.He lived mostly a vagabond life free from the ties of family or community. He abandoned his fivechildren that he had by his long time lover and later wife, Therese, to the cruel and uncertain faith of public orphanage home. That led to many criticism of Rousseau about his responsibilities towards his own family or children. Emile and Social Contract were immediately condemned, banned and publicly burnt both in Paris and his native place, Geneva. And from there, Rousseau began a more wanderer life moving from place to place and city to city before settling in the countryside in France. So these two works of Rousseau, Social Contract and Emile was offensive to both the royalty orclass based hierarchy that existed in France or in many other monarchies, and the religious orthodox. Rousseau accused Christian religion of creating man who believed in the other worldly. Therefore, they did not participate in creating better life in this world or becoming a good citizen of the republic. He was offensive towards the monarchy. Because of his focus on the popular sovereignty. That means, the power and authority should reside with the people. And people were the basis for legitimacy of any rule when they directly participated in its legislation or governing. So, that focus on popular sovereignty in Rousseau led many monarchies or supporters of royalty being critical of Rousseau’s work. Similarly, his focus on the civic religion, a new form of religion where citizens of a political community is called as ‘a people’. Thereby, the individuals self-merging with the collective self. And that he argued in this argument on the ‘general will’ which we will discuss in the next lecture. These two ideas of popular sovereignty and civic religion led royalty and religious orthodoxy becoming fiercely opposed and critical to Rousseau’s thought and argument. That led to the condemnation of his work, public burning, and immediate ban of its publication. So, facing persecution there was a threat to his life or arrest. So facing that threat, he fled to Paris and spent a year in England on the invitation of other philosopher, David Hume. He was the ascots philosopher who wrote on how experience help us in developing the knowledge about the society. His empiricist in that sense was facing persecution. He fled Paris and spent a year in England on the invitation of David Hume. Whether Rousseau had the tendency of being suspicious to his colleagues, he had many love and hate kind of relationship with his former colleagues. And particularly, Walter and his long term associate Diderot became critical of Rousseau’s position or philosophical arguments. In England, Rousseau felt that David Hume was part of the international league Melanie, his contribution or philosophy which led to condemnation, banning, and burning. He finally, therefore, returned to France in 1757 with a tacit understanding that he would not participate further in writing the radical treaties or arguments that would be inimical to their existing political structure. He returned to France in 1767 and settled the odd side Paris in the countryside where he died in 1778. And there was speculation that he committed suicide. But there was argument that he died peacefully. We are not sure. But the larger argument about his death was he died peacefully based on the testimony of his wife and long term associate. What was sure that Rousseau’s life or particularly last years of his life was very unhappy and solitary. However, 10 years after his death during the French revolution 1789, Rousseau became a kind of hero. And his works, particularly, Social Contract became instant hit. Because of its focus on the popular sovereignty and civic religion that shaped the politics in France after this revolution. So, 10 years after his death during the French revolution in 1789, Rousseau’s ideas became the guiding spirit of revolutionary. Jackobians and many others draw their lessons from the writings of Rousseau. It became this text was widely read across Europe and influenced many thinkers including Marx Kant which we will do later in this course. So, his essays were excavated and brought to Paris after a dramatic torchlight procession and placed next to his arch-rival Voltaire. His other important works were mostly autobiographical one, Confessions which was widely read that is published posthumously, in two parts in 1782 and 1789. And in 1776, he wrote another text which is titled as Rousseau: Judge of Jean Jacques. So, he wrote in the same year, another text called Reveries of the Solitary Walker, where Rousseau presented 10 talks that he had with himself. In most of these texts, his autobiographical text such as Confessions and the Rousseau: Judge of the Jean Jacques and the Reveries of the Solitary Walker. He tried to defend his philosophical positions. So, unhappy with his life and many of the decisions that he took, and the banning of his treatises like the autobiographical works of Rousseau was written to defend his ideas and philosophical positions as exhibited in Discourses, Emile and the Social Contract. So, these texts remained widely read even today and it influenced many other political thinkers or philosophers such as Kant and Karl Marx.