Commentary

[in chronological order]

Leo Strauss Seminar on Rousseau

- Strauss, Leo. "Transcript of Seminar on Rousseau." University of Chicago, 1962. Leo Strauss Archives. https://leostrausscenter.uchicago.edu  
Transcripts to a seminar given by Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago in 1962. Excerpt: Leo Strauss: I will speak about Rousseau in general and, starting from the most external side, of the way in which he is generally discussed today in this country. To… More

Epistemology and Political Perception in the Case of Rousseau

- Terrence Marshall, “Epistemology and Political Perception in the Case of Rousseau” in The Challenge of Rousseau, edited by Eve Grace and Christopher Kelly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Excerpt: τὰ γὰρ τῆς τῶν πολλῶν ψυχῆς ὄμματα καρτερεῖν πρὸς τὸ θεῖον ἀφορῶντα ἀδύνατα. –Plato, Sophist 254b From the start, Rousseau’s published works on man and politics project… More

Build on Sand: Moral Law in Rousseau’s Second Discourse

- Eve Grace, “Build on Sand: Moral Law in Rousseau’s Second Discourse” in The Challenge of Rousseau, edited by Eve Grace and Christopher Kelly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Excerpt: Rousseau is no moralist. It is, to be sure, in the name of virtue that Rousseau first indicted the dangerous dreams of a Hobbes and a Spinoza (FD, 20). There is no doubt that he condemns civilization outright as an inexorable march toward corruption… More

On Strauss on Rousseau

- Victor Gourevitch, “On Strauss on Rousseau” in The Challenge of Rousseau, edited by Eve Grace and Christopher Kelly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Excerpt: Im Sinn der Philosophie ist es durchaus Pflicht, die falschen Ansichten zu missbilligen, zu verwerfen. Freilich muss man auch den Falschen, verwerflichen Ansichten gerecht werden. –Strauss, GS 2: 409 Strauss discussed Rousseau from first to last,… More

Political Economy and Individual Liberty

- Ryan Patrick Hanley, “Political Economy and Individual Liberty” in The Challenge of Rousseau, edited by Eve Grace and Christopher Kelly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Excerpt: The Discours sur l’économie politique is indeed likely “the least commented upon of Rousseau’s political writings.” This is in some sense unsurprising; as a contribution to the subject its title proclaims to be its focus, it can only be… More

Rousseau’s Theodicy of Self-Love: Evil, Rationality, and the Drive for Recognition

- Frederick Neuhouser, Rousseau's Theodicy of Self-Love: Evil, Rationality, and the Drive for Recognition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
From the publisher: This book is the first comprehensive study of Rousseau’s rich and complex theory of the type of self-love (amour propre ) that, for him, marks the central difference between humans and the beasts. Amour propre is the passion that… More

The Philosopher’s Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding

- John Scott and Robert Zaretsky, The Philosopher’s Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).
From the publisher: The rise and spectacular fall of the friendship between the two great philosophers of the eighteenth century, barely six months after they first met, reverberated on both sides of the Channel. As the relationship between Jean-Jacques… More

Rousseau and l’Infâme: Religion, Toleration, and Fanaticism in the Age of Enlightenment

- John T. Scott and Ourida Mostefai (editors), Rousseau and l'Infâme: Religion, Toleration, and Fanaticism in the Age of Enlightenment (Amsterdam: Rodolphi Press, 2008).
From the publisher: Ecrasez l’infâme! Voltaire’s rallying cry against fanaticism resonates with new force today. Nothing suggests the complex legacy of the Enlightenment more than the struggle of superstition, prejudice, and intolerance advocated… More

A Reinterpretation of Rousseau: A Religious System

- Jeremiah Alberg, A Reinterpretation of Rousseau: A Religious System (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
From the publisher: In this radical reinterpretation of Rousseau, Jeremiah Alberg reveals the neglected theological dimension of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophy. Alberg shows how only Christianity can bring the coherence of Rousseau’s system to… More

An Essay on Rousseau’s Politics

- Bertrand de Jouvenal, "An Essay on Rousseau’s Politics" in Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Critical Assessments of Leading Political Philosophers (Volume I), edited by John T. Scott (London: Routledge, 2006). pp. 79-140.
Excerpt: Here we have the author who was the most praised, the most cursed, and the one who has exercised the greatest influence on the development of political beliefs and institutions.  Yet he is not a political writer.  Take a look at his oeuvre: those… More

Major Works

Julie, or The New Heloise

- Julie, Or, The New Heloise: Letters of Two Lovers Who Live in a Small Town at the Foot of the Alps, translated and edited by Philip Stewart and Jean Vaché, University Press of New England, 1997. First published in 1761.
From the publisher: Rousseau’s great epistolary novel, Julie, or the New Heloise, has been virtually unavailable in English since 1810. In it, Rousseau reconceptualized the relationship of the individual to the collective and articulated a new moral… More

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Second Discourse)

- Recommended translation: Second Discourse, in Rousseau: The Discourses and other early political writings, ed. and trans. by Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 111-222. First published in 1754.
Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, also referred to as the Second Discourse, was published in 1755 in response to an essay competition held by the Academy of Dijon on the question of what was the “the origin of inequality among men” and whether… More

Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts (First Discourse)

- Recommended Translation: ‘First Discourse,’ in Rousseau: The Discourses and other early political writings, ed. and trans. by Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 1-28.  
In 1750, Rousseau’s First Discourse, or the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, won an essay contest held by the Academy of Dijon on the topic of, “Whether the restoration of the sciences and arts tended to purify morals?” Rousseau argued that… More

Emile

- Recommended translation: Emile or On Education, ed. and trans. by Alan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1979). Originally published in 1762.
Published in 1762, Emile, or On Education, outlined a process of education that would prevent man from being corrupted by society and instead nurture his natural virtues and goodness. Part-treatise, part-novel, the work recounts the life of a fictional… More

Confessions

- Recommended translation: Confessions, in The Confessions and Correspondence, Including the Letters to Malesherbes, The Collected Writings of Rousseau, vol 5. ed. by Christopher Kelly, Roger D. Masters, and Peter Stillman; trans. by Christopher Kelly (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England at Dartmouth College ,1995), 1-550.
Published four years after Rousseau’s death in 1789, the Confessions was an autobiographical account of the first fifty-three years of the philosopher’s life. Rousseau declared that the work was groundbreaking with its opening line, “I… More

Reveries of a Solitary Walker

- Recommended translation: The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, ed. and trans by Charles E. Butterworth (Indianapolis:Hackett Publishing Co., 1992). Originally published in 1782.
Like the Confessions, the Reveries of a Solitary Walker is an autobiographical work by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Published posthumously in 1782, the Reveries is a collection of ten books, or “walks,” that describe Rousseau’s wanderings around Paris during… More

On the Social Contract

- Recommended Translation: On the Social Contract, with Geneva Manuscript and Political Economy; ed. by Roger D. Masters, trans by Judith R. Masters (New York and Boston: St. Martin's Press, 1978).  
The democratic and revolutionary principles put forward in Rousseau’s Social Contract have made it one of the essential texts of political philosophy since its publication in 1762. With this work, Rousseau’s sought to determine how civil society… More

Multimedia

Occupy Rousseau: Inequality and Social Justice

- Library of Congress, Occupy Rousseau: Inequality and Social Justice, Video recording.
The Embassy of Switzerland and the Library of Congress presented Occupy Rousseau: Inequality and Social Justice, with an international panel and display of rarely seen Rousseau-related objects. Featured speakers: Guillaume Chenevière, former Director,… More

Democracy and Participation: Rousseau, Social Contract, I-II

- Steven Smith, Democracy and Participation: Rousseau, Social Contract, I-II, Video recording.
The concept of “general will” is considered Rousseau’s most important contribution to political science. It is presented as the answer to the gravest problems of civilization, namely, the problems of inequality, amour-propre, and general… More

Democracy and Participation: Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality (Part II)

- Steven Smith, Democracy and Participation: Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality (Part II), Video recording.
The discussion on the origins of inequality in the Second Discourse continues. This lecture focuses on amour-propre, a faculty or a disposition that is related to a range of psychological characteristics such as pride, vanity, and conceit. The Social Contract… More

Democracy and Participation: Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality (Author’s Preface, Part I)

- Steven Smith, Democracy and Participation: Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality (Author's Preface, Part I), Video recording.
This lecture is an introduction to the life and works of Rousseau, as well as the historical and political events in France after the death of Louis XIV. Writing in a variety of genres and disciplines, Rousseau helped bring to fruition the political and… More

Melissa Lane on Rousseau and Modern Society

- Melissa Lane, On Rousseau and Modern Society, Audio podcast.
Modern society is synonymous with progress, isn’t it? Not according to the eighteenth century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He argued that civilization is for the most part morally corrupting. Melissa Lane explains his position in this episode of… More

The Defect in the Natural Origin and the Problem of Law

- Montesquieu Forum Distinguished Lecture: "The Defect in the Natural Origin and the Problem of Law: Reflections on Rousseau’s Second Discourse and Social Contract," by Richard Velkley, Professor of Philosophy, Tulane University. November 16, 2009, Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL.
Richard Velkley of Tulane University lectures on Rousseau at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Other Works

Discourse on Political Economy

- Recommended edition: "Discourse on Political Economy," Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Basic Political Writings, trans. Donald A. Cress, Hackett Publishing Company, 1987. Fist published in 1755.
Excerpt: Even if there were as close an analogy as many authors maintain between the State and the family, it would not follow that the rules of conduct proper for one of these societies would be also proper for the other. They differ too much in extent to be… More

‘Abstract of the Abbe de Saint-Pierre’s Plan for Perpetual Peace’ and ‘Judgment of the Plan for Perpetual Peace’

- Recommended translation: ‘The Plan for Perpetual Peace,’ in The Plan for Perpetual Peace, On the Government of Poland, and Other Writings on History and Politics, The Collected Writings of Rousseau, vol. 11; ed. by Roger D. Masters and Christopher Kelly; trans. by Christopher Kelly and Judith Bush (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England at Dartmouth College, 2005), 25-49.
Published in 1761, Rousseau’s The Plan for Perpetual Peace was an edited version of the Abbe Saint-Pierre’s plan of the same name. The work argued that a united federation of states was needed to maintain peace in Europe. Rousseau’s critique in… More

Letter from J.J. Rousseau to M. de Voltaire

- Recommended translation: “Letter from J.J. Rousseau to M. de Voltaire,’ in Rousseau: The Discourses and other early political writings, ed. and trans. by Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 232-246.    
Rousseau’s “Letter to Voltaire,” originally published in 1756. Rousseau to Voltaire, 18 August 1756, from J.A. Leigh, ed., Correspondence complète de Jean-Jacques Rousseau, vol. 4 (Geneva, 1967), pp. 37-50; translated by R. Spang.  … More

Essay on the Origin of Languages

- Recommended Translation: ‘Essay on the Origin of Languages,’ in Rousseau: The Discourses and other early political writings, ed. and trans. by Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 247-299.
Rousseau’s Essay on the Origin of Languages (Essai sur l’origine des langues) was first published posthumously in 1781. Rousseau wrote that he had originally intended to include this work in the his Second Discourse but that he finally decided to omit… More

The Government of Poland

- Recommended translation:  The Government of Poland; ed. and trans. by Willmoore Kendall (Hackett Publishing: Indianapolis, 1985). Completed in 1772.
Commissioned by  a Polish political leader who sought advice about how to best structure and reform the Polish government, Considerations on the Government of Poland (1772) represented Rousseau’s attempt to apply the abstract principles of The… More

Letter to d’Alembert on the Theatre

- Recommended translation: Politics and the ArtsLetter to M. D'Alembert on the Theatre (Agora Paperback Edition)trans. by Alan Bloom (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968) [First published by Agora Editions, 1960].
In October of 1758, Rousseau published the Letter to d’Alembert to refute Jean d’Alembert’s suggestion that Geneva establish a public theater. Rousseau’s essay critiqued the immorality of the Parisian theater and argued that a… More