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The life and times of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

1 The politics of the soul: the life and times of Jean-Jacques Rousseau1 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (St Matthew, 16.26) Did Ludwig Wittgenstein write the most successful love story of his century? Did Thomas Hobbes compose an opera – and did it inspire the work of Mozart? Did Byron write poems about Hume or Leibniz? Did Schiller compose sonnets about Descartes and Locke? These questions seem too ridiculous to warrant an answer. Ask the same questions about Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) and the opposite

in The political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Rousseau as a constitutionalist

magistrates and citizens should only decide about details’, as the rulers were bound by a higher law (Aristotle 1988–89: 1292a). Political theorists and practitioners, until Marsilius of Padua, held it undisputed that the law was given by God – or an equivalent figure – and that the ruler could not, and should not, change the law but merely apply it (Vile 1998: 29). The work of Marsilius of Padua in the fourteenth century was a turning point. A little earlier Thomas Aquinas had made a distinction between the ruler’s functions of laying down the law and of administering the

in The political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

deification of selfishness, were what caused him to develop an alternative to the models which have prevailed since his own time. The poverty of Hobbesianism Nobody quite knows how it happened. No single philosopher, statesman or cleric can be blamed for the demise of the selfless ethics of the classics and of Christian religion. Yet one philosopher stands accused of putting the doctrine into writing; Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679). Hobbes – perhaps alongside Machiavelli – deserves (dis)credit for being the first major philosopher who sought to develop a moral philosophy on

in The political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau