This post published itself automatically on 2 March 2015. I had only written the beginning. To see the complete post, published today, 4 March 2015, please click on this title:
Voltaire: the Story begins… (2 March 2015)
Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755), François-Marie Arouet (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), who renamed himself Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) are the three figures who dominate the Age of Enlightenment in France, the 18th century. They were its most prominent philosophes (intellectuals).
There were other philosophes, such as the encyclopédistes, Denis Diderot (5 October 1713 – 31 July 1784) and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (16 November 1717 – 29 October 1783). Many are associated with la Querelle des bouffons (“Quarrel of the Comic Actors”), a paper war waged between 1752 and 1754 and opposing reason and sentiment. Others, I will not mention to avoid a truly lengthy post.
The philosophes, however, could not have envisaged the events of the French Revolution and, in particular, the death by guillotine of Louis XVI (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793), Marie-Antoinette (2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793), and Louis-Philippe II, Duke of Orleans (13 April 1747 – 6 November 1793), also known as Philippe Égalité. A revolution and a regicide, they could not have predicted.
The constitutional government held as a model, was England’s Constitutional Monarchy. A constitution limits the power of a monarch. Given his advocacy of a constitution, Montesquieu opposed absolute monarchy, which was France’s government. However, the word monarchy could include the concept of a constitution, spoken inaudibly.
Moreover, a constitutional monarchy remained the model until the early months of the French Revolution (1789 -1789) and, in particular, the Tennis Court Oath. On that day, 20 June 1789, members of the Third Estate were locked out of Estates-General. They took refuge in an indoor tennis court and all, with the exception of one delegate vowed “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established.” The delegate who abstained wanted to vote in the presence of his king, Louis XVI.
After the death, in 1715, of Louis XIV, France had heirs to the throne: the illegitimate children of Louis XIV’s mistresses whom Louis had legitimized. However, the royal family quarrelled and it was decided that the next king would not be a légitimé. He would be the grandson of Louis XIV, the future Louis XV (15 February 1710 – 10 May 1774), but he was only five when the Sun King passed away. A regent (the Regency) would therefore rule France until 1723. He was Louis-Philippe, duc d’Orléans, the son of Philippe I, duc d’Orléans, Louis the XIV’s brother, known as Monsieur.
Voltaire was a bit of a rebel as an adolescent. For instance, he would not attend law school, his father’s wish. He wanted to be a man of letters. He produced a few obnoxious verses on the Regent’s “incestuous” love life. Such audacity had a major impact on the remainder of Voltaire’s life. He would keep fleeing. Voltaire was thrown into the Bastille prison, in Paris, where he spent 11 months, or 18 months. Sources differ. He was imprisoned without the benefit of a trial or the opportunity to defend himself.
Justice would become his cause. Upon his release, he was sent on a retreat. The Duke de Béthune invited him to the château de Sully.
Voltaire would not have suffered this gratuitous imprisonment had he lived in England where there was a constitution and a bill of habeas corpus. England had its Magna Carta, its great charter or liberties since the 13th century.
In 1718, Voltaire feared being sent to the Bastille once again, but the Regent sent him to Sully. So, the plea for justice expressed in Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748) would be Voltaire’s plea. It nearly summarizes his life, and England would be a source of inspiration.
The lettre de cachet was an infamy. It made it possible to incarcerate a man without the benefit of a trial and the possibility of his defending himself. The letter was signed by the king, or by his regent, countersigned by an official, sealed (le cachet) and then delivered. It was arbitrary, which fully explains why Montesquieu insisted that “[a] man is innocent until a jury finds him guilty.”
As we have seen, Voltaire had spent 11 to 18 months (sources differ) in the Bastille because of verses that had offended the Regent. He had a narrow escape in 1718. The Regent spared him the Bastille by sending him to Sully, the duc de Béthune’s castle. However, in 1726, after insulting the chevalier de Rohan-Chabot, Voltaire, who was at Sully, was beaten by men hired by the chevalier who had also obtained a lettre de cachet.
Voltaire was exiled to England where he spent the following two years (sources differ), from 1726 to 1728. During his stay in England, he learned English, mingled with fine minds, met the King of England, and drew information and inspiration for his Lettres philosophiques (The Letters on England).
The Letters Concerning the English (a translation, not by Voltaire) were first published in London, in 1733. A year later, the letters were published in the original French (London, 1734), but a French version was also published in France. The Letters were censored immediately. Prudence dictated that the 25 letters be entitled Lettres philosophiques, rather than Lettres anglaises or Lettres sur les Anglais, and that, henceforth, they be published abroad. As I wrote above, Voltaire kept fleeing. The complete text of both the English translation and a French edition may be read online:
The Letters on the English are difficult to summarize as they consist in 25 short articles, letters, on various subjects. The topics are listed under Wikipedia’s entry on the Letters on the English. I would therefore invite you to supplement the quotations I have inserted below this summary and the quotations inserted below.
In the first seven Letters on England, Voltaire discusses religions or sects: the Quakers (1–4), the Anglicans (5), the Presbyterians (6), and the Socinians (7). Socinians are nontrinitarians. Socinians are Deists, as was Voltaire who also became a Freemason the year of his death. Deists believe in a single creator of the universe and reject the knowledge of religious authorities. They favour tolerance. (See Deism, Wikipedia.)
On the Quakers (Letter I), Voltaire quotes a Quaker who says that Quakers are not baptised:
On the Church of England (Letter V)
On the Presbyterians (Letter VI)
Voltaire speaks of another Cato, the first being Cato the Younger (95 – 46 BCE), a Stoic:
“The latter [Voltaire’s Cato] affects a serious gait, puts on a sour look, wears a vastly broad-brimmed hat and a long cloak over a very short coat, preaches through the nose, and gives the name of the whore of Babylon to all churches where the ministers are so fortunate as to enjoy an annual revenue of five or six thousand pounds, and where the people are weak enough to suffer this, and to give them the titles of my lord, your lordship, or your eminence.”
“These gentlemen, who have also some churches in England, introduced there the mode of grave and severe exhortations.”
Of Parliament (Letter VIII)
Voltaire uses ancient Rome as a point of reference.
“But here follows a more essential difference between Rome and England, which gives the advantage entirely to the latter—viz., that the civil wars of Rome ended in slavery, and those of the English in liberty. The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to prescribe limits to the power of kings by resisting them; and who, by a series of struggles, have at last established that wise Government where the Prince is all-powerful to do good, and, at the same time, is restrained from committing evil; where the nobles are great without insolence, though there are no vassals; and where the people share in the Government without confusion.”
“The Romans never knew the dreadful folly of religious wars, an abomination reserved for devout preachers of patience and humility.”
“House of Lords and that of the Commons divide the legislative power under the king, but the Romans had no such balance.”
Of the Government (Letter IX) (taxes)
Letter X is on Trade
Voltaire goes on to praise inoculation which the English have accepted and which prevents smallpox: death or disfigurement. He praises Lord Bacon (Letter XII) and Mr Locke (Letter XIII).
“Philosophers will never form a religious sect, the reason of which is, their writings are not calculated for the vulgar, and they themselves are free from enthusiasm.” (XIII)
Voltaire admired not only England’s scientists and intellectuals, but also Descartes.
“Descartes was injuriously accused of being an atheist, the last refuge of religious scandal: and he who had employed all the sagacity and penetration of his genius, in searching for new proofs of the existence of a God, was suspected to believe there was no such Being.” (Letter XIV)
“The progress of Sir Isaac Newton’s life was quite different. He lived happy, and very much honoured in his native country, to the age of fourscore and five years. It was his peculiar felicity, not only to be born in a country of liberty, but in an age when all scholastic impertinences were banished from the world. Reason alone was cultivated, and mankind could only be his pupil, not his enemy.” (Letter XIV)
“Descartes gave sight to the blind.” (Letter XIV)
[I have left out a few letters, devoted to great minds.]
In England merit is rewarded:
“Merit, indeed, meets in England with rewards of another kind, which redound more to the honour of the nation.” (Letter XXIII)
[I have left out a few letters.]
In the following letter, Voltaire discusses the English Royal Society (XXIV) and other learned societies. He praises the French Academy.
Letter XXV is devoted to Pascal who insists that man is “miserable.” It has been omitted from the English edition I used, but can be read in French. Lettres philosophiques pdf FR
Let me now summarize the letters I omitted using Britannica:
“A stay in England (1726–28) led to the Lettres philosophiques (1734; Letters on England), which—taking England as a polemical model of philosophical freedom, experimental use of reason, enlightened patronage of arts and science, and respect for the new merchant classes and their contribution to the nation’s economic well-being—offered a program for a whole civilization, as well as sharp satire of a despotic, authoritarian, and outdated France.”
In the Letters Concerning the English, Voltaire expresses his admiration for a country where tolerance allows religious pluralism.
“Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place more venerable than many courts of justice, where the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact together, as though they all professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts. There the Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist, and the Churchman depends on the Quaker’s word.” (Letter VI)
Religion is a crucial component of the Letters concerning the English, which led to censorship. Publication of his Lettres philosophiques forced him to go into hiding. He would otherwise have been imprisoned.
However, Voltaire admired French literature as well as many British authors. He is eclectic in his choice of authors and texts and shows a surprizing knowledge of both the literature of France and that of England. Would that merit be rewarded in France! Descartes was not given a pension. Fortunately, members of the Académie française were remunerated.
I have introduced the famous lettre de cachet as a biographical element. In Voltaire’s days, an individual could have another individual incarcerated by obtaining a lettre de cachet, signed by the king and sealed. Next, I would like to tell about Jean Calas. France had l’affaire Dreyfus, but it also had l’affaire Calas.
Candide, a novella and Voltaire’s jewel, will be introduced latter.
Sources and Resources: full texts
This post published itself on its own on 2 March 2015.
Love to all of you.
 “French literature”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 03 mars. 2015
© Micheline Walker
3 March 2015
A few posts ago, I quoted Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662) who wrote:
« Vérité en deça des Pyrénées, erreur au-delà. » (Pensées 8, p. 68 FR)
Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error beyond. (literal translation)
Laws do change from country to country. In the 16th century, Montaigne (28 February 1533 – 13 September 1592) had come to the same conclusion as Pascal, but Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755) is the political philosopher who best demonstrated that laws depend on a very large number of factors, one of which is climate.
Montesquieu is the author of Les Lettres persanes (1721), The Persian Letters, and the Spirit of the Laws (1748). The notion of relativity is central to both Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes, an epistolary novel, and the Spirit of the Laws. In the Persian Letters, Paris and France are seen from the perspective of Usbek and Rica, two noblemen from Persia. The book constitutes a comparative description of two different societies.
The Persian Letters were written when “turquerie” was fashionable, from the late Renaissance, until the early part of the 19th century. It is an oblique text, a form of saying without saying. One cannot punish a foreigner for expressing views about the country he is visiting or his country, if he is elsewhere.
Relativity is also central to Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws (1748), his masterpiece. Laws depend on a large number of factors, from the country’s type of government, of which he names three: the republican, the monarchical and the despotic (« Il y a trois espèces de gouvernements: le républicain, le monarchique et le despotique. »), to the climate of the country, not a new theory but one usually associated with Montesquieu. (See L’Esprit des lois, II.1 [The Spirit of the Laws, Book 2, Chapter 1].)
Applied to three different types of governments, laws have a different impact, hence their relativity. Montesquieu critiqued laws and governments by applying laws to three types of government.
I should also note that, contrary to Thomas Hobbes, Montesquieu believed human beings were born good, but were later spoiled by society, which vilifies society.
The Spirit of the Laws is descriptive. Montesquieu claimed he was happy living in a monarchy. However, he did advocate constitutional governments. French monarchs were absolute monarchs. He also advocated the separation of powers: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. De l’Esprit des loix served as a model to American founding fathers.
Moreover, although Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws is descriptive, he had opinions. For instance, Montesquieu condemned slavery and we owe him the notion that a man is innocent until a jury finds him guilty. Therefore, there is advocacy in De l’Esprit des loix.
The relativity of laws is problematical and, therefore, an issue I would like to raise in this post, though not at great length. At the moment, we have local laws as well as an international law, and an international criminal court, at The Hague, Netherlands. Moreover, we have the United Nations‘ Universal Declaration of Human Rights /la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme (UDHR) and other international agencies. Yet, although we have endowed ourselves with international covenants, it remains possible to torture people and detain individuals rather gratuitously.
When Montesquieu wrote his Spirit of the Laws (1748), there were no official and stated “human rights.” But it should be said that, during the 18th century, the age of Enlightenment, various philosophes sought the recognition of individual and collective human rights. Voltaire (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778) advocated freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the separation of church and state. (See Voltaire, Wikipedia.)
In fact, the 18th century culminated in the United States Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 – 4 July 1826), who owned slaves, and the French Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, drafted by the Marquis de Lafayette (6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834), assisted by Thomas Jefferson, and passed by the National Constituent Assembly in August 1789.
Yet, nearly three centuries later, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights /la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme (UDHR), adopted on 10 December 1948, seems as utopian as the United States Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
President Obama is trying to save the middle class, but resistance is enormous. Equality is difficult to achieve. As for other abuses of human rights, they constitute a common occurrence.
I would like to suggest that, despite the very real possibility of infringements, it would be in humankind’s best interest to implement, within limits, its international covenants and, in particular, its human rights as defined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Given such violations as the sentence inflicted on Raif Badawi, it would be my opinion that the abolition of torture should be given serious and prompt attention at an international level. It should override local laws. There are areas where there cannot be a double standard. Torture is one such area. Moreover, ISIL must be crushed.
It is “natural,” rather than “cultural,” for a caring wife to do all she can to spare her husband punishment he does not deserve and which constitutes torture, a blatant infringement of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also “natural,” rather than “cultural,” for Muath-al-Kasasbeh‘s father to grieve the burning alive of a beloved son and to call for revenge.
The entire world is condemning this crime against “humanity.” I have noticed that the media have started describing Mr Badawi as the “father of three.” An innocent “father of three” is a greater victim than an innocent blogger. Raif Badawi should not be tortured and arbitrarily incarcerated. In fact, this is a “natural” rather than “cultural” law.
As King Abdullah II of Jordan stated, the Muslim faith does not condone such cruelty as the burning alive of Muath al-Kasasbeh. Gone are the days, or gone should be the days, we burned at the stake 19-year-old Joan of Arc.
Humankind has long yearned for the best possible government. We have already discussed the theories of such political philosophers as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, all of whom came to the conclusion that the rule of law, just laws, had to prevail.
President Obama is saying that “the fight against violent extremism demands a new approach.” I believe this is what I have been attempting to state in this post.
It would be my opinion, that a good education would help prevent radicalization. A good education does seem the best tool we have to bring about lasting changes. What have we been teaching our children? They are still joining ISIL as though it were an option. It isn’t. Could it be that we have not been teaching our children to think? If they do not think they may fall prey to indoctrination and terrorize the world.
In short, to what extent should respecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights /la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme (UDHR) be based on consent and membership? And to what extent should local laws allow serious violations of human rights. Laws vary from country to country, but no local law should allow a serious infringement of international law.
So let me quote President Obama once again: “Violent extremism demands a new approach.”
My kindest regards to all of you.
Sources and Resources
Michel de Montaigne: Essays (complete) EN
Descartes’ Discourse on Method is Gutenberg [EBook #59] EN
Pascal Pensées is Gutenberg [EBook #18269] EN
Montesquieu: The Spirit of the laws (complete, 4 volumes) EN
Montesquieu: The Spirit of the Laws (Internet Archives; Book 1) EN
Persian Letters: Internet Archives (complete) EN
Persian Letters: Wikisource (complete) EN
Michel de Montaigne: Essais FR
René Descartes: Discours de la méthode is Gutenberg [EBook #13846] FR Montesquieu: De l’Esprit des lois [EBook #27573] FR
Lettres persanes, tome 1 is Gutenberg [EBook #30268] FR
Lettres persanes, tome 2 is Gutenberg [EBook #33896] FR
Pascal: Pensées, Internet Archive FR
 See Essays, Book 1, last two chapters.
 Since Plato’s Republic, if not earlier.
© Micheline Walker
22 February 2015
updated on 23 February 2015
Saudi Arabia has condemned last week’s Paris massacre, but it is authorizing the probable murder of Raif Badawi who ran a blog named: Free Saudi Liberals. Mr Badawi was originally sentenced to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes (2013). Following an appeal (2014), Mr Badawi’s sentence was increased to a 10-year prison term, a fine of approximately $266,000 and 1,000 lashes (flagellation) to be inflicted weekly for a period of 20 weeks. Mr Badawi is unlikely to survive.
According to Dr Marc Dauphin (Sherbrooke, Quebec), 1,000 lashes will probably kill Raif Badawi. An infection could set in or there could be some other medical problem leading to death. Raif Badawi was flogged last Friday, 9 January, and is scheduled to be flogged a second time on Friday 16, 2015. (Luc Larochelle, La Tribune, 13 January 2015, p. 2.) After a week, his wounds will still be fresh.
British military historian Sir Charles Oman wrote that:
“In the Napoleonic Wars, the maximum number of lashes that could be inflicted on soldiers in the British Army reached 1,200. This many lashes could permanently disable or kill a man.” (See Flagellation Wikipedia.)
Moreover, if flogging Mr Badawi at the rate of 50 lashes over a 20-week period is likely to cause his death, his sentence is a miscarriage of justice.
Raif Badawi has not been sentenced to death, so his life should not be threatened by virtue of his sentence.
Why has Mr Badawi been sentenced to 10 years in jail, a very heavy fine and 1,000 lashes? I wonder if Mr Badawi spoke against Islam or against intolerance. If he spoke against intolerance and loses his life, was his trial a fair trial? First, free speech is protected under the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Second, under the same legislation, Mr Badawi has a right to a fair trial.
In a first trial, 2013, Mr Badawi was sentenced to 7 years of imprisonment and 600 lashes. When he appealed, he received a harsher sentence. May I repeat that under l’ONU, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Mr Badawi has/ had a right to a fair trial.
Last week, people all over the world carried signs that read “Je suis Charlie.” The current slogan in Sherbrooke, Quebec and elsewhere is: “Je suis Raif” (I am Raif). Sherbrooke, Canada is mobilised and mobilisation is spreading. Protest must spread as quickly as possible so Mr Badawi is spared the flogging session scheduled for 16 January 2015. I hope he will be joining his wife and three children a few days from now. Protest is most effective when worded in polite language. There is no absolute free speech.
I would prefer to ask that Mr Badawi be freed because he is a fellow human being. Twenty human lives were taken in Paris last week. Those lives were precious and so is Mr Badawi’s. To his wife and children, he is everything. In both cases, Paris and Jedda, the crime was speaking out: legitimate freedom of speech was attacked.
Sources and Resources
In the video inserted below, we see the paintings and prints by Francisco Goya (1746–1828). According to a French video, a news cast, Goya was the first photo-journalist. He could also be described as one of many generations of war artists. He “covered” the atrocities committed in Spain by Napoléon’s grande armée. There is a more relevant video, but I can’t locate it.
Goya had been painting portraits (retratos) of members of ruling families. But at the age of 63, he started to paint and engrave Los Desastres de la Guerra (the Disasters of War).
Goya painted Las Meninas, a mise en abyme.
“The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.”
“El Sueño de la razón produce monstrous.”
“Le Sommeil de la raison produit des monstres.”
The flogging of Raif Badawi can be stopped. We cannot use language to defame, libel, incite to violence, etc. But free speech is otherwise a human right. (See Freedom of Speech, Wikipedia). Someone should speak to King Abdullah. He is a human being and, in theory, endowed with reason.
No, I did not see any video on Francisco Goya before choosing the image featured at the top of my last post, 12 January 2015, and the top of this post. It’s a coincidence.
© Micheline Walker
14 January 2015
Although political thinking dates back to antiquity, the only political philosophers discussed in this post are closer to us and all express the need for a Social Contract. I will first provide a comprehensive definition of the Social Contract and suggest you that you complete this summary by clicking on Social Contract.
Wikipedia defines the social contract as follows:
“In political philosophy the social contract or political contract is a theory or model, originating during the Age of Enlightenment, that typically addresses the questions of the origin of society and the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual. Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. The question of the relation between natural and legal rights, therefore, is often an aspect of Social Contract theory.” (Social Contract)
Thomas Hobbes or Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679), effected a revolution. He broke away from Aristotle on the subject of human nature. In De Cive Philosophical Rudiments Concerning Government and Society, written in 1651, he claimed that in the state of nature, man did not behave in a morally acceptable manner. Hobbes better known work on political philosophy is his Leviathan, also published in 1651. But in De Cive (The Citizen) Thomas Hobbes makes it clear that societies require a civilizing force he calls the Social Contract. The full text of De Cive, in English translation and edited by Jon Roland is online. To read it, click on De Cive.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “[a]fter only a few paragraphs, Hobbes rejects one of the most famous theses of Aristotle’s politics, namely that human beings are naturally suited to life in a polis and do not fully realize their natures until they exercise the role of citizen. Hobbes turns Aristotle’s claim on its head: human beings, he insists, are by nature unsuited to political life.”[i]
Thomas Hobbes’s De Cive and his Leviathan (1651) open the debate on the notion of the Social Contract, a term he was the first to use. Thomas Hobbes believed that “in a state of nature each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a ‘war of all against all’ (bellum omnium contra omnes).” In other words, in a state of nature, each person would be free “to plunder, rape, and murder.” Hence the need for a social contract that ensures safety. “The social contract was an ‘occurrence’ during which individuals came together and ceded some of their individual rights so that others would cede theirs.” (Social Contract, Wikipedia)
John Locke (29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) held a kinder view of human nature. According to Locke, human nature is characterised by reason and tolerance. In a state of nature, all people were equal and independent, and everyone had a natural right to defend his ‘Life, health, Liberty, or Possessions’.”
Yet, Locke did not think that, in a state of nature, man could defend his life, health, liberty and possessions. He therefore advocated a Social Contract. In other words, although John Locke’s view of human nature is less pessimistic than Hobbes’, his political theory is nonetheless founded on a Social Contract ensuring the safety of individuals. For John Locke, the innate rights of man were life, liberty and property.
John Locke was influenced by Anthony Ashley Cooper, later 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, who “stood for constitutional monarchy, a Protestant succession, civil liberty, toleration in religion, the rule of Parliament.”[ii]
Locke believed in the divine right of kings and defines power as a “right of making Laws with Penalties of Death, and consequently all less Penalties, for the Regulating and Preserving of Property, and of employing the force of the Community, in the Execution of such Laws and in defence of the Common-wealth from Foreign Injury, and all this only for the Publick Good.”[iii]
Locke is considered the father of Classical Liberalism which advocates representative government and various civil liberties. His major works on political philosophy are his Two Treatises of Government, published anonymously in 1689.
For his part, Rousseau believed in innate goodness in man (see Émile, Or Treatise on Education [Émile ou De l’éducation]). Yet he was also in favor of establishing a Civil Society.
For Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778), “[the Social Contract] can be reduced to the following terms: Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and in a body we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole. (Wikipedia) Liberty is not otherwise possible. Man must be “forced to be free.” (The Social Contract)
Rousseau’s theory, the body, is called collectivism. “The earliest modern, influential expression of collectivist ideas in the West is in Jean-Jacques Rousseau ’s Du contrat social, of 1762 (see Social Contract), in which it is argued that the individual finds his true being and freedom only in submission to the ‘general will’ of the community.” (Britannica)[iv] However, the ruler is the general will (la volonté générale) or the people viewed as a collectivity. But the general will needs a government and laws.
Rousseau did not approve of a representative government. He preferred a direct government. The citizens of Geneva–Rousseau was born in Geneva–lived in a small city-state where representation could be direct, at least to a point.
So although Rousseau believed in innate goodness in man, he also believed in man’s corruptibility. He therefore wished to avoid terrifying anarchy by entering into a social contract and insisted on legislation. In other words, he agrees that men must “surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights.”
Rousseau’s Social Contract is an online publication. Simply click on Social Contract.
All of the above is inspiring, but it would be my opinion that most relevant at the moment is the notion of individual needs versus collective needs. The two seem inseparable in a healthy social contract. How brilliant of Thomas Hobbes to have used the words the social contract.
_________________________[i] Political Philosophy, The Encyclopædia Britannica online, accessed on 13 October 2012 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/268448/Thomas-Hobbes/275880/Political-philosophy [ii] John Locke,The Encyclopædia Britannica online, accessed on 13 October 2012 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/345753/John-Locke/59085/Association-with-Shaftesbury [iii] John Locke, The Encyclopaedia Britannica online, accessed on 13 October 2012 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/345753/John-Locke/280602/Two-Treatises-of-Government [iv] Collectivism, The Encyclopædia Britannica online, accessed on 13 October 2012 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/125584/collectivism#ref256673 composer: Giuseppe Tartini (1692 – 1770) piece: Concerto for violin, strings, and basso continuo in A major D. 96, 2&3 mvt performers: Venice Baroque Orchestra, Giuliano Carmignola, violin
© Micheline Walker 13 October 2012 WordPress Jean-Jacques Rousseau by Maurice Quentin de La Tour 1753