Rousseau, the Age of Enlightenment, and Their Legacies
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Robert Wokler was one of the world's leading experts on Rousseau and the Enlightenment, but some of his best work was published in the form of widely scattered and difficult-to-find essays. This book collects for the first time a representative selection of his most important essays on Rousseau and the legacy of Enlightenment political thought. These essays concern many of the great themes of the age, including liberty, equality and the origins of revolution. But they also address a number of less prominent debates, including those over cosmopolitanism, the nature and social role of music and the origins of the human sciences in the Enlightenment controversy over the relationship between humans and the great apes. These essays also explore Rousseau's relationships to Rameau, Pufendorf, Voltaire and Marx; reflect on the work of important earlier scholars of the Enlightenment, including Ernst Cassirer and Isaiah Berlin; and examine the influence of the Enlightenment on the twentieth century. One of the central themes of the book is a defense of the Enlightenment against the common charge that it bears responsibility for the Terror of the French Revolution, the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth-century and the Holocaust.
Distrustful of the critical character of the revolutionary programmes which had inspired the establishment of the Société de 1789, they were convinced that the problems of social disorder and derangement which the Revolution itself had generated were as striking as the despotism of the ancien régime had appeared to the aspiring legislators of the National Assembly. Wholesale constitutional reform had proved a remedy just as harmful as the disease, in part because it was too drastic, in part too
the other, of a book purportedly attempting to portray the cosmopolitanism of European thought. Here, wrote Cobban (somewhat carelessly) was a work which almost appears to have joined the ‘Enlightenment to the genealogical tree of the Nazi movement’.4 Peter Gay, once an apparent disciple of Cassirer’s account of the Enlightenment, not only freed himself from its thrall in an essay on ‘The Social History of Ideas’ he prepared for a festschrift to honour Herbert Marcuse5 but also embarked on a
On Hegel’s interpretation of civil society and its distinction from the state, see especially Zbigniew Pelczynski (ed.), The State and Civil Society: Studies in Hegel’s Political Philosophy (Cambridge, 1984); Manfred Riedel, Bürgerliche Gesellschaft und Staat bei Hegel (Neuwied, 1970); and Norbert Waszek, The Scottish Enlightenment and Hegel’s Account of ‘Civil Society’ (Dordrecht, 1988). 33. See especially the Contrat social III.14–15 and the Gouvernement de Pologne, sect. 7 (‘Moyens de
Cambridge and Paris, it provided both liberation and the promise of a countercultural experience, substituting travel, a comparative anthropology of modern Europe’s inhabitants and curiosity in the relics of Europe’s achievements before the advent of Christianity in its most sectarian forms, to the interpretation of Scripture and doctrines. Already in the seventeenth century the scholar James Howell had portrayed foreign travel as ‘a moving Academy, or the true Perpatetic Schoole’,3 and by the
inspiration, nevertheless, was that of a man whose mind and sensibilities were most active when he was alone, out of doors, tramping in celebration of Nature. Botany, he remarks in his Reveries,22 is the ideal subject of study for the idle and unoccupied solitary man. It was not, however, the only field to which Rousseau turned in his solitude, at once enforced upon him by his estrangement from society, and at the same time relished on account of the freedom it afforded his flights of fancy.