Rousseau and the Dilemma of Authority
by Robbie McClintock
Published in the History of Education Quarterly, Vol. XIV, No. 3, Fall 1974, pp. 309-333.
Length: 13,000 words
For this incident, see Rousseau, The Confessions, J. M. Cohen, trans. (Baltimore, 1954), p. 91. For his experience as a tutor, see Ibid., esp. 252-7; and for his giving his children to a foundling home, see Ibid., pp. 332-4.
In reflecting on Rousseau and authority, one should face first the perennial problem of Rousseau's own authority. Many reject the thoughts because they reprove the thinker. Rousseau celebrated his human weaknesses in a manner that ill becomes a philosopher of stature. And not only did Rousseau celebrate his weaknesses, those weaknesses resonate ominously with certain first impressions imparted by his work. Should one take seriously a critique of civilization by a man so imperfectly civilized? Should one follow pedagogical theories proffered by an incompetent tutor and derelict father? Should one bother with the ideal of virtue proclaimed by a neurotic who once stood in an alley baring his penis to shock the passing young ladies of Turin?
The fullest such work is Irving Babbitt's Rousseau and Romanticism (New York, 1955 [1st ed., 1919}), which was an erudite and provocative critique of romanticism; but in this Rousseau's work is not studied, for instead his life is used as a cautionary emblem of the sink into which romanticism leads.
To an unusual degree judgments about Rousseau's character have entered into the assessment of his ideas. The reasons for this have to do not only with his character, but also with his ideas. To many Rousseau's principles have seemed to have a powerful influence in undercutting established systems of authority in both politics and pedagogy, and one of the best strategies in defending the threatened authority has been to call into question the authority of the threat.
See especially, "Emile Reconsidered" in G. H. Bantock, Education and Values: Essays in the Theory of Education (London, 1965) as well as passing discussions in this book, in G. H. Bantock, Education in an Industrial Society (London, 1963)and in G. H. Bantock, Freedom and Authority in Education" A Criticism of Modem Cultural and Educational Assumptions (London, 1955).
A distinguished example of how a defense of authority can lead to an ad hominem attack on the authority of Rousseau can be found in the work of the English educational critic, G. H. Bantock. I respect Bantock's books, generally agree with his purposes, and find that most of his criticism hits the mark. Yet his reading of Rousseau does not, for it is not informed by "the sweetness and light" that informs his reading of Arnold, Newman, Lawrence, and others whom he admires. At his best, Bantock combines a capacity for philosophic inquiry into the profundities of human experience with a more immediate critical aim of keeping British educators from going intellectually and emotionally slack. Ordinarily, in pursuit of his double purpose, Bantock is careful to search out the best in any writer who might inspire educators to humanize their sensibilities. But not so with Rousseau, for Bantock fears that Rousseau's inspiration is subversive of both intellectual and emotional precision.
Bantock, Freedom and Authority, pp. 59-60.
As Bantock sees it, educators have been too frequently abdicating pedagogical authority, inspired by the diverse "offshoots of the Rousseau-Froebel-Pestalozzi line of educational thought—a line whose contribution can be summed up in the proposition 'a child's education ought to permit its own freedom of development in accordance with the laws of its own nature'." He goes on to observe that these "are essentially romantic ideas. They push the notion of 'creativity' (a key word) of the individual mind to its uttermost limits so that development is seen as the result of the spontaneous activity of the inner being rather than of the formative power exercised by any outside authority. The child is to grow, not to be moulded ... Hence the exercise of outside authority, in whatever form, is to be reduced to an absolute minimum." In Bantock's view, Rousseau's principles represent a threat to sound pedagogical authority, and his main way of dealing with that threat in "Emile Reconsidered" is to attack the authority of Rousseau.
Bantock, Education and Values, pp. 54-5.
Ibid., p. 56.
Thus Bantock's reconsideration of Emile begins with The Confessions and the discovery there of a basic self-complacency in Rousseau. "The impetus of the whole work, indeed, is a self-protectiveness which all too frequently merges into self-righteousness; and certain characteristics of the undertaking and of the terms in which it is conceived raise initial doubts as to the writer's perceptiveness and capacity for detachment." The Confessions, in Bantock's view, belie a character that is self-indulgent, prone to live in fantasy, to abandon "the normal adult attempts to cope with the world in which we live." Rousseau was self-satisfied. "He does not expound in order to criticize himself. His reveries, indeed are of a peculiarly indulgent type; they involve a self-absorption which implies that his emotions are directed only upon himself. There is no out-flowing to the particular situation or person with whom he is in contact, no real admission of the other than self . . .; Rousseau . . . failed to come to any real understanding of his environment. And this affects the nature of his writing."
Ibid., p. 73.
Ibid., pp. 83-4.
All these personal shortcomings that affect the nature of Rousseau's writing show up, as Bantock contends, in the argument of Emile. Rousseau's wish to see only good in himself leads him to see only good in man, that is, to assert a self-indulgent fantasy. "The basic inadequacy of Emile lies in its treatment of human egotism. One can see, in fact, that the need to assert the natural goodness of man, and the consequent distortions of emphasis which such an assertion has entailed, have thrown the whole treatment of education out of gear." Unfortunately, the flaw of Rousseau's character, the flaw of Emile, is the flaw of modern man: hence the influence of a crippled man and his crippling work. "The implication, in Emile, then, all too frequently is that ignorance implies innocence and virtue; an assumption which too easily panders to the complacency of modern man, who like Rousseau himself, is willing to be relieved of the effort needed to undertake that slow and painful attempt at the clarification of what is involved in human existence which is what education at its best implies." And Bantock thereupon concludes that "Rousseau's educational ideas involve a regression to simpler modes of living. Behind the apparent humility of 'negative' education there is a certain complacency of ignorance, a lack of patience before the careful unravelling of what human knowledge has so carefully built up."
Ibid., p. 84.
To this last point, Bantock cites Sir Isaiah Berlin's characterization of Rousseau as the "first militant lowbrow in history," which is a fitting tag line to the ad hominem attack. The whole critique, and there are many others of similar type, is extremely consequential should one accept it, for it leads one to discount Rousseau's arguments, whether cogent or not, as devoid of authority. Yet I find the critique impossible to accept, for it is based on a willingly unsympathetic view of Rousseau's character. The problem is not in Bantock's identification of self-complacency as the abiding sin of modem educators, for that it is with the result that most educational theory and practice has been reprehensibly insipid. Likewise, the problem is not that Bantock finds imaginary flaws in Rousseau's character, for Rousseau says things in The Confessions that are proper cause for the suspicion of self-complacency; he indulged in indolent day dreams, excused his faults, and proclaimed himself to be a very special person indeed. Rather, the problem is an ironic one in view of Bantock's celebration of "that slow and painful attempt at the clarification of what is involved in human existence," for the problem is Rousseau's complexity, the fact that his character, so clearly flawed by weakness, is as equally marked by strength.
Each person is a compound of characteristic strengths and weaknesses, and human greatness is not achieved by simply being free of flaws. Rather, it comes from being able to dominate those weaknesses and to tum them to some account, thus letting the strengths come to fruition and do their work. The rather comfortable accusation of self-complacency that Bantock levels against Rousseau reflects a failure of imagination, a failure to imagine what it would be like to live with the peculiar strengths and weaknesses that were Rousseau's.
Rousseau, The Confessions, J. M. Cohen, trans., p. 166.
To his pain, Rousseau had to live with very serious flaws; he was a self-taught, itinerant expatriate, without patron or property; he was to boot at once a neurotic and a chronically ill man. Yet he had talent and an intimation of his potentiality. Unrelieved complacency would have been an extraordinary achievement for someone with Rousseau's peculiar combination of capacities and disabilities. If Rousseau had let himself drift through life, given his weaknesses he would have slid, not into complacency, but into discontent, dissatisfaction, vexation, sullen resentment, as he did to a degree. Envy, not sloth, wrath, not indolence, are the besetting sins of Rousseau's character, and in view of this character and its underlying weaknesses, his penchant for revery should be seen as the very opposite of self-indulgence: revery, fantasy, an imagined peace with his body, his psyche, and his world—these were his means for dominating his painfully palpable weaknesses, for muting the paralyzing sense of dissatisfaction these weaknesses created, for achieving a temporary serenity in which he could turn his strengths to positive account. "It is a very strange thing that my imagination never works more delightfully than when my situation is the reverse of delightful . . . ."
Rousseau's strategy in Rousseau juge de Jean Jaques was based on the recognition that however much his character had been derided, his work was there to be taken into account and consequently he set out to show how his character, rightly understood, correlated with his principles and unlike The Confessions, where he said little about his books, here he said much, even in one pan offering up a series of satirical extracts. See the edition of the Bibliotheque de Ia Pleiade, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Oeuvre compltes, Vol. I (Paris, 1959), pp. 661-992. From here on, references to the Oeuvre completes will be by the abbreviation OC followed by the volume and page numbers: in this case OCI, pp. 661-992.
To do anything significant, Rousseau had to overcome unusually serious difficulties. Thus, there is a fundamental case against the accusation of self-complacency, namely the very existence of Rousseau's oeuvre, for it is a substantial oeuvre wrought by a man suffering from significant physiological, psychic, educational, social, and economic disadvantages. Cycles of idleness, reverie, and self-indulgence may have helped Rousseau control and channel his sufferings, but if this slackness—intellectual, emotional, or moral—was the true essence of Rousseau's character, it would seem impossible that he should have produced an oeuvre so substantial, so wide in range, so carefully wrought. Hence, those who would attack the work through the weaknesses of the man in the end must come up against the fact that the work is there, standing as patent proof that, despite all, the man possessed significant strength.
See, for instance, "Seconde preface," to La nouvelle Hiloise, OCII, esp. pp. 13-25.
As the work testifies to a certain rigor of character in Rousseau, so too does it testify to a rigor of mind. On a superficial reading, his works give an impression of being contradictory. Rousseau indicated his awareness of this appearance; he held that a single set of principles informed all his work and that the appearance of contradiction could result only from a failure to take into account differences in the way he was applying his principles to problems of human conduct. In his most important works, Rousseau pleaded with his readers to take pains in reading, and many who have done so have found an astonishing unity in his work. This care for taking pains rebuts Berlin's quip, for the cardinal trait of a lowbrow writer is that he makes no demands upon his readers: he takes them as they are and he leaves them as they were. Only Rousseau's dramatic pieces, written to please, not himself, but a Parisian audience, and possibly the "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences," written with a most artful use of rhetoric, could possibly be called lowbrow works. In the others, Rousseau takes his readers as they should be, and he hopes to leave them a bit closer to that mark. Thus, if Rousseau was a "militant lowbrow," he certainly did not practice what he preached, and if he stood for a "complacency of ignorance," he was strangely intolerant of it in his readers.
All this does not ipso facto establish the authority of Rousseau, but it does raise some doubts about the ad hominem effort to undercut it. If the work should have any authority it should have it by virtue of the superior meaning of its arguments. Whether the origin of Rousseau's thought was in rigor or in self-indulgence tells us little about the meaning of his arguments. Even if Bantock is right about Rousseau's character, it is not a decisive mark against Rousseau's ideas. Our tradition is rich in carefully wrought stupidities and in profound but off-hand truths. Although we can soundly judge a thinker by his thought, we cannot so well judge the thought by its thinker. Hence the problem of Rousseau's authority is best put off until the end when we are ready to judge the man by his work, not the work by the man.
Judith N. Shklar has examined the various forms of authority in Rousseau's work very well and I am much indebted to her essay, "Rousseau's Images of Authority"(1964) reprinted in Maurice Cranston and Richard S. Peters, eds., Hobbes and Rousseau: A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City, 1972), pp. 333-365, and to her book, Men and Citizens: A Study of Rousseau's Social Theory, (Cambridge, 1969).
Throughout his work Rousseau reflected on authority. In his personal experience, he repeatedly had to face conflicts with authority in one or another form, and in his writing, he made the effort to understand authority one of its great unifying themes. He thought above diverse forms of authority personal, political, social, and pedagogical authority. Further, each form could be considered according to two modalities, which might be called the descriptive, or authority as it is, and the .formative, or authority as it ought to be. For understanding Rousseau, it is much more important to explore these modalities of authority than to concentrate on its forms, for when the modalities are properly taken into account, the distinction between the forms diminishes greatly in significance and Rousseau can be seen to have had a remarkably unified, consistent conception of authority running through his work.
Ibis is obvious in his critical works such as the two discourses. It is fundamental, however, to The Social Contract, which is addressed to making authority legitimate, that is, to making political authority coincide with the will of the participant in the community (see esp. Book I, Ch. 1). Likewise, in The Government of Poland, Rousseau tried hard to make good use of the existing perceptions of authority and tradition; he was concerned that the Polish reformers change in profound but subtle and powerful ways the perception of authority, not that they impose a new system in fashiona ?le conformity to sophisticated principles. The opening chapter, "The Question Posed," concludes: "By what means, then, are we to move men's hearts and bring them to love their fatherland and its laws? Dare I say? Through the games they play as children, through institutions that, though a superficial man would deem them pointless, develop habits that abide and auachments that nothing can dissolve." Rousseau, The Government of Poland, Will moore Kendall, trans. (Indianapolis, 1972), p. 4.
To begin with, it is important to see why Rousseau's conception of authority should be located very much in the liberal tradition. His method in thinking about authority differs fundamentally from the method of authoritarian thinkers, for Rousseau's perspective is consistently that of the individual who perceives authority, not that of the being who is or wields authority. We might go further and observe that Rousseau's description of authority is sometimes liberal in the extreme, almost anarchic, for it is a description from the perspective, not of the individual in the abstract, but of the personal, subjective individual— Jean-Jacques Rousseau, juge de l'ancien régime.
See, Joseph de Maistre, The Works of joseph de Maistre, Jack Lively, trans. (New York, 1971), pp. 98-9.
Rousseau's liberalism can be given rather precise meaning by seeing how an authoritarian writer such as Joseph de Maistre misunderstood it. In de Maistre's view, Rousseau, and all contract theorists before him, erred in starting with the human individual in isolation and proceeding to society by aggregating these atomic individuals through one or another contract. De Maistre rightly insisted that the isolated individual never lived; instead, it existed only in abstraction: men always had and always would live in groups and one had therefore to locate the individual in the group rather than aggregate the group out of the individual. "If the causes of the origins of society are posed as a problem, it is obviously assumed that there was a human era before society; but this is precisely what needs to be proved ... The isolated man is ... by no means the man of nature ... Rousseau and all the thinkers of his stamp imagine or try to imagine a people in the state of nature . . ., deliberating formally on the advantages and disadvantages of the social state and finally deciding to pass from one to another. But there is not a grain of common sense in this idea."
See, for instance, Rousseau's observations in the "Preface" and the opening section of "The Discourse on Inequality;" Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses, Roger D. and Judith R. Masters, trans. (New York, 1964), pp. 97, 103.
Surely, the anthropology of contract theories, Rousseau's included, is absurd if taken literally. It is well-known, however, that Rousseau did not claim any historical truth for his conception of the state of nature. What, then, was his reason for beginning from the isolated individual and seeking through a metaphorical contract to aggregate society by joining individuals? Rousseau's reason was epistemological.
Rousseau did not offer and defend an epistemology and insofar as he held a theory of knowledge that he might have identified as such, it was the neoLockean sensationalism typical of the philosophes. His phenomenolism developed, as it should have, out of his experience, not his reflection. Because of this, his autobiographical writings should be taken for what they are, the epistemological groundwork of his earlier treatises. Rousseau was not only being narcissistic in his autobiographical obsession: his experience was the ground of his elucidation of what he found in experience.
For Rousseau, society was a phenomenal reality; it was something that exists in the sphere of human awareness; and human awareness is something that does not exist in general, but is always localized as some person's awareness. The experience of society is always the experience of some particular person and the basic question confronting that person in his attempt to make sense of his experience of society is to understand the implications of his involvement with other persons, with the social side of life. The metaphor of the social contract is a useful metaphor, not because men once lived in a social isolation from one another, but because consciousness is an individual attribute and one needs to explain how social experience comes to be shared between diverse consciousnesses. It comes about by a tacit agreement that such and such ought to be the principles underlying social experience, a tacit agreement that can be understood by likening it to a social contract.
Connections between Kant and Rousseau are explored well by Ernst Cassirer in Rousseau, Kant and Goethe, Gutmann, Kristeller, and Randall, trans. (New York, 1963), esp. pp. 43-55.
This phenomenalist epistemology that gave rise to Rousseau's conception of the social contract, was equally fundamental to this understanding of authority. For Rousseau, authority was not a self-subsistent quality, an attribute of a transcendent power, a feature of a social body that existed over and above the human person. Authority existed only in the perception of it; there was nothing that was authority outside of some person's perception of something as authority. One might find sprinkled through Rousseau's work anticipations of a Kantian principle requiring such a phenomenalism in all matters; certainly in the "Creed of the Savoyard Priest" he insisted on dealing even with religion within the limits of reason alone. Be that as it may, Rousseau's phenomenalism in matters of authority resulted, less from a methodological principle and more from his personal experience. Rousseau wrote about authority because authority was a problem for him, and being concerned with his experience of it, he wrote about authority phenomenologically, about how it appeared in his experience.
Jean Guehenno is considerably more informative about this incident in his excellent study Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John and Doreen Weightman, trans. (New York, 1966), Vol. I, pp. 9-lO, than Rousseau was in the laconic paragraph in The Confessions, Bk.I, Cohen, trans. p. 23.
Ibid.. p. 29.
Over and over again Rousseau's experience was such as to make him aware of authority as an arbitrary, perverse presence in his life. In The Confessions Rousseau did not make much of his father's exile from Geneva, but clearly, Rousseau's father set a good example of sensitivity to arbitrary authority, for the outburst that led to his exile was motivated by reserttment and it exemplifies how powerless even a citizen of Geneva was against an outraged magistracy. Much ensued, however, in Rousseau's personal experience to heighten his aw;ueness of the damage that could be wrought by authority as it was. First there was the painful punishment by M. Lambercier: "imagine a person timid and 'docile in ordinary life, but proud, fiery, and inflexible when roused, a child who has always been controlled by the voice of reason, always treated with kindness, fairness, and indulgence, a creature without a thought of injustice, now for the first time suffering a grave one at the hands of the people he loves best and most deeply respects. Imagine the revolution in his ideas, the violent change of his feelings, the confusion in his heart and brain, in his small intellectual and moral being!" Authority was not merely an abstract problem for Rousseau; instead, authority was a problem that one experienced—authority habitually erred and thus outraged, repressed, and destroyed the human spirit, Rousseau's spirit, your spirit, my spirit.
Rousseau's own account does not accord very well with the few documentary facts that survive about his experience at the hospice. Compare Ibid., pp. 65-73 with Guehenno's findings in jean jacques Rousseau, pp. 25-7.
By following the narrative of The Confessions, one could accumulate instance after instance in which Rousseau felt himself to be somehow violated by the power that another possessed over him. His experience of his short-lived apprenticeship was one of continual outrage at the authority of his insensitive master. Rousseau's account of his experience in the hospice for converts in Turin depicts how he perceived the authority of the Church as a very crass exploitation of his desperate plight: the authority he met there was anything but noumenal; it existed only because he perceived himself locked up with the dregs of society with abjuration and conversion duly certified by the Inquisition, as the only way out. And so he acquiesced. But this acquiescence was only a special case of his normal pattern of resistance, for when he entered the hospice its iron gate had locked behind him—he was incarcerated, committed for the salvation of his soul precisely as today a young addict is committed to a therapeutic community for the salvation of his metabolism. At the hospice, acquiescence was the necessary prelude to Rousseau's characteristic defense against authority movement for in this case acquiescence unlocked the gate that made movement possible.
Rousseau, The Confessions, Cohen, trans., pp. 388-9.
Rousseau, Les reveries du promeneur solitaire, OCl p. 1094, McClintock, trans. .lbid., p. 1082, and Rousseau jugede jean jacques, Ibid., pp. 826-7.
Whenever Rousseau perceived himself to be beset by some insensitive authority that was making demands upon him, he found a way to move, and as Rousseau found his world teeming with insensitive authorities, he was frequently on the road. Thus he had left Geneva; thus he left the hospice; thus he would shortly leave his service with M. de Gouron and a decade later with M. de Montaigu; thus even after he had made his mark, he would try to escape the demands of friends, of "society," of officials, by moving from Paris to one and then another suburban refuge, from there to a succession of retreats in Switzerland and England, finally to return to France as M. Renou. A "change began as soon as I left Paris and the sight of that great city's vices ceased to feed the indignation it aroused in me. When men were out of my sight I ceased to despise them; when the wicked were no more to be seen I ceased to hate them." In troubling situations, movement served Rousseau as a useful means for countering various demands that he defer to the will of others because he did not consider these demands to be objective, self-subsistent realities which had to be' fought against and destroyed. Authority existed in the perception of something as authority; a demand that one defer to another's will existed when one perceived something as such a demand. Therefore, one could make it go away in the end by moving so that it was no longer within one's sphere of perception and one was no longer within its sphere of action. "Always affected excessively by sensible objects and above all by those that carried the sign of pleasure or pain, . . . I would let myself be carried away by these exterior impressions without, often, being able to escape them except by flight."
What Rousseau practiced, he counseled in his writings. Throughout these, he was an acute analyst of how people perceived influence, the claims of class and convention, power, and authority. To be sure, his writings had a profoundly subversive effect historically; but nowhere in them did he raise a revolutionary banner; he issued no call to arms; he never suggested that the powers-that-be were inherently unjust and that virtuous men had a duty to stand, to fight, to root the malevolent power out of existence. Instead, he simply showed how most people perceived the arts and sciences, inequality, convention, the polity, in ways that did profound harm to their characters. To avoid this harm one had to change the perception: if it could be done by a simple expedient, well and good; but if it required an unprecedented revolution, so be it.
So far, we have edged around the problem of authority in Rousseau's life and work. Let us now try to formulate his doctrine with rigor. As we have seen, Rousseau throught about problems that were problems he experienced, ones that he experienced, not as problems of philosophy, but as problems of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In doing this, Rousseau thought about the problems as they appeared to him in his experience, as phenomena; he was in this way a thorough, but unselfconscious phenomenologist. Deeming authority a problem worth thinking about, finding it a recurrent problem in his life, Rousseau thought about it as a phenomenon, as something appearing in his experience. In the view of Rousseau, the phenomenologist, how did authority appear in his experience?
In Rousseau's experience—we might add, in any person's experience, in everyman's, in one's experience- authority appears as something closely related to necessity: one experiences both necessity and authority as phenomena to which one defers. Acts of necessity are features in one's experience that are what they are by virtue of causal processes that function independent of volitional control. Acts of necessity are the numerous givens that appear in our experience as aspects of the way things are, not because some other person made them that way, but because that is the way they are in the natural order of things. One must defer to necessity, take it into account, adapt to it, anticipate it, capitalize on it, suffer it, eventually be ground to dust by it. Constraints of time and place, the weather, diverse accidents, properties of the elements, the physiologies of plants and animals: by virtue of these and numerous other necessities things happen in one's experience, and as they happen one must defer to these things and adapt to them minimizing the harm that can arise from them and maximizing the benefit. For millennia men have been busy adapting to necessity and consequently a pure act of necessity, one untainted by the intervention of human activity, is hard to find, but by the samtoken, by having learned to defer to necessity, adapting it to every purpose, men have put necessity to work throughout the vast realm of their technical creations.
Whereas acts of necessity are necessary because they come to us as givens to which we must defer, acts of authority are authoritative because they come to us as demands to which we do defer. Thus, like acts of necessity, acts of authority appear in experience as phenomena demanding deference. But unlike acts of necessity, acts of authority demand deference through causal processes that function, not by necessity, but according to the volitional control of another. In deferring to authority, one takes into account, follows, acquiesces to, or rebels against the will of other people. Laws, customs, conventions, usages, mores, and morals; diverse acts by officials, teachers, managers, colleagues, friends, and passing strangers can all enter into one's experience as acts of authority when they make one defer and act according to the will of the other. In short, one experiences both necessity and authority as matters of giving way to something, but the something to which one gives way with necessity is a set of facts whereas with authority the something given way to is a set of volitions.
Bowing to necessity, in Rousseau's view, requires no rationalization, for one is acquiescing to a fact, not a will. Deference to authority, in contrast, always requires rationalization, for in one way or another one is acquiescing to the will of another. According to Rousseau, one can rationalize one's submission in one of two ways: one way, the common way, which gives rise to authority as it is, his descriptive conception of authority; another way, an unusual but possible way, which gives rise to authority as it should be, his normative conception of authority.
When one experiences authority, when one defers to the will of another, one makes the act one's own by explaining to oneself one's reason for submitting to the will of the other: one says to oneself that what the other demands is customary, just, in one's own interest, or backed by overwhelming force, and therefore one shall submit. This rationalization is not an absolute rationalization; rather it is always a self-regarding rationalization: on perceiving oneself deferring to authority one seeks to justify to oneself why one is acquiescing to the will of the other. One can meditate at length on the intrinsic authority of the other, but ultimately in rationalizing each concrete instance of one's deferring to authority one must explain to oneself why one subordinates one's will to the will of the other. Thus inevitably the rationalization must have a fundamental element of self-regard.
Rousseau's "Note 0" to "The Discourse on Inequality," The First and Second Discourses, Masters, trans., p. 222.
Deference to authority always appears as a self-regarding act, but it splits into two types of authority, in Rousseau's view, because there are two forms of self-regard: amour de so£ and amour propre, love of being and pride. "Love of oneself (amour de soz) is a natural sentiment which inclines every animal to watch over its own preservation, and which, directed in man by reason and modified by pity, produces humanity and virtue. Vanity (amour propre) is only a relative sentiment, artificial and born in society, which inclines each individual to have a greater esteem for himself than for anyone else, inspires in men all the harm they do to one another, and is the true source of honor."
In what follows I will not translate amour de soi and amour propre, for there are implications in the French that seem impossible to catch in English. The common English renderings of amour de soi-"love of oneself" of "self-love"-are quite inert compared to the French, for although amour de soi is literally "love of oneself," soi sounds exactly the same as sois, the first person subjunctive of the verb "to be" and makes it resonate with a sense of possibility. Amour propre is often translated as "vanity" or "pride" or "egotism." Each of these, however, have direct French equivalents, vanit, orgueil, gotisme. Further, they suggest that amour propre is more elemental than Rousseau believed. The use of propre in the phrase is perfect for Rousseau's conviction that the emotion arises only on the comparison of externalities: the basic meaning that makes propre usable in Rousseau's phrase is as the adjective signifying that something is one's own as distinct from similar things belonging to others-ma propre maison, my own house. But it further signifies things that are proper, correct, characteristic, even neat or clean-ma maison propre, my clean house. Amour propre is a love preoccupied with things its own and things conventionally viewed.
To understand Rousseau's thought properly it is essential to grasp this distinction between amour de so£ and amour propre, for it is fundamental to all his writing, first appearing in his early works and being maintained through his later ones. amour de soi is the desire for self-preservation, the affirmation of life, the quest for fulfillment that moves any living being to survive. amour de soi is a direct regard for the self, one that takes into account only the immediate needs and aspirations of the self as they exist for it and it alone, not as they may exist in comparison to the needs and aspirations of others. amour propre, in contrast, comes into being as the direct regard for self is transformed into an indirect regard, one that proceeds through comparison. With amour propre the question ceases to be whether something is good for oneself and becomes whether it is as good for oneself as something else is for another. Whereas amour de soi leads one to seek self-fulfillment, amour propre diverts one into seeking self-aggrandisement relative to others. amour propre defines the self, not by reference to its intrinsic potentialities, but by its condition relative to others. amour de soi prompts one to eat enough food to sustain a full and active life; amour propre goads one to consume meals more sumptuous than those of one's neighbors.
One rationalizes one's deference to authority by self-regard, by reference either to one's amour de soi or to one's amour propre. It is customary for one, it is just to one, it is in one's interest, or it is overwhelming one: in each case the self at stake can be a self defined with respect to intrinsic needs and potentialities or to a comparison of one's state to that of others. Almost invariably, as Rousseau saw it, acts of authority were such that in rationalizing deference to them one referred to the self defined by comparison and thus one built up one's amour propre, one's pride, one's vanity. For the most part, the demands made upon one by other people were absurd, having practically nothing to do with one's intrinsic potentialities, and one deferred to them only out of a relative, cunning self-regard, out of fear of others' power or out of ulterior motives. As a result, authority as it is, in Rousseau's view, was a tremendous system for inculcating the morally destructive habit of comparing one's condition to that of others, for becoming prideful, vain, and envious. Authority ought not necessarily lead to these destructive effects, for in rationalizing deference to authority as it should be one could refer only to one's amour de soi, one's intrinsic self, one's love of being, and in doing so, one would see the deference as a positive feature in one's over-all affirmation of life.
An example will illustrate and clarify these distinctions between necessity and the two types of authority. On one of his many solitary walks, Rousseau may well have come to a bridge that had been washed away by some sudden flood: here was an act of necessity to which Rousseau would submit by revising his route, perhaps regretting the delay, but finding little in the matter demanding reflection aside from the problem of choosing the proper detour. If, however, next to the washed-out bridge some enterprising boatman had set himself up offering to ferry the solitary promenador across the river at an exorbinant price, then the act of necessity would have been turned into an example of authority as it is. In this case, Rousseau would have had to rationalize whether or not to defer to the boatman's demand by a complicated set of comparisons, drawing on his amour propre, deciding on the relative value to him of the money versus the inconvenience of a detour, working himself up to a proud refusal or talking himself into a sullen payment. If, in contrast, the bridge had not been entirely washed out, but instead had been left standing but greviously weakened so that it might collapse, plunging those crossing it into the torrent, then there would have been an occasion for authority as it should be to function, putting up a sign closing the bridge for repairs and directing travelers to a temporary replacement a short way downstream. In this case, Rousseau would defer, using his amour de soi to justify the deference, being thankful that some unseen benefactor had prevented him from blindly risking his life and had provided him with an alternative crossing.
Authority in eighteenth-century France was all too often like the extortionist boatman. In a society full of proprieties, conventions, ranks and distinctions, one was continually called upon to defer to the will of others in ways that could only be rationalized by reference to one's amour propre. This continual aggravation of the amour propre in each was the basis for Rousseau's rejection of enlightenment civilization. Throughout Rousseau's writing there is a many-sided rejection of numerous forms of authority, but on examination, these prove to be rejections, not of authority per se, but authority insofar as it aggravates amour propre and undercuts the innate virtues of men.
The First and Second Discourses, Masters, trans., p. 34.
Ibid., pp. 35-6.
Ibid., p. 58.
Rousseau opens the "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences" asserting that he was not against science, but for virtue. Unfortunately, civilization had worked against virtue by building up men's amour propre. Rousseau did not here use the term, but the concept was clearly the foundation of his critique in the first discourse: the arts and sciences made "men more sociable by inspiring in them the desire to please one another with works worthy of their mutual approval," and thus the arts and sciences accustomed men to compare themselves continually with one another. These habitual comparisons gave rise to a "disastrous inequality," which in turn converted the arts and sciences from a means of perfecting human life in general to a means by which the few compete for place and power.
Rousseau, "Preface," Narcisse ou l'amant de lui-meme, OCII, p. 970, Translations from the Oeuvres completes are by McClintock.
In his "Preface" to Narcisse, published in 1752, Rousseau'-Stated this critique succinctly, making clear that he opposed, not the arts and sciences, but their power to corrupt character by inflaming amour propre. "I admit that there are a few sublime geniuses who know how to penetrate through the veils in which truth envelops itself, a few privileged spirits who are capable of resisting the betise of vanity at base jealousy and the other passions that engender the taste for letters. The small group of them, who happily unite these qualities, is the light and honor of mankind; it is through them alone that all the labor at learning is turned to the good ...." The arts and sciences, letters, the highest fruits of civilization were not in themselves bad; rather, most people were too dominated by their amour propre to enter into the circle of literary authority without grave effects on their characters.
Rousseau, Julie, ou La nouvelle Heloise, Pt. II, Letter XVII, OCII, p. 250, McClintock, trans. The abridged translation by Judith H. McDowell, La Nouvelle Heloise: julie, or the New Eloise (University Park, Pennsylvania, 1968), is unfortunately not very useful owing to McDowell's decision to shorten the work by leaving out the "digressions" from the soap opera. And this despite Rousseau's "Second Preface" in which he warned young ladies against thinking that the love story was the most important thing in the book!
Likewise, a sense for the destructiveness of aggravating people's amour propre led Rousseau to denigrate the authority of society, the tyranny of taste, the constraints of convention: all were forms of authority to which one deferred, not in the artless affirmation of one's being, but out of fear for what others will think. In La nouvelle Heloise, Saint·Preux observed that with the Parisians "all is considered, calculated, weighed, in what they call the civilities .... Should this imitative people be full of originality, it would be impossible to know it, for no man dares to be himself. One must do as the others: that is the first maxim of wisdom in this land. This one does, This one does not do: that is the supreme decision."
Rousseau juge de jean jacques, OCI, p. 669.
Ibid., p. 806.
This form of sociality, this incessant calculation, was the essence of amour propre, and the cultivation of it led inexorably to destructive relationships. Late in life, in Rousseau juge de Jean Jacques, Rousseau explained this point most fully. An aspiration that one affirms purely out of one's sense of one's intrinsic self is quite consistent with true fellowship, for amour de soi leads one to seek fulfillment without measuring that fulfillment relative to others. But in a close, elaborate society, each encounters many obstacles blocking the path to his goals. Then amour de soi, the positive affirmation of the self-defined goal, gives way to an obsession with the obstacles, which turns one's aspiration into amour propre, "that is to say, a relative emotion by which one compares oneself, an emotion that wants priority, for which fruition is purely negative, and that no longer seeks to satisfy itself through our personal good, but only through .the harm of others." When amour propre dominates one's aspirations, one forms them comparatively, relative to others, with the result that the others come to be seen either as means or as obstacles to one's ends. amour propre makes one unable to see others as autonomous, self-fulfilling beings; it's an "owning" love, and the person moved by amour propre expects that others will prefer him to themselves. He will hence covet goods that others merit more than he. Greed, envy, scorn, pride, vanity, resentment, wrath—all will come to characterize his views of others, depending only on .how he sees himself in comparison to them. "You perceive that there is nothing in all that to dispose the spirit to benevolence."
In what followed, Rousseau argued explicitly that society and civilization were powerful causes of amour propre.
Should you ask me from whence comes this disposition to compare oneself, which changes a natural and good passion into another artificial and wicked passion, I would reply that it comes from social relations, from the progress of ideas, and from the cultivation of the mind. Insofar as one occupies oneself with absolute needs, one restricts oneself to seeking what is truly useful to one, and one scarcely throws on others an idle glance. But to the degree that society constricts through the bonds of mutual need, to the degree that the spirit extends, exercises, and enlightens, one enters further into activity, one takes up more objects, grasps more relations, examines, compares; in these frequent comparisons one does not forget oneself; nor one's fellows, nor the position among them to which one pretends. Once having begun to measure in this way, one will never cease, and from then on one's heart will know only how to be interested in putting all the world beneath it.
Thus, as it was, the authority of society and intellect was a destructive authority, one that taught men to live by reference to their amour propre.
This existent authority was a threat to mankind because it led men to convert their amour de soi, the base of all virtue, into amour propre, the source of all vice. Rousseau opposed, not authority per se, but this consequence of authority as it was. Hence, intertwined with this critique, a many sided appreciation of of authority as it should be ran through Rousseau's writings: he consistently sought to preserve, create, and strengthen systems of authority that would encourage men to mute their amour propre and guide their lives by their amour de soz·.
A good example of Rousseau's qualified enthusiasm is reported in a letter from Madame D'Epinay to Grimm, 1757, translated by William Boyd in The Minor Educational Writings of jean jacques Rousseau (New York, 1962), p. 104. See for fuller examples, La nouvelle Heloise, Pt. VI, Letter V, OCII, pp. 657-663 and Rousseau, Lettres ecrites de la montagne, OCIII, pp. 683-897.
Rousseau, Politics and the Arts: Letter to M. D' Alembert on the Theatre, Allan Bloom, trans. (Ithaca, New York, 1968), p. 63.
Rousseau was a keen observer and with him the ideal admitted of many degrees. He saw approximations of authority as it should be in ancient Sparta and republican Rome and he hoped the Swiss would preserve their communal self-sufficiency, for although not ideal, their way of life was certainly less bad than that of more sophisticated peoples. This judgment led Rousseau, in his Letter to D'Alembert, to make his simplest defense of authority as it should be _by calling on the Genevans to resist the civilizing ways of the French. At bottom, Rousseau's case against a theater for Geneva was that it would make the Genevans more susceptible to the urgings of amour propre. He depicted them without a theater living a simple life of self-fulfillment, doing everything for themselves, rationalizing their conduct by a healthy affirmation of their amour de soi. If in emulation of the cosmopolitan centers these artless folk were to introduce a theater in their midst, they would soon develop taste in the place of simplicity and learn to consult their amour propre. Ceasing to judge according to their intrinsic needs and abilities, they would start to live comparatively: "the wives of the Mountaineers, going first to see and then to be seen will want to be dressed and dressed with distinction . . . . Out of this will soon emerge a competition ...."
La nouvelle Heloise, Pt. II Letter XXVII, OCII, p. 304, McClintock, trans.
The Confessions, Bk. IX, Cohen, trans., pp. 388-9. See also Rousseau juge de jean jacques, OCI, p. 791: "The Letter to M. d'Alembert on the Theater, Heloise, Emile, The Social Contract, the Essays on Perpetual Peace and On Theatrical Imitation, and other writings no less admirable that have not yet appeared are the fruits of the withdrawal of J. I doubt that a philosopher has meditated more profoundly, more usefully perhaps, and written more in so little time."
Rousseau, Les reveries du promeneur solitaire, Eighth Walk, OCI, p. 1079.
Rousseau suggested that as the Genevans could resist the tyranny of taste and uphold the authority of their simple customs, so too could the individual resist sophistication and cultivate a sober sincerity. Thus Julie advised Saint- Preux when he showed signs of being caught up into the Parisian haut monde. "If you wish now in effect to be a man, learn to redescend." Rousseau saw his own move out of Paris in 1756 as such a redescent. In retrospect he thought it enabled him to put aside negative obsessions with the vices of the world, and one can find confirmation of this view in the fact that during the next five years he wrote his three great positive works, La nouvelle Heloise, Emile, and The Social Contract. Later still, he succinctly analyzed this move as an effort to mute his own amour propre. "I should never have had much inclination towards amour propre if this artificial passion had not been excited in me by society, above all as I was a writer in it .... In withdrawing into my spirit and in cutting external relations that were taxing to maintain, in renouncing comparisons and preferences, I became content that I should be good for myself; then as my love again became a love of myself, it reentered the order of nature and delivered me from the yoke of opinion."
Amour propre, in Rousseau's view, was caused primarily by society, by the effects of social relations on the character of the participants in them. Consequently, he was especially concerned in his political theory to find a basis for community that would not lead citizens to compare themselves habitually with one another, or, if comparisons could not be avoided, would conduce to ones that would give rise to an innocuous amour propre. To follow out all aspects of this matter would require an essay in itself. Here suffice it to make several basic points.
The Social Contract, Bk.I, Ch. 6, Maurice Cranston, trans., p. 60.
Ibid., p. 74.
See "A Discourse on Political Economy," in Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses, G. D. H. Cole, trans. (New York, 1950), esp. pp. 297-8, and 298-311 passim; The Social Contract, Bk. II, Ch. 4; The Government of Poland, Ch. Ill; and the contract proposed for Corsicans, Constitution pour la corse, OCIII, p. 943.
To begin, Rousseau aimed in his speculation on the social contract to find whether there was a basis upon which people could enter into community out of regard for their amour de soi, not their 'amour propre. The question was: "How to find a form of association which will defend the person and goods of each member with the collective force of all, and under which each individual, while uniting himself with the others, obeys no one but himself, and remains as free as before." Rousseau held that this could be done insofar as the person came to identify his self with the social body, to merge his personal will with the general will of the community. When one came to see oneself, not as an independent being amidst many others, but as an integral part of a larger social body, then service to that body becomes part of one's integral effort at self-fulfillment, an act made meaningful by one's amour de soi, a love now of the social self. In a community with which one wholly identified, distinctions would be merited or else one would not identify with the community, and they would not be cause for invidious comparisons, for amour propre, but would be instead simply aspects of one's being, akin to the distinction between one's right and one's left hand. The "Discourse on Political Economy," The Social Contract, and the considerations on Corsica and Poland all agree that only when the individual identifies his being with the community, only when he is a true patriot, when his love of self merges with love of his fatherland, can the community have a positive influence on the character of its citizens.
Cranston, whose translation of The Social Contract is generally excellent, renders la volonte particuliere as "the private will." This seems to weaken the contrast between general and particular that Rousseau wanted to emphasize with his terminology and it introduces unnecessarily the possibility of thinking that one's particular will, identified with the privacy of one's inner concerns, differs not only in object, but also in character, from one's general will. Willmoore Kendall in The Social Contract (Chicago, 1954), p. 34, translated Ia volonte particuliere as "the will of the individual," a patent example of translation as treachery.
The Social Contract, Bk. II, Ch. I, OCIII, p. 368.
Ibid., Bk. I, Ch. VII, OCIII, p. 363.
Further, the distinction, fundamental to Rousseau's political theory, between the general will and the particular will, depends on the distinction between amour de soi and amour propre. In affect, what Rousseau called "the particular will" was amour propre expressing itself on public matters. As amour propre led one to expect others to prefer oneself to themselves, the particular will led one to seek preferences from the community. The comparative calculations that characterize amour propre likewise enter into the formation of one's particular will. "As a man, each individual can have a particular will contrary or dissimilar to the general will that ·he has as citizen. His particular interest can speak to him in an entirely different manner than the common interest; his existence, absolute and naturally independent, can make him view what he owed to the common cause as a gratuitous contribution, the loss of which would be less harmful to the others than the payment would be troublesome to him; and regarding the moral person that the state constitutes to be a mental being, since it is not a man, he wishes to enjoy the rights of a citizen without wanting to fulfill the duties of a subject: an injustice the progress of which will cause the ruin of the body politic."
Ibid., Bk. I, Ch. VI, OCIII, p. 361.
Rousseau, Du contract social, premiere persian, OCIII, p. 292. Cf. The Social Contract, Bk. I, Ch. VII, OCIII, p. 364, where the wording is not quite as strong although the sense is quite the same.
As calculation of comparative advantage is characteristic of the particular will, affirmation of the public being is essential to the general will. One enters into the social contract by accepting that the social being is integral to one's own being and thus a proper telos for one's amour de soi."Each of us puts in common his person and his powers under the supreme direction of the general will; and we receive in a body each member as an indivisible part of the whole." Rousseau was adamant: for this sublimination of one's amour de soi through the social contract to be valid, the acts of the sovereign public power under the direction of the general will—had to apply equally to all. This insistence that the law apply equally to all was the idea behind Rousseau's unfortunate phrase about forcing men to be free: in refusing to follow a sovereign command of the general will, an individual was claiming special treatment in matters that had properly to apply equally to all. If the individual succeeded in claiming unique rights or exemption from duty, civil inequality would be introduced in the body politic, which would lead to personal dependence for some on those specially treated. There was no freedom without civil equality, for even the masters would be the slaves of calculation; hence where civil equality existed those who would claim special treatment had to be constrained to be free, to accept the same treatment as everyone, for only that equality can "render legitimate, reasonable, and without danger bonds that without it are absurd, tyrannical, and subject to the most enormous abuse."
For social bonds to be legitimate with respect to the person's amour de sm·, for the individual to affirm his social being as part of his intrinsic being, sovereign acts had to apply equally to all. This condition was not alone sufficient guarantee that amour pro pre would not develop among the members of society, for even where civil equality reigned there would be natural inequalities. In a legitimate society, public education would become a powerful means of imbuing people•with patriotism and a character impervious to amour propre.
Rousseau, "Discours sur l'economie politique," OCIII, p. 260.
Rousseau, Le gouvernement de Pologne, OCIII, p. 969.
Rousseau brooked no illusion that education would regenerate French society, where RO one cared whether there were citizens. "It is too late for changing our natural inclinations when they have taken their course and habit has been joined to amour propre; it is too late for taking us outside of ourselves when once the human self has contracted in our hearts and has acquired the contemptible activity that consumes all virtue and is the life of petty souls." In more fortunate communities, should they come again to exist, where public policy is founded upon the general will and the character of men is not yet habitually debased, education would be a powerful means of preserving the community. This Rousseau suggested in his "Discourse on Political Economy" and this Rousseau reiterated in his Considerations on the Government of Poland. To make the reform of Poland work, the proper laws were not enough; national character, a unique fraternal simplicity, had to sustain the new laws, which it could do if nurtured in all by education. "Direct the education, usages, habits, and morals of the Poles in this spirit and you will develop in them the leaven of patriotic zeal, which has not yet been spoiled by corrupt maxims, by exhausted institutions, by an egotistical philosophy that preaches that which kills."
Rousseau, Du contrat social, premiere version, OCIII, p. 294.
Let us recapitulate: Rousseau thought that amour de soi, the ingenuous affirmation of one's intrinsic potentiality, was the source of human excellence. amour propre, the egotism that arises on comparing one's extrinsic condition with that of others, gave rise, in contrast, to the self-serving vices. If virtue was to flourish among men somehow they had to preserve their amour de soi and avoid developing a strong amour propre. Yet, in society, as it was, almost all authoritative relations were ones that a person could enter into only with amour propre as his motive and consequently Rousseau viewed social and political experience as a powerful teacher of pride, vanity, envy, and all the other forms of amour propre. One alternative to this situation, which he adduced in his political theory, was a polity based upon a legitimate sovereignty; legitimate because each participates fully and equally in its rights and duties, and sovereign because "there is in the state a common force that sustains it, as well as a general will that directs this force, and it is the application of the one to the other that constitutes sovereignty." Where there was a polity truly based upon a legitimate sovereignty, the person would perceive his own being as identified with its being; he could not separate his intrinsic self from the community of which it was an integral part; he could not view his fellows with scorn and resentment for he and they were at one as elements in a greater whole. In this polity and in this polity alone, one would rationalize deference to the various authorities one experienced by appeal to one's amour de soi, for one would perceive those authorities as authentic aspects of one's social self.
In essence, these were the basic features of Rousseau's political solution to the problem of avoiding amour propre and creating authority that would benefit human character. He set forth this position with remarkable clarity and rigor and sustained it with impressive consistency from his earliest to his latest works, even maintaining throughout general consistency in terminology. Many have not wanted to see this in his work because his position contradicts both the great orthodoxies of modernity. He blatantly opposed conservativism with its apologia for the status quo, which Rousseau found fundamentally demeaning. At the same time, he rejected radicalism in its diverse forms by establishing a moral standard for the good society that is utopian, not prophetic—legitimate sovereignty as Rousseau defined it was not an announcement of what the future would bring; it was a standard that would be achieved no where.
Rousseau, The Social Contract, Bk. II, Ch. VII, Maurice Cranston, trans., p. 86. In Bk. II, Ch. VIII, Rousseau asserted that regeneration after degeneration was impossible: liberty could be gained, but not regained.
To be sure, radical reformers have struggled around the world to approximate Rousseau's ideal of legitimate sovereignty, yet still we recognize that everywhere some are more equal than others. Rousseau, himself, was consciously not the activist, not, I think, because of his character, but because of his principles. These principles led Rousseau to identify social authority as the agent corrupting human character. The optimum solution to that situation would be, as his political theory postulated, the creation of a public realm that was non-corrupting, that men could participate in through their amour de soi. But one could create such a new system of authority only by participating in the old, that was the dilemma. Rousseau spoke bravely about the lawgiver, the semi-divine personage who could, like Moses or Lycurgus, engender a legitimate sovereignty from a fallen people. But the lawgiver could not be counted on in the reasonable anticipation of reform. Like the examples to which Rousseau appealed, the lawgiver was quasi-mythical: "We find in the work of the lawgiver two things which look contradictory—a task which is beyond human powers and a nonexistent authority for its execution." Social salvation through a lawgiver, Rousseau held, was not impossible, but it would be nothing short of miraculous.
See The Confessions, Bk. XI, .J. M. Cohen, trans., pp. 523, 525, 529-30; cf. Rousseau juge de jean Jaques, OCI, p. 934, and most strongly of all, Lettres ecrits de la montagne, OCIII, p. 697.
'Thus, in Book II of Emile, Rousseau advises quite complicated social situations for putting over to the child some important points: the idea of property with the set-up argument between Emile and the gardener, the careful disciplining of caprice by planting a stranger to make Emile aware of the folly of his solitary walk, and the drawing of the child towards exercise by developing the races for the cakes. See Emile, Barbara Foxley, trans. (New York, 1961), pp. 62-3, 85-9, 105-7.
Book IV is an extended examination of how amour propre must inevitably develop in Emile and how he can learn to limit and control it. Foxley's translation in this part, as in most others, is poor; throughout her English version lacks the clarity, precision, and force of Rousseau's French version. Her use of "self-love" for amour de soi and "selfishness" for amour propre is adequate, but she does not maintain this terminology with the rigor that Rousseau does. Throughout, her translations do not put points with care, and while any single instance may seem minor, cumulatively these make the book, divagations at any rate, seem much looser than it is. A typical instance may be found in her rendering of "Quoique Ia pudeur soit naturelle a l'espece humaine, naturellement les enfans n'en ont point," a line chosen at random (OCIV, p. 497). Foxley's version is: "Although modesty is natural to man, it is not natural to children," which is not what Rousseau said and which exaggerates the separation between human adults and human children. Rousseau was observing that modesty was natural to the human species, of which children are a part, but "naturally, children do not have any" modesty because it has not developed yet. With thousands of such instances of minor distortion, Foxley's must be counted a very poor translation. But at least it is relatively complete, which cannot be said for William Boyd's The Emile of Jean Jacques Rousseau: Selections (New York, 1962). Boyd translates amour de soi as self-love and amour propre as self-esteem, rendering the distinction almost invisible, but then worse yet, Boyd eviscerates the topic, seeing fit to include only one paragraph from the pages devoted to the distinction, pages which Pierre Burgelin, editor of the Pleiade text, calls "the heart of Emile" (OCIV, p. 14).
Opposing conservatism and seeing a significant radicalism dependent wholly on a miracle, which he knew he was not, Rousseau placed his hopes in personalism. In his personalistic writings. the struggle was still one against amour propre and for amour de soi. But this struggle would not be won through a definitive social transformation in which the corrupting power of social authority would once and for all be destroyed. Rather, the transformation was one that might occur over and over again as each person took responsibility for his personal character. Of his theoretical writings, the book in which he best addressed the personal struggle that each could make against amour propre was Emt'le, which Rousseau himself judged his worthiest work. Emile was not primarily a treatise on teaching method. Rather, it was a study of character formation, of the art of forming character in the young and, I think, of reforming character in the mature. The celebrated isolation of Emile from society is in fact not carried out in the text: Rousseau isolated Emile from convention, not from other people, his point being that in the formation of character convention must not control conduct. The premise of Emt'le was not that one could isolate oneself from society and thus avoid developing an amour propre. It was quite the opposite: one would inevitably develop amour propre owing to one's inevitable encounter with other people, but understanding this, one could learn to control an? limit amour propre and preserve one's natural amour de soi.
Rousseau, "Lettre a Christophe de Beaumont, Archeveque de Paris ...," (1763), OCIV, p. 935.
Ibid., p. 937.
In his letter to Christophe de Beaumont, Archbishop of Paris, Rousseau stated his purpose in Emt'le explicitly. He had worked from the basic principle of morality, the one on which all his writings were based: "that man is a naturally good being, who loves justice and order." In Emt'le he showed how, starting from the one inborn passion, amour de sot', which in its original form is neither good nor bad, the person becomes good or bad depending on the conditions under which it develops. As men develop in relation to people and to things, they form ideas of propriety, justice, and order, and if they are not wracked by many conflicting interests, they will become essentially good. Relations between people are pressing, however, and these relations create conflicts of interest that will work upon amour de soi, converting it into amour propre. Then under the aegis of amour pro pre men will become wicked, seeking good only for themselves and wreaking harm on everyone else. "It is to look for what it is necessary to do to avoid becoming wicked that I have consecrated my book."
See esp. Emile, OCIV, pp. 388-9.
A full explication of Rousseau's strategy in Emile would be beyond the scope of this essay. Rousseau observed at the beginning of Book IV that one is born twice, once to one's species and once to one's sex. This double birth gave rise to two stages in Rousseau's strategy for limiting the harm that would come from the development of amour propre. The point in the first stage was to learn to limit one's wants so that satisfaction of them was within one's powers. This was the first stage because in essence it involved gaining mastery of oneself as a self-contained being. Wickedness stemmed from weakness, and the child, acting continually from weakness, could develop a powerful will to domination by discovering that he can play up his weakness to make others satisfy not only his need, but his whim as well. Rousseau's whole effort prior to the age of emotion and reason is to develop in children a true sense of their needs and an independent command of the means for fulfilling them. "The truly free man wants only what he can do and does only what pleases him. That is my fundamental.maxim. It is only a question of applying it to childhood and all the rules of education follow from it."
Ibid., p. 310.
Ibid., pp. 534.
Rousseau's second stage is closely related to the first: it is to learn to project into the world of people the self-contained limitation of one's wants that was mastered in the first stage. "The wise man knows to remain in his place." By this, Rousseau does not mean to counsel simple passivity. Rather, "knowing one's place," in the true sense, was the condition of autonomous initiative. It was not within one's power to be someone else, to live the life of another. The worst powerlessness and the greatest amour propre arose when one wished to live the life of another or feared that someone was seeking to usurp one's place in life. Accepting one's place was crucial in the effort to control amour propre, because one could not avoid amour propre. The age of emotion and reason for Emile was the time of his discovery of amour propre, and, if all went well, of his mastery of it. Through emotion and intellect Emile became aware of the world of other people. "Note that as soon as amour propre is developed, the relative me puts itself into play without stop, and the young man never observes others without returning to himself and comparing himself with them. It is a question of knowing what rank he will assign himself among his fellows after having examined them." To control amour propre, one's sense of place, like one's sense of need, has to be accurate and within one's powers. But if, knowing oneself and coming to know the world, one can decide rightly who one is in the world of men, that is, if one can decide rightly on one's place, then one can regain one's amour de soi by concentrating on achieving the possibilities open to one given one's powers and one's place.
Ibid., pp. 583-606.
Rousseau, "Emile et Sophie, ou les solitaires," esp. OCIV, pp. 920-4, where Emile finds his place a slave, close to death from overwork and poor food and begins acting on his amour de soi.
In Rousseau's view, each person could not avoid developing amour propre, a relative view of oneself. But each could learn to control this amour propre, first by limiting one's wants to things within one's power, and second by accepting one's place in the world of people. As Rousseau makes clear in the last half of "the Creed of the Savoyard Vicar," this acceptance requires a profound faith that is not easily won; Emile is far from having won it at the end of Rousseau's treatise, very, very far, judging from the indications in the unfinished sequel "Emile et Sophie, ou les solitaries." But the acceptance can be won, and for those who win it, it has a profound effect on their sense of authority. By accepting one's place, one in effect naturalizes the realm of authority, one decides to treat the will of others as one does the ways of nature, as something there, something to be taken for what it is, something to be taken into account as one of the many conditions of one's actions, but not as something potentially subject to one's control. Accepting his place, Rousseau would have learned not to bother about the boatman; instead Rousseau would see the boatman, not through amour pro pre as someone exploiting a situation to get the better of Jean Jaques Rousseau, but simply through amour de soi as one of the unexpected sights seen upon his solitary walk.
Thus, Rousseau's pedagogical solution to the problem of authority does not convert authority as it is, with its corrupting power to aggravate amour propre, into authority as it should be. Rather, it converts both into acts of necessity. The person who has accepted his place is very much a "solitary," a person acting alone in a vast realm of facts.
Rousseau had always seemed to me highly manipulative in having his tutor disguise his authority as necessity. If, however, one accepts one's place and comes to see authority simply as a type of necessity, then the disguise becomes truly a dis-guising, making the act appear to the child as what it is—an act of necessity—before the child has himself reached the level of understanding that would enable him in any event tosee it for that.
This conclusion is not the one I expected and it leaves me with a set of questions I hope to take up in a more extended work on Rousseau. I had expected to conclude first, that Rousseau cannot properly be considered a creator of an anti-authoritarian pedagogy—as Bantock considers him to be for instance for Rousseau clearly held the educator responsible, not only for exercising great authority over the student, but further for doing it with incredible sensitivity. This still seems to me the view warranted by the text, but on realizing that the education of Emile aims at the naturalization of authority, it appears much more important to me to attend closely to Rousseau's suggestion that until Emile had developed as a moral being the tutor should, wherever possible, make his authority appear as an act of necessity. The key problem in pedagogy ceases to be the proper balance between freedom and 'authority and becomes a matter of properly relating freedom to necessity.'
Also, I had intended to conclude that Rousseau should not be interpreted as a proto-totalitarian theorist. Several of the most destructive of totalitarian movements have sought to merge the wills of their followers into complete identification with the will of the movement, but this has not been done on a Rousseauian basis. The will mobilized by totalitarian movements has been the amour propre, not the amour de soi, and the means of the mobilization has been by promising the individual complete gratification of his amour propre through the unchecked workings of the state. Although Rousseau seems to me clearly not to be a proto-totalitarian, I am not yet clear what the implications for politics are of his naturalisation of authority. They seem to me to anticipate in large part the twentieth-century quest of l'homme engage, the demystifit:ation of the state, the complete personalization of responsibility, the sense that freedom is the element of choice always present in existence.
Finally, I expected to come back to Rousseau the man and to find considerable authority in his achievement. He still impresses me as an inspired phenomenologist. I find both amour de soi and amour propre in my sphere of awareness and his analysis of how we are affected by the authorities we perceive rings true to me. But now I am eager to go back over his life to see how, if at all, he was able to accept his place among men. Who knows—perhaps in doing so I may even learn from him to accept mine.