Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, November 24, 2014

Vive la France!, Rousseau & the French Revolution, Final Report #4 of 4

The French Revolution
Look at that smirk. 
It's almost as if he knew what kind of hell would break loose because of his ideologies.
Of course, then, why would he have spent so much of his time fussing over his philosophies in politics (i.e., The Social Contract, Discourse on Political Economy, etc.) if he didn't know that something could potentially come of it? He is a philosopher, though, so he could have very well had written this stuff just because he wanted his voice to be heard, which I guess is admirable enough.

Do you hear the people sing?
Let me start off by saying that, no, Les Miserables is NOT set in the French Revolution that we've all come to know (and hopefully love, or at least enjoy, if you're anything like me). It's set in the Paris Uprisings, which in itself probably stemmed from Rousseau-ean thought as well (or John Locke). Still, though, as a major theatre dork (seriously, don't get me started) and a French history nut, I couldn't help but title this section that. 
You see, the French were ridiculously repetitive in their political system (seriously, they went through  the timeline of terrible monarchy->republic (sort of)->Napoleon TWICE. Yeah, twice), so I suppose the influence of Rousseau was even needed the second go around (in the hopes of a republic), possibly even more, since they couldn't get it the first time. 
Long story short, the French citizens were not satisfied. It was pretty evident that the General Will of the people that Rousseau heavily emphasized was being thrown to the sides by the monarchy. The citizens of France were starving, and the monarchy, when told of the citizens' turmoil, threw aside the idea of just giving them bread. Supposedly, Marie Antoinette responded with 'Let them eat cake.' (actually, this didn't happen. she said something like that sort of but not really). The citizens were not all free and equal, and, with Rousseau's teachings, they fought to become that way.

Discourses on the Arts and Sciences
This was Rousseau's first major work, garnering him recognition in society. Basically, the main point of this work was for Rousseau to prove that the rise or wellbeing of the arts and sciences actually inhibited classic morality. He then recounts and explains the negative aspects of the arts and sciences and their negative influence on society in general. Essentially, the production of artwork or scientific thought does not influence morality positively.

Reveries of the Solitary Walker
This book, being the last of his major works, was left unfinished, and, like Emile, is part narrative, part philosophical treatise. By this point, poor Rousseau, who really, I believe, sought to better society by his works, had been beaten down virtually all of his literary career. A great deal of his works had been banned and most were heavily criticized. In this work, Rousseau does reflect on his life mainly, returning to his naturalistic tendencies present in his earlier works. It's composed of ten walks that he took and different ideas kind of floating around in his head, particularly concerning the public good (which is what I think he had truly been aiming for his entire career). 

I've really grown to admire Rousseau. I honestly believe that he was ahead of his time right when he needed to be (which, I know, is a paradox). Had he lived longer, I'm not sure how proud he would be of the effect his works had, though I think pride is acceptable in this instance. I don't think that Rousseau would have promoted war, so the revolution would not have necessarily impressed him, I don't think, but to have your words affect people like that is so cool. 
Here's a pdf of Reveries: https://archive.org/details/confessionsjjro01rousgoog
And Discourse: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/638

This has been a real blast! Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy or even appreciate Rousseau as much as I do!


  1. "Liberte' egalite' fraternite'" - a great slogan. I'd just add "de'cence," to try and stop all those heads from rolling. The revolution was pretty brutal.

    But I appreciate your enthusiasm for it, Katherine, good job!

  2. Anonymous12:06 PM CST

    Katherine, you had a great series of posts. Insightful and not dull rewordings of the texts. Good job.

    And as a fellow "major theater dork" I think you'll enjoy this parody from Straight No Chaser.