The Rousseauan Revolution and the Problem of Evil

Ruth W. Grant

in Naming Evil Judging Evil

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780226306735
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226306742 | DOI:
The Rousseauan Revolution and the Problem of Evil

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This chapter explores one modern “logic of evil”: the combination of the belief in the goodness of man, the systemic nature of evil, and the possibility of progress. It returns to Rousseau and the French Revolution and develops the contrast with the American Revolution in order to explore both the ways in which responsibility is reconceived and the consequences of that reconceptualization for politics where this “logic of evil” has been accepted. The investigation bears on the question of how so much evil can be perpetrated in the name of the good. It is an opportunity to investigate how ideas about evil can themselves contribute to justifying certain sorts of evil. The investigation raises two central questions. First, how can we recognize the importance of ideas about evil for the actual practice of evil in the world without succumbing to the fantasy that getting the ideas right could ever put an end to evil? And second, how can we give their due to the truths contained in the proposition that evil is systemic without generating the false hope that a change in systems would be sufficient to overcome it?

Keywords: logic of evil; goodness of man; Rousseau; French Revolution; American Revolution; responsibility

Chapter.  9780 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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