Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Dana Villa

in Teachers of the People

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2017 | ISBN: 9780226467498
Published online May 2018 | e-ISBN: 9780226467528 | DOI:
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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This chapter traces Rousseau's complex and somewhat paradoxical views on political education. For Rousseau, popular sovereignty was the only truly legitimate form of political power. However, unlike contemporary ideas of virtual or residual sovereignty, Rousseau thought popular sovereignty had to be expressed through the legislative activity by the people themselves. Such active popular sovereignty raises the question of how any given people—prior to political experience, the creation of a civic ethos, and any knowledge of legal and institutional mechanisms—could successfully create anything so complicated as a "system of laws." The short answer, according to Rousseau, is that they can't. They are therefore in need of a "great Lawgiver" such as Lycurgus or Solon. A self-governing or autonomous people, it turns out, can only be the product of a paternalism exercised by the father figure Lawgiver. The resulting paternalistic "education to autonomy" is the central paradox of Rousseau's thought. The chapter traces iterations of this paradox through The Social Contract, the Discourse on Inequality, Emile, and the constitutional projects for Corsica and Poland. Contra Rousseau, I argue that these educational projects never satisfactorily transcend their paternalistic basis. Moreover, the "Rousseauian paradox" comes to haunt the work of Hegel, Tocqueville, and Mill.

Keywords: autonomy; Lawgiver; popular sovereignty; republicanism; tutorial state; formative project; morality of the common good; general will; particular interests

Chapter.  26943 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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