Rousseau Politics And The Arts Pdf

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712—1778)

Letter to M. More generally, it is a critical analysis of the effects of culture on morals, that clarifies the links between politics and social life. The Letter is considered to be highly personally relevant to Rousseau, whose patriotism and affinity for Geneva shows through as he writes to defend his country from moral decay. By focusing on his belief in the natural order and harmony of traditional sex roles and community, Rousseau writes to convince D'Alembert, and the public of Geneva, that a theatre is a threat to an ideal, natural way of life.

Rousseau generally opposed the Enlightenment thrust that was occurring during his lifetime. He sought to distance himself philosophically from the views that the universal use of reason, science, uninhibited freedom of thought, and increasing appreciation for the fine arts would make society a better place.

Rousseau is often characterized as the father of Romanticism , as he opposed modernity and the Enlightenment and glorified the heroic ethos of Ancient Rome and Greece. The trend of the Enlightenment among philosophers, since Descartes and Spinoza , was to move towards a society with minimized restrictions. Rousseau adhered to the belief that restrictions and censorship are often justified to maintain civil order. However, after the death of Louis XIV , new philosophical ideas began to emerge about embracing earthly pleasure, and the theatre found more and more supporters.

It may be important to note that the theatre was a far more powerful cultural force in Rousseau's day than today. The Letter begins by Rousseau establishing the respect he has for his friend D'Alembert. But after quoting a passage from D'Alembert's letter, Rousseau writes that it is imperative to discuss the potential disasters that a theatre could bring. He also responds to some comments D'Alembert makes praising the tolerance of the Geneva clergy while criticizing the intolerance of French Roman Catholicism.

Rousseau is, however, reluctant to engage this discussion in depth. Rousseau writes that the theatre, at first glance, is a form of amusement. Amusements are acceptable in moderation, when they are necessary, but they become a burden if they consume the minds of men enough to waste their time. The principle of the theatre is to please, it is not, Rousseau argues, functional because the characters are always distant from man. If the play is a comedy, for example, the content is undermined, and if it is tragic, the heroic ideals are exaggerated and placed out of the reach of man.

Even if the play happens to portray moral ideals well, the awareness of the audience that it is a fiction does not do the ideas justice. Rousseau continues to say that though Greek and Roman society functioned well with tragic and violent content in theatres because it was part of the traditions specific to the time and place, putting these plays in a French context would be far more dangerous.

However, tragedies are not as dangerous as comedies , because the characters more closely resemble French citizens. In the play, the main character, Alceste, is good and honest in his relationships with men and made to look ridiculous, whereas Philinte, a deceiver and manipulator, is shown as superior. Rousseau considers this play to be a work of genius, but it is, of course, morally backwards.

He reasons that even if comedy writers write a play that is morally acceptable, the audience will not find it funny.

Therefore, theatres are of little use. Rousseau turns to the topic of love, which, he says, is in the realm of women. Women naturally have power over men via resistance in the area of relationships and this power can be extended to the play, where women can have the same control over the audience. This extension of the empire of women is against natural order. Rousseau refers to ancient Sparta , where the most virtuous and appreciated women were those who were modest and generally not spoken about.

In the decadence of France, Rousseau claims the most esteemed woman is the one who is most social, most talked about, judgmental and authoritative. Even if the theatre is morally innocuous, Rousseau argues, its presence is disruptive to potentially productive use of time.

Moreover, theatre is incompatible with the rural mindset, where people work hard, and as a result should find simple relaxation pleasurable, rather than the extravagant, over-stimulating entertainment which retards the imagination. A theatre in Geneva would cause the hardworking people to be distracted and pre-occupied if they were to develop a taste for it.

Though a theatre can work to distract the masses of the cities from crime, it is of no use to a smaller city like Geneva, which is relatively innocent. Rousseau also describes the weather and geography of Geneva, and argues that it is not particularly conducive to supporting a theatre.

If a theatre is established it will change the maxims and prejudices of Geneva, for better or worse, and the best way to deal with this is simply prevention, Rousseau argues. In other words, it is easier to not have to deal with corrupted morality and have to change the laws accordingly. In this section, Rousseau expresses his belief that actors and actresses themselves are people of an undesirable lifestyle and potentially weak moral foundation.

Rousseau describes them as scandalous, hedonistic, and compares them to jesters , who were more blatantly indecent and obscene. Once again looking to Greece and Rome as an ideal, he says that Sparta did not tolerate theatres, and Rome considered the acting profession dishonourable. He writes that the actor is someone who is artificial, performs for money, subjects himself to disgrace, and abandons his role as a man.

Though the actor is not necessarily malevolent with his talents of deception, Rousseau goes on, the seductive, manipulative nature of acting could potentially be used by actors to do harm in society outside of the theatre. It is also problematic, according to Rousseau for women and men to be working together as actors and actresses.

Because of the natural respect men have for the moral sense and timidity of women, for men to be amongst women as actresses will be a further threat to men's morality. Rousseau portrays Geneva in a very romantic and positive light, where people are productive, happy and hard at work, but he also recognizes the extreme wealth and poverty in the city. He first tries to sway Geneva away from the idea of theatre by suggesting that it is not economically feasible, and that the population is too low to support a theatre.

He goes on to criticize women's social activity in public and private venues in Paris and Geneva, suggesting women produce the only gossip, and the moral decay of men, women and children. He states that though men have their vices, like drinking, they are far less harmful to society than women's vices.

He argues that the presence and authority of women in public spaces corrupts the male youth, turning them effeminate and void of patriotic passion. Once again, the morality of Ancient Rome and Greece is frequently referenced as an ideal that should be aspired to.

Towards the middle of this final section Rousseau reasons that the theatre does very little good for the poor, who cannot afford the taxes required to support a theatre. Geneva, which already has a large degree of inequality, does not need any more. Rousseau continues to say that actors coming to the town of Geneva will be indifferent to the town's morality, and will quickly corrupt it.

Even though there are other forms of entertainment in Geneva that exemplify bad manners, Rousseau claims that none of these areas are more destructive to the people's good taste than the theatre. The best alternative to theatres is open-air festivals, in nature, to provide a unifying, patriotic spirit.

In spite of the letter being addressed directly to D'Alembert, it is undoubtedly meant to have an effect on the general population. The work is famous for displaying Rousseau's charismatic rhetoric and digressive tendencies, all with his personal experience woven into the text. It may be considered to portray Rousseau's vanity, narcissism and biases, but the text could also be thought of more positively; as expressive, lyrical and austere.

The Letter shows Rousseau's tendency to think of the events in his own life as highly significant, as reflections of the larger social picture. An example is how the Letter itself is open and expressive in style, while the content of the Letter is about this openness.

The Letter starts off with a more grim and urgent tone, then shifting at the end to a brighter and optimistic one when the community oriented solution to the problem of the theatre is discussed.

D'Alembert himself was moved by the response, even intimidated. Rousseau and D'Alembert managed to maintain their friendship after the response, though somewhat at a distance. The letter attracted remarkable attention; over four hundred articles and pamphlets were written in response to it. Overall, the population of Geneva agreed with the Letter. Rousseau believed that the theatre took people away from the community, and replaced any patriotic, unifying spirit with artificial emotions.

One of Rousseau's pivotal points in the Letter is that customs, opinions and priorities which are common and well-accepted among all citizens should be those that make accepting laws in favour of respect, equality and harmony a pleasurable and natural experience. In other words, people have to share the concerns with legislators if a state is to be successful. In the Letter , Rousseau rejected the traditional notion of male politicians being responsible for moral reform, and thought it was women's responsibility.

He considered women, by virtue of their nature, to be the primary agents of moral reform, and that the success of the state depends on the harmony within private, domestic life. Rousseau opposed marriage without love i. In Rousseau's opinion, true love for the nurturing, feminine mother, instead of lustful love for a mistress, goes hand in hand with patriotism and civic harmony.

The legislator's task is to make sure a society's women are in order. Rousseau believed that public morals could be created not by laws or punishment, but simply by women, who have access to their senses and largely control the way men think. In post-modern thinking, there has been renewed interest and appreciation for Rousseau's Letter to M.

D'Alembert on Spectacles , with the acceptance since Rousseau's time of utopian and primitivist elements in political thought. Rousseau's letter can help to understand the distinction between lived-in culture and theoretical political order. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Domesticating Passions: Rousseau, Woman, and Nation. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press. A Rousseau Dictionary. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Sussex: The Harvester Press. Politics and the Arts. By Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press. New York: Routledge. Geneva: Libraire Droz SA. London: Cassell.

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A Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau , born June 28, , Geneva, Switzerland—died July 2, , Ermenonville, France , Swiss-born philosopher, writer, and political theorist whose treatises and novels inspired the leaders of the French Revolution and the Romantic generation. Rousseau was the least academic of modern philosophers and in many ways was the most influential. He propelled political and ethical thinking into new channels. His reforms revolutionized taste, first in music , then in the other arts. He introduced the cult of religious sentiment among people who had discarded religious dogma. Rousseau senior had an equally glorious image of his own importance; after marrying above his modest station as a watchmaker, he got into trouble with the civil authorities by brandishing the sword that his upper-class pretentions prompted him to wear, and he had to leave Geneva to avoid imprisonment. Rousseau was fortunate in finding in the province of Savoy a benefactor , the baroness de Warens , who provided him with a refuge in her home and employed him as her steward.

Mandeville, Rousseau and the Political Economy of Fantasy

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Access options available:. Eighteenth-Century Life Ostensibly, Rousseau's polemic takes aim at d'Alembert's specific claim that a theater would enhance Genevan life; but Rousseau goes beyond this and used the Lettre as an opportunity to address the more general theme around which much of his philosophy revolves—the conflict between the simplicity of nature and the artifice of civilization—and to articulate the principles of morals and politics which follow from it. As in other parts of his philosophy, Rousseau's position on the theater is a complex amalgam of various points of view that, on the surface at least, strike one as contradictory. Most obviously, Rousseau's declared distaste for the theatrical arts stands in stark contrast to his own creative and literary endeavors, a fact not lost on critics who saw flat-out hypocrisy in the author of the Discours sur les sciences et les arts at once indulging himself in the very labors he claimed to despise.

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau remains an important figure in the history of philosophy, both because of his contributions to political philosophy and moral psychology and because of his influence on later thinkers. This concern has two dimensions: material and psychological, of which the latter has greater importance. In the modern world, human beings come to derive their very sense of self from the opinion of others, a fact which Rousseau sees as corrosive of freedom and destructive of individual authenticity.

Letter to M. More generally, it is a critical analysis of the effects of culture on morals, that clarifies the links between politics and social life. The Letter is considered to be highly personally relevant to Rousseau, whose patriotism and affinity for Geneva shows through as he writes to defend his country from moral decay. By focusing on his belief in the natural order and harmony of traditional sex roles and community, Rousseau writes to convince D'Alembert, and the public of Geneva, that a theatre is a threat to an ideal, natural way of life. Rousseau generally opposed the Enlightenment thrust that was occurring during his lifetime.


  1. Emma B. 08.01.2021 at 04:43

    2 Allan Bloom, 'Introduction,' to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Politics and the Arts,. Letter 10 d'Alembert on the Theatre. xi-xiii. Page 3. ETHICS, DEMOCRACY​.

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