Joe Wetzel

Jean-Jacques Rousseau Is  With You  More Than You May Know

[Aside:  Ladies and gentlemen, I would ask you please, as the Chorus at the opening of Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, humbly does, allow me to  “. . . on your imaginary forces work,”  for these few minutes, and ask you to see me in your mind’s eye as being Jean-Jacques Rousseau.]

“L’homme est né libre et partout il est dans les fers.” Man was born free and everywhere he is in chains.

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and I just quoted myself.  Greetings from the Enlightenment! I must say, that for someone who did not believe in miracles, the circumstances of my being here leave me somewhat perplexed.  But happy, none the less.

That quotation was from my famous book, The Social Contract (1762). We shall return to it later.

[In the interest of clarity and peace, kindly allow me to digress and mention what is really a footnote:  You may have noticed that I am using the word, “man”, in a generic sense.  I have been informed that this use is out of favor; even though for me it certainly meant men and women, I would like to be polite and not use it.  However, since I am quoting what I said more that two and a half centuries ago, it would be disingenuous, indeed dishonest of me to change my words as if somehow I was more enlightened than my Enlightenment contemporaries. Since strict honesty is an essential part of my character, I hope you will understand, and  I beg your indulgence.]

To return to our topic, let me stress right now, however,  that that phrase, man is born free and everywhere he is in chains—like many statements in my works, has been widely misunderstood:  I did not conclude or say that we should revolt and throw off the chains, if anyone reads the next two lines that will be perfectly clear; I will quote them later as time permits, and they are also in a handout that I will give you after my talk if you are interested.

Likewise, I never said that because the concept of private property had caused inequality that we should abolish private property. Finally, I did not say we should “Go back to nature.”  I realized full well that one cannot possibly go back to nature; that would be totally unrealistic, for as the 20th Century song  goes: “How you gonna keep ‘em back on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?”  In all these cases, what I wanted was to postulate how we got to where we are, and in doing so I sometimes extolled some of the virtues of the simple life that we could emulate as far as reasonably possible.

But I am not here to correct all the misinterpretations of my ideas. Instead, today  I shall endeavor to demonstrate that in spite of these gross misunderstandings, I am in your mindset more than you may know: in so far as you are both Unitarian-Universalists and Americans.  This is true in innumerable ways, some of which I will mention in detail, some in passing.  Two themes will tie this all together FEELING and FREEDOM, one of your UU basic principles.

To do this properly would take days, even weeks. Nevertheless, after my brief talk today, I hope I will henceforth be more than just a name to you and that, even if you do not agree with me one hundred percent, you will agree that, even with my faults,  I was a force for good, that that force is still at work today and that if you tune into it, it may help uplift your spirit. My secret hope is also that you will be intrigued enough to read some of my works if you have not already done so.  

 “To save time, I shall reverse the usual Cartesian process of proceeding from the particular to the general, and so I would like to begin with a general introduction of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that you might find in a serious history book.  This is from Will Durant: [It is a little long, but will also be in your handout should you care to refer to it later.]


How did it come about that a man born poor, losing his mother at birth and soon deserted by his father, afflicted with a painful and humiliating disease, left to wander for twelve years among alien cities and conflicting faiths, repudiated by society and civilization, repudiating Voltaire, Diderot, the Encyclopédie, and the Age of Reason, driven from place to place as a dangerous rebel, suspected of crime and insanity, and seeing, in his last months, the apotheosis of his greatest enemy—how did it come about that this man, after his death, triumphed over Voltaire, revived religion, transformed education, elevated the morals of France, inspired the romantic movement and the French Revolution, influenced the philosophy of Kant and Shopenhauer, the plays of Shelley, the socialism of Marx, the ethics of Tolstoy, and, altogether, had more effect upon posterity than any other writer or thinker of that eighteenth century in which writers were more influential than they had ever been before?  Here, if anywhere, the problem faces us: what is the role of genius in history, of man versus the mass and the state?”

[The Story of Civilization, V.10, p. 3, by Will and Ariel Durant, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1967]

As you can see, I am sometimes called a genius, I do not agree, but nonetheless I am a very important fellow. I realize full well, however, that because of the continuing cabal against me you may not know just how important an influence for good I have been and still am.  Several more objective assessments will be in your handout.

To expand on what Will Durant said, allow me to offer a few brief, fully authenticated examples of my influence: Your Founding Fathers were certainly influenced by me.  Many historians agree that my book,  The Social Contract, was the “primary animating force in the Declaration of Independence”. Emmanuel Kant had my portrait on the wall of his study. He referred to me as the Isaac Newton of the moral world. When he started reading my book Emile,(Emily)or On Education, he was so engrossed that he missed his afternoon walk, and the whole town wanted to know what was up, since they used to set their clocks by his promptitude.  Tolstoy (1828-1910) in fact, says that when he was fifteen,  “I carried around my neck, instead of the usual cross, a medallion with Rousseau’s portrait. [Lemaître, Jules, J-J Rousseau, London, 1910, p 361.] 

I was a major influence on writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, and many, many others in America and elsewhere.

Many scholars such as Claude Lévi-Strauss, (1908-) the famous 20th C. social anthropologist, call me the founding father of social studies. I am really an integral part of the language of politics, history and social conscience.  In any major reference work you might use to study, say: politics, philosophy, literature, theology, sociology, botany, education, music, you will find my name. You are likewise likely to find me mentioned almost anywhere in books and the media today where those topics are under discussion. I was even mentioned in a recent column by George Will.  After today, be on the lookout and see if you too don’t notice me more than before.

I will include some brief biographical anecdotes in my presentation to kind of give you a flavor of the times and give a more human dimension to my ideas and how they may relate to yours.  I also hope to share with you some items that you won’t find in your typical reference work.

For those who want to pursue the matter further I highly recommend My Confessions, which cover my life in two flowing volumes, praised everywhere for their unparalleled honesty and frankness. [By the way, Henry Adams gives the Confessions very high praise in the preface to his famous autobiography: The Education of Henry Adams, which I am sure some of you have read.]  I will show you a copy of the Confessions during the talkback, partly so you can see by my portrait that I wasn’t always an old codger, like now.  Later, you may want to peruse the Handout to get a more detailed introduction to my other works as well.

Yes, as Will Durant said, in 1712 I cost my mother her life, and I would add that my  birth was but the first of my misfortunes.  Geneva, which was then an independent city-state, not part of Switzerland.  We were proud to be Protestants and proud to be citizens, an honor shared by only sixteen hundred of Geneva’s twenty thousand inhabitants.

When I was fifteen, I struck out on my own and headed towards France, on foot with just the clothes on my back. [March 15, 1728.] Since I had no money, in my travels I would sometimes stand under an open farmhouse window and sing for food.  It didn’t work too well, actually.

In Catholic France I was helped and befriended by a warm, intelligent and lovely young widow named Mme de Warens. She persuaded me to become a Catholic, which I did willingly. I went to Turin, studied catechism, got “baptized” (they said). I then spent many months doing odd jobs and was  basically a vagabond. Then I walked back to Mme de Warens, whom I now affectionately called Mamman, and with whom I was to live and by whom I was nurtured for a little more than a decade.

Having taken a few music lessons from the choir-master of the local cathedral, I soon started playing and teaching music and voice.  Throughout my later life, music was often my sole means of support.

I had had no formal education. I studied hard and am essentially an autodidact in many fields: philosophy, mathematics, geography, astronomy, anatomy, chemistry, physics, botany, the Latin poets, history, law and theology. I tried to participate in the Enlightenment full bore.

In 1741, at the age of 29, I left Maman and went to Paris.  I had invented a completely new and original and simplified system of musical notation, based on numbers instead of squiggles and symbols. I was sure it would make my fortune.  However, when I presented it to the Academy of Sciences, it was not accepted. (I should point out that later it was adopted by many teachers, and was indeed used widely to teach voice until the end of the Nineteenth Century.)

Since my invention didn’t sell, to support myself I again copied music and gave lessons. I also began to partake more seriously in the Enlightenment,  made the acquaintance of many of the “philosophes” (a French word which could be translated as “philosophers,” but is usually not translated because it really means Enlightenment thinkers and writers and implies liberal, free-thinkers): men such as d’Alembert, Diderot, d’Holboch, Helvétius, MaleBranche, Voltaire and by extension thinkers like Ben Franklin as well. I wrote articles on music for the new Encyclopédie.  I frequented the salons, usually run by highly intelligent, noble ladies—these ladies were the real core of the Enlightenment, that’s for sure.  Being basically shy, I was not really happy there or at ease, but I made more friends in high places. Eventually, however, I was to make many, many enemies as well as lose most of my friends.

In 1750, in the exact middle of the century, my whole outlook suddenly changed, I became a different man. I had had a sort of “Epiphany” in contemplating a possible essay for a contest sponsored by the Dijon Academy. The topic was: “Has the progress of the arts and sciences contributed more to the corruption or to the purification of morals?”  [I would remind you that in those days “arts” meant the mechanical as well as fine, the entire techne of civilized life—just as it is used in Article I section 8 of the US Constitution.]

The essay made me instantly famous. It was also very controversial, for to everyone’s surprise I had argued that the so-called “progress” that everyone was so proud of had actually corrupted morals. For man is basically good, don’t you see; society was corrupting him.  Some of you may also feel that so-called “progress” is not an unmitigated good. I believed that Nature can enrich us and sustain us; that arbitrarily destroying nature, making cities and their corrupting infrastructure ever larger and more numerous will end up destroying our soul. Well, I was there first.  I developed this idea more fully in later works as well, and I suffered accordingly.

Before those serious works though, I wrote among other lighter things, a few operas. One of which,  Le Devin du Village, The Village Soothsayer, was the source of the piece you heard earlier. Did you like it? This little pastoral operetta remained popular even through the Revolution and was still presented regularly until 1830. By the way, in 1765, Mozart saw and was very impressed by it; he used it as an inspiration to compose his Bastien et Bastienne. Alas, after eighty years, it ceased being presented, not for artistic reasons, mind you, but because of politics—wouldn’t you know?  Still, eighty years wasn’t bad.

After the first performance,  King Louis XV was so pleased that he wanted to see me the next day; the word was it was to give me a pension. My common law wife, Thérèse, and I could certainly have used the money. For various reasons I didn’t go, but basically I didn’t want to be beholden’ to the King—it would have gone against my independent spirit.

The next year, in 1753 I published my “Letter on French Music” where I actually say that the “French have no music and never will have any.”  As you might imagine, the French were not amused.  It caused another huge stir: I became public enemy number one; newspaper headlines were calling for my deportation; I received innumerable death threats—even from the musicians at the opera--, all over Paris mobs were burning me in effigy, etc.  The King and Queen were even fighting over it.  The long-term result was, however, that I freed French music from the deadening chains of its harmonic classicism, and gave it a new, creative spirit from which it has profited immensely ever since.  In fact, the excepts from my operetta that you heard today were written basically as a demonstration of the Italian style—à la Rousseau, of course.  You might say I made music “free” in the same way that I would contribute to peoples’ political and emotional freedom later.

Indeed, if you check major sources like the Oxford Companion to Music, you will see that my works—over a hundred songs—and my articles in the Encyclopedia, and my spirit of the individual heart freely expressing itself was a major influence on the romantics, Chopin and Beethoven, and many others.  By the way, I noticed that most modern recordings and presentations of Vivaldi’s “Springtime” still use my arrangement for flutes.

In 1755, I entered another essay contest with the topic : “What is the origin of Inequality among men; and is it sanctioned by natural law?”. My essay didn’t  win the prize, but it still caused a mighty uproar. Partly because  no one before had ever affirmed with such force and passion and eloquence that men were born absolutely, fundamentally equal and free. I was also the first to say categorically, as does your Declaration of Independence, that liberty was an inalienable right.  By inalienable I mean that in addition to the fact that it can not be taken away legitimately, neither can it be sold or given away.

That essay is still very worth reading.  Among many other abuses, I was protesting against the inequality of the class system and despotism. Obviously, this made me a suspect character to the government and others.

Let me give you just one direct quote from that essay and see if you agree:

“ . . . it is manifestly against nature, no matter how you choose to define it, that a child should command an old man, that an idiot lead a wise person, and that a handful of people stuff themselves with superfluities, while the starving multitudes lack the necessities of life.”

I always hated big cities, so I decided that in order to have peace I should move out into the country and did so a few miles from Paris. [1756-1757]  I called my hideaway the Hermitage, which was, by the way,  was the name that Jefferson, some years later,  had originally planned for his Monticello. There I wrote Julie or the New Eloise. (La Nouvelle Héloise} (Pub. 1761), an epistolary novel involving emotional, romantic and unrequited love.  It turned out to be the absolutely biggest hit of the entire 18th Century in any language;  the presses couldn’t keep up. When it wasn’t being read, it was being talked about, for many, many years.  It’s even mentioned, for example, by characters in such books as Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Women, published more than a hundred years later in 1868. The New Eloise profoundly influenced literary developments throughout the Western World.   I was becoming quite a celebrity in many countries, and jealousy, I think, increased the number of my enemies.

[Allow me a small digression:  In speaking of the fact that characters in Little Women, were talking about my novel, it occurred to me that I am probably the only philosophe who gets referred to over the centuries in both fiction and non-fiction. For instance, you might expect people like Thoreau, Emerson and so forth to speak of Rousseau, as they would speak of other thinkers such as David Hume, Voltaire, and so forth.  But my name and works are part of fiction as well.  Jack London, for instance, in his futuristic novel, Iron Heel (1901) has a character who uses my philosophy, specifically, to try to overthrow a totalitarian regime.  Maybe some modern day scholar with a very big computer could look into this more thoroughly.  It might help explain—as well as reflect-- my exceptional, continuing, popularity—or notoriety, depending on your point of view.]

Returning to my life: in concentrating on literature, I had also decided to break with the corrupting, worldly values of the theater and to write no more operas or plays. In 1758 I wrote a Letter to d’Alembert on Theatrical Representations, in which I argue against establishing a theater in Geneva as it would corrupt the people.  This caused Voltaire to begin to attack me directly, and I had a fight with Diderot and Grimm [Friedrich Melchior, 1723-1807, Correspondence Litteraire,1812], my last “philosophe” friends. [Montmorency: 1758-1762]

Four years later, in 1762, I published Emile, or on Education and The Social Contract. To my complete surprise, both books were condemned to be burnt, and the order went out for my arrest.  The copies of Emile, that didn’t get burnt, were selling like hot cakes. The Social Contract was published in Holland and wasn’t doing bad either; then the French authorities prohibited its importation.  It too got burnt along with Emile—even in Geneva!—this, even though I had renounced Catholicism and returned to the Protestant fold! The Genevans had apparently figured out that I was trying to extend suffrage to all the inhabitants. If you believe that everyone should have the right to vote, you agree with me—that is an essential element of freedom, and I was saying it in 1762.

Thus, my books were immensely popular, though the authorities, the Church, and even the philosophes didn’t like them.  In short, I was hated by both conservatives and liberals. Later, of course,  your Founding Fathers read my works and picked up my torch of freedom.

To keep out of jail I had to hideout like an outlaw--mostly outside of France--for the next ten years. Sometimes mobs would stone my house and I would have to move. All this time, I was suffering from, among other things, a painful, chronic and embarrassing bladder condition that sometimes put me in bed for weeks. Nevertheless, I had fathered five children with Thèrése. 

Alas, given my situation, the children were all sent to a Foundling home at birth—something which I regretted deeply later and speak of at length in the Confessions, where the stains of my tears still dot the manuscript.  I did marry dear Therese officially many years later (1768)

My friend David Hume had turned against me, and I left his hospitality in England and returned to France in 1767 under an assumed name, and eventually I was informed “unofficially” that I would not be arrested—as long as I didn’t publish anything.  I spent my last years writing my Confessions,  and some other interesting works, all listed in your handout.  I parted this mortal coil in 1778, and was buried on July 4th, two years to the day after your Declaration of Independence.

Of course, my ideas cannot be separated from my character.  Speaking of which, by the way, while in the great beyond I had a chance to speak with Sigmund Freud.  He assures me that, contrary to popular belief, I was not paranoid—the fact was: nobody really liked me.

Some modern historians have called Emile,  “the greatest book ever written on education, or the best since Plato’s Republic, etc.” Its influence has been tremendous.  You may know, for instance, that Henry David Thoreau’s experiment on Walden Pond was directly inspired by it. One could list innumerable other points. However, in the limited time available today, let me present just a few of my ideas on Education as developed therein and see if you don’t agree with me. As you will see, this also relates to the concept of freedom.

I advocated that a child should be treated as a child, not a little adult.  Classrooms were no longer to be prisons; no corporal punishment.  Education was to be made natural and pleasant, through the unfolding and encouragement of inherent curiosities and powers.  The stuffing of the memory with facts, the stifling of the mind with dogmas were to be replaced by training in the arts of perceiving, calculating, and reasoning.  Learn from things, not books. People deeply influenced by me would include the likes of: Friedrich Froebel—inventor of kindergarten—Johann Pestalozzi and Johann Herbart—all my pupils, and all engraved on the Horace Mann building at Columbia University.  Dewey and Montessori also both learned from me, and say so.

I also advocated such things as physical exercise, outdoor experiences and, for instance, that children should be nursed by their mothers (being recommended by modern medicine, I believe).  After Emile,  French mothers started nursing their children even at the opera between arias.

In this book I condemn swaddling clothes: that one got me in trouble.  You see, the Bible says that Jesus was laid in swaddling clothes. You know what they are, right? Cloth wrappings that prevent the baby from moving its legs, and often even its arms, with the idea of making them grow straight. So, since my criticism was possibly going against the Word of God, the Church was outraged.  However, by its vivid portrayal of an infant’s day and night, that section of the book actually screams out from the pages with heart-rending details about the horrible torture that little babies were routinely subjected to.  And the results of this totally unnatural practice were clear if anyone wanted to look : France had more malformed swaybacks and hunchbacks and spindly legged creatures than would ever have been seen among the most primitive savages.  How much would you bet that Quasimodo had been wrapped in swaddling clothes?  Anyway, after my book, the practice stopped, cold. So, in this case, I certainly did a lot of good—I freed little babies from torture. I think even the Biblical Fundamentalists agree on that one, though of course they won’t say it.

Before moving to Theology, let me digress to point out something that you may have heard: Some people believed and some still believe that I had basically a bad influence on society. Some historians say I led to Marx; others, like Bertrand Russell, claim that I led straight to Hitler.  Since Hitler loved to kill communists, the shallowness of this logic should be apparent. I believe the aberrations are due mainly to misreadings of my works and from the lingering bad faith on the part of my numerous enemies.

I would not have approved of the French Revolution.  They used my words, true, but they forgot the context. In any case I will confess to you today that I did not mind, looking down from above don’t you know,  when in 1794 the Republic had a big parade and moved my remains from an obscure cemetery to a place of honor in a beautiful marble sarcophagus alongside Voltaire’s in the Pantheon in Paris.  However, while the Church often says , “Requiescat in pace,”   they were too afraid of me—even when dead—to let me rest in peace. So in May of 1814 during the Bourbon Restoration, while Napoleon was on his 1st island,  a group of religious ghouls sneaked into the Pantheon in the wee hours and stuffed my bones and those of Voltaire into sacks, which they then buried in a dump on the outskirts of Paris.  No trace has ever been found.  So, my friends, those beautiful marble sarcophagi are empty, but my spirit and that of Voltaire live on!

I should point out that these unremitting attacks in the 19th C. came from every quarter, even for ideas that sometimes had nothing to do with politics or morals.  I will give just one typical example to show the lengths to which they would go to extend my infamy: Jaime Luciano Balmes (1810-1848), hailed as Spain’s greatest philosopher of the 19th Century, among innumerable other unjustified charges against me that run like a leitmotif through is his 33 volume work, accused me of being an immoral atheist, and probably an idiot, because of what I had written in a book on the origin of languages. Balmes, in his unerring erudition, claimed that, as any child could see, languages were too complex to have developed from something primitive (as I had posited) and therefore languages had to have been a direct gift from God, as is recounted in the Bible story of the Tower of Babel. Can you imagine such idiocy!! 1840!! [I suppose though that  justice can win after all: modern thinkers are still debating my ideas, but today hardly anybody has ever even heard of Balmes.]

Let me move now to a brief discussion of my religious views. The most condemned chapter of Emile was the one called: A Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar.  This is really a “summa theologica” on my religious feelings. The Calvinism of my youth can be felt on occasion, but Calvinists did not recognize my views. Though I never claimed to be one, I accept the view of major historians that my ideas are most compatible with Unitarianism. Further, I totally reject the Christian idea that this life is supposed to be a vale of tears, and in the Social Contract I argue strongly that this attitude makes Christianity foster tyranny. They figure this short life is too unimportant to worry about politics; whereas I believe that what happens here on earth is more important than what happens in any supposed afterlife. I guess that puts me somewhere in the Humanist camp as well. I suspected there could be an after-life, but no Hell.  So, that might make me a Universalist, I guess.

 In addition I believed in natural theology. Rational Proofs of God, for example as expounded by St. Thomas Aquinas and many others based on teleology and causality and so forth have not really convinced very many people.  Whereas, certain experiences in nature at sunset, on in the woods on a moon-lit night cause us to sense the presence of greatness and give many people a warm feeling of fullness and humility before the splendor and majesty of it all. I tend to agree with Pascal: “The heart has its reasons that reason cannot know.”

They say I ended the Age of Reason. That is true, but very misleading.  I maintained that reason is a gift from God, and it is the final judge. However, its cold light needed the warmth of the heart to inspire action, greatness and virtue. If you talk about ethics, for instance, I believe that conscience,  the sense of right and wrong, is written in the human heart.  We feel it, and our rational development of ethical systems is based on that feeling. I used to like to remind my philosophe friends: even the love of  reason is still an emotion.

My idea of the heart “mellowing” the head has become so prevalent today as to be totally unnoticed, in fact it has been carried to extremes.  Even politicians, I have seen lately,  instead of rationally developing their arguments, will simply insist that “My heart is good”  and the like.  When you hear this kind of talk, you know where it came from—but, like so many other of my ideas, they have carried it too far when they become illogical and go against reason.

I mentioned earlier my Discourse on the Origins of Inequality.  The Social Contract develops these concepts more fully. Indeed, they are regularly analyzed ad infinitum in courses in politics, but unfortunately there is simply not enough time to go into them deeply today.  Let me say just that The Social Contract makes the case definitively, and it is the first to do so, that all power rests with the people, they make a contract with the government following the general will, and the government is there to serve basic needs.  Among many other abuses,  The Social Contract destroys the legitimacy of the divine right of kings, indeed, destroys it so completely that today I am sure you might wonder how people could ever have believed such nonsense.

Let me touch briefly on another abominable but widely believed concept that the logic for which my arguments in The Social Contract  thoroughly destroyed: SLAVERY.  In the Eighteenth Century, if you had a bad feeling about slavery, where could you go for guidance and support.  The Bible or Koran were no help;  indeed some defenders of slavery used the Bible to support the legitimacy of their position. Could you go to modern or ancient treatises on law?  No, they were no help and even tended to defend the institution.  How about Aristotle.  Nope. He felt, and people for thousands of years, since the Roman Empire and before,  had felt that slavery was simply part of the natural order.

Of course, there were a few voices, like the Quakers, crying out in the wilderness that this was wrong.  But it wasn’t until the Social Contract  that all rational arguments for it were killed, systematically and forever.  How so?  Briefly, very briefly, let me delineate.   Well, as I said earlier, Freedom is absolutely inalienable.  By that I mean: it cannot be taken away, it cannot be sold away, and it cannot be given away — no matter what document says or implies that it can.  In the Bible, when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, that owner had rights in the law of the time, as the brothers had been “justly” paid and so forth.  I say that that contract was null. It cannot be, even if it is in the Bible! 

Some earlier thinkers, such as Grotius as late as the 17th Century, had suggested that arbitrary, forced  slavery might be questionable, but what about as a result of war?  The argument usually was: after the war the victor would give a choice to the loser, become a slave or we kill you.  So really, making him a slave was a form of humanitarianism, so the argument went.  I say No.  That agreement cannot stand.  The right to freedom is inalienable, really.  In such cases, the war was between nations, not individuals.  After the war, the victor simply has no legitimate right to enslave citizens, they are no longer soldiers.  To kill them is simply murder.  I develop this argument  further, but this gives you the idea.

Sad to say, slavery was not ended immediately after my book was published,  but the death knell had been sounded. Subsequent thinkers and abolitionists henceforth had a clear philosophical basis for their position.  Indeed, after the Revolution, the French Republic, as early as 1794, passed a law abolishing slavery in all their colonies.  For that, I take full responsibility.  

So, to conclude, I hope you agree that I am with you in many, many ways.  But if you decide to read my works, I warn you:  remember the old story about the reasonably intelligent, educated man, who didn’t get around to reading Shakespeare until very late in life.  After he had finally read Shakespeare, his friends asked him his impressions, and he said: “It’s all a bunch of clichés!”  To a much lesser extent to be sure, in reading me you may get the same feeling. But, even if you don’t actually read me, you can take satisfaction in knowing that through my influence in your society you are still participating in the Enlightenment; and the freedoms that you enjoy came about with much difficulty through me, and all the philosophes, against great odds.   In any case, remember that freedom and feeling are my watchwords, and I hope yours too.

Now, Since music was so much a part of my life and of my nature, I cannot resist leaving you with a song.  I did not write this song It is associated with France, but the first verses could apply to any nation defending its freedom against tyranny; I believed in patriotism and the martial virtues, and that is the universal spirit in which I would offer this song.  Remember, Napoleon hated this song, had it outlawed, as did subsequent French kings. It has persisted nonetheless, and though I never heard it in life, it reflects my republican spirit as good as any.  The words are in your handout. I shall attempt to sing it for you, and I hope you will join me, especially as we repeat the refrain.   If you would care to stand, it would be very nice. . . . (handouts)


(Presented by Joe Wetzel, November 3, 2002

to the Nature Coast Unitarian  Universalist

Fellowship, Lecanto, FL)


J.-J. ROUSSEAU: (1712-1778) I Am With You More Than You May Know

The world is a comedy to those who think,

a tragedy to those who feel” [Horace Walpole, “Letter to

Thomas Mann, Dec. 31, 1769.]


I.. “French 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. His thought marked the end of the Age of Reason. He propelled political and ethical thinking into new channels. His reforms revolutionized taste, first in music, then in the other arts. He had a profound impact on people's way of life; he taught parents to take a new interest in their children and to educate them differently; he furthered the expression of emotion rather than polite restraint in friendship and love. He introduced the cult of religious sentiment among people who had discarded religious dogma. He opened men's eyes to the beauties of nature, and he made liberty an object of almost universal aspiration.”  [Britannica]

II. “For the record:  Rousseau did not invent or idolize the noble savage, did not urge going “back to Nature,” did not say that since men are born free and are now in chains, we must break the chains.  He did not base his political conclusions on the Social Contract, and when he argued that plays were harmful and the arts and sciences had not improved mankind, he was neither the first nor the last to hold these views.  Finally, his feeling at the end of life that he was the victim of persecution was not paranoid. [J. Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, Harpers, 2000; pp. 382-383.]

III. Rousseau has exercised a tremendous dual influence on political conceptions. . . .  Outside France his individualistic tendencies appealed to such writers as John Stuart Mill, Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman.  The collectivist aspects were developed by Kant, Hegel, Fichte, and Marx.  [Fellows & Torrey, The Age of Enlightenment, Appleton-Cent-Crofts, 1971, pp 550-551.]

IV.  “Rousseau had a great deal of influence on the inventor of Kindergarten, Friedrich Froebel, as well as the educational Romantics Johann Pestalozzi and Johann Herbart.  These three educators’ names are engraved on the Horace Mann building on the campus of Teachers College, Columbia University. . . the home of John Dewey, America’s premier progressive thinker and educational philosopher.  Dewey and William Heard Kilpatrick further secularized and applied the thinking of Froebel, Pestalozzi, and Herbart, and thus Rousseau. [Don Closson, An Interesting Madman,]

VI.              “. . . all the agitations of the working man and suffering masses, have been in a sense the work of Rousseau.” [Michelet, Histoire de France,1890,  V, 488.]

VII. The central concept in Rousseau's thought is "liberty," and most of his works deal with the mechanisms through which humans are forced to give up their liberty. At the foundation of his thought on government and authority is the idea of the "social contract," in which government and authority are a mutual contract between the authorities and the governed; this contract implies that the governed agree to be ruled only so that their rights, property and happiness be protected by their rulers. Once rulers cease to protect the ruled, the social contract is broken and the governed are free to choose another set of governors or magistrates. This idea would become the primary animating force in the Declaration of Independence , which is more or less a legal document outlining a breach of contract suit. In fact, all modern liberation discourse at some level or another owes its origin to The Social Contract and Rousseau's earlier treatise, The Discourse on Inequality .[]


“MAN is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer. [Social Contract]

“People accustomed to masters will not let mastery cease. . . . Mistaking liberty for unchained license, they are delivered by their revolutions into the hands of seducers who will only aggravate their chains. [Social Contract]

“It is impossible that the great kingdoms of Europe should last much longer.,  Each of them has had its period of splendor, after which it must inevitably decline.  The crisis is approaching: we are on the edge of a revolution.  [Emile]

LIBERTY: “Liberty is a strong food, but it needs a stout digestion. . . . I Laugh at those degraded peoples who rise in revolt at a word from an intriguer; who dare to speak of liberty while in total ignorance of what it means; and who . . . imagine that, to be free, it is enough to rebel.  High-souled and holy liberty! If these poor men could only know thee; if they could only learn what is the price at which thou art won and guarded; if they could only be taught how far sterner are thy laws than the hard yoke of the tyrant!

CONFESSIONS: “I will present myself, whenever the last trumpet shall sound, before the Sovereign Judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, “Thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I.  With equal freedom and veracity have I related what was laudable or wicked, I have concealed no crimes, added no virtues; and if I have sometimes introduced superfluous ornament, it was merely to occupy a void occasioned by defect of memory: I may have supposed that certain, which I only knew to be probable, but have never asserted as truth, a conscious falsehood.  Such as I was, I have declared myself; sometimes vile and despicable, at others, virtuous, generous, and sublime; even as Thou has read my inmost soul: Power Eternal! assemble round Thy throne an innumerable throng of my fellow-mortals, let them listen to my confessions, let them blush at my depravity, let them tremble at my sufferings; let each in his turn expose with equal sincerity the failings, the wanderings of his heart, and if he dare, aver, I was better than that man.”

La Marseillaise:  Rouget de Lille, 1792

Allons enfants de la Patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé.
Contre nous, de la tyrannie,
L'étandard sanglant est levé,
l'étandard sanglant est levé,
Entendez-vous, dans la compagnes.
Mugir ces farouches soldats
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Egorger vos fils,
vos compagnes.

Let us go, children of the fatherland
Our day of Glory has arrived.
Against us stands tyranny,
The bloody flag is raised,
The bloody flag is raised.
Do you hear in the countryside
The roar of these savage soldiers
They come right into our arms
To cut the throats of your sons,
your country.

Aux armes citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons.

To arms, citizens!
Form up your battalions
Let us march, Let us march!
That their impure blood
Should water our fields

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: MAJOR WORKS

I. Novels

--Julie: ou, la nouvelle Héloïse (1761; Julie: or, The New Eloise)

--Émile: ou, de l'éducation (1762; Emile: or, On Education)[Thinly guised as a novel, is really a series of reflections, with characters, on the education of children.]

II.  Autobiographical works

--Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques: dialogue (1780)

--Les Confessions (1782-89 [post.]; The Confessions)

--Les Reveries d’un promeneur solitiare (written 1776-1778; pub. 1782: Reveries of a Solitary Walker)

III.. Plays

-- Muses Galantes (presented 1745, comedy-ballet; written in collaboration with Voltaire         and Rameau.)

--Narcisse (presented: 1752, Narcissus, a comedy)

--Le Divin du Village (1754, The Village Soothsayer, an opera)

III. Essays

--Discourse which won the essay contest proposed by the Académie de Dijon in 1750; on the question: “Has the progress in sciences and arts contributed to purification or decay of morals.”( 1750; "Discourse on the Sciences and Arts)

--Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes (1755; Discourse on Inequality).  [The prize premise: What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it sanctioned by natural law?]

--Du Contrat social (1762; The Social Contract)

--- Considérations sur le gouvernement de Pologne (1782; The Government of Poland)

--Dictionnaire de la Musique (1767; Dictionary of Music)

--Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques (Written1775-1776)

--La botanique (1802 [post]: A treatise on botany.)

--Essay sur l’origine des langues, (1802, [post.]  Includes articles on music)

IV. Letters

--Lettre sur la Musique française (1752; Letter on French Music)

--Lettre à Voltaire sur la Providence (1756; Letter to Voltaire on Providence)

--Lettre à D'Alembert sur les Spectacles (1758; Letter to d'Alembert on Theatrical Representations )

--Lettres de la Montagne (1764; Letters from the Mountain)

Add:  Quote from Confessions, .. .better man….

Vivaldi, flute arranged by Rousseau, still happening.

The first man, who having fenced in a piece of land, said, “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, this man was the true founder of civil society.

. . . O, pardon! since a crooked figure may Attest in little place a million; And let us, ciphers to this great accompt, On your imaginary forces work.  Suppose within the girdle of these walls Are now confin’d two mighty monarchies, Whose high upreared and abutting fronts The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder.

Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts:

Into a thousand parts divide one man, And make imaginary puissance. Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them Printing their proud hoofs i’ th’ receiving earth; For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, Carry them here and there, jumping o’er times, Turning th’ accomplishment of many years Into an hour-glass; for the which supply, Admit me Chorus to this history; Who prologue-like, your humble patience pray Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play. [Henry V, Shakespeare.]

Microsoft’s Encarta adds: Rousseau “. . . developed a case for civil liberty and helped prepare the ideological background of the French Revolution by defending the popular will against the divine right.”

The list could be embarrassingly long, some others for the really interested: George Sand referred to me as “ Saint Rousseau”; Shelly called me a “sublime genius”;  Schiller, “A Christ-like soul for whom only Haven’s angels are fit company,” etc.

It was actually modified by my followers and called Galin-Paris-Chevé  Notations, which were indeed  used as an excellent tool to teach voice in France and elsewhere until the end of the Nineteenth Century. [See the Oxford Companion to Music to read more about that and lots of other information on my contributions to Beethoven, Chopin, etc.]

Section 8: The Congress shall have the power . . . 8.  To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries. .

This controversy is known as “Le Querelle des Bouffons,” the Quarrel of the Clowns.

My international reputation was such that a delegation from Poland asked me to write a constitution for them, which I did.  I also wrote at the request of  Corsica.

Voltaire, I must admit, protested this in his special way by saying: “The act of burning was perhaps as odious as having written it. . . . To burn a book making reasoned arguments is to say: We do not have enough intellectual capacity to respond to it.” (Idees republicaines, XXIV, 424).

The Confessions were published posthumously.  However, I did read chapters as I finished them  to small gatherings of friends in Paris.  Alas, my enemies protested to the magistrates, whereupon  the Chief of Police told me to stop the readings or he would lock me up.

Tom Paine came later and develops the same theme in is The Age of Reason and The Rights of Man.

The prevalence of this abuse is clear, a few examples: President Bush once named Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher, “because he changed my heart.”   Unveiling his faith-based initiative, he declared, “Real change happens street by street, heart by heart, one soul, one conscience at a time.”   After liberals attacked John Ashcroft, based on his record and his words, Bush declared, “He’s a man who has got a good and decent heart.”  When Gale Norton was accused of defending slavery, he scoffed, “That’s just a ridiculous interpretation of what’s in her heart.” So, what they said or did doesn’t matter, as long as their heart is good.   Needles to say, throwing out reason was never my intention; this is a misuse of my ideas.

  I sent a copy to Voltaire.  He responded by saying: “I have received your new book against the human race, and I thank you for it.  Never was such a cleverness used in the design of making us all stupid.  One longs, in reading your book, to walk on all fours.  But as I have lost that habit for more than sixty years, I feel unhappily the impossibility of resuming it.  Nor can I embark in search of the savages of Canada, because the maladies to which I am condemned render a European surgeon necessary to me; because war is going on in those regions; and because the example of our actions has made the savages nearly as bad as ourselves.” (Letter to Rousseau, 1755)

Here, I would caution you against a developing attitude called, presentism.  This means you look back and judge history with a modern perspective.  It is illogical, erroneous, and immensely unfair.  Presentism would lead a modern person to conclude that the people who believed in and lived according to the divine right of kings were all idiots, or cowards for not rising up against it, etc.  The fact is, people are born into a culture and they tend to accept its practices without critical examination. When  free thinkers like me and  other philosophes, in any age,  question such abuses, they do so at their peril.. You moderns have benefited from our efforts, but that does not give you the right to condemn out-of-hand average people for normal beliefs.  Presentism amounts to a kind of arrogance, based on ignorance, and cannot lead to truth.

GROTIUS: (1583-1645) Dutch jurist and diplomat.  His fame rests on the legal treatise De Jure Belli et Pacis (1625, Paris)[On the Law and rights and wrongs.]

I need to tell you that Plutarch is the major source of my republican ideas.  I highly recommend him as well as John Locke.  Certain of my key ideas came from many sources, too numerous to mention.