Jan 13: Rousseau Seeks Sanctuary In England

Today, after a typical Sunday biking with the kids etc., we relax and turn to the Classics. Whose birthday is it today…Lou Costello’s? No Rousseau’s. Actually, it isn’t – he merely arrived in England on this date in 1766.

Burke and Rousseau side by side (or, perhaps, one on top of the other like in a pousse-café), both equally Classic. I guess it’s the job of the HC not to pick sides, although they might have made the classics more fun by trying to pick of fight, along the lines of “Rousseau: Threat or Menance?” But that seems Relevantizing, which I tend to think of as not something they did in 1930 and, in any case, kind of dumb. (My friend Chris Harris used to have a room bit he’d do, Idealistic Young High School Teacher – “Romeo and Juliet were just kids like you! And if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be a rapper!” Maybe the HC’s older hucksterizing voice is better.)

Okay, onto vol. 34, Rousseau’s “Inquiry on Inequality,” pp. 215-228…and what a find! between pages 166 and 167, there’s a bookmark (a piece of torn newspaper – judging from the large P. 33, and knowing my dad’s history, I’m guessing it’s a seventies-era New York Post. But it could be from a Sunday Times-Union as well. It has been between these two pages for so long that its shadow – vaguely New Hampshire-ish on the right-hand page – remains. So I’m not the first person to look at this after all!

Vol. 34, incidentally, is “French and English Philosophers – Descartes Voltaire Rousseau Hobbes”. It’s like an old episode of Steve Allen’s Meeting of Minds.

Okay, the live blog:

• More of the philosophical presupposition that kind of drives me crazy, The State of Nature. I don’t know why it drives me crazy, maybe because it’s not provable. I assume that’s what the attraction is as well.

• Naked savages, in their liberty, better than us with our European pleasures. This dude sounds like half a right-winger (without the other half – that the naked savages must then be converted to Western ways without the pleasures, thus getting the worst of it all around).

• Also political systems are compared to a father and his children, which I’m sure pleases all the ladies!

• “I shall not now enter upon the inquiries which still remain to be made into the nature of the fundamental pacts of every kind of government, but, following the common opinion, confine myself in this place to the establishment of the political body as a real contract between the multitude and the chiefs elected by it.” Good call. Don’t enter upon it, dude, not in the slightest. This is bringing back memories fo my own liberal education, and how I thought I was going to like political theory and how I actually didn’t. But this time I’m not going to get a lot of coffee and Suzy Qs in order to learn it. Three more pages, three more pages…

• Some social contract stuff, here, I believe. R. posits that religion has been good for tranquility because it has beguiled the people into thinking their kings are divine, thereby reducing the amount of overthrows.

• Scanning quickly now….

By thus discovering and following the lost and forgotten tracks, by which man from the natural must have arrived at the civil state; by restoring, with the intermediate positions which I have been just indicating, those which want of leisure obliges me to suppress, or which my imagination has not suggested, every attentive reader must unavoidably be struck at the immense space which separates these two states.
’ Keep scanning, keep scanning…

• Conclusion (or, as I like to think of it, “Executive Summary”):
“It follows from this picture, that as there is scarce any inequality among men in a state of nature, all that which we now behold owes its force and its growth to the development of our faculties and the improvement of our understanding, and at last becomes permanent and lawful by the establishment of property and of laws.”
Your starvation is progress, notes Rousseau bitterly. Well, I’d give him that.