Jean-Jacques Rousseau

ean-Jacques Rousseau . French philosopher, was one of the most outstanding European thinkers of the eighteenth century , being his fundamental speech for the further development of the Enlightenment movement and the French Revolution . Defined as an illustrated; despite the profound contradictions that separated him from the main representatives of the Enlightenment.


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  • 1 Biographical data
    • 1 Trajectory
  • 2 Legacy
    • 1 Literary
    • 2 Political and social
  • 3 In France
  • 4 Famous dates
  • 5 Works
  • 6 Sources

Biographical data

Orphaned by a mother from an early age, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was raised by his maternal aunt and by his father, a modest watchmaker. Having barely received an education, he worked as an apprentice with a notary and an engraver, who subjected him to such brutal treatment that he ended up leaving Geneva in 1728 .

He was then taken in under the protection of the Baroness de Warens, who convinced him to convert to Catholicism (his family was Calvinistic). Already a lover of the baroness, Jean-Jacques Rousseau settled in her residence in Chambéry and began an intense period of self-study.

Educated in a Calvinistic environment, Rousseau left his home to settle at the age of 16 in Annecy, where he received a more complete education in lyrics and music. After several years near the Alps, Rousseau traveled to Paris , where he met Voltaire and Diderot , among others.

It is in 1750 when Rousseau achieved some fame through one of his first tests for the Academy of France . He frequents salons and is part of various intellectual groups and encyclopedists. However, due to love problems, Rousseau decides to leave these environments and publishes his two best-known works, Emilio, or of education, and The Social Contract; rejected and reviled, the philosopher is banished from France and tries to settle in Geneva , without success. It is Hume, a friend of Rousseau, who decides to take him to England, where he cannot stay too long because of his fame as mad and sullen.


In 1742 Rousseau ended a stage that he later evoked as the only happy one in his life and left for Paris, where he presented to the Academy of Sciences a new system of musical notation devised by him, with which he hoped to achieve a fame that However, it was slow to arrive. He spent a year ( 1743 – 1744 ) as secretary of the French ambassador to Venice but a confrontation with him determined his return to Paris , where he began a relationship with an uneducated servant, Thérèse Levasseur, whom he ended up marrying civilly in 1768 after having had with she five children.

Rousseau became friends with the enlightened at the time, and was invited to contribute music articles to D’Alembert and Diderot’s Encyclopedia; The latter prompted him to appear in 1750 at the competition called by the Dijon Academy, which awarded first prize to his Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, which marked the beginning of his fame. In 1754, he visited Geneva again and returned to Protestantism to reacquire his rights as a Geneva citizen, understanding that it was a pure legislative procedure.

Then appeared his Speech on the origin of inequality between men, also written for the contest called in 1755 by the Dijon Academy. Rousseau confronts the enlightened conception of progress, considering that men in the natural state are by definition innocent and happy, and that it is culture and civilization that impose inequality between them, especially after the establishment of property, and with it brings them unhappiness.

In 1756 he settled in the residence of his friend Madame d’Épinay in Montmorency, where he wrote some of his most important works. Julia o la Nueva Eloísa ( 1761 ) is a sentimental novel inspired by her passion – unrequited – by Madame d’Épinay’s sister-in-law, which was a reason for dispute with the latter.

In Of the Social Contract ( 1762 ), Rousseau attempts to articulate the integration of individuals in the community; the citizen’s demands for freedom must be guaranteed through an ideal social contract that stipulates the total surrender of each associate to the community, so that his extreme dependence on the city frees him from that which he has on other citizens and of his particular selfishness. The general will indicates the agreement of the different particular wills, reason why in it the rationality that is common to them is expressed, so that that dependency becomes the authentic realization of the freedom of the individual, as a rational being.

Finally, Emilio or De la educación ( 1762 ) is a pedagogical novel, the religious part of which earned him immediate condemnation by the Parisian authorities and his flight to Neuchâtel, where conflicts with local authorities arose again, so that in 1766 He accepted David Hume’s invitation to take refuge in England , although the following year he returned to the continent convinced that Hume was only trying to defame him.

Thereafter Rousseau changed his residence incessantly, beset by a persecutory mania that finally led him back to Paris in 1770 , where the last years of his life passed, in which he wrote his autobiographical writings.



Given his distance from the encyclopedists of the time and his confrontation with the Catholic Church, due to his controversial doctrines, his literary style changed. His autobiographical works and his self, took a fundamental turn in European literature; to such an extent that it is considered one of the precursors of Romanticism . His works that most influenced his time were Julia, or Nueva Eloisa ( 1761 ) and Emilio, or De la educación ( 1762 ), since they transformed ideas about the family. Other very important works are The social contract and the Discourse on the origin of inequality between men.

Political and social

Rousseau produced one of the most important works of the Enlightenment era; through his Social Contract, he raised a new policy. This new policy is based on the volonté générale, general will, and on the people as sovereign.

He states that the only form of legal government will be that of a republican state, where all the people legislate; Regardless of the form of government, be it a monarchy or an aristocracy, it should not affect the legitimacy of the state. Rousseau attaches great importance to the size of the state, because

The Social Contract

that once the population of the state grows, then the will of each individual is less represented in the general will, so that the larger the state, its government must be more effective to avoid disobedience to that general will.

In his political and social studies Rousseau developed a social scheme in which power rests with the people, arguing that it is possible to live and survive as a whole without the need for a last leader who was the authority. It is a proposal that is based on the natural freedom with which, Rousseau explains, man was born. In The Social Contract, Rousseau argues that the power that governs society is the general will that looks out for the common good of all citizens.

This power only takes effect when each one of the members of a society is united by association under the condition, according to Rousseau, that “each one of us shares his person and all his power under the supreme direction of the general will ; and each member is considered as an indivisible part of the whole. ” In short, Rousseau states that the association assumed by the citizens must be “capable of defending and protecting, with all common force, the person and property of each of the associates, but in such a way that each of them, in union with all, just obey yourself, and be as free as before. ” The Rousseau work argues that this association of men is not natural.

Man comes out of his natural state of freedom because survival needs arise that impose on him the creation of something artificial, since man is not sociable by nature and was not born to be associated with others. It is voluntarily that they unite each other and base this link with the development of morality and rationality to satisfy the needs that nature has imposed on them. Morality and reason are evident in society by establishing a normative model capable of creating a social order that avoids domination of some over others and that involves a participatory representation of all members of society.

Through The Social Contract, Rousseau opens the way for democracy. In it, all members recognize the authority of reason to unite through a common law in the same political body, since the law they obey is born from themselves. This society is called a republic and each citizen lives according to everyone.

In this social state, the rules of conduct created by reason and reflection of the general will that are in charge of developing the laws that will govern men in civil life are necessary. According to Rousseau, it is the people, through the ratification of the general will, the only one qualified to establish the laws that condition the civil association.

According to Rousseau’s work, every legitimate government is republican, that is, a republic employs a government designated to have as its purpose the public interest guided by the general will. It is for this reason that Rousseau does not rule out the possibility of monarchy as a democratic government, since if those associated with the general will can agree, under certain circumstances, to implement a monarchical or aristocratic government, then such is the common good.

In his political model, Rousseau attributes the role of sovereign to the people. To this term it does not attribute characteristics that designate a single class or nation, but the representation of a community of those who wish to form a State and live under the same laws that are the expression of the general will.

The people, as sovereign, must carry out a public deliberation, which places all associated citizens on an equal footing, in which the

Discourse on the Arts and Sciences

The body cannot decide anything that violates the legitimate interests of each one. The laws in the Rousseau Republic are developed according to the social order, established by the nature of the social pact and not by the human conventions of a single individual. Laws must be based on conventions that translate into rules the demands of rationality and human morality, at the same time, which do not violate the ideal of justice that imposes that all associates respect each other.

Rousseau states that the rules of association must be the result of public deliberation, since it is there that the origin of sovereignty is found. Laws born out of deliberation will not be fair and sovereignty will not be legitimate if deliberation does not respect the common interest and if citizens do not accept the conditions by which the rules are the same for everyone. These laws do not institute any specific form of government, but rather establish the general rules of administration and define the constitution, by which the people are to abide, since they are the highest expression of the general will.

The political ideal set forth by Rousseau in The Social Contract is based on rational autonomy. This is the association that supposes the kingdom of the common law, in which each one of the associates, when surrendering to the social pact, obeys himself because the laws are based on the general will, in which each citizen He is also a legislator, when deliberating publicly in the creation of the rules, and a subject, by freely submitting to their obedience.

The political ideal of The Social Contract can be realized under any form of government. Rousseau argues that any form of government is valid and legitimate if it is exercised within the parameters governed by common law. In his work, Rousseau defines a republic as “any state governed by law, whatever its form of administration.”

In Rousseau’s political model, the people appear in a double dimension, in which they are subject and object of sovereign power. Each individual is subject to sovereignty because he gives all his rights to the community, but at the same time he is an object because, being part of a whole, he gives them to himself. When this pact was established, sovereignty resides in the people and, as a result, it is inalienable, indivisible, absolute and infallible, since it is contradictory for the sovereign as a people to implement something against himself as a subject.

What characterizes the political model that Rousseau develops in The Social Contract is the general will. It differs from the will of all by its universalist character and its normative aspect. It is not a qualitative will, but is formed by a moral qualification, in which men are required to act according to universalist interests. Once this will is formed, its mandate is final, since what it pursues is the collective interest that is not different from the individual interest. That is why, if any associate tries to resist the general will, he will be forced by the social body to obey him.

Rousseau conceived democracy as a direct government of the people. The system he defended was based on the fact that all citizens, free and equal, could attend to express their will to reach a common agreement, a social contract. In The Social Contract, he would say that “all laws that the people do not ratify are null and void” and that “sovereignty cannot be represented for the same reason that it cannot be alienated.” Since the general will cannot be represented, it defended a system of direct democracy that inspires, to a certain extent, the Swiss federal constitution of 1849 .

The relationship of Rousseau’s theories to modern nationalism is one of the themes abounded by political theory and the history of ideas. In his works, Rousseau laid the foundations for modern nationalism by attributing to him feelings of identification with the republic or society with which man has associated himself, although he argued that these feelings would only have been possible in small, democratic states.

In France

In 1770 he was allowed to reside in France as long as he did not make his philosophical ideas public again. Deprived of them, Rousseau devotes himself to reading his memoirs in public until, after several scandals with the police, he withdraws from Paris with evident mental problems and settles in Ermenonville, where he died in 1778 .


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