Barzun on Rousseau

"His books on government, morals, education, and social life did give the course of ideas a wrench. To understand how, one must erase from the mind every remark or allusion one has come across about him and his thought. In academic writings as in journalism, his name and the adjective Rousseauian are used to characterize opinions he never held... 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." -- From Dawn to Decadence, p. 382


  1. I think it became fashionable to make things up about what Rousseau wrote during and after the Royalist restoration in France. He certainly influenced some people who did bad things (e.g. the Jacobins), but that doesn't give you academic license to make stuff up about what he thought.

    Interestingly, on a similar note, I was reading a Dumas novel recently in which the main character essentially makes all the errors Barzun describes here in one paragraph. The understanding seemed to be cribbed right from Voltaire.

    I have no idea if this was Dumas' actual understanding of course.


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