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The Basic Political Writings [Paperback]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau , Donald A. Cress , Peter Gray
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 1, 1987 0872200477 978-0872200470 1st
'The publication of these excellent translations is a happy occasion for teachers of courses in political philosophy and the history of political theory...' - Raymon M Lemos, "Teaching Philosophy".

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Editorial Reviews


"The publication of these excellent translations is a happy occasion for teachers of courses in political philosophy and the history of political theory..." -- Raymon M. Lemos, Teaching Philosophy "The single most comprehensive, reliable and economical collection of Rousseau's explicitly political writings." --Michael Franz, Loyola College

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 227 pages
  • Publisher: Hackett Publishing; 1st edition (November 1, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872200477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872200470
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The Basic Political Writings," have a two part effect. Rousseau uses the first portion of the book, the discourses on science and the arts, the origin of inequality, and political economy, to describe the basic policies of then modern society. Rousseau describes the creation of society as a threat against the laws of nature. Rousseau also explains that the origin of society coincides with the concept of personal property. From there society develops by who controls whom into a political system. Rousseau comments on several points in "The Social Contract." In the first book of "The Social Contract" Rousseau explains the limiting of the human spirit by the bonds of society. This is the origin of the infamous line, "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains." Books two and three describe the attitudes of a nation and its responsibilities to both other nations and its own people. The final book of "The Social Contract" affirms the point that a nation cannot destroy the general will of the people. "The Basic Political Writings" are considered an excellent resource on society simply for its commentary on the general will. Rousseau's writings are amazing when coupled with the later thoughts of Karl Marx in "The Communist Manifesto." Obvious correlation's can be made between Rousseau's commentary and Marx's ideals of the creation of a communist society. Although these writings may not be for the average reader, the points they make extremely thought provoking.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still Very Relevant for the Modern Reader June 7, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains." - probably Rousseau's most famous line. The Basic Political Writings contains four key works:

* Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts
* Discourse on the Origins of Inequality
* Discourse on Political Economy
* On the Social Contract (where the above quote is from)

Rousseau was certainly controversial 250 years ago when he first was published, and because of that, remains both interesting and relevant today. His admontions on governmental action, democracy, authoritarianism, "progress" and religion are all relevant, and make one think. Though certainly not onsidered a moderate in his day, Rousseau's position would largely be considered the middle way today.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rousseau's influence on Kant May 13, 2004
By A Customer
A more immediate influence of Rousseau's political thought was on the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, sometimes called "the philosopher of the French Revolution." Kant took over Rousseau's emphasis on the faculty of will and incorporated it into his political philosophy, especially in Part II of "The Metaphysics of Morals," "The Metaphysical Elements of Justice." There Kant, unlike Rousseau, favored a constitutional government rather than a direct democracy. But he utilized Rousseau's notion of the social contract in the form of a hypothetical agreement among autonomous individuals. Kant's conception of a hypothetical contract was in turn applied by John Rawls in his "A Theory of Justice," so it may be argued that Kant is in some respects a precursor of liberal representive democracy. Rousseau's idea of democracy has more application to contemporary theorists of participatory democracy than it does to Marx, whose "dictatorship of the proletariat" was largely undeveloped. And Mill's "On Liberty" is in many ways a critique of Rousseau's General Will, in that Mill asserted, among other things, that "if all of mankind except one were of one opinion, and that one were of another, all of mankind would be no more justified in silencing that man that would he in silencing all of mankind." So Rousseau's conception of positive freedom (i.e., "freedom to. . ."), encapsulated in his notorious remark that it may be necessary to "force men to be free," has no place in Mill's "On Liberty," which advances the more Anglo-American notion of negative freedom (i.e., "freedom from. . ."). Furthermore, Mill favored a form of representative government (as put forth in his treatise of the same name), so he differs from Rousseau on that point as well.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
It is often said that Descartes is the father of modern philosophy; but much of modern philosophy would be unthinkable without the writings of Rousseau. While Descartes put epistemology at the center of philosophy, and used reflections on subjectivity as a means to knowing, Rousseau put the historical human being at the center of his thinking, and thus paved the way not only for Kant but for Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard.

These texts are the ones to look to for the core of his thinking. Read the first and second discourses first -- of which the second is the most critical, but the first gives an easy orientation to his general strategy. The Social Contract is extremely relevant today, when words like "democracy" are bandied about unthinkingly. Rousseau identifies there what a genuine democracy requires: that individuals become prepared through education to cast their vote for what they think is the general good. The conditions for this cannot be established overnight, and cannot be imposed by war or by political pressure.

This is another fine edition by Hackett, who cannot be commended enough for their excellent series of inexpensive philosophical texts. After reading this, take a look at Rousseau's two other brilliant pieces (among many more): Emile, and his Autobiography.
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