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Rousseau's Political Writings: Discourse on Inequality, Discourse on Political Economy, On Social Contract (Norton Critical Editions) [Paperback]

Jean Jacques Rousseau , Julia Conaway Bondanella , Alan Ritter
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 17, 1987 0393956512 978-0393956511 First Edition

This Norton Critical Edition includes the three most important of Rousseau’s political writings: Discourse on Inequality, Discourse on Political Economy, and On Social Contract.

Each piece is fully annotated. Backgrounds includes a sketch of Rousseau’s life, selections from his Confessions, and comments on Rousseau’s work and character from such illustrious contemporaries and early critics as Voltaire, Hume, Boswell and Johnson, Paine, Kant, and Proudhon. Commentaries includes assessments of Rousseau’s political thought by a wide variety of scholars and critics including Judith Shklar, Robert Nisbet, Simone Weil, and Benjamin R. Barber.

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Julia Conaway Bondanella is Associate Director of the Honors Division at Indiana University. She is the author of Petrarch’s Visions and Their Renaissance Analogues and co-author of The Dictionary of Italian Literature

Alan Ritter teaches at Trinity College and the University of Connecticut School of Law. He is the author of The Political Thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis.

Product Details

  • Series: Norton Critical Editions
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (October 17, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393956512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393956511
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #361,265 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars good background materials, but shoddy translation March 1, 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Although this edition contains some excellent background materials, the translation is less than professional and sins by omission. Some important parts of the texts are inexplicably left out, such as Rousseau's dedication of the "Discourse on the Origin of Inequality" to Geneva, in which he clearly and passionately explains some of his basic theories of government, through a utopian fantasy about his hometown. Not only does the dedication give an important political context to the "Discourse," it also adds a touching and pathetic autobiographical dimension to the text. As such, it is an essential part of the "Discourse." Also omitted are many of Rousseau's own notes on the text, which are both amusing and illuminating. Finally, the translation itself leaves out certain phrases, seriously distorting the meaning of key passages. The above comments only apply to the "Discourse on the Origins of Inequality," but if they are any indication of the general carelessness of the translator and/or the editors, readers would be better off with another edition, for example Donald Cress's translation of the "Basic Political Writings," published by Hackett ...
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ideal for some readers, inadequate for others November 16, 2009
Format:Paperback
This book collects the three most important political writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Discourse on Inequality, Discourse on Political Economy, and On Social Contract. Rousseau is one of the most original and influential philosophers, having a profound effect on everyone and everything from the French Revolution - and, depending on whom you ask, the American - to Marx to Tolstoy. His range was literally encyclopedic, but he is probably best remembered for political writings. Anyone looking to get a good overview of these will do well to start here, as this basically has all of his strictly political work, but anyone wanting a wider overview must look elsewhere.

Discourse on Inequality is one of the most shockingly original writings in the history of thought - so original Samuel Johnson famously argued Rousseau could not have been serious, and many, including admirers, have agreed. Its argument that people are born free and pure only to be corrupted by society flies in the proverbial face not only of philosophy but of civilization itself. It was all the more shocking during the Enlightenment, when society, not least via Rousseau's many fellow philosophers, was more self-congratulatory than ever. His depiction of our fall from grace is spellbinding and hard to put down; those who think philosophy is dry and boring will truly be surprised.

Discourse on Political Economy essentially takes the next step of asking how we can legitimize and improve such a corrupt society. It does not have easy answers but does reject the seemingly obvious one that we return to a primitive state; Rousseau has often been charged with this, but he actually explicitly denies it. This Discourse is far less original but has several salient points and is well-written.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor translation May 30, 2005
Format:Paperback
I agree that the translation is inadequate, sometimes to the point of misconstruing Rousseau's intent. The omission of the majority of Rousseau's footnotes in the Second Discourse is a poor choice, and the editors' own notes are rarely illuminating. The additional material, however, is appreciated.
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I have a personal favorite list of the five greatest philosophers to read from a strictly literary perspective. They are: Plato, Fredrick Neitzsche, Rene Descartes, John Stuart Mill, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.* Thus, we may fairly expect _Rousseau's Political Writings_ (1988) to contain some lively writing, regardless of what you may think of the contents. And they do. They do.

The book (edited by Alan Ritter and Julia Bondanella and translated by Julia Bondanella) is a Norton Critical Edition. It consists of three main parts: A. Original Political Writngs by Rousseau, B. Backgrounds (contemporary writings by and on Rousseau), and C. Commentaries (modern critiques of Rousseau). Ordinarily, the main value of a Norton Critical Edition is the third section. But in this book, it proves to be a mild disappointment.

The Original Writings are: "The Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality Among Men" (1755), "Discourse on Political Economy" (1755), and _On Social Contract_ (1762). The two essays lay the groundwork for the longer work that followed, giving a detailed picture of Rousseau's theory of man's place in the original state of nature. He does not exactly portray such a man as a "noble savage," but his view of man in this state is more positive than that of many other philosophers. Some readers have assumed that Rousseau wants to recapture this state of nature. Not so. Rousseau is mildly nostalgic about it, but he says that it is a long time past. We can't go home again.

In these essays, Rousseau develops a remarkable (some would say "preposterous") theme: that ever since the concept of property was invented, man has been headed downward on a slippery slope of enequality and corruption.
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