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14 - Entreating the Political

Politics and Theology in Rousseau’s Social Contract

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2024

David Lay Williams
Affiliation:
DePaul University, Chicago
Matthew W. Maguire
Affiliation:
DePaul University, Chicago
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Summary

Rousseau’s Social Contract begins with breathtakingly ambitious declarations about freedom and justice. Yet the project comes to an abrupt end, and the manuscript remains a fragment. Given that Rousseau sees daring arguments to their end elsewhere, why was this particular project – one so close to the core of his thought – abandoned? On the surface, the Social Contract appears beset by contradictions, but it pursues its conclusions toward an intricate and audacious coherence, giving an account of ancient political orders to overcome what Rousseau understands as misapprehensions associated with the Enlightenment. Yet it is not the Enlightenment, but Christianity that inaugurates the break with and confusions of ancient political distinctions. An attempt to confront this origin directly shatters Rousseau’s penultimately profound coherence. In remarkable congruence with patterns of figurative language developed in Descartes, Rousseau seeks to both ground and energize his account of political life by deploying diverse, often distinctly modern aspirations and metaphors in order to escape the Christian interruption of proper political ordering and concludes he cannot do so.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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