Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rousseau: The citizen of Plato's Republic

In a previous post I quoted Paul Johnson's analysis of Rousseau as a father. I continue...
It is right to dwell on his desertion of his children not only because it is the most striking single example of his inhumanity but because it is organically part of the process which produced his theory of politics and the role of the state... Since Rousseau felt as a child, it followed he could not bring up children of his own. Something had to take his place, and that something was the State, in the form of the orphanage.
Hence, he argued, what he did was 'a good and sensible arrangement'. It was exactly what Plato had advocated... 'I thought I was performing the act of a citizen and a father and I looked on myself as a member of Plato's Republic...
What began as a process of personal self-justification in a particular case--a series of hasty, ill thought-out excuses for behaviour he must have known, initially, was unnatural--gradually evolved as repetition and growing self esteem hardened them into genuine convictions, into the proposition that education was the key to social and moral improvement and, this being so, it was the concern of the State. The State must form the minds of all, not only as children (as it had done to Rousseau's in the orphanage) but as adult citizens. By a curious chain of infamous moral logic, Rousseau's iniquity as a parent was linked to his ideological offspring, the future totalitarian state. (pp. 22-23)

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