The landmark political treatise that refuted the so-called divine right of kings and established the principles of representative government
“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”
With these stirring words, Jean-Jacques Rousseau begins The Social Contract—the first shot in a battle of ideas that would set the stage for the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. In the feverish days of the Enlightenment, Rousseau took aim squarely at the all-powerful French monarchy, proclaiming that no despot, no matter how powerful, had the right to terrorize his people. He laid out a plan for a new kind of government—an idea that was radical then, and remains so now.
The Social Contract is a landmark document from a fascinating period in world history and an invaluable guide to the foundations of modern democracy.
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The searing indictment of man-made inequality in all its many forms that Rousseau offers in Discourse on Inequality is a must-read for philosophy buffs and supporters of social justice. This artfully composed argument sets forth the core elements of Rousseau's philosophical views, including his unique take on Hobbes' concept of nature and natural law.
Individualist and communitarian. Anarchist and totalitarian. Classicist and romanticist. Progressive and reactionary. Since the eighteenth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been said to be all of these things. Few philosophers have been the subject of as much or as intense debate, yet almost everyone agrees that Rousseau is among the most important and influential thinkers in the history of political philosophy. This new edition of his major political writings, published in the year of the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth, renews attention to the perennial importance of Rousseau’s work. The book brings together superb new translations by renowned Rousseau scholar John T. Scott of three of Rousseau’s works: the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, the Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men, and On the Social Contract. The two Discourses show Rousseau developing his well-known conception of the natural goodness of man and the problems posed by life in society. With the Social Contract, Rousseau became the first major thinker to argue that democracy is the only legitimate form of political organization. Scott’s extensive introduction enhances our understanding of these foundational writings, providing background information, social and historical context, and guidance for interpreting the works. Throughout, translation and editorial notes clarify ideas and terms that might not be immediately familiar to most readers. The three works collected in The Major Political Writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau represent an important contribution to eighteenth-century political theory that has exerted an extensive influence on generations of thinkers, beginning with the leaders of the French Revolution and continuing to the present day. The new translations on offer here will be welcomed by a wide readership of both Rousseau scholars and readers with a general interest in political thought.
The Confessions was two distinct works, each part consisting of six books. Books I to VI were written between 1765 and 1767 and published in 1782, while books VII to XII were written in 1769–1770 and published in 1789. Rousseau alludes to a planned third part, but this was never completed. Though the book contains factual inaccuracies—in particular, Rousseau's dates are frequently off, some events are out of order, and others are misrepresented, incomplete, incorrect—Rousseau provides an account of the experiences that shaped his personality and ideas. For instance, some parts of his own education are clearly present in his account of ideal education, Emile, or On Education.
Rousseau's work is notable as one of the first major autobiographies. Prior to the Confessions, the two great autobiographies were Augustine's own Confessions and Saint Teresa's Life of Herself. However, both of these works focused on the religious experiences of their authors; the Confessions was one of the first autobiographies in which an individual wrote of his own life mainly in terms of his worldly experiences and personal feelings. Rousseau recognized the unique nature of his work; it opens with the famous words: "I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent and which, once complete, will have no imitator. My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I shall portray will be myself." His example was soon followed: not long after publication, many other writers (such as Goethe, Wordsworth, Stendhal, and De Quincey) wrote their own similarly-styled autobiographies.
The Confessions is also noted for its detailed account of Rousseau's more humiliating and shameful moments. For instance, Rousseau recounts an incident when, while a servant, he covered up his theft of a ribbon by framing a young girl—who was working in the house—for the crime. In addition, Rousseau explains the manner in which he disposes of the five children he had with Thérèse Levasseur.
This substantially revised new edition of Rousseau: The Basic Political Writings features a brilliant new Introduction by David Wootton, a revision by Donald A. Cress of his own 1987 translation of Rousseau’s most important political writings, and the addition of Cress’ new translation of Rousseau's State of War. New footnotes, headnotes, and a chronology by David Wootton provide expert guidance to first-time readers of the texts.
'These hours of solitude and meditation are the only time of the day when I am completely myself' Reveries of the Solitary Walker is Rousseau's last great work, the product of his final years of exile from the society that condemned his political and religious views. Returning to Paris the philosopher determines to keep a faithful record of the thoughts and ideas that come to him on his perambulations. Part reminiscence, part reflection, enlivened by anecdote and encounters, the Reveries form a kind of sequel to his Confessions, but they are more introspective and less defensive: Rousseau finds happiness in solitude, walks in nature, botanizing, and meditation. Writing an account of his walks becomes a means of achieving self-knowledge and safeguarding for himself the pleasure that others, he is convinced, seek to deny him. The Reveries, shaped by the unmediated nature of Rousseau's thought processes, give powerfully lyrical expression to a painfully tortured soul in search of peace. This new translation is accompanied by an introduction and notes that explore the nature of the work and its historical, literary, and intellectual contexts. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.
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