Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Rousseau: The Noxious Force in Modern Civilization

A Painting of Rousseau (1753)
Conor Cruise O’Brien has a thoughtful essay, “Rousseau, Robespierre, Burke, Jefferson, and the French Revolution,” in The Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, edited by Susan Dunn. In the final paragraphs of the essay, he sums up the noxious influence that Rousseau has in the major universities.  Here’s an excerpt:
Rousseau also holds an influential place within the English-speaking world through the vogue for the ‘‘politically correct’’ and ‘‘multiculturalism’’ now dominant in certain faculties of several major American universities. These work in Rousseau’s manner: through strong, repeated, unargued assertion: ‘‘Hey ho, hey ho, Western culture’s got to go’’ chanted the students. No matter that the students in question have no other culture than the culture of the English language, the only language that they know, or have any intention of knowing. They are in fact monocultural multiculturalists; intellectual monsters, incapable of doing anything except exercising a kind of power through agreed nonsense, and feeling good while doing so.  
All that is very much in the spirit of Rousseau. I believe that Rousseau has been, and still remains a noxious force within Western culture. He is noxious because of a fundamental lack of seriousness. He does not think or argue. He talks for effect and teaches others to do the same. Unfortunately there are some in every generation who are seduced either by his message or—more probably—by the example of his successes. The malignant magic of the grand charlatan is liable to be with us for a long time.

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