Friday, January 6, 2017

Lund: "Rousseau: Radical philosopher, political conservative"

From Nelson Lund guest blogging at Volokh. A taste:
Rousseau was the first great philosophic critic of Enlightenment liberalism, which was itself founded on a rejection of classical political philosophy. The greatest division in ancient thought arose between those who took seriously the search for the naturally right political order and those who regarded political life as fundamentally unnatural or merely conventional. Modern liberal thought began to demolish this distinction by attributing to all men certain natural rights and then taking as the task of political philosophy the discovery of those conventions that will best protect those rights.

Rousseau raises some serious doubts about certain aspects of liberal theory and about the wisdom of relying on abstract principles like natural rights and natural freedom as the basis for a political order. His rhetorical fire has led a long line of political conservatives to denounce him. If we pay more attention to the subtle complexity of his thought than to his frequently jarring rhetoric, we can avoid snap judgments that reflect our impatience rather than Rousseau’s foolishness.
Very interesting. But as we can tell from the context of the quotation, very contentious as well. 

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