Day 1--August 22
Babylonian Laws I
Babylonian Laws II
Euthyphro and Crito
Nicomachean Eth. I
Nico. Ethics II
Nico. Ethics III
Nico. Ethics IV
Early Rousseau II
Early Rous III
Rousseau's Walks I
Rousseau's Walks II
Rousseau's Walks III
Lisbon Earthquake I
JS Mill I
Mill and Emotions II
Mill and Emotions III
Legal Realism I
Legal Realism II
Brown v. Board
Jean-Jacques Rousseau III
Prof. Bill Long 11/21/06
One More Reverie--Promenade One
Though much more could be said about Rousseau's Reveries of a Solitary Walker, the last work he wrote in his life (1776-78; he died in 1778), I will conclude by arguing here that his First Promenade is a transparent, and only partially successful, attempt to lay aside the bitterness and paranoia that had stalked him ever since Emile and Social Contract were condemned fifteen years previously. He is able to achieve some kind of equanimity here not because he has achieved a kind of "peace" with the universe or because he has "risen above" the anger that he previously felt, but because he felt that the only source for his personal vindication, the Prince de Conti, has died and now he must resignedly accept his fate of being a permanent outsider. Thus, his attempt to assume a Stoic-type of ataraxia in the First Promenade is not as noble as it seems. Yet, Rousseau is what I call a "genius of the heart," and thus he is able to salvage the tattered remains of his life by arguing that his last days present him an unparalleled opportunity for self-discovery.
All Hope At An End
He begins the essay with barely concealed, but unforgettable, self-righteousness.
"Here am I, then, alone upon the earth, having no brother, or neighbor, or friend, or society but myself. The most sociable and loving of human beings has been proscribed by unanimous agreement," 31.
Go a little lighter on the "poor-me," Jean-Jacques, please! He had successively alienated people in several countries, both men and women, scholars and lovers, and now plaintively states that the whole world is, unjustifiably, against him. Like the parent who has "no idea" why a child hasn't spoken to her in twenty-five years, Rousseau claims to be completely ignorant of the sources of people's displeasure in him.
But I will not long tarry here by indulging his spirit. I will quote the crucial passage, however, regarding his resolve to accept his fate. Here are the words:
"Two months have not gone by since full calm was re-established in my heart. For a long time I had ceased to fear anything, but I still hoped; and this hope, now cherished, now broken, was a snare by which a thousand diverse passions did not cease to agitate me. An event as sad as unforseen came finally to efface from my heart this feeble ray of hope, and make me see my destiny fixed forever without change here below. From thence, I have resigned myself without reserve and I have rediscovered peace," 35.
Professor Lester Crocker, in his magnificent two-volume biography of Rousseau, argues as follows: "what was this event, 'as sad as it was unforseen'? In all likelihood, it was the death of the Prince de Conti, on August 2 (1776)," Jean-Jacques Rousseau, vol. 2, 344. Crocker goes on to show how it was this man whom Rousseau thought was the only man alive who could have reversed the condemnatory decrees against his work from 1762. Now that Conti has died, Rousseau has completely lost hope. But rather than looking at this hopeless situation as an opportunity for complete despair or possible suicide, he lets it bring him a "larger measure of peace than he had known for years." One may quibble that this resignation and the peace that flows from it is not a "genuine" peace, driven as it is by a sense of hopelessness, but that is a mere quibble. Let us grant to Rousseau that he was able, finally, to "let go" of the deeper currents of vitriol poisoning him when he realized that all human possibilities of vindication had evaporated. Because of Rousseau's extreme narcissism, however, he often looks at this abandoned state as a "Christ-like" condition. He, like Christ, was abandoned and betrayed by all. He, like Christ, will be vindicated in the end.
What To Do
Thus, he becomes like a person who has lost all of his earthly goods in a fire but realizes that his life and health are still intact. He can look at his new condition as a sort of new beginning, a re-birth, and consecrate himself to the topic that interests him more than anything in the world--himself.
"I shall consecrate my last days to the study of myself, and to preparing in advance the account which I shall not be slow to give of myself. Let me devote myself entirely to the sweetness of speaking with my own soul, because that is the only thing of which men cannot rob me. If, by force of reflecting upon my inward propensities, I succeed in putting these in order and correcting the evil that may remain there, my meditations will not be entirely useless," 38.
And then, lest you think that Rousseau has surmounted himself to consider the beauties of nature or the problems of the injustice of the world, he says again:
"These leaves will not be, properly speaking, anything but a formless journal of my reveries. There will be much concerning myself, because a solitary who reflects occupies himself necessarily much with himself. For the rest, all the strange ideas which pass through my head in walking about will equally find a place. I shall say that which I have thought exactly as it has come to me, and also with as little linking together as the ideas of yesterday ordinarily have with those of the day following," 39.
There you have it. The narcissistic genius of Rousseau. The one who relentlessly sought to enjoy and examine his own feelings in the moment, to describe the way the emotions were touched by little things in his environment and thoughts, and record them for us. This is the man who is the father of our political philosophy. And, more and more, he seems to be the father of our spiritual quests.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long