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The John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy

The Legacy of Rousseau

May 21 - May 23, 1993



The Olin Center's theme for the year is "The Legacy of Rousseau." We return to Rousseau attracted by his profundity and charm, and impressed by his influence over contemporary discourse, over how we look at the world and evaluate human types. Rousseau inspires and articulates contemporary dissatisfaction with liberal or bourgeois society, providing the basis or framework for the categories and antinomies through which that dissatisfaction is expressed: nature versus society; sincerity versus hypocrisy; the self versus the other; the bourgeois versus the artist, genius, or bohemian; civilization versus culture; sublimation versus repression and neurosis; community versus individual; nationalism versus cosmopolitanism; compassion versus egoism, etc. Yet our discourse often radicalizes some portions of Rousseau's complex analysis and slights other parts. The Left preserves his love of justice at the expense of his love of greatness, whereas the Right does the opposite. The morality of compassion is adopted at the expense of his concern for wholeness and his critique of alienation, and his critique of conventional inequality is extended to deny the natural inequality he admitted. We are therefore compelled to ask what his judgment would be of our thought and language and whether he can help correct it, or whether his thought needs to be not only confronted but transcended in order to rethink our situation and to grasp alternatives to contemporary ways of thinking.

Conference Schedule

Friday, May 21

2:30 - 5:00 p.m.

Rousseau and Culture
Chairman: Nathan Tarcov

The Problem of the Bourgeois
Werner J. Dannhauser

Rousseau and the Case Against (and for) the Arts
Christopher Kelly

The Tension in the Beautiful: On Culture in Rousseau & Other Thinkers
Richard Velkley

Commentator: Susan Shell

Saturday, May 22

10:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Rousseau and Politics
Chairman: N. Richard Zinman

Humanity or Justice? The Politics of Compassion & the Legacy of Rousseau
Clifford Orwin

Privacy & Community
Steven J. Kautz

Commentator: Wilson Carey McWilliams

2:30 p.m.- 5:00 p.m.

Rousseau and the Nation
Chairman: Walter Berns

Rousseau and the Theory & Practice of International Relations
Pierre Hassner

Rousseau and the Origins of Nationalism
Marc Plattner

Commentator: Abram Shulsky

Sunday, May 23

10:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Rousseau and the Self in Society
Chairman: James H. Nichols

Rousseau and the Cult of Sincerity
Arthur Melzer

Rousseau and Freud on Sexuality & Its Discontents
Joel Schwartz

Commentator: Roger Masters

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Revised: January 2nd, 2000