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

The Legacy of Rousseau





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.

Lecture Series Schedule

Autumn 1992

Tuesday October 27

The Problem of the Bourgeois
Werner J. Dannhauser

Wednesday November 11

Rousseau & the Origins of Nationalism
Marc Plattner

Wednesday December 2

Rousseau & the Case Against (and For) the Arts
Christopher Kelly

Winter 1993

Wednesday January 20

Rousseau and the Cult of Sincerity
Arthur Melzer

Wednesday January 27

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

Wednesday February 10

Rousseau & Freud on Sexuality and Its Discontents
Joel Schwartz

Spring 1993

Wed. April 7

Privacy and Community
Steven J. Kautz

Wednesday April 21

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

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©1999, 2000 The John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy, University of Chicago
Revised: January 2nd, 2000