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Paris and patriotism

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In 1771, Rousseau was asked to write a constitution for Poland. He replied with The Government of Poland. It is his last political work. At one point he describes the sort of Pole he hopes to produce: his ‘love of the fatherland . . . makes up his entire existence: he has eyes only for the fatherland, lives only for his fatherland; the moment he is alone, he is a mere cipher; the moment he has no fatherland, he is no more; if not dead, he is worse-off than if he were dead’. On the face of it, this looks more like the description of a problem than any solution. I will explain how the mad patriotism of the Government of Poland is indeed a solution. I will treat it as a response to the general modern problem of ‘life in others’ that Rousseau found endemic to big cities such as Paris, and which he has Saint-Preux detail in his letters from Paris to Julie in Book II of La Nouvelle Heloise. I begin with a short account of life in others, follow this with an account of how patriotism solves this problem, and conclude with an attempt to make Rousseau's patriotism less frightening, more necessary, and slightly more possible than it seems at first glance.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Manitoba.

Publication date: April 1, 1991


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