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Rousseau, Maistre, and the counter-enlightenment

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In this paper, I argue that Rousseau is an important precursor of the Counter-Enlightenment. To this end, I will examine the parallels between his partial critique of the Enlightenment and that of Joseph de Maistre, whose work represents one of the most comprehensive and systematic indictments of the central ideas and objectives of the Enlightenment. Despite his frequent denunciations of Rousseau's ideas and influence, Maistre shares with him a profound concern for what he takes to be the disastrous social and political ramifications of eighteenth-century ideas, and he selectively appropriates many of Rousseau's arguments to support his own, more radical critique of the Enlightenment. Between 1749, when Rousseau's Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts first appeared, and the publication of Maistre's Soirées de Saint-Petersbourg in 1821, a movement gradually developed against the Enlightenment, culminating in a complete rejection of its central ideas and assumptions by many writers of the early nineteenth century. Rousseau is a crucial figure in this movement. His writings, beginning with his first discourse, contain one of the earliest major critiques of the Enlightenment project. In a sense, Maistre's works are the consummation of many of the ideas and arguments first directed against the Enlightenment by Rousseau.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Balliol College, Oxford.

Publication date: 1994-01-01

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