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The revolutionary festival and Rousseau's quest for transparency

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I have in this paper used Rousseau's advocacy of popular festivals, and through this his no less influential appeal to Antiquity, as ways of connecting his thought with important aspects of the French Revolution, aspects which Rousseau can be seen to have inspired. To connect Rousseau with the Revolution is in no way to make of him a proponent avant la lettre of what J.L. Talmon called ‘totalitarian democracy’. This unfortunately influential concept is in my opinion an oxymoron of dubious applicability even to our own, sad century -- and of no application at all to a century in which the word ‘totalitarian’ had no meaning and, indeed, did not exist. As to democracy, I am content to regard Rousseau's fervent advocacy of radical, participatory democracy as being as unalloyed as any political argument can be.

Keywords: Antiquity; Revolution; Rousseau; Talmon; festival; totalitarian democracy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of California, Berkeley.

Publication date: April 1, 1997


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