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Melodic Communities: Music and Freedom in Rousseau's Political Thought

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Abstract:

Rousseau's extensive writings on music provide an important, though underutilized perspective on his political thought. In this article the author argues that Rousseau's understanding of music provides him with a critical standpoint, political ideal and educative tool for evaluating and reshaping political communities. Through his insistence that music's emotional appeal derives from melody rather than harmony, Rousseau ties music to language and to the shared sentiments that underlie and define a given society. By emphasizing the affective basis of social bonds, Rousseau draws on the qualities of musical melody to articulate a vision of politics in which societies are held together by persuasion and agreement rather than force or self-interest. Reading Rousseau's political thought in light of his views on music, the author suggests, makes it possible to distinguish between formal and substantive conceptions of freedom in his work and highlights the complementary roles that music and the lawgiver play in forging the shared sentiments that constitute political freedom.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Political Science, Hartwick College, 1 Hartwick Drive, Oneonta, NY 13820, USA, Email: voorheesm@hartwick.edu

Publication date: 2011-01-01

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