Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a colorful early life. Orphaned at ten, he moved in with a woman ten years his senior at sixteen. Their probable love affair is the subject of Stendhal's book Le Rouge et la Noir. Rousseau was friends and sometimes enemies with many major figures in the French Enlightenment. Although he did not live to see the French Revolution, many of Rousseau's path-breaking and controversial ideas about universal suffrage, the general will, consent of the governed, and the need for a popularly elected legislature unquestionably shaped the Revolution. The general will, the idea that the interest of the collective must sometimes have precedence over individual will, is a complex idea in social and political thought; it has proven both fruitful and dangerous. Rousseau's ideas have been respected and used by both liberals and repressive Communist and totalitarian leaders.
Rousseau, Of the Social Contract
- Book I-III, pp. 41-120
- Book IV, Chapter 8, pp. 142-151
This course provides an overview of major works of social thought from the beginning of the modern era through the 1920s. Attention is paid to social and intellectual contexts, conceptual frameworks and methods, and contributions to contemporary social analysis. Writers include Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Marx, Weber, and Durkheim.
This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Fall 2009.