Rousseau vs. the cosmopolitans

From The Imaginative Conservative. Rousseau may be another enemy thinker whom I haven’t given enough credit.

Rousseau refers to the commercial man as a “bourgeois” whose existence hinges upon the thin and shallow ethic of “politeness.” [13] Politeness epitomizes both falseness and hypocrisy. Polite citizens, Rousseau quips, possess the “appearance of all the virtues without having a single one.”[14] The polite, bourgeois individual desires to get ahead, so he pretends to care about the needs of others, even if he harbors contempt for them in his heart.

Commercial individuals only live together in society incidentally and share no common attachment to their Fatherland. Indeed, Enlightened commercialists possess more loyalty to their specialized profession than to their country. “We have Physicists, Geometricians, Chemists, Astronomers, Poets, Musicians, Painters,” Rousseau complains, but “we no longer have citizens.”[20] In the absence of a fatherland, these pseudo-citizens turn their gaze to all of humanity. Rousseau posits that this attention to “humanity” is a thinly veiled effort on the part of individualists to dispense with any meaningful civic duties that may threaten their private pursuits. “Distrust the cosmopolitans,” he admonishes, “who go to great lengths in their books to discover duties they do not deign to fulfill around them. A philosopher loves the Tartars so as to be spared having to love his own neighbors.”[21] A principal issue with the Enlightenment, Rousseau proclaims, is its institutionalization of this very cosmopolitanism: “National hatreds will die out, but so will the love of the Fatherland.”[22] A healthy political society would recognize the unique habits, customs, morals, and beliefs that make its regime distinctive. Cosmopolitanism, in contrast, makes “for a mixture of all peoples that must inevitably have destroyed the morals and customs of each of them.”[23]

2 Responses

  1. Chartlon/Steiner really had a good point about finding the middle way between two kinds of evil. One is the materialistic, the amoral, the cynic, the Enlightened, Voltaire. The other is the fanatic of Virtue, who tolerates nothing but perfect(ly Utopian) behavior, the Puritan, or Rousseau.

    And it is really strange because of course they hated each other and these extremes still do. A finding a middle way is hard because it does not fit into the usual friend/enemy thinking.

  2. both Voltaire and Rosseau went off their respective deep ends because of their lack of God.

    Rosseau sounds like the typical secular leftist nationalist: staging the revolution to tear down divinely-ordered structures (instead of simply fixing up details), then wondering why the nation cannot keep together afterwards. it’s doctor Frankenstein distressfully wondering why his monster is not human. by comparison, Voltaire doesn’t mind having having his pet monster – he likes to be feared.

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