Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Fundamental Political Writings
  • Publication Date: March 16, 2018
  • ISBN: 9781554812974 / 1554812976
  • 392 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Fundamental Political Writings

  • Publication Date: March 16, 2018
  • ISBN: 9781554812974 / 1554812976
  • 392 pages; 5½" x 8½"

This classroom edition includes On the Social Contract, the Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, and the Preface to Narcissus.

Each text has been newly translated and includes a full complement of explanatory notes. The editors’ introduction offers students diverse points of entry into some of the distinctive possibilities and challenges of each of these fundamental texts, as well as an introduction to Rousseau’s life and historical situation. The volume also includes annotated appendices that help students to explore the origins and influences of Rousseau’s work, including excerpts from Hobbes, Pascal, Descartes, Mandeville, Diderot, Voltaire, Madame de Staël, Benjamin Constant, Joseph de Maistre, Kant, Hegel, and Engels.


“This superb new collection will be of invaluable assistance to students and scholars alike. With judicious commentary and an excellent selection of supplementary writings, it provides in one volume the essential tools to understand Rousseau’s fundamental political ideas and their tremendous resonance in his own time, and ever since.” — Darrin M. McMahon, Mary Brinsmead Wheelock Professor of History, Dartmouth College

“This is an excellent classroom edition of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s key political works. It features clear, accessible translations of important texts — the First and Second Discourses, On the Social Contract, and, less conventionally, the Preface to Narcissus — and a well-chosen set of passages from canonical works designed to encourage comparisons, some of which influenced Rousseau, and some of which responded to him. In addition to providing important biographical details, the introduction beautifully situates the texts within the history of political thought.” — Melissa Schwartzberg, New York University

“The political writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau were immensely influential in their day and remain crucial for understanding contemporary discussions of diversity, rights, democracy, and the value of humanistic and scientific inquiry. This volume collects the key texts, including On the Social Contract in its entirety. Along with a useful overview of Rousseau’s life and career, it provides numerous thoughtfully selected excerpts from other thinkers. These illuminate the roots, context, and impact of Rousseau’s complex, often paradoxical interventions. Rousseau is a canny and controlled rhetorician, whose style ranges from terse simplicity to grandiloquence. Ian Johnston’s translation cleaves to the original while crisply rendering the author’s varied prose.” — James A. Steintrager, University of California, Irvine

“Readers of Rousseau are often frustrated that very few editions combine his great political writings into one volume. This edition does that, but also so much more. It includes Rousseau’s important Preface to Narcissus, as well as excerpts from many works that provide invaluable context for understanding Rousseau’s significance in the history of political thought. Williams’ and Maguire’s editorial introduction and notes offer an insightful and detailed guide through Rousseau’s text and beyond. An excellent edition for students and scholars.” — Jeffrey Church, University of Houston

“This superb volume introduces students to Rousseau’s principal political writings. The editors draw attention to the diversity of interpretations elicited by Rousseau’s writings and offer a robust introduction to the main angles and nuances of Rousseau’s political thought. The volume also presents the welcome inclusion of the lesser-known preface to Rousseau’s play Narcissus, in a new translation by Samuel Webb, and a comprehensive appendix of excerpts of key texts written by Rousseau’s predecessors, his contemporaries, French revolutionaries and modern philosophers, who have all grappled with his provocative and probing ideas in intriguing and diverging ways. Anyone interested in inequality, politics, philosophy and the challenges of modernity will benefit from this elegant volume. It makes for essential reading for students and specialists in political science, philosophy and the humanities.” — Masano Yamashita, University of Colorado Boulder

“The distinctive value of [this volume] comes from the editing…. The most interesting editorial choice was to include the Preface to Narcissus, which is rarely taught to students. To put a fine point on this decision, it is inspired. The Preface was written between the First and Second Discourse, and both develops the argument of the former discourse and anticipates the political argument of the latter. Importantly, it is in the Preface that Rousseau introduces the language of amour-propre and transforms his cultural critique of Parisian intellectual life into a political and economic one.” — Michael Locke McLendon, California State University, in Philosophy in Review

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: A Brief Chronology
Notes on the Translations

First Discourse: On the Sciences and the Arts
Preface to Narcissus, or the Lover of Himself (trans. by Samuel Webb)
Second Discourse: On the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality among Men
On the Social Contract

Appendix A: Points of Departure

  1. From René Descartes, Discourse on Method (1637)
  2. Blaise Pascal, “Letter to Monsieur and Madame Périer” (24 September 1651)
  3. From Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)
  4. From Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees (1705–23)
  5. From Samuel Pufendorf, On the Duty of Man and Citizen (1682)

Appendix B: Rousseau and His Contemporaries

  1. From Charles Bordes, Discourse on the Advantages of the Sciences and the Arts (1751)
  2. Charles Bonnet (or “Philopolis”) to Louis de Boissy (25 August 1755)
  3. Denis Diderot, “On Natural Right” (1755)
  4. Voltaire, “Letter to Rousseau” (30 August 1755)
  5. From Adam Smith, “Letter to the Authors of the Edinburgh Review” (1755–56)
  6. From Madame de Staël, “Letter V: On the Political Writings of Rousseau” (1788)
  7. From Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Preface to the Complete Works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1788–89)

Appendix C: Rousseau and Revolution

  1. From Abbé Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, “What Is the Third Estate?” (1789)
  2. French National Assembly, “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” (1789)
  3. From Joseph Lakanal, Report on Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1794)
  4. From Joseph de Maistre, On the Sovereignty of the People: An Anti-Social Contract (1794–95)
  5. From Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments (1815)

Appendix D: Rousseau’s Philosophical Legacies

  1. Rousseau’s Influence on Immanuel Kant
    1. From “Notes … on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime” (1764–65)
    2. From Dreams of a Spirit-Seer (1766)
  2. From J.G. Fichte, The Science of Rights (1796–97)
  3. From G.W.F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1821)
  4. From Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring (1878)

Works Cited and Select Bibliography

Matthew W. Maguire is Associate Professor of History and Catholic Studies at DePaul University. He is the author of The Conversion of the Imagination: From Pascal through Rousseau to Tocqueville (2006) and Carnal Spirit: The Revolutions of Charles Péguy (2018).

David Lay Williams is Professor of Political Science at DePaul University. He is the author of Rousseau’s Platonic Enlightenment (2007) and Rousseau’s ‘Social Contract’: An Introduction (2014), as well as co-editor of The General Will: The Evolution of a Concept (2015).

Ian Johnston is Emeritus Professor at Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia.