Rousseau, Jean Jacques°

views updated


ROUSSEAU, JEAN JACQUES ° (1712–1778), French author and philosopher, born in Geneva. The international influence that Rousseau exerted on his contemporaries and on posterity was unequaled in European history until the impact of Karl Marx a century later.

The political ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau have contributed in large measure to the emancipation of the Jews, at first in France and later in other Western European countries. His educational theories had a direct effect on the *Haskalah movement which developed in Jewish circles during the following century. Rousseau not only demanded equal civic rights for the Jews; he also, uniquely among French writers of the Enlightenment, expressed the hope that they would be restored to a country of their own: "I do not think I have ever heard the arguments of the Jews as to why they should not have a free state, schools, and universities where they can speak and argue without danger. Then alone can we know what they have to say" (Emile, Book 4, tr. B. Foxely (1911; repr. 1966), 268). In a page unpublished in his lifetime, Rousseau expressed his admiration for the national qualities of the "eternal people":

"The Jews present us with an outstanding spectacle: the laws of Numa, Lycurgus, and Solon are dead; the far more ancient ones of Moses are still alive. Athens, Sparta, and Rome have perished and all their people have vanished from the earth; though destroyed, Zion has not lost her children. They mingle with all nations but are never lost among them; they no longer have leaders, yet they are still a nation; they no longer have a country and yet they are still citizens…"


L. Poliakov, Histoire de l'antisémitisme, 3 (1968), 118–26; P.M. Masson, La Réligion de Rousseau (1916).

[Leon Poliakov]