In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviews135 Our present sociocultural situation — torn between revisions of a technological idyll, where power is called upon to neutralize power, and sharply ironic exposés of such visions — suggests that the romantic dichotomy may continue to haunt us in exponentially more intense ways. University of GeorgiaJoel Black Rousseau's Political Imagination: Rule and Representation in the Lettre à d'Alembert, by Patrick Coleman; 193 pp. Geneva: Droz, 1984, $16.00. In his careful reconstruction of Rousseau's rather tortuous argumentation in this neglected work, Coleman investigates the extremely close relationship in Rousseau's thought between the forms of language dictated by the cultural environment of the author and the creation of a legitimate political order. The Lettre is especially useful in tracing the evolution of Rousseau's thought from the Discours sur l'inégalité to die major works of die early 1760s. Coleman shows how d'Alembert's description of die religious beliefs of the Genevan pastors and his suggestion of die establishment of a public theater there stimulated Rousseau to consider both abstract principles of morality as well as their practical political consequences. Coleman's study is divided into six chapters that follow the text of the Lettre very closely, with the exception of Rousseau's reaction to Molière, which is treated in a concluding chapter. Chapter 1 investigates the problem of religious belief following directly from d'Alembert's analysis of the so-called Socinianism of the Genevan pastors. Rousseau notes that die political state must concern itself with both public and private spheres of thought and action, thus presaging his famous chapter on civil religion in the Contrat Social. More important to the argument of the Lettre is the postulate that, since Geneva is not a rich city, it needs public examples of austerity which should be furnished by its clergy. Life in a political state must always be a spectacle involving a willing suspension of belief for the good of the state. This leads directly to the topic treated in Chapter 2, the theater itself. Rousseau's main objection to any form of theater in contemporary Europe is that it is incapable of embodying a character worthy of being used as an example by all citizens. Comedy leads only to role-playing and tragedy to despair and inaction. The third chapter is devoted to a study of various forms of texts. It is in this section of die Lettre that Rousseau initiates another theme that he will develop in his major works, the necessity of public ceremonies or fêtes. Chapter 4 on social and political identity is particularly helpful in showing why Rousseau could not admit women to his political state. First Rousseau establishes a parallel between actors and women, both of whom must rely on appearances in order to entice their public into action. Second, 136Philosophy and Literature women must be confined to the domestic scene because, without this private outlet, the male citizen would become completely regularized and lose all sense of initiative without which no political state can long endure in a legitimate way. As Coleman makes clear in his fifth chapter, a city such as Geneva must stimulate in its citizens a sense of aesthetic taste, best done through various representations of freedom, including publicfêtes, military parades, and cercles or male discussion groups. However, as Coleman points out, none of this answers the fundamental political question: who may claim the moral authority to make decisions in a political state? This leads into Coleman's final chapter on Rousseau's critique of Molière in which all the preceding themes are brought together. His conclusion is that Rousseau's thought in the Lettre continues to reflect the paradox ofhis own twofold political goals: first, the questioning of"all forms of belief and opinion in the name of truth," and, second, the search for "ways by which governments may properly favor the dictates of local tradition over those of abstract principles" (p. 169). This problem is at die heart of Rousseau's slowly maturing political and social thought, and Coleman is most successful in showing how Rousseau's thought was developing even as he wrote the Lettre. Coleman's final conclusion...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 135-136
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.