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  • Éduquer, gouverner: lire 'Émile, ou, De l'éducation' de Rousseau avec Michel Foucault by Valérie Pérez
  • Gemma Tidman
Éduquer, gouverner: lire 'Émile, ou, De l'éducation' de Rousseau avec Michel Foucault. Par Valérie Pérez. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2017. 242 pp.

In his Lettre à Christophe de Beaumont (1763), written following the condemnation of Émile, ou, De l'éducation (1762), Rousseau acknowledges that he has been many things to many readers: 'Après mon premier discours, j'étais un homme à paradoxes, […] maintenant je suis un impie; bientôt peut-être serai-je un dévot'. Valérie Pérez offers another perspective again, namely, that in Émile Rousseau was ultimately interested in what Foucault would call 'le gouvernement de soi et des autres'. Pérez's parallel reading of Rousseau with Foucault (and also other philosophers, including Spinoza, Deleuze, and Derrida), proceeds from two main contentions. The first is that Émile contributes to discourse on the art of government, which Foucault, in his Cours au Collège de France (1977-78 and 1978-79), identified as having emerged in the early modern period, and particularly in 'l'ère de la gouvernementalité': the eighteenth century. The second, stemming from the first, is that we can better understand Rousseau's educational thought if we reread it in the light of the philosophical concepts of government in which it was embedded. The study that follows bears out these claims. The first of the four chapters argues, in Deleuzian terms, that Rousseau remodels education by replacing the parent, précepteur, or priest (those who traditionally impose instruction) with the 'personnage conceptuel' (p. 21) of the gouverneur, who guides Émile towards the recovery of his natural freedom. The second chapter explores the pedagogical implications of education being a form of government that follows natural, not social, laws, and the third contends that Rousseau had what Foucault called 'le courage de la vérité', in that he sought, in Émile, to convince readers of 'the truth' about mankind and nature. The final chapter broadens out, arguing [End Page 437] that if Émile seeks to reveal such truths, Rousseau's autobiographical texts enact a similar quest for truth—in Foucauldian terms, 'une alèthurgie' (p. 171)—about the self. This chapter supports the case for continuity between Rousseau's works. One or two of the study's conclusions may raise questions for Rousseau scholars. Pérez contends that although Émile 'ne va pas jusqu'au bout de l'émancipation' (since Émile still requires guidance as a young adult), the text 'permet pourtant d['y] penser' (p. 178). However, the study neglects to mention Les Solitaires, the unfinished sequel to Émile, in which Émile continues to write to the gouverneur, and which might have supported, or nuanced, these conclusions about emancipation. Equally, if, with Émile, 'Rousseau assigne à la fiction la tâche de mettre la vérité à l'épreuve' (p. 149), it seems incongruous that Pérez often calls the text 'un traité d'éducation'. A clearer view of Émile's genre would have strengthened the claim that it is through fiction that Rousseau aims to convey truth. Notwithstanding these reservations, this philosophical essay makes a strong case for the continued relevance of reading—and reading with—Rousseau and Foucault, and it will particularly appeal to scholars interested in reading Rousseau through the lens of modern critical theory.

Gemma Tidman
Worcester College, Oxford


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pp. 437-438
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