Rousseau as Author: Consecrating One's Life to the Truth / Edition 2

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $26.00
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 10%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (12) from $26.00   
  • New (8) from $26.00   
  • Used (4) from $28.99   


For Rousseau, "consecrating one's life to the truth" (his personal credo) meant publicly taking responsibility for what one publishes and only publishing what would be of public benefit. Christopher Kelly argues that this commitment is central to understanding the relationship between Rousseau's writings and his political philosophy.
Unlike many other writers of his day, Rousseau refused to publish anonymously, even though he risked persecution for his writings. But Rousseau felt that authors must be self-restrained, as well as bold, and must carefully consider the potential political effects of what they might publish: sometimes seeking the good conflicts with writing the truth. Kelly shows how this understanding of public authorship played a crucial role in Rousseau's conception—and practice—of citizenship and political action.

Rousseau as Author will be a groundbreaking book not just for Rousseau scholars, but for anyone studying Enlightenment ideas about authorship and responsibility.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226430249
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2003
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 218
  • Sales rank: 1,319,867
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Kelly is a professor of political science at Boston College. He is the author of Rousseau's Exemplary Life and coeditor of The Collected Writings of Rousseau.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Rousseau As Author: Consecrating One's Life to the Truth

By Christopher Kelly

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © C2003 Christopher Kelly
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226430243


Rousseau's life was full of quarrels with former friends and associates, including the vanguard of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, people such as Grimm, Diderot, Hume, d'Holbach, d'Alembert, and Voltaire. Anyone with reverence for intellectual life who examines these episodes closely must be dismayed by the petty vindictiveness, refusal to tolerate disagreement, and unscrupulous actions that frequently characterized them. In this regard, the intellectual quarrels of the eighteenth century hardly differ from those with which we are familiar today. Because of Rousseau's pattern of difficult and sometimes even undeniably paranoid behavior, it is tempting to explain away his side in these quarrels as simply a function of his peculiar personality. Nonetheless, profound differences on matters of principle frequently played a large role in them in ways that are not always readily apparent. A prime illustration of the mixture of deeply personal matters and important principles can be found in a series of entanglements between Rousseau and Voltaire centering on the issues of anonymity, false attributions, and naming names.

These events allow Rousseau's understanding ofauthorship to stand out in sharp relief in comparison to the very different understanding held by Voltaire, the most famous writer among his contemporaries. Both men behaved with remarkable consistency, but in entirely opposite ways. The consistency of their behavior reveals profoundly different understandings of authorship and responsibility. We can grasp the nature and significance of these alternative understandings if we call into question our own anachronistic assumption that it is natural for an author's name to appear on a book.


Not long after Rousseau fled from France following the condemnation of Emile in June 1762, a woman who had been very moved by the "Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar" composed a letter to him expressing her admiration and seeking spiritual guidance. Not knowing where Rousseau had settled and apparently believing in the solidarity of men of letters, she mailed the letter to Rousseau in care of Voltaire. Upon receiving this testimony of regard for a man he no longer respected, Voltaire responded by mailing the pious woman a copy of the Oath of the Fifty, a scandalous antireligious work he had published anonymously the year before and that he had publicly denied he had written. Because Voltaire had not indicated that the pamphlet was from him, the astonished woman assumed that it had been sent by Rousseau and may have thought that he was its author. Straightening out this misunderstanding caused Rousseau a certain amount of trouble at a time when his life had been disrupted.

This was not the first time Voltaire had encouraged the attribution of one of his own anonymous works to Rousseau. Earlier the same year he had published another attack on Christianity, Catechism of the Honest Man, putting on the title page initials that pointed to Rousseau as the author of this antireligious book. Readers more than two centuries later are likely to be amazed by Voltaire's behavior in these cases, but in the eighteenth century this was only a striking example of widespread practice and could be justified as sensible prudence accompanied by a degree of personal malice. Neither of these actions was at all out of character for Voltaire. He regularly published works anonymously and then denied his authorship, and he frequently attributed works he wished to disown to other people with or without their consent.

Less than a year after Voltaire's prank concerning the Oath of the Fifty, Rousseau retaliated in a fashion when he published Letters Written from the Mountain, which defends the Social Contract and Emile against their censorship by Geneva. In the fifth letter Rousseau suggests that the Genevan authorities had been foolish in their rush to condemn Emile. He says that, rather than acting so rashly, they should have consulted Voltaire (who at that time lived just outside of Geneva and was in regular contact with leading members of the government), who would have responded by calming them. Rousseau then puts into Voltaire's mouth a speech in which the latter asserts that works of reasoning such as Rousseau's do no harm because so few people understand them and points out that the Genevans had tolerated much more daring works written by Voltaire himself. In the midst of this speech, Rousseau's Voltaire exclaims:

Of all the follies of men, to reason is the one that harms the human race the least, and one sees even wise people infatuated with that folly sometimes. I do not reason, myself, that is true, but others do reason; what harm comes from it? See such, such, and such work; are there anything but pleasantries in these Books? Myself in the end, if I do not reason, I do better; I make my readers reason. See my chapter on the Jews [in the Essay on Morals]; see the same chapter more developed in the Oath of the Fifty. (Mountain, CW 9:225; Pl. 3:799)
By inventing this speech, Rousseau appears to make Voltaire himself admit that he was the author of a work he had frequently denied writing.

It would be hard to exaggerate Voltaire's rage when he read this. While his opinion of Rousseau had never been extremely high and their relations had been steadily deteriorating for several years, he now decided that Rousseau was not only insane, but also a traitor of the worst sort. To the terms of ridicule he had previously heaped on Rousseau in correspondence with mutual acquaintances, he now added the additional one of "police informer" (delateur). He used this term in numerous letters in which he complained about Rousseau's attribution of the Oath to him. Within days of reading the offending passage in Letters Written from the Mountain, he published (anonymously, of course) the pamphlet Sentiment of the Citizens, in which he revealed personal secrets about Rousseau, told some half-truths, and simply fabricated some scandalous stories about him. In addition, not being satisfied with accusing Rousseau of being a police informer, he decided to become one himself. This time he wrote to Genevan authorities in his own name urging that they take action against the departures from religious orthodoxy in Letters Written from the Mountain, implying that Rousseau should be sentenced to death in absentia. Although there is little reason to believe that Voltaire seriously wished to have Rousseau executed, he certainly did want to stir up trouble for him, and in this he was quite successful. The ferocity of his retaliation indicates Voltaire's outrage at the possible danger caused by this breach of his anonymity, in spite of the fact that his authorship of the Oath was known to Rousseau only because it was a quite open secret already. Having spent six months in the Bastille and a period of time in exile years before, Voltaire was acutely sensitive to the risks involved in writing controversial works. In fact, his decision to reside near Geneva was influenced by his desire to be close to foreign territory if a rapid flight from France became necessary.

Rousseau was deeply wounded by the anonymous Sentiment of the Citizens, although he never learned the identity of its author. Dismissing as preposterous the rumor that such a clumsy work had been written by Voltaire, he attributed the pamphlet to the Genevan minister Jacob Vernes, who had been publicly saying some of the things contained in it. Rousseau decided to retaliate against Vernes by having the pamphlet reprinted in Paris (where he assumed his public reputation would cause people to dismiss the slanders against him) and named Vernes as the author (Confessions, CW 5:530; Pl. 1:632). Although he gave up this plan after receiving assurances from Vernes and others that he was mistaken, Rousseau persisted in his belief and softened his attribution only to a statement of the reasons that led him to suspect Vernes.

A final episode in the sequence of events involving Rousseau and Voltaire occurred a couple of years later. After Rousseau took refuge in England in 1766, Voltaire struck once again. He published the Lettre de M. de Voltaire au docteur Jean-Jacques Pansophe (published immediately in England as A Letter from Mr. Voltaire to Mr. Jean-Jacques Rousseau). A few months later, in a letter to David Hume, Rousseau made the plausible accusation that Voltaire had published this work in an effort to turn the English against him. Rousseau's complaint was made public not by Rousseau himself, but by Hume's publication of his letter as part of his own quarrel with Rousseau. Voltaire responded by publishing the Letter from M. de Voltaire to Mr. Hume in which he denied that he was the author of the Letter to Pansophe and cited Rousseau's attribution of the work to him as proof that Rousseau was an unscrupulous liar. Moreover, Voltaire continued his effort to discredit Rousseau by writing to friends denying his authorship of the Letter to Pansophe and giving suggestions about who might have written it. He even wrote to these supposed authors accusing them of stirring up trouble for him by using his name.

Rousseau's behavior throughout this sequence of events is very consistent. In a book he published under his own name, he named Voltaire as the author of a work the latter had in fact written. He responded to an anonymous attack by publicly naming its presumed author and to a nonanonymous attack by complaining about it privately. While Rousseau was inflexible with regard to naming himself on his own works, he was not always so intransigent with respect to others. He exposed Voltaire and Vernes because their (in the case of Vernes) presumed attacks were so personal in nature. In other cases he was reasonably careful to leave anonymous authors with their anonymity intact. For example, he almost always carefully referred to "the author of the Pensees philosophiques" or "the author of De l'esprit," even though it was well known that Diderot and Helvetius were the authors of these works. In a reference to The Spirit of the Laws in the Second Discourse, he shows his respect for the fact that Montesquieu had published this work anonymously by referring only to an "illustrious philosopher" (CW 3:21; Pl. 3:136). At the end of his life, Rousseau returned to the issue of authors' concealment of their identities in the Reveries. While he persisted in condemning such practices and used the example of Montes-quieu's anonymous Temple de Gnide to illustrate them, he did so without naming Montesquieu as the author. Thus, as Victor Gourevitch has observed, Rousseau's personal commitment to honesty did not require that he expose everyone else's secrets; although, as we have seen, it did permit exposure under certain circumstances.

Voltaire's behavior was equally consistent in the opposite direction. He denied writing works he had written and attributed them to others. He clearly regarded Rousseau's openness as not only imprudent but as wickedly irresponsible because it encouraged persecutors. While it might be tempting to dismiss this lamentable sequence of events by referring to Rousseau's supposed paranoia and Voltaire's characteristic vindictiveness, the consistency of their behavior is evidence of profoundly different understandings of authorship. They, along with some of their contemporaries, shared the perception that public opinion could become a force in the world and the desire to use their own status as authors to shape this new force. We can gain insight into their views by examining features of their authorship and the explanations they gave for these features.


If we open a first edition of one of Rousseau's books--for example, the Social Contract--on the title page we see the name of the book, Rousseau's name along with the designation "Citizen of Geneva," and the indication that the book was published in Amsterdam by the publisher Rey in 1762. None of this is likely to be taken as very noteworthy by a reader today, but we should not allow expectations based on our normal experience to conceal the importance of this title page. Rousseau's decision to open his works with accurate and complete information was a distinct departure from the practice of many of his contemporaries who wrote controversial books. This is not to deny that there were some instances in which Rousseau departed from or allowed publishers to depart from his rule of complete openness, but generally he consented to such practices only reluctantly and when yielding to advice against his better judgment. What is striking about Rousseau's case is the relatively few exceptions to his policy of openness.

Today the anonymous publication of a book like Primary Colors is likely to cause a sensation, but in the century or so leading up to the beginning of Rousseau's literary career in 1750, seminal books of the Enlightenment such as Descartes's Discourse on Method, Spinoza's Tractatus, Locke's Two Treatises on Government, Hume's Treatise of Human Nature, and Mon-tesquieu's Spirit of the Laws and Persian Letters all were originally published anonymously. By the time Rousseau's first important works were published, his best friend Diderot had published numerous books such as the Pensees philosophiques, Les Bijoux indiscrets, and the Lettre sur les aveugles, all of them anonymously and some clandestinely or with a false indication of place of publication. It may always be true that one cannot judge a book by its cover, but in Rousseau's day one could also not judge it by its title page, which could lie about the author, publisher, place and date of publication. Indeed, at times prohibited books made new appearances under a misleading title so that one could not even be confident that the title on the title page was genuine.

These deceptive practices were, in large part, responses to a complex system of censorship. Legal publication in France and elsewhere usually required prior consent from government-appointed censors who could deny publication for a variety of reasons. By law, books could be suppressed on the grounds that they undermined the government, morals, or religion, or because they attacked individuals. In practice, however, there are examples of censors preventing the publication of books on the grounds that they were poorly written or because someone with influence did not want them to be published. Voltaire's observation that legal permission to publish depended on whether the censor happened to be the friend of one's friend or the friend of one's enemy was an accurate one. This arbitrary and capricious system made publication into a sort of lottery. It must be added that success in running the obstacle course of prior censorship did not confer immunity from prosecution. Helvetius, for example, found cold comfort in the tacit permission he received for the publication of De l'esprit in 1758 when the book was condemned immediately after publication, and he avoided prosecution only by making a public disavowal of its contents.

Chretien-Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes--whose tenure in the position of director of publishing corresponded with the major part of Rousseau's literary career--attempted to make liberal use of this illiberal system that he inherited from his predecessors. Malesherbes was guided both by his sympathy for unorthodox books and by his concern for French commercial interests. Part of the function of the office of the book trade was to help French publishing against foreign competition, and if a book was denied permission for publication in France, it was quite possible that it would be published abroad and, therefore, that sales would benefit publishers in other countries. Malesherbes was acutely aware of this tension between censorship and support of a national publishing industry. His concern went hand in hand with his desire to increase the circulation of enlightenment in France.

As a consequence of these two concerns, Malesherbes governed the book trade with what Rousseau called "as much enlightenment as gentleness, and to the great satisfaction of literary people" (Confessions, CW 5:428; Pl. 1:511). For example, he made frequent use of censors who were sympathetic to controversial causes. In one notable instance, he appointed d'Alembert as the censor of Rousseau's Letter to d'Alembert on the Theatre, and d'Alembert announced that he approved the work for publication even without reading it. In this instance and others, Rousseau was the beneficiary of Malesherbes's administration, although when Emile was attacked by the Parlement of Paris, Malesherbes showed that his loyalty was more to the system than to Rousseau. In any event, from the beginning Rousseau's satisfaction did not extend to the system Malesherbes administered.

Malesherbes was particularly troubled by one peculiar consequence of prior censorship: when his office let a book pass censorship, it not only allowed publication, but also (in effect) endorsed its contents. In other words, official permission appeared to be a recommendation, a sort of Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Because of this, censors might be tempted to avoid taking sides on every conceivable intellectual dispute by simply turning down any questionable book. To address this problem, Malesherbes greatly extended the use of tacit, or as he called it "illegal," permission to publish. When the office controlling the book trade was willing to tolerate a book but wanted to avoid giving the appearance of endorsing its contents, it notified the publisher that permission for publication was denied but also unofficially informed him (or in some cases, her) that it would not prosecute a discreet publication. Books published with tacit permission often gave a foreign city as the place of publication and usually were published anonymously to avoid punishment for the author if the book happened to be suppressed by some other public authority later on. Michel Foucault has argued that during this period "anonymity was of interest only as a puzzle to be solved," but it might be more accurate to say that anonymity was embraced as the solution to the problem posed by censor-ship. In sum, books published with tacit permission were books whose very existence depended on no one taking public responsibility for them, not the censors, not the publisher, and most definitely not the author.

One reason that the authorities did not object to anonymous publication of controversial works is that these books would often appear and disappear unnoticed, whereas books known to be written by a famous author would be read more seriously and by more people. Consequently, when the censors knew that a famous author's name was going to appear on a book, they looked at it especially closely because they knew it would be popular. As might be expected, Rousseau's policy of naming himself as an author led him into regular clashes with both the censors and his publishers. Friends, publishers, and even sympathetic government officials constantly urged him to behave as everyone else did, but he insisted on confronting the entire system of censorship head-on. He was quite resentful of friends who reproached him for putting his name on Emile (Confessions, CW 5:482; Pl. 1:526). When, at the prompting of Malesherbes himself, his publisher advised him to drop his name from the title page of the Social Contract, he refused. He was irritated at the decision of another publisher (also in response to urging from Malesherbes) to publish an edition of Emile in France with the pretense that it was printed in Holland.

Most successful writers, unlike Rousseau, were content to adapt to the repressive conditions in which they found themselves by embracing this evasion of responsibility. Rousseau's acquaintance the baron d'Holbach, for example, attributed his own works of antireligious materialism (which were published clandestinely and abroad) to other writers, sometimes to authors of sound reputation and impeccable orthodoxy who had recently died and could not deny the attribution. Voltaire, in particular, incessantly counseled his followers that "one must never present anything under one's name." He chided anyone foolish enough to ignore this advice. In a marginal note to his copy of the Letter to Beaumont, he blamed Rousseau for bringing persecution on himself by naming himself as author of his books, unlike Spinoza, who "did not name himself." As we have seen, he himself regularly used pseudonyms, false attributions, and anonymity. Not only did he frequently issue public statements denying his authorship of books he had in fact written, but he also made such denials to friends so that, without knowing that they were doing so, they would spread the lie. While Voltaire is, perhaps, the most expert practitioner of this strategy, he was far from being the only one. In fact, he was quite willing to give lessons to other writers in these tactics.

Within the context of censorship and the danger of imprisonment, the basic reasons behind Voltaire's policy of anonymity and false attribution are easy enough to grasp. He spelled them out clearly in a series of letters he wrote to Helvetius in 1763. In these letters Voltaire stresses that not only is there no disharmony between devotion to truth and concern for one's own safety, but, in fact, service to enlightenment depends on attending to one's own interest. Because the strength of its opponents depends crucially on their good reputation among the powerful, enlightenment will be served well only if it destroys this support. Therefore, it is necessary to make these opponents look ridiculous through the use of satire and even possibly libelous attacks. There are two dangers in pursuing this policy. First, there is the obvious one of running afoul of the censors or prosecutors. Second, there is the less obvious, but equally important, fact that one's own reputation can suffer if one is known as the author of works indulging in purely personal attacks. Anonymity solves both problems. Voltaire's analysis leads directly to his avowed maxim, "Strike and conceal your hand."


Although Voltaire's letters to Helvetius were written thirteen years after Rousseau's First Discourse and the situation for writers had begun to worsen in the intervening years, these letters still capture the atmosphere in which Rousseau began his literary career. In fact, the early stages of this career followed a well-traveled path similar to the one advised by Voltaire. When Rousseau was twenty-seven--long before he became famous--he published an autobiographical poem, "Le Verger de Madame la Barrone de Warens." Not only did he publish this work anonymously, but its title page indicates that it was published in London by a nonexistent publisher when it was, in fact, published in either Lyons or Chambery. Later he did publish his Dissertation on Modern Music and some poems with his name attached, but none of these works were of the sort that could cause trouble for an author.

Shortly before Rousseau had the "illumination" that led to the writing of the First Discourse, he and Diderot planned a joint publication of a journal called Le Persiffleur (the Banterer) modeled on the Spectator. In Rous-seau's draft of what was intended to be the first issue, he refers to "the two principal dispositions" of the presumably single author. He says, "By the first I find myself wisely foolish, by the other foolishly wise" (Pl. 1:1110). Although this and other similar statements are often read as an early account of the oscillation of Rousseau's own personality, it seems simpler and more plausible to read them as an account of two different writers publishing under a single pseudonym.

A large part of the draft consists of a statement of principles in which Rousseau insists on the importance of impartial criticism of books and the need to banish from the journal "every personal criticism or observation" concerning authors (Pl. 1:1107). He concludes that the effort to preserve impartiality requires that the identity of the author of Le Persiffleur remain unknown. At this point Rousseau saw anonymity as a crucial contribution to "consulting only reason and speaking only the truth" (Pl. 1:1112). Prior to the "illumination," then, Rousseau fully embraced what could be called the conventional practices of authors of even mildly unconventional works.

Rousseau's clear reflection on issues involved in anonymous publishing is strong evidence that when he changed his practice, he did so because of his deepening reflection on the significance of the practice he was rejecting, rather than because of an unreflective attachment to self-exposure. In any event, it is clear that Rousseau took some time to convert himself to his new position. In the Confessions he says that once the First Discourse had made him a celebrity, he undertook a complete moral reform, but that he only gradually put his behavior into harmony with his principles (Confessions, CW 5:303-8; Pl. 1:362-68). As part of this reform, he decided to use his fame to set a new example of behavior for literary people.

It seems clear that a part of this reform was the decision to attach his name to his publications, a decision that he implemented more and more consistently from 1751-53 (see table, next page). Because Rousseau was relatively inexperienced as a published author and, moreover, was quite ill, Diderot attended to the details of the publication of the First Discourse. Given that Diderot himself had only recently been released from a prison term brought about by his Letter on the Blind, it is hardly surprising that Rousseau's Discourse was published (in January 1751) with no indication of who the author was beyond the statement "By a Citizen of Geneva." By the end of the year, however, the work had been reissued several times, the last one with Rousseau's name attached.

Over the next couple of years, Rousseau anonymously published the first of his replies to critics of the Discourse and several pamphlet contributions to the quarrel between the adherents of French and Italian music. By the end of both series of publications, Rousseau attached his name to his contributions. During the same period he allowed his opera The Village Soothsayer and his play Narcissus to be performed without attribution, but he openly acknowledged both upon their publication in 1753. He even took great pride in proclaiming his authorship of the play when it flopped. With only one exception, after the anonymous publication of the Letter from a Symphonist in September 1753, he always put his name on his publications, even owning works such as "The Queen Fantastic" when they were published without his permission. In short, over this period of frantic literary activity during which he published a new work every couple of months, he completed the reversal of a policy that he had earlier accepted without reservation.

In several of the key publications of this period, Rousseau instituted what became a favorite practice of putting his name into the very title of his work. He later gave a strong endorsement of this practice in a response to an inquiry from his publisher Rey, who had asked if Rousseau wished to publish his Letter to d'Alembert anonymously. Rousseau answered, "Not only will you be able to name me; but my name will be in and will even constitute its title" (Leigh 5:70). The actual title of the Letter is, then, J. J. Rousseau Citizen of Geneva, To M. d'Alembert of the French Academy, the Royal Academy of Sciences of Paris, the Prussian Academy, the Royal Society of London, the Royal Academy of Literature of Sweden, and the Institute of Bologna: On his Article GENEVA in the Seventh Volume of the Encyclopedia and Particularly on the project of establishing a Dramatic Theater in that City. Similarly the actual title of the Letter to Beaumont is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Citizen of Geneva, to Christophe de Beaumont, Archbishop of Paris, Duke of St. Cloud, Peer of France, Commander of the Order of the Holy Spirit, Provider of the Sorbonne, Etc. In the titles of these works, he makes explicit the juxtaposition between his own status as a simple Genevan to the exalted conventional status of his opponent. In each of these works, the juxtaposition sets the stage for a radical reversal of status.

If Foucault is right when he declares, "Speeches and books were assigned real authors, other than mythical or important religious figures, only when the author became subject to punishment," Rousseau is a prime example of someone who embraced the risks of authorship and, thereby, brought its role in society to the fore. He made authorship into a public identity and made a willingness to risk punishment for what one published into a crucial part of this identity.


Rousseau's effort to make authorship into a particular sort of public identity necessarily entailed an effort to raise the status of this identity. In this, as in other things, his approach can be understood in relation to that of Voltaire. The latter's change of name from Arouet to the more noble-sounding Arouet de Voltaire brought him some respect, but it also earned some ridicule even from supporters like Diderot. Very early in his career, Voltaire was brutally taught the lesson that the acknowledgment of his talent counted for little among French aristocrats when talent came into conflict with the privileges connected with a title. His writings frequently lament the precedence of hereditary privilege over talent, but he remained extremely sensitive about his status. Thus, he left himself open to the charge made by Stendhal that "one is only too much aware that Voltaire would have traded all his genius for noble birth."

When he was eighteen, Rousseau briefly attempted to pass himself off as a Parisian musician with the more noble-sounding name of Vaussore de Villeneuve with comically disastrous results (Confessions, CW 5:124-25; Pl. 1:147-50); but when he reached maturity, he made no effort to imitate Arouet de Voltaire. While Rousseau received no beatings at the hands of the servants of aristocrats (although one employer, the count de Montaigu, threatened to have him thrown out of a window), he also learned early that the prerogatives of rank and nobility took precedence over both talent and justice in France (Confessions, CW 5:273-76; Pl. 1:323-28). Nevertheless, he was willing to let his own genius and his own name stand against kings and refused to listen to the objection that "since I am only a man of the people, I have nothing to say that deserves the attention of readers" (Confessions, CW 5:586; Pl. 1:1150).

Rousseau first undertook his elevation of the status of author in the very work that could be said to have introduced his policy of rejecting anonymity: the first pamphlet in which he went so far as to make his own name part of his title, Observations by Jean-Jacques Rousseau of Geneva on the Reply Made to His Discourse. This was a response to a criticism of the Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts written by a well-known anonymous author of a very special sort, the former King Stanislaus of Poland, who was also the father of the queen of France. Although Stanislaus had published his "Reply" anonymously, Rousseau was quickly informed of the identity of his opponent and knew that the public would also be aware of it. Rousseau later said, "I seized the occasion I was offered to teach the public how a private man could defend the cause of truth even against a sovereign" (Confessions, CW 5:307; Pl. 1:366). Given that his Observations takes issue with a figure of such stature, it is not surprising that Rousseau's friends urged him not merely to remain anonymous but to refrain from publication altogether.

Precisely because he is writing in opposition to an author who is both anonymous and known to be a king, Rousseau opens the Observations by arguing that social status should have no significance in intellectual disputes. Taking this opportunity to make his earliest published statement on natural equality, he insists that his deference to his opponent will not affect his response because "whenever reason is at issue, men return to the right of Nature and resume their original equality" (Observations, CW 2:37; Pl. 3:35). Social status is irrelevant because all authors are equal in principle. He adds to this rejection of authority by dismissing Stanislaus's appeal to the names of famous writers to support his position (CW 2:50; Pl. 3:52). Neither the title of one's opponent nor the famous names of his authorities carry any weight in rational debate.

One might think that this insistence on equality could lead to an endorsement of anonymity comparable to the one given in Le Persiffleur. Anonymity would be the solution to the problems caused by inequality of social status or reputation--anonymous authors being in principle indistinguishable and therefore equal. In fact, Rousseau does assert, "Truth is so independent of those who attack it and those who defend it, that the Authors who dispute over it ought mutually to forget each other" (CW 2:40; Pl. 3:40). He immediately says that this rule is impossible to follow in the present situation. Even though Stanislaus had published anonymously, his identity was known. As a result, truth cannot be the simply decisive factor in their public debate. Rousseau must find something other than natural equality to level the playing field, or to tip it in his favor.

Accordingly, after his preliminary effort to dismiss authority based on either political status or literary reputation by appealing to natural equality, Rousseau takes the second step of constructing a rival form of authority based on personal conviction and exemplary behavior rather than conventional status. He does this not by praising himself directly, but by describing the success of Christianity in spreading a doctrine that, like his own, does not favor the learned or the powerful. He says, "Twelve poor fishermen and artisans undertook to instruct and convert the world. Their method was simple. They preached without Art but with an earnest heart; and of all the miracles with which God honored their faith, the most striking was the saintliness of their life" (CW 2:45; Pl. 3:45). Thus earnestness and living one's life as a model for emulation can be sources of personal authority that can convert large numbers. Rousseau himself devotes much of his art to developing a reputation for artlessness and earnestness. In sum, he sees a connection between the success of his doctrine and his status as a new kind of author whose authority is linked with his personal character rather than his credentials.

While Rousseau was correct in his judgment that Stanislaus would not attempt retribution, his effrontery in usurping the superior status of the king did not escape the attention of a young writer living under Stanislaus's patronage. In 1755 the young playwright Charles Palissot de Montenoy satirized Rousseau's behavior and even his lack of an aristocratic name in his play Le Cercle ou Les Originaux. A character easily identifiable as Rousseau, but called simply "The Philosopher," says, "I have given several works to the public; and while one sees so many authors who blush at their name, because they do not find it noble enough, I had the courage to affix mine, and to teach anyone who wanted to know that I am called Blaise-Gilles-Antoine, the cosmopolitan." His noble interlocutor replies to this plebian name, "One needs philosophy indeed to put up with a name like that one." In spite of such mockery, or assisted by the additional publicity it gave him, Jean-Jacques, as he came to be generally known, was immensely successful at using his common name to win over readers.

Rousseau's distinctive practice of putting his own name on his books is coupled with an equally distinctive practice of refusing to dedicate those books to influential patrons or potential patrons. Rousseau's only works containing dedications are The Village Soothsayer, dedicated to his friend Charles Duclos, who had been instrumental in arranging a performance of this opera, and the Second Discourse, dedicated to the republican city of Geneva. This decision to shun protectors was consciously made (Confessions, CW 5:321; Pl. 1:382), and Rousseau steadfastly refused to listen to hints that dedications and works written in praise of the powerful could be useful to him (Confessions, CW 5:463; Pl. 1:554). He insisted on standing alone without the sort of supports aspired to by other writers.

The insistence on attaching his name to his books and on renouncing dedications to the powerful were only two elements in Rousseau's bold policy of defying or reversing authority. When censors demanded alterations in order to allow publication, he frequently resisted. For example, he refused to accept most of the suggested changes to Julie on the grounds that the censor was attempting to rewrite his novel. When the government censor of his abridgment of the abbe de Saint-Pierre's Project for Perpetual Peace demanded that he change a sentence, Rousseau refused and suggested that his wording be left as it stood and that the censor's version be inserted on a separate sheet as an erratum (Saint-Pierre, Pl. 3:580 n. 1 to p. 580). It is hardly surprising that Rousseau's suggestion was rejected since it would increase the provocative character of his original formulation by making his disagreement with the censor as conspicuous as possible.

This is not to say that Rousseau failed to exercise any caution. As Heinrich Meier has shown in his definitive edition of the Second Discourse, Rousseau removed excessively bold passages from his works even at late stages of the publication process. Also, he was occasionally willing to use others as a partial cloak for opinions he wished to support. This was his intention when he undertook to edit the abbe de Saint-Pierre's works, although in this instance he quickly concluded that this strategy was a mistake (Confessions, CW 5:342, 356; Pl. 1:407, 423-24). He did use characters such as the Savoyard Vicar and Julie as the mouthpieces for unorthodox religious teachings. Rousseau complained bitterly when the opinions expressed by his characters were attributed to him, and both characters do express some opinions that Rousseau did not share (Dialogues, CW 1:70; Pl. 1:749-50; and Beaumont, CW 9:100; Pl. 4:1029).


Excerpted from Rousseau As Author: Consecrating One's Life to the Truth by Christopher Kelly Copyright © C2003 by Christopher Kelly. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

Responsible and Irresponsible Authors

The Case for (and against) Censorship

The Case for (and against) Art

Heroic and Antiheroic Citizens

"A Hermit Makes a Very Peculiar Citizen":
Rousseau and Literary Citizenship

Philosophic Good and Bad Faith

Postscript: Philosophers and the Friend of the Truth


Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)