The Autocritique of Enlightenment: Rousseau and the Philosophes

The Autocritique of Enlightenment: Rousseau and the Philosophes

by Mark Hulliung
     
 

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Of all the critiques of the Enlightenment, the most telling may be found in the life and writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This searching, long overlooked autocritique receives its first full treatment by Mark Hulliung. Here he restores Rousseau to his historical context, the world of the philosophes, and shows how he employed the arsenal of Voltaire, Diderot, and

Overview

Of all the critiques of the Enlightenment, the most telling may be found in the life and writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This searching, long overlooked autocritique receives its first full treatment by Mark Hulliung. Here he restores Rousseau to his historical context, the world of the philosophes, and shows how he employed the arsenal of Voltaire, Diderot, and others to launch a powerful attack on their version of the Enlightenment.

With great intellectual skill and rhetorical force, Rousseau exposed the inconsistencies and shortcomings of the Enlightenment: the psychology of Locke, the genre of philosophical and conjectural history, the latest applications of science to the study of society and politics, and the growing interest in materialist modes of thought. As the century moved on, Hulliung shows, the most advanced philosophes found themselves drawn to conclusions that paralleled Rousseau’s—an agreement that went unacknowledged at the time. The Enlightenment that emerges here is richer, more nuanced, and more self-critical than the one reflected in many interpretations. By extracting Rousseau from personal entangle­ments that stymied debate in his time and that mislead critics to this day, Hulliung reveals the remarkable—and remarkably unacknowledged—force of Rousseau’s accomplishment. This edition includes a brilliant new introduction by the author.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The book is beguilingly written with a fine sense of the telling phrase and effective use of modern colloquialisms . . . This is never a dull book, and . . . it is certainly a provocative one.”

—Peter Jimack, French Studies [UK]

“Arguing that studies of the Enlightenment have tended to ignore Jean-Jacques Rousseau and that accounts of Rousseau have typically overlooked his debts to the Enlightenment, Mark Hulliung convincingly portrays Rousseau as both a creature and a critic of the Enlightenment. Rousseau emerges from this immensely learned study as an “autocritic” of Enlightenment, expert in the conventions of eighteenth century thought, who turned the weapons forged by the Enlightenment onto the movement itself. The great service of this book lies in its revealing the fundamental philosophical disagreements that lay at the heart of a quarrel that, by the end of Rousseau’s life, had degenerated on both sides into ad hominem attacks. For Hulliung, the battle of Rousseau and the philosophes becomes nothing less than a debate on the nature, limits, and promise of the Enlightenment itself.”

—James Schmidt, Journal of the History of Philosophy

“Hulliung argues that Rousseau. . . turned out to be the French Enlightenment's harshest critic after breaking with the Parisian circle that included Holbach, Diderot, d'Alembert, Helv'etius, et al. His thesis is supported by his analysis of Rousseau's positions on natural man, social relationships and behavior, the general will, virtue, self-interest, and other themes dear to the age. . . . This excellent and thorough study. . . reinstates Rousseau as a most independent, original, and dogged thinker whose opposition to the presumed virtues of urban mores and social values enriched rather than undermined the project of enlightenment.”

—D. A. Collins, Choice

“Mark Hulliung's The Autocritique of Enlightenment. Rousseau and the Philosophes. . . is a fighting book. His first objective is to rescue Rousseau from appropriation as a pre-Kantian or a pre-Romantic, insisting that both his intellectual formation and the problems to which he addressed himself situate him at the heart of the Enlightenment. Where he differed from the other philosophes was in the clarity and penetration of his thought, which contrasted with their evasions and self-contradictions, and in his readiness to make his life conform to his convictions. . . . [This book] has much to teach anyone who is interested in the Enlightenment's attempts to extend the realm of reason over areas that had previously been governed by faith. On the need for that, both Rousseau and his opponents could agree.”

—Norman Hampson, The English Historical Review

“We misinterpret both Rousseau and the whole movement of the Enlightenment for want of understanding the relationship between the two. Previous scholars have either made Rousseau a member of the Enlightenment and ignored his critique of it or emphasized his critique but removed him from the Enlightenment. . . . Hulliung’s. . . fine book is the first full-length history of this crucial, internal debate between Rousseau and the philosophes. . . . Intuitive with precision, written in a pointed, brisk, confident style, it paints portraits through the rapid accumulation of remarks and observations. It is well researched and copiously annotated. . . . [I]ndispensable.”

—Arthur M. Melzer, The American Political Science Review

“Hulliung makes a persuasive case for viewing Rousseau as an insider in the ‘little flock’ of philosophes. . . . Hulliung has as wide and deep a command of Enlightenment texts as one would want. His is a major contribution to Enlightenment studies and will challenge eighteenth-century scholars to fruitful debate over whether Rousseau should be considered a critic or an ‘autocritique’ of Enlightenment.” —Emmet Kennedy, American Historical Review

“Hulliung’s book raises new questions about Rousseau’s role in the Enlightenment.”

Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

“Hulliung’s purpose is to use a reconsideration of Rousseau to rehabilitate the Enlightenment on several fronts. . . . What he has succeeded well in doing is giving us a context in which to pursue further research and a glimpse of an Enlightenment well-equipped to defend itself against its critics because it is capable of self-criticism.”

—Christopher Kelly, The Review of Politics

“Hulliung writes as a sober, even a wary partisan of the Enlightenment, but of a denser, richer, more complex Enlightenment than what he regards as the rather two-dimensional, reductionist Enlightenment of the standard histories. The standard histories tend to treat Rousseau as not properly belonging to the Enlightnement, if only because he so consistently and explicitly criticizes it. . . . Hulliung builds his case by setting Rousseau’s views side by side with those of the Philosophes on a number of central issues.”

—Victor Gourevitch, Political Theory

The Autocritique of Enlightenment has an intriguing line of argument. Its juxtaposition of Rousseau and the philosophes on the nature of the self, egoism, science, and religion is quite new . . . An elegant work.”

—Patrice Higonnet, Harvard University

“What is truly wonderful in The Autocritique of Enlightenment is an easy, sovereign command of the whole of French social and cultural thought from Pascal to the Revolution. Hulliung’s erudition is so all-encompassing that he can, en passant, make incidental but very telling points. I cannot think of another study which so quickly and brilliantly brings out all of Rousseau’s rapports with (but also self-distancing from) the central intellectual figures who surrounded him.”

—Patrick Riley, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Booknews
Hulliung (politics and history, Brandeis U.) restores Rousseau to his historical context, the world of philosophes, and shows how he employed the arsenal of writers such as Voltaire and Diderot to launch a powerful attack on their version of the Enlightenment. He discusses subjects including cultural versus political history, the psychology of Locke, and materialist modes of thought. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
French Studies [UK]
The book is beguilingly written with a fine sense of the telling phrase and effective use of modern colloquialisms...This is never a dull book, and...it is certainly a provocative one.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781412853644
Publisher:
Transaction Publishers
Publication date:
03/19/2014
Pages:
319
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)

Meet the Author

Mark Hulliung is Richard Koret Professor of the History of Ideas at Brandeis University. He is the author of The Autocritique of Enlightenment, available from Transaction.

Mark Hulliung is Richard Koret Professor of the History of Ideas at Brandeis University. He is the author of The Autocritique of Enlightenment, available from Transaction.

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