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The Politics of RomanticismThe Social Contract and Literature$
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Zoe Beenstock

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474401036

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474401036.001.0001

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Writing the Social Contradiction: Rousseau’s Literary Politics

Writing the Social Contradiction: Rousseau’s Literary Politics

(p.44) Chapter 2 Writing the Social Contradiction: Rousseau’s Literary Politics
The Politics of Romanticism

Zoe Beenstock

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter explores Rousseau’s account of the tension between community and individual by examining the Second Discourse and the Social Contract on the one hand, and Julie on the other. In his political theory Rousseau defines the state of nature as a mere fantasy which belongs to an optative imagined past. In leaving the state of nature, people trade basic needs for decadent desires. Rousseau introduces the general will as a practical device for managing the asociability of the private will, which is driven mainly by appetite. To safeguard the general will from its wayward members, individuals must form a social contract which transforms them into sociable beings. In Julie Rousseau explores the sacrifices that individuals make in joining the general will, as Julie is torn between personal desire on the one hand and social conformity on the other. Rousseau’s literature suggests that the two are incompatible and thus ‘judges’ his philosophy, exploring the deathly outcome of contract. Rousseau’s use of literature to critique the social contract constitutes his major legacy to British Romantic writers.

Keywords:   Rousseau, Social Contract, Julie, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, General will, Literary genre

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