Individualist and communitarian. Anarchist and totalitarian. Classicist and romanticist. Progressive and reactionary. Since the eighteenth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been said to be all of these things. Few philosophers have been the subject of as much or as intense debate, yet almost everyone agrees that Rousseau is among the most important and influential thinkers in the history of political philosophy. This new edition of his major political writings, published in the year of the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth, renews attention to the perennial importance of Rousseau’s work.
Most scholars who write on social contract and classical natural law perceive an irreconcilable tension between them. Social contract theory is widely considered the political-theoretic concomitant of modern philosophy. Against the regnant view, The Social Contract in the Ruins, argues that all attempts to ground political authority and obligation in agreement alone are logically self-defeating. Political authority and obligation require an antecedent moral ground. But this moral ground cannot be constructed by human agreement or created by sheer will—human or divine. All accounts of morality as constructed or made collapse into self-referential incoherence. Only an uncreated, real good can coherently ground political authority and obligation or the proposition that rightful government depends on the consent of the governed. Government by consent requires classical natural law for its very coherence.
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