The Public Interest

Rousseau’s Legacy

Marc F. Plattner

Summer 1991

AS ARTHUR MELZER observes at the outset of this brilliant and powerful new study of Rousseau, there is virtually no one today who would identify himself as a “Rousseauian.” Yet more than 200 years after his death, the personality and the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau continue to exert an unparalleled fascination. For although his positive teachings no longer attract disciples, his analyses of the shortcomings of modern society and the dissatisfactions of modern man remain remarkably compelling. As historian Francois Furet has stated (in a passage quoted by Melzer), “Rousseau may well have been the most far-sighted genius ever to appear in intellectual history, for he invented, or sensed, so many of the problems that were to obsess the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”

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