The Public Interest

Moist eyes—from Rousseau to Clinton

Clifford Orwin

Summer 1997

READERS of The Public Interest know that ideas have consequences, sometimes long delayed ones. Even so, the notion of a link between Rousseau and Clinton may seem tenuous. Except, perhaps, to a certain kind of codger, who would snort that the two had at least one thing in common: their obvious moral depravity. And that snort would be justified, at least to this extent: The goodness that both men have sought to project—and compassion has been important to them primarily as evincing this goodness— is for both of them a substitute for virtue. And this entitles us to regard Clinton as the beneficiary of a moral upheaval instigated by Rousseau.

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