The Most Absolute Authority: Rousseau’s Divided LegacyPeter Hallward (Kingston University), Peter Hallward (Kingston University)
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Peter Hallward (Kingston University), ‘The Most Absolute Authority: Rousseau’s Divided Legacy’.
‘The most absolute authority’, Rousseau writes, ‘is that which penetrates to man's inmost being, and affects his will no less than it does his actions.’ The famous account of a ‘general will’ that Rousseau then develops as a way of understanding the depth and breadth of such penetration can be understood in two ways. On the hand, Rousseau’s emphasis on political psychology seems to cross a threshold in the long history of modern power, from a Hobbesian emphasis on forceful compulsion and outward obedience through Marx’s analysis of the ‘golden threads’ of capitalist coercion to Foucault’s analysis of the mechanisms whereby power comes to work directly on the inward dynamics of the psyche. On the other hand, Rousseau’s account of a general will also helps to clarify what needs to be done, in situations structured in dominance and hierarchy, to acquire and sustain a capacity for collective, egalitarian and autonomous self-determination. Rousseau can either be denounced as the architect of a newly sinister ‘soulcraft’, or embraced as the revolutionary prophet of mass emancipation. Which path should we choose? And how far do they diverge?
May 31, 2021, 5:00am +10:00