The Most Absolute Authority: Rousseau’s Divided Legacy
Peter Hallward (Kingston University), Peter Hallward (Kingston University)

June 1, 2021, 2:00pm - 3:30pm
Arts, Monash University



Monash University

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This online Zoom event will take place on Tuesday 1 June 2021, 6pm Melbourne time (time conversion below).
  • Melbourne, Australia      Tue, 1 Jun 2021 at 6:00 pm AEST
  • New York, USA             Tue, 1 Jun 2021 at 4:00 am EDT
  • Los Angeles, USA          Tue, 1 Jun 2021 at 1:00 am PDT
  • London, United Kingdom    Tue, 1 Jun 2021 at 9:00 am BST

Open to the public. To receive the Zoom link for this event, please email [email protected].

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?

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