Rousseau's Controversial Legacy
Well into our times, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) remains a complex and controversial figure. In this course, we will explore some of these controversies, beginning with contemporaries of Rousseau who found a great inconsistency between his philosophical and autobiographical selves. For instance, Voltaire anonymously questioned his sincerity by revealing that he had abandoned the five children he had with his servant, while Mary Wollstonecraft decried his denial to women of the same basic rights claimed for men—a critique still echoed in contemporary feminist criticism. We will then explore views of Rousseau that emerged after his death, when he was seen as a champion of individualism, at the nexus of Revolution and Romanticism, by both counter-revolutionaries and radicals. Hippolyte Taine went further and wrote that Rousseau’s collectivism led inevitably to tyranny and despotism, only to be superseded by Cold War liberal scholars, such as Karl Popper, who claimed that his thinking contained the seed of totalitarianism. Finally, the history of modern educational theory is a series of footnotes to Rousseau. We will explore Rousseau’s continued influence on the pedagogical practice of his near contemporaries Pestalozzi and Mme de Genlis, and on later pedagogues, such as Maria Montessori and John Dewey.
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