No Comment, Quotation — December 20, 2008, 8:48 am

Rousseau on Government and the People

rousseau

Des divers ouvrages que j’avois sur le chantier, celui que je méditois depuis longtems, dont je m’occupois avec le plus de gout, auquel je voulois travailler toute ma vie, et qui devoit selon moi mettre le sceau à ma réputation étoit mes Institutions politiques… mes vues s’étoient beaucoup étendues par l’étude historique de la morale. J’avois vu que tout tenoit radicalement à la politique, et que, de quelque façon qu’on s’y prit, aucun peuple ne seroit jamais que ce que la nature de son Gouvernement le feroit être; ainsi cette grande question du meilleur Gouvernement possible me paroissoit se reduire à celle-ci. Quelle est la nature de Gouvernement propre à former un Peuple le plus vertueux, le plus éclairé, le plus sage, le meilleur enfin à prendre ce mot dans son plus grand sens. J’avois cru voir que cette question tenoit de bien près à cette autre-ci, si même elle en étoit différente. Quel est le Gouvernement qui par sa nature se tient toujours le plus près de la loi? De là, qu’est-ce que la loi?

Of the various works that I had in progress, which engaged me the longest in contemplation, and at which I worked with the greatest satisfaction, upon which I would have gladly worked my entire life, and which would have placed the seal upon my reputation was my Institutions politiques… my views had been greatly extended by the study of the history of manners. I had come to see that everything was connected radically to politics, and that, no matter what course one followed, no people could be of a nature other than that which its government gave it; and thus this great question of the best possible government seemed to me to be reduced to just that. What is the nature of the right government which will create the most virtuous, the most enlightened, the most wise people, in the end to take this word in its greatest sense. I had thought this question close to another even if it was different. What is the government which by its nature adheres today most closely to the law? And from that, what is the law?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions, bk ix (1770) in: Œuvres complètes vol. 1, pp. 404-05 (Pléiade ed. 1959)(S.H. transl.)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2015

One Day Less

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dressed to Kill

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Wrong Prescription?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Travel Day

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fugue State

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Avian Voices·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The mockingbird’s bath is an orgy of thrashing and writhing about. When he has finished, one of the innocents alights on the rim of the basin and looks with disbelief at the thimble of water remaining.”
Illustration by Eric Hanson
[Browsings]
Before the War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’m worried that what the Houthis did to push Yemen into a civil conflict in September 2014, the Saudis may end up doing again when they end their campaign by eliminating the Houthis.”
Photograph by Alex Potter
Article
The Speakeasy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In order to understand how Marty’s could survive as an institution, I returned a year after my first visit to spend a week at what was sure to be the world’s bleakest comedy club.”
Photograph by Mike Slack
Post
The Lost Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I had first encountered some of these volumes—A Swiftly Tilting Planet, The Giver—as a child, and during adolescence, they registered as postcards from a homeland recently abandoned.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Wrong Prescription?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whatever the slogans suggested, the A.C.A. was never meant to include everyone.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery

Estimated cost of the environmental damage caused each year by the world’s 3,000 largest companies:

$2,200,000,000,000

Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.

Beekeepers began extracting 1 million honeybees living beneath the siding of a house in New York State.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today