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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.)
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Minutes after a tornado hit Shiloh, Illinois, in April that the town’s warning siren sounded:
A bowl of 4,000-year-old noodles was found in northwestern China; and a spokesman for the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that “this is the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found.”
Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, announced that he has ordered the country’s navy and coast guard to bomb the ships of kidnappers even if civilian hostages are on board.
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"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."