KIMBALL: “The politicians we call “liberal” today  (the irony is, alas, that they tend to be profoundly illiberal, about which more in a moment) are witting or unwitting followers of the philosopher Rousseau. They take three things from Rousseau. One is a certain abstract utopianism. “Man is born free,” Rousseau wrote at the beginning of The Social Contract, “but is everywhere in chains.”  Neither part of that proposition is true, but liberals swoon to its activist music. What must we do to cast off those fetters and return to paradise? Rousseau’s philosophy is a narcissist’s dream which means that the individual is everywhere flattered but also everywhere discarded.  “I think I know man,” Rousseau sadly acknowledged towards the end of his life, “but as for men, I know them not.”

The ghostly character of the individual in Rousseau’s philosophy accounts for the second thing liberals take from him:  a quick embrace of coercion as an element of policy. Rousseau was always going on about “forcing” people to be free and bringing mere individual wills into line with something he called “the General Will.”  So it is that modern liberals  clothe their meddlesomeness with the cloak  of sanctimony: it’s for your own good, you see, that we’re telling you how to live your life, conduct your business, what car to drive, what food to eat, etc., etc.

A lot more might be said about the debt, emotional as well as philosophical, modern liberalism owes to Rousseau.  But my point here is to highlight to what extent Governor Perry’s advice departs from the Rousseauvian narrative. Stand up. Challenge the “entitlement mindset.” Stop trying to curry favor with those whose view of the role of government is fundamentally different from your own.  These are open-air, adult, contra-Rousseauvian prescriptions.”

[READ ROGER KIMBALL’S “Rick Perry vs. Jean Jacques Rousseau” at Pajama Media.]

Rick Perry at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, LA on 6/18/2011:


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