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Modernity and Its DiscontentsMaking and Unmaking the Bourgeois from Machiavelli to Bellow$
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Steven B. Smith

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780300198393

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300198393.001.0001

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Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment: Letter to d’Alembert on the Theater

Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment: Letter to d’Alembert on the Theater

(p.175) Chapter 9 Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment: Letter to d’Alembert on the Theater
Modernity and Its Discontents

Steven B. Smith

Yale University Press

Rousseau is the first writer to signal a radical discontent with the Enlightenment and its creation, the bourgeois. He conveys this critique most powerfully in his denunciation of modernity’s great model of a kind of global civil society described as the “Republic of Letters.” In his First Discourse Rousseau excoriated the Enlightenment for corrupting manners and morals, but in his public Letter to d’Alembert he made clear his case against the Enlightenment’s program for social reform by attacking what he saw as d’Alembert’s reckless proposal for instituting a theater in Geneva. Here he uncovered all the dangers that later writers would call “unintended consequences.” Rousseau’s attack on the Enlightenment’s progressivism was carried out in the name of a new political form that he did much to create: the nation-state. He argued that the national ideal was superior to the universalism and cosmopolitanism of the Enlightenment.

Keywords:   Bayle, Pierre, Counter-Enlightenment, D’Alembert, Geneva, Hypocrisy, Koselleck, Reinhart, Nation-state, Republic of Letters, Theater

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