Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Division of Labour, The Politics of the Imagination and The Concept of Federal Government


This is a book about the political thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Its aim is to explain why, for Rousseau, thinking about politics – whether as democratic sovereignty, representative government, institutionalised power, imaginative vision or a moment of decision – lay at the heart of what he called his “grand, sad system.” This book tracks the gradual emergence of the various components of that system and describes the connections between them. The result is a new and fresh interpretation of one of Europe’s most famous political thinkers, showing why Rousseau can be seen as one of the first theorists of the modern concept of civil society and a key source of the problematic modern idea of a federal system.

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Michael Sonenscher is a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. He is the author of Before the Deluge and Sans-Culottes: An Eighteenth-Century Emblem in the French Revolution, as well as the editor of Sieyès: Political Writings.
"There is much to like here, and students of Rousseau’s political thought will find many novel insights scattered throughout the book.The book is particularly helpful in working through the manner in which Rousseau’s later writings cast interpretive light on the earlier texts. Sonenscher’s book will be especially valuable to those in political theory, who tend to give short shrift to historical considerations". M. Harding in CHOICE, 58, 5 (January 2021).
Abbreviations Used in Footnotes and a Note on Citations

1 Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Marvellous in Life
 1 The Power of Prose
 2 Rousseau and Burke
 3 An Elusive System
 4 The Problem of Unity
 5 A Cumulative Process
 6 The Mystery of Federalism

2 The Fénelon Problem
 1 The Many Dimensions of Reform
 2 Rousseau and Montesquieu
 3 Markets, Politics and Reform
 4 Rousseau and the Fénelon Problem

3 The Division of Labour and the Political Economy of the General Will
 1 Population and Subsistence Goods
 2 Perfectibility, Autonomy and the Idea of a Federal Government
 3 The Social Contract
 4 Gradated Promotion and the General Will
 5 Taxation and Representation
 6 The Federal Dimension of Rousseau’s Thought

4 The Politics of the Imagination
 1 The Language of Signs
 2 The Origins of the Imagination
 3 The Genealogy of Love
 4 The Imagination and the Social Contract

5 Conscience and the Structure of Federal Government
 1 A Simulacrum of Virtue
 2 The Origins of Conscience
 3 The Power of Enchantment

6 Rousseau’s Legacy
 1 Theodicies and Their Properties
 2 From Metapolitics to Civil Society
 3 Theories of the Political State
 4 Lorenz von Stein
 5 Rudolf von Jhering
 6 The Concept of Sovereignty
 7 Otto von Gierke
 8 Epilogue: the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Problem in Historical Context

Historians, historians of political thought, and anyone interested in French literature. Keywords: federalism, civil society, political economy, sovereignty, law, money, social contract, Montesquieu, physiocracy, women, gender, music, language, Stein, Jhering, Jellinek, history of political thought.