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Levinas Studies

Volume 2, 2007

Claire Katz
Pages 133-152

Educating the Solitary Man: Levinas, Rousseau, and the Return to Jewish Wisdom

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) opens his book The Social Contract (1762) with his famous statement, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” An Enlightenment thinker, Rousseau understands himself to be responding to the two dominant traditions of political thought at this time: the voluntarist tradition of Hobbes, Pufendorf, and Grotius; and the liberal tradition of Locke and Montesquieu. The latter group argues that civil society exists to protect certain natural rights, one of which is liberty. The former group supports an absolute monarchy (benevolent or not), with the famous statement by Hobbes, as its signature: in the State of Nature, life is nasty, poor, brutish, and short. The only solution is to surrender one’s freedom to the sovereign and thus escape the brutality and depravity of life in the state of nature.

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