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Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1712–1778)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who lived most of his life in France but sometimes identified himself as “a citizen of Geneva,” was a philosopher who wrote novels, letters, autobiographical reflections, and essays that advanced positions that were at once provocative and paradoxical. He is remembered most for his political thought, which is both a critique of existing monarchies and a reaction against the Enlightenment and the then revolutionary individualism of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. His writing first gave impetus to the French Revolution, later lent weight to the Romantic movement, and continues to be studied for its attempt to confront, define, and solve the problem that political societies are inescapably made up of naturally asocial creatures. His several solutions to this problem join in offering a ...

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