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Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1712–1778)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a French Enlightenment philosopher and polymath who wrote on a wide variety of topics, including education, economics, psychology, drama, and music, for which he developed a new system of notation. His best-known works, however, are in political thought. He remains one of the most important theorists of what is now termed positive liberty, the notion that individuals must be encouraged or even coerced into being free.

Rousseau was born in Geneva, then a small but independent city-state, and throughout his life he prided himself on his Genevan citizenship. That city would remain an ideal for him throughout his political writings, particularly for its austere virtues, military prowess, and classical republican spirit. He built his political thought around two ideas that were common to ...

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