Rousseau and Emerson?

I came across this interesting quote from Lytton Strachey’s Landmarks in French Literature. Discussing Rousseau and romanticism, he said:

Rousseau was the first to unite the two views, to revive the medieval theory of the soul without its theological trappings, and to believe—half unconsciously, perhaps, and yet with a profound conviction—that the individual, now, on this earth, and in himself, was the most important thing in the world.

The full paragraph from which this quote is taken follows:

But Rousseau was not, at bottom, concerned with the truth of any historical theory at all. It was only because he hated the present that he idealized the past. His primitive Golden Age was an imaginary refuge from the actual world of the eighteenth century. What he detested and condemned in that world was in reality not civilization, but the conventionality of civilization—the restrictions upon the free play of the human spirit which seemed to be inherent in civilized life. The strange feeling of revolt that surged up within him when he contemplated the drawing-rooms of Paris, with their brilliance and their philosophy, their intellect and their culture, arose from a profounder cause than a false historical theory, or a defective logical system, or a mean personal jealousy and morbid pride. All these elements, no doubt, entered into his feeling—for Rousseau was a very far from perfect human being; but the ultimate source was beyond and below them—in his instinctive, overmastering perception of the importance and the dignity of the individual soul. It was in this perception that Rousseau’s great originality lay. His revolt was a spiritual revolt. In the Middle Ages the immense significance of the human spirit had been realized, but it had been inextricably involved in a mass of theological superstition. The eighteenth century, on the other hand, had achieved the great conception of a secular system of society; but, in doing so, it had left out of account the spiritual nature of man, who was regarded simply as a rational animal in an organized social group. Rousseau was the first to unite the two views, to revive the medieval theory of the soul without its theological trappings, and to believe—half unconsciously, perhaps, and yet with a profound conviction—that the individual, now, on this earth, and in himself, was the most important thing in the world.

It is hard to not think that one could replace “Rousseau” with “Emerson” in the above text. I’ve not read anything by Rousseau, but am tempted to do so.

Posted in: Thoughts on September 26, 2012 | 2 Comments »
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2 Comments
  1. On September 27, 2012 at 12:33 am Jim Foster Said:

    The most important decision we make is where we are going to live, where we are to locate our selves as we grow and mature and adjust to life around us. This is important because where ever we have a roof over head, warmth to give day and night comfort, a place to contemplate all of the worlds problems and holdings – that is what we think is reality because our minds are conditioned to our natural setting as real reality or completely unreliable and dangerous. This also makes us choose a place that is safe and enjoyable- so we have the best of both worlds.
    From there on we choose to stay at home or go out to collect necessary survival supplies or check out entertainment. When we solve problems it is with the sense that our chosen environment has given us a means of security and comfort. We lock the door and then we are really safe. We store money, we collect food, we distribute money made from our plans to keep obtaining more items that guarantee a place we can stay and defend and maintain daily life and a family with the same comforts. All this survival and comfort becomes much more difficult when we are traveling and have no place planned to go. Then we are looking for that special place we call home.

  2. On September 27, 2012 at 4:38 am Bill Merklee Said:

    Indeed. I may need to add Rousseau to my reading list.

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