Letter to Beaumont, Letters Written from the Mountain, and Related Writings (Collected Writings of Rousseau)
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Published between 1762 and 1765, these writings are the last works Rousseau wrote for publication during his lifetime. Responding in each to the censorship and burning of Emile and Social Contract, Rousseau airs his views on censorship, religion, and the relation between theory and practice in politics.
The Letter to Beaumont is a response to a Pastoral Letter by Christophe de Beaumont, Archbishop of Paris (also included in this volume), which attacks the religious teaching in Emile. Rousseau’s response concerns the general theme of the relation between reason and revelation and contains his most explicit and boldest discussions of the Christian doctrines of creation, miracles, and original sin.
In Letters Written from the Mountain, a response to the political crisis in Rousseau’s homeland of Geneva caused by a dispute over the burning of his works, Rousseau extends his discussion of Christianity and shows how the political principles of the Social Contract can be applied to a concrete constitutional crisis. One of his most important statements on the relation between political philosophy and political practice, it is accompanied by a fragmentary “History of the Government of Geneva.”
Finally, “Vision of Peter of the Mountain, Called the Seer” is a humorous response to a resident of Motiers who had been inciting attacks on Rousseau during his exile there. Taking the form of a scriptural account of a vision, it is one of the rare examples of satire from Rousseau’s pen and the only work he published anonymously after his decision in the early 1750s to put his name on all his published works. Within its satirical form, the “Vision” contains Rousseau’s last public reflections on religious issues.
Neither the Letter to Beaumont nor the Letters Written from the Mountain has been translated into English since defective translations that appeared shortly after their appearance in French. These are the first translations of both the “History” and the “Vision.”
Thus we do not need to pray for God’s grace to escape from evil in ourselves, but can in principle prevent it from arising in us by our own eVorts. This consoling teaching can be understood as a dualistic version of Rousseau’s own more radical account of natural goodness. Whether moral goodness has a foundation in nature in Rousseau’s thought depends upon a Wnal understanding of what he means by the “active principle” and “conscience,” and how he responds to the Archbishop’s—and the Vicar’s—challenging claim that the development of moral goodness from a single source in self-love cannot be accounted for.
Human language is not suYciently clear. God himself, if he deigned to speak to us in our languages, would not say anything that could not be disputed. Our languages are the work of men, and men are limited. Our languages are the work of men, and men are liars. Just as there is no truth so clearly enunciated that it cannot be quibbled with, there is no lie so crude that it cannot be buttressed with some false reason. Let us assume that an individual comes at midnight to proclaim to us that it is daytime.
11 The Archbishop accused Rousseau of being an agitator for atheism who takes “pleasure in poisoning the sources of public felicity. ” 12 Rousseau countered that not he but the dominant orthodoxies have “cruelly wounded humanity” by propping up with their authority the truly “abominable doctrines” that, unlike the “simple and pure” religion of the Savoyard Vicar, “inundate French Welds” with “rivers of blood. ” 13 The issues between them involve nothing less than the foundation and consequences of traditional natural law doctrines and of Christianity itself.
The Syndics had Councilors or assessors of their choice, who had only an advisory voice: for, not being named by the people, they were nothing for it but simple private men without Tribunal, without jurisdiction, without authority. Each Syndic chose four or Wve of them from among the citizens and their functions ended with his. Sometimes there were sixteen of them, sometimes eighteen, sometimes twenty. Their number was not Wxed and depended absolutely on the will of the Syndics. Nevertheless since they were the elite of the citizens and they acquired experience in business from their function, it very often happened that the newly elected Syndics 116 History of the Government of Geneva kept the councilors of their predecessors.
27 What! Hasn’t God written in the depth of our hearts the obligation to submit to him as soon as we are sure that it is he who has spoken? Now, what certainty do we not have about his divine word? The facts about Socrates about which no one doubts are, by the very admission of the author of Emile, less attested than those about Jesus Christ. Natural Religion thus leads itself to revealed Religion. But is it very certain that he acknowledges even natural Religion, or that at least he recognizes its necessity?