Kapossy argues that some of the most powerful and insightful criticism of Rousseau came from his Swiss contemporaries. He surveys eighteenth–century Swiss republican responses to Rousseau's political thought, especially by Basle's secretary of state, the noted political philosopher Isaak Iselin.
Kapossy shows that the core of the Rousseau and Iselin dialogue consisted of their respective assessments of whether Swiss republican city–states should or should not adjust to the changing economic and political realities of Enlightenment Europe. Like other Swiss reformers, Iselin feared that Switzerland would be left behind in the race to modernise unless the Swiss could find ways to benefit from the positive side of recent developments of the European economy and to avoid its drawbacks. These reformers were sympathetic to Rousseau's moral critique of commercial society but failed to appreciate, or even to comprehend, his vision of Switzerland's future. Iselin himself considered Rousseau as a corrosive sceptic and rejected his theory of the general will as a Hobbesian idea and impractical to boot. Iselin's first book, The Patriotic and Philosophical Dreams of a Friend of Mankind (1755), laid bare the contradiction between Rousseau's denial of the natural sociability of man and his enthusiasm for republican patriotism. The more influential sequel, The History of Mankind (1764), was the most comprehensive republican response and refutation of Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Inequality published in the eighteenth century, providing an important and wide–ranging alternative paradigm. Primarily, Iselin presented a new philosophical or conjectural history of human sociability, demonstrating the plausibility of a commercial society based of foundations other than mere institutionalised egoism.
Individual Swiss city–state had their own distinct republican traditions and Kapossy shows that it is impossible to understand the full message of Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality without knowing its Swiss, and not only Genevan, republican context. He therefore surveys contemporary republican controversies not only in Basle and Geneva, but also in Zurich and especially in Berne, which was seen in eighteenth–century Europe as a genuinely Machiavellian military republic. Kapossy reconstructs the broad spectrum of eighteenth–century Swiss and European political argument more accurately than any previous commentator of either Rousseau or Iselin. The book does not only alter our view of the Swiss contribution to the political thought of the Enlightenment but also highlights many of the more strikingly sceptical and pessimistic facets of Rousseau's republicanism that less historically and contextually minded interpreters of his thought have overlooked.
|Format||16 x 22.5 cm|