Thank you for taking the time to read this reflective essay on an interpretation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophy. I do appreciate your insights on individualism and human nature. Admittedly, this was a point I should have fleshed out more in my article. It has been a while since I read the Leviathan in detail. Perhaps, when I do so, I’ll write an article exploring the concept of human nature considering the views of Hobbes, as well as those of Rousseau and Peterson. I think any understanding of human nature must be grounded in both group and individual. A multi-disciplinary approach (philosophy, psychology, anthropology) is probably best.

I do have to take issue with what your dismissal of my critique of postmodernism. I realize I did not cover the ground thoroughly here, but pursuing that topic would have changed the direction of the article away from Rousseau. My dismissal of postmodernism is not simply based on the fact that I do not like its implications. Postmodernism is impractical, has provided little or real value to civilization since it emerged, and seems to exist only in environments divorced from real-world experience (a series of philosophies for the ivory tower). I have read many twentieth-century French and postmodern philosophers: mostly Foucault but also Derrida, Lacan (and several historians inspired by Lacan), Helene Cixous, Judith Butler, and Richard Rorty. I think Camille Paglia’s critiques of Foucault are spot on. His work is derivative of thinkers such as Erving Goffman. Additionally, Foucault overemphasizes the power idea while not taking into proper account competence. This is something Jordan Peterson touches on in his critique of postmodernism generally. I known Peterson said he has read Madness and Civilization as well as some Derrida. Beyond that, I do not know how much postmodern sources he has read. I found Derrida’s texts quite unreadable. The historians Stanley and Barbara Stein, influenced by the philosophy of Jacques Lacan, wrote Silver, Trade, and War in a particularly bad writing style. I am using this as an example because the ideas explored are quite engage but the way it was written was just awful. Postmodern philosophic writing does itself a huge disservice. Camille Paglia has described postmodernists as being like ‘high priests’ muttering to themselves in this elitist language. As a side not, the notion of using impenetrable jargon goes back to the Persian polymath and alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan (c.721-c.815). Some linguists[1] have even speculated that the term ‘gibberish’ derives from his Latinized name ‘Geber.’ The etymology is likely apocryphal.

On Marx, I think we will disagree. I will not spend too much time here going over Marx as the only work by him that I have read is The Communist Manifesto. I will say that I sympathize with some of the concerns he voiced but abhor the conclusions. My dismissive attitude toward Marx is strengthened by the fact that every Marxist regime of the twentieth century has turned into a murderous, authoritarian, dystopia. As an undergrad, I flirted with leftist ideals but increasingly found that those who promote them are either unaware of the realistic implications of restructuring political power or using such ideals as a cover for bitterness and resentment. I found Jordan Peterson’s critiques of both fascism and communism to be the most important political contributions of his online lectures.

In short, I think that Postmodernism and Marxism take a few important insights and draw rather extreme conclusions. I am speaking broadly here, of course.

I do want to address a final point. I think our interest in the individual and collective (as well as the interaction between both) is essential to understanding both human nature and the current political landscape. There is much talk about tribalism in politics. Nationalism is a form of tribalism. Tribalism, however, cannot simply be brushed aside in favor of cosmopolitanism. Jordan Peterson has stated that the purpose of the nation is to give rise to the individual. Johann Gottfried Herder defended the idea of being proud of one’s customs. I would take the position that tribalism is an essential foundation (so long as it is not limiting) for cosmopolitanism. A bottom-up approach is stable. In contrast, a top-down approach (such as that of the EU) is fundamentally unstable (a ‘Tower of Babel’-like situation). The group is essential for the rise of the individual because one has to be socialized and share basic customs in common with other before one can surpass others in certain valuable skills and, thus, have an individualism which is highly regarded by others in the group. You are right to emphasize the importance of groups when you mention both Rousseau and Marx, but this is only part of the larger picture of human nature.

With regard to reading Marx, I would argue that reading far-left thinkers should be balanced by reading far-right thinkers such as Oswald Spengler. Both the far-left and far-right are fringes and the Overton Window should not be shifted to move either into a central position but radical perspectives often have to be addressed even if only to be refuted.


[1] Grose 1811 Dictionary, ,

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