Spectacles and Sociability: Rousseau's Response in His Letter to d'Alembert to Montesquieu's Treatment of the Theatre and of French and English Society

History of European Ideas 41 (3):357-374 (2015)

SummaryScholars have pointed to Montesquieu's influence on Rousseau's work generally. Other scholars, who focus more intently on the Letter to d'Alembert, discern a crucial but limited influence of Montesquieu in two of Rousseau's teachings there: first, that some practices, including the theatre, can be appropriate and even wholesome for some societies, while noxious for others; and second, that mores are important in determining what types of laws and institutions a given people can tolerate and maintain. Careful consideration of Rousseau's Letter in light of Montesquieu's Persian Letters and Spirit of the Laws reveals a much more pervasive influence, however. Rousseau's depictions of the theatre as well as his discussions of the role of women in both French and English society reveal that the Letter bears a striking resemblance to, and, in fact, appears to be a response to, aspects of Montesquieu's thought. Montesquieu's captivating depictions of the sociability that the French theatre can engender was surely an obstacle for Rousseau's opposition to its influence in Geneva. In resisting such influence, Rousseau counters many of Montesquieu's specific arguments and judgements.
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DOI 10.1080/01916599.2014.974921
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