Romantic Seminar Notes

November 19, 2009


Hey guys, here are some very rough notes on the Romantic movement and and Rousseau's first book. I thought it might be helpful when revising to remind yourself of the key points.


The Romantic Movement dates from the 18th century to the present day.
Art, philosophy, literature and politics have been influenced. –However the Romantic Movement was not connected to philosophy in its beginnings.
The Romantic Movement in its most essential form is a revolt against ethical and aesthetic standards.
Jean Jack Rousseau was the first great figure in the movement. He was a Swiss democrat, and although we see Rousseau as the original founder of the romantic outlook, it was first in fact German.

For long periods of his life he was he was poor and seen as a tramp, his mother died when he was young and his father worked as a watch maker and dance teacher, so he was bought up by his aunt.
The poor, to the romantics, were never seen as urban or industrial, which was a 19th century conception.
Having experienced a tramps lifestyle, he taught the Parisian society of irksome about dress codes, manners, the art of love and traditional morals.

From the period of 1660 to Rousseau, many wars relating to religion and the civil wars of Germany, England and France kept men conscious of chaos. By the time of Rousseau there had been many years where there was no conflict, and many people had grown tired of safety.
The nineteenth century revolt against the system of the Holy Alliance gave them their fill of excitement. It took two forms, the industrialism revolt and the romantic revolt.
The industrial revolt was untouched by romanticism, and was represented by philosophical radicals and the free-trade movement of Marxian socialism.

The romantic revolt aimed at a vigorous and passionate lifestyle, not a peaceful quiet one. They therefore had no sympathy for industrialisation mainly because it was ugly, and that they believed money grabbing did not lead to an immortal soul. -This is therefore, how the Romantics where led into politics.

Romantics focused on beauty instead of practical elements. It is described that the earth worm is useful, but not beautiful; a tiger is beautiful, but not useful. It is seen that romantics would praise the tiger, whereas others approaches such as Darwin would praise the earthworm.
The romantic’s idea of beauty changed over time, and has effected our own sense of beauty today. The amount of Gothic architecture we have today was founded by the romantics, and their view of scenery still stays with us today; Nearly everyone would find Niagara falls more beautiful than the Grand Canyon.

The Romantic Movement gave individuality to the mass of unknown, lower class citizens. It aimed at liberating the human personality from the ties of social convention and morality. However it does mention the point that man is not a solitary animal, so as long as social life survives, self realization cannot be a supreme principle of ethics.
Rousseau wrote the ‘social contract’ which become the bible of most leaders in the French Revolution.

In his first book, he focuses on social order, and states that ‘if one thinks himself the master of others, he still remains a greater slave than they’.

He believes that social order is a sacred right which is the basis of all other rights. However, he believes that it does not come from nature, so must therefore focus on conventions.
The only exception to this rule which he thought was natural was the society of the family.
He explains that children only remained attached to their father as they need him to provide for them. As soon as they can fend for themselves, the natural bond has dissolved, and independence is experienced by both the father and the children. If they remain united, it is only done so voluntarily, not naturally, so the family is only maintained through convention.
The family then may be called the first model of political societies: the ruler corresponds to the father, and the people to the children.

The difference is within the family, the love of the father for his children repays him for the care he takes of them, whereas in the State, the pleasure of commanding takes the place of the love.
However Grotius argues that all human power is established in favour of the governed, and quotes slavery as an example.

He states that he does not know whether the human race belongs to a hundred men, or that hundred men belong to the human race.

He gives the example that the human species is divided into many different herds of cattle, each with its ruler, who keeps guard over them for the purpose of devouring them. They look after the cattle for their own reasons, and not because they care for them or feel that it is their duty.
Rousseau studied the subject of strength, and come to the conclusion that the strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty.

He believed no man had natural authority over another, and that a force creates no right.
Rousseau looked at slavery and come to the conclusion that for a person to be a slave of another you are to alienate yourself. To alienate in this sense is to sell yourself, and whilst studying slavery he would often ask the slaves why they serve their masters. Many say they where born into the role, but because their fathers had sold themselves, it does not mean they had sold their children.

Rousseau believed that you could not alienate your own children as their liberty belongs to them, and no one but they has the right to dispose of it.

He agrees that a father can lay down rules to protect his their children’s well being, but cannot give them without conditions.
He links this to politics, by stating he found it to be necessary, in order to legitimise an arbitrary government that in every generation the people should be in a position to accept or reject the reining government.

However Grotius found a so-called right of slavery. In war you are meant to kill the vanquished. Instead of doing so, they have the option of buying back his life at the price of his liberty; by being a slave. He believes this convention is the more legitimate because it is to the advantage of both parties.

Rousseau’s argues that War is constituted by a relation between things, and not between persons. War is a relation between state and state, not man to man, and individuals are enemies only accidental as defenders of their own state. He believed that an individual therefore has no reason to even kill a person, as states can be killed without killing any citizen of that state, and yet again relates to the point that no man has authority over another unless you have sold yourself. Another point against Grotius’s views where that no one therefore has a right to kill an enemy except when he cannot make him a slave, and the right to enslave him cannot therefore be derived from the right to kill him.

Rousseau believed that slavery is never right, and that even if he saw scattered individuals that were successively enslaved by one man, however numerous they might be, he would still see no more than a master and his slaves, and certainly not a people and their ruler.

Rousseau believed that man was happier in a state that on his own. Although, in this state, he deprives himself of some advantages which he got from nature, he gains in return other faculties that are so stimulated and developed; he is transformed form a stupid and unimaginative animal, to an intelligent being and a man.

He also stated that every man has naturally a right to everything he needs; but the positive act which makes him the owner of one thing excludes him from everything else. He believed that by having your own share and no more, you ought to keep to it. We are respecting not so much what belongs to another as what does not belong to ourselves.

He believed that in general, to establish the right of the first occupier, with the example of a plot of ground for instance, the following conditions are necessary: first, the land must not yet be inhabited; secondly, a man must occupy only the amount he needs for his subsistence; and, in the third place, possession must be taken, not by an empty ceremony, but by labour and cultivation, the only sign of proprietorship that should be respected by others, in default of a legal title.

'That, instead of destroying natural inequality, the fundamental compact substitutes, for such physical inequality as nature may have set up between men, an equality that is moral and legitimate, and that men, who may be unequal in strength or intelligence, become every one equal by convention and legal right'.