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Rousseau and the Paradox of Alienation

Sally Howard Campbell

In the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Sally Howard Campbell finds the bridge between the now-dominant psycho-social conception of alienation and the legal-political conception that prevailed prior to Rousseau. She discusses Rousseau’s transformation of the concept of alienation and how it laid much of the groundwork for Marx’s later, more explicit discussions of man’s alienation. Using Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality, Campbell shows how Rousseau depicts the development of man’s awareness of himself as a conscious and moral being, illustrating man’s journey from a natural state of self-sufficiency to one of dependence and alienation. Paradoxically, she describes Rousseau’s belief that a state of wholeness can only be achieved through a man’s total alienation of himself to the community, free from the alienating effects of civil society. She concludes that, like Marx, Rousseau believed that alienation can only be transcended through the merging of the individual and the community. « less more »
Lexington Books
Pages: 110Size: 6 1/2 x 9 1/2
978-0-7391-6632-1 • Hardback • January 2012 • $74.00 • (£49.95)
978-0-7391-6634-5 • eBook • January 2012 • $72.99 • (£49.95)
Sally Howard Campbell is associate professor of political science at Concord University in Athens, West Virginia, where she has taught since 2003. She teaches courses in political theory, international relations and constitutional law. She received her Master’s degree from Rice University and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston. She has co-authored articles for The Journal of Conflict Resolution and The American Journal of Political Science and was a contributor to The Constitutionalism of the American States (2008).


Chapter One: Alienation Prior to Rousseau

Chapter Two: The Rousseauian State of Nature

Chapter Three: The Path to Alienation

Chapter Four: Man in Civil Society

Chapter Five: The Paradox of Alienation

Chapter Six: The Legacy of Rousseau’s Innovation


Campbell's reading of Rousseau's key texts makes the case that he is the foundational source of the theory of alienation as it is found in subsequent literature, especially in Hegel and then Marx and Marxian-inspired discourse. Campbell's explication shows that Rousseau's psychosocial understanding of man's dilemma in modern civil life transcends the Marxian focus on economic man. The author says Rousseau's theory has been overlooked and the significance of his innovative insight neither fully understood nor appreciated. Campbell (Concord Univ.) also sees a clash between Rousseau and Marx: for the former, man's original nature is asocial at core and for the latter, it is social. For Rousseau, society itself is the conundrum man faces. Campbell says that Marx's remedy of revolution fails to overcome alienation because it does not resolve the self-alienation that Rousseau locates within man's inner being. Only The Social Contract's paradox of alienation overcoming itself (a pre- Hegelian negation of the negation?) can produce synthesis between individual and communal well-being...Summing Up: Recommended.


Lucidly written and forcefully argued, Campbell makes a compelling case for reading Rousseau as a pivotal figure in the development of modern conceptions of alienation. Rousseau and the Paradox of Alienation convincingly argues for Marx’s debt to Rousseau’s transformation of the concept of alienation.
Julia Simon, University of California, Davis

Sally Howard lucidly explores the way the notion of alienation was transformed over the course of modern political thought and finds the key to this transformation in Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Christopher Kelly, Boston College