Rousseau’s Antidote to Egoism in Economic Life: An Alternative Account of Greatness

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Abstract

Our contemporary culture has been labelled as one of “greed.” Our challenge, it is argued, is even more formidable if we recall Rousseau’s argument that it is the desire for esteem and fame that is the driving force of modern societies. This striving for recognition is the direct offspring of l’amour-propre, here translated as egoism. Contemporary economic systems thrive on this corrupted form of self-love, which is often sugarcoated as ambition, or even courage and vision. The development of l’amour-propre can be partly prevented and checked through the cultivation of l’amour-de-soi, conceived by Rousseau as being the source of the humane passions, a clear-sighted reason, and a mature conscience. At the cultural and institutional level, Rousseau’s thought implies a radical transformation, which consists in the detachment of self-fulfillment from economic achievements, and the subordination of economic life and interests to other human ends, such as the good and virtuous human life. The corrupting effects of luxury and the loss of liberty caused by the multiplication of needs are therefore especially highlighted. Conversely, the alternative, non-military and non-materialist ethos in Rousseau’s works is emphasized.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-37
Number of pages18
JournalThe European Legacy
Volume25
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2019

Keywords

  • anti-heroism
  • conscience
  • domination
  • humanism
  • pity
  • striving for recognition

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