Yesterday I made chili, and, what do you know, it actually tasted like chili. In between I was reading Rousseau, mostly in connection with the 18th-century roots of modern utopian thinking, on which I will be giving a paper at a conference in September.
My reading up until now suggests that two of the major utopian ventures in the 19th century, those of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier, were influenced principally by the "rationalists" among the Enlightenment. This rationalism is graphically expressed in the architecture of the Owenite and Fourier settlements.
And in particular in the writings of Robert Owen, one gets the feeling that he believed that once people "saw the light" concerning social ills they would immediately convert to a rational program of amending these ills. Edward Bellamy, clearly inspired by such rationalism, wrote a novel, Looking Backward: 2000–1887, in which all the ills of a future society had been eliminated. The life of this new society, however, in the words of William Morris, was that of a "machine life." Morris writes of Bellamy: "His only idea of making labour tolerable is to decrease the amount of its by means of ever fresh developments in machinery."
|Preparing the ingredients|
I bring in Morris because he had a different vision of utopia, which he described in his review of Bellamy's novel. namely, a society in which every citizen felt himself to be responsible for and interested in the details of its administration, in which "the business of life" was not shuffled off "on to the shoulders of an abstraction called the State," and in which "variety of life" was as much society's aim as "equality of condition."
|The vegetables are cooking|
Goethe would seem not to have taken Rousseau's writings on political theory into account, e.g., The Social Contract (1762), although he must certainly have known of these writings, especially after the French revolutionaries claimed Rousseau as one of their own. The opening of Article 6 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen certainly draws on Rousseau: "Law is the expression of the general will." Because of the excesses of the French Revolution it may have followed that Rousseau himself was to blame. After all, had he not written in The Social Contract: "Individuals become citizens by surrendering their private interests and opinions to the 'general will'"?
|Almost ready to eat|
Goethe was not a political thinker like Kant or Rousseau. He was a practical man, hardened by work in the administration of the duchy. His own ideas on a future in which people would not be at war or enmity were contained in the concept of "world literature." But more on that later, too.