The Problems of Political Time and the Solutions of Ancient History in Rousseau

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


What is exactly the role of time in Rousseau’s political theory? Is it an obstacle? An enemy to tame? A dangerous yet unavoidable factor requiring exceptional skill and cunning from the Legislator to be turned into a tool? This chapter examines the question through Rousseau’s use of ancient examples, in a twofold argument. It first summarizes Rousseau’s narrative of universal history, which conceptualizes the gap between Antiquity and modernity on three levels, as a moral, religious and legal rupture. This allows to better understand the difference between the two poles structuring Rousseau’s representation of Antiquity: Sparta and the Roman Republic. Each embodies a different political treatment of time. Sparta exemplifies a legislation aiming to freeze time in unchanging customs, whereas Rome, on the other hand, offers the image of a successfully adaptable legislation capable to ensure nonetheless the stability of the constitution. If we consider that Rome, and not Sparta, is the most significant example in Rousseau’s theory, we must then center our understanding of it on the tension between the durability of the political community and inevitable historical changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationFrameworks of Time in Rousseau
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781000966107
ISBN (Print)9780367772772
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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