In 1983, Maurice Cranston, a political scientist at the London School of Economics, published the first of his projected three volumes on the life of Rousseau. THE NOBLE SAVAGE, the second volume, accounts for the period of Rousseau’s greatest intellectual achievements, between ages forty-two and fifty-one. A reclusive thinker who exerted little influence on events of his day, Rousseau (1712-1778) profoundly influenced both the Romantic movement in art and the revolutionary political and social changes of the nineteenth century.
Believing in the innate goodness of man and the corrupting influence of established institutions, Rousseau developed ideas for reform in art, education, human relationships, politics, and religion in a series of seminal works written during the period 1754-1762. Among these, EMILE clarifies his ideas about education and THE NEW HELOISE presents an idealized version of human relationships. In THE SOCIAL CONTRACT, Rousseau offers his revolutionary idea that sovereignty derives from the people and is retained by the people. Cranston summarizes the major themes and clarifies their most important implications.
In narrating the life, Cranston carefully avoids developing a thesis. Rather he provides a generous selection of quotations from letters and papers of Rousseau and his circle to create a portrait of the character. Careful analysis of the sources enables Cranston to correct many false impressions left by Rousseau...
(The entire section is 411 words.)