What are Rousseau's beliefs that characterize Romanticism?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rousseau is a complex figure, but there are some definite strands of Romanticism in his thought.  On one hand, Rousseau understood that human beings in society, when forced to conform, can do some fairly disastrous things.  This idea is brought out with his belief that "Man is born free, but lives in chains."  Rousseau believed that social conformity helped to create a love of self that was not healthy, something he called amour de soi.  Romantic thought is evident here as Romantic thinkers sought to bring humanity away from a conformist notion of the good and into one that praised and lauded subjectivity.  In this, Rousseau is consistent with his idea that if individuals appropriated their own sense of self in a setting apart from the competitive nature of society a new form of self love, amour propre, could represent a more content view of humanity.  In this, the subjective notion of the good is revered, consistent with Romantic thought.  Rousseau envisioned a communitarian political reality of the General Will, in which individuals understand that they are not part of a conformist reality, but rather one in which all individuals benefit if they work towards a common political goal.  The ability to focus on subjectivity into a greater universality is another Romantic trait and something that Rousseau advocated.

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