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New Left Review I/111, September-October 1978


Valentino Gerratana

The Citizen of Geneva and the Seigneur of Ferney

‘To still find pleasure today in authors such as Rousseau compromises a person once and for all.’ [1] Nietzsche Werke, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Molinari, Vol. 8, pt. 2, Berlin 1970, p. 431, fragment 11 [409]: ‘Autoren, an denen heute noch Wohlgefallen zu haben, ein für alle Mal compromittirt: Rousseau, Schiller, George Sand, Michelet, Buckle, Carlyle . . .’ This fragment dating from 1888 was not included in the posthumous collection arranged by Nietzsche’s sister Elizabeth and presented as a coherent work: The Will to Power. If one were to base one’s judgement on the esteem in which the theorist of the ‘will to power’ is today held, one might be persuaded to think that the bi-centenary of Rousseau’s death could have fallen during a period more propitious to his thought. No doubt there is some truth in this; but there is equal cause to reflect upon a judgement that is all the more significant if taken in the context of Nietzsche’s overall attitude towards Rousseau. It is well known that the history of Rousseau’s reputation has had its ups and downs: successive waves of Rousseauphilia or Rousseauphobia have been separated by periodic phases of indifference. Nietzsche is certainly a typical case of acute Rousseauphobia, though this has become diluted to the point of indifference in much of the culture influenced by him. Just as, in that culture, the admiration for Voltaire which is a constant theme in the development of Nietzsche’s thought (at least from Human-all-too Human to Ecce Homo) has likewise become diluted and faded away. And this twofold diminution of interest too needs explanation.

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