Rousseau and Republicanism—A Day-Long Conference

Friday, September 21, 2012  9:00am - 7:15pm The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room


Free and open to the public

No registration required

First come, first seated

Photo ID required for entry


University Seminar on Studies in Political and Social Thought

Department of Political Science

Heyman Center for the Humanities

Blinken European Institute


David Johnston

Nadia Urbinati

2012 marks the 300th anniversary of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s birth and the 250th anniversary of his Social Contract.  This conference, intended to celebrate these milestones, will be held under the auspices of the Conference for the Study of Political Thought (CSPT), a professional association.

The conference will focus on four themes:

1. The Republican Tradition in Rousseau’s Work. Interpreting Rousseau as a republican author entails an investigation of Rousseau’s republican authors. This is a topic of great significance. On the one hand, it pertains to the impact of the ancients in the making of what the moderns thought modernity was or ought to be. Republicanism was the political tradition that linked the moderns to the ancients in a dialectical relation of reception, transformation and rejection of political categories and values. Rousseau’s political thought mirrored this complexity, as his reading of ancient and modern republican authors show. Cicero, Plutarch and Tacitus were some of the authors Rousseau loved. On the other hand, studying Rousseau’s republican authors brings us to the modern authors whose works Rousseau read and absorbed, and whose work was also the outcome of the interpretation of the ancients, as for instance Machiavelli, Harrington, Sidney, Spinoza and Montesquieu. Through Rousseau it is possible to reconstruct the trajectory of the theoretical and historical transformation of the republican tradition in its entirety.

2. The Social Contract. The second theme of the conference focuses on the analysis of the Social Contract as a text that advanced a fundamental turn in republican theory by incorporating the rhetorical and humanist tradition (from Cicero to Machiavelli) within the conceptual body of the modern doctrine of sovereignty (from Bodin and Hobbes to Spinoza). The development of republicanism from civic religion and virtue to the reconfiguration of sovereignty from monarchical to popular and the redefinition of legitimacy from the point of view of the issue of “who” decides are the central themes in the Social Contract, and the place in which modern republicanism and democracy meet.

3.  Rousseau’s Impact on the Republican Tradition. The third theme proposes an analysis of the place of Rousseau’s political vision in the making of the republican theory of liberty and government beginning with the French revolution onward. The movements of national self-determination that started after Napoleon’s imperial domination, and moreover the critical reflection on the responsibility of the Terror marked the revision of both republicanism and the role of Rousseau’s thought in it, with the debate of the responsibility of his theory of liberty in the illiberal trajectory of the doctrine of popular sovereignty.

4. Rousseau’s Impact on Recent and Contemporary Democratic Theory. The meaning of citizenship, inclusion and equality are the main themes in the study of the impact of Rousseau’s ideas in the making of democratic theory. The theory of popular democracy, the question of the relationship between formal and substantial equality, the issue of the rules and limits of political decisions, and finally of the role of truth in political deliberation are somehow indebted to Rousseau and still central in contemporary political theory. In conclusion, Rousseau’s anniversaries can be an excellent opportunity for a critical examination of the legacy of French revolution in contemporary interpretations of democracy and liberty.


  • Arash Abizadeh

    Associate Professor of Political Science

    McGill University

  • Ronald Beiner

    Professor of Political Science

    University of Toronto

  • Chiara Bottici

    Assistant Professor

    New School for Social Research

  • Jean Cohen

    Nell and Herbert M. Singer Professor of Political Theory and Contemporary Civilization

    Columbia University

  • Bryan Garsten

    Professor of Political Science

    Yale University

  • Marco Geuna

    Associate Professor of History of Political Philosophy

    University of Milan

  • Lucien Jaume

    Senior Researcher

    Centre for Political Research at Sciences Po, Paris

  • David Johnston

    Professor of Political Science

    Columbia University

  • Rosanne Kennedy


    New York University

  • Karuna Mantena

    Associate Professor of Political Science

    Yale University

  • Helena Rosenblatt

    Professor of History

    City University of New York

  • Melissa Schwartzberg

    Associate Professor of Political Science and Classics

    Columbia University

  • Anna Stilz

    Assistant Professor

    Princeton University

  • Jean-Fabien Spitz

    Professor of Political Philosophy

    Université Paris 1

  • Nadia Urbinati

    Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Professor of Political Theory and Hellenic Studies

    Columbia University

  • David Johnston

    Professor of Political Science

    Columbia University


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