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Rousseau, The Anticosmopolitan?

Setting himself up as the moral conscience of his age, Rousseau reminded his readers that manners and morals are not the same thing. Curiosity or 'openness' toward others, the willingness to do business with them, and even the eagerness to socialize with them should not be confused with accepting them as one's social and political equals. As Rousseau pointed out, cosmopolitanism could, and did, easily coexist with, and lend support to, unjust political and social regimes. In rejecting cosmopolitanism, Rousseau held up a mirror to the elites of his time. He denounced what he thought were their superficial and selfcongratulatory attitudes. He revealed how unnatural, vain, and even corrupting their 'civilized' values were. With all their celebrated hospitality toward strangers and inquisitiveness about foreigners, cosmopolitan philosophes were neglecting a simple moral imperative : "The essential thing is to be good to the people with whom one lives."3

Rousseau was not shy about his disdain for cosmopolitanism. In his political treatise, The Social Contract, he identified the cosmopolitan as a person who "pretended to love the whole world in order to have the right to love no one."4 At the beginning of his pedagogical treatise, Emile, he placed a similarly cutting remark. Rousseau advised his readers to "beware of those cosmopolitans who go to great lengths in their books to discover duties they do not deign to fufill around them. A philosopher loves the Tartars so as to be spared having to love his neighbors."5 Later in the same book, Rousseau again denounced cosmopolitan values as amounting only to hypocrisy and pretense : "The man of the world lives entirely in his mask ... What he really is, is nothing; what he appears to be is everything for him. "6

But these are only Rousseau's most obvious broadsides against cosmopolitanism. Elsewhere in his writings, he condemned the institutions and practices most commonly credited with spreading it: he denounced international commerce, regretted the progress of the sciences, detested cities, abhorred the salons, and violently objected to the "vile and deceitful uniformity" being propagated by cultural interaction. To Rousseau, the polite manners of "civilized people" were nothing but a hypocritical "veil" suffocating the inner voice of conscience; they were the "garlands of flowers" decorating the chains of despotism.7 One might even be tempted to say that all of Rousseau's literary productions, from his autobiographical writings to his novels and political treatises, can be read as one long and elaborate diatribe against the rise of cosmopolitanism in early modern Europe.

In Strangers Nowhere in the World: The Rise of Cosmopolitanism in Early Modem Europe, Margaret Jacob celebrates the "border crossing"8 encouraged by eighteenth-century co...

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