Alice Ormiston’s “A Tragic Desire: Rousseau and the Modern Democratic Project” appears in Telos 154 (Spring 2011). Read the full version at TELOS Online website.
This article begins by showing how the desire for justice in the modern democratic tradition is a manifestation of a deeper drive toward unity between nature and reason, as well as self and community. The bulk of the article explores Rousseau’s works as a demonstration that this drive towards unity is tragic in nature—it cannot be fully realized, and at the same time cannot be given up. Furthermore, Rousseau’s inability to accept this desire as tragic, his insistent attempts at creating a total unity between nature and reason, and self and community, leads to its own secondary set of tragedies in his works and his life. The tragic nature of the modern democratic orientation must be recognized and integrated, in order to avoid these secondary tragedies.