When the service of the public ceases to be the principal concern of the citizens, and they would rather discharge it by their purses than their persons, the State is already far on the way to ruin. When they should march to fight, they pay troops to fight for them and stay at home; when they should go to council, they send deputies and remain away; thus, in consequence of their indolence and wealth, they in the end employ soldiers to enslave their country, and representatives to sell it. So soon as a citizen says, What are State Affairs to me? the State may be given up for lost.
Who is the great man?
Listen, and I will tell you: He is great who feeds other minds. He is great who inspires others to think for themselves. He is great who tells you the things you already know, but which you did not know you knew until he told you. He is great who shocks you, irritates you, affronts you, so that you are jostled out of your wonted ways, pulled out of your mental ruts, lifted out of the mire of the commonplace.
That writer is great whom you alternately love and hate. That writer is great whom you can not forget.
Certainly, yes, the man in his private life may be proud, irritable, rude, crude, coarse, faulty, absurd, ignorant, immoral–grant it all, and yes be great. He is not great on account of these things, but in spite of them. The seeming inconsistencies and inequalities of his nature may contribute to his strength, as the mountains and valleys, the rocks and woods, make up the picturesqueness of the landscape.
He is great to whom writers, poets, painters, philosophers, preachers, and scientists go, each to fill his own little tin cup, dipper, calabash, vase, stein, pitcher, amphora, bucket, tub, barrel or cask. These men may hate him, refute him, despise him, reject him, insult him, as they probably will if they are much indebted to him; yet if he stirs the molecules in their minds to a point where they create caloric, he has benefited them and therefore he is a great man.
Jean Jacques Rousseau was a great man. We are still reading him–still talking about him–still trying to clap label upon him–still hunting for a pigeonhole in which to place him.
If a man were wholly crude, rude, ignorant and coarse, and if he did nothing but shock and irritate us, we would quickly cast him aside. But in addition to shocking us the great man fascinates us by his insight, his subtlety, his imagination, his sympathy, his tenderness, his love. Behind the act he sees the cause, and so he excuses and forgives. Knowing the present he is able to forecast the future, for he, of all men, knows that effect follows cause. He does what we dare not and says what we would like to if we had the mind. So in one sense the man is our vicarious self–“I am that man.” His very faultiness brings him near. His blunders make him to us akin.
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To answer the arguments of Jean Jacques by references to his private life were easy and obvious. He did not apologize for his life, and perhaps we would do well to follow his example.
The fact that with his own hands he carried five of his offspring to foundling asylums as they came into the world does not alter or change the fact that he was also the author of “Emile,” in which book, let it be remembered, the idea of substituting natural for pedantic methods in the training and developing of the physical, mental and moral faculties of the growing child first found expression.