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Rousseau And Modern Democracy

June 2012 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, often seen as the first modern theorist of democracy and one of the chief founders of modern political thought. He had great influence on both the French and American Revolutions, and on the institutions of all existing democratic states. He coined the memorable phrase: ‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.’

In this special event marking the anniversary, Professor Tuck will consider what Rousseau took a modern democracy to be and how far it could improve upon the democracies of the ancient world. What did he think the “general will” is, and how do we ascertain it? And can a large modern state ever be democratic in his sense of the term? He will then discuss some of these issues in conversation with Sir Adam Roberts, and the audience.

Richard Tuck is Frank G Thomson Professor of Government at Harvard University and a leading scholar of the history of political thought and international law. Prior to taking up this post in 1995, he taught history at Cambridge University for many years. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1994. His books include The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant (Oxford University Press, 1999) and Free Riding (Harvard, 2008).

Sir Adam Roberts is President of the British Academy and Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford. He is the joint editor of Documents on the Laws of War (OUP, 2000), and Civil Resistance and Power Politics (OUP, 2009).