Rousseau and Marx: An Evaluation of Della Volpe's Interpretation

Giorgio Cesarale


As is well-known, Rousseau's heritage has been always strongly contested. Certainly, he much influenced the development of the bourgeois democratic tradition, especially in the 19th century. On the other hand, both liberalism and socialism have often criticized some key aspects of his conceptual and political lesson, although for different reasons. Putting liberalism aside, I would like to focus on the relation between Rousseau and Marxism, and, within the latter, on Della Volpe's reading of Rousseau. This reading is meaningful because it is inscribed within his attempt to reinterpret Marxism as “positive science”. Indeed, Della Volpe's removal of any trace of “Idealism” from Marxism, along with the transformation of the latter into a moral science, brought with it a progressively more positive reading of the contributes offered by Rousseau to the birth of socialism. It is also very interesting to note the complex trajectory of Della Volpe's interpretation: he moved from a view, expressed at the beginning of the '40, according to which Rousseau would have been a pure representative of the bourgeoisie, to a view, expressed in particular in the book Rousseau and Marx (1957), according to which Rousseau's theory would be ambivalent. On the one hand it would still be linked to the bourgeois doctrine of natural law; on the other it would already contain some “socialist” elements, that Marxism should aim to exploit. In this conceptual context, I would pay particular attention to Della Volpe's claim that Rousseau would have anticipated in his Discourse on Inequality the “normative” principle of communism, namely “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.

Communism - Freedom - Idealism - Italy - Democracy Rousseau