The Marquis de Sade, and not Jean-Jacques Rousseau, may be the truer voice of the Enlightenment. In this reading of the canon of the Enlightenment thinkers from Montesquieu, Voltaire and Diderot to Rousseau and Sade, the author discusses the hostility that lurks beneath the "philosophes'" progressive rationality. Society and sociability take centre stage in the Enlightenment texts and in current interpretations, but Saint-Amand reveals that reciprocity, the principle behind sociability, is always based on imitation, which inevitably degenerates into competition and rivalry. Probing the excesses of the Enlightenment, he exposes at its heart a crisis of law founded on violence. This book specifically addresses the bad faith of the Enlightenment philosophers in their refusal to consisder the violent origins of society. In their ideology of progress, they idealized communication between individuals in a way that masked the rancour beneath the mechanisms of sociability and commerce. As an alternative, this text emphasizes the antagonisms and conflicts in the representation of social life and the understanding of human experience.
The book aims to put into perspective the archaic element of violence from which the Enlightenment tried to divorce itself.