Christophe Litwin

Picture of Christophe Litwin
Associate Professor, European Languages and Studies
School of Humanities
Ph.D., Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris), 2011, Philosophy
Ph.D., New York University, 2012, French Literature
M.A., Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2003, Philosophy
Ecole Normale Supérieure (Paris), 1997, Philosophy
Phone: (949) 824-6338
University of California, Irvine
216 Humanities Instructional Building
Irvine, CA 92697
• Princeton University, Cotsen Postdocotral Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, 2013-2016.
• Institut français, Coordinator of the Program in the Humanities and Social Sciences (‘’Chargé de mission SHS’’), 2013.
• Université Paris-Sorbonne, Lecturer in Philosophy, 2012-13.
• New York University, Postdoctoral Lecturer in French, Spring 2012.
Research Abstract
I specialize in the study of Early Modern French and European thought, and more particularly in the works of La Boétie, Montaigne, Pascal, and Rousseau. My doctoral and post-doctoral research has been concerned with the moral, political and aesthetical implications of a theological dispute that emerged in the Renaissance from the collision of two incompatible paradigms of human self-love. In the tradition of Saint Augustine, self-love is interpreted as the sinner’s original corruption of the love of God, a depravation mankind cannot remedy without the Christian gift of faith, which is why modern Augustinians regard all human virtues outside of Christian charity as false and rooted in selfishness. In contrast, Renaissance humanists, influenced by their reading of classical philosophers whose writings were rediscovered in the Renaissance, regarded self-love as an originally good and natural love of self from which friendship, as well as actual human virtues were derived. They argued that proprietary self-love was simply a corruption of that naturally good passion. In classical
philosophy, however, the ethics of a virtuous self-love depended on a certain paradigm of knowledge that collapsed in the late 16th Century. I argue that this change of paradigm informed the theological dispute on self-love and that this discussion played a major role in the invention of a modern individual self—with its specific aesthetic, moral and political representations—and of a modern body politic. Moreover, I contend that these debates, as their focus gradually shifts from the interpretation of the political action of the Prince towards the mechanics of social interactions between self-interested individuals, have played a major role in the invention of political economy and of civil society as opposed to the State. My research has thus led me to consider the earlier Renaissance roots of this discussion of self-love, to trace its repercussions on 17th-and-18th-century metaphysics and moral and political philosophy, and to consider some of the more contemporary echoes of these debates in ethics, political theory and sociology.
My forthcoming book Politiques de l’amour de soi: La Boétie, Montaigne, Pascal au démêlé will appear with the French press Classiques Garnier. Perhaps no writings are more entangled than Montaigne’s with La Boétie’s, and Pascal’s with Montaigne’s: Montaigne famously compared his Essays to a canvas of grotesques that prolonged and developed in disorderly fashion the themes from a more achieved central piece (La Boétie’s Discourse on Voluntary Servitude) he intended to publish at the center of his book. Most of Pascal’s fragments on self-love, on ethics and on politics, in his Pensées are in fact unmarked quotations of passages from Montaigne’s Essays—a book he read so passionately that he would come to find more of himself than of Montaigne in it: “It is not in Montaigne but in myself that I find everything I see in him.” However, just as remarkable as this entanglement is the fact that these three works (the Discourse, the Essays, the Penséesˆ) are characterized by a clear philosophical breakaway from the form and content of the previous: Montaigne eventually chooses not to feature La Boétie’s Discourse in his Essays, distances himself from this republican text of his youth, and—I claim—uncovers philosophical principles radically incompatible with La Boétie’s conception of friendship; Pascal blames Montaigne severely for having the depraved ethics of a self-lover, discusses the limits of his politics, and uses Montaigne’s text to unveil (Christian) truths to which Montaigne blinded himself. My book is an innovative attempt to account philosophically for these entanglements and breakaways. I analyze how La Boétie, Montaigne and Pascal represent three radically opposed philosophical and literary polarities in the early modern debate on the interpretation of self-love, and I argue that their incompatible visions of self-love inform three radically different theories of what makes a political society hold together, and of the role the idea of a people plays in enabling social and political stability.
My work profoundly revises, for instance, the standard political interpretation of Montaigne’s Essays by showing how his breakaway from the idealist anthropology and the civic republicanism of his youth, as found in the Discourse of Voluntary Servitude of La Boétie, is the matrix of his own philosophical undertaking. This breakaway leads him to abandon La Boétie’s idea of a universal form of mankind as well as his theory of friendship as the foundation of a polity, and to claim that republican philosophical ideals play no part in the actual formation of human societies. Therefore, in his view, philosophical idealism is useless when it comes to understanding what keeps a society together and preserves it over time, and delusional when it interprets the word “people” as one collective political subject, rather than as a particular multitude of individuals whose lives have been fashioned over time by particular national laws and customs that are in no way related to a universal idea of justice. Montaigne thus claims we should avoid any reference to such a universal idea of justice so as to bring an end to the theo-political crisis that resulted in the 16th-Century French Wars of Religion: we should obey the laws because they are laws and not because we believe that they are just. Marked by a different experience of political turmoil (the Fronde) and a different paradigm of science, Pascal objects that these laws can only become customary if people believe them to be just when in fact and in truth they cannot be. He argues that the same cause (the radically corrupt and unjust nature of human self-love) that makes this illusion about the justice of the laws possible is simultaneously what makes it impossible for human laws to be effectively founded on justice.
Politics can therefore never be envisioned without a problematic reference to an idea of justice upon which men cannot agree by any rational means and yet must still represent as true. One consequence of Pascal’s theory is that the people’s voluntary servitude—to use La Boétie’s language—should not be considered with contempt from a semi-clever aristocratic point of view, but regarded much more positively as the only possible basis for political consent, and therefore as the most necessary condition of any non-tyrannical pacified political order. Thus, Pascal provides a different vision of politics, one which promotes a very original concept of a people at the root of effective political legitimacy, and one—I argue—which lays the ground for a modern liberal political theory.
Awards and Honors
Fellowships, Awards and Visiting positions

• Visiting Scholar and Lecturer, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France, Fall 2019.
• Visiting Professorship, Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, May 2019 (invitation declined due to childbirth).
• Nominee for the “Prix de la Chancellerie des Universités de Paris” (finalist).
• Nominee for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Dissertation Award, NYU, 2012 (finalist).
• Andrew Dulau Dissertation Fellowship, NYU, 2008-09.
• Doctoral Research and Teaching Fellowship (“Allocation Moniteur Normalien”), EHESS & Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2004-2007.
• McCracken Scholarship & French Department Fellowship for Oustanding Graduate Student Record, NYU, 2003-2007.
* Books (Authored) - Politiques de l’amour de soi: La Boétie, Montaigne, Pascal au démêlé, coll. PolitiqueS, Classiques Garnier, 2021
* Books (Edited)

- Habib & P. Manent (dir.), C. Litwin (éd.), Penser l’homme. Treize études sur Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Classiques Garnier, Paris, 2013.

- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Affaires de Corse, Sous la direction de C. Litwin, Texte établi par J. Swenson, coll. Textes et commentaires, Vrin, Paris, 2018.
Reviewed by Christopher Kelly, « Rousseau in Corsica », Books and Ideas, 7 February 2019. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL :
* Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals

- ART(1) “Dialectique et amour de soi chez Rousseau : lectures du second Discours” in Sens Public (Revue parrainée par Sciences Po. et l’ENS-Lyon), France, Oct. 2004 (Reed. Nov. 2007).
- ART(1b) “Dialética e amor-de-si. Leituras do Segundo Discurso” (translated by R. Moscateli) in Espaço Acadêmico 55, Brazil, 2005.
- ART(2) “Le discours de l’humaine condition: Descartes imitateur ironique de Montaigne” in Sens Public (Revue parrainée par Sciences Po. et l’ENS-Lyon), France, Oct. 2005. (Reed. Oct. 2006)
- ART(3) “La présomption et la jouissance loyale de soi” in Bulletin de la Société des Amis de Montaigne, no55, Special Centennial Issue, Garnier Classiques, 2012.
- ART(4) “‘Faire parler les dieux’. De la démocratie impossible au problème de la religion civile chez Rousseau” [“‘Making the Gods Speak’: From Impossible Democracy to the Problem of Civil Religion in Rousseau’s Political Philosophy] in Les ateliers de l’éthique / The Ethics Forum, vol. 10, nº1 “Vertus civiques et institutions démocratiques”, Centre de recherches en éthique de l’Université de Montréal, Montréal, August 2015.
- ART(5) “La Boétie, Montaigne et la cause perdue de l’amitié républicaine” in Montaigne et la philosophie politique / Montaigne and Political Philosophy, Montaigne Studies, vol. XXVIII, April 2016.
- ART (6) « Le vulgaire ou le peuple ? » in Montaigne Studies, vol. 33, 2021, pp. 99-120.

* Book Chapters

- BC (1) “La piperie politique chez Montaigne et Pascal: mésentente, divergence et convergence des opinions du peuple et de l’habile sur la justice des lois” in “Convergences/Divergences”, Actes du colloque de la SESDEF de l’Université de Toronto de mars 2009, Canada, August 2010, pp. 83-95.
- BC (2) “Amour du genre humain et volonté générale dans l’éducation d’Emile” in Claude Habib (dir.), Eduquer selon la nature. – Seize études sur Emile de Rousseau, Paris, Editions Desjonquères, February, 2012, pp.161-173.
- BC (3) “La ‘théorie de l’homme’ entendue comme généalogie morale” in Penser l’homme. Treize études sur Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Garnier Classiques, November 2013.
- BC (4) “Amour de soi et pensée du néant: Rousseau héritier de Malebranche?” in B. Bernardi (dir.), Philosophie de Rousseau, Garnier Classiques, 2014.
- BC (5) “Hobbes, Pascal et les passions de la sédition” [Hobbes, Pascal and the passions of Sedition] in D. Mahoney, G. de Ligio & J.-V. Holeindre (dir.), Mélanges pour Pierre Manent, CNRS Editions, Paris, 2014.
- BC (6) “‘Le principe nécessaire de tous nos maux naturels’: Jaucourt aux lumières de King, Leibniz et Rousseau” [“‘The Necessary Principle of all Natural Evils:” Jaucourt in light of King, Leibniz and Rousseau”], in G. Barroux & F. Pépin (dir.), Jaucourt, Editions de la Société Diderot, Paris, August, 2015.
- BC (7) “Scepticisme et sens commun dans la philosophie de David Hume” in JC. Darmon, P. Desan, G. Paganini (dir.), Scepticisme et Pensée morale de Michel de Montaigne à Stanley Cavell, Hermann, Paris, 2017.
- BC (8) “Les finances publiques comme clef du gouvernement” (co-written with James Swenson) in J.J. Rousseau, Affaires de Corse, Op. Cit.
- BC (9) “Les pièves : foyer de vie démocratique du gouvernement mixte” in J.J. Rousseau, Affaires de Corse, Op. Cit.
- BC (10) “‘‘L’économie bien entendue de la puissance civile’’” in J.J. Rousseau, Affaires de Corse, Op. Cit.
- BC (11) “Introduction” in J.J. Rousseau, Affaires de Corse, Op. Cit.
- BC (12) “La ‘‘philosophie pour moi’’ de Jean-Jacques Rousseau” in Kim Sang Ong Van Cung (dir.), Les formes historiques du cogito, Garnier Classiques, 2019.
BC (13) “‘‘L’ame, qui tousjours s’esgratigne et s’ensanglante elle-mesme’’: Cruauté et repentir de Pascal à Montaigne” in B. Petey-Girard & P. Severac (dir.), Représentations de la souffrance, Classiques Garnier, 2019.
- BC (14) “Rousseau & Leibniz: Theodicy and Genealogy” in E. Grace & C. Kelly, The Rousseauan Mind, Routledge Philosophy, 2019.
- BC (15) “David Hume: Du vertige du philosophe dans sa cage à la ‘gaieté’ de Montaigne” in P. Desan (dir.), Les usages philosophiques de Montaigne du XVIe au XXIe siècle, Hermann, Paris, 2018, pp. 141-158.
- BC (16) “Amour de soi” in G. Origgi (dir.), Passions sociales, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2019.
- BC (17) “Traité des passions (genre philosophique et littéraire” in G. Origgi (dir.), Passions sociales, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2019.
- BC (18). “Une seconde nature secundum naturam? Rousseau dans et contre la tradition de la seconde nature” in Julia Christ, Axel Honneth (ed.), Geist und Geschichte Band 6: Zweite Natur, Veröffentlichungen der Internationalen Hegel-Vereinigung, Klostermann, Frankfurt Am Main, 2022.
- BC (19) “The chief if not only spur to humane industry and action: Rousseau et l’uneasiness de Locke” in J. Lenne-Cornuez & C. Spector (eds.), Rousseau et Locke: Dialogues Critiques, Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, Liverpool University Press, 2022.
- BC (20) “L’heureux supplément de lumières de la raison sensitive” in F. Brahami, L. Guerpillon (dir.), La Fabrique de l’Émile. Commentaires des manuscrits Favre, Vrin 2022.

* Published Translations (English to French or French to English)

- TR(1) Charles Snyder, “La psychanalyse et le problème de la métaphysique: Julia Kristeva, l’identification primaire” in L'infini, n°104, Gallimard, Paris, Sept. 2008.
- TR(2) Charles Griswold, “Amour de soi, narcissisme et décadence sociale dans Rousseau” in B. Bernardi (dir.), Philosophie de Rousseau, Garnier Classiques, Paris, Dec. 2013.
- TR(3) Ralph C. Hancock, “Les Métamorphoses de Pierre Manent : le prix de la gloire” in D. Mahoney, G. de Ligio & J.-V. Holeindre (dir.), Mélanges pour Pierre Manent, CNRS Editions, Paris, 2014.
- TR(4) Bruno Karsenti, “What Do Religions Actually Fight About. A Durkheimian Perspective” in Durkheimian Studies, Volume 23, 2017, pp. 13-25.

* Book Reviews

- BR(1) C. Litwin, “La vie des Lumières” (re: Stéphane Van Damme, À toutes voiles vers la vérité. Une autre histoire de la philosophie au temps des Lumières, Seuil, 2014) in La Vie des idées, June 2014. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL:
- BR(1b) C. Litwin, “Living the Enlightenment” (re: Stéphane Van Damme, À toutes voiles vers la vérité. Une autre histoire de la philosophie au temps des Lumières, Seuil, 2014), translated by M. Behrent in Books and Ideas, May 2015. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL:].
- BR(2) C. Litwin, “L’émancipation politique et son avenir” (re: Michael Walzer, The Paradox of Liberation. Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions, Yale University Press, New Haven 2015), in La Vie des idées, July 2015. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL:
- BR(3) C. Litwin, “La Cité des larmes” (re: Michaël Foessel, Le temps de la mélancolie, Seuil, 2015), in La Vie des idées, April 2016. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL:
- BR(3b) Litwin, “The City of Tears” (re: Michaël Foessel, Le temps de la mélancolie, Seuil, 2015), translated by M. Behrent in Books and Ideas, May, 2017. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL:].
- BR (4) - C. Litwin, Recension de « Roza (Stéphanie) – La Gauche contre les Lumières. – Paris, Fayard, 2020 » in Revue française de science politique, 2021/3, nº71.
Other Experience
Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities
Princeton University 2013—2016
Chargé de mission pour les sciences humaines et sociales
Institut français (Paris) 2013—2013
Maître de conférences Philosophie et Lettres (18e siècle)
Université Paris 2022
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