Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Confessions
Even today, in our age of tell-all memoirs, Rousseau inspires us with the
heartfelt honesty of his autobiography.  This is a confession in the true
sense of the word, and the author makes no attempt to present himself in
a favorable light.  He openly admits to covering up a theft and helping to
frame an innocent party.   He describes his uncontrollable sense of sensual
delight in being spanked and dominated -- predilections that are seldom
discussed in the open today, and were must have seemed deranged by the
standards of 1770.   The philosopher who praised the purity and spiritual
beauty of the child admits that he placed his five children in an orphanage,
and never saw them again.  And when he describes some petty tantrum or
burst of self-righteousness, he may try to marshal a justification or
explanation, but he rarely emerges as the hero in these incidents.  
Augustine had set the example, but he had theological reasons to make a
heartfelt confession, but Rousseau was a independent thinker who argued
that men were good by nature, rather than through salvation and
sacraments. His soul-baring is a matter of principle and an expression of his
over-riding commitment to honesty.  And so we laugh at the foibles of
Rousseau, but with that under-current of respect for an individual who put
his own life under the microscope to a degree that few have dared match,
and none have exceeded.