This study will discuss the life of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as he examines it in his Confessions and in a way which St. Augustine would understand. The thrust of the study will be the religious component present in Augustine's own Confessions and absent from Rousseau. Augustine would likely have read Rousseau's work, identified with his very human failings and longings, and suggested that the French revolutionary turn to God and Jesus Christ for the solace and serenity he obviously has not found in politics, writing, philosophy, and other wholly earth-bound pursuits.
In the middle of his Confessions, Rousseau stops to assess the first thirty years of his life, and to briefly preview for the reader the next thirty years, drawing a stark comparison between the two periods:
You have seen my peaceful youth floe by in a uniform and pleasant enough way. . . . After favouring my wishes for thirty years, for the next thirty fate opposed them; and from this continual opposition between my situation and my desires will be seen to arise great mistakes, incredible misfortunes, and every virtue that can do credit to adversity except strength of character (Rousseau 261).
If one expects Rousseau to gain wisdom or humility through a life of such variety, such ease followed by adversity, one will be disappointed. Rousseau's autobiography is the story of a man forever proud, forever self-centered, forever blind to the possibility of or need for any transcendent power which will lift him above his shallow if sensational concerns.
From the perspective of Augustine, a man committed to the worship of God and the humble submission of the self, Rousseau is a brilliant child who fails to see that life is far more than the turbulence of social, political and literary concerns. From the beginning to the end of his book, Rousseau displays a pride, an ambition, an egoism which seems truly childish if not pitiful. His first words are those of a sel...