The famed philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau described in himself a restlessness, impulsivity and distractibility which would today almost certainly warrant diagnosis with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
In ADHD Confessions: Rousseau as Self Help, Richard Orange shows how what Rousseau called his “restless temperament” helped him generate bold, original ideas in fields as diverse as music, education, literature, autobiography, and political science, influencing both the leaders of the French Revolution and the writers of the US Constitution.
But Rousseau also turned his extraordinary intellect in on his own mind, analysing his restless traits nearly 250 years before they would be framed as a mental disorder.
Orange has mined Rousseau’s extraordinary autobiography Confessions, and his two later autobiographical works for useful insights, arguing that together they represent one of the best self-help books yet written for those struggling with restlessness and impulsivity.
Rousseau found his unruly mind agonising, but in later life he congratulated himself on his decision to work with rather than try to combat his frustrating traits. He was thankful, he wrote, that he had had the courage to “give in without resistance to nature’s bent”.
For all the agony, shame and mental turmoil his racing mind brought him, he saw it as a what made his thinking so unusual and stimulating. As he declared in the introduction to his Confessions: “If I am no better, at least I am different.”
Praise for “Was Rousseau’s restless genius a symptom of ADHD?”, Richard Orange’s previous essay in Aeon Magazine.
“You have entirely convinced me that ADHD offers a good way of describing what made life so difficult for Rousseau, but also liberated his genius.”
– Leo Damrosch, Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature Emeritus, Harvard University, and author of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius.
“Fascinating read on ADHD. It’s a slam-dunk that the characteristics of Jean-Jacques Rousseau point to ADHD.”
– Dr Ned Hallowell, ADHD psychiatrist and New York Times bestselling author of ADHD self-help book Delivered from Distraction.
“The Enlightenment as we know it may have been very different, far less transformational, had Rousseau not had ADHD.”
– Thom Hartmann, Radio Host, Author of ADHD: How to Succeed as a Hunter in a Farmer’s World