Joseph de Maistre

From Academic Kids

Joseph Marie de Maistre (1753- February 26, 1821) was a Savoyard writer, who was one of the most influential spokesmen for a counter-revolutionary and authoritarian conservatism, in the period following the French Revolution. De Maistre espoused the restoration of hereditary monarchy, which he regarded as a divinely sanctioned institution. Only governments governed by the Christian constitution, implicit in the customs and institutions of all European societies but especially in that of European monarchies, could avoid the bloodletting that characterized movements like the then-recent French Revolution.

De Maistre can be counted, with Edmund Burke, as one of the fathers of European conservatism. An enthusiastic believer in the principle of authority, which the Revolution tried to destroy, Maistre defended it everywhere: in the State by extolling the monarchy, in the Church by exalting the privileges of the papacy; in the world by glorifying the rights and the conduct of God.

He was born at Chambéry, in Savoy. His family had settled in Savoy a century earlier, and had attained a high position. He was probably educated by the Jesuits. After the Revolution, he became an ardent defender of their Order as he came increasingly to associate the spirit of the Revolution with the spirit of the Jesuits' traditional enemies, the Jansenists. , After the outbreak of the French Revolution, he began to write on current events, e.g. Discours à M. le Marquis Costa de Beauregard sur la vie et la mort de ton fils (Discourse to the Marquis Costa de Beauregard on the Life and Death of his Son, 1795) and Cinq paradoxes a la Marquise de Nav... (Five Paradoxes for the Marquise de Nav..., 1795). In Considerations sur la France (Considerations on France, 1796), [1] ( he maintains the thesis that France has a mission from God: France is the principal instrument of good and of evil on earth. Maistre looks on the Revolution as a Providential occurrence: the monarchy, the aristocracy, the whole of the old French society, instead of turning the powerful influence of French civilization to benefit mankind, had used it to foster the doctrines of the eighteenth-century philosophers. The crimes of the Reign of Terror were at once the apotheosis and logical consequence of the destructive spirit of the eighteenth century, as well as the divinely decreed punishment for it.

His little book Essai sur le principe générateur des constitutions politiques et des autres institutions humaines (Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions and other Human Institutions, 1809) [2] (, centers on the idea is that constitutions are not the artificial products of study but come in due time and under suitable circumstances from God, who slowly brings them to maturity in silence. After the appearance in 1816 of the treatise Sur les délais de la justice divine dans la punition des coupables (On the Delay of Divine Justice in the Punishment of the Guilty), translated from Plutarch, de Maistre published in 1819 his masterpiece Du Pape (The Pope). The work is divided into four parts. In the first he argues that, in the Church, the pope is sovereign, and that it is an essential characteristic of all sovereign power that that its decisions should be subject to no appeal. Consequently, the pope is infallible in his teaching, since it is by his teaching that he exercises his sovereignty. In the remaining divisions the author examines the relations of the pope and the temporal powers, civilization and the welfare of nations, and the schismatic Churches. He establishes that nations require to be guaranteed against abuses of power by a sovereignty superior to all others. Now, this sovereignty is that of the papacy, historically saviour and maker of European civilization. As to the schismatic Churches, De Maistre believes that they will, with time, return to the arms of the papacy. For "no religion can resist science, except one."

Besides a voluminous correspondence, de Maistre left two posthumous works. One of these, L'examen de la Philosophie de Bacon, (An Examination of the Philosophy of Francis Bacon, 1836), develops a spiritualist epistemology out of a critique of Bacon, whom De Maistre considers as a fountainhead of the Enlightenment in its most destructive form. The Soirées de St. Pétersbourg (The St. Petersburg Dialogues, 1821) [3] ( is a Platonic theodicy that proposes its own solution to the age-old problem of the existence of evil. For De Maistre, the existence of evil throws light on the designs of God; for the moral world and the physical world are inter-related. Physical evil is the necessary corollary of moral evil, which humanity expiates and minimizes through prayer and sacrifice. The shedding of blood, the expiation of the sins of the guilty by the innocent is for De Maistre a law as mysterious as it is indubitable, the principle that propels humanity in its return to God and the explanation fo the existence and the perpetuity of war.

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1910 describes his style as "strong, lively, picturesque," and adds, "animation and good humour temper his dogmatic tone. He possesses a wonderful facility in exposition, precision of doctrine, breadth of learning, and dialectical power."

The great liberal poet Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869) praised the lively splendour of the Savoyard's prose in the following terms: "That brief, nervous, lucid style, stripped of phrases, robust of limb, did not at all recall the softness of the eighteenth century, nor the declamations of the latest French books: it was born and steeped in the breath of the Alps; it was virgin, it was young, it was harsh and savage; it had no human respect, it felt its solitude; it improvised depth and form all at once… That man was new among the enfants du siècle."

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This article incorporates text from the public domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1910. Please update as de Maistre fr:Joseph de Maistre nl:Joseph de Maistre pl:Joseph de Maistre


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