Joseph de Maistre's Life, Thought, and Influence

Joseph de Maistre's Life, Thought, and Influence: Selected Studies

Edited by Richard A. Lebrun
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 344
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    Joseph de Maistre's Life, Thought, and Influence
    Book Description:

    Joseph de Maistre (1753B1821) was an extraordinarily gifted and insightful commentator on foundational developments that have shaped our modern world. His reaction to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, though hostile, was remarkably open and included innovative and still-valuable theorizing about such human phenomena as violence and unreason. The political and theoretical issues he addressed continue to challenge us today.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6977-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)
    Richard A. Leburn

    The Counter-Enlightenment thinker Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) was an extraordinarily intelligent, well educated, well read, and engaged observer and commentator on foundational developments that have shaped our modern world. His interaction with the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, although from the perspective of opposition to these landmarks of modernity, was remarkably open and creative. His reaction to these developments, though hostile, included quite innovative and still valuable theorizing about such human phenomena as the violence and unreason that so often flourish in human societies. The political and theoretical issues that Maistre addressed remain, unfortunately, issues that continue to challenge us...

  6. Part One Biographical Studies

    • The Roads of Exile, 1792-1817
      (pp. 15-31)
      Jean-Louis Darcel

      When the Revolution irrupted into Savoy on 22 September 1792, and the 20,000 soldiers of the Revolutionary army concentrated at Fort de Barraux under the command of General ex-marquis de Montesquieu-Fezensac descended under a driving rain, the effect was total surprise.² Without a shadow of resistence on the part of the strong Sardinian army of 12,000 men, a multi-secular order collapsed.³ Within a few weeks Savoy became the eighty-fourth department of the young French republic. It entered into the new world without experiencing the steps, which, in France, had prepared minds by passing from the absolute monarchy, to the constitutional...

    • The Apprentice Years of a Counter-Revolutionary: Joseph de Maistre in Lausanne, 1793-1797
      (pp. 32-46)
      Jean-Louis Darcel

      The four years Joseph de Maistre spent in Lausanne during the French Revolution (13 April 1793 to 28 February 1797) are certainly the best known of his life. The period in Lausanne, which marked the entry of the Senator from Chambéry into political and literary life, has attracted biographers and historians who have had at their disposal abundant information, particularly precious when it throws light on the genesis of his works. This is equally the period when the author had been the least miserly with information about himself. His journal devotes ninety pages to these years, almost half of the...

    • Joseph de Maistre and the House of Savoy: Some Aspects of his Career
      (pp. 47-62)
      Jean-Louis Darcel

      Fifteen years ago the Institut d’études maistriennes was created in Chambéry. It is not up to me to judge the presentations, articles, studies, and works published under its aegis, in the context of the Centre d’études franco-italiennes, I can at least recall the objectives the research centre established for itself.

      Among these objectives is our concern to provide light on the shadowy zones that rightly intrigue the critic and whose persistence detracts from an as exact as possible appreciation of the man, the writer, the philosopher, and the politician.

      Joseph de Maistre has been compared by his biographer, Robert Triomphe,...

  7. Part Two Aspects of Maistre’s Thought

    • Maistre’s Theory of Sacrifice
      (pp. 65-83)
      Owen Bradley

      Joseph de Maistre’s “Eclaircissement sur les Sacrifices” (1810)² is an unjustly neglected work of a most unjustly neglected author. Written concurrently with his masterworkLes Soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg,“Enlightenment on Sacrifices” provides a theoretical underpinning to Maistre’s notorious, often mysterious, and sometimes repellent reflections on punishment, war, the French Revolution, and the ways of Providence. The present essay outlines Maistre’s theory of sacrifice, describes how he applied it to historical events, processes, and institutions, and begins to explore the significance of Maistre’s theory for modern European intellectual history.

      Western discourse on sacrifice is as old as the West itself and...

    • Joseph de Maistre Economist
      (pp. 84-104)
      Jean Denizet

      That Joseph de Maistre interested himself in economics is not surprising. In the second half of the eighteenth century, all cultivated men in Europe were interested in the economy. This was especially so in Savoy, which sought to catch up on the lead taken by France and Switzerland. Jean Nicolas has described the strength and the excesses of the physiocratic current towards 1760.²

      Large landowners multiplied agricultural innovations in the hope of increasing thenet productof their lands; many ruined themselves in the process. Lawsuits, with the communes or with their neighbours, born of these innovations, came before the...

    • Joseph de Maistre’s Theory of Language: Language and Revolution
      (pp. 105-119)
      Benjamin Thurston

      Ever since the appearance of Maupertuis’sRéflexions sur I’origine des langues et la signification des motsin 1748, the Berlin Academy had been at the centre of a vigorous debate on the origin, formation, and function of language. Arguments of considerable ingenuity were put forward, including seminal works by Süssmilch, Michaelis, and Herder. Such studies were much more than finger exercises for philologists, however; a given account of the genesis and development of language would situate its author in a wider polemic of political and religious contention. At the same time, there was an abiding fascination for, and curiosity to...

    • Joseph de Maistre, New Mentor of the Prince: Unveiling the Mysteries of Political Science
      (pp. 120-130)
      Jean-Louis Darcel

      Joseph de Maistre, it has often been noticed, did not create an ideology Counter-Revolution; his works are fragmented essays, sometimes unfinished, often published after his death. In twenty years, fromConsiderations sur la FrancetoLes Soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg,²they touched on topics from political history to philosophical and religious controversy without constructing a doctrine in the sense that we would understand it, which is surprising on the part of the most radical denigrator of modernity. Diverse reasons for this have been advanced: his rejection of a rational organization of society led him to condemn all intellectual constructions, which he...

    • Joseph de Maistre’s Catholic Philosophy of Authority
      (pp. 131-150)
      Jean-Yves Pranchère

      Joseph de Maistre wanted his books to bring philosophical reinforcements to a Catholicism shaken by the revolutionary crisis. In 1819, in the preliminary discourse toDu Pape,he presented himself as a man of the world whose advocacy was justified only by the state of the Church, almost destroyed by the French Revolution. At the moment when the “Church was beginning again,” in the “kind of interstice” that preceded resumption of theological studies, Maistre intended simply to take the of those “faithful allies” who, without substituting themselves for theologians, can defend the Church by means of their own profane arguments.²...

  8. Part Three Comparative Studies

    • Joseph de Maistre and Edmund Burke: A Comparison
      (pp. 153-172)
      Richard A. Lebrun

      When Joseph de Maistre read Edmund Burke’sReflections on the Revolution in Franceearly in 1791 (within a couple of months of its publication), his immediate reaction was to acclaim Burke’s assessment of events. In a letter to a close friend, Maistre wrote: “I’m delighted, and I don’t know how to tell you how he has reinforced my anti-democratic and anti-Gallican ideas.”² Although Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) was almost a generation younger than Edmund Burke (1729-1797), their names are very often linked as exemplars of a conservative reaction against the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Maistre's initial enthusiastic assessment of...

    • Maistre’s Twin? Louis de Bonald and the Counter-Enlightenment
      (pp. 173-189)
      W. Jay Reedy

      The title of this paper indicates reservations about the tendency to identify the thought of Joseph de Maistre with that of Louis de Bonald (1754-1840).² By questioning that habit, I do not wish to deny a number of basic and important similarities between these thinkers. And there is nothing amiss about scholars seeing them as kindred proponents of what is conveniently if loosely referred to as the “Counter-Enlightenment” or the “Counter-Revolution.” It cannot be denied that Bonald and Maistre - no less than Edmund Burke, Ludwig von Haller, Donoso Cortés and a host of worthies of the post-Revolutionary Right -...

    • The Social Bond according to the Catholic Counter-Revolution: Maistre and Bonald
      (pp. 190-219)
      Jean-Yves Pranchère

      One can only be struck by the following paradoxical situation: Maistre and Bonald, figureheads of French counter-revolutionary thought,² are certainly the thinkers who had experienced the most anguish and anger in the face of the destruction of the social bond that the French Revolution, according to them, represented, in which they had seen a veritable catastrophe to the symbolic bond, or, to use their own language, an unprecedented crisis in the religious authority of political power - an authority which, according to them, was the condition of the possibility of society itself. They had insisted with an extreme vigor on...

    • Joseph de Maistre and Carl Schmitt
      (pp. 220-238)
      Graeme Garrard

      Among those in the twentieth century who have taken Joseph de Maistre seriously are those who regard him as the quintessential political “realist,” someone whose clear-sighted perception of the harsh “realities” at the heart of political life was refreshingly unobscured by the wishful thinking and naïve assumptions of so much political thought since the Enlightenment The best known of Maistre’s twentieth century “realist” admirers is Carl Schmitt (1888 -1985), interest in whom has exploded over the last two decades.² Given this interest, and in light of the fact that Maistre occupied a privileged place in Schmitt’s pantheon of heroes, alongside...

  9. Part Four Reception and Influence

    • Joseph de Maistre’s Works in Russia: A Look at their Reception
      (pp. 241-270)
      Vera Miltchyna

      The great subject of “Joseph de Maistre in Russia” can be treated in two different ways: on the one hand, one can concentrate on Joseph de Maistre’s relations with Russians during his stay in St. Petersburg as minister of the king of Sardinia, a stay that lasted fourteen years - from 1803 to 1817; on the other hand, one can speak of what one calls “the reception”-reactions (sometimes very unexpected) that Maistre’s works have provoked among Russian authors. The two subjects are equally interesting, however the first is - at least in broad terms - well enough known. Maistre’s biographers...

    • Joseph de Maistre in the Anglophone World
      (pp. 271-289)
      Richard A. Lebrun

      It is, of course, well known that Joseph de Maistre read English well, and that he was greatly interested in English institutions and things English generally. Perhaps what is less well known is the extent to which Maistre has been known and understood in the Anglophone world.² It is this second topic, Joseph de Maistre’s “presence” in the Anglophone world, that I want to explore in this study.

      I will begin by reviewing very briefly what is known of Joseph de Maistre’s relationship to England and then turn to how and when English readers became aware of him. Since articles...

    • The Persistence of Maistrian Thought
      (pp. 290-326)
      Jean-Yves Pranchère

      For a long time it has been a commonplace of Maistrian studies - and a well-founded commonplace - to emphasize the paradoxical character of Maistre’s work. Almost all interpreters have recognized that this work is placed under the sign of paradox from a triple point of view: paradox surges especially in the contrast between a cruel and ferocious opus and an author whose correspondence shows him to be charitable and tolerant; it appears as well as the mark of the Maistrian style, which made great rhetorical use of theoxymoron,of the association of contrary terms; and finally it characterizes...

  10. Index
    (pp. 327-338)