St Petersburg Dialogues

St Petersburg Dialogues: Or Conversations on the Temporal Government of Providence

Translated and edited by RICHARD A. LEBRUN
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    St Petersburg Dialogues
    Book Description:

    Written and set on the banks of the Neva, St Petersburg Dialogues is a startlingly relevant analysis of the human prospect at the end of the twentieth century. As the literary critic George Steiner has remarked, "the age of the Gulag and of Auschwitz, of famine and ubiquitous torture, ... nuclear threat, the ecological laying waste of our planet, the leap of endemic, possibly pandemic, illness out of the very matrix of libertarian progress" is exactly what Maistre foretold.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6380-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxvi)

    TheSt Petersburg Dialogues,Joseph de Maistre’s startling and enigmatic masterpiece, has challenged strong minds ever since its publication in 1821. Maistre himself was quite aware of the greatness of his achievement, even though he never lived to see the work in print. In private correspondence he described it as his “great work,” and said that “this book isall that I can do and all that I can know.”¹Although its importance was not recognized immediately, the work has been acknowledged as a classic of French literature for well over a century. We might have expected that the festive...

  5. Chronology
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  6. Critical Bibliography
    (pp. xxxi-xxxiv)
  7. A Note on the Text
    (pp. xxxv-xxxvi)
    • First Dialogue
      (pp. 3-31)

      At the end of a very warm day in the month of July 1809, I was returning up the Neva in a launch with Privy Councillor T***, a member of the Senate of St Petersburg, and Chevalier de B***, a young Frenchman who had been driven to this capital by the storms of the revolution in his country and by a series of bizarre events. Reciprocal esteem, a congruence of tastes, and some valuable relationships of service and hospitality had formed an intimate connection between us. Both of them were accompanying me that day to the country house where I...

    • Second Dialogue
      (pp. 32-82)

      You are turning your cup over, Chevalier. Don’t you want any more tea?

      No, thank you. This evening I will take only one cup. Raised in a southern province of France, as you know, where tea was drunk only as a cold remedy, I have since lived among people who use this beverage habitually. So I take it to do like the others, but without ever finding it pleasurable

      enough to find I need it. On principle, moreover, I am not a great partisan of new drinks; who knows if they may not bring us new illnesses.

      That could well...

    • Third Dialogue
      (pp. 83-104)

      Tonight, my dear Count, I will begin our discussion, Bible in hand, by proposing a difficulty for you; this is serious, as you will see. When the disciples of the Man-God asked him if the man born blind, whom they encountered along the way, was in this state because of his own crimes or for those of his parents, the divine teacher gave them this answer:It is not that he has sinned nor those who brought him into the world(that is to say, it was not that either his parents or himself had committed some crime, of which...

    • Fourth Dialogue
      (pp. 105-129)

      I recall that our Chevalier had a scruple; for a long time he has had to let on that he was no longer thinking of it, for there are in conversations such as ours veritablecurrentsthat carry us along despite ourselves. However, it is time to return.

      I knew very well that we were off course, but since the sea was perfectly peaceful and without reefs, and since we had nothing else to do (which appears to me to be the essential point), there remained to me the pleasure of seeing the country. In any case, since you want...

    • Fifth Dialogue
      (pp. 130-154)

      Very much, to tell the truth, fully as much as it is possible to be amused at spectacles of this kind. The fireworks were superb, and no one perished, at least among those of our species. As forfliesandbirds,I cannot answer for them any better than our friend; but I thought about them a great deal during the show, and it is this meditation that I refrained from sharing with you yesterday. The more I think about it, the more I am confirmed in the idea that the spectacles of nature are for us very probably what...

    • Sixth Dialogue
      (pp. 155-204)

      I would not take the floor because you have abandoned it to me, for that would be a reason for me to refuse it; but I will take it uniquely not to leave a gap in our conversation. So permit me to add some reflections to those that I presented to you yesterday on a very interesting subject: it is precisely to war that I owe these ideas. Our dear Senator should not be disturbed, for he can be sure that I have no wish to follow on his tracks.

      It is often saidthat whether someone prays or not...

    • Seventh Dialogue
      (pp. 205-242)

      I am quite ready to do so, for this is a subject on which I have meditated a great deal. I have been thinking about war ever since I began to think; this terrible subject has seized my full attention, and yet I have never gone into it deeply enough.

      The first thing I am going to tell you will undoubtedly astonish you, but for me it is an incontestable truth:“Given man with his reason, his feelings, and his affections, there is no way of explaining how war is humanly possible.”This is my well considered opinion. Somewhere La...

    • Eighth Dialogue
      (pp. 243-262)

      Would you find it agreeable, gentlemen, if before continuing our conversations, I presented you with the minutes of the preceding sessions?

      So what is it you want to say, Chevalier?

      The pleasure I have been getting from our conversations gave me the idea of writing them down. Everything that we have been saying here has been deeply engraved in my memory. You know that I have a very good memory, though this is not a gift I would brag about; moreover I have not given these ideas time to slip away. Every evening before going to bed, and while they...

    • Ninth Dialogue
      (pp. 263-286)

      There is nothing, gentlemen, I will not do to satisfy you, so far as I am able. However, first permit me to point out to you that all sciences have their mysteries and at certain points the apparently most obvious theory will be found in contradiction with experience. Politics, for example, offers several proofs of this truth. In theory, is anything more absurd than hereditary monarchy? We judge it by experience, but if government had never been heard of and we had to choose one, whoever would deliberate between hereditary and elective monarchy would be taken for a fool. Yet...

    • Tenth Dialogue
      (pp. 287-319)

      Tell us, Chevalier, did you dream of sacrifices last night?

      Yes, undoubtedly, I dreamed; and since this is absolutely new country for me, I only saw things in a confused way. It seems to me, however, that the subject would be very much worth exploring, and if I believe that interior feeling that we were talking about the other day in our last dialogue, our common friend would really have opened a rich mine that only remains to be explored.

      This is precisely what I would like our dialogue to be about this evening. It appears to me, Count, that...

    • Eleventh Dialogue
      (pp. 320-347)

      Although you are not very fond of these voyages in the clouds, my dear Count, I would nevertheless like to take you there again. You cut me off the other day by comparing meto a man plunged into water and asking for a drink.This was very well said, I assure you, but your epigram did nothing to allay my doubts. In our day man no longer seems able to live within the old sphere of human faculties. He wishes to pass beyond it; he is as restless as an eagle angry at the bars of his cage. See...

    • Sketch of a Final Dialogue
      (pp. 348-350)

      At the beginning of these dialogues, my dear friends, we thought we could only be separated by death; and now Providence, at the blink of an eye, has again overturned the world. Duties change with political circumstances, and you, my dear Chevalier, are the first to be called. Go, go again, under flags of honour, show your honourable scars to your masters, and offer them the blood that remains to you; go, with the courage of the martyrs and with no other hope than that which animated them. For we must be under no illusion that there is any longer...

    • CHAPTER ONE On Sacrifices in General
      (pp. 353-363)

      On the contrary, I am happy to observe that men, by giving God names expressing greatness, power, and goodness, by calling himLord, Master, Father,etc., show clearly enough that the idea of divinity cannot have been born of fear. We can also observe that music, poetry, dance, in a word all the pleasing arts, have been called upon in religious ceremonies, and that the idea of rejoicing was always so intimately joined to that offeast-daythat the latter everywhere became synonymous with the first.

      Moreover, far be it from me to believe that for humanity the idea of...

  10. CHAPTER TWO Of Human Sacrifices
    (pp. 364-378)

    The doctrine of substitution being universally received, there could be no doubt about the efficacy of sacrifices being proportional to the importance of victims; and this double belief, right in its roots but corrupted by the force that corrupts everything, gave birth to the horrible superstition of human sacrifices, a practice found everywhere. In vain did reason tell men that they had no rights over their fellows; they even testified to this themselves by offering the blood of animals to atone for that of men. In vain did gentle humanity and natural compassion lend new force to the arguments of...

  11. Index
    (pp. 393-407)