Jean Meslier

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Meslier, Jean

 

Born June 1664 in Mazerny; died between June 28 and July 6, 1729, in Etrépigny. French materialist philosopher, atheist, and Utopian communist.

Meslier was the son of a weaver. In 1689, at his parents’ insistence, he became a village priest. His only work, Testament, was finished shortly before his death (first published in full in Amsterdam in 1864; Russian translation, vols. 1–3, 1937 and 1954).

Meslier’s Testament contains a detailed and profound critique of the system of feudal absolutism in France. He considered the contradictions that existed between the common people and the powers that be irreconcilable. He rejected the idea of the “enlightened despot” who served society and called on the people to revolt. Meslier outlined an ideal communist society in which all the people of a particular region would join together in a family-commune, in which all wealth would be held in common and everyone would work and love each other as brothers; communes would conclude alliances among themselves for the preservation of peace and for mutual assistance. According to Meslier, systems of tyranny exist only because the people do not have a clear conception of the oppressiveness of their condition and its causes, and are not conscious of their own strength. The people are deluded and oppressed by superstition, especially by religion, which Meslier roundly criticized. With classical simplicity he expressed the Enlightenment view that religion has its origins in conscious and deliberate deception.

The theoretical sources of Meslier’s materialism were classical atomism and Cartesian physics. He asserted that matter was eternal and not created, affirmed the material unity of the world, and criticized Decartes’s metaphysics, Malebranche’s idealism, and all religious and idealist philosophy in general.

Meslier’s philosophical views greatly influenced the formation of the world outlook of the 18th-century French materialists.

REFERENCES

Deborin, A. M. “Zh. Mel’e.” Voprosy filosofii, no. 1, 1954.
Porshnev, B. F. Mel’e. Moscow, 1964. (With bibliography.)
Études sur le curé Meslier. Paris, 1966.

V. N. KUZNETSOV