Jean Meslier

Also found in: Wikipedia.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Don Hatch has provided us with an exciting portrait of one of the pioneers of freethinking, Jean Meslier, a French priest, who straddled the seventeenth and eighteenth century.
Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier. Trans.
TESTAMENT; MEMOIR OF THE THOUGHTS AND SENTIMENTS OF JEAN MESLIER offers the first English translation of the complete work by Michael Shreve, presenting an early 18th century manifesto that shocked the establishment and influenced progressive thinkers from Voltaire to Diderot.
Huppert's seventeenth-century examples for the survival of these sixteenth-century models include Pierre Gassendi, the characters presented by Moliere, and the provincial priest Jean Meslier, whose writings were discovered posthumously and published by Voltaire.
In 1728, the French curate Jean Meslier (1664-1729)completed a treatise entitled Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier.
For forty years, Jean Meslier was a curate at the small village of Etrepigny in Champagne, France, and vicar of a little annexed parish named Bue.