Joseph Marie de Maistre

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Maistre, Joseph Marie de


Born Apr. 1, 1753, in Chambery, Savoie; died Feb. 26, 1821, in Turin. Count; French publicist, political figure, and religious philosopher.

De Maistre was educated by Jesuits; in 1774 he graduated from the University of Turin. From 1774 to 1788 he was a councillor in the Savoie senate; in 1788 he became a senator. From 1802 to 1817 he was an envoy of the Sardinian king to St. Petersburg, where he wrote his major works, namely, Dissertation on the Causative Principle of Human Institutions (1810), On the Pope (1819), and St. Petersburg Evenings (1821).

At the beginning of his career, de Maistre thought that a new religious world order could be established by means of Masonry. Subsequently, repelled by the French Revolution, de Maistre offered extremely reactionary means of establishing a religious Utopia. In his antirevolutionary treatise Considerations About France (1796), he criticized Rousseau’s ideas about the social contract and natural virtue, as well as Voltairean rationalism. De Maistre’s political views were determined by his idea of establishing a new world order based on religion. As supporters and founders of such an order, he was ready to accept not only the Bourbons or Napoleon but even a revolutionary government, insofar as it renounced anarchy (whence also his notorious apology for the executioner as the supreme enforcer of order). De Maistre considered medieval Europe of the 12th and 13th centuries to have been an ideally ordered society, and suggested that the conglomerate of monarchial states united by the uncontested spiritual authority of the pope be restored.

As a philosopher of history, de Maistre was a proponent of religious providentialism: divine providence was allegedly opposed by an evil, willful element, which, de Maistre proposed, should be tamed by severe measures. Along with L. Bonald, de Maistre served as an inspiration and ideologist for the European clerical-monarchial movement of the first half of the 19th century. In the 20th century, the most zealous promoter of de Maistre’s ideas was C. Morras. The influence of de Maistre’s polemical writings is seen in the Philosophical Letters of P. Ia. Chaadaev and the political essays of F. I. Tiutchev.


Oeuvres complètes, vols. 1–14. Lyon, 1884–86.


Istoriia filosofii, vol. 3. Moscow, 1943. Pages 379–85.
“Zhozef de Mestr v Rossii: Pis’ma.” In Literaturnoe nasledstvo, vols. 29–30. Moscow, 1937.
Paulhan, F. Joseph de Maistre et sa philosophie. Paris, 1893.
Goyau, G. La Pensée religieuse de Maistre, 2nd ed. Paris, 1921.
Rohden, P. R. Joseph de Maistre als politischer Theoretiker. Munich, 1929.
Dermenghem, E. J. de Maistre mystique. Paris, 1946.
Brunello, B. J. de Maistre: Politico e filosofo. Bologna, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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