Who is Joseph de Maistre?
Joseph Marie, comte de Maistre (French: [də mɛstʁ]; 1 April 1753 – 26 February 1821) was a Savoyard philosopher, writer, lawyer and diplomat who advocated social hierarchy and monarchy in the period immediately following the French Revolution. Despite his close personal and intellectual ties with France, Maistre was throughout his life a subject of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which he served as a member of the Savoy Senate (1787–1792), ambassador to Russia (1803–1817) and minister of state to the court in Turin (1817–1821).
Maistre was probably educated by the Jesuits. After the Revolution, he became an ardent defender of the Jesuits, increasingly associating the spirit of the Revolution with the Jesuits’ traditional enemies, the Jansenists. After completing his training in the law at the University of Turin in 1774, he followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a Senator in 1787.
A member of the progressive Scottish Rite Masonic lodge at Chambéry from 1774 to 1790, Maistre originally favoured political reform in France, supporting the efforts of the magistrates in the Parlements to force King Louis XVI to convene the Estates General. As a landowner in France, Maistre was eligible to join that body and there is some evidence that he contemplated that possibility. However, Maistre was alarmed by the decision of the States-General to combine aristocracy, clergy and commoners into a single legislative body which became the National Constituent Assembly. After the passing of the August Decrees on 4 August 1789, he decisively turned against the course of political events in France.
A key figure of the Counter-Enlightenment, Maistre regarded monarchy both as a divinely sanctioned institution and as the only stable form of government. He called for the restoration of the House of Bourbon to the throne of France and for the ultimate authority of the Pope in temporal matters. Maistre argued that the rationalist rejection of Christianity was directly responsible for the disorder and bloodshed which followed the French Revolution of 1789.