Joseph de Maistre
|Joseph de Maistre|
|Occupation||lawyer, diplomat, writer, philosopher|
Joseph de Maistre (April 1, 1754 - February 26, 1821), was a French-speaking Savoyard diplomat and polemical writer born at Chambery. The father of Joseph was president of the senate of Savoy, and held other important offices. Joseph himself, after studying at Turin, received various appointments in the civil service of Savoy, finally becoming a member of the senate. In 1786 he married Francoise de Morand.
The invasion and annexation of Savoy by the French Republicans made him an exile. He fled to Lausanne. There, in 1796, he published his first important work (he had previously written certain discourses, pamphlets, letters, &c.), Considerations sur la France. In this he developed his views, which were those of a Legitimist reflecting a religious and Roman Catholic point of view.
After the still further losses which, in the year of the publication of this book, the French Revolution inflicted on Sardinia; Charles Emmanuel summoned Joseph de Maistre to Turin, and he remained there for the brief space during which the king retained a remnant of territory on the mainland. Then he went to the island of Sardinia, and held office at Cagliari.
In 1802 he was appointed envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary at St Petersburg. He only published a single treatise, on the Principe generateur des Constitutions; but he wrote his best and most famous works, Du Pape, De L'eglise gallicane and the Soirees de St Petersbourg, the last of which was never finished. Du Pape, which the second named book completes, is a treatise in regular form, dealing with the relations of the sovereign pontiff to the Church, to temporal sovereigns, to civilization generally, and to schismatics, especially Anglicans and the Greek Church. It is written from the highest possible standpoint of papal absolutism.
After 1815 he returned to Savoy, and was appointed to high office, while his Du Pape made a great sensation. But the world to which he had returned was not altogether in accordance with his desires. He had domestic troubles; and chagrin of one sort and another is said to have had not a little to do with his death by paralysis on the 26th of February 1821 at Turin. Most of the works mentioned were not published till after his death, and it was not till 1851 that a collection of Lettres et opuscules appeared, while even since that time fresh matter has been published.
Joseph de Maistre was one of the most powerful, and by far the ablest, of the leaders of the neo-Catholic and anti-revolutionary movement. The most remarkable thing about his standpoint is that, layman as he was, it was entirely ecclesiastical. Unlike his contemporary Bonald, Joseph de Maistre regarded the temporal monarchy as an institution of altogether inferior importance to the spiritual primacy of the pope. He was by no means a political absolutist, except in so far as he regarded obedience as the first of political virtues, and he seldom loses an opportunity of stipulating for a tempered monarchy.
The peculiarity of Joseph de Maistre is that he supports his conclusions, or if it be preferred his paradoxes, by the hardest and heaviest argument. Although a great master of rhetoric, he never makes rhetoric do duty for logic. Every now and then it is possible to detect fallacies in him, but for the most part he has succeeded in carrying matters back to those fundamental differences.of opinion which hardly admit of argument, and on which men take sides in consequence chiefly of natural bent, and of predilection for one state of things rather than for another. The absolute necessity of order may be said to have been the first principle of this thinker, who, in more ways than one, will invite comparison with Hobbes. He could not conceive such order without a single visible authority, reference to which should settle all dispute. He saw that there could be no such temporal head, and in the pope he thought that he saw a spiritual substitute. The anarchic tendencies of the Revolution in politics and religion were what offended him. It ought to be added that he was profoundly and accurately learned in history and philosophy, and that the superficial blunders of the 18thcentury ph.ilosophes irritated him as much as their doctrines. To Voltaire in particular he shows no mercy.
Of the two works named as his masterpieces, Du Pape and the Soirees de St Petersbourg, editions are extremely numerous. No complete edition of his works appeared till 1884-1887, when one was published at Lyons in 14 volumes. This had been preceded, and has been followed, by numerous biographies and discussions: C. Barthelemy, L'Esprit de Joseph de Maistre (1859); R. de Sezeval, Joseph de Maistre (1865), and J. C. Glaser, Graf Joseph Maistre (same year); L. I. Moreau, Joseph de Maistre (1879); F. Paulhan, Joseph de Maistre et sa philosophie (1893); L. Cogordan, "Joseph de Maistre" in the Grands ecrivains francais (1894); F. Descostes, Joseph de Maistre avant la revolution (1896), and other works by the same writer; J. Mandoul, Un Homme d'etat italien: Joseph de Maistre et la politique de la maison de Savoie (1900); and E. Grasset, Joseph de Maistre (1901). (G. SA.)