Joseph de Maistre

Savoyard philosopher, writer, lawyer, and diplomat (1753-1821)

Joseph de Maistre (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).

Every nation gets the government it deserves.
History is experimental politics; this is the best or rather the only good politics.

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.


Against Rousseau (1795)Edit

  • To know the nature of man, the most direct and wisest way undoubtedly is to know what he has always been. Since when can theories be opposed to facts? History is experimental politics; this is the best or rather the only good politics.
    • "Man is Sociable in His Essence," p. 21
  • Nations are barbarian in their infancy but not savage. The barbarian is a proportional mean between the savage and the citizen. He already possesses no end of knowledge: he has habitations, some agriculture, domestic animals, laws, a cult, regular tribunals; he lacks only the sciences.
    • "Man is Sociable in His Essence," p. 25
  • Man is an enigma whose knot has not ceased to occupy observers. The contradictions that he contains astonish reason and impose silence on it. So what is this inconceivable being who carries within him powers that clash and who is obliged to hate himself in order to esteem himself?
All the beings that surround us have only one law and follow it in peace. Man alone has two laws, and both of them attracting him at the same time in contrary senses, he experiences an inexplicable tearing. He has a moral end towards which he feels himself obliged to proceed, he has a feeling of his duties and the consciousness of virtue; but an enemy force entices him and, blushing, he follows it.
  • "Man Born Evil in a Part of His Essence," p. 34
  • Burke said with a depth that it is impossible to admire enough that art is man’s nature: yes, undoubtedly, man with all his affections, all his knowledge, all his arts, is truly the man of nature, and the weaver’s web is as natural as the spider’s.
    • "The Origin of Society," p. 52
  • If sovereignty is not anterior to a people, at least these two ideas are collateral, since it takes a sovereign to make a people. It is as impossible to imagine a human society without a sovereign as a hive and a swarm without a queen, for a swarm, in virtue of the eternal laws of nature, exists in this way or it does not exist.
    • "Of Sovereignty in General," p. 53
  • Men never respect what they have made themselves. This is why an elective king never possesses the moral power of a hereditary sovereign, because he is not noble enough, that is to say he does not possess that kind of greatness independent of men and that is the work of time.
    • "Of Founders and the Political Constitution," p. 72
  • In a word, the mass of the people counts for nothing in every political creation. A people even respects a government only because it is not its own creation. This feeling is engraved on its heart in profound characters. It submits to sovereignty because it senses that it is something sacred it can neither create nor destroy. If, as a consequence of corruption and perfidious suggestions, this preventive sentiment is somehow effaced, if it has the misfortune of believing itself called as a body to reform the State, all is lost. This is why, even in free States, it is extremely important that the men who govern be separated from the mass of the people by that personal respect stemming from birth and wealth.
    • "Of Founders and the Political Constitution," p. 73
  • In the Koran as in the Bible, politics is divinized, and human reason, crushed by the religious ascendancy, cannot insinuate its isolating and corrosive poison into the mechanisms of government, so that citizens are believers whose loyalty is exalted to faith, and obedience to enthusiasm and fanaticism.
    • "The Weakness of Human Power," p. 78
  • The wiser nations are, the more public spirit they possess, the more perfect their political constitution, the fewer constitutional laws they have, for these laws are only props, and a building only needs props when it has become out of plumb or when it has been violently shaken by an external force. The most perfect constitution of antiquity was without contradiction that of Sparta, and Sparta has not left us a single line of its public law. It justly boasted of having written its laws only in the hearts of its children.
    • "Continuation of the Same Subject," p. 84
  • Human reason reduced to its own resources is perfectly worthless, not only for creating but also for preserving any political or religious association, because it only produces disputes, and, to conduct himself well, man needs not problems but beliefs. His cradle should be surrounded by dogmas, and when his reason is awakened, it should find all his opinions ready-made, at least all those relating to his conduct. Nothing is so important to him as prejudices. Let us not take this word in a bad sense. It does not necessarily mean false ideas, but only, in the strict sense of the word, opinions adopted before any examination. Now these sorts of opinions are man’s greatest need, the true elements of his happiness, and the Palladium of empires. Without them, there can be neither worship, nor morality, nor government. There must be a state religion just as there is a state policy; or, rather, religious and political dogmas must be merged and mingled together to form a complete common or national reason strong enough to repress the aberrations of individual reason, which of its nature is the mortal enemy of any association whatever because it produces only divergent opinions.
    • "Of the National Soul," p. 87
Government is a true religion: it has its dogmas, its mysteries, and its ministers.
  • Government is a true religion: it has its dogmas, its mysteries, and its ministers. To annihilate it or submit it to the discussion of each individual is the same thing; it lives only through national reason, that is to say through political faith, which is a creed.
    • "Of the National Soul," p. 87
  • Faith and patriotism are the two great thaumaturges of this world. Both are divine; all their actions are prodigies. Do not go to them talking of examination, choice, or discussion; they will say that you blaspheme. They know only two words: submission and belief; with these two levers they raise the world. Even their errors are sublime. These two children of Heaven prove their origin to all eyes by creating and conserving; but if they unite, join their forces, and together take possession of a nation, they exalt it, they divinize it, and they increase its forces a hundred-fold.
    • "Of the National Soul," p. 88
  • Any institution is only a political structure. In physics and in morals, the laws are the same; you cannot build a large structure on a narrow foundation, nor a durable structure on a moving or transient base. In the political order, therefore, if one wants to build on a large scale and for the centuries, one must rely on an opinion, on a large and profound belief. For if this opinion does not dominate a majority of minds and if it is not deeply rooted, it will furnish only a narrow and transient base.
Moreover, if you look for what forms the great and solid bases of all possible first or second order institutions, one will always find religion and patriotism. And if you reflect even more attentively, you will find these two things intermingled, for there is no true patriotism without religion. Patriotism only shines in centuries of belief, and it always declines and dies with religion. As soon as man separates himself from divinity, he vitiates himself and vitiates everything he touches. His action becomes base, and he acts only to destroy. In proportion as this powerful tie is weakened in a State, so all the conserving virtues are weakened: all character is degraded, and even good actions become petty. A murderous egoism relentlessly presses public spirit to retreat before it, like those enormous glaciers of the high Alps that can be seen advancing slowly and frighteningly on the domain of life and destroying useful vegetation in their path.
However once the idea of divinity is the principle of human action, this action becomes fruitful, creative, and invincible. An unknown force makes itself felt everywhere, animating, warming, and vivifying everything. Whatever errors, whatever crimes have soiled this august idea with ignorance and human corruption, it still conserves its incredible influence. In the midst of massacres, men multiply, and nations display an astonishing vigour.
  • "Continuation of the Same Subject," p. 107
It is always necessary to call men back to history, which is the first master in politics, or more exactly the only master.
  • It is always necessary to call men back to history, which is the first master in politics, or more exactly the only master.
    • "Of Monarchy," p. 120
  • As long as the aristocracy is healthy, the name of the sovereign sacred to it, and it loves the monarchy passionately, the State is unshakeable, whatever be the qualities of the king. But once it loses its greatness, its pride, its energy, its faith, the spirit withdraws, the monarchy is dead, and its cadaver is left to the worms.
    • "Of Monarchy," p. 127
  • How many mistakes power has committed! And how often has it ignored the means to conserve itself! Man is insatiable for power; he is infinite in his desires, and, always discontented with what he has, he loves only what he has not. People complain about the despotism of princes; they should complain about that of man. We are all born despots, from the most absolute monarch of Asia to the child who smothers a bird with his hand for the pleasure of seeing something in the world weaker than himself. There is no man who does not abuse power, and experience proves that the most abominable despots, if they come to seize the sceptre, will be precisely those who rant against despotism.
But the author of nature has put limits to the abuse of power: he has willed that it destroys itself once it exceeds its natural limits. He has engraved this law everywhere, and in the physical world as in the moral world, it surrounds us and speaks to us at every moment. Look at this firearm: up to a certain point, the more you lengthen it, the more you will increase its effect. But if you pass a certain limit, you will see the effect diminish. Look at this telescope: up to a certain point, the more you increase its dimensions, the more it will produce its effect; but beyond that, invincible nature will turn against you the efforts you make to improve the instrument. This is a natural image of power. To conserve itself it must restrain itself, and it must always avoid the point where its ultimate effort leads to its last moment.
  • "Of Monarchy," p. 133
  • The mixture of children and men is precisely one of the most beautiful features of aristocratic government. All roles are distributed wisely in the world: that of the young is to do good, and that of old age is to prevent evil. The impetuosity of young men, who demand only action and creation, is very useful to the State; but they are too likely to innovate and destroy, and they would do much evil without the elderly, who are there to stop them. The latter in their turn oppose even useful reforms; they are too inflexible, they do not know how to accommodate themselves to circumstances, and sometimes a twenty-year old senator can very well be placed beside another of eighty.
    • "Of Aristocracy," p. 137
  • The sentiment that dominates all Rousseau’s works is a certain plebeian anger that excites him against every kind of superiority. The energetic submission of the wise man bends nobly under the indispensable empire of social distinctions, and never does be appear greater than when he bows; but Rousseau has nothing at all of this loftiness. Weak and surly, he spent his life spouting insults to the great, as he would have offered the same to the people if he had been born a great lord.
His character explains his political heresies; it is not the truth that inspires him, it is ill humour. Whenever he sees greatness and especially hereditary greatness, he fumes and loses his faculty of reason; this happens to him especially when he is talking about aristocratic government.
  • "Of Aristocracy," p. 138
The arts, in general, need a king; they only flourish under the influence of sceptres.
  • The most beautiful monuments of Athens belong to the century of Pericles. In Rome, what writers were produced under the Republic? Only Plautus and Terence. Lucretius, Sallust, and Cicero saw the Republic die. Then came the century of Augustus when the nation was all that it could be by way of talents. The arts, in general, need a king; they only flourish under the influence of sceptres. Even in Greece, the only country where they flourished in the milieu of a republic, Lysippos and Apelles worked for Alexander. Aristotle owed to Alexander’s generosity the means to compose his history of animals; and, after the death of this monarch, the poets, scholars, and artists went to look for protection and rewards in the courts of his successors.
    • "Summary of Rousseau's Judgements," p. 179

Considerations on France (1796)Edit

  • We are all attached to the throne of the Supreme Being by a supple chain that restrains us without enslaving us. Nothing is more admirable in the universal order of things than the action of free beings under the divine hand. Freely slaves, they act voluntarily and necessarily at the same time; they really do what they will, but without being able to disturb the general plans. Each of these beings occupies the centre of a sphere of activity whose diameter varies according to the will of the Eternal Geometer, who can extend, restrict, check, or direct the will without altering its nature.
In the works of man, everything is as wretched as their author; views are restricted, means rigid, motives inflexible, movements painful, and results monotonous. In divine works, the riches of infinity are openly displayed in the least part. Its power is exercised effortlessly; everything is supple in its hands, nothing resists it, and for it everything, even obstacles, are means; and the irregularities introduced by the operation of free agents fit into the general order.
  • "Of Revolutions," p. 3

Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions (1809)Edit

  • It is written, By me kings reign. This is not a phrase of the church, a metaphor of the preacher; it is a literal truth, simple and palpable. It is a law of the political world. God makes kings in the literal sense. He prepares royal races; maturing them under a cloud which conceals their origin. They appear at length crowned with glory and honour; they take their places; and this is the most certain sign of their legitimacy.
    • Preface
  • The eighteenth century, which distrusted itself in nothing, as a matter of course, hesitated in nothing.
    • VIII
  • Nothing great has great beginnings.
    • XXIII, p. 73
  • Never have nations been civilized, except by religion.
    • XXXIII, p. 99
  • The question is frequently asked: why there is a school of theology attached to every University? The answer is easy: It is, that the Universities may subsist, and that the instruction may not become corrupt. Originally, the Universities were only schools of theology, to which other faculties were joined, as subjects around their Queen. The edifice of public instruction, placed on such a foundation, has continued even to our day. Those who have subverted it among themselves, will repent it, in vain, for a long time to come. To burn a city, there is needed only a child or a madman; but to rebuild it, architects, materials, workmen, money, and especially time, will be required.
    • XXXVIII, p. 111
  • No human institution can endure unless supported by the Hand which supports all; that is to say, if it is not especially consecrated to Him at its origin. The more it is penetrated with the Divine principle, the more durable it will be. How strange is the blindness of men in our age! They boast of their knowledge, and are ignorant of everything, since they are ignorant of themselves. They know not what they are, nor what they can do. An invincible pride bears them on continually to overthrow every thing which they have not made; and in order to work out new creations, they separate themselves from the source of all existence. Jean-Jacques Rousseau has, however, very well said, Little, vain man, show me thy power, and I will show thee thy weakness. It might be said, with as much truth and more profit, Little, vain man, confess to me thy weakness, and I will show thee thy strength.
    • XLVI, p. 130

St. Petersburg Dialogues (1821)Edit

Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.
  • False opinions are like false money, struck first of all by guilty men and thereafter circulated by honest people who perpetuate the crime without knowing what they are doing.
    • Original text:
      Les fausses opinions ressemblent à la fausse monnaie qui est frappée d'abord par de grands coupables et dépensée ensuite par d'honnêtes gens qui perpétuent le crime sans savoir ce qu'ils font.
    • "First Dialogue," p. 13
  • All grandeur, all power, all subordination to authority rests on the executioner: he is the horror and the bond of human association. Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world and at that very moment order gives way to chaos, thrones topple and society disappears.
    • "First Dialogue," p. 20
  • [M]an cannot be wicked without being evil, nor evil without being degraded, nor degraded without being punished, nor punished without being guilty. In short … there is nothing so intrinsically plausible as the theory of original sin.
    • "Second Dialogue," p. 38
  • Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.
    • Original text:
      Partout où vous verrez un autel, là se trouve la civilisation.
    • "Second Dialogue," p. 44
  • All pain is a punishment, and every punishment is inflicted for love as much as for justice.
    • "Fifth Dialogue," p. 149
  • In the immense sphere of living things, the obvious rule is violence, a kind of inevitable frenzy which arms all things in mutua funera. Once you leave the world of insensible substances, you find the decree of violent death written on the very frontiers of life. Even in the vegetable kingdom, this law can be perceived: from the huge catalpa to the smallest of grasses, how many plants die and how many are killed!
But once you enter the animal kingdom, the law suddenly becomes frighteningly obvious. A power at once hidden and palpable appears constantly occupied in bringing to light the principle of life by violent means. In each great division of the animal world, it has chosen a certain number of animals charged with devouring the others; so there are insects of prey, reptiles of prey, birds of prey, fish of prey, and quadrupeds of prey. There is not an instant of time when some living creature is not devoured by another […]
Thus is worked out, from maggots up to man, the universal law of the violent destruction of living beings. The whole earth, continually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, until the extinction of evil, until the death of death.
  • "Seventh Dialogue," p. 217
  • It is imagination that loses battles.
    • "Seventh Dialogue," p. 221
  • The first among the sciences is that of statesmanship. That cannot be learnt in academies. No great minister, from Suger to Richelieu, ever occupied himself with physics or mathematics. The genius of the natural sciences makes impossible that other kind of genius, which is a talent unto itself.
    • "Eighth Dialogue," p. 297–298
  • All sciences have their mysteries and at certain points the apparently most obvious theory will be found in contradiction with experience. Politics, for example, offers several proofs of this truth. In theory, is anything more absurd than hereditary monarchy? We judge it by experience, but if government had never been heard of and we had to choose one, whoever would deliberate between hereditary and elective monarchy would be taken for a fool. Yet we know by experience that the first is, all things considered, the best that can be imagined, while the second is the worst. What arguments could not be amassed to establish that sovereignty comes from the people? However they all amount to nothing. Sovereignty is always taken, never given, and a second more profound theory subsequently discovers why this must be so. Who would not say the best political constitution is that which has been debated and drafted by statesmen perfectly acquainted with the national character, and who have foreseen every circumstance? Nevertheless nothing is more false. The best constituted people is the one that has the fewest written constitutional laws, and every written constitution is worthless.
    • "Ninth Dialogue"
  • Genius does not seem to derive any great support from syllogisms. Its carriage is free; its manner has a touch of inspiration. We see it come, but we never see it walk.
    • "Tenth Dialogue"

An Examination of the Philosophy of Francis Bacon (1836)Edit

The real man of genius is the one who acts by grace or by impulsion, without ever contemplating himself and without ever saying to himself: Yes! It is by grace that I act.
  • There is a great analogy between grace and genius, for genius is a grace. The real man of genius is the one who acts by grace or by impulsion, without ever contemplating himself and without ever saying to himself: Yes! It is by grace that I act.
    • "Of Experiment and of the Genius of Discoveries," p. 37
  • There is perhaps nothing more interesting than to listen to a superior man talk of what he does not know. He advances slowly, and scarcely puts his foot down without knowing if the ground is solid; he looks for plausible analogies; he tries to attach his ideas to higher and incontestable principles; he always has the tone of looking, never that of teaching; and it often happens that, even if he is mistaken, he leaves a great enough idea of his mental honesty.
    • "Of Experiment and of the Genius of Discoveries," p. 43
  • By means of [the microscope and the telescope] man touched, one might say, the two infinities. With the aid of glass, he could contemplate at his leisure the mite and the ring of Saturn. […] Master of glass through fire, and master of light through glass, he had lenses and mirrors of all kinds, prisms, containers, beakers, tubes, and finally barometers and thermometers. However all this originally began with the astronomical lens, which honours glass; and physics is born in some manner from astronomy, as it was written that, even in a material and gross sense, all science must descend from heaven.
    • "Of Experiment and of the Genius of Discoveries," p. 47
  • Man, in wearing himself out his whole life long by saying: What is that! and what is that called! and what does that mean! is a big spectacle to himself if he wants to open his eyes. All his natural powers tending towards the truth, he never ceases looking for true names; he senses a language prior to that of Babel, and even of Eden.
    • "Of Essences and of their Definitions," p. 68
  • The greatest of errors therefore would be to believe what the modern sect, which has only worked to obscure all truths, never ceases to advance, which is that what cannot be defined is not known, while on the contrary what is of the essence of what is perfectly known cannot be defined; for the more a thing is known, the more it brings us to intuition, which excludes all equation.
    • "Of Essences and of their Definitions," p. 70
  • All the science in the world began in temples, and the first astronomers especially were priests. I do not say that it necessary to begin again with the antique initiation, and to change the presidents of our academies into hierophants, but I say that all things begin again as they began, that they all carry an original principle that modifies itself according to the different character of nations and the progressive advance of the human mind, but which however always shows itself in one way or another. Priests have preserved everything, brooded over everything, and taught us everything.
    • "The Union of Religion and Science," p. 283
Religious beauty is superior to ideal beauty, since it is the ideal of the ideal.
  • I remember that in a widely distributed French newspaper they asked the famous author of the Génie du Christianisme, if a nymph was not a bit more beautiful than a nun. In supposing them represented by the same talent or by equal talents (a condition without which the question would make no sense), there is no doubt that the nun would be more beautiful. The error best suited to extinguishing the true sentiment of beauty is that of confusing that which pleases with that which is beautiful, or in other words, that which pleases the senses with that which pleases the intelligence.
What spectator of our sex will not find himself more moved by Titian's Venus than by Raphael's most beautiful Virgin? And yet what a difference of merit and worth! The beautiful, in all imaginable genres, is that which pleases enlightened virtue. Any other definition is false or insufficient. So why would the nun be less beautiful than the nymph? Perhaps because she is clothed? By what immoral blindness would one want to judge the representation other than the reality? Who does not know that veiled beauty is more seductive than visible beauty? What man has not noticed, and ten thousand times, that the woman who decides to satisfy the eye more than the imagination lacks taste even more than wisdom?
  • "The Union of Religion and Science," p. 287
  • Religious beauty is superior to ideal beauty, since it is the ideal of the ideal.
    • "The Union of Religion and Science," p. 287
  • The Christian woman is therefore a supernatural model like the angel. […] At the sight of these figures, however beautiful one can imagine them, no profane thought would dare arise in the heart of a man of taste. One owes them a certain intellectual admiration as pure as their models. Even in their clothing there is something that is not terrestrial. One must see there elegance without elaboration, poverty without ugliness, and, if the subject demands it, pomp without magnificence. They are beautiful like temples.
    • "The Union of Religion and Science," p. 288
  • In all that architecture has of the great and eternally beautiful, it is completely a production of the religious spirit. From the ruins of Tentyra to St Peter's in Rome, all the monuments speak; the genius of architecture is really only at ease in temples. It is there that above caprice, fashion, pettiness, licence, and finally all the gnawing cares of talent, it works without discomfort for glory and immortality.
    • "The Union of Religion and Science," p. 289
  • Final causes or intentions are the torment of modern philosophy, which neglects nothing to get rid of them. From this, among other things, comes its great axiom: nature creates only individuals. Indeed, since all classification supposes order, this philosophy has denied classes to deny order. In order to establish this marvellous reasoning, it fixes its suspicious eyes on the differences between beings to dispense itself from turning them to their similarities. It does not want to recognize that nuances between classes and individuals constitute another order, and that diversity in resemblance supposes intention more visibly than mere resemblance.
Finally, when dazzled by order, it seeks some dark place where it can enjoy the pleasure of not seeing it; then it denies seeing it, because it does not see it any more.
  • "Bacon's Religion," p. 293
  • It is permitted to modern philosophy, all swollen up with Bacon's venom, to repeat to us to satiety, to disgust, to nausea, that we make God similar to man; we will reply as many times that is not quite the same thing to say that a man resembles his portrait or that his portrait resembles him.
    • "Bacon's Religion," p. 293
  • [Bacon's] philosophy resembles this religion, which protests continually: it is entirely negative and thinks only to contradict. In indulging himself without measure in this natural inclination, he ends by contradicting himself without perceiving it, and by insulting in others his own most characteristic traits. Thus he blames abstractions without respite, and he makes only abstractions, in always coming back to his middle, general, and most general axioms, and in maintaining that individual instances do not merit the philosopher's attention. He never ceases to shower abuse on the science of words, and he only makes words. He upsets all the received nomenclature to substitute for them new terms, baroque or poetic, or both. With Bacon, neologism is a real disease, and always he believes he has acquired an idea when he has invented a word. He looks with pity at the alchemy that was fully operative in his time, and all his physics is only another alchemy quite babbling and wholly similar to children who talk a lot and produce nothing, as he said very well and very badly with respect to the ancient Greeks.
    • "Bacon Judged by his Translator - Conclusion," p. 317


I don’t know what the life of a rascal is like since I have never been one, but that of an honest man is abominable.
  • Christianity is the religion of Europe […] it is mingled with all our institutions […] it is the hand of this religion that fashioned these new nations [of Europe]. The cross is on all the crowns, all the codes begin with its symbol. The kings are anointed, the priests are magistrates, the priesthood is an order, the empire is sacred, the religion is civil. The two powers are merged; each lends the other part of its strength, and, despite the quarrels that have divided these two sisters, they cannot live separated.
    • "Reflections on Protestantism in its Relations with Sovereignty," 1798, Œuvre critique, 8:64–5.
  • To overcome oneself, to submit to circumstances, is a duty for everyone, but especially for women. [...] A man, my dear child, is an animal. Unfortunately for your sex, extremely proud; but happily for this same sex, extremely foolish. It is necessary to use his foolishness against his pride. In ceding skilfully and with grace, it is necessary to make him believe that he will always be king. Then he is content to allow himself to be led. As soon as a woman cedes the sceptre, it is given back to her immediately. That is all there is to the catechism of this world. Never forget it. You know by heart the beatitudes of the Gospel; but it is not forbidden to know others, as, for example, Happy are mild women, for they will possess men. Submit therefore my dear Adèle; submit, caress, insinuate yourself; you will soon find some imbecile full of wit who will say in his heart: ‘Here is the one I need.’ If after you have wed he comes to discover that you are a bit impertinent, the evil is not great.
    • Letter to his daughter Adèle de Maistre, 14 December 1802, Œuvre critique, ix, p. 109
  • A woman can only be superior as a woman; as soon as she wants to emulate man, she is nothing but an ape.
    • Letter to his daughter Constance de Maistre, Lettres, 146
  • Every nation gets the government it deserves.
    • Original text:
      Toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite.
    • Letter 76, on the topic of Russia's new constitutional laws (27 August 1811); published in Lettres et Opuscules. The English translation has several variations, including "Every country has the government it deserves" and "In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve." The quote is popularly misattributed to better-known commentators such as Alexis de Tocqueville and Abraham Lincoln.
  • I don’t know what the life of a rascal is like since I have never been one, but that of an honest man is abominable. How few men are there whose passage on this stupid planet has been marked by really good and useful acts! I prostrate myself before the one of which one can say: pertransivit bene faciendo; the one who had been able to instruct, console, and relieve his fellows; the one who made great sacrifices for charity; these heroes of silent charity who hide themselves and expect nothing in this world. But what is the ordinary man? And how many are there in a thousand who can ask themselves without terror: what have I done in this world? In what way have I advanced the common good and what will remain of me of good or evil?
    • Letter to chevalier de Saint-Réal, 21 December 1816, Œuvre critique, xiv, p. 10

Quotes about Joseph de MaistreEdit

  • That brief, nervous, lucid style, stripped of phrases, robust of limb, did not at all recall the softness of the eighteenth century, nor the declamations of the latest French books: it was born and steeped in the breath of the Alps; it was virgin, it was young, it was harsh and savage; it had no human respect, it felt its solitude; it improvised depth and form all at once… That man was new among the enfants du siècle [children of the century].
  • One of [Maistre's] favourite expressions, and one which he often used was point-blank. This was the secret of his tactics, this was his gesture; this was the way he acted; he advanced alone against a whole enemy army, mouthing his challenge, and shooting the leader point-blank. He attacks in glory, to triumph, and earns an excess of reprisals. In Rome’s spiritual distress, this was the Christian Scaevola, and the three hundred others did not follow.
  • Joseph de Maistre is another of those men whose word, like that of Burke, has vitality. In imaginative power he is altogether inferior to Burke. On the other hand his thought moves in closer order than Burke's, more rapidly, more directly; he has fewer superfluities. Burke is a great writer, but Joseph de Maistre's use of the French language is more powerful, more thoroughly satisfactory, than Burke's use of the English. It is masterly; it shows us to perfection of what that admirable instrument, the French language, is capable.
    • Matthew Arnold, "Joseph de Maistre on Russia" in English Literature and Irish Politics (1873), p. 87
  • […] a fierce absolutist, a furious theocrat, an intransigent legitimist, apostle of a monstrous trinity composed of pope, king and hangman, always and everywhere the champion of the hardest, narrowest and most inflexible dogmatism, a dark figure out of the Middle Ages, part learned doctor, part inquisitor, part executioner.
    • Émile Faguet, Politiques et Moralistes du Dix-neuvieme Siècle (1899)
  • [Maistre's] style is strong, lively, picturesque; animation and good humour temper his dogmatic tone, and he might even be deemed eloquent. It is true he does not disdain paradox in his thinking or violence in his language: he has neither the moderation nor the serenity of Bossuet. But he possesses a wonderful facility in exposition, precision of doctrine, breadth of learning, and dialectical power. He influenced the age that followed him: he dealt Gallicanism such decisive blows that it never rose again. In a word, he was a great and virtuous man, a profound thinker, and one of the finest writers of that French language of which his works are a distinguished ornament.
    • George Bertrin, "Joseph-Marie, Comte de Maistre" in Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 9 (1913)
  • Joseph de Maistre is unquestionably one of the greatest thinkers and writers of the eighteenth century.
  • [Maistre] fulminated as a littérateur, even as a grammarian, and his frenzies not only failed to diminish his passion for the correct and elegant formulation but augmented it even more. An epileptic temperament infatuated with the trifles of the Word: trances and boutades, convulsions and bagatelles, grace and a foaming mouth – everything combined to compose a pamphleteering universe at whose heart he harried ‘error’ with blows of invective, those ultimatums of impotence.
    • Emil Cioran, "Joseph de Maistre: An Essay on Reactionary Thought" in Anathemas and Admirations (1987), p. 70
  • Behind the classical mask, behind the classical façade, behind the air of the Grand Seigneur, behind the orthodox Thomism, behind the official complete subservience to the monarchy of his day, which was nothing very splendid or impressive, there is in Maistre something much wilder, much more romantic, much more terrifying. He reminds one of someone like d'Annunzio or Nietzsche – not to seek for later examples. In that way he resembled Rousseau.
    • Isaiah Berlin, "Introduction" in Considerations on France (1994), xxxii–xxxiii
  • Maistre attached the highest importance to the ‘philosophy of style,’ and averred that he who knew not how to write was incapable of metaphysics. The violence that pervades his thought and rhetoric is a response to the primal experience of the ‘terrible truth of evil,’ while his style incarnates his sense of the mystery of history. By conveying his thought in what Baudelaire called ‘rockets,’ Maistre provoked his readers into a state of fascination and shock.
    • Carolina Armenteros, "Epilogue: the forced inhabitant of history" in The New Enfant du Siècle: Joseph de Maistre as a Writer (2010), p. 101–102

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