Joseph de Maistre

Orfeas Katsoulis | Aug 14, 2023

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Count Joseph de Maistre (Chambéry, April 1, 1753 - Turin, February 26, 1821) was a politician, philosopher, magistrate and writer from Savoy, subject of the kingdom of Sardinia.

He is one of the fathers of the counter-revolutionary philosophy and one of the most important critics of the Enlightenment ideas. He considered the French Revolution a crime against the natural order. He defended the return to an absolute monarchy. He has influenced conservative and reactionary thought in a very important way since the 18th century.

Joseph de Maistre was a member of the sovereign Senate of Savoy, before emigrating in 1792 when the French armed forces occupied Savoy. He then spent a few years in Russia, before returning to Turin.


Joseph de Maistre was born on April 1, 1753 in Chambéry, (Duchy of Savoy), at the Hotel de Salins, Place de Lans, and immediately baptized in the church of Saint-Léger. He came from a family originating from the County of Nice; his grandfather André was a draper in Nice and his father François-Xavier Maistre, magistrate in Nice and then, in 1740, in the Senate of Savoy in Chambéry, this last office conferring him a privilege of hereditary nobility, was raised to the dignity of count by the king of Piedmont-Sardinia in 1778. His mother, Christine Demotz de La Salle, came from an old family of Savoyard magistrates. He was the eldest of a family of ten children and the godfather of his younger brother, Xavier de Maistre, who was to become a writer. He studied with the Jesuits, who had a profound influence on him throughout his life. In 1774, he entered the judiciary; he was appointed senator in 1788, at the age of thirty-five.

With his brother Xavier, he participated in the first launch of a hot air balloon in Savoie in 1784. For 25 minutes, the engineer Louis Brun and Xavier de Maistre flew over Chambéry before landing in the Triviers marsh.

Membership in Freemasonry

Joseph de Maistre is in 1774 member of the Masonic lodge Trois Mortiers in Chambéry. He has the titles of great orator, substitute of the generals and symbolic master. He intends to reconcile his membership in the Freemasonry with a strict Catholic orthodoxy: among other things, he refuses the theses which saw in the Freemasonry and the Illuminism the actors of a plot having brought to the Revolution. He wrote to Baron Vignet des Etoles that "Freemasonry in general, which dates back several centuries, certainly has nothing in common with the French Revolution".

With some brothers from Chambéry, he founded in 1778, the reformed Scottish lodge of "La Sincérité", which depends on the Scottish Directory whose soul is Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730-1824), disciple of Joachim Martinès de Pasqually. He was received as a beneficent knight of the Holy City under the name of eques Josephus a Floribus (this nickname refers to the marigold flowers on his coat of arms). One finds in his work the teachings of Masonry: providentialism, prophetism, reversibility of sentences, etc.; highly invested in the life of this initiatory society, on the eve of the Wilhelmsbad Convent (1782), he sent to Jean-Baptiste Willermoz his famous Memorandum to the Duke of Brunswick. He also maintained a friendship with Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, for whom he had a great admiration, making a point, he said, "to defend orthodoxy in all points", hence his attraction to Martinism.

During his stay in Turin, in 1793, Joseph de Maistre joined the lodge of the Strict Observance (La Stretta Osservanza) which is part of the Rectified Scottish Rite. Finally, in St. Petersburg, he attended the lodge of Mr. Stedingk, ambassador of Sweden to the Czar.

In total, Joseph de Maistre was active in Freemasonry for about 40 years, and reached the highest ranks of the Scottish Rectified Rite and Martinism. He is listed as one of the world's famous Freemasons.

Joseph de Maistre published in 1782 the Memorandum to the Duke of Brunswick on the occasion of the Wilhelmsbad Convent and in 1793 the Memorandum on Freemasonry addressed to Baron Vignet des Étoles. These works are regularly commented or studied as historical elements.

The turning point of the French Revolution

When the French Revolution took place in 1789, Savoy, as a foreign country, was not directly involved in the events that shook France. The Savoyards, however, followed these events very closely through contact with the thousands of French refugees who crossed the country and stayed there before going into exile in Switzerland or Piedmont. For his part, Joseph de Maistre lucidly admits the foundations of the Revolution. He seems to have accepted the new ideas, which at the beginning obtain the favors and the assent of the king Louis XVI himself. In an intervention to the sovereign Senate of Savoy, the senator de Maistre pleads for the people to walk with great steps towards the civil equality. However, he deplores the popular excesses and disorders that disrupt the life of the neighboring country. And it is only when the monarchical and religious institutions of France are threatened that his counter-revolutionary and anti-Gallican ideas are forged, his judgment being influenced by the reading of the Reflections on the Revolution of France of Edmund Burke.

Certain biographers, of which Robert Triomphe, will reproach him for what they consider as a volte-face. It is to underestimate the violence of the events of this disturbed time that this man with the well tempered character, faithful to the dynasty of Savoy, does not intend to undergo passively.

Joseph de Maistre entered the resistance when his country was invaded during the night of September 21-22, 1792 by the French revolutionary armies under the orders of General Anne Pierre de Montesquiou-Fézensac. On October 23, the Savoyard deputies designated by the people under the control of the occupant constituted themselves as the National Assembly of the Allobroges, proclaimed the forfeiture of the House of Savoy, the suppression of the seven provinces and the indivisible unity of Allobrogia. On November 27, 1792, the National Convention decreed the reunion of Savoy with France, making it the 84th department. From then on, the Savoyard people were completely subjected to the French revolutionary regime. The civil constitution of the clergy imposed on Savoy, in spite of France's commitment to respect the free exercise of religion and the independence of priests, led to the exile and deportation of a large number of insertive Savoyard priests, and sometimes their execution. On March 23, 1793, Chambéry witnessed the liquidation, by the French revolutionaries, of the Sovereign Senate of Savoy: Joseph de Maistre was the only senator to show his resistance to the new power in place. In April 1793, Annecy became the center of the maneuvers of the counter-revolution. Mgr de Thiollaz was the soul of the resistance. Joseph de Maistre was the council and the speaker.

Joseph de Maistre took refuge in Turin in 1792 as soon as the French troops invaded. In the winter, he settled with his wife and their two children, Adèle and Rodolphe, in the city of Aoste, where he found his brother Xavier and his sisters, Marie-Christine and Jeanne-Baptiste. But the Law of the Allobroges obliges the refugees to return to Savoy under penalty of confiscation of their goods. Back in Chambéry, the de Maistre couple refused to take the oath and, as emigrants, their house on the Place Saint-Léger, their land and their vineyards were put up for sale as national property. In the meantime, on January 27, 1793, Madame de Maistre gave birth to a little girl who was baptized in Chambéry under the name of Constance and was temporarily entrusted to her maternal grandmother, Anne de Morand, in order to escape the turbulent life of her parents who were going into exile. This was without counting on the regime of the Terror, confirmed by the Law of Suspects: the grandmother, accused of having an emigrant daughter, was put in prison in Chambéry on August 16, 1793. She would get her granddaughter back on her release and raise her in Savoie as her own daughter.

The de Maistre family took refuge in Lausanne where they lived for four years. Joseph fulfilled various missions on behalf of his sovereign, as a correspondent for the offices of the Sardinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was in charge of an intelligence network in Switzerland and had to help recruit his compatriots to increase the number of resistance fighters in the interior. In 1794, he published in Lausanne the Letters of a Savoy royalist to his compatriots. In 1795, he published a pamphlet entitled: Lettre de Jean-Claude Têtu, maire de Montagnole, à ses concitoyens. This counter-revolutionary libel was printed in several thousand copies and was read avidly in Savoy. The General Council asks in vain to the Republic of Geneva to seize the new editions. Joseph de Maistre stayed in Lausanne until 1797, when he joined the king in Turin.

The French troops having invaded Piedmont in 1798, the de Maistre family took refuge in Venice, after an eventful journey. The French soldiers at the checkpoint who intercepted their boat on the Po River, not knowing how to decipher their identity papers, released the travelers who declared themselves to be from the canton of Neuchâtel, subjects of the King of Prussia. King Charles-Emmanuel IV, stripped of the Duchy of Savoy, abdicated his throne of Piedmont and retired to his kingdom of Sardinia. In 1799, while Charles-Emmanuel IV returned to the continent and was held prisoner in Florence, Joseph de Maistre returned to Cagliari where he held the position of Regent of the Chancellery.

King Victor-Emmanuel I, successor to his brother who had retired to a convent in 1802, appointed Joseph de Maistre as Minister Plenipotentiary in St. Petersburg. The latter, while in Rome, obtained an audience with Pope Pius VII in the Vatican. He represents diplomatically the interests of the kingdom of Sardinia in Russia with a certain success. The ambassador is very appreciated by the good society of Petersburg, including the princes Galitzine and the admiral Tchitchagov. In 1805, the admiral gave him the post of director of the library and the museum of the Navy in St. Petersburg in favor of his brother Xavier. He met the emperor Alexander I on several occasions and became his regular advisor. During the 14 years of his mandate in Russia, he developed an intense intellectual activity through his studies and his epistolary exchanges. Among his French royalist correspondents, we can note the names of the counts of Blacas and Avaray, representing Louis XVIII in Mitau, (Jelgava) and of the viscount of Bonald.

The first Treaty of Paris (1814) consecrated the dismantling of Savoy, between France (which kept Chambéry and Annecy), Switzerland and the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. From Saint Petersburg, where he lived until 1816, Joseph de Maistre is torn: "My unfortunate country is cut up and lost. I remain in the middle of the world without possessions, and even, in a certain sense, without a sovereign. A stranger to France, a stranger to Savoy, a stranger to Piedmont, I do not know my future fate...".

The second treaty of Paris, confirmed by the congress of Vienna, consecrates the restitution of the totality of Savoy, the county of Nice and Piedmont to the king of Sardinia. When he reached Turin, King Victor-Emmanuel I took possession of his states and re-established the old regime for the most part.

Return to France

During this period, in Russia, Joseph de Maistre is convinced of religious proselytizing, under the influence of the Jesuits. It is said that he was responsible for the conversion to Catholicism of Countess Rostopchine and her daughter, the future Countess of Segur. The Jesuits were expelled from St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1815 and left Russia permanently in 1820. On his side the representative of the king of Sardinia considered that he was wrongly suspected and asked for his recall. He returned to Turin in 1817.

Joseph de Maistre, on his way back, will spend three weeks in Paris in May 1817. He obtained an audience with Louis XVIII who received him coldly. Personal author of the Charter of 1814 granted to the French, which integrates certain principles of the Revolution as opposed to the theorist of the absolute Monarchy with which he is confronted, the king of France has on the heart the criticisms formulated by the author of the Essay on the generating principle of the political Constitutions: "One of the great errors of a century that professed them all, was to believe that a political constitution could be written and created a priori, whereas reason and experience come together to establish that a constitution is a divine work, and that precisely what is most fundamental and most essentially constitutional in the laws of a nation cannot be written."

The Savoyard writer, who had become famous in the France of the Restoration, was invited to speak at the Académie française. The academicians give him a standing ovation and offer him a seat. In the welcoming speech, his daughter Constance de Maistre, who accompanied him, made a beautiful compliment: "It is here, among us, that you should be, Mr. Count, and we consider you as one of us".

He was elected on April 23, 1820 to the Academy of Sciences, Belles-Lettres and Arts of Savoy, with the academic title of Effectif (titulaire).

On his return, Joseph de Maistre was appointed president of the Chancellery, with the rank of Minister of State. He died in Turin on February 26, 1821. (See). He is buried in the Church of the Holy Martyrs.

Union and posterity

Joseph de Maistre married on September 17, 1786, Françoise-Marguerite de Morand (1759 † 1839), known as "Madame Prudence", daughter of Jean-Pierre de Morand de Saint-Sulpice (1703-1759) and Anne-Marie Favier du Noyer (1732 † 1812), of whom he had :

Joseph de Maistre is the main representative, together with the Viscount Louis de Bonald and the Spaniard Donoso Cortès, of the opposition to the theses of the French revolution. Louis de Bonald and Joseph de Maistre had relatively similar theories, as expressed by the latter shortly before his death: "I have thought nothing that you have not written, I have written nothing that you have not thought." Louis de Bonald, however, does not hesitate to highlight the exceptions that differentiate their two systems. . He opposes to the rationalism of the XVIIIth century the common sense, the faith, the unwritten laws.

The body politic takes precedence over the individual

For Joseph de Maistre, the individual is a secondary reality in relation to society and authority. Society cannot fundamentally be defined as the sum of the individuals that compose it. In this, he criticizes the conception of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: it is, for Joseph de Maistre, unthinkable to constitute a society from a social contract. Individuals cannot found societies, they are incapable of doing so by their nature. The power forms the individuals, but the individuals do not form the power.

Joseph de Maistre affirmed that he had never seen a Man: by this he meant that Man, as an abstract entity, does not exist. Man belongs above all to society. We can therefore see beings that can only define themselves in relation to the particular context in which they live, in relation to the political organism of which they are a cell. In other words, an isolated individual is nothing, since he is abstractly separated from the authority and traditions that unite society. Having above all a destructive tendency (being by essence corrupted beings and negative factors in the eyes of the theorist), men manage above all to destroy society. And yet they are not even capable of doing so, since they are carried along by a Providence that uses individuals to regenerate it.

La Providence

Providence is an important concept for Joseph de Maistre. Thus the Revolution, although it seems to be an initiative of individuals, is in fact, in his eyes, a manifestation of Providence, which never ceases to intervene in the course of human affairs (this is also for him the case of wars). This is for him visible in the course of the French Revolution: the very fact that it degenerated proves that a superior force was the driving force behind this event.

For Joseph de Maistre, the political body being constituted in the image of a living organism, it can sometimes be sick: this sickness is revealed by the weakening of the authority and unity that bind society. Also, to punish men and regenerate effectively the society, the Providence leads them in rebellions against the authority, such as the French Revolution. Men, believing themselves to be masters of their own destiny, in reality embark on the execution of their own punishment, becoming their own executioners (thus Joseph de Maistre analyzes the regime of the Terror as an inherent consequence of the revolutionary movement). Once the revolution is over, like a remedy, the political organism is rid of the elements that weaken it; power is stronger, society more unified. The sacrifice of individuals is a necessary evil for the safeguarding of the social body, and Joseph de Maistre, in his most colorful formulations, does not hesitate to evoke the blood that the earth demands to render justice, and that it obtains through the war that men wage against each other.

The relationship between the individual and Providence remains very paradoxical in Joseph de Maistre's thought: men are both capable of overturning the society in which they live, and dispossessed of their active role by Providence, which makes them fundamentally passive beings.

Theocracy, a close alliance of power and religion

If Joseph de Maistre attacks the republican regime and Protestantism, it is because he considers them as individual productions. The former is a divided government, since it puts individuals in power; Protestantism, on the other hand, is a negative religion (a religion that protests and affirms nothing positive in its eyes), which dissolves, by refusing authority, the insurrection of the individual will against general reason. The individual is indeed a factor which divides, where the power and the authority unify.

For de Maistre, all religion must be social; however, since Protestantism is not social in his eyes, and even anti-sovereign by nature, it is not a religion. This is why de Maistre considers that any religion, as long as it serves social unity, is likely to carry a government, and to be carried by the latter.

Religion must bring common beliefs, and bring cohesion to the political body. It must protect the power as much as the power must protect it. There is therefore no question of separating the Church from the State, quite the contrary. This is why Joseph de Maistre advocated a theocratic type of regime, in which religion plays a strongly structuring role, and which should teach subjects blind respect for authority and "the abnegation of all individual reasoning".

While Jean-Jacques Rousseau also agreed that religion was necessary to the body politic, he rejected Christianity as an enemy of the republic. For Joseph de Maistre, on the other hand, the Christian religion is the most suitable, because it perfectly supports the monarchy and is based on tradition, without which it is impossible for a religion to be founded. But monarchy is itself the most suitable political regime: as he states in his Considerations on France, monarchy is a balance that has been built up over the course of history. It is a temperate but strong regime, and does not tend, according to him, towards violence, contrary to the republic which he sees as an unbalanced and unstable regime. Moreover, monarchy is the regime that most respects what he considers a natural fact: namely the inequality between men, which monarchy integrates into its organization, and which is relativized thanks to the equality of all in their subjection to the king. For Joseph de Maistre, the republic substitutes a utopian equality, which does not take into account the true nature of Man. For the latter must live in society, and any society must be structured around a hierarchy, which therefore justifies the existence of orders in society.

For Joseph de Maistre, temporal power must conform to the ways of Providence. A theocratic regime is then for him the most adapted, while the recognition of the religious authority pushes him to recognize the temporal supremacy of the pope.

Joseph de Maistre's theories, little known at the time of the Revolution, were later very successful among ultra-royalists and conservatives. Interesting for putting the revolutionary phenomenon into perspective, they present a thorough reflection rich in paradoxes, well identifiable among the conservative currents of thought.

Joseph de Maistre also had a posterity that was both more spiritual and more literary, via several authors whom he influenced considerably: Honoré de Balzac, but above all Charles Baudelaire (for example in his poems Correspondances or Réversibilité), Antoine Blanc de Saint-Bonnet, Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly and Ernest Hello, who then marked all the catholic literature of the twentieth century - from Léon Bloy, Bernanos, and Paul Claudel, up to Léon Tolstoï, in War and Peace.

Criticism of the ideologists of the Revolution

In his youth, Joseph de Maistre was seduced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. Well after his passage in the Freemasonry, he will be one of the most important theorists of the "counter-revolutionary" thought, catholic, violently anti-protestant, and absolutist of divine right as testifies the Evenings of Saint Petersburg (the Four first ones) (which does not allow to align him with the British Edmund Burke). He rejected the French revolutions, both the Terror and the Revolution of 1789, in other words, the Rights of Man, which he judged to be contrary to the traditional political and social order of the European nations, and whose root he analyzed as being the Calvinist Reformation, and German Lutheranism, against which he warned the Russian tsar. Finally, he will be designated as an anti-Lumière. In the movement of the international right-wing radicalism (such as the alt right) he is designated as one of the modern founders of Traditionalism, like, in the twentieth century, a Julius Evola.

Institute founded by Jacques Lovie in 1975 within the University Center of Savoy. See also the Association des amis de Joseph et Xavier de Maistre. Publication of the Revue des études maistriennes.


  1. Joseph de Maistre
  2. Joseph de Maistre
  3. Prononciation en français de France retranscrite selon la norme API. Pour Joseph de Maistre, le nom est traditionnellement prononcé [mɛstʁ] avec le S comme le « mestre » dans bourgmestre ; c'est ainsi qu'il est généralement entendu à l'université et dans les documents sonores (par exemple Sacha Guitry dans Le Diable boiteux, 1948). Son nom est plus rarement prononcé [mɛtʁ] comme « maître », sous l'influence de la prononciation adoptée par certains descendants (comme c'est le cas pour Patrice de Maistre).
  4. La Savoie faisait partie du Royaume de Sardaigne. À ce propos Joseph de Maistre écrivait en 1802 dans une lettre de protestation adressée à M. Alquier, ambassadeur de la république française à Naples (Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, p. XVIII): « Je ne suis pas français, je ne l’ai jamais été et je ne veux pas l’être. » Aussi dans l'Advertissement de la seconde édition des Considérations sur la France (publié à Bâle en 1797) l'écrivain et royaliste français Jacques Mallet du Pan dit clairement que l'auteur du livre [=de Maistre], pour ses expressions, n'est pas évidemment un Français (ici le link): « Son Auteur nous est inconnu; mais nous savons qu'il n'est point français: on s'en apercevra à la lecture de ce Livre. » — Considérations sur la France, Londres [Bâle], 1797, p. I. Albert Blanc, docteur en droit de l'université de Turin, éditeur des mémoires politiques et de la correspondance diplomatique du comte de Maistre, dans la préface de cette dernière (Correspondance diplomatique de Joseph de Maistre, Paris, 1860, vol. I, pp. III-IV) écrivait : « ...[le comte de Maistre] était un politique; ce catholique était un Savoisien ; il a vu les destinées de la maison de Savoie, il a souhaité la chute de la domination autrichienne, il a été, dans ce siècle, l'un des premiers défenseurs de [l'indépendance de l'Italie]. » C'est-à-dire que Joseph de Maistre était Savoyard et non Français. De plus, il est souvent nommé en italien Giuseppe de Maistre.
  5. Comme la thèse de l'abbé Barruel notamment, dans Les Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire du Jacobinisme.
  6. ."La fraternité maçonnique unissait ces deux hommes. Maistre empruntera bientôt, grâce à Stedingk, le chemin de la loge et, avec lui, il reprendra ses incursions au pays de l'ésotérisme qu'il avait connu avant 1789, de sorte que son exil de Saint-Pétersbourg, s'il lui valut beaucoup d'épreuves, eut aussi, on ne saurait trop insister sur ce point, le caractère positif d'une renaissance. La loge de Stedingk relevait du Rite Écossais Rectifié... La vérité est que Joseph de Maistre ne renia jamais ses engagements fondamentaux, qu'ils fussent d'amitié, de fidélité maçonnique, d'action politique". Jean Rebotton.Études maistriennes. Bibliothèque de l'archivum Augustanum. Aoste. 1974. (Extrait d'une lettre de Joseph de Maistre en date du 16 décembre 1811 à M. de Stedingk de retour en Suède : Je vois que lorsqu'on est en Suède, il faut nécessairement être franc-maçon. Vous tenez la truelle. Marchez courageusement, Mon cher frère, dans le chemin du sixième ordre d'Architecture hors duquel il n'y a point de salut. Qu'il me serait doux, M. le Maréchal, d'être reçu dans votre loge, mais hélas il n'y a pas d'apparence que je vous revoie jamais... Consolons nous, comme vous le dites, M. le Maréchal, en songeant que ni le temps ni l'espace ne peuvent rompre les liens tissés par une si longue et si douce habitude). Citation par Jean Rebotton.
  7. ^ Joseph de Maistre, Correspondance diplomatique, in Œuvres complètes, I, Paris, 1860, pp. III-IV.«Je ne suis pas français, je ne l'ai jamais été et je ne veux pas l'être»
  8. ^ a b c d e f Joseph de Maistre, pensatore europeo da una lezione del dott. Ignazio Cantoni, su (archiviato dall'url originale il 19 novembre 2008)..
  9. ^ Andrea Cuccia, Dieci Tavole Architettoniche sulla Massoneria, Rubbettino, Catanzaro, 2005, cap. "Il movimento massonico femminile", p. 318.
  10. ^ a b La Controrivoluzione di Joseph de Maistre, su URL consultato il 25 agosto 2022.
  11. ^ AA.VV., La massoneria, 2018 estratto
  12. Ludwik Hass, Wolnomularstwo w Europie środkowo-wschodniej w XVIII i XIX wieku, 1982, s. 146.
  13. ^ Maistre is traditionally pronounced [mɛstʁ] (i.e. sounding the "s" and rhyming with bourgmestre); that is how it is usually heard at university and in historical movies (as in Sacha Guitry's 1948 film Le Diable Boiteux [fr]). The pronunciation [mɛːtʁ] (rhymes with maître) is sometimes heard under the influence of the modernized pronunciation, adopted by some descendants (such as Patrice de Maistre).

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