Epigrammatic grace too was what Maistre marveled at in Latin, which he was horrified to see everywhere replaced with the vernacular. Du pape mourned the vanishing of Latin inscriptions from public places: ‘[i]nstead of that noble laconism, you will read tales in vernacular language. The marble condemned to babble weeps the language that gave it that beautiful style that had a name among all other styles, and that, from the stone upon which it had established itself, threw itself into the memories of all men.’24 Maistre’s emphasis on memorability suggests another reason why he forged his posterity with a written orality. The folly of revolutionary leaders was to believe that writing was real, rather than the pathetically dissonant and enfeebled echo of that higher Word that is alone operative; and that passing laws was all that was needed to make them be respected. Maistre’s terse scripting was hence a bid to prove – with the paradox that nearly always enveloped his thoughts – that the spoken human language that was a degraded version of God’s own could engrave itself in hearts everlastingly like the true natural law. For when they carried truth, the spoken word and its succinct written analogue were endowed with an eternity absent from Enlightenment dissertations, philosophic gibberish, revolutionary debates, and the tiring blathering of salons that were havens of flattery.
In short, if hard marble could no longer shelter brevity, Maistre’s pamphlets and lyrical dialogues could. As genres that elevated conversation over dissertation, they had something of the constantly unfinished and occasional about them that made them natural containers of the unspeakable.
The thinker worthy of being understood is rare - perhaps one in tens or hundreds of thousands. Most of these, offering exemplary demonstrations of how not to think, nonetheless were endowed with the requisite intuition to identify and illustrate the vacuity of thinkers still more misguided than themselves. A few actually have decent thoughts. And then there are sages. Their words do not argue, but show; their words do not persuade - or at least do not appear to, clothed as they are in the phrasing of revelation, not argument.
It's easy to read; it's hard to understand. By understand I mean recognize the sages, which is to master the dark arts of revelation. The chief of the dark arts is Joseph de Maistre. I put together a bit of a reading list for those who wish to understand the glory of Maistre.
First, tender reader, recognize that in the realm of thinking anybody popular is not serious. Moving on.
Those completely innocent of the dark arts would benefit much from a genuine reading of such writers as Lewis, Derbyshire, Locke, Buckley, Hobbes, Burke, Arendt, Babbitt, Solzhenitsyn, Buchanan, Nisbet, Machiavelli, Sowell, Rand, Hazlitt, Meyer, Chambers. A diverse crew, but families are unhappy in many ways. While these are not writers of much depth, they are, unlike the likes of Dennett, Coulter, and Krugman, actual thinkers.
Those innocents with a taste for actual thinkers should then embark upon the serious ones. Popper, Bastiat, Rothbard, Weaver, Schumpeter, Kirk, Mencius, Russell, Arnold, Cicero, Godel, Hayek, Heinlein are serious.
If one enjoys abusing his newfound smell for the serious, he is ready for a bit more rigor. Queue up Chateaubriand, Mises, Dostoevsky, Malebranche, Tolstoy, Augustus, de Jouvenel, Descartes, Anselm, Schopenhauer. These are learned men made of stern stuff.
If the tender reader digests the stern stuff, he is ready to dive into the deep stuff. Filmer, Bossuet, Carlyle, Evola, Bonald, Fenelon, Davila are not for the faint of heart. Few are aware of these names. Among the fashionable, these thinkers are not recognized, but their views are shunned; among the elite, dropping one of these names is a bit of a signal and commands respect.
Thinkers of higher calibers than these proprietors of deep stuff are few - very few. But they lived, which is marvelous.
They are the sages. Each sage is distinguished by a kind of majestic intuition that adeptly dissects the most fundamental matters pondered by man, eclipsing all of us. And understand, tender reader, that to a thinker of this caliber we are all mere students. In fact, they are not thinkers but sages, possessing a clairvoyance that appears to intent readers of their works as mental flashes, glimpses into a higher and fuller comprehension precious few have ever imagined - let alone understood.
These flashes are glorious.
Plato, the sage of all sages, is the ideal to which all thinkers aspire. The history of philosophy is the series of footnotes to Plato's thought, except for a few addenda provided by sages. The darkest, deepest, and most glorious addendum was contributed by Joseph de Maistre.
Relentless retrograde, supreme champion of hierarchy, most able defender of Throne and Altar, Joseph de Maistre is the Reactionary par Excellence.
An aristocratic personality caught in the midst of massive social upheaval, Maistre wrote with the raw bitterness of a man who saw and understood far more than Providence should had permitted were his intellectual tranquility of any import at all. Alas, tender reader, it was not and we may enjoy "The Saint Petersburg Dialogues" and other masterworks as a result.
Reading Maistre is to intrude upon a disturbed mind. Penned in the fluid testimony of oratory that speaks not its purpose, his works take on a profundity few these days can even recognize. Maistre wrote with lucid, prophetic style that, betraying a grasp of the human condition supreme in conviction, bears down upon the most dearly held modern presumptions with a weight that increases according to the reader's understanding and imagination. Writing of the essential and the eternal, death, order, sacrifice, and violence all figure prominently in Maistre's work, but the essence of his revelations, central tenet of his orphic testimony, title of his glorious addendum is divine authority.
Read him, tender reader.