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Nigel Harris

Prophet on the Right

(Summer 1967)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.29, Summer 1967, p.38.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Works of Joseph de Maistre
Ed. Jack Lively
Allen & Unwin, 21s

The French Revolution precipitated the currents of political ideas that have dominated Europe since that time. However, ideas on the Left needed much more than the Revolution; industrial society and its subsequent changes were needed to continue the fertility of Left thought. Speculation is of the essence of Left-wing thought just as defence of a constant idealised social order is a necessary part of the Right. Thus while the Left changes continually, the Right has an uncanny constancy despite immense historical changes. There are few theorists of stature on the Right, but a very large number of writers who participate in the same continuum of thought, working out identical ideas over and over again. Burke in Britain and Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) for France provide some of the most comprehensive expositions of these basic formulations. Naturally the two are different in emphasis since one faced a real revolution and one did not, but essentially the basic scheme is the same: the organic and hierarchic society, governed with strict authority through one Church or one nationalist ideology in the hands of an accepted ruling class, uninhibited in its righteous use of violence, its superiority founded upon blood or birth. As with all Right-wing writers, the case recedes into mystery at some stage – the blood, the national genius, the genius of one great leader, the word of God, popular prejudice, the irrational or the righteous myth. Unfortunately, de Maistre’s work has not been translated hitherto, and Lively’s excellent rendering of these extracts from the major works is very welcome. Lively writes also a useful introduction to the texts.

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Last updated: 6 May 2010