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When I was an undergraduate, I took a class called "The Enlightenment" in which we read all the thinkers of, well, "The Enlightenment." I came to understand that they were the "good guys" of Western history, at least for most folks. We also read, as a kind of coda, a bit about the "Counter-Enlightenment," of which you may never have heard. The writers of the Counter-Enlightenment were, I learned, the "bad guys" of Western history, for they (apparently) didn't like reason, truth, progress and all that.

First among the black-hats was Joseph de Maistre. He believed the French Revolution was "satanic," as were the ideas behind it. Or so I thought until I read Carolina Armenteros' excellent book The French Idea of History: Joseph de Maistre and his Heirs, 1794-1854 (Cornell University Press, 2011). Turns out de Maistre was a good deal more subtle and thoughtful than the "received view" of him suggests, and Carolina does a marvelous job of making plain how and why. In this interview, Carolina explains not only the complexity of his thought, but also that he wasn't really French, let alone a black-hat wearing reactionary.


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