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Contra Mundum

Joseph de Maistre & The Birth of Tradition

Thomas Garrett Isham

In response to the vainglory of the Enlightenment and the depredations of the French Revolution, writer and philosopher Joseph de Maistre proclaimed anew for his time the merits of tradition in religion, politics, and the social order, employing his masterful pen to counter the disruptions of his age and to predict their repercussions in the years ahead. Though de Maistre died nearly two centuries ago, his ideas hold much of value for the present day, as many shades of traditional thought square off against an excoriating assault on social and religious values far exceeding those of his own revolutionary milieu. Anyone concerned with setting a salvific course through the clashing rocks of Tradition and Modernity, deriving the best from both, will be well advised to take up de Maistre’s log and compass as they plot their course. In this effort, as Thomas Isham’s new book shows, we may turn for some considerable insight also to another guide in this domain whose work spans the time between de Maistre’s and our own—the traditionalist metaphysician René Guénon, who recognized and to some extent built upon, de Maistre’s ties to esoteric theory and practice, and his immersion in things both divine and human, macrocosmic and microcosmic.

Praise for Contra Mundum

“Anyone who wants to understand modern ultramontanism, monarchism, or integralism, is led to engage with the highly influential and controversial figure of Joseph de Maistre. Thomas Isham provides here a lively and readable introduction to Maistre’s thought. Partly through an extended and helpful comparison to René Guénon, Isham shows the unity behind Maistre’s combination of such disparate elements as reactionary Catholicism, Freemasonry, Origenist universalism, Cambridge Platonism, and Cartesian rationalism. Isham writes from a position of frank admiration for Maistre and his system, but his book will also be useful for those who see flaws in Maistre’s understanding of the tradition he attempted to defend against the Revolution.”

— PATER EDMUND WALDSTEIN, O.Cist.

“In his excellent new work, Thomas Isham shows how de Maistre got to know the inner, or ‘esoteric’ core of his religion without thinking that—to do so—he had to give up its more outward, ‘exoteric’ form. In this, he paved the way for the later work of the metaphysician René Guénon (examined here in great depth), who developed de Maistre’s insights much further, applying them also to other world religions. Isham also makes clear that de Maistre’s rejection of modernity derived from his understanding of the false philosophy on which it has always been based—the dogma that knowledge and truth derive solely from sense-perception. De Maistre’s project was to supply some guidance on a way forward by resurrecting the best elements of the past—a project upon which we are all still, and desperately, engaged.”

— ROBERT BOLTON, author of The Order of the Ages

About the Author

Thomas Garrett Isham

Thomas Garrett Isham, a career journalist and lifelong resident of southern Michigan, is the author of seven books. In addition to religious biography, his work focuses on the interactions between spirit and soul, techniques of interior practice, and man’s microcosmic role in traditional cosmology.