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Joseph de Maistre (1753–1821) was one of the founders of French conservative thought, a powerful critic of Enlightenment rationalism, of democracy, and of the French Revolution in particular. At the same time, however, as a highly sophisticated theorist of social violence and political authority, he was one of the originators of French sociology. Maistre, that is to say, was a philosophical conservative: his defense of order against disorder entailed a powerful effort to theorize social and political disorder and in that way to find order within human excess itself.

Maistre's greatest importance for the development of social theory is found in his sociology of religion or religious sociology: his sociological account of religious practices, especially in their more extreme forms, which insists that religion, understood in ...

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