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A Complete Atheist: Jean Meslier’s Political Philosophy

Devellennes, Charles (2021) A Complete Atheist: Jean Meslier’s Political Philosophy. Journal of Interdisciplinary History of Ideas, 10 (19). 2:1-2:26. E-ISSN 2280-8574. (doi:10.13135/2280-8574/3719) (KAR id:104890)


Jean Meslier, a largely forgotten figure of the history of political thought, is a radical thinker of the Enlightenment, and one who best illustrates Israel’s thesis about the period. This article, which proposes to set Meslier’s work in his intellectual context, will show just how radical this Catholic priest really was. It details the intellectual journey in Meslier’s works leading to the affirmation of his own atheism and shows how this atheism then sets the stage for the development of a proto-utilitarian doctrine. This doctrine then has consequences for political thought more widely. Against the dominant reading in the literature, which portrays Mes-lier as an early communist thinker, this article shows that he is best understood as a radical republican thinker. This further helps nuance the Israel’s Enlightenment thesis, by showing how republicanism (as opposed to a theory of ‘democracy’) is a better fit for the works of some radical thinkers of the period.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.13135/2280-8574/3719
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Funders: University of Kent (
Depositing User: Robert Newman
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2024 11:07 UTC
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2024 16:59 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Devellennes, Charles.

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