The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu

The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu [1] (in the original French Dialogue aux enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu ou la politique de Machiavel au XIXe siècle) is a political satire written by French attorney Maurice Joly in protest against the regime of Napoleon III, a.k.a. Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte.

The piece uses the literary device of a dialogue of the dead, invented by ancient Roman writer Lucian and introduced into the French belles-lettres by Bernard de Fontenelle in the 18th century. Shadows of the historical characters of Niccolo Machiavelli and Charles Montesquieu meet in Hell in the year 1864 and dispute on politics. In this way Joly tried to cover up a direct, and then illegal, criticism of Louis-Napoleon's rule.

Dialogue aux enfers, 1864

Joly relates in his 1870 autobiography [2] that one evening thinking of Abbé Galiani's treatise Dialogues sur le commerce des bleds[3] and walking by Pont Royal, he was inspired to write a dialogue between Montesquieu and Machiavelli. The noble baron Montesquieu would make the case for liberalism; the Florentine politician Machiavelli would present the case for despotism.

Machiavelli claims that he "... wouldn't even need twenty years to transform utterly the most indomitable European character and render it as a docile under tyranny as the debased people of Asia". Montesquieu insists that the liberal spirit of the peoples is invincible. In 25 dialogues, step by step, Machiavelli, who by Joly's plot covertly represents Napoleon III, explains how he would replace freedom with despotism in any given European country: "... Absolute power will no longer be an accident of fortune but will become a need" of the modern society. At the end, Machiavelli prevails. In the curtain-line Montesquieu exclaims "Eternal God, what have you permitted!...". [1]

The book was published anonymously (par un contemporain, by a contemporary) in Brussels in 1864 [4] and smuggled into France for distribution, but the print run was seized by the police immediately upon crossing the border. The police swiftly tracked down its author, and Joly was arrested. The book was banned. On 25 April 1865, he was sentenced to 18 months at the Sainte-Pélagie Prison in Paris. The second edition of "Dialogues" was issued in 1868 under Joly's name .[5]

Campaigning against Napoleon III at the French constitutional referendum, 1870, Joly wrote an epilogue to his "Dialogue". It was published at Le Gaulois [6] and La Cloche [7] magazines.[8]

In the beginning of 20th century Joly's book is falsely linked to the creation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,[9] an infamous text, proclaimed by propagandists to be Russian-made antisemits pamphlet. There are a few vague similarities, however not substantial enough to link the two texts.[10][11] [12] [13] [14] ,[15] however there are still skeptics who insist that it was Joly who plagiarized The Protocols and not vice versa.[16]

Italian writer Umberto Eco claims[17] that in the Dialogue Joly plagiarized seven pages or more from a popular novel Les Mystères du peuple by Eugene Sue.[18]


  1. 1 2 Maurice Joly (author); John S. Waggoner (translator) (2002). The Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu. Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-0337-7.
  2. Maurice Joly (1870). Maurice Joly, son passé, son programme, par lui-même. Paris: Lacroix, Verbɶckhoven et Co.
  3. Ferdinando Galiani (1770). Dialogues sur le commerce des bleds. London.
  4. Maurice Joly (1864). Dialogue aux enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu ou la politique de Machiavel au XIXe siècle. Bruxelles: A. Mertens et fils.
  5. Maurice Joly (1868). Dialogue aux Enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu, ou la Politique au XIXe siècle, par un contemporain [Maurice Joly]. Bruxelles: Tous les libraires.
  6. Maurice Joly (30 April 1870). "Dialogue aux Enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu. Épilogue.". Le Gaulois : littéraire et politique (in French). Paris (664): 2–3.
  7. Maurice Joly. "Dialogue aux Enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu. Epilogue.". La Cloche 2 May 1870 - 10 May 1870 (in French).
  8. F. Leclercq (1996). Le Plébiscite, épilogue du dialogue aux enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu, précédé de César. Paris-Zanzibar. ISBN 2-911314-02-6.
  9. Сергей Нилус (1905). Великое в малом и антихрист, как близкая политическая возможность. Записки православного. Царское Село.
  10. "The truth about "The Protocols"". The Times, August 16, 17, and 18, 1921. London.
  11. Kevin Schlottmann (July 17, 2013). "Guide to the Bern Trial on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion Collection". Leo Baeck Institute. Retrieved January 26, 2016. External link in |website= (help)
  12. Herman Bernstein (1935). The Truth About "The Protocols of Zion". A Complete Exposure. New York: Covici Friede. ISBN 978-0870681769.
  13. Alex Bein (1990). The Jewish question: biography of a world problem. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. p. 339. ISBN 978-0-8386-3252-9.
  14. Steven Leonard Jacobs; Mark Weitzman (2003). Dismantling the Big Lie: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. p. 15. ISBN 0-88125-785-0.
  15. Cesare De Michelis (2004). The Non-Existent Manuscript: a Study of the Protocols of the Sages of Zion, Studies in Antisemitism Series. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-1727-7.
  16. Norman Cohn (April 1, 2006). Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. London: Serif. ISBN 978-1897959497.
  17. Umberto Eco (1994). Six Walks in the Fictional Woods. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-81050-3.
  18. Eugène Sue. Les Mystères du peuple ou Histoire d’une famille de prolétaires à travers les âges. Bruxelles, 1849-1857: Alphonse-Nicolas Lebègue.
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