Existentialism Philosophy

The Political Philosophy of Jacques Maritain

No other modern day Christian philosopher is more traditional and consistent with time-honored values than Jacques Maritain. The embodiment of the philosophical convention of Thomas Aquinas, this twentieth century Catholic revitalizes the intellectual foundations upon which all Western Civilization is based and fosters as a culture. His relevancy has grown with every passing year. The absurdity in the political insanity of our age is a direct result of an abandonment in the primacy of the meaning in life. The diktat that stems from the secular society is meant to eradicate Christianity from public existence.

E. J. Borich sums up Maritain in this way: “To Maritain, the cardinal sin of modern man was that he did not realise that in the order of good, God had the first initiative and man the second initiative. In Maritain's own words, "The Divine Plentitude in us is primary in relation to our movement of ascent." The tragedy is, as he says in Science and Wisdom, "An age of anthropocentric humanism cut off from the Incarnation, an age in which science finally carried the day against wisdom, and the effort of progress turned to the destruction of human values."

In a perceptive summary Conquest of Freedom, Walter LaCentra PhD clearly illustrates the core crisis. “The tragic mistake of modern times has been to interpret the temporal order in terms of man only. The results have been manifest in the divinization of man or the divinization of the state.” Citing from True Humanism, Dr LaCentra deduces that a reform of civilization must be made with means different from those used to achieve a purely political revolution. Maritain in Man and the State asserts: “It should be made rather in the name of ethical and spiritual values and of the primary social value of human personality holding fast to the principle that the rational life of man is ordered to the accomplishment of true freedom of autonomy.”

But what does this freedom mean in terms of the politics within the social order? Also from Man and the State, political emancipation founded on the authentic notion of the common good, has for Maritain a communal and personalist component. It would be nonsense to talk of the common good of the temporal order that you separate it from the people who contribute thereto. Political emancipation founded on the authentic notion of authority has the role of the State as being one “especially concerned with the maintenance of law, the promotion of the common welfare and public order, and the administration of public affairs. Far from using its power and authority to absorb the body politic, it stands at the service of the whole political society.” If it is true that the purpose of public authority is to use its power to promote the essentially human purposes of the common good, who’s law is supreme?

The next aspect examines the political emancipation founded on the recognition of a religious principle. The basic truth of Christian faith is that man is made for God and eternal life. Maritain maintains that: “The Kingdom of God constitutes the ultimate end prepared for by the movement of all history and in which it concludes, toward which converge, on the other hand, the history of the Church and the spiritual world.”

Dr LaCentra continues:

“The need today, accordingly, is to seek for a new synthesis that allows the things of God, while remaining distinct from the things of Caesar, to permeate social and political life in such a way that man will be able to pursue his perfection in freedom. This synthesis is what Maritain called an integral humanism, one that is free of all taint of the rationalism and naturalism that characterized the dialectic of the anthropocentric humanism of the 18th and 19th century. The new synthesis of the temporal and supernatural must recognize the secular aims of a civilization by attending to the development of man’s natural activities and by procuring his earthly good fortune. It must recognize also man’s eternal quest for a transcendent Reality. The dynamism of this new order can no longer be rooted in the unity of a culture founded on religio-political body, as was the case in the Middle Ages, for the obvious fact of our times is the heterogeneity of contemporary religions. Gone with the Reformation is the unity of a culture founded on religion where doctrinal principles achieved a close communion of minds under the light of one Faith. Now with the proliferation of diverse religious beliefs the task of unifying the socio-temporal order on the foundation of one theological faith seems remote indeed. But neither is such necessary or expedient. If religion unity cannot be had as it was in Medieval times, a spiritual unity can and must exist within a pluralist body politic.”

Certainly this assessment reflects a ‘PC’ surrender to the whims of cultural relativity, but it begs the essential subject. Can or should a society remain intact for the sake of diverse assemblage? Who can argue with the intense assault against all things Christian from a secular society bent on imposing their will over the civil affairs of believing relics? Well a religionist relic is another man’s remnant. Since the basis of the current civic politik is the elimination of adherence to God’s law, the replacement encoding regulation can hardly be consistent with Maritain’s view of Thomistic Metaphysics.

Thaddeus J. Kozinski in Jacques Maritain’s "Democratic Faith": Heretical or Orthodox? – offers this opposite perspective.

“Maritain also insisted, however, that even though scholastic thought was the only philosophical tradition that could coherently ground the democratic charter in theory—because both the charter and scholasticism were worldly branches of the same spiritual tree, as it were, the tree of the Gospel—it was not necessary for modern men to be grafted onto that tree, that is, to be scholastic or even to profess Christian belief, in order to give a full and intelligible assent to it. Why? Because the fundamental insight upon which the charter would be built, the dignity of the human person, was an insight now commonly held by even a scholastic-and-Gospel-eschewing modern man. As long as this insight about the dignity of persons remained firmly in the communal consciousness, as he believed it would because of the evident evolution of moral consciousness, the democratic charter would work, regardless of the truth or falsity of the philosophical or religious theories that served to ground it in the minds of individual men.”

Is it really accurate to acknowledge that the present public attitude respects the universality of human dignity? What version of current events reflects this conclusion? Certainly not the one that plays itself out daily for all the world to see. The notion of a Democratic Pluralism based upon a Maritainian proclamation of a coexistent solution with greater autonomy, defies the march toward cultural assimilation, that is the contemporary condition. Kozinski makes the point: “The enforced divorce of one’s deep, comprehensive worldview from political life, inasmuch as one is "told" in countless ways (education, media, law, church sermons!) that such a divorce is morally obligatory by the exigencies of pluralism, would tend to make a rigorous, politically relevant Catholic doctrine like the social reign of Christ the King seem obsolete—or even heretical!” The secular society is a culture of death, based upon the lie of spiritually devoid neutrality.

He adds a keen insight: “The irony is that the proposal of the so-called religiously-neutral state as the only way to deal with deep pluralism itself establishes a religion and a set of values. This is the religion of liberalism."

Before you are dismissive of Maritain’s naiveté, his humanity is well worth your respect. Mr. Kozinski explains in this manner: “Maritain’s "blind spot" to the imminent dangers of pluralism was shared by many Catholic intellectuals in the immediate post-war period, and no doubt this writer would have shared in the blindness also. However, such a blind spot can not be excused today, in the clear light of those evils that now beset our country, evils whose existence Maritain had no way to predict. Insofar as America was, for Maritain, a veritable incarnation of the democratic faith in the modern day, and insofar as we have determined that that faith is flawed, I think it can now be admitted that Maritain made a grave error in his discernment of the American spirit of his day.”

Individuality has its first ontological roots in matter in the Thomistic doctrine. Dr. LaCentra sees “Maritain’s political significance to modern day Thomism stemming from guiding intuitions he had into modern problems. He made himself heard and respected as a prophet for a moral regeneration of the person and society in an age when depersonalization of man and the disintegration of a stable social order were taking place simultaneously.”

All forms of centralization were denounced. Friendship is a characteristic so essential to his notion of society that he speaks of it as its very soul. Therefore, he advocated the need for workable agreements in practical matters. Thus, political freedom while enviable was subordinate to terminal freedom. The last LaCentra summary illustrates the insight: “He warned of two diametrically opposed errors regarding political freedoms: one, the individual could become a law unto himself, threatening thereby the order and structure of society and its common good, and, secondly, the state, in suppressing such license inevitably following from such individualism, could force an obedience to itself so all-pervading that the inviolable rights of the human person be lost.”

Jacques Maritain was a moral man living in a very immoral world. Human nature never advances, only awareness in our mutual collective flaws can be considered as progress. Politics void of our spiritual nature denies our inherent autonomy. The only law that is valid comes from God, and not decided by men. When pluralism destroys that truth, our duty is to obey our Christian Father.

SARTRE – March 22, 2005

posted by SARTRE at 3/21/2005 |

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