Maritain's theory-and his supreme achievement
By Dom BEDE GRIFFITHS, O.S.B.
THE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PIIILOSOPHY OF JACQUES MAR1TAIN: Selected Readings by .1. W. Evans and Leo Ward (Geoffrey Bits. 25s.).
DURING the past 25 years Maritain has written a series of books on social and political philosophy which constitute the most important contribution to Catholic philosophy of any writer of our time.
What is perhaps most remarkable in this achievement is the capacity for growth which Maritain has shown. He started with certain fundamental principles de r i ved from the philosophy of St. Thomas and applied them at first with a certain rigidity. But as time has gone on, he has shown an ever increasing awareness of the concrete problems of modern society and a sensitiveness to the needs of modern man, which makes his writing acutely relevant to Ihe situation of the world to-day.
In fact, no one who is seriously concerned with the future of our civilisation can afford to ignore him.
Yet these writings fill a great many books which not everyone will have the time to read. The authors of this book have therefore done a most valuable work in bringing into a single volume a representative selection of his svritings.
It covers the whole field of his philosophy. beginning with a section on the Human Person and its relation to society, which gives the metaph}sical foundation of all his philosophy; going on to a section on Man and Political Society, in which Maritain discusses the basic principle of a democratic order; and concluding with two sections, one on the Gospel and Human Society and another on the New Socio-Temporal Order. in which he develops his conception of a new Christendom.
THE opening section on the Human Person is the basis of all Maritain's thought, as of all Catholic thought, on the problems of human society.
Perhaps Maritain's most important contribution to this is his use of the distinction between the individual and the person. As an individual, every man is a part of society and is conditioned by its laws, but as a person every man transcends the whole social order and is directly related to God Himself. It is this tension, which constitutes the problem of the social order, the tendency being either to regard a man as a mere individual and treat him as a cog in a wheel, or to set him above society and its laws and make him a law to himself.
In drawing out the full significance of this tension and the delicate balance it involves, Maritain has worked out a complete theory of Christian democracs. This is in reality his supreme achievement.
Before he wrote, democracy was suspect among Catholics, and many (like Belloc) were inclined to reject it altogether. It was Maritain who first established be) ond question the Christian basis of democracy, and it is to him that the Christian democratic movement on the continent largely owes its inspiration. What he did was to show that the principles on which democracy is based are fundamentally Christian, though modern democracies have generally forgotten their Christian origin. What we have therefore to do is to recover this Christian basis of democracy, that Gospel inspiretwo. which in Maritain's view alone can produce an authentic democratic order.
* * * THE principle on which the new Christendom which Maritain envisages is based is that of Pluralism.
In the Middle Ages men tried to build up a unified order of society which was wholly dominated by religion. In this order the State was regarded as the "minister" of the Church, as an instrument to be used by the Church for its own supreme purpose. In the modern world the State has gained its autonomy. It has its own specific function and end. the temporal good of society, and, though not of course independent of the church, has a real autonomy in its own sphere.
It is this principle which Marilain feels must he accepted without question in a modern society. There can be no return to the Middle Ages; there most be a new Christendom.
With this vital distinction between the Church and the State there goes an economic and social pluralism. 11 is not for the State to take over all the functions of society. Society is an organism which should be composed of a multitude of cells each with its own specific function. There is the family as the basic cell, and then a whole hierarchy of associations, industrial. professional. educational, by which the life of society develops, the basic principles of such development being that of "co-operation!"
In industry Maritain believes that this co-operation should take the form of co-ownership.
I N this theory of an organic society we have the authentic Christian answer to Cornmunism.
• Maritain has throughout his life subjected Communist theory and practice to an intensive criticism, a criticism which goes to the very heart of its principles and at the same time recognises the immense power of the "mystique" which gives Communism the force of a religion. In his writings, the answer to these principles is given and at the same time the nature of the "mystique" which alone can overcome Communism is shown, the Christian Gospel.
But though Maritain has shown the way, there is still no force on the Christian side which can as yet compare with that of Communism. To generate that force on the basis of his philosophy is the task of the future.
This book has been edited with great care under Maritain's own supervision and many of the translations are original. The only fault one might find with it is that more space might perhaps have been given to Maritain's conception of the economic order and less to that of Church and State.