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The French philosopher Jacques Maritain, a convert to Catholicism, was one of the leading modern proponents of Thomism, the ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas. In particular, he is associated with the idea of personalism, which is the focus of this book, developed from a pair of lectures, one in 1939, the other in 1945. His central purpose here was to draw "the distinction between individuality and personality".

Thomistic individualism proceeds from the belief that:

The human person is ordained directly to God as to its absolute ultimate end. Its direct ordination to God transcends every created common good--both the common good of the political society and the intrinsic common good of the universe.

A vital aspect of this though is that the person does partake of those created common goods:
For the person requires membership in a society in virtue both of its dignity and its needs. Animal groups or colonies are called societies only in an improper sense. They are collective wholes constituted of mere individuals. Society in the proper sense, human society, is a society of persons. A city worthy of the name is a city of human persons. The social unit is the person.

And it is through society that persons accomplish their full human dignity, by relating to, learning from, and loving each other. As we share a common human dignity, so we share a common ordination to God, and the common society in which to achieve it together.

Over the course of the past several centuries in the West, however, these beliefs have receded quite a bit. In particular the political and economic spheres have been exalted above the transcendental sphere, as if they were ends in themselves. In the various Western political philosophies, from anarchism to democracy to socialism to communism, Man is understood to be primarily a material being, rather than primarily spiritual. We hear much from political theorists and economists about creation and distribution of wealth and the exercise of power, but little or nothing about love and God. At the two modern extremes we could fairly say that that anarchism/libertarianism seeks absolute freedom of the individual as its ultimate end and communism seeks absolute equality for all in the group as its absolute end, but neither seems to care much what we do with our freedom or our equality once we theoretically have them.

In Mr. Maritain's formulation:
The Nineteenth Century experienced the errors of individualism. We have witnessed the development of a totalitarian or exclusively communal conception of society which took place by way of reaction. It was natural, then, that in a simultaneous reaction against both totalitarian and individualistic errors the concept of the human person, incorporated as such into society, be opposed to both the idea of the totalitarian state and that of the sovereignty of the individual. [...]

Our desire is to make clear the personalism rooted in the doctrine of St. Thomas and to separate, at the very outset, a social philosophy centered in the dignity of the human person from every social philosophy centered in the primacy of the individual and the private good. Thomistic personalism stresses the metaphysical distinction between individuality and personality.

For Maritain, both liberal society, which places the material well-being of the individual at its core, and totalitarianism, which places the well-being of the group at its core, fail to reach to the "true person", touching instead only the "shadow of personality", because they fail to partake of the dignity that comes uniquely from the ordination to God.
In effect, by not recognizing the ordination to God, they ordain Man to the State, so that all that is left of the individual is his relationship with the state:
[B]ourgeois liberalism with its ambition to ground everything in the unchecked initiative of the individual, conceived as little God, and the absolute liberty of property, business and pleasure, inevitably ends in statism. The rule of the Number [economic community, national or racial state] produces the omnipotence of the state. The indispensable condition for building a city out of liberties, beholden only to themselves, is that each member surrender his personal will to the General Will in a contract. which according to Rousseau gives birth to society. But since man in his material individuality is a part, not a whole, and since, further, in this system, the state takes the place of the genuine community, the individual is forced ultimately to transfer both his responsibilities and the care of his destiny to the artificial whole which has been superimposed upon him and to which he is bound mechanically. Of course his liberty will remain complete and unhampered, but in an illusory fashion and in a world of dreams. At the same time, he will exact from the state the satisfaction of his greeds and anarchistically reject the conditions of social life; not realizing that in this way society is driven to the insurrection of the parts against the whole, of which Auguste Comte used to speak, to the tragic isolation of each one in his own selfishness or helplessness. The very notion of the common good and the common work disappears.

One would hope that by now we're all agreed that the totalitarian reaction to individualism is a disaster, but this analysis helps explain why individualism itself contains the seeds of its own destruction. One need only look around the rest of the Western world, from Japan to Europe, to see such atomized states, their fertility rates plunging, their elderly warehoused, their populations almost completely dependent on massive Welfare States. America, the most religious and God-infused of Western nations, has resisted this trend better than others, but the danger still lurks and Mr. Maritain's warning still matters:
Materialistic conceptions of the world and life, philosophies which do not recognize the spiritual and eternal element in man cannot escape error in their efforts to construct a truly human society because they cannot satisfy the requirements of the person, and, by that very fact, they cannot grasp the nature of society. Whoever recognizes this spiritual and eternal element in man, recognizes also the aspiration, immanent in the person, to transcend, by reason of that which is most sublime in it, the life and conditions of temporal societies.

In the immediate aftermath of 9-11--the brutal punctuation mark at the end of the '90s economic boom--people looked around an America that enjoyed extraordinary personal freedom and economic prosperity and wondered why it had failed to bring us happiness and wholeness, how a society with so many advantages could feel so empty. Perhaps the answer is as simple as this: aim for the material and you can only, at best, sate material desires; to even begin to fulfill the spiritual you must aim at God and the common good.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

See also:

Religion
Jacques Maritain Links:

    -ESSAY: Jacques Maritain on the Church's Misbehaving Clerics (Bernard Doering, Summer 2002, CrossCurrents)

Book-related and General Links:
WEBSITES:
   Jacques Maritain Center (University of Notre Dame, Ralph McInerny, Director)
   Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) (Acton Institute)
   Jacques Maritain (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
   Maritain, Jacques (Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion)
   American Maritain Association
   The Canadian Jacques Maritain Association
   Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) (Malaspina Great Books)
   Jacques Maritain: French Philosopher, Thomist and Political Thinker: 1882-1973 (Chris Marvin , Philosophers)
   -ESSAY: Nature and Grace: The Theological Foundations of Jacques Maritain's Public Philosophy (Eduardo J. Echeverria, Fall 2001, Markets & Morality)
   -ESSAY: Jacques Maritain Integral Humanism (1936) (Michael S. Joyce, March 2000, First Things)
   -ESSAY: Jacques Maritain: modern philosophy in the tradition of St Thomas Aquinas (E. J. Borich, July 1999, AD2000)
   -ESSAY: Trashing Maritain (Bernard Doering, February 2002, Common Sense)
   -ESSAY: JACQUES MARITAIN ON THE CHURCH'S MISBEHAVING CLERICS (Bernard Doering, Cross Currents)
   -ESSAY: SILENT DISSENTER : Jacques Maritain on contraception. (Bernard Doering, May 18, 2001, Commonweal)
   -LECTURE: Jacques Maritain (Martin Luther King, Jr., 20 February-4 May 1951)
   -LECTURE: "Jacques Maritain and the Future of Thomism" (James Arraj, November 1996, American Maritain Association)
   -ESSAY: Bishops and Politicians : Jacques Maritain's approach may help reconcile absolute convictions with the realities of a pluralistic society. (Joseph F. Power, 10/16/99, America)
   -DISCUSSION: A Note on Knight's Criticism of Maritain (F. S. Yeager, July 1948, Ethics)
   -DISCUSSION: Of Sovereignty in Church and State (Gregory Vlastos, October 1953, The Philosophical Review)
   -ESSAY: Maritain's Interpretation of Creativity in Art (Carl R. Hausman, Winter 1960, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism)
   -ESSAY: Jacques Maritain and Modern Catholic Historical Scholarship (William J. Grace, October 1944, Journal of the History of Ideas
   -ESSAY: Jacques Maritain (Valmai Burdwood Evans, January 1931, International Journal of Ethics)
   -ESSAY: The Historical Background of Maritain's Humanism (G. G. Coulton, October 1944, Journal of the History of Ideas)
   -ESSAY: Controversial Engagements (Michael Novak, April 1999, First Things)
   -DISCUSSION: Si Le Grain Ne Meurt... A Propos de Christianisme et Democratie de M. J. Maritain (Alexandre Koyre, January 1945, Ethics)
   
-ESSAY: The Responsibilities of Individuals and Citizens (Peter A. Laird, Acton Institute)
   -ESSAY: John Courtney Murray and the American Catholic Experience (Michael Tortolani, Acton Institute)
   -ESSAY: Toward a Free and Virtuous Society (Robert A. Sirico, Acton Institute)
   -ARCHIVES: "jacques maritain" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Jacques Maritain: The Philosopher in Society by James V. Schall, S.J. (Glenn Ellmers, Religion & Liberty)
   -REVIEW: of The Person and the Common Good by Jacques Maritain (Lincoln Reis, The Philosophical Review)
   -REVIEW: of The Person and the Common Good by Jacques Maritain (H. W. S., The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of Christianity and Democracy by Jacques Maritain (Carl Becker, The Philosophical Review)
    -REVIEW: of Christianity and Democracy by Jacques Maritain (H.A.L., Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of The Degrees of Knowledge by Jacques Maritain (Roger W. Holmes, The Philosophical Review)
   -REVIEW: of The Degrees of Knowledge by Jacques Maritain (Ernest A. Moody, The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of The Degrees of Knowledge by Jacques Maritain (W. H. Werkmeister, July 1938, Ethics)
   -REVIEW: of The Degrees of Knowledge by Jacques Maritain (A. J. Carlson, American Journal of Sociology)
   -REVIEW: of Man and the State by Jacques Maritain (T. V. Smith, American Journal of Sociology)
   -REVIEW: of Man and the State by Jacques Maritain (Radoslav A. Tsanoff, Ethics)
   -REVIEW: of Man and the State by Jacques Maritain (Roland H. Bainton, Political Science Quarterly)
   -REVIEW: of Man and the State by Jacques Maritain (Ralph G. Ross, The American Political Science Review)
   -REVIEW: of The Rights of Man and Natural Law by Jacques Maritain (S. W. D. Rowson, International Affairs)
   -REVIEW: of The Rights of Man and Natural Law by Jacques Maritain (E. G., The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of The Rights of Man and Natural Law by Jacques Maritain (Frank H. Knight, Ethics)
   -REVIEW: of Temoignage sur la situation actuelle en France by Jacques Maritain (J.-O. Clerc, The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science)
   -REVIEW: of Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism by Jacques Maritain (Henry Veatch, Speculum)
   -REVIEW: of Art and Poetry by Jacques Maritain (C. L. S., The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of Problems for Thomists: The Problem of Species by Jacques Maritain (William Barrett, The Philosophical Review)
   -REVIEW: of Anti-Semitism by Jacques Maritain (James Parkes, International Affairs Review Supplement)
   -REVIEW: of Sept lecons sur l'Etre et les Premiers Principes de la Raison Speculative by Jacques Maritain (G. B., The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of Education at the Crossroads by Jacques Maritain (John Herman Randall, Jr., The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of Von Bergson zu Thomas von Aquin by Jaques Maritain (Paul G. Gleis, The German Quarterly)
   -REVIEW: of A Christian Looks at the Jewish Question by Jacques Maritain (Martin Gardner, Ethics)
   -REVIEW: of La Philosophie de la Nature. Critique sur ses Frontieres et son Objet by Jacques Maritain (G. B., The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of Art and Poetry by Jacques Maritain (Fred B. Millett, American Literature)
   -REVIEW: of Scholasticism and Politics by Jacques Maritain (Arnold Brecht, The American Political Science Review)
   -REVIEW: of Art and Scholasticism: with Other Essays by Jacques Maritain (Gerald B. Phelan, The Philosophical Review)
   -REVIEW: of Von Bergson zu Thomas von Aquin by Jacques Maritain (Richard Hocking, The Modern Language Journal)
   -REVIEW: of Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism by Jacques Maritain (Ben-Ami Scharfstein, January 1957, The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of Philosophy of Nature by Jacques Maritain (J. G. Clapp, March 1953, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research)
   -REVIEW: of On the Philosophy of History by Jacques Maritain (Esmond Wright, April 1960, International Affairs)
   -REVIEW: of The Social and Political Philosophy of Jacques Maritain by Joseph W. Evans (Dorothy Pickles, July 1957, International Affairs)
   -REVIEW: of Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism by Jacques Maritain (David Bidney, December 1955, Science)
   -REVIEW: of Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism by Jacques Maritain and The Social and Political Philosophy of Jacques Maritain by Joseph W. Evans; Leo R. Ward (John N. Deck, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research)
   -REVIEW: of La Pensee de Saint-Paul by Jacques Maritain (Juliette Carnus, The French Review)
   -REVIEW: of Philosophy of Nature by Jacques Maritain and Maritain's Philosophy of the Sciences by Yves R. Simon (George Boas, March 1952, The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of Ransoming the Time by Jacques Maritain (Hanna Hafkesbrink, June 1943, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research)
   -REVIEW: of An Introduction to Philosophy by Jacques Maritain (Fulton J. Sheen, International Journal of Ethics)
   -REVIEW: of Philosophy of Nature by Jacques Maritain (A. Cornelius Benjamin, The Philosophical Review)
   -REVIEW: of An Essay in Christian Philosophy by Jacques Maritain (David Cairns, Philosophical Quarterly)
   -REVIEW: of The Dream of Descartes, together with other Essays by Jacques Maritain (Brand Blanshard, The Philosophical Review)
   -REVIEW: of Scholasticism and Politics by Jacques Maritain (A. H., The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of The Dream of Descartes, together with some other Essays by Jacques Maritain (Albert G. A. Balz, The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of Scholasticism and Politics by Jacques Maritain (Rubin Gotesky, American Sociological Review)
   -REVIEW: of Maritain's Ontology of the Work of Art by John W. Hanke (Francis J. Kovach, Spring 1974, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism)
   -REVIEW: of Jacques Maritain: The Philosopher in Society by James V. Schall, S.J. (Glenn Ellmers , Religion & Liberty)
   -REVIEW: of Jacques Maritain: The Philosopher in Society by James V. Schall, S.J. (Paul E. Sigmund, American Political Science Review)
   -REVIEW: of Jacques Maritain and the French Catholic Intellectuals by Bernard E. Doering (John Hellman, American Historical Review)
   -REVIEW: of Jacques Maritain and the French Catholic Intellectuals by Bernard E. Doering (David O'Connell, The French Review)
   -REVIEW: of The Philosopher and the Provocateur: The Correspondence of Jacques Maritain and Saul Alinsky. Edited by Bernard Doering (James Finn , First Things)
   -REVIEW: of Church and Revolution: Catholics in the Struggle for Democracy and Social Justice by Thomas Bokenkotter (Zachary Ryan Calo, Markets & Morality)
   -REVIEW: of The Theology of Freedom: The Legacy of Jacques Maritain and Reinhold Niebuhr by John W. Cooper (Robert Booth Fowler, The American Political Science Review)
   -REVIEW: of The Social and Political Philosophy of Jacques Maritain by Joseph W. Evans (Ronald F. Howell, The Journal of Politics)
   -REVIEW: of The Maritain Volume of the Thomist (Daniel C. Walsh, The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of An Introduction to Philosophy by Jacques Maritain (Sterling P. Lamprecht, The Journal of Philosophy)
   -REVIEW: of Jacques Maritain and the French Catholic Intellectuals by Bernard E. Doering (John Hellman, The American Historical Review)
   -REVIEW: of Jacques Maritain by John M. Dunaway (James C. McLaren, The French Review)
   -REVIEW: of The Maritain Volume of THE THOMIST (J. R. Cresswell, The Philosophical Review)

RAISSA MARITAIN:
   -REVIEW: of We Have been Friends Together by Raissa Maritain (Ruth Nanda Anshen, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism)
   -REVIEW: of Les Grandes Amities by Raissa Maritain (Pierre Brodin, The French Review)

THOMISM/ECONOMIC PERSONALISM:
    -INTERVIEW: The Link: He's Our Man: Evangelicals can embrace a rich inheritance from Aquinas. (A conversation with Norman Geisler, Christianity Today)
    -Aquinas (Catholic Encyclopaedia)
    -Chesterton on Aquinas
   Statement of Principles for Economic Personalism (Markets & Morality, Fall 2001)
   -ESSAY: The Need for Economic Personalism (Gregory M. A. Gronbacher, March 1998, Markets & Morality)
   A History of Personalism (Kevin Schmiesing, Acton Institute)
   -ESSAY: What Is Economic Personalism? A Phenomenological Analysis (Gloria L. Zuniga, Fall 2001, Markets & Morality)
   -ESSAY: The Context of Economic Personalism (Kevin E. Schmiesing, Fall 2001, Markets & Morality)
   -ESSAY: The Opening to the Left in French Catholicism: The Role of the Personalists (John Hellman, Summer 1973, Journal of the History of Ideas)
   -ESSAY: The Attack on the Renaissance in Theology Today (Herbert Weisinger, 1955, Studies in the Renaissance)
   -REVIEW: of Etienne Gilson by Laurence K. Shook (John Hellman, The American Historical Review)

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