Citizenship in a Republic or The Man in the Arena by Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt

Strange and impressive associations rise in the mind of a man from the New World who speaks before this august body in this ancient institution of learning. Before his eyes pass the shadows of mighty kings and war-like nobles, of great masters of law and theology; through the shining dust of the dead centuries he sees crowded figures that tell of the power and learning and splendor of times gone by; and he sees also the innumerable host of humble students to whom clerkship meant emancipation, to whom it was well-nigh the only outlet from the dark thralldom of the Middle Ages.              

This was the most famous university of medieval Europe at a time when no one dreamed that there was a New World to discover. Its services to the cause of human knowledge already stretched far back into the remote past at the time when my forefathers, three centuries ago, were among the sparse bands of traders, ploughmen, wood-choppers, and fisher folk who, in hard struggle with the iron unfriendliness of the Indian-haunted land, were laying the foundations of what has now become the giant republic of the West. To conquer a continent, to tame the shaggy roughness of wild nature, means grim warfare; and the generations engaged in it cannot keep, still less add to, the stores of garnered wisdom which were once theirs, and which are still in the hands of their brethren who dwell in the old land. To conquer the wilderness means to wrest victory from the same hostile forces with which mankind struggled in the immemorial infancy of our race. The primeval conditions must be met by the primeval qualities which are incompatible with the retention of much that has been painfully acquired by humanity as through the ages it has striven upward toward civilization. In conditions so primitive there can be but a primitive culture. At first only the rudest school can be established, for no others would meet the needs of the hard-driven, sinewy folk who thrust forward the frontier in the teeth of savage men and savage nature; and many years elapse before any of these schools can develop into seats of higher learning and broader culture.               

The pioneer days pass; the stump-dotted clearings expand into vast stretches of fertile farm land; the stockade clusters of log cabins change into towns; the hunters of game, the fellers of trees, the rude frontier traders and tillers of the soil, the men who wander all their lives long through the wilderness as the heralds and harbingers of an oncoming civilization, themselves vanish before the civilization for which they have prepared the way. The children of their successors and supplanters, and then their children and their children and children’s children, change and develop with extraordinary rapidity. The conditions accentuate vices and virtues, energy and ruthlessness, all the good qualities and all the defects of an intense individualism, self-reliant, self-centered, far more conscious of its rights than of its duties, and blind to its own shortcomings. To the hard materialism of the frontier days succeeds the hard materialism of an industrialism even more intense and absorbing than that of the older nations; although these themselves have likewise already entered on the age of a complex and predominantly industrial civilization.              

As the country grows, its people, who have won success in so many lines, turn back to try to recover the possessions of the mind and the spirit, which perforce their fathers threw aside in order better to wage the first rough battles for the continent their children inherit. The leaders of thought and of action grope their way forward to a new life, realizing, sometimes dimly, sometimes clear-sightedly, that the life of material gain, whether for a nation or an individual, is of value only as a foundation, only as there is added to it the uplift that comes from devotion to loftier ideals. The new life thus sought can in part be developed afresh from what is roundabout in the New World; but it can be developed in full only by freely drawing upon the treasure-houses of the Old World, upon the treasures stored in the ancient abodes of wisdom and learning, such as this where I speak to-day. It is a mistake for any nation to merely copy another; but it is an even greater mistake, it is a proof of weakness in any nation, not to be anxious to learn from one another and willing and able to adapt that learning to the new national conditions and make it fruitful and productive therein. It is for us of the New World to sit at the feet of Gamaliel of the Old; then, if we have the right stuff in us, we can show that Paul in his turn can become a teacher as well as a scholar.

Today I shall speak to you on the subject of individual citizenship, the one subject of vital importance to you, my hearers, and to me and my countrymen, because you and we are great citizens of great democratic republics. A democratic republic such as ours—an effort to realize in its full sense government by, of, and for the people—represents the most gigantic of all possible social experiments, the one fraught with great responsibilities alike for good and evil. The success of republics like yours and like ours means the glory, and our failure the despair, of mankind; and for you and for us the question of the quality of the individual citizen is supreme. Under other forms of government, under the rule of one man or very few men, the quality of the leaders is all-important. If, under such governments, the quality of the rulers is high enough, then the nations for generations lead a brilliant career, and add substantially to the sum of world achievement, no matter how low the quality of the average citizen; because the average citizen is an almost negligible quantity in working out the final results of that type of national greatness. But with you and us the case is different. With you here, and with us in my own home, in the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average woman, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional cries which call for heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed. The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high; and the average cannot be kept high unless the standard of the leaders is very much higher.

It is well if a large proportion of the leaders in any republic, in any democracy, are, as a matter of course, drawn from the classes represented in this audience to-day; but only provided that those classes possess the gifts of sympathy with plain people and of devotion to great ideals. You and those like you have received special advantages; you have all of you had the opportunity for mental training; many of you have had leisure; most of you have had a chance for enjoyment of life far greater than comes to the majority of your fellows. To you and your kind much has been given, and from you much should be expected. Yet there are certain failings against which it is especially incumbent that both men of trained and cultivated intellect, and men of inherited wealth and position, should especially guard themselves, because to these failings they are especially liable; and if yielded to, their—your—chances of useful service are at an end.

Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as a cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes second to achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities—all these are marks, not as the possessor would fain to think, of superiority, but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part painfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affectation of contempt for the achievement of others, to hide from others and from themselves their own weakness. The role is easy; there is none easier, save only the role of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride or slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day; nor yet for those others who always profess that they would like to take action, if only the conditions of life were not exactly what they actually are. The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of the great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder. Well for these men if they succeed; well also, though not so well, if they fail, given only that they have nobly ventured, and have put forth all their heart and strength. It is war-worn Hotspur, spent with hard fighting, he of the many errors and the valiant end, over whose memory we love to linger, not over the memory of the young lord who “but for the vile guns would have been a valiant soldier.”

France has taught many lessons to other nations: surely one of the most important lessons is the lesson her whole history teaches, that a high artistic and literary development is compatible with notable leadership in arms and statecraft. The brilliant gallantry of the French soldier has for many centuries been proverbial; and during these same centuries at every court in Europe the “freemasons of fashion” have treated the French tongue as their common speech; while every artist and man of letters, and every man of science able to appreciate that marvelous instrument of precision, French prose, has turned toward France for aid and inspiration. How long the leadership in arms and letters has lasted is curiously illustrated by the fact that the earliest masterpiece in a modern tongue is the splendid French epic which tells of Roland’s doom and the vengeance of Charlemagne when the lords of the Frankish hosts were stricken at Roncesvalles.

Let those who have, keep, let those who have not, strive to attain, a high standard of cultivation and scholarship. Yet let us remember that these stand second to certain other things. There is need of a sound body, and even more of a sound mind. But above mind and above body stands character—the sum of those qualities which we mean when we speak of a man’s force and courage, of his good faith and sense of honor. I believe in exercise for the body, always provided that we keep in mind that physical development is a means and not an end. I believe, of course, in giving to all the people a good education. But the education must contain much besides book-learning in order to be really good. We must ever remember that no keenness and subtleness of intellect, no polish, no cleverness, in any way make up for the lack of the great solid qualities. Self-restraint, self-mastery, common sense, the power of accepting individual responsibility and yet of acting in conjunction with others, courage and resolution—these are the qualities which mark a masterful people. Without them no people can control itself, or save itself from being controlled from the outside. I speak to a brilliant assemblage; I speak in a great university which represents the flower of the highest intellectual development; I pay all homage to intellect, and to elaborate and specialized training of the intellect; and yet I know I shall have the assent of all of you present when I add that more important still are the commonplace, every-day qualities and virtues.               

Such ordinary, every-day qualities include the will and the power to work, to fight at need, and to have plenty of healthy children. The need that the average man shall work is so obvious as hardly to warrant insistence. There are a few people in every country so born that they can lead lives of leisure. These fill a useful function if they make it evident that leisure does not mean idleness; for some of the most valuable work needed by civilization is essentially non-remunerative in its character, and of course the people who do this work should in large part be drawn from those to whom remuneration is an object of indifference. But the average man must earn his own livelihood. He should be trained to do so, and should be trained to feel that he occupies a contemptible position if he does not do so; that he is not an object of envy if he is idle, at whichever end of the social scale he stands, but an object of contempt, an object of derision.

In the next place, the good man should be both a strong and a brave man; that is, he should be able to fight, he should be able to serve his country as a soldier, if the need arises. There are well-meaning philosophers who declaim against the unrighteousness of war. They are right only if they lay all their emphasis upon the unrighteousness. War is a dreadful thing, and unjust war is a crime against humanity. But it is such a crime because it is unjust, not because it is a war. The choice must ever be in favor of righteousness, and this whether the alternative be peace or whether the alternative be war. The question must not be merely, is there to be peace or war? The question must be, is it right to prevail? Are the great laws of righteousness once more to be fulfilled? And the answer from a strong and virile person must be “Yes,” whatever the cost. Every honorable effort should always be made to avoid war, just as every honorable effort should always be made by the individual in private life to keep out of a brawl, to keep out of trouble; but no self-respecting individual, no self-respecting nation, can or ought to submit to wrong.

Finally, even more important than ability to work, even more important than ability to fight at need, is it to remember that the chief of blessings for any nation is that it shall leave its seed to inherit the land. It was the crown of blessings in Biblical times, and it is the crown of blessings now. The greatest of all curses is in the curse of sterility, and the severest of all condemnations should be that visited upon willful sterility. The first essential in any civilization is that the man and the woman shall be father and mother of healthy children, so that the race shall increase and not decrease. If this is not so, if through no fault of the society there is failure to increase, it is a great misfortune. If the failure is due to deliberate and willful fault, then it is not merely a misfortune, it is one of those crimes of ease and self-indulgence, of shrinking from pain and effort and risk, which in the long run Nature punishes more heavily than any other. If we of the great republics, if we, the free people who claim to have emancipated ourselves from the thralldom of wrong and error, bring down on our heads the curse that comes upon the willfully barren, then it will be an idle waste of breath to prattle of our achievements, to boast of all that we have done. No refinement of life, no delicacy of taste, no material progress, no sordid heaping up of riches, no sensuous development of art and literature, can in any way compensate for the loss of the great fundamental virtues; and of these great fundamental virtues the greatest is the race’s power to perpetuate the race.

Character must show itself in the man’s performance both of the duty he owes himself and of the duty he owes the state. The man’s foremost duty is owed to himself and his family; and he can do this duty only by earning money, by providing what is essential to material well-being; it is only after this has been done that he can hope to build a higher superstructure on the solid material foundation; it is only after this has been done that he can help in movements for the general well-being. He must pull his own weight first, and only after this can his surplus strength be of use to the general public. It is not good to excite that bitter laughter which expresses contempt; and contempt is what we feel for the being whose enthusiasm to benefit mankind is such that he is a burden to those nearest him; who wishes to do great things for humanity in the abstract, but who cannot keep his wife in comfort or educate his children.

Nevertheless, while laying all stress on this point, while not merely acknowledging but insisting upon the fact that there must be a basis of material well-being for the individual as for the nation, let us with equal emphasis insist that this material well-being represents nothing but the foundation, and the foundation, though indispensable, is worthless unless upon it is raised the superstructure of a higher life. That is why I decline to recognize the mere multimillionaire, the man of mere wealth, as an asset of value to any country; and especially as not an asset to my own country. If he has earned or uses his wealth in a way that makes him a real benefit, of real use—and such is often the case—why, then he does become an asset of real worth. But it is the way in which it has been earned or used, and not the mere fact of wealth, that entitles him to the credit. There is need in business, as in most other forms of human activity, of the great guiding intelligences. Their places cannot be supplied by any number of lesser intelligences. It is a good thing that they should have ample recognition, ample reward. But we must not transfer our admiration to the reward instead of the deed rewarded; and if what should be the reward exists without the service having been rendered, then admiration will only come from those who are mean of soul. The truth is that, after a certain measure of tangible material success or reward has been achieved, the question of increasing it becomes of constantly less importance compared to the other things that can be done in life. It is a bad thing for a nation to raise and to admire a false standard of success; and there can be no falser standard than that set by the deification of material well-being in and for itself. The man who, for any cause for which he is himself accountable, has failed to support himself and those for whom he is responsible, ought to feel that he has fallen lamentably short in his prime duty. But the man, having far surpassed the limits of providing for the wants, both of body and mind, of himself and of those depending upon him, then piles up a great fortune, for the acquisition or retention of which he returns no corresponding benefit to the nation as a whole, should himself be made to feel that, so far from being desirable, he is an unworthy citizen of the community; that he is to be neither admired nor envied; that his right-thinking fellow countrymen put him low in the scale of citizenship, and leave him to be consoled by the admiration of those whose level of purpose is even lower than his own.

My position as regards the moneyed interests can be put in a few words. In every civilized society property rights must be carefully safeguarded; ordinarily, and in the great majority of cases, human rights and property rights are fundamentally and in the long run identical; but when it clearly appears that there is a real conflict between them, human rights must have the upper hand, for property belongs to man and not man to property. In fact, it is essential to good citizenship clearly to understand that there are certain qualities which we in a democracy are prone to admire in and of themselves, which ought by rights to be judged admirable or the reverse solely from the standpoint of the use made of them. Foremost among these I should include two very distinct gifts—the gift of money-making and the gift of oratory. Money-making, the money touch, I have spoken of above. It is a quality which in a moderate degree is essential. It may be useful when developed to a very great degree, but only if accompanied and controlled by other qualities; and without such control the possessor tends to develop into one of the least attractive types produced by a modern industrial democracy. So it is with the orator. It is highly desirable that a leader of opinion in democracy should be able to state his views clearly and convincingly. But all that the oratory can do of value to the community is enable the man thus to explain himself; if it enables the orator to put false values on things, it merely makes him a power for mischief. Some excellent public servants have not that gift at all, and must merely rely on their deeds to speak for them; and unless oratory does represent genuine conviction based on good common sense and able to be translated into efficient performance, then the better the oratory the greater the damage to the public it deceives. Indeed, it is a sign of marked political weakness in any commonwealth if the people tend to be carried away by mere oratory, if they tend to value words in and for themselves, as divorced from the deeds for which they are supposed to stand. The phrase-maker, the phrase-monger, the ready talker, however great his power, whose speech does not make for courage, sobriety, and right understanding, is simply a noxious element in the body politic, and it speaks ill for the public if he has influence over them. To admire the gift of oratory without regard to the moral quality behind the gift is to do wrong to the republic.

Of course all that I say of the orator applies with even greater force to the orator’s latter-day and more influential brother, the journalist. The power of the journalist is great, but he is entitled neither to respect nor admiration because of that power unless it is used aright. He can do, and often does, great good. He can do, and he often does, infinite mischief. All journalists, all writers, for the very reason that they appreciate the vast possibilities of their profession, should bear testimony against those who deeply discredit it. Offenses against taste and morals, which are bad enough in a private citizen, are infinitely worse if made into instruments for debauching the community through a newspaper. Mendacity, slander, sensationalism, inanity, vapid triviality, all are potent factors for the debauchery of the public mind and conscience. The excuse advanced for vicious writing, that the public demands it and that the demand must be supplied, can no more be admitted than if it were advanced by purveyors of food who sell poisonous adulterations.

In short, the good citizen in a republic must realize that they ought to possess two sets of qualities, and that neither avails without the other. He must have those qualities which make for efficiency; and he also must have those qualities which direct the efficiency into channels for the public good. He is useless if he is inefficient. There is nothing to be done with that type of citizen of whom all that can be said is that he is harmless. Virtue which is dependent upon a sluggish circulation is not impressive. There is little place in active life for the timid good man. The man who is saved by weakness from robust wickedness is likewise rendered immune from robuster virtues. The good citizen in a republic must first of all be able to hold his own. He is no good citizen unless he has the ability which will make him work hard and which at need will make him fight hard. The good citizen is not a good citizen unless he is an efficient citizen.

But if a man’s efficiency is not guided and regulated by a moral sense, then the more efficient he is the worse he is, the more dangerous to the body politic. Courage, intellect, all the masterful qualities, serve but to make a man more evil if they are merely used for that man’s own advancement, with brutal indifference to the rights of others. It speaks ill for the community if the community worships those qualities and treats their possessors as heroes regardless of whether the qualities are used rightly or wrongly. It makes no difference as to the precise way in which this sinister efficiency is shown. It makes no difference whether such a man’s force and ability betray themselves in a career of money-maker or politician, soldier or orator, journalist or popular leader. If the man works for evil, then the more successful he is the more he should be despised and condemned by all upright and far-seeing men. To judge a man merely by success is an abhorrent wrong; and if the people at large habitually so judge men, if they grow to condone wickedness because the wicked man triumphs, they show their inability to understand that in the last analysis free institutions rest upon the character of citizenship, and that by such admiration of evil they prove themselves unfit for liberty.

The homely virtues of the household, the ordinary workaday virtues which make the woman a good housewife and housemother, which make the man a hard worker, a good husband and father, a good soldier at need, stand at the bottom of character. But of course many others must be added thereto if a state is to be not only free but great. Good citizenship is not good citizenship if only exhibited in the home. There remain the duties of the individual in relation to the State, and these duties are none too easy under the conditions which exist where the effort is made to carry on the free government in a complex industrial civilization. Perhaps the most important thing the ordinary citizen, and, above all, the leader of ordinary citizens, has to remember in political life is that he must not be a sheer doctrinaire. The closet philosopher, the refined and cultured individual who from his library tells how men ought to be governed under ideal conditions, is of no use in actual governmental work; and the one-sided fanatic, and still more the mob-leader, and the insincere man who to achieve power promises what by no possibility can be performed, are not merely useless but noxious.

The citizen must have high ideals, and yet he must be able to achieve them in practical fashion. No permanent good comes from aspirations so lofty that they have grown fantastic and have become impossible and indeed undesirable to realize. The impractical visionary is far less often the guide and precursor than he is the embittered foe of the real reformer, of the man who, with stumblings and shortcomings, yet does in some shape, in practical fashion, give effect to the hopes and desires of those who strive for better things. Woe to the empty phrase-maker, to the empty idealist, who, instead of making ready the ground for the man of action, turns against him when he appears and hampers him as he does the work! Moreover, the preacher of ideals must remember how sorry and contemptible is the figure which he will cut, how great the damage he will do, if he does not himself, in his own life, strive measurably to realize the ideals that he preaches for others. Let him remember also that the worth of the ideal must be largely determined by the success with which it can in practice be realized. We should abhor the so-called “practical” men whose practicality assumes the shape of that peculiar baseness which finds its expression in disbelief in morality and decency, in disregard of high standards of living and conduct. Such a creature is the worst enemy of the body politic. But only less desirable as a citizen is his nominal opponent and real ally, the man of fantastic vision who makes the impossible better forever the enemy of the possible good.

We can just as little afford to follow the doctrinaires of an extreme individualism as the doctrinaires of an extreme socialism. Individual initiative, so far from being discouraged, should be stimulated; and yet we should remember that, as society develops and grows more complex, we continually find that things which once it was desirable to leave to individual initiative can, under changed conditions, be performed with better results by common effort. It is quite impossible, and equally undesirable, to draw in theory a hard-and-fast line which shall always divide the two sets of cases. This every one who is not cursed with the pride of the closet philosopher will see, if he will only take the trouble to think about some of our commonest phenomena. For instance, when people live on isolated farms or in little hamlets, each house can be left to attend to its own drainage and water-supply; but the mere multiplication of families in a given area produces new problems which, because they differ in size, are found to differ not only in degree but in kind from the old; and the questions of drainage and water-supply have to be considered from the common standpoint. It is not a matter for abstract dogmatizing to decide when this point is reached; it is a matter to be tested by practical experiment. Much of the discussion about socialism and individualism is entirely pointless, because of the failure to agree on terminology. It is not good to be the slave of names. I am a strong individualist by personal habit, inheritance, and conviction; but it is a mere matter of common sense to recognize that the State, the community, the citizens acting together, can do a number of things better than if they were left to individual action. The individualism which finds its expression in the abuse of physical force is checked very early in the growth of civilization, and we of to-day should in our turn strive to shackle or destroy that individualism which triumphs by greed and cunning, which exploits the weak by craft instead of ruling them by brutality. We ought to go with any man in the effort to bring about justice and the equality of opportunity, to turn the tool-user more and more into the tool-owner, to shift burdens so that they can be more equitably borne. The deadening effect on any race of the adoption of a logical and extreme socialistic system could not be overstated; it would spell sheer destruction; it would produce grosser wrong and outrage, fouler immorality, than any existing system. But this does not mean that we may not with great advantage adopt certain of the principles professed by some given set of men who happen to call themselves Socialists; to be afraid to do so would be to make a mark of weakness on our part.

But we should not take part in acting a lie any more than in telling a lie. We should not say that men are equal when they are not equal, nor proceed upon the assumption that there is an equality where it does not exist; but we should strive to bring about a measurable equality, at least to the extent of preventing the inequality which is due to force or fraud. Abraham Lincoln, a man of the plain people, blood of their blood, and bone of their bone, who all his life toiled and wrought and suffered for them, at the end died for them, who always strove to represent them, who would never tell an untruth to or for them, spoke of the doctrine of equality with his usual mixture of idealism and sound common sense. He said (I omit what was of merely local significance):

“I think the authors of the Declaration of Independence intended to include all men, but that they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all men were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what they did consider all men created equal—equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, or yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be familiar to all—constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and, even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, everywhere.”

We are bound in honor to refuse to listen to those men who would make us desist from the effort to do away with the inequality which means injustice; the inequality of right, of opportunity, of privilege. We are bound in honor to strive to bring even nearer the day when, as far as is humanly possible, we shall be able to realize the ideal that each man shall have an equal opportunity to show the stuff that is in him by the way in which he renders service. There should, so far as possible, be equal of opportunity to render service; but just so long as there is inequality of service there should and must be inequality of reward. We may be sorry for the general, the painter, the artists, the worker in any profession or of any kind, whose misfortune rather than whose fault is that he does his work ill. But the reward must go to the man who does his work well; for any other course is to create a new kind of privilege, the privilege of folly and weakness; and special privilege is injustice, whatever form it takes.

To say that the thriftless, the lazy, the vicious, the incapable, ought to have reward given to those who are far-sighted, capable, and upright, is to say what is not true and cannot be true. Let us try to level up, but let us beware of the evil of leveling down. If a man stumbles, it is a good thing to help him to his feet. Every one of us needs a helping hand now and then. But if a man lies down, it is a waste of time to try to carry him; and it is a very bad thing for every one if we make men feel that the same reward will come to those who shirk their work and those who do it.

Let us, then, take into account the actual facts of life and not be misled into following any proposal for achieving the millennium, for recreating the golden age, until we have subjected it to hardheaded examination. On the other hand, it is foolish to reject a proposal merely because it is advanced by visionaries. If a given scheme is proposed, look at it on its merits, and, in considering it, disregard formulas. It does not matter in the least who proposes it, or why. If it seems good, try it. If it proves good, accept it; otherwise reject it. There are plenty of good men calling themselves Socialists with whom, up to a certain point, it is quite possible to work. If the next step is one which both we and they wish to take, why of course take it, without any regard to the fact that our views as to the tenth step may differ. But, on the other hand, keep clearly in mind that, though it has been worthwhile to take one step, this does not in the least mean that it may not be highly disadvantageous to take the next. It is just as foolish to refuse all progress because people demanding it desire at some points to go to absurd extremes, as it would be to go to these absurd extremes simply because some of the measures advocated by the extremists were wise. 

The good citizen will demand liberty for himself, and as a matter of pride he will see to it that others receive liberty which he thus claims as his own. Probably the best test of true love of liberty in any country is the way in which minorities are treated in that country. Not only should there be complete liberty in matters of religion and opinion, but complete liberty for each man to lead his life as he desires, provided only that in so doing he does not wrong his neighbor. Persecution is bad because it is persecution, and without reference to which side happens at the moment to be the persecutor and which the persecuted. Class hatred is bad in just the same way, and without regard to the individual who, at a given time, substitutes loyalty to a class for loyalty to a nation, or substitutes hatred of men because they happen to come in a certain social category, for judgment awarded them according to their conduct. Remember always that the same measure of condemnation should be extended to the arrogance which would look down upon or crush any man because he is poor and to envy and hatred which would destroy a man because he is wealthy. The overbearing brutality of the man of wealth or power, and the envious and hateful malice directed against the wealth or power, are really at root merely different manifestations of the same quality, merely two sides of the same shield. The man who, if born to wealth and power, exploits and ruins his less fortunate brethren is at heart the same as the greedy and violent demagogue who excites those who have not property to plunder those who have. The gravest wrong upon his country is inflicted by that man, whatever his station, who seeks to make his countrymen divide primarily in the line that separates class from class, occupation from occupation, men of more wealth from men of less wealth, instead of remembering that the only safe standard is that which judges each man on his worth as a man, whether he be rich or whether he be poor, without regard to his profession or to his station in life. Such is the only true democratic test, the only test that can with propriety be applied in a republic. There have been many republics in the past, both in what we call antiquity and in what we call the Middle Ages. They fell, and the prime factor in their fall was the fact that the parties tended to divide along the line that separates wealth from poverty. It made no difference which side was successful; it made no difference whether the republic fell under the rule of an oligarchy or the rule of a mob. In either case, when once loyalty to a class had been substituted for loyalty to the republic, the end of the republic was at hand. There is no greater need to-day than the need to keep ever in mind the fact that the cleavage between right and wrong, between good citizenship and bad citizenship, runs at right angles to, and not parallel with, the lines of cleavage between class and class, between occupation and occupation. Ruin looks us in the face if we judge a man by his position instead of judging him by his conduct in that position.

In a republic, to be successful we must learn to combine intensity of conviction with a broad tolerance of difference of conviction. Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not to be stunted, if there is to be room for healthy growth. Bitter internecine hatreds, based on such differences, are signs, not of earnestness of belief, but of that fanaticism which, whether religious or anti-religious, democratic or anti-democratic, is itself but a manifestation of the gloomy bigotry which has been the chief factor in the downfall of so many, many nations.

Of one man in especial, beyond any one else, the citizens of a republic should beware, and that is of the man who appeals to them to support him on the ground that he is hostile to other citizens of the republic, that he will secure for those who elect him, in one shape or another, profit at the expense of other citizens of the republic. It makes no difference whether he appeals to class hatred or class interest, to religious or anti-religious prejudice. The man who makes such an appeal should always be presumed to make it for the sake of furthering his own interest. The very last thing an intelligent and self-respecting member of a democratic community should do is to reward any public man because that public man says that he will get the private citizen something to which this private citizen is not entitled, or will gratify some emotion or animosity which this private citizen ought not to possess. Let me illustrate this by one anecdote from my own experience. A number of years ago I was engaged in cattle-ranching on the great plains of the western United States. There were no fences. The cattle wandered free, the ownership of each being determined by the brand; the calves were branded with the brand of the cows they followed. If on a round-up an animal was passed by, the following year it would appear as an unbranded yearling, and was then called a maverick. By the custom of the country these mavericks were branded with the brand of the man on whose range they were found. One day I was riding the range with a newly hired cowboy, and we came upon a maverick. We roped and threw it; then we built a fire, took out a cinch-ring, heated it in the fire; and then the cowboy started to put on the brand. I said to him, “It’s so-and-so’s brand,” naming the man on whose range we happened to be. He answered: “That’s all right, boss; I know my business.” In another moment I said to him: “Hold on, you are putting on my brand!” To which he answered: “That’s all right; I always put on the boss’s brand.” I answered: “Oh, very well. Now you go straight back to the ranch and get whatever is owing to you; I don’t need you any longer.” He jumped up and said: “Why, what’s the matter? I was putting on your brand.” And I answered: “Yes, my friend, and if you will steal for me then you will steal from me.”

Now, the same principle which applies in private life applies also in public life. If a public man tried to get your vote by saying that he will do something wrong in your interest, you can be absolutely certain that if ever it becomes worth his while he will do something wrong against your interest.

So much for the citizenship of the individual in his relations to his family, to his neighbor, to the State. There remain duties of citizenship which the State, the aggregation of all the individuals, owes in connection with other States, with other nations. Let me say at once that I am no advocate for a foolish cosmopolitanism. I believe that a man must be a good patriot before he can be, and as the only possible way of being, a good citizen of the world. Experience teaches us that the average man who protests that his international feeling swamps his national feeling, that he does not care for his country because he cares so much for mankind, in actual practice proves himself the foe of mankind; that the man who says that he does not care to be a citizen of any one country, because he is the citizen of the world, is in fact usually an exceedingly undesirable citizen of whatever corner of the world he happens at the moment to be in. In the dim future all moral needs and moral standards may change; but at present, if a man can view his own country and all other countries from the same level with tepid indifference, it is wise to distrust him, just as it is wise to distrust the man who can take the same dispassionate view of his wife and mother. However broad and deep a man’s sympathies, however intense his activities, he need have no fear that they will be cramped by love of his native land.

Now, this does not mean in the least that a man should not wish to do good outside of his native land. On the contrary, just as I think that the man who loves his family is more apt to be a good neighbor than the man who does not, so I think that the most useful member of the family of nations is normally a strongly patriotic nation. So far from patriotism being inconsistent with a proper regard for the rights of other nations, I hold that the true patriot, who is as jealous of national honor as a gentleman of his own honor, will be careful to see that the nations neither inflect nor suffer wrong, just as a gentleman scorns equally to wrong others or to suffer others to wrong him. I do not for one moment admit that a man should act deceitfully as a public servant in his dealing with other nations, any more than he should act deceitfully in his dealings as a private citizen with other private citizens. I do not for one moment admit that a nation should treat other nations in a different spirit from that in which an honorable man would treat other men.

In practically applying this principle to the two sets of cases there is, of course, a great practical difference to be taken into account. We speak of international law; but international law is something wholly different from private or municipal law, and the capital difference is that there is a sanction for the one and no sanction for the other; that there is an outside force which compels individuals to obey the one, while there is no such outside force to compel obedience as regards to the other. International law will, I believe, as the generations pass, grow stronger and stronger until in some way or other there develops the power to make it respected. But as yet it is only in the first formative period. As yet, as a rule, each nation is of necessity to judge for itself in matters of vital importance between it and its neighbors, and actions must of necessity, where this is the case, be different from what they are where, as among private citizens, there is an outside force whose action is all-powerful and must be invoked in any crisis of importance. It is the duty of wise statesmen, gifted with the power of looking ahead, to try to encourage and build up every movement which will substitute or tend to substitute some other agency for force in the settlement of international disputes. It is the duty of every honest statesman to try to guide the nation so that it shall not wrong any other nation. But as yet the great civilized peoples, if they are to be true to themselves and to the cause of humanity and civilization, must keep in mind that in the last resort they must possess both the will and the power to resent wrong-doing from others. The men who sanely believe in a lofty morality preach righteousness; but they do not preach weakness, whether among private citizens or among nations. We believe that our ideals should be so high, but not so high as to make it impossible measurably to realize them. We sincerely and earnestly believe in peace; but if peace and justice conflict, we scorn the man who would not stand for justice though the whole world came in arms against him.

And now, my hosts, a word in parting. You and I belong to the only two republics among the great powers of the world. The ancient friendship between France and the United States has been, on the whole, a sincere and disinterested friendship. A calamity to you would be a sorrow to us. But it would be more than that. In the seething turmoil of the history of humanity certain nations stand out as possessing a peculiar power or charm, some special gift of beauty or wisdom or strength, which puts them among the immortals, which makes them rank forever with the leaders of mankind. France is one of these nations. For her to sink would be a loss to all the world. There are certain lessons of brilliance and of generous gallantry that she can teach better than any of her sister nations. When the French peasantry sang of Malbrook, it was to tell how the soul of this warrior-foe took flight upward through the laurels he had won. Nearly seven centuries ago, Froissart, writing of a time of dire disaster, said that the realm of France was never so stricken that there were not left men who would valiantly fight for it. You have had a great past. I believe you will have a great future. Long may you carry yourselves proudly as citizens of a nation which bears a leading part in the teaching and uplifting of mankind.

Sorbonne, Paris
April 23, 1910

End of Family and End of Civil Society by Charles De Koninck

Charles De Koninck

I was asked to treat the present subject from the philosophical point of view. It is for this reason that I mention neither the sacrament of marriage nor the supernatural society which is the Church. Our viewpoint, however, is no less philosophical for being that of Christian philosophy. In fact, the chief basis for the present paper is none other than the Encyclicals of Pius XI: Divini Illius Magistri, and Casti Connubii.

Of a family we say that it is good, when, faithful to the indissoluble union which they have vowed, husband and wife do all they can to provide their offspring with proper nourishment and education. This is the fundamental criterion, for the primary end of marriage is the child; whereas the form and principle of the family consists mainly in the union of mind and heart between husband and wife, primarily in view of the child not only as to its generation, but even more so for the sake of its education to manhood. For this reason, whatever is characteristic of the married person must somehow be related to the child. Even the friendship of husband and wife (of which Aristotle has spoken so well in the Ethics) is intrinsic to marriage itself and must therefore be ultimately based on their union for the sake of the child whose education is the main reason for the indissoluble character of wedlock.

At this juncture a first difficulty may be raised against this doctrine. It seems that the end of marriage as well as the persons of husband and wife are altogether minimized if we confine them in the perspective of the child.

This objection may arise from the fact that on the one hand we seek in the family more than it is and on the other hand we would reduce the persons who make up the family to what they are insofar as they are members of this imperfect society, and correspondingly reduce their good to that which is theirs as members of such a society. For although the family is indeed a society in the strict sense of that term, it remains an imperfect one, as Pius XI states it in the Encyclical Divini Illius Magistri: “The family enjoys a priority both of nature and of right over civil society. Nevertheless, the family is an imperfect society, since it has not in itself all the means which are required for a perfect achievement of its end; whereas civil society is a perfect society, having all those things which are necessary to its proper end—the common good of our present life on earth. It is by virtue of this common good that civil society has pre-eminence over the family: only in the common weal can the family attain with security and propriety that temporal perfection which is its aim.” Hence we should not expect to find within the confines of the family the fullness of the temporal good of man qua man.

What is this temporal good, which, absolutely speaking, is superior to that of the family? The same document replies: “It consists in the peace and security which the families and individual citizens enjoy in the exercise of their rights as well as in the greatest spiritual and material wealth that can be obtained in this life thanks to the concerted efforts of all.” Note, particularly, that the temporal common good is not restricted to material wealth, but comprises spiritual goods, such as a wise legislation, not to mention “the arts and the sciences which make for the wealth and prosperity of civil society.” (ibid.)

Because the family is an imperfect society which cannot reach even its own end outside the political community, both the latter and the former may tend, in practice, to transgress their respective limits. Nor are these limits always easy to define — even when we prescind from man’s ordination to a common good far superior to that of civil society. However, the very fact that on the one hand the family is not self-sufficient in the pursuit of its own end, and that on the other hand the end of civil society is quite distinct from the former, may serve as the basis for a distinction to be made in the realm of civil society itself.

The primary end of the family is the education of the child to the maturity of manhood. This is an inalienable right of the family, since, as St. Thomas says: “the child is something of the parent.” (IIa IIae q. 10, a. 12)

These words of the Angelic Doctor are quoted by Pius XI in the above-mentioned Encyclical. Yet, even here, “the family is not a perfect society which embraces all that is required for its own perfection.” As Pius XI expressly points out: “the common good demands that the State promote the education and learning of youth in various ways,” which must, of course, be performed with due respect for, and in conformity with, the innate rights of the family. The question is: how can the common good demand that civil society should share in promoting the good that is proper to the family? Must this be interpreted to mean that the common good of political society is subordinate to the good of the family? That the perfect society is subservient to the imperfect one? By no means; the contradiction is all too obvious. What, then, is the answer?

You may have noticed that in a passage already quoted from the Encyclical, the common good of civil society refers to the families and to the individual citizens: “familiae singulique cives“. The same distinction is applied in the sentence which immediately follows: “The function of the authority which resides in the State is twofold: to protect and to further the family and the individual citizen, but not in the least by absorbing or replacing them.” Family and individual citizen are not the same. Man is not born a citizen, the child is not as yet causa sui: in fact, the end of the family is to lead the child toward the status of causa sui. But until he has reached this status he belongs to the parent. “Prior to becoming a citizen, man must live, and this life he does not receive from the State, but from his parents. As Leo XIII declared: ‘The children are something of the father; an extension, as it were, of the father’s person; to be exact, they enter into and participate in civil society, not immediately by themselves, but through the domestic community in which they are born… The authority of the father is such that it can neither he suppressed nor absorbed by the State’…” Hence, in this respect, the parent qua parent as well as the child are, normally, beyond the reach of the State. It is the parent as citizen who immediately, and by himself, enters into civil society. How, then, can the family concern the State? How can the common good demand that the State further the proper good of the family?

We have just pointed out that the good which the family pursues for the child is the status of causa sui, of being a free man: but this is precisely the primary condition of citizenship. The term of education is at the same time the very principle of civil society, which is an association of free men who seek their greatest good qua men in the common weal. It is therefore in the interest of civil society that its members be free men in the strict sense of the word: that they possess the education and learning essential to citizenship. That is why the common good of civil society must extend to the cradle of citizenship.

Obviously, the common good of civil society and the authority which resides in the government do not extend in the same manner to the family and to the individual citizen. Nevertheless, the end is the same in both instances. The end proper to political society is the common good of the citizen as such — of the freeman — “who can participate in deliberative or judicial office” (Aristotle, Politics III, c. 1), whether directly or indirectly. However, even in helping the family to achieve its own good — the perfection of the offspring — the State pursues this good only in virtue of, and for the sake of, the perfect human good which is proper to civil society.

Although the two have their principle and term in the same common good, we must distinguish the function of the State with regard to the individual citizen from its function in regard to the family. In protecting and helping the latter, the State meets a requirement which was already fulfilled to a degree in the pre-political stage of society. The needs of the individual family are such that it naturally seeks the facilities and security which result from inter-family cooperation. However, so long as the family turns to a larger group for the mere sake of its own good, not even the parents may be called free men and citizens in the true sense of these terms. Such persons do not as yet form a civil society. In this pre-political stage, social functions are merely social, confined as they are to the sole benefit of the family. The good of such a society is a certain common good, but it does not provide the bene esse which man is to attain as a citizen. It has more the nature of what is merely useful (bonum utile) and not strictly a common good. Social assistance, thus understood, is not political, since it is not yet practised in view of the perfect human good. In fact, it is not even ordered to the true good of the family itself, which is a good to be achieved, not by social assistance alone, but by the assistance of civil society, i.e. in conformity with the perfect human good. This distinction, I fear, may reveal a sad state of affairs. The person whose concern is restricted to the individual good as such, qua a good that he may derive from association with others does not deserve the name of citizen. For the same reason, a family which — though materially belonging to the civil community — is interested only in the kind of social assistance (but “more of it”) which can be found in the pre-political stage of society, is not a good family: it does not pursue even its own true good — to make the child a free man is hardly the ideal that consistently governs its behaviour. The citizen who, in voting, gives preference to the candidate from whose election he hopes to derive the greater personal good, forfeits his citizenship. It is only in a material sense that he acts as a free man, as a citizen proper. And in voting for a man who promises a good for the family, which is harmful to the common good of the political community, the father turns against the family itself, and so against himself as a father.

If there is always the danger that the State may exceed the limits of its rightful power, there is an equal menace — resulting in a tyranny sui generis — in the family which seeks above all its own good. Such a good is of course no more than an apparent one. When the security of civil society is sacrificed to the material security of the family, the latter destroys its own true security. Perhaps there is no better criterion of the good citizen and the good family than the one which both St. Augustine and St. Thomas have quoted from Valerius Maximus: “The citizens of Rome preferred to be poor in a wealthy republic, rather than be wealthy in a poor republic.”

This doctrine must not be interpreted to mean that the family or the individual citizen should blindly submit to whatever the government may plan or devise for them in the “name” of the common good. The child is subject to its parents, but neither the citizen nor the family are subjects to the State. Only under tyrannical government is the citizen reduced to the condition of subject — and he accordingly ceases to enjoy citizenship. When the State supplants either the family or the individual citizen, it has thereby destroyed itself as a civil society, for the latter is an association of citizens, and the citizen is by nature a free man. Again, it is the citizen that is attacked when the State assumes the authority of the father, since only the family whose rights are protected and whose needs are met with in conformity with its own nature, can foster the child toward the status of free man.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on Christian Civil Religion

Letter to Marcello Pera

President of the Italian Senate
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Mr. President:

First I wish to thank you for your remarkable lecture on relativism, which provides such a precise and thorough analysis of the basic problem of the Western world and its consequences. In this context I would like to leave aside the issue of my possible judgment of President Bush’s policies and the war in Iraq, which would require a concrete assessment of the facts and therefore go beyond the scope of the problems that I, as a theologian, can and wish to address publicly. Nor do I wish to dwell on the problem of just war. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, backed by the authority of the Church’s Magisterium, has already said everything there is to be said about this issue in terms of the Christian faith (numbers 2307–2317, and 2327 ff.). You and I are of a single mind in rejecting a pacifism that does not recognize that some values are worthy of being defended and that assigns the same value to everything. To be in favor of peace on such a basis would signify anarchy, which is blind to the foundations of freedom. Because if everyone is right, no one is right.

This is not a subject on which I wish to write. What regards me directly and demands a response is rather your idea of a non-denominational Christian religion. Once again I must begin with a few words of thanks. It was with great satisfaction that I read your letter of response to my lecture on Europe. I share your diagnosis as well as the orientation of your response. In my capacity as a theologian I feel obliged to clarify the concept of civil religion. I will therefore focus on the relationship between civil religion—which subsumes differences between the single denominations—and faith in the Catholic Church.

Your vision of a Christian civil religion reminds me of Alexis de Tocqueville’s work, Democracy in America. During his study of the United States, the French scholar had noticed, to put it briefly, that the unstable and fragmentary system of rules on which, to outward appearances, this democracy is founded, functioned because of the thriving Protestant Christian–inspired combination of religious and moral convictions in American society. No one had prescribed or defined these convictions, but everyone assumed them as the obvious spiritual foundation. The recognition of this basic religious and moral orientation, which went beyond the single denominations and defined the society from within, reinforced the corpus of the law. It defined the limits on individual freedoms from within, thereby creating the conditions for a shared, common freedom.

In this regard, I would like to quote a significant phrase from de Tocqueville: “Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot” (Chapter 9). In the letter that you addressed to me, you quote an expression from John Adams that conveys a similar thought, namely, that the American Constitution “was made only for a moral and religious people.” In the United States, too, secularization is proceeding at an accelerated pace, and the confluence of many different cultures disrupts the basic Christian consensus. However, there is a much clearer and more implicit sense in America than in Europe that the religious and moral foundation bequeathed by Christianity is greater than that of any single denomination. Europe, unlike America, is on a collision course with its own history. Often it voices an almost visceral denial of any possible public dimension for Christian values.

Why is this so? Why is Europe, which has such an ancient Christian tradition, unable to acknowledge a consensus of this type? A consensus that, irrespective of membership in a specific faith community, accords a sustaining public value to the fundamental concepts of Christianity? Since the historic bases for this difference are well known, I will be brief in my description.

American society was built for the most part by groups that had fled from the system of state churches that reigned in Europe, and they found their religious bearings in free faith communities outside of the state church. The foundations of American society were thus laid by the free churches, which by the tenets of their creed and their very structure are not a state church but rather a free assembly of individuals. In this sense you could say that American society is built on a separation of church and state that is determined and indeed demanded by religion (a separation whose motivation and configuration could not be more different from the conflictual separation of church and state imposed by the French Revolution and the systems that followed it). In America the state is little more than a free space for different religious communities to congregate; it is in its nature to recognize and permit these communities to exist in their particularity and their non-membership in the state. This is a separation that is conceived positively, since it is meant to allow religion to be itself, a religion that respects and protects its own living space distinctly from the state and its ordinances.

This separation has created a special relationship between the state and the private spheres that is completely different from Europe. The private sphere has an absolutely public character. This is why what does not pertain to the state is not excluded in any way, style, or form from the public dimension of social life. Most of America’s cultural institutions are non-governmental, such as the universities or arts organizations. The legal and tax system favors and enables this type of non-governmental culture, by contrast to Europe, where, for example, private universities are a recent and only marginal phenomenon. It is safe to say that the free churches also came to see themselves as somewhat relative, but they knew that they were nevertheless united by a common reason above and beyond institutions that was the basis for everything.

This context is not without dangers of its own. Some publications today seem to be reviving the WASP ideology, which holds that the true American is white, of Anglo-Saxon origin, and Protestant. This ideology was born when the arrival of immigrant groups of Catholic faith—especially the Irish, Italians, Poles, and people of color—was perceived as a threat to the consolidated identity of America. These ideas held sway until the twentieth century, in the sense that anyone who aspired to an important position in American public life had to be a WASP. In reality, however, the Catholic community was soon well integrated into the American identity.

American Catholics also recognized the positive character of the separation between church and state, for both religious reasons and for the religious freedom that it guaranteed them. It is also thanks to the significant contribution of Catholics that American society has maintained a Christian consciousness. Their contribution is more important than ever at a time of profound, radical transformations in the Protestant world. Since the traditional Protestant communities are continuously adapting to secularized society, they are losing their internal cohesion and their ability to persuade. The evangelicals, who used to be the most relentless enemies of Catholicism, are not only gaining ground on the traditional communities, but they are also discovering a new commonality with Catholicism. They have come to see Catholicism as a defender against the pressures of secularization and an upholder of the same ethical values that they themselves profess: values that they feel have been betrayed by their Protestant brothers.

On the basis of the structure of Christianity in the United States, the American Catholic bishops made a unique contribution to the Second Vatican Council through their instrumental role in drafting the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae on Religious Freedom (1965). They brought to the issue and to the Catholic tradition the experience of the non-state church (which had proven to be a condition for protecting the public value of fundamental Christian principles) as a Christian form that emerged from the very nature of the Church. Today American society—because of massive immigration from Latin America and the growing pressures of secularization—is forced to address serious new challenges. One could say, however—at least in my opinion—that in the United States there is still a civil Christian religion, although it is besieged and its contents have become uncertain.

Why does all of this matter so little to Europe? Why, in Catholic countries, is there such sharp opposition between Catholics and secularists? Why in the varied panorama of secularism is there a prominent fringe that resolutely denies the right of a public presence to the Christian faith and its values? Here, too, the only answer we can derive is from the pages of history.

Ever since the Reformation, Europe has been divided into two spiritual camps: the Catholic part of the continent, which corresponds largely but not wholly to the Latin countries, as well as the nations that formerly belonged to the Hapsburg Empire and Poland and Lithuania; and Protestant Europe, which instead coincides mainly, but not wholly, with the nations of Germanic origin. The Reformed churches were established in Europe as state churches, in part because, for example in England and Scandinavia, the Reformation was introduced by monarchs, and in part because the princes—for example in Germany—anointed themselves as managers, guarantors, and beneficiaries of the Reformation. As we saw, the state church principle later provoked the counteroffensive of the free churches that gave rise to the United States.

The Catholic principle is in contrast with the state church system because it emphasizes the universal nature of the Church, a Church that does not coincide with any one nation or any one state community. This Church lives in all nations. It creates a community—above and beyond loyalty to one’s own country—that spreads beyond national borders. Take the example of the Gregorian reform. After many efforts, the Church succeeded in obtaining the distinction between sacerdotium and imperium, thereby creating the basis for a separation between the two spheres. In fact, from the start of the modern era, European Catholicism was also able to assert a state church system that made the faith, in practice, an affair of state.

The Enlightenment, however, was received in two completely different ways by Protestantism and Catholicism, precisely because of the particular nature of each. While the Enlightenment proclaimed the autonomy of reason and its emancipation from traditional faith, the Catholic Church remained strongly attached to its heritage of faith, thereby locking the two in endless conflict. Despite the many upheavals of the sixteenth century, the Catholic countries did not experience any major religious schisms until the eighteenth century, when the new “denomination” of laici (secular people) was born. [Although the Italian word laico shares with the English “lay” the primary meaning of non-clerical and the secondary meaning of non-professional, in religious discourse it also refers to non-believers, who could be variously rendered as agnostics, or secular people. In political discourse it has a long and complicated history in Italy owing to its association with the main opposition parties during the period in which the Christian Democrats governed the country. —Translator’s note.] Since then, the separation between Catholics and laici has become characteristic of the Latin countries, while the German-speaking Protestant countries have no such usage as the word laico, a term that it finds completely incomprehensible. In the broadest sense of the word, the term laico denotes spiritual membership in the Enlightenment. In the two centuries that have gone by since then, no bridge has been built between the Protestant and the Catholic faiths; the two worlds seem to have become mutually impenetrable.

Since “secularity” also means free thinking and freedom from religious constrictions, it also involves the exclusion of Christian contents and values from public life. This exclusion leads to the tendency on the part of the modern conscience to treat the entire realm of faith and morals as “subjective.” Thank goodness that the demarcation lines have subsequently been softened and the secular panorama become more varied. On the Catholic side, Vatican II incorporated the collective efforts of theologians and philosophers from the previous two hundred years to open the gates that had divided the faith from the learning of the Enlightenment and embark on a fertile exchange between the two. Thus, while the split between Catholics and secular people would seem to exclude a form of civil religion, openings have appeared that people have wisely utilized.

Before continuing along these lines, we should also examine the European Protestant world and its relationship to secularism.

From the beginning Protestantism has seen itself as a movement of emancipation, liberation, and purification. When I went to Geneva for the first time, everywhere I looked I saw inscriptions such as Post tenebras lux, illustrating the close relationship between the Reformation and the basic tendencies of the Enlightenment. In this sense, despite a certain dogmatism that quickly emerged in the Protestant churches, one can still speak of a kinship between the Enlightenment and Protestantism—which became very clear in the eighteenth century. This relationship combined an intensification of the genuinely confessional nature with a broader intertwining of Protestantism and Enlightenment thought.

Friedrich Schleiermacher, who established a new approach to theology at the turn of the nineteenth century, expelled religion from the sphere of reason and gave it what he believed to be a new and secure position within the realm of the sentiments. In this way religion could supposedly survive, although its confessional contents had been reduced mostly to the symbolic sphere.

In the nineteenth century, there were strong reactionary movements that gave new life to the various creeds, although there continued to be a widespread identification of the dominant spiritual movements with the Protestant conscience. In this sense German Protestantism, for one, was broadly transformed into a religio civilis in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After the first world war, however, this civil religion appeared to be compromised by its profound commingling with the Prussian national conscience. In the period between the two world wars, there was consequently a major “reconfessionalization” of German Protestantism as well as a new openness toward ecumenism and the Catholic Church.

Today’s panorama is quite varied. To do it justice we would have to go well beyond the scope of this short statement. Despite the apparent diversity of the phenomena of state churches, evangelical movements, secularization, and the search for a renewal of the faith, Protestantism as a whole seems to be characterized by a consciousness of its profound intertwining with modern culture. This is both its strength and its weakness, since the fatal tendency to conform to the times—which led Protestantism to the brink of dissolution during the Enlightenment—is alive and well today, as the traditional Protestant churches in the United States demonstrate. Protestantism has thus become, for the most part, a cultural fact: it is somehow still called Protestant, although it is no longer connected to any particular denomination.

In this regard, the words of the former Prime Minister of France, Lionel Jospin, are telling. He called himself an atheistic Protestant. He characterized his atheism in terms of his Protestant cultural origins. I say this because Protestantism—given its openness toward the modern culture, which it helped to mold to a remarkable extent—could appear to be the ideal representative of a civil religion. Yet its current crisis and the deep transformations it has undergone demonstrate that “de-confessionalization” does not automatically produce something that resembles a broad Christianity encompassing other denominations.

Today, in the old confessional churches of Protestantism, there is a steady, disconcerting loss of vitality. Free churches of an evangelical model are being formed that their enemies call “fundamentalist,” but that are nonetheless able to attract thousands of people in search of a solid foundation for their lives. Statistics tell us that the more churches adapt themselves to the standards of secularization, the more followers they lose. They become attractive, instead, when they indicate a solid point of reference and a clear orientation. An ambiguous light is thus cast upon the concept of civil religion: if it is no more than a reflection of the majority’s convictions, then it means little or nothing. If instead it is a source of spiritual strength, then we have to ask what feeds this source.

So how can Europe attain a Christian civil religion that overcomes the boundaries between denominations and gives voice to values that sustain society rather than console the individual? Such a religion can obviously not be built by experts, since no committee or council, whoever its members, can possibly generate a global ethos. Something living cannot be born except from another living thing. Here is where I see the importance of creative minorities. From a numerical point of view, Christians are still clearly the majority in much of Europe, although the number of the baptized has gone down in some countries, especially in Eastern Europe and northern Germany. In the part of Germany that was formerly under Communist rule, for example, baptized Christians are no longer the majority. Even the existing majorities, however, have grown weary and disenchanted.

This is why it is so important to have convinced minorities in the Church, for the Church, and above all beyond the Church and for society: human beings who in their encounters with Christ have discovered the precious pearl that gives value to all life (Matthew 13:45 ff.), assuring that the Christian imperatives are no longer ballast that immobilizes humanity, but rather wings that carry it upward. Such minorities are formed when a convincing model of life also becomes an opening toward a knowledge that cannot emerge amid the dreariness of everyday life. Such a life choice, over time, affirms its rationale to a growing extent, opening and healing a reason that has become lazy and tired. There is nothing sectarian about such creative minorities. Through their persuasive capacity and their joy, they reach other people and offer them a different way of seeing things.

Therefore my first thesis is that a civil religion that truly has the moral force to sustain all people presupposes the existence of convinced minorities that have “discovered the pearl” and live it in a manner that is also convincing to others. Without such motivating forces, nothing can be built.

My second thesis is that we all need forms of belonging or of reference to these communities, or simply of contact with them. They are created automatically when their persuasive ability is sufficiently great. The Lord compared the Kingdom of God to a tree on whose branches various birds make their nests (Matthew 13:32). Perhaps the Church has forgotten that the tree of the Kingdom of God reaches beyond the branches of the visible Church, but that this is precisely why it must be a hospitable place in whose branches many guests find solace.

In the times of Jesus, the Jewish diaspora was filled with “God-fearers” who reported in varying degrees to the synagogue and who, in different ways, lived the spiritual treasure of the faith of Israel. Only a few of them wished to enter fully into the community of Israel, through circumcision, but for them it was a reference point that indicated the way to life. Primitive Christianity arose in this environment, giving vital new energy to a dying antiquity. The medieval monastic communities knew forms of belonging or of reference to the monastic family that enabled their energies to renew the Church and society as a whole. Meeting places that become “yeast” (Matthew 13:33)—a persuasive force that acts beyond the more closed sphere until it reaches everybody—should therefore be formed around the minorities that have been touched by faith.

As a third thesis, I would say that these creative minorities can clearly neither stand nor live on their own. They live naturally from the fact that the Church as a whole remains and that it lives in and stands by the faith in its divine origins. It did not invent these origins but it recognizes them as a gift that it is duty-bound to transmit. The minorities renew the vitality of this great community at the same time as they draw on its hidden life force, which forever generates new life.

As the fourth thesis, I would say that both secular people and Catholics, seekers and believers, in the dense thicket of branches filled with many birds, must move toward each other with a new openness. Believers must never stop seeking, while seekers are touched by the truth and thus cannot be classified as people without faith and Christian-inspired moral principles. There are ways of partaking of the truth by which seekers and believers give to and learn from each other. This is why the distinction between Catholics and secularists is relative. Secular people are not a rigid block. They do not constitute a set denomination, or worse, an “anti-denomination.” They are people who do not yet feel able to take the step of ecclesiastical faith with everything that such a step involves. Very often they are people who passionately seek the truth, who are pained by the lack of truth in humankind. Consequently they return to the essential contents of culture and faith, and through their commitment often make these contents even more luminous than an unquestioned faith, accepted more out of habit than out of the sufferings of the conscience.

There can be a positive meaning to these various degrees of belonging. Between the internal and the external, as I have already said, there is a mutual giving and receiving. In the 1950s, Hans Urs von Balthasar spoke of “breaking down the barriers,” by which he meant this new mutual openness. By going beyond borders, beyond rigid classifications, one could, God willing, form a Christian civil religion that would not be an artificial construction of something that everybody supposedly finds reasonable, but rather a living partaking of the great spiritual tradition of Christianity, in which these values are actualized and revitalized.

To these general reflections on the question of a non-denominational Christian religion, allow me, Mr. President, to add three further observations to complete and expand my previous remarks.

The question of why the Christian faith today is struggling to convey its great message to people in Europe inevitably regards the believing Christian and, above all, the pastor of the Church. I see two main reasons for its difficulties:

a) The first reason was articulated by Nietzsche when he wrote, “Christianity has thus far always been attacked in the wrong way. As long as one does not perceive Christian morality as a capital crime against life, its defenders will always have an easy game. The question of the truth of Christianity… is something entirely secondary as long as the question of the value of Christian morality is not addressed.”

Here what we are actually addressing, in my opinion, is the decisive reason for the abandonment of Christianity: its model for life is apparently unconvincing. It seems to place too many restraints on humankind that stifle its joie de vivre, that limit its precious freedom, and that do not lead it to open pastures—in the language of the Psalms—but rather into want, into deprivation. Something similar happened in antiquity, when the representatives of the powerful Roman state appealed to Christians by saying: Return to our religion, our religion is joyous, we have feasts, drunken revels, and entertainments, while you believe in One who was crucified.

The Christians were able to demonstrate persuasively how empty and base were the entertainments of paganism, and how sublime the gift of faith in the God who suffers with us and leads us to the road of true greatness. Today it is a matter of the greatest urgency to show a Christian model of life that offers a livable alternative to the increasingly vacuous entertainments of leisure-time society, a society forced to make increasing recourse to drugs because it is sated by the usual shabby pleasures. Living on the great values of the Christian tradition is naturally much harder than a life rendered dull by the increasingly costly habits of our time. The Christian model of life must be manifested as a life in all its fullness and freedom, a life that does not experience the bonds of love as dependence and limitation but rather as an opening to the greatness of life. Here, too, I refer to the idea of the creative minorities that enrich this model of life, present it in a convincing way, and can thus instill the courage needed to live it.

b) The second reason for the crumbling of Christianity lies, in my opinion, in the fact that it seems to have been surpassed by “science” and to be out-ofstep with the rationalism of the modern era. This is especially true from two perspectives. Historical criticism has distorted the Bible, undermining the credibility of its divine origin. Science and the modern image of the world it has created seem to exclude from reality the basic vision of the Christian faith, relegating it to the realm of myth. So how can people still be Christians?

The Church and its theology have wasted too much time on small back-guard skirmishes, getting lost in debates over details, and they have not invested enough effort in asking the basic questions: What is Revelation? How does Revelation coming from God link with the development of human history? On the long road of history, so littered with troubles, how is the guidance of the Other manifested—the Other who acts on and renews history in a way beyond the capability of human action?

To engage scientists and engage in dialogue with philosophers of the modern era, we must return to the basic question of what makes the world cohere. Does matter create reason? Does pure chance produce meaning? Or do the intellect, logos, and reason come first, so that reason, freedom, and the good are already part of the principles that construct reality? A valid civil religion will not conceive of God as a mythical entity but rather as a possibility of reason—just as Reason itself precedes and enables our reason to seek to recognize it. I believe that the struggle to regain an image of the world based on spirit and sense, and to counter the deconstructionist trends that you outlined in your lecture, is a great challenge shared by Catholics and secular people alike.

I would now like to say a few words about relativism. As I said at the outset, I am most grateful for all that you explained so carefully in your lecture, and I agree with you completely on everything.

In recent years I find myself noting how the more relativism becomes the generally accepted way of thinking, the more it tends toward intolerance, thereby becoming a new dogmatism. Political correctness, whose constant pressures you have illuminated, seeks to establish the domain of a single way of thinking and speaking. Its relativism creates the illusion that it has reached greater heights than the loftiest philosophical achievements of the past. It prescribes itself as the only way to think and speak—if, that is, one wishes to stay in fashion. Being faithful to traditional values and to the knowledge that upholds them is labeled intolerance, and relativism becomes the required norm. I think it is vital that we oppose this imposition of a new pseudo-enlightenment, which threatens freedom of thought as well as freedom of religion. In Sweden, a preacher who had presented the Biblical teachings on the question of homosexuality received a prison sentence. This is just one sign of the gains that have been made by relativism as a kind of new “denomination” that places restrictions on religious convictions and seeks to subordinate all religions to the super-dogma of relativism.

Finally I wish to add a few words about differences over bioethical issues, which you address in the last pages of your letter. These issues are so complicated that they can only be addressed through an in-depth treatment that is not possible in the form of a letter. I will thus limit myself to a few brief remarks.

I appreciate that you—unlike many other secular people—speak of the “person from the moment of conception,” and that you underline the deep ethical difference between the relationship with persons and the relationship with things. I can well understand your observations on therapeutic abortion and on homologous artificial insemination.

The Church’s Magisterium deals with the question of how far the Church should go in pressing its demands on lawmakers. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prepared a document on the responsibilities of Catholic politicians that makes a clear distinction between the two levels at stake. The Catholic will not and should not, through the making of laws, impose a hierarchy of values that can only be recognized and enacted within the faith. He or she can only reclaim that which belongs to the human foundations accessible to reason and therefore essential to the construction of a sound legal order. Yet at this point a spontaneous question arises: What is this moral minimum accessible to reason that all human beings share? Is it that which all human beings understand? Is it possible to conduct a statistical analysis of these rational common bases for an authentic legal code?

Here the dilemma of human life emerges fully. If we had to place on the same level rationality and the average conscience, very little “reason” would be left in the end. The Christian is convinced that his or her faith opens up new dimensions of understanding, and above all that it helps reason to be itself. There is the true heritage of the faith (the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the sacraments, and so on), but there is also the knowledge for which faith provides evidence, knowledge that is later recognized as rational and pertaining to reason as such, and thus also implying a responsibility toward others. The person of faith, who has received help in reason, must work in favor of reason and of that which is rational: this, in the face of dormant or diseased reason, is a duty he or she must perform toward the entire human community.

Naturally the person of faith knows that he or she must respect the freedom of others and that ultimately the only weapon is the soundness of the arguments set forth in the political arena and in the struggle to shape public opinion. This is why it is so crucial to develop a philosophical ethics that, while being in harmony with the ethic of faith, must however have its own space and its own logical rigor. The rationality of the arguments should close the gap between secular ethics and religious ethics and found an ethics of reason that goes beyond such distinctions.

Having said this, I wish to address briefly two questions of content. The first problem is that of being a “person from the moment of conception.” The Instruction Donum vitae of February 22, 1987, under Part I, article 1, recalls how, according to the knowledge of modern genetics, “From the first instant, the program is fixed as to what this living being will be: a man, this individual-man with his characteristic aspects already well determined.” In other words, “In the zygote resulting from fertilization the biological identity of a new human individual is already constituted.”

Here we shift from the empirical to the philosophical. The Instruction affirms that no experimental datum will ever be sufficient proof of the existence of a spiritual soul. The document formulates the connection between the empirical and philosophical levels in the form of a question. It recalls yet again that one can verify empirically that there is a new individual: “Individual” is an empirical term since it refers to an organism that, while being completely dependent on the mother, is nevertheless a new organism with its own genetic program. Hence the question, “How can a human individual not be a human person?” From this derives the ethical deduction, “The human being must be respected—as a person—from the very first instant of his existence.”

Here the Church’s Magisterium is not proposing its own philosophical theology, nor is it making a theological argument; it is posing a question at the meeting point of the empirical and philosophical (anthropological) levels that, in my opinion, has clear ethical consequences for reason. From this derives, on the other hand, a deduction for the legislator: if this is the way things are, then the authorization to kill the embryo means that “The state is denying the equality of all before the law” (Part III). For us the question of the right of life for all those who are human beings is not a question of the ethics of faith, but rather of the ethics of reason. It is at this level that the debate should take place.

To address the issues raised by artificial fertility I would need far more space. I would, however, like to at least mention the fact that Donum vitae, while rejecting artificial insemination, both homologous and by donor—on the basis of an ethics that is argued anthropologically—does not demand from lawmakers a ban on extra-corporeal homologous artificial insemination, but would prefer to see a legal prohibition on donor artificial insemination, in order to protect the legally sanctioned value of marriage. Not to do so, in other words, would amount to rejecting a fundamental institution of societies based on Christian culture. Such an affront to the foundations of our social structure is essentially a self-contradiction by the lawmaker. The fact that it is no longer perceived as such demonstrates clearly how far the process of dismantling the institution of marriage has progressed. On the basis of my faith and my moral reason, I see here a very serious signal of alarm for our societies.

The last remaining question is whether it is politically realistic to argue with a reason oriented toward faith in creation, an argument that struggles to be understood by the average person today. The Church’s most recent documents are fully cognizant of this context. Their starting point is that in the conscience’s search for the truth, acceptance and success cannot be decisive criteria. However, they also realize that in politics it is a question of what is feasible and of getting as close as possible to that which the conscience and reason have recognized as the true good for the individual and society. Politics is the art of the compromise. How far can the Christian politician push, through compromises, in favor of a law that is morally grounded without entering into contradiction with his or her conscience?

Article 73 of the encyclical Evangelium vitae (1995) drafts a first basic rule whose purport and limits still need to be defined in the theological discussion. Both Evangelium vitae and Donum vitae acknowledge that, on the basis of reasons subject to disagreement today, the necessary consensus does not exist to pass laws on ethics of life questions that fully correspond to the Christian conscience. Both theses therefore insist that the legislator, on the basis of and within the realm of the principle commonly recognized as freedom of conscience, should concede the right to conscientious objection. The Church does not wish to impose on others that which they do not understand, but it expects that others will at least respect the consciences of those who allow their reason to be guided by the Christian faith.

Where space is not granted to this freedom, the Christian should—according to the Donum vitae—claim the right to passive resistance and thereby offer a testimony of conscience that could somehow make people reflect and lead to the formation of a new conscience. This road will become less necessary the more we succeed in developing a civil Christian religion that can shape our conscience as Europeans and—bridging the separation between secularists and Catholics—manifest the reasonable and binding value of the great principles that have edified Europe and can and must rebuild it.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on Spiritual Roots of Europe

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

The Rise of Europe

What is the true definition of Europe? This age-old question was raised by Józef Cardinal Glemp during discussions in one of the language groups of the Synod of Bishops for Europe. Where does Europe begin, and where does it end? Why, for example, is Siberia not considered part of Europe, although many Europeans also live there, and it has a wholly European style of thinking and living? To the south of the community of Russian peoples, where do the borders of Europe disappear? Where do its borders flow in the Atlantic? Which islands are European and which, instead, are not, and why not? In these discussions it became perfectly clear that Europe is a geographic term only in a secondary sense: Europe is not a continent that can be defined solely in geographic terms but is rather a cultural and historical concept.

Let us consider the origin of Europe. Experts traditionally trace it back to Herodotus (ca. 484–425 B.C.), the first known writer to designate Europe as a geographic concept, which he defines in the following manner: “For the Persians consider Asia and the barbarian peoples who live there as part of their property, while they maintain that Europe and the Greek world are a separate country.”While he does not indicate the borders of Europe, the lands at the heart of today’s Europe were completely outside of the visual field of the ancient historian. In fact, the formation of the Hellenistic states and the Roman Empire led to the establishment of a “continent” that would become the basis for the later Europe, despite having completely different borders. As a whole, the lands facing the Mediterranean came to form a true continent by virtue of their cultural ties, trade routes, and common political system. It was not until the triumphal advance of Islam in the seventh and early eighth centuries that a border would be drawn across the Mediterranean, subdividing what had been a single continent into three: Asia, Africa, and Europe.

In the East, the ancient world was transformed more slowly than in the West. After transferring its capital to Constantinople, the Roman Empire would survive in the East until the fifteenth century, although it was pushed further and further to the margins.During the same period, the southern Mediterranean region found itself cut off completely (in approximately A.D. 700) from what had been a cultural continent for centuries, while Europe grew steadily northward. The ancient continental border that the Romans called limes disappeared. A new historical space opened up whose heartland encompassed Gaul, Germany, and Britannia, and whose northern reach expanded more and more toward Scandinavia. Amid this process of shifting borders, a theology of history was constructed that guaranteed ideal continuity with the earlier Mediterranean continent in its various forms. According to this thinking, rooted in the Book of Daniel, the Roman Empire had been renewed and transformed by the Christian faith, which therefore became the last reign in the history of the world, the framework of peoples and states that became defined as the permanent “Sacrum Imperium Romanum,” the Holy Roman Empire.

The process of forming a new historical and cultural identity took place in a fully conscious manner under the reign of Charlemagne, when the ancient name of Europe returned to circulation, but with a new meaning. It came to define the kingdom of Charlemagne and to express an awareness of both the continuity and the novelty of this new aggregate of states, which appeared as a force that had a great future. A great future because it could be perceived as a continuation of a world history that until then had been rooted in the permanent.The awareness of a definitive nature and of a mission was expressed through the emerging sense of self-consciousness.

With the end of the Carolingian age, however, the concept of Europe virtually disappeared, surviving only in scholarly usage. The term did not become popular currency until the beginning of the modern era—as a means of self-identification, in response to the Turkish threat—when it was asserted more in general in the eighteenth century. Apart from the history of the name, the decisive step toward Europe as we understand it today was taken when the Frankish kingdom constituted itself as the heir to the Roman Empire, which had never completely faded.4

Nor should we forget the existence of a second, non-Western Europe. In Byzantium (which considered itself the true Rome), the Roman Empire had withstood the upheaval of migrations and the Islamic invasion. The Eastern Roman Empire had never declined, and it continued to advance claims on the Empire’s Western half. It extended as far north as the Slavic world, and created its own Greco-Roman world that distinguished itself from the Latin Europe of the West by introducing variants in the liturgy and in the ecclesiastical constitution, adopting a different script, and renouncing the use of Latin as the common language.

The two worlds also had sufficient unifying elements, however, to be considered a single continent. First of all, both the East and the West were the heirs to the Bible and to the ancient Church, which in both worlds refer beyond themselves to an origin that lies outside of today’s Europe, namely in Palestine. Second, both shared the idea of Empire and of the essential nature of the Church, and therefore of law and legal instruments. The last factor I would mention is monasticism, which throughout the great upheavals of history has continued to be the indispensable bearer not only of cultural continuity but above all of fundamental religious and moral values, the ultimate guidance of humankind. As a pre-political and supra-political force, monasticism was also the harbinger of ever welcome and necessary rebirths of culture and civilization.5

Alongside the common ecclesiastical inheritance of the two Europes, however, a profound difference remained whose importance has been explained particularly well by Endre von Ivánka. In Byzantium, Empire and Church were virtually identified in each other. The emperor was also the head of the Church. He considered himself a representative of Christ and—following the Biblical example of Melchizedek, who was both king and priest (Genesis 14:18)—he bore the official title “king and priest” from the sixth century on.Once the Emperor Constantine had left Rome, the autonomous position of bishop of Rome—as successor to Peter and supreme pastor of the Church—could be transplanted to the ancient capital of the Empire, where a duality of powers had been established at the beginning of the Age of Constantine. Neither the emperor nor the pope was absolute: each had separate powers.

Pope Gelasius I (492–496) expressed his vision of the West in a famous letter to the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I, and, more explicitly, in his fourth treatise, where, with reference to the Byzantine model of Melchizedek, he affirmed that the unity of powers lies exclusively in Christ: “As a matter of fact, because of human weakness (pride), He has separated the two offices for the time that followed, so that neither shall become proud” (chapter 11). On matters pertaining to eternal life, the Christian emperors need priests ( pontifices), who in their turn should follow, on temporal matters, the orders of the emperor. On worldly matters, priests should follow the laws of the emperor installed by divine decree, while on divine matters the emperor should submit to the priest.The fourth treatise introduced a separation and distinction of powers that would be of vital importance to the future development of Europe, and that laid the foundations for the distinguishing characteristics of the West.

Despite these restrictions, both sides continued to be driven to seek absolute power and to impose their power on the other, making the principle of separation also the source of endless strife. How this principle should be lived properly and how it should be concretized politically and religiously continue to be a fundamental issue in present and future Europe.

The Turning Point of the Modern Era

To summarize my preceding remarks, the European continent was born from the rise of the Carolingian Empire and the shift of the Roman Empire to Byzantium, which directed its mission toward the Slavic peoples. If we accept this premise, the beginning of the modern era marked a watershed, a radical change, for the two Europes both in the essence of the continent and its geographic outlines.

In 1453 Constantinople was conquered by the Turks. Otto Hiltbrunner describes the event laconically: “The last… learned men emigrated… to Italy and passed on their knowledge of the original Greek texts to the Renaissance humanists; but the East was overcome by the absence of culture.”This may be an overstatement, since the reign of the Osmanli dynasty had its own culture, too. However, the European, Greco-Christian culture of Byzantium did indeed come to an end. There was a risk that one of the two branches of Europe would disappear, but the Byzantine heritage did not die: Moscow declared itself to be the third Rome, and founded its patriarchate on the principle of a second translatio imperii, or transfer of political power. Russia thus emerged as a new metamorphosis of the Holy Roman Empire, as a distinct form of Europe, which nevertheless remained tied to the West and was increasingly oriented toward it, culminating in Peter the Great’s attempt to westernize Russia.

This northward expansion of Byzantine Europe meant that the continent’s borders also began to extend toward the East. While the selection of the Urals as the border may have been exceedingly arbitrary, the world to the east of the Urals became a kind of substructure of Europe, neither Asian nor European, that was substantially forged by the European subject at the same time as it was excluded from having subject status itself. It became the object rather than the architect of its own history, not unlike a colonial state.

At the beginning of the modern era, two events took place that lie at the foundations of non-Western, Byzantine Europe: the breakup of ancient Byzantium and of its historical continuity with the Roman Empire; and the establishment of a second Europe, with a new capital in Moscow, whose borders extended eastward, and a type of pre-colonial structure in Siberia.

During the same period, two events of major historical significance also took place in the West. The first is that most of the Germanic world broke away from Rome. The rise of a new, “enlightened” form of Christianity drew a separation line through the “West” that clearly marked not just a geographical but also a cultural limes, a border between two different ways of thinking and relating. Within the Protestant world, there was also a rupture in the first instance between the Lutherans and the Reformed communities, to which the Methodists and Presbyterians belonged. At the same time, the Anglican Church tried to steer a middle course between Catholics and Evangelicals. These divisions were later amplified by the difference between Christianity as a form of state religion, which came to be a European hallmark, and the free churches, which, as we shall see, would make their home in North America.

The second event was the discovery of the Americas. The eastward expansion of Europe, through the progressive expansion of Russia into Asia, corresponded to a radical expansion of Europe beyond its own geographic borders to a world on the other side of the ocean that was given the name “America.” The subdivision of Europe into a Latin Catholic half and a Germanic Protestant half came to be reflected in the part of the New World occupied by Europe. At first America was perceived as an outpost of Europe, a colony. In the wake of the French Revolution and the upheaval it sparked in Europe, however, America took on the characteristics of a subject. From the nineteenth century on, although America had been intimately shaped by its European birth, it became an independent subject in its dealings with Europe.

In the attempt to know the deepest, innermost identity of Europe through the study of its history, we have dwelled on two watershed moments in its history. The first came about through the confluence of three factors: the breakup of the ancient Mediterranean continent by the Holy Roman Empire, which was then relocated further north; the emergence of Europe as a Latin-Western territory during the Carolingian period; and the transference of the ancient Roman Empire to Byzantium, which expanded northward in its turn into the Slavic world. The second turning point was the fall of Byzantium, which came about in part through the northward shift of Europe, the eastward shift of the Christian idea of Empire, and the internal division of Europe into two separate worlds, Germanic Protestant and Latin Catholic (which was replicated in the Americas and would remain even after the new continent had established itself as a historical subject on a par with Europe).

Let us now turn to the third watershed, which was brought about by the French Revolution. Although the Holy Roman Empire had been in decline since the late Middle Ages, and it had faded also as a valid, undisputed interpretation of history, it was not until the French Revolution that the spiritual framework which it provided—and without which Europe could not have been formed—would shatter in a formal sense. This process had a major impact on both politics and ideals. In terms of ideals, there was a rejection of the sacred foundation both of history and of the state. History was no longer measured on the basis of an idea of God that had preceded and molded it. The state came to be understood in purely secular terms, as grounded in rationalism and the will of the citizens.

The secular state arose for the first time in history, abandoning and excluding as mythological any divine guarantee or legitimation of the political element, and declaring that God is a private question that does not belong to the public sphere or to the democratic formation of the public will. Public life came to be considered the domain of reason alone, which had no place for a seemingly unknowable God: from this perspective, religion and faith in God belonged to the domain of sentiment, not of reason. God and His will therefore ceased to be relevant to public life.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a new schism thus developed whose gravity we are only now grasping. There is no word for this schism in German, because in Germany it emerged very slowly. The romance languages, by contrast, define it as a division between Cattolici and laici.Over the past two centuries, a deep rift has opened between the two groups in the Latin nations. Protestant Christianity, by contrast, was initially able to accommodate liberal, enlightenment ideas without jeopardizing the framework of a broad Christian consensus. The ancient idea of Empire was shattered by the formation of powerful nation-states—defined by their distinctive linguistic spheres—which proved to be the true bearers of history. In the place of Empire there was a plural historical subject, the great European nations, whose drama was that each considered itself the depository of a universal mission, creating potential conflicts whose fatal impact we have experienced so painfully in the century that has just elapsed.

The Universalization of European Culture and the Ensuing Crisis

We must now consider the process by which this history of past centuries was transmitted to new worlds. The two halves of ancient pre-modern Europe had essentially known only one next-door neighbor, with whom it had to negotiate as a matter of life and death: namely, the Islamic world. It was only a question of time before Europe would expand toward America and in part toward Asia, continents that were lacking in great cultural protagonists. Still later, Europe would begin to make further incursions into these two continents, Africa and Asia, which it had previously dealt with only marginally, and which it would seek to transform into European franchises, into colonies.

If colonization could be considered a success, it is in the sense that contemporary Asia and Africa can also pursue the ideal of a world shaped by technology and prosperity. Yet there, too, the ancient religious traditions are undergoing a crisis, and secular thinking has made inroads and begun to dominate public life.

These processes have also produced the opposite effect: Islam has been reborn, in part because of the new material wealth acquired by the Islamic countries, but mainly because of people’s conviction that Islam can provide a valid spiritual foundation to their lives. Such a foundation seems to have eluded old Europe, which, despite its enduring political and economic power, seems to be on the road to decline and fall.

By contrast to Europe’s denial of its religious and moral foundations, Asia’s great religious traditions—especially the mystical component expressed in Buddhism—have been elevated as spiritual powers. The optimism in European culture that Arnold Toynbee could still voice in the early fifties sounds strangely antiquated today: “We are faced by the fact that, of the twenty-one civilizations that have been born alive and have proceeded to grow, thirteen are dead and buried; that seven of the remaining eight are apparently in decline; and that the eighth, which is our own, may also have passed its zenith.”10 Who would repeat these same words today? Above all, what is European culture, and what has remained of it? Is European culture perhaps nothing more than the technology and trade civilization that has marched triumphantly across the planet? Or is it instead a post-European culture born on the ruins of the ancient European cultures?

There is a paradoxical synchrony in these developments. The victory of the post-European technosecular world and the universalization of its lifestyle and thinking have spread the impression—especially in the non-European countries of Asia and Africa—that Europe’s value system, culture, and faith—in other words, the very foundations of its identity—have reached the end of the road, and have indeed already departed from the scene. From this perspective, the time has apparently arrived to affirm the value systems of other worlds, such as pre-Colombian America, Islam, or Asian mysticism.

At the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems hollow, as if it were internally paralyzed by a failure of its circulatory system that is endangering its life, subjecting it to transplants that erase its identity. At the same time as its sustaining spiritual forces have collapsed, a growing decline in its ethnicity is also taking place.

Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as if they were taking something away from our lives. Children are seen as a liability rather than as a source of hope. There is a clear comparison between today’s situation and the decline of the Roman Empire. In its final days, Rome still functioned as a great historical framework, but in practice it was already subsisting on models that were destined to fail. Its vital energy had been depleted.

Now let us turn to the problems of the present. There are two opposing diagnoses on the possible future of Europe. On the one hand, there is the thesis of Oswald Spengler, who believed that he had identified a natural law for the great moments in cultural history: first came the birth of a culture, then its gradual rise, flourishing, slow decline, aging, and death. Spengler argued his thesis with ample documentation, culled from the history of cultures, that demonstrated the law of the natural life cycle. His thesis was that the West would come to an end, and that it was rushing heedlessly toward its demise, despite every effort to stop it. Europe could of course bequeath its gifts to a new emerging culture—following the example set by previous cultures during their decline—but as a historical subject its life cycle had effectively ended.

Spengler’s “biologistic” thesis attracted fierce opponents during the period between the two wars, especially in Catholic circles. Arnold Toynbee reserved harsh words for it, in arguments too readily ignored today.11 Toynbee emphasized the difference between technological-material progress and true progress, which he defined as spiritualization. He recognized that the Western world was indeed undergoing a crisis, which he attributed to the abandonment of religion for the cult of technology, nationalism, and militarism. For him this crisis had a name: secularism.

If you know the cause of an illness, you can also find a cure: the religious heritage in all its forms had to be reintroduced, especially the “heritage of Western Christianity.”12 Rather than a biologistic vision, he offers a voluntaristic one focused on the energy of creative minorities and exceptional individuals.

This leads us to the question of whether Toynbee’s diagnosis is correct. If it is, then we must ask whether it is in our power to reintroduce the religious dimension through a synthesis of residual Christianity and the religious heritage of humankind. The Spengler-Toynbee debate remains open because we cannot see into the future. Nevertheless it is our duty to ask which factors will guarantee the future and which have allowed the inner identity of Europe to survive throughout its metamorphoses in history. To put it more simply, what can still promise, today and tomorrow, to offer human dignity to life?

To find an answer we must once again survey the present situation and its historical roots. We had gone as far as the French Revolution and the nineteenth century. Since that time, two new European models have developed. In the Latin nations the secular model has prevailed. A sharp distinction is made between the state and the religious bodies, deeming the latter to fall under the private sphere. The state denies that it has a religious foundation and affirms that it is based on reason and rational knowledge. Since reason is inherently fragile, however, these secular systems have proved to be weak, becoming easy targets for dictatorships. They survive only because elements of the old moral conscience have persevered, even without the earlier foundations, enabling the existence of a basic moral consensus.

In the Germanic world, the liberal Protestant model of church and state has prevailed. An enlightened and essentially moral Christian religion has some forms of worship that are supported by the state. This relationship guarantees a moral consensus and a broad religious foundation to which individual non-state religions must adapt. This model has long guaranteed state and social cohesion in Great Britain, the Scandinavian states, and once upon a time also in Prussian-dominated Germany. In Germany, however, the collapse of Prussian State Christianity left a vacuum that would later provide fertile soil for a dictatorship. Today state churches throughout the world are characterized by their fatigue. Moral force—the foundation on which to build—does not emanate from either the religious bodies subservient to the state nor from the state itself.

Situated between the two models is the one adopted by the United States of America. Built on the foundations created by the free churches, it adopts a rigid dogma of separation between church and state. Above and beyond the single denominations, it is characterized by a Protestant Christian consensus that is not defined in denominational terms, but rather in association with the country’s sense of a special religious mission toward the rest of the world. The religious sphere thus acquires a significant weight in public affairs and emerges as a prepolitical and supra-political force with the potential to have a decisive impact on political life. Of course, one cannot hide the fact that in the United States, also, the Christian heritage is falling apart at an incessant pace, while at the same time the rapid increase in the Hispanic population and the presence of religious traditions from all over the world have altered the picture.

Perhaps here we should also observe that the United States is involved to a large extent in promoting Protestantism in Latin America—and hence in the breakup of the Catholic Church—through the work of free church formations. It does so out of the conviction that the Catholic Church is incapable of guaranteeing a stable political and economic system, since it is considered an unreliable educator of nations. The underlying expectation is that the free churches model, instead, will be able to create a moral consensus and to form a democratic public will that are similar to those of the United States.

To further complicate the picture, we have to acknowledge that the Catholic Church today represents the largest single religious community in the United States, while American Catholics have incorporated the traditions of the free church regarding the relationship between the Church and politics, believing that a Church that is separate from the state better guarantees the moral foundation of the country. Hence the promotion of the democratic ideal is seen as a moral duty that is in profound compliance with the faith. In this position we can rightly see a continuation, adapted to the times, of the model of Pope Gelasius described earlier.

Let us return to the situation in Europe. In the nineteenth century, the two models that I described above were joined by a third, socialism, which quickly split into two different branches, one totalitarian and the other democratic. Democratic socialism managed to fit within the two existing models as a welcome counterweight to the radical liberal positions, which it developed and corrected. It also managed to appeal to various religious denominations. In England it became the political party of the Catholics, who had never felt at home among either the Protestant conservatives or the liberals. In Wilhelmine Germany, too, Catholic groups felt closer to democratic socialism than to the rigidly Prussian and Protestant conservative forces. In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine, and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of a social consciousness.

The totalitarian model, by contrast, was associated with a rigidly materialistic, atheistic philosophy of history: it saw history deterministically, as a road of progress that passes first through a religious and then through a liberal phase to arrive at an absolute, ultimate society in which religion is surpassed as a relic of the past and collective happiness is guaranteed by the workings of material conditions.

This scientific façade hides a dogmatic intolerance that views the spirit as produced by matter, and morals as produced by circumstances. According to its dictates, morals should be defined and practiced on the basis of society’s purposes, and everything is deemed moral that helps to usher in the final state of happiness. This dogmatism completely subverts the values that built Europe. It also breaks with the entire moral tradition of humankind by rejecting the existence of values independent of the goals of material progress. Depending on circumstance, anything can become legitimate and even necessary; anything can become moral in the new sense of the term. Even humankind itself can be treated as an instrument, since the individual does not matter, only the future, the cruel deity adjudicating over one and all.

The communist systems collapsed under the weight of their own fallacious economic dogmatism. Commentators have nevertheless ignored all too readily the role in this demise played by the communists’ contempt for human rights and their subjugation of morals to the demands of the system and the promises of the future. The greatest catastrophe encountered by such systems was not economic. It was the starvation of souls and the destruction of the moral conscience.

The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that although the fallacy of the communist economy has been recognized—so much so that former communists have unhesitatingly become economic liberals—the moral and religious question that it used to address has been almost totally repressed. The unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe. The decline of a moral conscience grounded in absolute values is still our problem today. Left untreated, it could lead to the self-destruction of the European conscience, which we must begin to consider as a real danger—above and beyond the decline predicted by Spengler.13

Where Are We Today?

This brings us to the question of how we think things are going today. Amid the major upheavals of the present, is there a European identity that has a future and to which we can be wholeheartedly committed? I am not prepared to enter into a detailed discussion of the European Constitution. I would only like to indicate briefly the basic moral elements that in my opinion should not be missing from that document.

A first element is the unconditionality with which human rights and human dignity should be presented as values that take precedence over the jurisdiction of any state. Fundamental rights are neither created by the lawmaker nor granted to the citizen, “But rather they exist in their own right and must always be respected by lawmakers, to whom they are given beforehand as values belonging to a higher order.”14 The value of human dignity, which takes precedence over all political action and all political decision-making, refers to the Creator: only He can establish values that are grounded in the essence of humankind and that are inviolable. The existence of values that cannot be modified by anyone is the true guarantee of our freedom and of human greatness; in this fact, the Christian faith sees the mystery of the Creator and the condition of man, who was made in God’s image.

Today almost no one would openly deny the primacy of human dignity and of basic human rights over any political decision. The horrors of Nazism and its racist doctrine are still too fresh in memory. However, in the concrete sphere of the supposed progress of medicine, there are very real threats to these values. If one considers cloning, the storing of human fetuses for research purposes and for organ harvesting, and the whole field of genetic manipulation, no one can fail to have noticed the threat represented by the slow erosion of human dignity. The situation is only made worse by the increased trafficking in human beings, new forms of slavery, and trafficking in human organs for the sake of transplants. To justify such unjustifiable means, “good ends” are cited repeatedly.

Let us summarize: the values of human dignity, freedom, equality, and solidarity should be inscribed in the European Constitution alongside the fundamental principles of democracy and rule of law. The image of man, the moral option, enshrined in these rights should not be taken for granted. It should instead be recognized as crucial to European identity. The European Constitution must safeguard these values, also in terms of their concrete consequences. However, they can only be defended if there is a corresponding moral conscience that is in a state of constant renewal.

A second element that characterizes European identity is marriage and the family. Monogamous marriage—both as a fundamental structure for the relationship between men and women and as the nucleus for the formation of the state community—was forged already in the Biblical faith. It gave its special character and its special humanity to Europe, both in the West and in the East, precisely because the form of fidelity and sacrifice described here should always be regained through great struggles and suffering.

Europe would no longer be Europe if this fundamental nucleus of its social edifice were to vanish or be changed in an essential way. We all know how much marriage and the family are in jeopardy. Their integrity has been undermined by the easier forms of divorce, at the same time as there has been a spread in the practice of cohabitation between a man and a woman without the legal form of marriage.

Paradoxically, homosexuals are now demanding that their unions be granted a legal form that is more or less equivalent to marriage. Such a development would fall outside the moral history of humanity. Regardless of the diverse legal systems that exist, humankind has never lost sight of the fact that marriage is essentially the special communion of man and woman, which opens itself to children and thus to family.

The question this raises is not of discrimination but of what constitutes the human person as a man or as a woman, and which union should receive a legal form. If the union between man and woman has strayed further and further from legal forms, and if homosexual unions are perceived more and more as enjoying the same standing as marriage, then we are truly facing a dissolution of the image of humankind bearing consequences that can only be extremely grave.

The final element of the European identity is religion. I do not wish to enter into the complex discussion of recent years, but to highlight one issue that is fundamental to all cultures: respect for that which another group holds sacred, especially respect for the sacred in the highest sense, for God, which one can reasonably expect to find even among those who are not willing to believe in God. When this respect is violated in a society, something essential is lost. In our contemporary society, thank goodness, anyone who dishonors the faith of Israel, its image of God, or its great figures must pay a fine. The same holds true for anyone who dishonors the Koran and the convictions of Islam. But when it comes to Jesus Christ and that which is sacred to Christians, instead, freedom of speech becomes the supreme good. The argument has been made that restricting freedom of speech would jeopardize or even abolish tolerance and freedom overall. There is one major restriction on freedom of speech, however: it cannot destroy the honor and the dignity of another person. Lying or denying human rights is not freedom.

This case illustrates a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological. It is commendable that the West is trying to be more open, to be more understanding of the values of outsiders, but it has lost all capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure. What Europe needs is a new self-acceptance, a selfacceptance that is critical and humble, if it truly wishes to survive.

Multiculturalism, which is so constantly and passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one’s own heritage. However, multiculturalism cannot survive without common foundations, without the sense of direction offered by our own values. It definitely cannot survive without respect for the sacred. Multiculturalism teaches us to approach the sacred things of others with respect, but we can only do this if we, ourselves, are not estranged from the sacred, from God. We can and we must learn from that which is sacred to others. With regard to others, it is our duty to cultivate within ourselves respect for the sacred and to show the face of the revealed God, of the God who has compassion for the poor and the weak, for widows and orphans, for the foreigner; the God who is so human that He Himself became man, a man who suffered, and who by His suffering with us gave dignity and hope to our pain.

Unless we embrace our own heritage of the sacred, we will not only deny the identity of Europe, we will also fail in providing a service to others to which they are entitled. To the other cultures of the world, there is something deeply alien about the absolute secularism that is developing in the West. They are convinced that a world without God has no future. Multiculturalism itself thus demands that we return once again to ourselves.

We do not know how things will go in Europe in the future. The Charter of Fundamental Rights may be a first step, a sign that Europe is once again consciously seeking its soul. Here we must agree with Toynbee that the fate of a society always depends on its creative minorities. Christian believers should look upon themselves as just such a creative minority, and help Europe to reclaim what is best in its heritage and to thereby place itself at the service of all humankind.


1. Herodotus, The History, trans. David Grene. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. I, 4.

2. For a perceptive, broad view of the formation of Europe as both a place and a value, see Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christianity: Triumph and Diversity, 200–1000 AD. Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, 1996.

3. See Helmut Gollwitzer, “Europa, Abendland,” Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, vol. 2, ed. J. Ritter. Basel: Schwabe, 1971. 824–26; Friedrich Prinz, Von Konstantin su Karl dem Großen. Düsseldorf: Artemis und Winckler, 2000.

4. Gollwitzer, “Europa, Abendland,” 826.

5. Of the rich and varied literature on monasticism, two essential works I would indicate are: Hugo Fischer, Die Geburt des westlichen Zivilisation aus dem Geist des romanischen Mönchtums. Munich: Kösel, 1969; and Friedrich Prinz, Askese und Kultur. Vor-und frühbenediktinisches Mönchtum an der Wiege Europas. Munich: Beck, 1980.

6. Endre von Ivánka, Rhömaerreich und Gottesvolk. Freiburg-Munich: K. Alber, 1968.

7. Documentation and literature can be found in U. Duchrow, Christenheit und Weltverantwortung. Stuttgart: Klett, 1970. 328 ff. Complete documentation is available in Hugo Rahner, Abendländische Kirchenfreiheit; Dokumente über Kirche und Staat in frühen Christentum. Einsiedeln, Köln: Verlagsanstalt Benziger, 1943. Stephan Horn indicated to me an important text of Pope Leo the Great, contained in the pope’s letter to the emperor of May 22, 452, in which he rejects the famous canon 28 of Chalcedon (on Constantinople’s primacy over Rome, based on the location of the emperor’s seat in the former): “Habeat sicut optamus Constantinopolitana civitas gloriam suam, et protegente Dei dextera diuturno clementiae vestrae fruatur imperio, alia tamen ratio est rerum saecularium alia divinarum, nec praeter illam petram quam Dominus in fundamento posuit stabilis erit ulla constructio” (LME II [37] 55, 52–56; cfr. ACO II/IV S. 56). On this issue, see also A. Michel, “Der Kampf um das politische oder petrinische Prinzip der Kirchenführung,” in A. Grillmeier and H. Bacht, Das Konzil von Chalkedon, vol. 2, Entscheidung um Chalkedon.Würzburg: Echter, 1953. 491–562. Also the essay by Thomas O. Martin on canon 28 of Chalcedon in the same volume (433–458).

8. Otto Hiltbrunner, Kleines Lexicon der Antike. Bern-München: Francke, 1950. 102.

9. Although the Italian word laico shares with the English “lay” the primary meaning of non-clerical and the secondary meaning of non-professional, in religious discourse it also refers to non-believers, who could be variously rendered as agnostics, or secular people. In political discourse it has a long and complicated history in Italy owing to its association with the main opposition parties during the period in which the Christian Democrats governed the country. —Translator’s note.

10. Arnold Joseph Toynbee. A Study of History: Abridgement of Volumes I–VI, Ed. D. C. Somerwell. New York: Oxford University Press, Reprint edition, 1987. Originally published 1947–1957. 276. Quoted from J. Holdt, Hugo Rahner: Sein geschichtstheologisches Denken. Schöning: Paderborn, 1997. 53. The paragraph “Philosophische Besinnung auf das Abendland” (52–61) offers particularly important material on the question of Europe.

11. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, trans. Charles Francis Atkinson. New York: Knopf, 1957. For a discussion of the disputes over his thesis, see the chapter “Die abdendländische Bewegung zwichen den Weltkriegen,” in Holdt, Hugo Rahner, 13–17. Comparison to Spengler is also a constant motif of Theodor Steinbüchel’s fundamental works on moral philosophy in the period between the two wars, Die philosophische Grundlegung der katholischen Sittenlehre, 2d ed. Düsseldorf: Schwann, 1947. First edition 1938.

12. Holdt, Hugo Rahner, 54.

13. The obligatory reference here is to the following words of Erwin Chargaff: “Where everyone is free to play the lion’s part—in the free market, for example—what is attained is the society of Marsyas, a society of bleeding cadavers.” Ein zweites Leben. Autobiographische und andere Texte. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1955. 168.

14. G. Hirsch, “Ein Bekenntnis zu den Grundwerten.” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, October 12, 2000.

Science and Philosophy by Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain

1. State of the Question

I shall use the two words ‘science’ and ‘philosophy’ in the sense which they have acquired in modern times, according to which science designates above all the mathematical, physico-mathematical and natural sciences, or, as one is also wont to say, the positive sciences, the sciences of the phenomena; philosophy designating above all metaphysics and the philosophy of nature.

Truly speaking, the problems of science and philosophy have been renewed and have become extraordinarily complicated in our time. First, the crisis in the growth of modern physics, while launching science itself on an entirely new path, has liberated it from many pseudo-dogmatisms and much pseudo-metaphysics, and especially from the materialism of the physicists ‘of the Victorian age’, as Eddington says, with their pretence to ‘explain’, some day, the essence of bodies, according to mechanistic determinism, and even to account for the occurrence of every single event in the universe. This crisis has made physics more conscious of its own nature.

Secondly, and at the same time, a considerable work has also been accomplished by the theoreticians of science, by logicians and by logisticians. Finally, this crisis of growth has not only diminished the dogmatic pretensions of experimental science, it has also deeply transformed in this domain (and by contagion, in certain other spheres) the work and the methods of reason; it has taught reason a sort of exhilarating freedom, a new and terrible freedom, to repeat the words used by Dostoievsky in quite a different matter. Yes, and as it were in compensation, a tendency towards systematic interpretation, imposing very rigorous rules and seeking a sort of logical purism, has been developed by certain theoreticians. I have in mind the logicians of the Viennese School, on whose ideas I should like to dwell in the first part of this chapter.

It must not be forgotten, however, that all great movements of contemporary thought react, in the most varied way, on our notion of science. On the one hand, German phenomenology, Bergson, Whitehead, pragmatism, thomism,—each offer their general conception of the life of knowledge, and their views on the nature of knowing. On the other hand, influences of a more practical order further complicate the work of the mind; in particular, the conceptions inspired by dialectical materialism,—which are the climax of modern revolutionary rationalism,—exert, as from the outside, a considerable influence on certain parts of scientific thought, and cannot therefore be ignored.

By attempting to characterize the ideas of the Viennese School on the philosophy of science, I hope to present the conceptions of science and philosophy which I believe true. I will also take the opportunity to define briefly the Thomist position in regard to Marxist epistemology. The word ‘Marxist’ has a political resonance, rendering its use somewhat irrelevant in a discussion of speculative philosophy. However, the thought of Marx, though turned toward the practical domain, includes a philosophy, whose internal power and historical importance are considerable. And we should deal with it only from this point of view.

In Professor Tawney’s judgment, Marx is the last of the Schoolmen in his economic doctrine. What is definitely so serious in the occurrence of Marxism is that it offers us the case of a philosopher precipitating philosophy (Hegelian philosophy) into practical activity, social and political, considered as its very essence, its very life and its genuine justification. At the beginning was action, wrote Goethe. We have now the full substitution in thought itself of the Word by Action. Such a substitution leads a long way, and reaches results unsuspected by Marx himself. When a State claims the political right to impose a certain Weltanschauung, a certain philosophy, on all populations of the same race and blood, this pretension, to the infinite dishonour of philosophy, is the final embodiment of the concessions, which in the end—at the extreme point of Hegelianism—philosophy has had to yield to praxis, to the mailed fist which was at the beginning.


Logical Empiricism

The epistemology of the Viennese School is quite different from, and even opposed to, that of Marx.

The name of ‘Viennese circle’ was first mentioned in 1929. At the origin it was meant to designate a philosophic association created in Vienna by Moritz Schlick, who has since met with a tragic death. It now designates a group of scientist-philosophers, whose common orientation is a logical empiricism due to quite different historic influences, in particular to the influence of Mach and Avenarius, that of Poincaré and of Duhem, of Peano, of Russell and of James, and to that of Einstein. Besides Moritz Schlick, the chief representatives of this school are Rudolf Carnap, Philipp Frank, Otto Neurath and Hans Reichenbach.

When, about twelve years ago, Einstein came to Paris for important scientific discussions at the Collège de France, I was very much interested in the manner in which, in answer to questions about time and simultaneity, he invariably replied: ‘What does this mean to me, a physicist? Show me a definite method by which measurements can be made physically certain, in terms of which this or that observed result will be given this or that name, and only then will I know what you are talking about.’ It seems to me that the same question underlies the researches of the Viennese school: What does this mean to me as a scientist? The main point for this school is to distinguish those assertions which have a meaning for the scientist from assertions which have no meaning for the scientist.

In pursuing this analysis, the Viennese logicians have thrown light upon the fact that assertions which have a meaning for science are not those which concern the nature or the essence of that which is, but rather regard the connections between the designations or symbols, which our senses, and especially our instruments of observation and measurement, enable us to elaborate concerning that which appears to us in our Erlebnisse, as the Germans say, that is, in our lived experiences. It is not with the being of things that science is occupied; it is with the mathematical links, which can be established between these designations taken from things, and which alone make possible,—I say in the proper order and in the proper plane of science,—a communication or a well established language, an intersubjectivation, submitted to fixed rules of signification.

If I say this table, these words do not mean for the scientist a hidden substance, presenting itself to me under a certain image and with certain qualities, of which substance, moreover, he can know nothing as a physicist. They mean a certain set of perceptions, linked by expressible regularities—the permanent possibility of sensation of which John Stuart Mill spoke—linked to a certain number of mathematical and logistic designations, which render it intersubjectivable.

If I say matter, this word does not mean for the physicist a substance or a substantial principle, about the mysterious nature of which he might question himself and, if wise, answer with Du Bois-Reymond: ignorabimus. For the scientist, the word ‘matter’ only means a certain set of mathematical symbols, established by microphysics and submitted, moreover, to continual revision, wherein certain highly designable observations and measurements are expressed according to the rules of differential calculus or of tensorial calculus and according to the syntax of certain general theoretical constructions, which are also of a provisional character, such as the quantum theory or the syntheses of wave-mechanics.

All this is excellent, but we must have the courage to go to the end. An assertion such as I am or I exist, proclaimed in the manner of Descartes, for example, has no meaning for the scientist, because to have a scientific meaning an assertion must express a stable relation between designations which can finally be reduced to such or such class of sensory experiences; and existence, in the cartesian formula, is not such a designation. An affirmation such as I speak before an audience of human persons, uttered in the manner of common sense, is also deprived of meaning for the scientist; the person is not a sensori-mathematical symbol which can be handled by science. These affirmations will have a meaning for the scientist only when the words ‘existence’ and ‘person’, after an appropriate reformulation, will have lost all meaning for you and for me.

Generally speaking, all reference to being, or essence in itself, is eliminated as lacking meaning for the scientist; and naturally the rational necessities disappear at the same time. What philosophers call the first principles of reason express at best certain regularities likely to be verified in certain cases, and likely not to be verified in others, according to the logical treatment to which we submit our Erlebnisse. The discussions concerning scientific determinism and Heisenberg’s principle of indetermination, have cast light on this point, in so far as the principle of causality is concerned, or more exactly speaking, so far as concerns the recasting of the idea of causality in the domain of experimental science. And I do not see at all why the principle of noncontradiction, duly deprived of all ontological meaning, should not be exposed some day to the same fate, if upon that day the introduction of the simultaneous value of yes and no in a symbolic expression, should enable us to express mathematically a set of observations and measures with more elegance and ease, or to combine in a general synthesis theories drawn from different sections of science, which could not be otherwise conciliated.

All this means that the intellect is a sort of indispensable witness and regulator of the senses in scientific work, remaining all the while—if I may express myself thus—external to this work. The senses and the measuring instruments alone see in science, and the intellect is there only in order to transform, according to the rules of mathematical and logical syntax, the signs expressing what has thus been seen. The intellect is set up in the central office of the factory, where it checks, and submits to more and more extensive calculations, all the indications which are conveyed to it. It remains outside the quarters where the work is being directly accomplished, and is forbidden to enter.


The Thomist Idea of Science

The theory of experimental science offered by the Viennese suffers, in my opinion, from certain peculiar philosophical errors which especially concern the notion of logical work and the notion of sign. Logical work, by which the mind passes from one assertion to another by virtue of reasoning and of the connection of ideas, is not, as the Viennese believe, a simple tautological process, wherein we only transform different symbolic expressions of one same thought; it is not a simple reiteration of the same thought, for, in thinking, the mind passes from one truth to another truth.

The notion of sign does not concern our states of consciousness, our Erlebnisse, but objects independent of our subjective states, though constituted in their intelligibility proper by the activity of our intellect.

And, above all, the theory of science offered by the Viennese, suffers from a positivist purism, to which I will return later.

But, so far as a certain characteristic structure of science is concerned, this theory insists upon a fundamental truth which, in fact, the Viennese logicians have not discovered (rather they have received it from the scientists), and which is due to the self-awareness which modern science, and especially physics, has achieved. The truth is, that science—science in the modern sense of the word—is not a philosophy, and consequently claims, if I dare use this barbarism, to deontologize completely its notional lexicon.

This endeavour is more difficult than it may seem. There is something heroic about it. It implies a merciless struggle against language, because language is inevitably loaded with intelligence and with ontology. To consider, for instance, the prose of Joyce or the works of some of our contemporary poets, it is curious to observe how this desperate struggle against language currently characterizes two of the most typical and noblest impulses of spiritual endeavour, in very different fields, the scientific and the poetic. It might be that, truly speaking, the mystics alone are able to succeed in such a struggle: because the mystics have no need of language, at least in a certain zone and at certain moments of experience and actuation.

Let us end this digression. What I should like to note relative to the precise point which I have just indicated, is that the consideration of the sciences of phenomena, as they have developed in modern times,—novel, indeed, by relation to the cultural state of antiquity and the medieval world,—this consideration carried out in the light of the epistemological principles of St. Thomas Aquinas, would lead us to general views strikingly similar to those of the school of Vienna.

Let me sum up as briefly as possible the results which I reached myself, before having been informed of the works of the Viennese group.

What is essential, in my opinion, is both to repudiate the positivist conception of knowledge, which is a philosophical error, and also to take account of the understanding of themselves which the sciences of nature have achieved, a self-consciousness which is itself a spiritual reality, an extremely valuable fruit of experience, and which we cannot ignore without exposing ourselves to a serious mistake.

What is important, it seems to me, is to distinguish (and this the Viennese school has omitted to do) two ways of analysing the world of sensible reality and of constructing the concepts relevant thereto. I have given these two kinds of analysis of sensible reality the following names: the one, empiriological analysis; the other, ontological analysis.

If we observe any kind of material object, this object is, while we observe it, the meeting point, as it were, of two knowledges: sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge. We are in the presence of a kind of sensible flux, stabilized by an idea, by a concept. In other words, we are in the presence of an ontological or intelligible nucleus manifested by a set of qualities perceived here and now,—I do not say conceived, I say felt qualities, objects of actual perception and observation.

As to the sensible reality, considered as such, there will thus be a resolutio, a resolution of concepts and definitions, which we may call ascendant, or ontological, toward intelligible being,—a resolution in which the sensible matter always remains there and plays an indispensable role, but indirectly and at the service of intelligible being, as connoted by it; and there will be on the other hand a resolution descending towards the sensible matter, towards the observable as such, in so far as it is observable. Not that the mind ceases to refer to being,—for that is impossible, being always remains there,—but being passes into the service of what is sensible, of what is observable, and above all, of what is measurable. It becomes an unknown factor assuring the constancy of certain sensible determinations and of certain measures. In fact, the new aspect which modern science presents is precisely this descendant resolution, a procedure which the ancients had not thought of making an instrument of science.

In this empiriological analysis, characteristic of science in the modern sense of the word, the permanent possibility of sensible verification and of measurement plays the same part that essence does for the philosopher; the permanent possibility of observation and measurement is for the scientist equivalent to, and a substitute for, what essence is to the philosopher. One may here behold something like an effort against the natural slope of the intellect, because one must turn back, if one is to grasp what is essential and properly constitutive here, to the act of sense itself, to a physical operation to be performed, to an observation or a measurement. It is this observation to be made, this act of sense, which will serve to define the object.

If one understands this, one has understood the views of an Einstein, for instance, in physics, and the opposition more apparent than real between the philosopher and the scientist on such matters as time or simultaneity. This opposition is immediately solved, because the type of definition is essentially different in the two cases. For the physicist conscious of the epistemological exigencies of his discipline, science tends to construct definitions, not by essential ontological characters, but by a certain number of physical operations to be performed under fully determined conditions. On the other hand, all science tends in a certain way, and however imperfectly, to explanation and deduction, to a knowledge of the why. Therefore, empiriological science will necessarily be obliged to seek its explicative deductions in mere ideal constructions, though founded on the real, and which can be substituted, as well-founded explicative myths or symbols, for the entia realia, the real entities, those causes of ontological order which the intellect seeks when it follows its natural slope. Such an elaboration of ideal entities grounded in reality, the most significant examples of which are encountered in mathematical physics, but also in such non-mathematical disciplines as experimental psychology, and through which real causes are reached in a blind fashion—such an elaboration is linked to the aspect of art or fabrication, whose importance in empiriological science has often been observed with reason. The essence, the substance, the explicative reasons, the real causes, are thus reached in a certain fashion, in an oblique and blind manner, through substitutes which are well-grounded myths or symbols, ideal constructions, which the mind elaborates from the data of observation and measurement, and with which it goes out to meet things. Thus, these basic notions, primitively philosophical, are recast and phenomenalized.

It has been justly observed that in the image which the physicist makes of the world, ‘certain traits really express, not nature, but the structure of the real, and in this there is a certain adequation. For instance, the atom of Bohr signifies the table of Mendelieff; the undulatory theory signifies light’s interference.’ [F. Renoirte, in ‘Philosophie et Sciences’, Studies of the Thomist Society, V. iii, p. 35.] Thanks to ideal constructions, to entia rationis, the real is thus grasped.

I do not know how to translate this word, ens rationis; it designates certain objects of thought, as the universal, the predicate, the privation, the transfinite number, and so forth, which I conceive intelligibly, but which cannot exist outside my mind. Let us say, if you like, ideal entity or logical entity, or being of thought, or being made in the mind, being not expressing a reality (though possibly grounded in reality).

Certain facile minds, which imagine themselves strong, have often scoffed at the entia rationis of the Schoolmen. Yet here we have seen that the theory of the ideal entity grounded on reality alone furnishes us with an accomplished and satisfactory interpretation of the paradoxical twofold character—at the same time realist and symbolic—of the sciences of phenomena, which makes them appear, at first glance, so disconcerting.


The Philosophy of the Viennese Circle

We see that the Thomist epistemological principles enable us, without forcing or warping anything, to render an account of the reflexive intuition by which modern science becomes more and more conscious of itself, and to which the school of Vienna owes its chief merit.

The misfortune of the Viennese is that they are philosophers. This can be immediately seen from the way they insist on the truths they have grasped, while they blunt their point, as Pascal says. By a positivist conceptualization, by a bad conceptualization the school of Vienna impairs,—a phenomenon often observed,—a good intuition, the reflexive intuition of which I have spoken, and by which modern science becomes conscious of itself.

We must here remember, that the logicians of Vienna have conducted their analysis according to a certain philosophical spirit, which they have not bethought themselves to submit to a critical revision, and which derives at the same time from empiricism, from nominalism, and from conceptions advanced by logistics. They suffer, moreover, from many specifically modern prejudices and ignorances. On one hand, they know but one science, the science of phenomena, the science of the laboratory; and, as good disciples of Descartes, they form of this science, and of all sciences, an idea deplorably univocal. On the other hand, they know but one kind of philosophy and metaphysics, at once bookish, profoundly arbitrary and gigantically ambitious; a kind of philosophy against which they have good reason to protest. We must admit that Mr. Carnap holds a good hand against Mr. Heidegger. It is indeed easy, too easy, to indulge here in a humorous injustice, and to declare that a metaphysician is a musician who has missed his calling.

We must therefore not be surprised by the excesses of the Viennese school in the systematization which it offers of the views—just in themselves, at least partially—which I have spoken of, concerning the logical structure of the sciences of phenomena. I have already suggested that, to my mind, they do not escape the danger of a delusive purism, to which every positivist conception of science is naturally exposed.

Obsessed by that aspect of science, characteristic enough, but not exhaustive, which we have already discussed, the Viennese forget that if science reaches the being of things only obliquely and by means of merely ideal constructions, it is being in truth, which it nevertheless reaches, as Leibniz said, in an enigmatic and ‘blind’ fashion. The school of Vienna ignores what Meyerson has so acutely pointed out: the incurably realistic tendency of the science of phenomena. If it seems to give an account of the logical structure toward which science tends, as toward its ideal limit,—science as already completed, and more and more perfectly rationalized,—this school neglects certain profound characters of science in the making, that is, of the process of research and the work of scientific discovery. However scandalous for positivist orthodoxy, this work can be performed only with a feeling for the subjacent importance of the causes and essences of things, that is, in the climate, however obscure to the scientist himself, of the ontological mystery of the universe. That is why the problem of the adequation to the real remains central, though under an enigmatic form, for scientists like Mr. Gonseth who, with a few other mathematicians and physicists, delivered a considerable blow to the dictatorial pretensions of the Viennese school, during the philosophic congress in July, 1937, in Paris. On the other hand, as the late Professor Bumstead said, ‘any sort of logic (or the lack of logic) is permissible’ in the work of experimental discovery.

And yet it is in another field that one finds the essential error,—linked to this first mistake,—for which this school is to be blamed. The essential error is, as I have already said, to confuse that which is true (with certain restrictions) of the science of phenomena, and that which is true of all science and of all knowledge in general, of all scientific knowing. It is to apply universally to all human knowledge that which is valid only in one of its particular spheres. This leads to an absolute negation of metaphysics, and the arrogant pretension to deny that metaphysical assertions have any meaning.

I have earlier referred to what has no meaning for the physicist. If one simply suppresses these three little words—‘for the physicist’—one will declare: that which has no meaning for the physicist has no meaning at all. This is a uniformization, a brutal way of restricting human science, which is not preceded by a critical examination of the life of the mind, and which cannot be so (for one would then have to enter into metaphysics in order to deny its possibility); a uniformization which, finally, is based only on the positivist superstition concerning positive science. But metaphysics does not let itself be done away with so easily. Before deciding that the question, ‘Does a primary cause of being exist?’ has no meaning, we should first ask ourselves whether the question, ‘Does the philosophy of the school of Vienna exist?’ is not a question deprived of meaning.

The objection has been justly raised against the Viennese position that if the meaning of a judgment consists in its method of (experimental) verification,—not only in the usage proper to experimental sciences, but in an absolute manner; if any judgment which cannot be thus verified is devoid of meaning, then this school’s own theory has no meaning, because it is incapable of being verified in this manner. It is incapable, even in principle, of space-time verifications. The theory of the Viennese is in fact a philosophical theory, a philosophy of science; and, in my opinion, the principle which I have just mentioned, the principle of the necessity of logico-experimental verification, is true in regard to the function of judgment in the empiriological sciences; but it is true only in this domain. A philosophy which generalizes this principle and extends it to the entire field of knowledge, seeing in it an exigency of the nature of all judgments truly valuable for knowledge,—such a philosophy thus destroys itself.

The Viennese entirely ignore the mode of resolving the concepts which we have described as ontological, and which occurs in the direction of intelligible being. They do not see that, if it is true that all knowledge properly speaking supposes an intersubjectivation submitted to fixed rules of significance, such an intersubjectivation is not met with only on the plane of scientific knowledge, but also on the philosophical plane, where it acts, however, in quite a different way, and refers above all, not to an operation of the external senses, but to an intelligible perception. The Viennese do not see that the meaning of a judgment is derived from the intelligible objects which it composes or divides in the act of being. If, in empiriological sciences, meaning implies a possibility of physical verification, it is because, in this particular case, the objects of such notions are themselves conceived in relation to the operation of the senses. The chief point in criticizing neo-positivism is a warning to us of the irremediable mistake caused by a univocist conception of knowledge, and as a reminder, by antithesis, of the great words by which St. Thomas condemned Descartes before his day: ‘It is a sin against intelligence to want to proceed in an identical manner in the typically different domains—physical, mathematical and metaphysical—of speculative knowledge.’

I have spoken too much perhaps of the ideas of the school of Vienna. The reason is that such ideas,—where an excessive simple-mindedness impairs much that is true,—characterize rather well the average state of mind which, succeeding materialism and the older positivism, will no doubt prevail among scientists and, especially, among popularizers of science, with which we shall have to deal for some time to come. It is important to take this state of mind into account, and to consider how problems concerning the degrees of knowledge can be presented to it.

Let us start with the highest degrees of knowledge, those which deal with the supra-rational order. It is remarkable, in fact, that logical neo-positivism looks at these degrees of knowledge—of the supra-rational order—with less disfavour than at the degrees of an order entirely rational, namely, metaphysics and philosophy. Generally speaking, the school of Vienna manifests no hostility toward religion, and certain representatives of this school, perhaps in memory of Bolzano and Brentano, show a certain sympathy for the work of the theologians, whom they prefer to university philosophers.

Let us now consider how some people appear to be so ready to “compromise” things in this way.

Science (i.e. the science of phenomena) knows only the space-time connections of the observable; it does not know being. And, it is always added, there is no other science, there is no rational knowledge other than this science. Well, this brings great relief and comfort to apologetics. To every question concerning the being of things,—the soul, God, freedom and determinism, nature and miracles,—to all such questions, human reason must answer, in the manner of empiriological science, beyond which it cannot go: I do not understand the question, it has no meaning for me, and shuts its mouth. It is for faith that such questions have meaning; it is faith which must answer. By an unexpected reversion, the object which Aristotle assigned to metaphysics passes to faith. Science does not know being, but faith—at least for him, who has received this gift—does. Let us crown neo-positivism by neo-fideism, and all will go well, with, moreover, a remarkable economy of intellectual effort.

However, solutions and conciliations acquired at the expense of intelligence, are never sound. In regard to faith let us question the believers, for they are evidently competent witnesses. What do they say? They say that, for them, faith is an obscure adherence to primordial Truth, which means a certain knowledge, not a science, not a demonstrative knowledge (Wissen), but a kind of knowing (Erkennen); for if it is not a kind of knowing, it is nothing. Now, if all assertions of an ontological type are devoid of meaning, not only for empiriological science, but purely and simply, then how can the assertions of faith preserve their meaning? Thus faith runs the risk of being considered, according to the rationalist scheme already outlined by Spinoza, as a simple affective and practical disposition, without content of truth or value of knowledge. On the other hand, faith involves rational implications; it implies, for instance, the possibility for reason to prove the existence of God starting from creatures. And this will also perish in the neo-positivist conception of knowledge and of the life of reason.

Nevertheless, the Viennese school in general (I do not speak of this or that popularizer) recognizes that, outside the field proper to science, faith has a domain against which science as such has absolutely no interdict to formulate; to link science to a general atheistic conception, or to speak of a ‘scientific atheism’, is from its point of view pure nonsense. In this it is drastically opposed to other tendencies, which I mentioned at the beginning, and especially to the philosophy of science proposed by dialectic materialism.

This opposition appears to me particularly suggestive, because the Viennese theory arises from the reflections, more or less well conducted, of logicians and scientists concerning the peculiar conditions of modern science. This theory is, if I may thus express myself, of endogenous origin. On the contrary, the Marxist theory of science is of exogenous origin; it is derived from a general conception of man and of the world, in which the historic-social aspect is dominant, and it is this Weltanschauung which imposes on the partisans of dialectic materialism a certain interpretation of science. Let us remember the original relations between Marxism and left-wing Hegelianism, and we shall not be surprised if the door, which neo-positivism leaves open to religious horizons, should be, in Marxist epistemology, brutally shut.


Dialectic Materialism

Here is not the place to examine this epistemology in detail; I should like, however, to explain briefly how, in my opinion, it should be envisaged.

There are in Marxist epistemology a certain number of traits, which do not displease a Thomist: its aversion for idealism, its affirmation of the reality of the external world, the role it grants to the body in knowledge itself (in the first degrees of human knowledge), the importance (unfortunately principal) which it bestows upon material causality, the sense which it possesses of historical becoming (and which, reduced to just proportions, would be a highly philosophic sense, but which in the Marxist theory devours everything). Marxist dogmatism itself, even if it appears to us a counterfeit of real, organic, doctrinal force, has at least the courage of systematic unity. And even Marxist atheism, however absurd we may think it, supposes at least, that human reason must answer the question whether God is or is not, without seeking refuge in the parentheses of a science of phenomena, from which it refuses to emerge.

Having said as much, I will indicate two highly typical traits of Marxist epistemology: that which one might call its practicalism, and that which one might call its dialecticism. In both of these respects, the Marxist theory of science is, in my opinion, a destruction of science.

To sum up, Marxism not only ordains knowledge to action (which, according to Aristotle, is proper only in a certain category of knowledge); it makes knowledge itself consist in an activity exercised on things, in an activity of work and domination of matter, and of transformation of the world: if Aristotle is right in considering activity ad extra, ‘transitive’ activity, as the mode proper to activity, not of the mind, but precisely of bodies, of physical agents,—it appears that this demiurgic conception of knowledge is something like an idea of titans, still indistinct from nature and enslaved by it, and moving in the depths of the earth their members made of roots and rocks.

It is true that the practical aspect has predominated in science since Bacon and Descartes, and has imposed itself with particular force in modern times, by reason of the close relations existing between our science and industry. But this practical aspect will never succeed in excluding the irreducible speculative value of science,—in other words, the relation of truth, with its proper criteria. Let us admit that what in the modern world interests the scientist, and gives him the courage to work at tasks which dispense but meagre intellectual delights, is the growing desire to act on the world and to transform matter; such is the aim of him who works (finis operantis). But the aim of the work itself or of science itself (finis operis), that which interests science as such,—the end which it aims at in so far as it is a mathematical interpretation of phenomena,—is now and always to know. To banish this speculative finality from empiriological sciences, to deprive them of their speculative nature, is to become immediately extraneous to the question. It is a sort of barbarity which, if it had the efficacious power, would dry up at its very roots the activity of knowing.

The second character of Marxist epistemology is its dialecticism. It pretends to find in the sciences themselves the typical process of dialectics, understood in the sense which Marx gives to this word: the self-movement of the concrete by negation of the present position, negation of the negation, etc.; and as this pretension cannot be achieved by merely considering the relation of science with its object, it is to the movement of science itself in time, to the history of science, that it must have recourse. That human science, by virtue of its structure, demands to evolve in time, to have a history; that it should consequently imply a certain dialectical movement, due to the interaction of the internal logic of ideas with the needs and dispositions of the thinking subject—this indeed is a great truth. But what I should like to note here is the typical procedure of dialectical materialism: this consists, not merely in recognizing the importance of history, but in using the history of a thing, first, in order to juggle away the nature of the thing, and then to explain the thing by replacing it by its history. The history of poetry presupposes poetry. Are you going to study poetry and to ask yourself in what poetry consists (which by the way will not hinder, and will even encourage reference to its history)? No: you will say how poetry has developed in history; thanks to a series of successive internal contradictions, oppositions and syntheses, one state of poetry engendering another state by auto-negation,—romanticism springing forth from classicism, and proletarian poetry emerging from bourgeois poetry, which, by denying itself, surpasses itself, etc. And behold!—this is all. There is nothing more to say about poetry. Dialectical materialism is satisfied with this account of it. All this supposes, of course, empirical notions concerning poetry, collected more or less extensively, but no philosophical analysis whatever regarding the nature of poetry. The scientific form, which is the definitive condition of knowledge, is sought for in history.

Even if the history in question is exactly reported, the matters in question well observed and well described, all that is true in this pseudo-explanation will have served only to prevent and to annihilate the very problems of philosophy and of science concerning the nature of poetry and its constitutive truth. Moreover, the history in question will not be apt to be exactly reported, because it will not be content with being a history, but will make all the explicative pretensions, which it has stolen from science and philosophy, reappear in itself. It will inevitably use facts in an arbitrary manner. Philosophy will oblige history to lie, and history will oblige philosophy to lie.

Thus understood and practised, dialectic is an extraordinary instrument of illusion. I am far from being an enemy of dialectic, either of dialectic in its ancient sense as a logic, or of the dialectic of the concrete, conceived as an historical development due to the internal logic of a principle, or of an idea, in action in the human concrete. But the hegelian dialectic is something quite different, and this dialectic has precisely spoiled everything. In a sense, Marx is, in relation to Hegel, what Aristotle is in relation to Plato; he has brought hegelian dialectic down from heaven to earth. As a result it has become the more pernicious. It is of hegelian dialectic, turned over by Marx, that I am speaking at the present moment, and I am considering the logical virtue it has in its purity. No more causes and effects in being; everything in history happens of itself, according to the play of immanent antinomies.

Now, the more this dialectic wants to be realistic and take possession of reality as of a thing to be intellectually manufactured, the more it liquefies reality in order to recompose it according to the fancy of the mind in the schemas of a logical universe, or rather of a logical becoming. I do not know whether I have explained with sufficient clearness what appears to me so marvellously sophistic in this proceeding. Marx has spoken of the mystification of the hegelian dialectic. His own dialectic, inasmuch as it imagines itself realistic, only doubles this mystification. It makes historical explanation a parasite of the knowledge of natures,—a parasite which reabsorbs and annihilates in itself the parasited subject, and which having nothing left to live on, lives and prospers all the better inasmuch as it becomes ideal and delusive. [We speak here of the pseudo-explanation which serves as a logical instrument for dialectical materialism, considering this pseudo-explanation in itself. No doubt dialectical materialism, as an event in history, will leave important acquisitions: but that is quite another question. Darwinism (in whose logic, as Driesch has shown, one finds the same substitution of history for the knowledge of natures) has left a capital acquisition: the idea that there exists an evolution and a historic transformation of the species; but the pseudo-explanation of this fact, offered by Darwin, has precisely fallen to pieces.]

Now, it is this universal process which Marxist epistemology applies to the particular case of science. In principle it admits a reciprocal conditioning between the theory of knowledge and history. In fact, it uses the latter in order to escape the authentic problems of the former. The relation of physics with reality, and the proper problems put forth by this relation, then pass into the background. And what acquires all importance for the mind is the relation of physics to itself (and to cultural and economic conditions of humanity), and the dialectic process explaining the passage of one physical theory into another physical theory. Science as a specific energy of truth, as a specific vitality of intelligence, has vanished, has been annihilated in the illusion of historical explanation; the latter can carry abundant materials and fecund views concerning the human becoming of science and its cultural connexions; but, in so far as the epistemological problem, properly speaking, is considered, this explanation yields the mind only an illusory satisfaction.

Perhaps, after these considerations, we can understand better the profound opposition existing between the neopositivist conception of science and the materialistic-dialectic conception of science. In the eyes of the logicians of the Viennese school, dialectical materialism must appear as a metaphysics of the worst kind, based on an idea of matter not only out of date but devoid of meaning. For Marxist epistemology, the ideas of the school of Vienna correspond to a ‘bourgeois’ and undialectic conception, artificially isolating the intellect from all other faculties of knowledge, and by this very reason ‘incapable’, as a Marxist writer tells us, ‘of producing a usable theory of knowledge.’

In certain points, however, these two theories arrive, though for different reasons, at similar negations and refusals. I have said that neopositivism leaves the door open to faith (on condition that it should not be a knowledge) and to theology (on condition that it should not be a science). But we have also seen that, as regards metaphysics and speculative philosophy, neo-positivism is as negative as Marxism.



What is the position of Thomism with respect to these matters? My first answer is as follows: for St. Thomas, there are in the supra-rational order two kinds of wisdom—contemplation by union of love and discursive theology—which are, properly speaking, scientiae, knowledge of a well-assured and complete type (not in the modern sense of the word ‘science’, but in the authentic and very ample sense of knowing well founded on causes or reasons of being).

I say this first because this conveys to us the analogical amplitude of the word ‘science’, when one returns to its genuine sense, and makes us realize what misery it is for the mind to reduce science to the type—surely noble and deserving in itself, but of all which this analogical amplitude embraces, the least elevated—to the type of empiriological science, i.e., the physico-mathematical sciences and the sciences of phenomena.

Now, if contemplation and theology can be a knowledge of well-assured and complete type, it is first of all because there can be in the rational order a knowledge which is a wisdom—a wisdom accessible to our natural powers of inquiry and demonstration. Is it possible that the intellect,—which knows itself and judges itself, and which knows and judges reflexively the nature of science,—should be unable to enter itself in the work of knowledge, that is to see into the nature of things? Can it be condemned to remain always on the outside of this work, in the role of a witness and a regulator of the senses, as happens in the science of phenomena? There must be such a science, a knowledge in which the intellect is on the inside, and where it freely develops its deepest aspirations, the aspirations of intellect as intellect. That is metaphysics.

Metaphysical wisdom is in its essence a purely natural wisdom. It is in terms of natural and rational evidences that this wisdom is entirely developed. And though, from the point of view of exercise, one should, as Plato said, philosophize with all one’s soul, from the point of view of specification, it is the intellect alone of man which is here engaged. Metaphysical wisdom is illumined by the intelligibility of being disengaged and in a pure state (I mean without intrinsic reference to any construction of the imagination or to any experience of sense), at the highest degree of abstractive intuition. Its formal object is being according to its proper mystery,—being as being, as Aristotle said.

If positivism, old and new, and kantism do not understand that metaphysics is authentically a science, a knowledge of achieved and completed type, it means that they do not understand that the intellect sees. For them, sense alone is intuitive, the intellect having only a function of connexion and of unification. Let them be silent! for we cannot say ‘I’, we cannot utter a noun of the language, without testifying that there are objects in things, that is, centres of visibility, which our senses do not reach but which our intellect does. Of course, there is no angelistic, intellectual intuition, in the sense of Plato and Descartes,—I mean an intuition which does not need the mediation of the senses; of course there is nothing in the intellect which does not originally derive from sensible experience. But it is precisely the activity of the intellect which disengages from this experience and brings to the fire of immaterial visibility in act, the objects which sense cannot decipher in things, and which the intellect sees. This is the mystery of abstractive intuition. And in these objects which it sees, the intellect knows, without seeing them directly, the transcendent objects which do not exist in the world of sensible experience. This is the mystery of analogical intellection. The problem of metaphysics reduces itself finally to the problem of abstractive intuition and to the question whether, at the summit of abstration, being itself, in so far as it is being,—permeating the world of sensible experience, but yet exceeding this world on all sides,—is or is not the object of such an intuition. It is this intuition which makes the metaphysician. Everybody does not have it. And if we ask why positivism, old and new, and kantism ignore this intuition, we shall be bound finally to admit that it is because there are philosophers who see, and philosophers who do not see.

As to dialectic materialism, the fact that it ignores metaphysical values not only means that there are philosophers who do not see; it means, in addition, that there are also philosophers who fabricate a world without seeing. It is especially when he criticizes, or, rather explains, the genesis of metaphysical reason and its future, ultimate integration in empirical knowledge, that the Marxist dialectician appears as a magician who has missed his calling.

There exists in the world,—so the Marxists tell us,—a vast ‘secteur,’ a vast province which is not yet submitted by science to man’s domination: now, metaphysics and religion (for the Marxists do not distinguish the one from the other) are but a way of anticipating, in terms of imagination, a supremacy not yet acquired in practice. Metaphysical reason refers to the non-dominated province, which it pretends to construct theoretically, in such a way that it dominates it in the imagination. God and being qua being have been created for the sake of dominating this province which yet remains inaccessible. When a real and practical domination replaces this imaginary domination, the illusory constructions of metaphysics and religion will vanish of themselves. And when will this occur? No doubt when the ‘practical domination of the external world will be assured by such a high degree of material, productive forces, that the advent of a society without classes and without individual increase in value will enter the domain of the possible’. [Max Raphael, Zur Erkenntnistheorie der Konkreten Dialektik (1934); translated into French under the title: La Théorie Marxiste de la Connaissance, Paris, N.R.F., p. 121.]

Thus are disposed of the problems and objects which, at all times, the most universal and skilled thinkers,—from Lao-Tse, Çankara and Ramanoudja, to Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, St. Thomas Aquinas, Leibniz and Hegel,—have considered to be the domain of wisdom. Would it be indiscreet to ask whether this historical evacuation of the universe of wisdom does not itself presuppose a metaphysical intrepidity unconscious of itself? For after all, what is it that assures the theoreticians of dialectic materialism, that the entire material world will some day be submitted to the domination of man? Unless, perhaps this assurance is given to them by the words of Genesis: ‘Replenish the earth and subdue it.’ What is it that assures them that not only the external world, but also the internal world, the one that is inside man himself, will thus be susceptible to complete domination? In short, are they quite sure that there does not exist somewhere some province not subject to domination? It is commercial dishonesty to open a store of machine-guns and to say: ‘I sell umbrellas.’ It is intellectual dishonesty to dispense metaphysics and to say: ‘Metaphysics exist no more; I open a factory of social facts.’ We know, and we profess that our reasons are metaphysical ones. And because of metaphysical reasons which we believe to be good, we are convinced that there exists a province of reality which cannot be dominated. We believe it to be impossible that by the mere effort of man and of empirical knowledge, death can some day be defeated, and the eternal longings be satisfied which man bears in his intelligence and in the physical fibres of his being. We assert that the liberation demanded by man is such that the possession of the world would still leave him unsatisfied; we consider man to be an unusual animal, who will be content with nothing less than absolute joy.

The Marxist dialecticians cannot even try to establish that we are mistaken in all these assertions, for in order to proceed to this demonstration they would have to indulge in an explicitly metaphysical discussion. And so long as they have not proved that in these matters their presuppositions are exact, their dialectical explanations and evacuations must be considered as a simple imposture. It is a certain satisfaction for the mind to attain to positions and oppositions so absolutely primordial, that whatever respect and amenity is felt for the person of their contradictors by the philosophers, the latter will have to renounce all possibility of courtesy, and to exchange offensive words. As long as one is not reduced to denying one’s opponent the right to exist intellectually, there is no really radical philosophic conflict. It is perhaps by virtue of the degradation of the sense of this truth, that the use of injurious terms is so wide now in certain circles of dialectical-materialist thinkers, as it once was in certain circles of theologians. And so, let us be indulgent in regard to them. Mr. Max Raphael is a particularly distinguished Marxist philosopher. I have recently received the French translation of one of his books: The Marxist Theory of Knowledge (Zur Erkenntnistheorie der Konkreten Dialektik), accompanied by the most refined and friendly dedication. After perusing, most profitably, this interesting work, I realized that Mr. Max Raphael cannot do otherwise than classify Thomist metaphysics as a bigoted imposture. I highly esteem the works of Mr. Max Raphael; but I cannot help placing Marxist metaphysics in the category of dialectical trickery.

I should add that I am so deeply convinced of the infinite suppleness of the dialectical procedure, and of the possibility of obtaining from it, at the appropriate moment, anything one chooses, that I do not lack the hope that some day dialectical materialism will find means for explaining that it fully agrees with, and even calls for metaphysics, theodicy and even revelation.


Philosophy of Nature

I still have to indicate, before concluding this chapter, that in the Thomist perspectives, metaphysics does not constitute the whole of speculative philosophy, but only its highest category.

Below metaphysics and above the sciences of the empiriological type, there exists another degree of knowledge, that of the philosophy of nature. The philosophy of nature knows the same world as the empiriological sciences, the world of change and movement, of sensible and material nature; but the resolution of concepts is made here in intelligible being, not in the observable and the measurable as such. Here, again, the intellect perceives being abstractively, but not, this time, being according to its proper mystery; it perceives being in so far as the latter is invested with material motion and according to the proper mystery of the world of becoming; and it is clear that, if human intelligence is capable of abstractive intuition, it must exercise this power first in that order which is most connatural to human intelligence, namely, the order of sensible nature. A philosophical knowledge of movement, of transitive action, of corporeal substance, of living organism, of sensitive life, helps thus to complete, by proceeding according to an entirely different noetic type and conceptual lexicon, the empiriological notions obtained about nature by the sciences of phenomena and of experimental detail,—that is, by science in the modern sense of the word.

I will not dwell here further on the problems relative to the philosophy of nature. I shall end this discussion by repeating that, notwithstanding their opposition, neo-positivism and dialectical materialism lead, by different ways, to certain common negations. If either of them is right, there is only one science, the science of phenomena, pure and even purist in one case and, in the other case, carried away by the great dialectical fantasy. And there is no wisdom. Blinded by logical empiricism or hallucinated by historical explanation, the intellect is a slave in the service of sensitive apprehension.

If Thomism is right, all the truth that neo-positivism has discerned concerning the sciences of phenomena is maintained and saved, just as is all the truth discerned by dialectical materialism concerning the movement of history and the evolution of the social concrete. But above the sciences of phenomena, there are other categories of science which are categories of wisdom, because they reach, in its very mystery, and yet in quite different ways, being itself, that being after which the intellect thirsts and hungers. And above the work of man in time, accomplished in order to subjugate material nature and eliminate from society the forms of servitude—above this work, there is the activity of man in the eternal, an activity of wisdom and of love, by which the intellect and the heart of man interiorize to themselves an infinite good, not dominated, not capable of domination, but which finally gives its self as the object of fruition.

Action and Contemplation by Jacques MaritainAction and Contemplation

Jacques Maritain

1. Greek Philosophy

The debate between action and contemplation not only concerns each of us personally, but is also of vital importance to human culture and to the destiny of civilization. I hold it to be of special moment to this continent, as I shall try to suggest at the end of this chapter.

We know well enough how emphatic the East is about its calling to the contemplative life and how proud of it; while the West with no less pride,—a pride which is beginning to suffer much,—boasts that it has chosen action. Could this lead us to affirm without more ado that the East is contemplation and the West action? Such an affirmation would be all too simple. Things do not tell their secrets so easily. Occidental activism might be, in its misery and agony, a degenerated and pathetic form of what was once an incomparable sentiment of life and human values. The West, I believe, had once a habit of contemplation in harmony with the deepest postulations of spiritual reality.

In philosophical language the problem of action and contemplation is that of transitive (or productive) and immanent activity (immanent activity in its most typical and purest function).

Transitive activity is that which one being exercises upon another, the so-called patient, in order to act upon it, imparting to it movement or energy. This activity, which is quite visible, is characteristic of the world of bodies; through it all elements of material nature inter-communicate, and through it we act on matter, transforming it. It passes away in Time, and with Time. Not only is it transitory, it is transition. The Greeks were right in saying that in this activity, the action in which the agent and the patient intercommunicate is accomplished in the patient, actio in passo, and being common to both, makes the agent (notwithstanding its being as such the nobler of the two) dependent on the patient, in which alone it obtains perfection. The Agent is itself in actu and attains its perfection only by acting on another than itself, and in the instant of this action. Transitive action is a mendicant action, which achieves itself in another being, and is essentially in need of another being. On the other hand, while the agent’s perfection is also, in fact, that of the patient, the agent as such does not seek the patient’s good, but its own (this is a typical characteristic of purely transitive action). Hence its ‘egotism’. People who exercise philanthropy as a transitive activity need the poor to help if they want to be helpful, sinners to preach to if they want to be preachers, victims whose wrongs they can redress. They need patients.

Immanent activity is of quite a different order. It is the characteristic activity of life and spirit. Here the agent has its own perfection in itself; it elevates itself in being. Immanent action is a self-perfecting quality. The acts of knowing and of loving are not only within the soul, they are for the soul an active superexistence, as it were, superior to the merely physical act of existence. Thus the soul, when it knows, becomes thereby something that it is not, and when it loves, aspires toward what it is not, as to another self. This action, as such, is above time.

It speaks for Aristotle’s greatness to have known and taught that immanent (or vital or interiorizing) action is nobler and more elevated than transitive (or non-vital or exteriorizing) action.

In their doctrine of immanent action, the Greeks held that the immanence of the intellectual act is, as such, more perfect than that of the act of will; that is why, according to a thesis which St. Thomas made classical, intelligence is nobler than will, from the sole point of view of the degrees of immanence and immateriality of the powers of the soul.

All this led the Greeks to a two-fold conclusion, which, in its first part, formulated a most valuable truth; and, in its second part, transformed that truth into a great error.

The great truth which the Greeks discovered (and which their philosophers conceptualized in very divers spiritual ways) is the superiority of contemplation, as such, to action. As Aristotle puts it, life according to the intellect is better than a merely human life.

But the error follows. What did that assertion mean to them practically? It meant that mankind lives for the sake of a few intellectuals. There is a category of specialists,—the philosophers,—who lead a superhuman life; then in a lower category, destined to serve them, come those who lead the ordinary human life, the civil or political one; they in turn are served by those who lead a sub-human life, the life of work,—that is, the slaves. The high truth of the superiority of contemplative life was bound up with the contempt of work and the plague of slavery. Even the work of freemen, of the artist or the artisan, was scorned. Plutarch wrote: ‘Who, having the choice, would not prefer enjoying the contemplation of Phidias’ works, to being Phidias himself?’ ‘All artisans have a despicable occupation, because there can be nothing noble in a workshop,’ said, ‘the good Cicero.’ And farther to the East, the Brahmin’s contemplation reposes socially on the untouchables’ misery; wisdom, on offence and humiliation.

2. Christianity

Christianity has transfigured everything.

What innovations did Christianity introduce on the subject with which we are dealing? I should say they are four-fold.

First, it teaches us that love is better than intelligence. St. Thomas admits, like Aristotle, that considering the degrees of immanence and immateriality of the powers of the soul in themselves, intelligence is nobler than will, but he adds that considering the things we know and love, these things exist in us by knowledge according to the mode of existence and the dignity of our own soul, but by love they attract us to them according to their own mode of existence and their own dignity, and therefore it must be said that to love things that are superior to man is better than to know them. It is better to love God than to know Him; it is also better to love our brethren, in whom the mystery of God’s likeness is concealed, than to know them. And the love which is Caritas is, not in the moral order only, but in the ontological as well, that which is most excellent and most perfect in the human soul and in the Angel.

Second, Christianity has transfigured the notion of contemplation, and endowed it with a new meaning. Albert the Great sums it up in his admirable treatise de Adhaerendo Deo: ‘The contemplation of the philosophers’, he writes, ‘is concerned with the perfection of the contemplator, and hence does not go farther than the intellect, so that their end is intellectual knowledge. But the contemplation of the saints is concerned with the love of the one who is contemplated—of God. And this is why, not content with the intellect, with knowledge as its ultimate end, it attains the heart through love, transit ad affectum per amorem.’ And love indeed is its own instrument, love’s dark fire is its light. Quia ubi amor, ibi oculus. This leads to consequences, which we shall presently see, and which make the word ‘contemplation’ rather unsatisfactory.

Third, Christianity has also transfigured the notion of action and has given it a new meaning. Christian wisdom has seen, better than the wisdom of philosophers, that the action which man exercises on matter or other men, though it is transitive, cannot be reduced to transitive action such as is found in the world of bodies. It is an essentially human activity. It has not only been thought and willed before being exercised,—being born in the heart before being made manifest in the external world; it not only necessarily proceeds from an immanent act, but, moreover, it goes beyond the work it serves, and by an instinct of communication which demands to be perfected in goodness, proceeds to the service of other men. You can give high wages to a workman for work manifestly useless,—for instance, the task, which used to be imposed on convicts, of digging holes and then filling them up,—and this workman will be driven to despair. It is essential to human work that it be useful to men.

As has often been remarked, Christ in assuming for Himself the work and condition of an artisan in a small village, rehabilitated labour, and manifested its natural dignity, a dignity which Antiquity had denied. The hardship of work is a consequence of the Fall and of the loss of privileges proper to the state of innocence, but not work in itself. Adam in the state of innocence worked—without any pain—and had the mission of cultivating and keeping the Garden.

Man’s labour in its first and humblest stage is a co-operation with God the Creator, and Christianity’s rehabilitation of labour in the moral order is bound up with revelation, in the dogmatic order, of creation ex nihilo. Pater meus usque modo operatur, et ego operor. My Father worketh hitherto and I work too. Here is the foundation of labour ethics, which the modern world is seeking and has not yet found. The work which Antiquity most despised, manual work, imposes the forms of reason on matter, and delivers man from the fatalities of material nature (provided however he does not turn his industry into an idol which enslaves him even more); thus, work has a value of natural redemption; it is like a remote prefiguration of the communications of love. Man is both homo faber and homo sapiens, and he is homo faber before being in truth and actually homo sapiens and in order to become the latter.

Fourth, and this is a consequence of the preceding considerations, another innovation which Christianity has introduced, relevant to our subject, is that contemplation (supernatural contemplation, which would be better called entrance into the very states of God, of God Incarnate) is not only the business of specialists or of the chosen few. This was an astounding revolution in the spiritual order. Greeks and Jews, masters and slaves, men and women, poor and rich (but the poor, first), souls who have known evil and souls (if there be such) who have not, whatever their condition, race and wounds,—all are called to the feast of divine Love and divine wisdom. That wisdom calls them all, it clamours in the public places and in the roadways. All, without exception, are called to perfection, which is the same as that of the Father who is in heaven; in a manner either close or distant, all are called to the contemplation of the saints, not the contemplation of the philosophers, but to loving and crucified contemplation. All without exception. The universality of such an appeal is one of the essential features of Christianity’s catholicity.

At the same time and symmetrically, all are bound by the law of work. There are no more privileged by pain and labour. Work is for everyone, as well as the sin of which everyone must be cured. If any will not work, neither shall he eat. It is St. Paul who said this, and the evolution of modern societies shows more clearly every day how universal that assertion is. I know well that some people who have adopted it as a motto, not knowing its author, perhaps, give it a wrong interpretation, believing that there is but one kind of work,—that which creates economic values. They fail to see the admirable analogical variety of the notion of work. According to the social conscience which the Christian leaven has awakened, no one can be dispensed from activities directed to the good of men, be it to clothe or feed their bodies, to teach them or guide them, to bring them to truth and beauty or delights of the spirit, to feed them with the words of God or, like those dedicated to contemplative life, to wear oneself out in praying for them. All those varied activities are fraternal, and communicate analogically in that notion of work which the Christian spirit has renewed. [I do not think that the word ‘work’ and concept of work must be reserved only to manual work and to intellectual activities preparing for or regulating the latter. I consider the fact of some things, being per se, or by itself, related to the utility of the human community, as the true criterion of work in the ethico-social sense. And lawyers, statesmen, teachers, have an activity no less related to the usefulness of the community than the activity of farmers or miners.]

I have just said that the notion of work is verified in a most refined way, even in those dedicated to the contemplative life. It is true that contemplation itself is in fact not work, not a thing of utility. It is a fruit. It is not ordinary leisure; it is a leisure coinciding with the very highest activity of the human substance. According to the profound views of St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, those who go beyond the socio-temporal life achieve in themselves the supra-social good to which the social tends as to a transcendent term, and by that very act are free from the law of labour. There remains no more for them but Thee and I, Him whom they love, and themselves.

But in virtue of that generosity which is inherent in immanent activity at its highest degrees, loving contemplation overflows as a protection and a benediction to society. And though not itself a useful service or a work, even in the widest meaning of the word, that which is beyond usefulness superabounds thus in a usefulness, in which the notion of work is still realized at the extreme limit of refinement.

Thus, it will be understood why I have said above that all activities, from manual labour to the gratuitously added utility of contemplative leisure, are fraternal activities, in which the notion of work can be found at very different degrees of analogy.

Christianity has not condemned slavery as a social and juridical form, save in its most extreme modes, which are absolutely incompatible with human dignity. It has done better by annihilating, from within, its functional necessity in human conscience. It has evacuated that necessity from conscience, and is evacuating it progressively from existence (for ancient slavery is not the only form of servitude), and it will require the entire history of mankind to have completely finished with it. For Christian conscience, as I have just pointed out, there do not exist two categories in humanity, homo faber whose task is to work, and homo sapiens whose task is the contemplation of truth. The same man is both faber and sapiens, and wisdom calls us all to the freedom of the children of God.

3. Superabounding Contemplation

The contemplation of which I have been speaking is Christian contemplation,—what Albert the Great, in the text quoted above, called contemplatio sanctorum. The Christian doctors tell us that it is supernatural, that is to say, it is achieved by the gifts which Sanctifying Grace,—formal participation in us of divine nature,—brings to the soul; and not only by its object, but in its mode as well, it goes beyond anything that the energies of human nature, left to themselves, can achieve.

It can be called Christian in a historical sense, since for nearly two thousand years Christian contemplators have made it manifest to us. It can be called Christian in a different sense, ontological or metaphysical, since it lives by the grace of Christ. In that sense it can even be found,—substantially the same, whatever the difference of mode, degree, purity, or human setting,—in eras or lands where Christianity is not professed. It is the supernatural contemplation of the Old Testament and the New, of Moses and St. Paul, such as is exercised by the living faith and supernatural gifts. The existence of these divine gifts is taught us by Christian revelation, but they are alive in all who have the grace of Christ, even when not belonging visibly to His Church (for instance, some of the Jewish Hassidim whose story was told by Martin Buber, or that great Mohammedan mystic Al Hallaj, whom Louis Massignon has studied).

At the same time, supernatural contemplation achieves and fulfils a natural aspiration to contemplation which is consubstantial to man, and to which the Sages of India and Greece bear witness. According to Albert the Great, this natural contemplation, as such, has its term in intellect and knowledge. No doubt, love can crown gnosis, but here it remains an effect; it does not constitute the proper end of the contemplative act itself, nor the proper mean of it. [For a more detailed analysis of these questions, see our essay on L’expérience mystique naturelle et le vide, in Etudes Carmélitaines, October, 1938.]

It must be remarked that there are in the spirit many activities, discursive activity and activity of desire, which are neither repose nor contemplation.

But while being a labour, this labour of the intelligence and of the heart tends toward contemplation and prepares for it, and in this measure participates in the end to which it is directed. It follows that there is a vast region of the life of the spirit, where contemplation is prepared, even outlined, not being, for all that, disengaged from active life and laborious activity. In this wider sense, the philosopher and the poet can be said to be already contemplative on the plane of natural activities.

This should help us to resolve a rather difficult problem. In the order of the Kingdom of God and eternal life, many are surprised by the theological teaching that action is directed to contemplation. In the order of temporal life and terrestrial civilization, the philosopher has to acknowledge that same law of work being directed in the end to contemplation and to the activities of repose. But what activity of repose and what contemplation? The contemplation of the Saints is not a proper and direct end of the political life. It would be more than a paradox to give as a direct end to the life of men, as members of a terrestrial community and as part of the temporal universe of civilization, the transcendent and superterrestrial end which is their absolutely ultimate end as consorts with the Saints, and souls redeemed at a great price; in other words, to solve the question of the workmen’s leisure by saying that work has for its end, on the ethico-social plane, mystical union, preluding the ultimate end. And yet, even in the ethico-social order, work is not its own end; its end is rest. Is it then directed to leisure and holidays, understood as a mere cessation of work, a pleasure, or honest pastime, a family party, winter sports, or the movies? If so, it would then be directed to something less noble and less generous than itself. We are far from looking with scorn on rest and relaxation which recreates the worn out human substance. But that rest is but a preparation to a renewed labour, just as sleep prepares for the toils of the day.

In reality, human work, even on the plane of social terrestrial life, must be accomplished with a view to an active and self-sufficient rest, to a terminal activity of an immanent and spiritual order, already participating in some measure in contemplation’s supertemporality and generosity. For all that, such active rest is not yet the rest of contemplation properly speaking; it has not yet attained to contemplation. Let us say it is the active rest of the culture of the mind and the heart, the joy of knowing, the spiritual delectations which art and beauty offer us, the generous enthusiasm supplied by disinterested love, compassion and communion, zeal for justice, devotion to the commonwealth and to mankind. The very law of work to which every member of the commonwealth has to submit, demands that all should have access to that leisure. There is nothing here that is contemplation, properly speaking. But if in this kind of leisure, instead of shutting up human concerns in themselves, man remains open to what is higher than himself, and is borne by the natural movement which draws the human soul to the infinite, all this would be contemplation in an inchoate state or in preparation.

But enough of this. Let us ask St. Thomas and the theologians what they think of supernatural contemplation. [Cf. Jacques et Raïssa Maritain, Prayer and Intelligence, Sheed and Ward, 1928.] In a famous passage, St. Thomas says first that, absolutely speaking and in itself, contemplative life is better than active life. This is a thesis characteristic of any conception of life worthy of the human person’s dignity,—the fundamental thesis of the intrinsic superiority of contemplation. St. Thomas proves it by eight reasons drawn from Aristotle and illuminated by eight texts from Scripture. And there is, he says, a ninth reason, added by the Lord when He says: ‘Mary has chosen the better part.’

After this, there is a second point of doctrine to be considered: contemplation, being the highest degree of the life of the soul, can not be an instrument of the moral virtues and the operations of active life, but the end to which those things have to be directed as means and dispositions.

A third point, made manifest by the example of Christian contemplatives and by the teaching of theologians, is that the contemplation of the Saints does not merely attain to the heart through love. Not being confined to the intellect, being the fruit of love in act through which faith becomes as it were a thing of experience, this contemplation also enters the sphere of action, in virtue of the generosity and abundance of love, which consists in giving oneself. Action then springs from the superabundance of contemplation, ex superabundantia contemplationis, be it by the very reason of the nature of the work it produces, (thus preaching things divine must overflow from a heart united to God or be vain,) or by reason of the mode of the production, which makes a work, whatever it is, an instrument employed by sovereign Love to touch and vivify the heart.

It is by virtue of such a superabundance, which comes from the supernatural ordination of human life to the fruition of God, that Christian wisdom, unlike that of the philosophers, is not merely speculative, but practical as well, and directive of human life, for this life is not regulated by human measures only, but by divine as well, and thus becomes the object of that very knowledge which contemplates God. More excellent than any purely intellectual wisdom, because it attains closer to God, being a wisdom of love and union, the act of the gift of wisdom is not a self-sufficing contemplation, but one which, as St. Paul puts it, walks toward them that are without, redeeming time.

When explaining the words of Jesus: ‘Know ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’ St. John of the Cross, that great doctor of contemplation, liked to recall Dionysius’s sentence: the divinest of all things divine, is to cooperate with God in the salvation of souls; which means, St. John of the Cross tells us, ‘that the supreme perfection of every creature, in its own hierarchy and degree, is to ascend and grow according to its talent and resources in the imitation of God; and it is most admirable and most divine to cooperate with Him in the conversion and salvation of souls. God’s own works are resplendent in that.’

We have arrived here at a fundamental truth: Christian philosophy is a philosophy of being; more than that, a philosophy of the superabundance of being; and in this it stands incomparably higher than other great philosophies of being, such as Hindu metaphysics, where being does not give being and can but absorb in itself—maya and soul itself. Christian philosophy, better than the Greek, has seen that it is natural that immanent activity should superabound, since it is super-existing. Purely transitive activity is egoistic, as I have said at the beginning of this chapter. Immanent activity is ‘generous’, because, striving to be achieved in love, it strives to achieve the good of other men, disinterestedly, gratuitously, as a gift. Christian theology is a theology of divine generosity, of that superabundance of divine being which is manifested in God Himself, as only revelation can tell us, in the plurality of Persons, and which is also manifested, as we could have discovered by reason alone, by the fact that God is Love, and that He is the Creator. And God, whose essence is his own beatitude and his own eternal contemplation, God who creates, gives, has never ceased to give, He gives Himself through Incarnation, He gives Himself through the Holy Ghost’s mission. It is not for Himself, St. Thomas says, it is for us that God has made everything to His glory. When contemplation superabounds in efficacious love and in action, it corresponds within us to that divine superabundance communicative of its own good.

4. The Call to Contemplation

That is what philosophers can be taught about supernatural contemplation both by theology and by the experience of the Saints. Properly speaking, such a contemplation is a participation in the divine life and perfection itself,—an entrance, as I said above, into the very states of the Word Incarnate. It is that purely and simply terminal freedom of exaltation and of autonomy, mentioned in a preceding chapter.

But have I not said that Christianity’s great novelty is its universalism, which calls all men to what is most difficult, to perfect life, a life of union and contemplation? Let us consider this more closely. It was much discussed, some years ago, whether contemplative graces are exceptional not only de facto but also de jure, whether it is temerarious to desire or hope for them, or whether they are the normal flower within us of the living grace of virtues and gifts. This discussion, momentous to all who are anxious to know man, has been complicated by many extraneous considerations springing either from inadequate vocabulary, or practical preoccupations. I shall say a word about it before finishing.

The anti-mystical tendencies, which have developed since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were generated by an all too legitimate fear, that of shame and quietism; the wine of the Holy Ghost is apt to go to one’s head when mingled with the alcohols of imagination. Books of spirituality, not those only which make commonplace literature out of the Saints’ experiences, but even those of authentic spirituality, are apt, when falling into impatient and weak hands, to cause many a victim which psychiatry claims as its own. It is terrible to throw anything divine to men, who make use of everything to feed their chimeras.

And yet God, who is wise, has dared to do that terrible thing; and at what risk, when giving us His Truth. If books were judged by the bad uses man can put them to, what book has been more misused than the Bible? Let us live dangerously, says Nietzsche; that is a pleonasm. One is out of danger only when dead. To turn souls away from aspiring to the graces of contemplative union, to deprive them of the teaching and advices of a St. Theresa or a St. John of the Cross, is to deprive them of the channels of life, to condemn them to a parching thirst. If anti-mystical tendencies were completely systematized, they would turn Christianity into a mere moral system, while it is, first of all, a theological communion.

And this is why in the discussion to which I referred, theologians are coming to an agreement (though with many differences of nuance) on the point that all souls are called, if not in a proximate manner, at least in a remote one, to mystical contemplation as being the normal blossoming of grace’s virtues and gifts.

For if we define mystical life (or life according to the spirit) as a coming of the soul under the regimen in which the gifts of Grace, called in sacred terminology gifts of the Holy Ghost, predominate (so that henceforth the soul is docile to the spirit of God, who dispropriating it of itself, takes it into His own charge), then it is clear that every soul is called,—at least in a remote manner,—to mystical life thus defined. Why is that so? Because all are called to the perfection of love. And that perfection cannot be attained without the radical purifications and substantial remouldings which are the mystical life’s sacrificial privilege. St. Thomas teaches us that the gifts of the Holy Ghost are necessary to salvation, because we are so foolish that we could not, on certain difficult occasions to which we are all exposed, make by ourselves the proper use of theological and moral virtues to avoid mortal sins; then it must be said with still more reason that we are too foolish and too miserable to make by ourselves the proper use of those virtues to attain perfection, and hence it is necessary for this aim that the gifts of the Holy Ghost should govern our life as directive habits.

We must now observe that among the inspiring gifts which Catholic theology has learned to enumerate from Isaiah, some, like those of Counsel, Force, Fear, mainly concern action, while others, like those of Intelligence and Wisdom, are mainly related to contemplation.

It follows that souls which have entered upon the ways of spiritual life will behave in very different manners, each according to its calling. Some will be favoured in a pre-eminent manner with the highest gifts, those of Wisdom and Intelligence; these souls will represent mystical life in its normal plenitude, and will have the grace of contemplation in its typical forms, be they arid or comforting. In the case of other souls it will be primarily the other gifts of inspired freedom; their life will be indeed a mystical and dispropriated life; but it will be such pre-eminently in relation to their activities and works, and they will not have the typical and normal forms of contemplation.

They will not be, for all that, deprived of contemplation, of participating and experiencing lovingly the divine states. For St. Thomas teaches us that all the gifts of the Holy Ghost are connected and therefore cannot be present in the soul without the gift of Wisdom; though, in the case we are dealing with, it will be exercised in a less apparent way, and in an atypical, attenuated, or discontinuous mode. The contemplation of the ‘active’ souls will be masked and inapparent, but they will have contemplative graces; perhaps they will be capable only of saying rosaries, and mental prayer will bring them only headache or sleep. Mysterious contemplation will not be in their way of praying but in the grace of their behaviour, in their sweet-minded hands, perhaps, or in their way of walking perhaps, or in their way of looking at a poor man or at suffering.

It should perhaps be added that contemplative life is superhuman, whereas the active life is connatural to man and better adapted to the equilibrium of his natural energies. It appears that the forms of contemplation to which souls faithful to grace will actually attain most often, will not be the typical one, where the supernatural sweeps away everything, at the risk of breaking everything, but rather the atypical and masked forms which I have just mentioned, where the superhuman condescends in some measure to the human and consorts with it.

We see now with what nuances and distinctions we should understand the theological doctrine, which we have been reviewing, of every single soul being called to contemplative graces. Each is called, if only in a remote manner, to contemplation, typical or atypical, apparent or masked, which is the multiform exercise of the gift of Wisdom, free and unseizable, and transcending all our categories, and capable of all disguises, all surprises.

In this sense, if all this is borne in mind, the Thomist theses about contemplation,—its necessity for the perfection of Christian life and its intrinsic superiority over action,—appear in their manifest truth.

The doctrine I have stated summarily means that Christian contemplation springs forth from that Spirit which bloweth where it listeth, and one hears His voice and no one knows whence He comes or whither He goes. It means that Christian contemplation is not the affair of specialists or technicians. The active ways through which the soul disposes itself to it are not techniques, but only fallible preparations to receive a free gift, fallible preparations which this gift always transcends.

Natural spirituality has techniques which are well determined and are, moreover, good and useful. This apparatus of techniques strikes everybody who begins to study comparative Mysticism. Now, the most obvious difference between the Christian and the other mystics is the freedom of the former from any techniques, recipes or formulas. It is, essentially, not esoteric or reserved to specialists.

We meet here with two difficulties which I should like to mention, and which are due, the one to vocabulary, the other to the masters.

There is a difficulty which comes from vocabulary. It is that words are specialists. They cannot have the amplitude of transcendentals. They particularize what they denote, in virtue of their past, and of the associations, sometimes extremely heavy, which they drag along with them. That word ‘mystic,’ for instance, which I have used all through this essay because I had to, is not satisfactory. It evokes a procession of phenomena, ecstasies, and extraordinary gifts belonging, when they are genuine, to what theologians call charisms or gratuitous graces,—which has nothing to do with the essence of the mystical or dispropriated life, as we understand that word: since we have (following the theologians) defined mystical life by the dominating regimen of the Holy Ghost’s gifts,—the habitus of inspired freedom,—which are quite different from charisms. The word ‘contemplation’ is hardly better. I have already said it is quite unsatisfactory. It leads a good many people into error, making them believe that it pertains to some spectacular curiosity. It carries with it a Greek past, the Greek notion of the theoretical life. We have seen, at the beginning of this essay, with what care we ought to strip the great truths of Antiquity of the errors which grow parasitically on them. Shall we then try to find other words? That would be vain. The new words would soon become clichés as misleading as the old ones. We must accept the fact, and particularly in this matter, that words cannot relieve us of the effort of thinking.

Nor can the masters! This is the second difficulty I wish to note. The masters, too, are inevitably specialists, specialists of what they teach. St. John of the Cross is a specialist of contemplation and heroism. He teaches a common way, a way open to all (to ‘all those who have heard’ in a proximate manner the call of God); but he teaches this common way according to the purest and most typical paradigm of the states through which it leads. In brief, he speaks to all, to all those who have entered on the road, by addressing himself to a few Carmelite nuns of the noblest trend. Through them, he speaks to all. This means that we who read him are expected to hear him according to a whole key-board of analogical values, to hear with universal resonances, and in a non-specialized sense, what he says as a specialist of genius. To understand him differently would be to betray him. Thus, for instance, concerning the nights and the passive purifications which he describes, one must grasp the fact that in other circumstances and in other states of life, these typical forms can be supplemented by other ordeals originating in events or in men, and which play an analogous purifying role. By pursuing this line of reflections one would see many things become more plain. One would also begin to see what is the role of a St. Thérèse of Lisieux teaching in truth the same doctrine as St. John of the Cross, and the same heroism, but in the simplicity, entirely denuded and common, of the ‘small way.’

5. Orient and Occident

To come back to where we started, to the debate of East and West, we see, if what we have said be true, that activism and pragmatism, the rejection of contemplative values, the dethronement of Wisdom, are the West’s greatest woe. It seems as if to-day the West sought a remedy in the frantic exaggeration of this evil. The attempts to create new civilizations which are taking form before our eyes,—where the civil community becomes the soul of a dynamism which is purely activistic, industrial and warlike, and mobilizes for that active end both science and thought,—do not make our prognostications optimistic. The West has here much to learn from the East and from its fidelity to the primacy of contemplative values.

But, at the same time, what I want to point out is that, while denouncing the errors and shortcomings of our unhappy West, the Christian feels for it a piety that is filial, and can plead its cause in the face of the East. For this activism and pragmatism are the catastrophe of a truly great thing which the spirit of separation from God has led astray. I mean the generosity, the propensity to give and communicate, the sense of ontological superabundance springing from Evangelical Love, and of holy contemplation super-abounding in activity.

And the impassible contemplation which the East boasts of,—which proceeds from the energies of the soul striving toward liberation by techniques and formulas, by the athletic efforts of ascetics, and of active concentration,—manifests, on its part, in the very order of spiritual things, a pragmatism that is infinitely more subtle, but which no less withdraws from the testimony that God expects from mankind.

Let us remember the great words which St. Thomas wrote about the Incarnation, and which to my mind throw the deepest light upon those problems: ‘In the Mystery of Incarnation,’ he says, ‘the movement of descent of divine plenitude into the depths of human nature is more important than the movement of ascent of human nature towards God.’ This is a truth that holds good, not only for the Head but for the whole of the Body. It explains to us how supernatural contemplation, proceeding thus from the descent within us of divine plenitude, superabounds within us in love and activity.

We hold that the West will not surmount the crises in which it is engaged, unless it reconquers that vital truth, and understands that external activity must overflow from a superabundance of internal activity, by which man is united to truth and to the source of being. If the East, perhaps because its efforts toward contemplation aspired above all toward philosophical forms of contemplation, has given great importance to natural contemplation and spirituality, even in things that belonged to the secular and temporal order; one might ask if in the West, by a sort of division of labour, spirituality and contemplation,—not philosophical but supernatural contemplation,—has not been too much the exclusive preoccupation of souls consecrated to God and to the things of His Kingdom; while the rest of mankind was abandoned to the law of immediate, practical success and the will to power. If a new age of Christian civilization should dawn, it is probable that the law of contemplation super-abounding in action would overflow in some way into the secular and temporal order. It will thus be an age of the sanctification of the profane.

As I have said at the beginning of this chapter, the debate between action and contemplation is particularly important to this continent. Is it not a universally repeated commonplace that America is the land par excellence of pragmatism and of the great undertakings of human activity? There is truth in this, as in most commonplaces. Whitman celebrates the pioneers in a manner which is certainly characteristic of the American soul. But, in my opinion, there are in America great reserves and possibilities for contemplation. The activism which is manifested here assumes in many cases the aspect of a remedy against despair. I think that this activism itself masks a certain hidden aspiration to contemplation. To my mind, if in American civilization certain elements are causing complaints or criticisms, those elements proceed definitely from a repression of the desire, natural in mankind, for the active repose of the soul breathing what is eternal. In many unhappy creatures, good but wrongly directed, nervous breakdown is the price of such repression. On the other hand, the tendency, natural in this country, to undertake great things, to have confidence, to be moved by large idealistic feelings, may be considered, without great risk of error, as disguising that desire and aspiration of which I spoke.

To wish paradise on earth is stark naïveté. But it is surely better than not to wish any paradise at all. To aspire to paradise is man’s grandeur; and how should I aspire to paradise except by beginning to realize paradise here below? The question is to know what paradise is. Paradise consists, as St. Augustine says, in the joy of the Truth. Contemplation is paradise on earth, a crucified paradise.

The cult of action is not specifically American. It is a European idea, and idea of post-Renaissance and post-Reformation Europe. What may mislead us in this matter, so it seems to me, is that the New Continent, with terrible loyalty, has taken some of the Old World’s ideas, transplanted in virgin soil, and carried them to their limits. When in America some few come to realize better the value of contemplative activity, its superiority and fecundity, I believe that the possibilities I have spoken of will manifest themselves, at least in a small way, but forcefully enough gradually to modify the general scheme of values. Then this country will give some of its generosity, good will, confidence in the future and courage, to things contemplative, to contemplation overflowing in action. And this is one of the reasons why even if a moment of general catastrophe should befall civilization, I would still not despair of civilization.

Catholic Action and Political Action by Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain

1. The Three Levels of Christian Activity

The Catholic conscience to-day is intensely preoccupied with problems concerning what we may call the ‘structure of action’, something which cannot be treated unless we make distinctions as unpleasant and as necessary, as the realities to which they refer are complex and fluid. The Middle Ages were filled with discussions on two powers, on spiritual and temporal authority. The historian wears himself out following the detours of these controversies. To-day, under very different conditions and relative to problems completely transformed, analogous discussions impose themselves on us. These are more acute in Europe than in the United States and everybody knows what violent and insidious attacks are made on Catholic Action in the totalitarian countries. But the principles and distinctions involved in the debate are as important in the New as in the Old World. For if we neglect the essential differences of finality and of object, we expose ourselves to immeasurable ruin.

What we must keep in mind here is the diversity of orders or of levels which the action of the Christian must necessarily admit, once he is given the Gospel distinction between the things which are Caesar’s and the things which are God’s. For one who considers things with attention, the activities of the Christian distribute themselves on three levels: the level of the spiritual, that of the temporal, and an intermediate level where the spiritual joins the temporal by relating it to spiritual objects and spiritual values. Because there is a link between spiritual and temporal and because the former is of greater worth, there is point to giving separate mention to this third level. But, in fact, it is merely the level of the spiritual itself, considered in a number of its attributes and in the fullness of its extension.

On the first level of activity—that of the spiritual—man acts as a member of the Mystical Body of Christ and as occupied with the things of God; on the second level—that of the temporal—he acts as a member of the earthly city and as occupied with the business of earthly life.

These two orders are distinct, but they are not separate. If grace captures us and recreates us in the depth of our being, it is in order that the whole of our action may be affected by it and illuminated with it. But on the temporal level, although our action—if it is what it ought to be—will be an action proceeding from Christian inspiration, yet it will not present itself as specifically Christian; it will present itself as formally determined by such and such temporal object, such and such temporal specification (political action, national, cultural action, etc., under Christian inspiration).

On the other hand, on the spiritual level, it will be not only under Christian inspiration, but it will also present itself, in the very measure in which it will have as its object the expansion of the Kingdom of God in souls, as specifically Christian (the Christian apostolate).

And it will be the same on the third level, that of the spiritual considered as joined to the temporal, so far as the action of the Christian belongs here also to the apostolate, but to the apostolate as touching things of earth; I mean so far as it has for its purpose to infuse evangelical vitality into the temporal life, or as it intervenes in politics in the very name of Christianity when politics touches the altar.

The work of Catholic action is fully accomplished on the first and third level; that of political action is accomplished on the second.

2. What is Catholic Action

Some excellent works, consecrated to Catholic Action, explain its nature according to the papal documents. In this essay, I do not speak of Catholic Action as a proper noun designating an official institution of the Church, but rather of Catholic action as a common noun designating a certain task and work which it is the object of Catholic Action (with a capital A) to organize; and this task, this work (Catholic action with a small a), is not a new thing in the Church, it has always existed; and neither is the word new. What is new is the use made of it in the papal documents, first by Pius X,[Letter to Count Giovanni Grosoli, Nov. 6, 1903; Motu Proprio on Popular Christian Action, Dec. 18, 1903; Encyclical Il Fermo Proposito.] and especially by Pius XI, who consecrated it. What is new is the insistence with which Pius XI has clarified the nature of Catholic action, precisely stated its meaning and made its applications explicit,—the central, essential importance which he attaches to Catholic action, his affirmed will to develop it everywhere, the solicitude with which he watches over it. Has he not said that it is as dear to him as the apple of his eye? [Discourse to the Committee on Italian Catholic Action, March 9, 1924.] Has he not written of Catholic action that it is that which the ‘supreme Head of religion is known to prize and cherish most’? [Encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno, June 29, 1931.] And recently he said yet again: ‘Whoever strikes Catholic action, strikes the Pope.’ (And he added: ‘Whoever strikes the Pope, dies.’)

He himself has given, and with especial solemnity, the definition, which has now become classic, of Catholic action: participation by the laity in the hierarchical apostolate, [Letters to Mme Steenberghe, July 30, 1928; to Cardinal Bertram, Nov. 13, 1928; to Cardinal Segura, Nov. 6, 1929; Encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno, June 29, 1931.] and again: ‘Catholic action in sum is nothing other than the apostolate of the faithful, who, under the guidance of their bishops, put themselves at the service of the Church and assist her in the integral fulfilment of her pastoral ministry.’[Letter to Cardinal Van Roey, August 15, 1928.]

These words, which should be retained and carefully weighed, show how far, in the thought of the Pope, Catholic action is a thing of the Church and has the same finalities as the Church’s pastoral ministry itself: laymen are called to assist the Church in the integral fulfilment of her pastoral office; they are called to the apostolate, to that same apostolate with which Christ has charged the Twelve and their successors; and they receive for this an explicit mission.

In the preceding chapter, on action and contemplation, I insisted that all souls are called in some degree to the contemplation of the saints, which, because it is a contemplation of love, abounds in action. But now, and as corresponding to this call of God deep in our hearts, we are to meditate on another call, the call to action, apostolic action, which the Church addresses in some degree to all the faithful. For the latter, the problem is that the spirit responds to the mission.

Catholic action, participation by laymen in the apostolate of the Church: One sees two things here immediately. In the first place, where there is no action, action on the world, there is no Catholic action. That is why, no matter how great their role be in the life of the Church, neither those states of life exclusively contemplative, nor the works of pure piety or of pure personal edification, or of purely scientific culture, enter into the concept of Catholic action. In the second place, where this action on the world is not itself directed to apostolic ends concerned with the ‘pastoral ministry of the Church’ in its integrity, in short where it has not as its direct end the expansion of the Kingdom of God, there is no Catholic action. There is, of course, action by Catholics, but there is no Catholic action as such. That is why economic and professional works,—co-operatives, social insurance, trade unions, and the like,—no matter how Christian their inspiration may be, do not enter into the concept of Catholic action; nor do works of social relief and assistance, nor Catholic youth sport-programmes, even when their initiative and inspiration are Catholic, [One classes as ‘auxiliary to Catholic action’ the various works of which we have just spoken.] nor do political works, though under Christian inspiration. (If there are any of these last, they are at present very few. There are many political publications under Catholic banners and with Catholic customers, but they have political, or even less than political, inspiration. One can count on the fingers of one hand the political publications under political banners, which spring forth from Catholic inspiration.)

On the contrary, as large and ample as is the concept of the apostolate, of the pastoral ministry of the Church, of activity turned of itself to the expansion of the Kingdom of God, just so large and ample is the concept of Catholic action. A mother who teaches the catechism to her children performs Catholic action, and very good Catholic action, too. Men who devote themselves to the work of education and of doctrinal formation, perform Catholic action. Works whose object is to make the Christian life and spirit penetrate into the profane and secular, into social life and into particular social activities, are works of Catholic action, and with so eminent a title that to-day they appear as works of Catholic action par excellence.

As I said a moment ago, it is on the first and on the third level of the Christian’s action,—on the level of the purely spiritual and on that of the spiritual uniting with the temporal in the name of spiritual values,—and only on these two levels, that Catholic action is accomplished, because this is, by definition, an apostolic action.

3. The Internal Dynamism of Catholic Action

Let us consider now what we may call the internal dynamism of Catholic action.

1. The first remark is concerned with the relation between Catholic action and the spiritual life. What does St. Thomas say of the apostolate, of the preaching of the Gospel? That these are works which by their nature have to proceed from a superabundance of contemplation. And what is Catholic action, if not, by definition, an apostolic action? The conclusion is evident. To participate in the apostolate of the Church is to participate first in her contemplation. Christians would be traitors to Catholic action, if they did not fit themselves for it by prayer, and if they did not ask of Him without whom we can do nothing, to cause it to flow into them from contemplation; I do not say from contemplation in its typical and sublime forms, but at least from that masked contemplation which was dealt with in the preceding chapter, and which is often encountered, though they themselves know it not, in souls faithful to grace. Can a man in fact give without having first received? What pretension it would be to give when one is one’s self destitute!

Concerning the call to Catholic action addressed by the Church to laymen, we noted just now that the great problem, as always in such cases, is that the spirit respond to the mission. When they meditate on this, how should laymen not envisage with some fear the responsibility with which they are thus charged? When the mission is an apostolic one, is not the spirit of the mission the Spirit Himself who since Pentecost assists the Church of Christ in a special way? Behold of what spirit they are, who enter the lists for Catholic action. This spirit requires them to turn first toward wisdom and contemplation. This spirit is by definition an evangelical spirit. It does not ask us to train troops so as to execute orders at beck and call, disregarding or denying the ‘interior man’ and his conscience in order to act, to speak, to write or vote as the journal of a party prescribes; it asks us to prepare human persons to understand in the depths of their conscience the word of the Church herself and to discern the meaning of it. This spirit does not require that the ‘good’ call down fire from Heaven upon the ‘wicked’, nor that they hold that the true proof of the love of God is, not to be ready to die for Him, but to kill for Him. It demands that useless servants remember their Master, who having taught that the greatest love is to give one’s life for one’s friends, willed to die for His enemies also, so that they might be His friends, because He loved them.

2. My second remark is the following: it seems to me that the coming of Catholic action marks the end of the separatism and dualism which have reigned too long in the Christian world. This process of dissociation has been already mentioned in the first chapter. Too long, in modern times, ‘has the Christian world obeyed two opposed rhythms, a Christian rhythm in matters of worship and religion, and, at least among better men, in things of the interior life; and a naturalistic rhythm in things of the profane life, the social, economic and political life, things too long abandoned to their proper carnal law.’

To-day, at least for Christians who have ears to hear, this dualism is past. An age now appears in which the organic and vital unity of all that has been inhumanly dissociated will be restored. And Catholic action is a precious sign of this, and is itself efficacious of it. If laymen are henceforth mobilized for the apostolate, this surely is the proof that the world and profane existence ought to be penetrated and vivified to their depths by Christian energies, and that the things of God ought to reach man in all his reality, temporal as well as spiritual, social as well as individual.

And precisely because, by his kind of life and his work, the real man is normally pledged to certain definite communities and certain friendships, the Christian apostolate ought to reach him at the heart of these communities and of these friendships, in order to aid him to transform his life. That is why Catholic action, without thereby limiting itself to this kind of apostolate, has, in many countries, preferred,—and it seems that this is its most typical way,—a form which we may call communal and which answers to what people also call, in a somewhat official term, specialized movements: the trade, the kind of work, the class, constitute the milieu within which man can act on man. ‘The first apostles, the immediate apostles of the workers,’ writes Pius XI, ‘will be workers; the apostles of the industrial and business world will be industrialists and business men.’ [Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno.]

The most significant example of such a movement is the vast movement, begun in Belgium and expanded from there into France and other countries, of the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chretienne. The Abbé Cardijn, founder of it, is himself the son of a workman. In his own family, he was witness of the tragic conditions imposed on the industrial proletariat; he made a promise to God to devote his life to the working class, and he kept his word. Everyone knows that Jocisme now brings together hundreds of thousands of young workers who carry the testimony of Christ into the factory and workshop, by their personal life and their example, as well as by their effort to obtain more respect for human dignity in work, more respect for woman and the young apprentice, more humanity and justice in working conditions.

3. Thus—and this is my third remark—Catholic action does not remain on the purely spiritual level; of itself, it demands passage to the social level. In all countries where it does not suffer constraint, Christian social action is par excellence its mode of action.

In what sense is this so? In a quite precise sense: in the sense in which social action concerns the third level of action indicated at the outset, the level of the spiritual joined to the temporal, in the sense in which social action concerns the apostolate and the integrity of the pastoral ministry of the Church, and brings into social life the testimony of Christ and of the Kingdom of God; in other words, by reason of the spiritual and apostolic values invested in social action, values to which only Catholic action is directly orientated. Let us not forget that the social, the economic, and the political, are intrinsically dependent on ethics, and that, by this title, for this formal reason, the social, the political, and the economic, are concerned with eternal life, and therefore with the pastoral ministry of the Church. The problem of destitution, for example, of misery, is certainly a temporal problem: but it is also a problem of eternal life. St. Thomas teaches, and it is evident, that a certain minimum of well-being is necessary for the development of the properly human life and of virtue. Destitution, or misery, Léon Bloy and Charles Péguy have adequately said, is quite different from poverty, it is a hell on earth, it cuts man off from the communion of the living, it drives him to despair. The problem of destitution is a problem of eternal life for him who suffers it and who, being treated like one damned, breathes the air of damnation and runs the greatest risk of turning against God (and God is merciful enough to be willing to save him even then); and it is a problem of eternal life for him who contemplates the destitution of others with an indifferent heart, sometimes in order to make a profit out of it (and for this man to be saved, mercy ten times greater is needed, and repentance). As long as modern societies will secrete destitution as an ordinary product of their functioning, there cannot be any repose for the Christian.

Well, then, the Church has established in the speculative order a doctrinal firmament of principles and truths dominating every social and economic subject. Practically, she gave her faithful the mission to enter her own pastoral ministry in order to bring into the social life and the treatment of social problems, through Catholic action, the testimony of Christ and an apostolic zeal for the salvation of souls and the expansion of the Kingdom of God. It is not the direct and proper function of Catholic action to solve the social problem, but to make the vivifying inspiration of the Kingdom of God and His justice penetrate the social matters themselves; and—I mean in respect of Catholic action, and without prejudice to other kinds of action, of themselves directed to earthly things—it is an additional matter that the solution of the social problem occurs—if it does occur.

Too long have people been obliged to observe, as I said several years ago, the terrifying lack of attention on the part of Catholics to the teachings and exhortations of Leo XIII and his successors. The mission of Catholic action is to put a stop to this inattention. Catholic action will, in this measure, help to put a stop to what Pius XI, in an interview with Abbé Cardijn, called the great scandal of the nineteenth century, the fact that the working class has gone, seeking its way, far from the crib of Christ, the fact that the poor have believed that they are not at home at that crib. These matters are not mended in a day. This scandal has an historical importance surely greater than all the questions of political regimes, of parliamentarism, or of dictatorship, which to-day preoccupy so many minds. We ought not to lose sight of it for a single instant.

It is natural for the poor to hope in God, because they have hardly any one else in whom to hope. And from whom, if not from Him and from those who believe in Him, should the offended and the humiliated think they can obtain that of which man stands so greatly in need in order to exist: the feeling that he himself is respected as a human being? Who most respects the creature, if not the Creator? The poor look for this respect from those especially who call themselves the friends of God. When we see hatred of God in certain hearts, let us ask ourselves what resentment and what bitterness, what accumulated humiliations, lasting perhaps for generations, have dug in the soul such a wound, and let us ask ourselves, we who believe in the Communion of Saints, and in mutual responsibility, whether we are sure that for our own part we are innocent of this wound. And first and foremost, let us act in such a way that we will not aggravate it.

4. My fourth remark is the following: By the fact that it marks the end of separatism and dualism, Catholic action marks the end of that sort of effectual lie which makes so many people, and sometimes some Christians themselves, believe that Christianity is a party to social conduct which is anything but Christian. This is what I mean: When separatism and dualism reign among Christians, there is a whole portion of their life and activity, and especially perhaps in the social domain, which does not arise from Christianity and is not animated by it; and from what does it arise then, if not (sometimes even among souls who are individually good) from sociological reflexes and prejudices that are unconscious and uncontrolled, from pride and egoism of race, of class, of family, or from that simple hardness and natural harshness which only a vigilant charity can soften? But as this conduct is in fact met with among Christians, especially those who are more taken up with the externals of Christianity in proportion as it penetrates less into their existence, why would the world not hold Christianity responsible for it, and why would it not believe Christianity federated with a whole order of injustices and evils to which it sees so many Christians attached? Separatism thus engenders the greatest confusion.

In putting a stop to separatism, Catholic action puts a stop to the confusion. From the single fact that it tends to vivify with a Christian and apostolic energy, the whole life and action, and especially the social action, of the Christian, it will make impossible the conduct of which I speak. It will make impossible, indeed it will end by making impossible among Christians, hatred and contempt of race and hatred and contempt of class. It will make impossible, it will end in making impossible in us, belief in the efficacy of hate, the cult of violence, the despising of everything which in any way resembles hope in the force of good will, and love and truth.

However, generous sentiments are not enough. In human matters (that is, on the level of the concrete action), it is impossible to see truth, if one does not already also ‘make it;’ [‘Qui facit veritatem, venit ad lucem,’ John, III, 21.] in other words, if one does not love. But, on the other hand, the most sincere love risks not performing any good, or even performing a great deal of evil, unless it passes through the Word and through Truth. An immense and difficult task here imposes itself upon Christian intelligence. I believe that the modern centuries have sought many good things but by bad means; one must neither deny these good ends, because the means were worthless, nor be indulgent to the bad means, because the ends were good toward which one thought these means were leading. The effort toward social justice, toward international peace, toward political and economic realizations of that freedom to which the person aspires, has been linked in fact to the errors of individualistic liberalism, to the belief in the original goodness of human nature and in necessary Progress, to the idea that Number is the source of authority and of right, to the Rousseauist myths and to the socialist myths. It must be freed from these myths and these errors. It is only too true that Christians face to-day, in the social-temporal order, problems very much like those which their fathers encountered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the order of the philosophy of nature. In those days physics and modern astronomy, which were being born, were closely bound to erroneous philosophies, and turned against tradition. The defenders of tradition were unable to make the necessary discriminations; they chose to be, at one and the same time, against that which was to become modern science, and against the philosophic errors which grew like a parasite upon this science in its origin. Three centuries were required to get over this misunderstanding, if one can say that the world has really gotten over it. We are not required to-day to repeat all over again the same sort of mistakes in the realm of practical and social philosophy. For my part I believe that the criticism of liberalism must lead to a doctrine of the pluralistic state, the criticism of anarchic democracy to a doctrine of an organic and personalist democracy, the criticism of anthropocentric humanism to a doctrine of integral humanism.

I do not think that such a philosophical and cultural work must be placed in the category of Catholic action, as that is defined by Pius XI; it is, indeed, to be achieved in the bosom of the historical particularities of the profane and temporal order, and as determined by profane awareness. It concerns what I have called the second level of the Christian’s activities. But I believe that, through the theological wisdom on which it depends, and through its highest principles, it is connected with one of the typical functions of Catholic action, illuminating the mind with that doctrinal firmament of which I have spoken above.

5. And finally my fifth remark. I have said that Catholic action of its nature demands translation into social action, in the precise sense in which social action concerns the apostolate, and the integrity of the pastoral ministry of the Church, and bears witness to Christ and to the Kingdom of God in the social life; in other words, because of the spiritual and apostolic values invested in social action and to which alone Catholic action is directly ordained.

It is of essential importance to understand that this is a certain social action, a certain higher zone of social activity: to use a more explicit and precise word, let us say that this is Christian or apostolic social action. But the whole domain of social activity is not thereby covered. The social is attained only so far as it concerns the third level of action mentioned at the outset of this study, the level of the spiritual linked to the temporal, a level on which we act in so far as we are Christians, and as sent by the Church.

Taken in the ordinary sense of the word, and so far as it concerns the common good of the earthly city and of civilization,—in other words, because of the temporal values which are within its jurisdiction,—the social is by its nature concerned with the second level, the level of the temporal, on which we act as members of the earthly city, and on which we ought to act in a Christian manner, on our own responsibility and on our personal initiative, at our risk and peril, but not professedly as Christians and sent by the Church. In this case, it is no longer a question of the apostolate, nor of the pastoral ministry of the Church; it is a question of the earthly life of men, considered from the point of view of the proper laws of this life and of the earthly good to which it is directed; it is a question of the modes of realization according to which the principles and higher truths contained on this subject in the doctrine of the Church must pass into concrete existence, and which depend on the philosophy of culture, of society and history, which we believe to be true, and also on the particular circumstances of the historical matter on which we are working. What position shall we take in the debates concerned with trade unions, cooperatives, distributism, etc.? On the problems of inflation, deflation, reflation, or monetary devaluation? On the concrete problems regarding the evolution of modern economy, the historical link between the conflict of classes and the capitalistic regime, and the rise of the working class to property? The connotations most formally temporal of the word social almost correspond, in modern tongues, to what Aristotle called political. In order, then, to characterize, in a more explicit and precise manner, social action understood in this sense, let us say socio-temporal or socio-political action. Such action tends directly and of itself, as to a proper and proportionate effect, to the solution of social problems.

This socio-temporal or socio-political action is not within the province of Catholic action. At this frontier, Catholic action stops. Its competence goes no farther, because its direct and proper end is apostolic, not profane and temporal. It has formed, enlightened, prepared (and in doing this it is in vital relation with the action of which we speak). It hands the task over to this other kind of action.

So, by the spiritual and doctrinal formation which it gives them, Catholic action prepares Christians,—at least those who feel called to it,—to approach as they should the studies of political science and philosophy and the problems of political action, and themselves to enter into political action. It itself does not take the place of these studies, or of this action.

As I wrote in a previous work, ‘if by the teaching it dispenses and the spiritual formation it procures, Catholic action prepares laymen to act as Christians, to participate in struggles of the temporal and to participate in them as Christians, to assume social and political tasks to which they consider themselves called, and to assume it as Christians, Catholic action, however, restrains itself most carefully from laying the shadow of a finger on this second level. And this not only because the Church does not want to find itself, at any price, enslaved to temporal things. It is also because, as regards the work proper to the second level, as regards the task which must descend to the ultimate contingent realizations demanded by the service of the temporal common good, the competence of an activity belonging to an entirely spiritual order, soon finds its limits.’ [True Humanism.] There exists a judgment of Catholicism about the connections which art and literature have to ethics and to the moral capacities of the average of men; but this judgment does not suffice to tell me what I must think of a book by Joyce or of a poem by Rimbaud, as works of art. There exists a judgment of Catholicism about the duty to work on behalf of international peace and of the principles of social justice; but this judgment does not suffice to tell me what I should think of the law of the 40-hour week and of the statute of the League of Nations. It is my business to judge these problems as a Catholic (as far as possible with Catholic intelligence rather than with Catholic prejudices), but without pretending to speak in the name of Catholicism, nor to draw in my wake Catholics as such.

The extreme care which the Church exercises not to let Catholic action be contaminated, even the least bit, by political action, corresponds to the nature of things. It would be the ruin of a fundamental truth of the Gospels, the ruin of the distinction of the things which are Caesar’s and those which are God’s, and as a consequence it would inevitably be a catastrophe, as a matter of fact, if Catholic action were itself to become engaged in the affairs of the day and in political struggles (except when it is a question of defending, on certain precise points, quite superior to the conflicts of parties and of political forces, interests specifically moral and religious).

The exception which I have just indicated concerns what one might call, in the strict sense of the word, Catholic civic action. It is here necessary to point out that to interfere in political matters in order to defend spiritual interests and in the exact measure required by this defence, ‘is not at all the same thing as to work toward an object properly political, directed by a certain conception of the temporal common good to be procured. In order fitly to practise politics, it is necessary to discern political realities, to have a concrete idea of the means capable of assuring the common good of the earthly city. In order to defend the religious values engaged in the temporal, it suffices to discern these religious values.’ [True Humanism.] In consequence, normally speaking, it is not by taking sides for a certain political idea of the political common good, judged more favourable to religion, nor by making Catholics, as such, enter upon the service of historical forces and temporal interests linked to this idea, that one will best defend religious rights and values; in brief, it is not by trying to find in one particular political camp an instrument for religion, that the action we spoke of (and which, entering the political realm but from the outside, has no particular guarantee of properly political competence) will be achieved in the best and most efficient manner; it is rather by laying every political camp whatsoever under the necessity of respecting these rights and values, if it does not wish to be fought by the Catholic masses. Such procedure raises above the diversity of political ideas concerning the political common good,—political ideas to which a Christian may legitimately adhere,—the idea of religious and spiritual values to be served, and thus maintains under the only ascendant of the things of God, even in political matters, the effort of Catholics in so far as they are Catholics.

By following this line of reflection, one would, no doubt, be able to grasp the specific difference between a ‘clerical’ conception and a conception truly ‘ecclesiastical’, of the political defence of the rights and liberties of religion.

In fact, nothing demands clearer understanding, under penalty of being distorted, than the great practical verities on which we are trying to meditate. The teachings of the Church proceed from a superior intelligence, an intelligence assisted by the Holy Spirit, and admirably trained to anatomize reality, as with a scalpel, along the lines of its jointures and essential distinctions. On the other hand, the mass of men who hear these truths more or less exactly reported, and also sometimes those who apply them, are not always sufficiently trained ‘to distinguish in order to unite’. Every great idea is a powerful explosive, which requires intelligent handling. The idea of Catholic action, the idea of Christ the King, are ideas of this kind. The spirit of the world, which hates them, as it hates the Gospel, is quite willing to imagine, in a sort of bad dream, that Catholic action has a mission to do, or at least to command a political work, or to advance what is called to-day a ‘front’, whatever that may be, of social and ‘ideological’, imperial or military struggle; or to imagine that the Kingdom of Christ is not that of a King of Grace and Charity but a leader of war imposing his will by constraint. If, in spite of the reiterated teaching and the exact prescriptions and the exhortations of the Popes, [Cf. Pius XI, Letter to Cardinal Hlond, April 16, 1929; to the Archbishop of Toledo, Nov. 6, 1929; Letters to the Mexican Bishops, Feb. 2, 1926, and March 8, 1937; Letter of Cardinal Pacelli to the Bishop of Prague, etc.] there should be found somewhere imprudent men who give by their conduct even the shadow of plausibility to such nonsense, the havoc to the Church and to civilization would be enormous. That is why the Church never ceases to insist on the distinctions which I have repeated here.

4. Political Action

In one sense Catholic action, becoming more explicitly aware of itself, will thus ‘liberate’ political action; I mean that in the historical age which we are entering, people will understand better and better, it seems to me, that once the realm of strictly temporal and political realities is entered, then the action of Christians, which on this plane is an action properly political, emanates solely, so far as politics does not touch on holy things, from their initiative as citizens. [The initiative of which I speak must itself—this is clear—take into account the rules of conscience furnished by the Church. It is known that the encyclical Pascendi condemns the error according to which ‘every Catholic, being at the same time a citizen, has the right and the duty,—without concerning himself with the Church’s authority, without taking into account its desires, its advance, its commandments, and even disdaining its reprimands,—to pursue the public good in the manner he considers best.’ The right of the Church, thus being recalled by Pius X, can be applied in two different senses: either in the special sense of the defence of the altar and spiritual values when politics touch the altar (one is then in the perspective of the potestas indirecta in temporalibus, and the Church has then herself the initiative of the political act—or of the political refusal—of the Christian); or only in the sense of the moral formation of the citizens’ conscience, whom the religious authority reminds of the rules of conduct to which they must be attentive: in this case we have to do with an action of religious authority which of itself concerns only the spiritual, and which leaves to the citizens’ conscience, thus instructed, the initiative and the motive decision, the judicium practicum (practical judgment) concerning the political act to be undertaken. It is in this category that many pastoral instructions issued on the occasion of a particular event must be placed,—concerning an electoral consultation, for instance, where religious authority enlightens and directs the conscience of Catholic citizens by reminding them of their duty to insure the safeguard of religious liberties and of spiritual goods, the maintenance of the rights and of the natural structure of the family, the respect for established power, civil peace and international peace, the sanctity of treaties, social justice, the rights of the human person, the rejection of means of violence, the loyal preparation of a new order, the patriotic obligations concerning national defence, public finances, etc.

It must here be observed, in fact, that the more a population lacks ethico-political education, the more often religious authority will have to interfere in particular cases, and in political contingencies, in order to enlighten consciences, and to supplement their lack of ethico-political education. The more perfect the ethico-political education of a country’s population (education, in which Catholic action is precisely called upon to play an important part),—in other words, the more a country’s Catholic citizens are capable of acting as persons politically come of age,—the more religious authority will be dispensed from interfering by its moral admonitions in the political contingencies, and be able to concentrate its efforts on its essential task, which is to conduct souls towards eternal life and to help them continue the work of the redeeming Incarnation.] Assuredly, this initiative itself remains subject to the general and special rules on which the morality of human conduct depends and regarding which the Church has the office of instructing the faithful; assuredly, it ought to be internally enlightened and vivified by the principles of the Faith and of Christian wisdom. But the impelling decisions, the initiatives on which action depends,—so far as politics does not motivate a special intervention of spiritual authority because it challenges the supreme values of our life,—are only those of the conscience of men who devote themselves at their own risk and peril to the service of the State, and on which no constraining motion comes down from any other sphere. Thus, in its domain, political action is free, and not an instrument of the Church.

Let us not forget that the three kinds of activity which we recognized at the outset of this study cannot take each other’s places. They are all three necessary, each on its own level. In short, political action has its own proper function on its own proper level. It is as necessary as political life itself. It is of itself something ‘lawful and important.’ [Leo XIII, Cum multa, Dec. 8, 1882.] It has, as its specific end, the common good of the earthly city. Pius XI has said that after Catholic action the most noble work is that of political action; by an interior education and formation in the order properly called theological, an order concerned at once with speculative theology and moral and social theology, Catholic action begins to prepare minds for that action which it cannot supply or command or suggest, and which cannot be accomplished in its name.

What I would remark here, above all, is the essential difference of rhythm and modality which distinguishes, because of difference of finalities, political action and Catholic action. Catholic action demands, on its level, the union of all Catholics; on its own level, political action implies, on the contrary, a normal diversity among them. Catholic action seeks, on its level, to develop itself in an exclusively Catholic framework; in a civilization religiously divided, political action, on its own level, normally implies the co-operation of Catholics and non-Catholics.

Let us return to the three levels of activity. On the first and third levels (the level of the purely spiritual and that of the spiritual joined to the temporal), on the level of Catholic action, union must evidently be the watchword. It is clear that only the union of Catholics can give enough strength to make the participation of laymen in the apostolate effective. Union is here the first necessity. And all Catholics are, as such, to take part in Catholic action, all are required especially to take part in some degree,—at least, in countries where the thing is not made practically impossible or very difficult, as a consequence of a political regime with totalitarian tendencies, all are required to take part in that eminent form of Catholic action which is Christian-social action.

The same must be said about that which concerns what we have called Catholic ‘civic’ action, which is a prolongation of Catholic action and whose object is the defence of the proper values of God’s city as it is engaged in temporal affairs: the union of Catholics is indispensable in order efficaciously to compel the respect for religious interests by civil legislation, ‘it being well understood that this concerns purely the incidences of the spiritual in the temporal, and the genuinely religious interests, such as are determined hic et nunc by the Holy See and by the Episcopate, not by the particular judgment of no matter what personality or of no matter what party usurping the mission of speaking in the name of the Church and believing at times that they understand the Church’s interests better than the Church herself. One cannot hide from oneself the fact that, as long as the education of Catholic masses is not further advanced in this realm, as long as they will not have learned more clearly to distinguish what belongs to religion from what belongs to the socio-temporal domain,—the interests, prejudices and passions of a sociological order,—the union of Catholics on the level of civic action, however necessary in itself, will raise most intricate problems.’ [True Humanism.]

But, on the second level, the level of the temporal, the level of political action, it is diversity which is the rule. ‘When the objective is the earthly life of man, when it concerns earthly interests, earthly goods, this or that ideal of the common earthly good, and the ways and means of realizing it, the normal thing is for the unanimity whose focus is of the supra-temporal order, to be broken, and for Christians who communicate at the same table to find themselves divided in politics. It would be contrary to the nature of things, and therefore quite perilous, to demand of Catholics on this level a unity which could only be artificial, and obtained either by a political materialization of religious energies (as is too often seen in ‘Catholic parties’ such as the German Centre Party), or by an enfeebling of the social and political energies of the Christian, and a sort of flight into general principles.’ [Ibid.]

Besides, on this second level, the level of political action, not all Catholics are required as such to participate. All, of course, are bound, as other members of the political community, to perform their duties as citizens (which demand, normally, and especially in countries with democratic constitutions, the development among them, along with the other citizens, of a personal consciousness of political realities, in their proper order). But the political action, about which there is a question here, is something much wider and much more complex than the simple act of voting, and demands a certain ‘specialization’; it is an action which tends to make triumphant in existence a political ideal and the historical forces which represent it, to transform society, and so on. Well, then, if it is good, if it is necessary that certain men consecrate themselves to political studies and to political action thus understood, this evidently concerns only those who feel called to such a task and who think themselves competent with regard to it, but it creates no obligation for others to follow the same path.

The diversity of which I have just spoken, which answers to a proper law of political activity, nevertheless remains, it is important to understand, a relative diversity. The existence of the common ‘doctrinal firmament’ mentioned a moment ago, and the fact that all Christians as such receive their life from the same Redeemer’s Blood and from the same spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ,—this twofold fact shows us that a higher unity ought normally to rule all diversity among them, and to manifest itself even in the midst of this diversity. When Christians hate other Christians, when Catholics turn on other Catholics those looks of scorn and detestation which people have for traitors, for hopeless madmen and outcast dogs, they have already begun to wound the Christ within them.

However different be their ideas in temporal matters, if Catholics of divers historical, social, and political formation all had a like respect for and a like knowledge of the common doctrine of the Church and of the papal encyclicals, if in their conscience there grew up at the same time an evangelical understanding of life, and a practical knowledge of the spirit of which they are, and of that absolute primacy of charity taught by St. Paul, it is clear that many unhealthy excesses and much blindness would cease. Diversity would remain, but it would be deeply penetrated by union.

Regimentation (caporalisme) may represent, perhaps, the ideal of certain political States, but it has never reigned and will never reign in the Church; that would be an absolute impossibility. If the Christian aspired and consented to this sort of unity, he would betray the very transcendence of the truth to which he has adhered. When a man leaves all in order to be converted to Jesus Christ, and understands that it would serve him nothing to gain the world if he lose his own soul, it is not to enter upon the service of a world, no matter which, nor of any kind of utilization of religion. It is certain that this man will submit with difficulty to orders given by partisans, even if they invoke divine wrath, with that zeal which generally characterizes personalities without a mandate.

If, in particular, one reflects upon the proper condition of temporal things, if one remembers that Christianity has vanquished ancient slavery, not with the help of decrees and regulations, but through the virtue of the evangelical leaven working inside consciences,—one will understand that in the temporal realm, much progress which, in reality, depends upon Christianity, is achieved, less through the effect of rules and of discipline imposed from above, than through a kind of growth and maturing within the conscience, which is produced with the spontaneity of life, at first in a few, and sooner or later more generally.

What is the result of all this if it is not that in those matters, whereon the Church herself, and as such, has not made pronouncement and where her common doctrine is not questioned, the union so desirable between Catholics is and must be primarily a union of charity, of mutual respect and common inspiration in the diversity of positions which seem true and just to each? Such a union is not accomplished by means of suppression and excommunication; and it can, and must, be more real and go further than one generally supposes.

Let us consider now the second difference of rhythm and modality (mentioned earlier) between Catholic and political action.

Catholic action, by virtue of its definition as participation by laymen in the hierarchical apostolate, ought to be developed in an exclusively Catholic framework. The appropriate movement here,—not in what concerns the apostolate itself, for this is essentially diffusive and radiating, but in what concerns the formation and constitution of active groups,—is a movement of concentration of the Catholic community upon itself, thanks to which there will be accomplished, without admixture of error, the right awareness of the truths proper to Catholicism.

But it is no less clear that political action, by virtue of its definition as activity directed to the temporal good of the earthly city, aims at a common good and a common undertaking which ought to bring together in the same civil life and the same civil peace, in a convivium of temporal activities as harmonious as possible, all the members of the temporal city, members who in fact belong to different spiritual families. This action of itself, then, demands co-operation on the temporal level between believers and non-believers. and it involves a law of movement other than that of Catholic action: that is, a law of concentration on itself, not of the Catholic community as such, but of the community formed by men who are animated by the same social or political concrete ideal; who share in common the same vision of the socio-temporal convivium; and who, as members of the city as a whole, can belong to different spiritual families. We know that once fidelity is assured to the higher principles established in this matter by the common teaching of the Church, Catholics are free to adhere to quite diverse political conceptions, and that, as they say, a ‘Catholic of the left’ can be as good a Catholic as a ‘Catholic of the right’, and conversely.

From the fact that politics and economics depend intrinsically on ethics and on the ideas that one should have of man and his ends, the Christian’s temporal ideal and his temporal means of action will, of course, differ from those of the pagan. Hence it follows that the dynamism of a party or of a political community under Christian inspiration will come chiefly from Christians, and will normally suppose Christian initiative and Christian direction. Nevertheless, what I mean is that non-Christians will have their place there also, and can play an important role there, and all the more so because the temporal ideal of this party or community will rest on a juster and more comprehensive notion of the natural structure of civilization and of the common earthly good and the natural convivium which it implies.

If these distinctions were well understood, many misunderstandings would be avoided. People would not ask Catholics to form a single bloc on the level of political action; and political divisions would not enter to annihilate and sterilize the best efforts on the level of Catholic action. Because of their union in Catholic action, Catholics would learn to esteem, to understand, and to love one another, no matter to which parties they belonged; and because of the work of political action, and the humble earthly realities it is obliged to consider, they would learn to esteem, to understand, and to love men of good will who do not share their faith; and they would be free of those many chimeras which disappear as soon as people are aware of them, but which dwell unnoticed in the imagination of many men. When one acts, usually without avowing it to oneself, as if the political community could not be served profitably except by Catholics, the only course open is either to suppress all other people, and probably no one relishes the thought of this solution, or to be made victims of journalistic or political adventurers, often not Christians themselves, who exploit these illusions for their profit.

My personal conviction, as I have said repeatedly for some years, is that the world suffers cruelly from the lack of political groupings—I may say specifically political, acting on the temporal level, finalized by a work of social renovation and transformation to be accomplished—and whose inspiration should be a vitally Christian one.

I am afraid I shall be tedious in insisting once more on this. I will say only that in my judgment a politics of Christian inspiration proceeds in the human soul from an activity natural in itself and elevated by its connection with the infused virtues; it pursues a concrete historical ideal, the specification of which is of a political and social, not of a religious, order, an ideal which Christian inspiration animates and vivifies from within. To ask Catholicism to specify a political or national ideal, and itself to replace, as a principle of temporal unification and temporal activity, the objects, the values, the impelling ideas, and the instincts, of the temporal order, would be contrary to the nature of things, precisely because Catholicism is by nature transcendent. One would risk, then, either having in the temporal order only a Christian embellishment placed at the service of earthly groups of forces and earthly interests, or achieving (as in Austria in the years preceding the Anschluss) an artificial construction and an ingenious political understanding deprived of historical roots and collective dynamism. To vivify and animate from within, to help organic forms to germinate—it is for this that Christian influences are called upon, in the present age more than in the past, to act on political realities; and it is thus that a new Christendom will perhaps some day be born.

Finally, as to the means of a Christian politics, summing up what I have said at length elsewhere, I would say: first, that these means should always be just, not excluding force but subordinating it; second, that a hyper-moralism demanding that these means be not only good in themselves but pharisaically pure,—I mean free of contact with the impurities of human history which would stain them from without,—this hyper-moralism is as contrary to a true political ethics as is a Machiavellian cynicism; third, that the seemingly irresistible power of the weapons of violence, of deceit and infamy, employed to-day by men who have discovered that the absolute rejection of all moral rule opens the way to a kind of omnipotence and a paradise of force, obliges Christians more than ever to fix their attention on the question of the hierarchy of means. If it is true, as Leo XIII says, that religion is ‘the highest of the common goods, to which all others should be referred,’ [Leo XIII, Encyclical Sapientia Christiana.] and that the chief thing in the New Law, ‘that in which all its strength (virtus) consists,’ is, as St. Thomas says, [Sum. theologica, I-II, 106, 1.] ‘the grace of the Holy Spirit, given to those who believe in Christ,’ it follows that the greatest evil with regard to the common temporal good would be for Christians to cease to bring into the life of the political community the testimony and influence of the Gospel truths, of the Christian virtues and the grace of the Holy Spirit. Aggression and co-action are the only means known to men of blood. The Christian knows a world of other means, and among these he ought to attach particular importance to those I have called the means of organic edification and the spiritual weapons of war: the weapons of patience and of voluntary suffering which are par excellence the weapons of love and truth. It is only by using all these other weapons that ‘weakness can perhaps be compensated for and even turned to victory, a weakness which, in the order of the weapons of force or violence, arises from the fact that the Christian is obliged to rule such means by justice, and that they offend in him his spiritual sensitiveness. The state of a world, where all violence is let loose, would at once reduce to impotence or to self-surrender Christians who, wishing to act on the temporal level would not put the folly of love at the head of their means of action.’ [True Humanism.]

At this moment of history and before certain disasters overtake us, it is already too late, perhaps, to hope for the emergence of Christian-minded social political groupings, and for political action properly undertaken by Christians. Perhaps there is starting, for the world, an hour of violence and darkness which will end in a catastrophe of the political sphere. But even in the midst of such an eclipse of all sound political activity, a field of activities remains open for the Christian on the temporal level: I mean the evangelical activities, the works of mercy and brotherly love, the testimony to the truth, thanks to which the Christian, existing with his people, and with the people in the depths of time and history, is able to act on time and history, not by historical or political, but by divine and sacrificial means.

Christianity and Earthly Civilizations by Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain

1. The Church and the World

The contact or meeting of the Church and earthly civilizations is the meeting of the Kingdom of God with the world. It is a question of two heterogeneous universes which enter into closest relations on one ‘common ground’, namely, man.

The unity of the Church is supernatural. Civilizations, on the other hand, spring from the natural order.

To understand this more exactly, we must recall certain points of doctrine concerning, on the one hand, the common good of the Church and that of civilization, or, as St. Thomas says, of the civil life; and concerning, on the other hand, the natural virtues and the supernatural virtues.

The common good of the Church lies in eternal life and in union with the divine Persons; the common good of a civilization is the right life (the earthly and human right life) of a people or group of peoples. These are two specific ends, clearly distinct; they differ as heaven differs from earth. And it is clear that the earthly end is not ultimate, or is ultimate as St. Thomas says, only in a certain sense and in a given order. The last end, pure and simple, is eternal life, and that is why any order of civilization or culture is indirectly related or subordinated to the spiritual order.

On the other hand, the life of civilization, even when responding to natural inclination and primordial instinct, is not a simple physical fact: it is a work of reason and of virtue. And what are the virtues directly concerned with this life? They are the natural virtues which are grouped around the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. A social and political life which truly merits the name, and is worthy of man, is centred in natural justice and tends to develop the natural virtue of brotherly friendship between the members of the same society. Whereas the virtues by which we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the Kingdom of God are not only the three theological virtues, but also the supernatural moral virtues which follow in their wake and correspond to the natural moral virtues of the same name.

We perceive here the great cultural importance of the doctrine of St. Thomas on the natural moral virtues and on the infused moral virtues. The first are in their nature connected with civil life; the second with the divine life begun here below, and, if I may put it in this way, for the heaven of the soul. ‘Man,’ says St. Thomas, ‘is not only a citizen of the terrestrial city, he is also a member of the celestial one; he belongs to that Jerusalem whose prince is God, and whose citizens are the angels and all the saints, whether they are reigning in glory and at rest in their Fatherland or whether they are still pilgrims on earth, according to the words of the apostle: “You are fellow-citizens with the saints; and of the household of God.” But in order for a man to be a member of this city, his nature does not suffice; he must be raised up by the grace of God. For it is manifest that the virtues which are in man in so far as he is a member of this society cannot be acquired by his natural powers; that is the reason why they are not caused in us by our actions, but are infused in us by divine gift.’[De virtutibus in communi, art. 9.] So much for the moral virtues which are infused and which fit us for the morality and the common life which are in keeping with the Kingdom of God, which is already here, teaching, struggling and suffering on earth: the Church, the wandering and crucified Kingdom.

If we are dealing with moral virtues which are acquired, ‘these,’ says St. Thomas, ‘are the directives in civil life; that is the reason their object is the civil good, the good of civilization.’[‘Virtutes morales acquisitae dirigunt in vita civili, unde habent bonum civile pro fine’, St. Thomas, III Sent. dist. 33, q. 1, a. 4, Resp.] Here our actions refer directly to goods ‘proportioned to human nature.’ [Cf. St. Thomas, De virtutibus in communi, art. 10.] This is the reason why there is no infused political prudence in the earthly life of society; a supernatural virtue of political prudence would have to do only with the government of the Church of Christ.

Here, nevertheless, we find the organic union and the subordination mentioned above. There is no separation or breaking off; there is a vital cohesion between the natural virtues and the supernatural virtues. We know in fact that there is no perfect virtue without the love of charity. To arrive at their full state of virtue, the natural moral virtues must be united to charity and the infused moral virtues, which elevate them by attaching them to the supra-temporal aims of the human person. I have just said that there is no infused political prudence for the life of earthly society; it should be added immediately that there is no perfect natural virtue of political prudence except it be united in the human soul to the supernatural organism of infused gifts and virtues. The political prudence of a St. Louis was an acquired virtue; it was a virtue in the full and perfect sense of the word only because it was elevated by the supernatural virtues.

This digression will perhaps aid us to understand why St. Thomas teaches that he who has the care of the common well-being of the multitude must be a bonus vir, pure and simple, a virtuous man in every respect. And thus we also understand why civilizations, themselves belonging to the natural order, cannot arrive at their full state and dignity as civilizations, except in so far as they are elevated in their own order by the influence of those virtues which arise in them, not from what is Caesar’s, but from what is God’s.

It is possible to conceive in the abstract a civilization which unites all men in the purely natural unity of a temporal life, conducted in accordance with pure reason. This, however, is a fiction because humanity is not in a state of pure nature; it is in the state of a nature which has fallen and been redeemed. As a matter of fact, civilizations vary as much as languages, and are often opposed to each other. Can we hope that one day there will exist here below a civilization which is really universal? By this I certainly do not mean a uniform civilization, but one which would allow for inward variety and internal dissimilarities in accord with the historical, national and cultural heritage, and the vocations proper to different human groups; for such a variety responds to the natural necessity of exchange and metabolism and also of the activating tension between these groups. If one day there is to exist here below a truly universal civilization, that is to say, one founded—no matter how strong its internal differences—on first common principles, and recognizing in an organic and actual manner the same common good, it will have risen higher, in its own order, by the influence of the energies whose source is the grace of Christ.

May I add that this very possibility of a truly universal civilization appears problematic, at least before the time of the great reintegration foretold by St. Paul, and the sign of which he gave as being the conversion of Israel.

In the meanwhile, the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, appears as a high unity of supra-temporal order spread in the midst of social formations opposed to each other. From this superior unity,—one which actually exists,—it follows that Catholicism is par excellence an agent of co-operation between civilizations. Nevertheless, it can only be so with the help of a very high tension of human energy, natural and supernatural, because the unity in question is of a transcendent order.

Let us make every effort to understand this paradox, which is united to the mysterious drama in which the history of humanity is enveloped, and to the mission assigned the Church of continuing here below the work of the Redemption by supplying what is lacking (in application, not in merit) to the sufferings of Christ. A mystical body, through which runs a life that is properly divine, and in which the prince of this world has no part, calls all men to itself, in a unity of supernatural faith and spiritual activity, as fellow-citizens of the saints and intimates of God. This mystical body carries on its work in the very midst of natural bodies of society which live the life of this world and in which the devil plays his part; and which divide these same men, fellow citizens together in the pain and labour of temporal existence, into earthly groups which their own fleshly law, if it is not checked by a superior law, leads to opposition and conflict.

At one and the same time—our own time—co-exist civilizations of different origins and ages. In his Outline of History, Professor Arnold Toynbee, having eliminated some 600 primitive societies, enumerates 27 distinct civilizations in historical times, of which 5 survive to-day. I will return to this in an instant. Taking as a point of chronological departure the centuries in which the Christian Middle Ages reached their highest cultural level, that is to say in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, we can summarily characterize the civilizations which we are dealing with here as: of pre-mediaeval origin (civilizations of China and the Far East, Hindu, and Islamic), civilizations of mediaeval origin (our Western civilizations), and forms which have but recently arisen in history, which aspire to establish new civilizations (soviet, fascist, national-socialist . . .).

The five civilizations described by Mr. Toynbee are the civilization of China and the Far East; Hindu civilization; Islamic civilization; Western civilization which, as he says, comprises not only Europe and the New World, but all the navigable seas and their ports; and a fifth civilization which is that of Orthodox or Greco-Russian Christendom. It is this last civilization which is at present in a state of profound upheaval, caused by Soviet communism which rejects its fundamental beliefs and ethic. It will thus be seen that the new civilization which Soviet communism claims to establish is to be placed in the historical framework of a determined area of culture,—in that of the fifth civilization described by Mr. Toynbee, with which it is very necessary to study its particular connections. On the other hand, the new civilizations which Fascism and National-Socialism claim to establish are to be placed in the historical framework of another area of culture, namely of Western civilization, and should be judged according to the good and evil which fructified in this civilization and according to its calling,—which it has for the most part largely betrayed.

One might speak of still other new forms of civilization, those developing in China and Japan and placed within the historical framework of Far Eastern civilization. But this newness seems to be especially of a technical and morphological order, and it would seem that the spirit which animates Nipponese imperialism, for example, continues to be in its innermost depths that same spirit which, as Okakura Kakuzo says, for centuries has made Asia one, that Asia ‘which is nothing, if it is not spiritual.’

At first glance it might seem from the fact alone that Christians living under the different civilizations of which I have spoken are participating in the supra-temporal unity of the Church and are endeavouring to merit heaven in living their private lives as Christians, that they exercise in a sufficiently efficacious manner their office as agents of co-operation and vivification in the temporal world. But I do not think that this is so. It is necessary to introduce at this point a more precise notion, founded on the philosophical distinction between common causality and proper causality. I do not say that by the fact alone that they live truly Christian lives, Christians do not exert an effective action on the different civilizations to which they belong! From the fact alone that they lead truly Christian lives, they exercise an effective action on the world, even the first and primordial action which they are expected to exercise. What is it, as a matter of fact, to live a truly Christian life, if not to strive, each according to his condition, for Christian perfection, that is to say, for the perfection of charity? The first thing needed by the world is the contemplation of the saints and their love, because it causes the gifts of divine life and of substantial Love to abound on the earth. And if Christians really strive with all their hearts for a life of union with God, and if each Christian, in his private acts and judgments, tries to give testimony to justice, to fraternal love, and to the truth, so often betrayed by men; to resist the influences of hate, calumny, resentment and panic, the collective nervous storms to which nations are exposed in the troubled eras of their history,—then centres of interior vigilance and peace will be multiplied, and their influence will modify imperceptibly but really and effectively the atmosphere in which world history is unrolled.

Nevertheless, the causality thus exercised on the social and political order, on the flow of civilization, is a higher causality, and in the philosophical sense of the word, common. And such causality, however necessary, however primordial, does not suffice for the development of social life required by nature and by Providence. For their reciprocal communication of energy and movement, beings demand prompt and direct causes in proportion to their nature. Such is the causality that Christians should exert in the temporal social order. Haec oportebat facere, says the Gospel, et illa non omittere. ‘These things you should have done, and those not left undone.’ In the sphere of private life we are called upon to exercise the natural and the supernatural virtues of Christian life. But in the sphere of social and political life, we are also called upon to exercise the natural virtues (guided and elevated by the supernatural ones) which properly have to do with that sphere, and by means of which the rules of Christian justice and charity may be introduced into it.

It is in this sense, that I have said above that by the fact alone that they participate in the supra-temporal unity of the Church and endeavour to merit heaven in living their private lives in a Christian manner, the Christians involved in the different civilizations do not yet exercise in a sufficiently effective manner their office as agents of co-operation and vivification.

For the action we speak of to be sufficiently effective, Christianity must penetrate into the social and cultural life itself, in its proper order. And is this not exactly the great obligation of which the Popes have constantly reminded Catholics for the past seventy years? If the Christian world of our time had not shown itself so frivolously heedless of their voice, if the work of Catholics aware of the proper realities and proper requirements of the social order had not been everywhere opposed with such bitterness and suspicion, Western civilization would not now be face to face with such profound sufferings and the cruel trials it is undergoing today. But I return to my subject and to the question of the penetration of Christianity and Evangelical truths into the heart of social and cultural life itself. Special problems arise here, concerning the three categories of civilization which which we have defined.

2. Civilizations of Pre-mediaeval origin

With regard to civilizations of pre-mediaeval origin, the principal difficulty consists in the fact that these civilizations do not know (or perceive only in an imperfect manner, I say this of Buddhism) the distinction between the things which are Caesar’s and those which are God’s. Christianity should teach them this distinction, at the same time respecting the temporal structures proper to these civilizations.

The thing is all the more complex and difficult because these great civilizations—Far Eastern, Hindu, Islamic—are themselves honeycombed with deep conflicts and antagonisms, and are at the same time suffering from the processes of disintegration and changes inflicted upon them by Western cultural influences, frequently those which are most negative and destructive (such as the idolatry of techniques, a disintegrating religious modernism, materialism and atheism, Rousseauism, Marxism, racialism, and nationalistic worship of the State).

At times the Far Eastern civilizations make use of these influences in their own way in order to renew themselves in accordance with their teleology and their own ambitions; at other times, they rise up against these influences and try to throw them off, and Christianity along with them, imagining it to be a part of Western civilization and entailed to this civilization, not recognizing its transcendence and universality. We must admit that they are confirmed in this error by the prejudices and narrowness of spirit of many Catholics of the Old World who, like Mr. Hilaire Belloc, appear to believe that the Faith is Europe, or who imagine that the expansion of the Kingdom of God among peoples of the world consists in imposing upon them Western civilization with its various commercial and industrial, political, and military ‘benefits’.

In a sense it must be recognized that the conflicts of civilization have their historic usefulness; it must be recognized that Western activism and imperialism have had the effect of obliging,—though by the most unworthy means,—the Oriental civilizations, which are themselves immobile or doomed to a kind of circular motion, to enter the movement, the great and terrible movement of history, which travels and advances in time (both for good and for evil). But at what a price! With what wastage, with what losses for the Kingdom of God! The Kingdom of God advances like a thief, profiting by the accidents of history, its shiftings, its scandals and its crimes, because God draws good from evil. It would have been able to advance like a king of humility seated upon an ass’s foal (the ass’s foal is the Christian temporality), and hailed by hosannas, if the Christian West had been truly Christian in its own political life and in its relations with other civilizations.

The whole problem of missionary activity looms up at this point, appearing even more difficult,—for different reasons,—when it comes into contact with the Oriental civilizations we are here considering than when it is in contact with primitive societies. I do not have to go into this question here. I only wish to point out that Christianity here works as an agent of co-operation in three ways. In the first place, it teaches the Western civilization,—in the measure that it learns this lesson,—to respect and promote the human values of other civilizations and their historic vocation. Christianity is respectful of nature and its diversities. Although they have too often been practised by Christians, methods which enforce conformity are not Christian methods.

In the second place, Catholicism,—by the very fact that it itself affirms its own supernatural universality and dissociates itself from ethnical or cultural particularisms in which a certain naturalism, not always without concern for earthly interests, at one time undertook to bind it,—bears witness to peoples of all colours and cultures not only of the transcendent catholicity of the Kingdom of God, but also, and consequently, of the natural catholicity (whatever may be its historical diversities) of reason and of the principles of natural law and the fundamental virtues of civilization.

In the third place, in the measure that it succeeds in penetrating the civilizations of pre-mediaeval origin with which I am dealing at this moment, it is clear that in aiding them in their proper aspirations and claims, Christianity leads them toward collaborating in a fraternal manner with Western civilization, which despite its errors and set-backs, remains the heir of a Europe engendered by Christianity in the life of civilization.

Regarding the second point I have just mentioned, it seems to me advisable to stress one distinction of the utmost importance:

A while ago I recalled the words of Okakura: ‘Asia is nothing, if it is not spiritual. . .’ Well, the word spirit may be understood in two different senses: in a psychological and cultural sense, and in the supernatural sense of the ‘pneuma’.

In the first sense it has to do with the higher natural activities of the human being, the natural man of which St. Paul speaks (without forgetting that these activities,—as I recalled in the beginning in dealing with the natural virtues,—can be elevated by grace in their own order). It is in this sense that each civilization is characterized before everything else by an irreducible and typical spirit. And if the Orient boasts a civilization more spiritual than that of the Occident, this has to do with the spirituality which remains psychological (even though the pneuma is not absent). And this means that in the Orient the things of natural spirituality have been pushed to a higher extreme of refinement and elevation, whereas by a curious phenomenon of differentiation, the Christian Occident, relying in a certain sense on the Church for the care of supernatural spirituality, has taken less care of the spirit in the order of nature and of civilization itself.

In the second sense of the word (in the proper and supernatural sense of ‘pneuma’), the word ‘spirit’ refers to the infused gifts of the spiritual man, and in this sense there is but one spirituality of grace, which is spread by the Spirit of God upon all the members, visible and invisible, of the mystical Body of Christ, and which appears particularly manifested in the saints of the Church.

And I say that this Spirit of the Church does not destroy the characteristic spirit of the different civilizations, neither does it remain separate from them. But because of its really divine transcendence, it can penetrate and elevate, and in so far transfigure, but not destroy, the earthly spirits with which it deals. I would mention here the example of Father Lebbe, that missionary born in Belgium, who became a great Chinese man of letters and has now become a Chinese citizen, founder of two Chinese religious orders. It is Father Lebbe’s greatness and his stroke of genius, in that ancient China whose culture and life he has made his own, to have understood the power of divine assimilation of the Spirit of the Church, regarding the spirit itself of Far-Eastern civilizations. And Father Lebbe is not the only one who has understood this. The prominent Chinese bishop, Yu-Pin (who was once in the United States) has told me that China, after having experimented with various extremist ideas imported from abroad, found itself actually led, by its own characteristic feeling for the ‘golden mean’, to a reversal toward its own spirit. And it was beginning definitely to understand that this spirit of its own traditional civilization could be saved only by the universal spirit of Christianity. It was just at the moment it was beginning to understand these things that a brutal military aggression, committed in the name of order (as is so much of the highway robbery which dishonours the world of to-day), tried to destroy China’s attempt at a national revival. But it is not easy to stop a movement like this one, or to crush a people like the Chinese.

In short, the spirit of the civilizations of the Far East can come to renew and revive itself in accordance with the fleshly law of the animalis homo left to his own devices,—I mean to say, by a political imperialism aggravating the most dangerous ethnical particularism; but it can also, on the other hand, renew itself according to the law of grace of the spiritualis homo, and by an ascension into the religious world of the Incarnation, by which this spirit of Far-Eastern civilization, while remaining truly itself, will be purified and rendered more capable of universal communion.

And this is, indeed, the wonderful and terrible alternative which faces the world, in the West as in the East. Either civilizations,—in the grasp of inexorable internal oppositions,—will seek to rise up and to defend themselves without penitence of heart, according to the energies of this world and its prince, and in keeping with the law of darkness and sin which is that of politics separated from the gifts of Him who enlightens every man who comes into the world; then the temporal community, or race, or nation, or State, or Liberty itself, will become a devouring idol for man (in fact, they are that already). Or else in allowing themselves to be penetrated by the holy forces of the Kingdom of God, civilizations will be transformed, and will receive into the core of the social and temporal order itself, the life-giving influx which comes down from Uncreated Love and which is promised to men of good will. And thus,—but after what settling of accounts,—they would finally enter into the fullness of their age and would aim at an heroic ideal of brotherly love and an understanding of the dignity of the human person, which may most appropriately be called, it seems to me, the ideal of an integral humanism.

3. Western Civilization

Let us now consider Western civilization itself. It is dominated, no matter what it may do, and even when it denies it, by Christianity. From the point of view of the part taken by Christians in the activities of civilization, I think one remark may explain in part the lack of attention to pontifical directions upon which I commented a few moments ago. For the Catholic, especially in countries of age-old Catholic culture like France or Ireland, the atmosphere of Christian civilization, in parish and countryside, has so long been definitely established, it is so natural and beyond discussion, that it would seem almost an indiscretion or lack of tact to be especially concerned by it. May I be permitted to recall the words of Bishop Freppel: ‘A quoi bon se faire de la bile pour le Saint-Esprit? Why on earth worry about the Holy Ghost?’ A monk prays in the perfect manner, said the Desert Fathers, when he does not even know that he is praying. Christianity penetrated so deeply into the natural structures of culture that there was no need to know that they were Christian nor had to take particular care that they be so. Let each man do his work where he is placed, without concerning himself about the rest, and all will go well. There was much of human virtue and dignity in such an attitude, but it also led to routine and negligence. In our civilizations of mediaeval origin, Catholics too long considered that it was enough for them, in so far as social matters were concerned, to rest upon the structures of existing civilization (precisely because they were of Christian origin), without undertaking in this order any personal action of a properly social nature. We are now paying for this optimism, which,—especially after the victory of the liberal and capitalist economy,—too often led to egoism and sins of omission.

We have a great deal of lost ground to recover, in the midst of the crisis which Western civilization is now undergoing, in order to enter again into the role which Christian activity should play in the movement of temporal history and the social, political, and cultural transformation of the world. And yet it is on this condition alone that Christianity can expedite or animate revivals and changes which concern not only Western civilization itself, but all other civilizations, as well, in their action upon one another.

It is proper to recall here that, even if it remains dominated by Christianity, Western civilization has nevertheless suffered, in the very order of the ‘Christian’ cultural forms on which it depends, certain terrible crises, of which the present catastrophes are but the logical and inevitable consequence. The first crisis was that of Lutheran immanentism; the second, that of Cartesian rationalism; the third, that of the optimism and individualism which sprang from Jean-Jacques Rousseau.[Cf. our work, Three Reformers, Paris, 1925.] From these three great shocks (each, from the cultural point of view, a process both of growth and alteration in a Christian civilization, and, from the religious viewpoint, both a Christian phenomenon and one of the disintegration of Christianity), have resulted, on one hand, more and more intense and widespread impulses and movements of separatism; on the other hand, and at each step, efforts in the opposite direction of conservation and restoration, less charged with dynamism, but drawing their strength from the instinct of vital cohesion and recovery on the part of the cultural and religious forces that remain.

In fact, if we seek what constitutes in the modern age the spiritual entelechy of Western civilization, we will find, in the first place, Catholicism whose proper form is a transcendent one, that of the Church or the Kingdom of God. But its projections into the temporal sphere are mixed inevitably in this domain—the domain of the world—with forces and interests, more or less pure, of a sociological and natural order, and have moreover suffered for three centuries now the violent and constant action of adverse forces. These temporal projections of Catholicism have thus seen the structures of the Western world progressively escape, in large areas, from their radius of influence.

We find, in the second place, Protestantism of the Puritan and Anglo-Saxon type, the form of which was originally co-extensive with the British Empire and its zones of influence or spiritual affiliation, and whose force has long been powerful, but now seems to have lost its mastery over human morals in vast sections of these parts of the world.

Finally, in the third place, we find democracy of the rationalist, Rousseauistic, French type, which represents a lower form, entirely secular and non-religious, of Christian energies, but remains inconceivable without these energies as its source and origin; its emotional and rational force also seems now to have lost mastery over a vast section of civilization long animated by it.

After many changes, the revolutionary dynamism of the forces which first produced the three great ruptures just referred to, has passed principally either into the totalitarian-communist movement which has succeeded in taking over as its laboratory a large part of the ancient Christian-Orthodox civilization and which wishes to win the world; or else into the totalitarian-Germano-racist movement which wishes to bring into subjection the ancient Western civilization and the entire world. It seems to me quite remarkable that the two great ruptures in civilization which we see today appear to have taken their direction from the religious ruptures which occurred in earlier times, and which separated from the Catholic community, first the orthodox Oriental world, and then the Protestant Germanic world.

4. Attempts at New Civilizations

I thus arrive at the third group of civilizations of which I spoke at the beginning. I did not say that they existed, but that they claimed or aspired to exist.

As every process of ‘generation’ implies a ‘corruption’, the engendering of new forms, laying claim to be the civilizations of to-morrow, implies the disintegration of civilizations of mediaeval origin. In fact, these new forms are attached to principles which, either in virtue of a philosophy of the world and of man, or in virtue simply of the totalitarian idea, are decidedly opposed to every expansion of Christianity in the temporal, social and political domain.

I have no intention of making here a comparative examination of the various sorts of politico-social totalitarianism which confront one another to-day. It is well, however, to note that the word ‘totalitarian’ should be understood analogically, and that it designates very different things. Used in connection with Italian Fascism it refers to the political totalitarianism of the State; used in connection with German National-Socialism, it refers to the biological and pantheistic totalitarianism of the ‘community of the people’; used in connection with Russian Communism, it refers to a totalitarianism with a different basis—dialectical and universalist—which, while making the absolute rejection of all transcendence the condition for the liberation of man, leads to a sort of monism of collective human labour. I note only that, considered in its abstract nature, the totalitarian principle, as such, lays claim to the entire human person,—at least, in temporal and cultural values, but they count these values as supreme,—for the social earthly community or for the State, and demands for that community the Messianic love which is due to the Kingdom of God alone.

Our common culture, common to Europe and America, is thus undergoing a process of fundamental rupture. I do not say that this rupture has taken place, I say that it is in danger of taking place. The traditional Western culture,—with its original basis of Christianity and with the transformations and secularizations it has suffered, for instance, from the Aufklärung and the French Revolution, and with all the other alterations we might mention,—now finds itself, precisely because it has been altered, facing fundamentally different forms which seek,—as I have just noticed,—to offer themselves as rising substantially new civilizations.

The form of civilization which is being worked out in Communist Russia firmly intends to become a fundamentally new culture. In their work on Soviet communism, the Webbs throw this point into particularly strong relief. There is here a potentially new civilization of which atheism will be one of the fundamental values.

So far as Italian Fascism is concerned, I do not believe it can be said that it represents,—although it claims this,—a form of civilization that is fundamentally new. It imposes upon Western civilization a tension which places this civilization in jeopardy, but it is supported by little else than the old politics of Machiavelli and the classic idea of the Roman Empire. But it seems almost inevitable that it will come under the sway of one or the other of its great totalitarian rivals,—of the atheistic totalitarian idea or the racial totalitarian idea. For the moment, it seems to be especially subject to the latter.

And this latter totalitarianism,—the racial and National-Socialist totalitarianism,—tends in my opinion to introduce a form of civilization which is fundamentally new, whose religious co-efficient is just as incompatible as atheism is with the Western civilization of the present. The consummation of the rupture of our civilization will be effected by the triumph of this totalitarian idea as much as by the triumph of communism. I have observed, in the first chapter of this book, that the religious significance of racism is a demonic paratheism, as destructive and blasphemous as atheism, and perhaps more enticing, perfidious and perverse. Racism’s spiritual attitude is entirely opposed to the fundamental elements of traditional Western civilization. It sees in blood and in race the necessary vehicles of spirit and of culture; it seeks to nationalize science itself; according to the blood from which it comes, thought will have an essentially different character. The natural universality of reason is a value which is directly denied and attacked by National-Socialism. It is the common denominator of Western civilization which is here in danger.

Thus, considered from the viewpoint of their spiritual principles, the Russo-communist movement and the Germano-racist movement rigorously exclude Christianity as an animating force,—in any degree whatsoever,—from the ethic of the temporal community, from civilization, from law, and from political and social structures. The penetration by Christianity and the Gospel truths into the heart of the social and cultural life, which we recognized at the beginning of this chapter as indispensable to the human fulfilment and perfection of all civilization, is rendered impossible by the two powerful movements of which I am speaking. One of the characteristics of these movements is that with them,—in so far at least as the spirit from which they proceed is effectively realized,—one crosses, in what concerns any Christian form of civilization, the threshold which separates progressive ‘alteration’ from pure and simple rejection of the form.

If all that remains of Christian culture,—though surviving in only a diminished form, but still retaining in some degree that sense of human dignity which Christianity has brought into the world,—does not reassemble its forces; if the ancient Christian vitality of Western civilization does not rise again with vigour and purity under the effect of a renewal of the social-temporal conceptions vivified by the Gospel’s spirit, one cannot see how Western civilization can resist the germs of death which are working within it. (It may be that it will pass through a kind of death in order to rise again.)

When we consider the frightful panorama of the nations, we feel obliged to make clear that spirit is humiliated to-day in an extraordinarily profound manner.

It is, indeed, true that spirit is punished for its own faults and oversights. What forces to-day are taking revenge on spirituality? The animal and elementary forces of vitality which chastise spirit for having too long failed in its own duties and in human realities. There is no other recourse for spirit but to descend, with the awareness of love, into the very depths of those elementary realities themselves. In this way a new Christendom may spring up. Never shall we renounce the hope of a new Christendom, a new temporal order inspired by Christianity. For the future advent of such a temporal order, two conditions appear forthwith so important as to need noticing.

The first condition concerns what should be called the reintegration of the masses. If it is true that the spiritual reintegration of the masses into Christianity is a primordial requirement for the healing of civilization, then it is clear that love rather than threats of violence must be extended to the masses. In order that the people may exist with Christ, Christians must exist with the people.

With the temporal reintegration of the masses into the political or national commonwealth, the concept of striving to make happy slaves is but an illusory solution. Although this temporal reintegration is difficult and slow, it is only to be really obtained, that is to say humanly obtained, by remoulding social structures according to justice and human dignity, and with the free co-operation of the labouring classes, in order to go beyond the capitalist system and the social cult of material goods and material power.

The second condition for a new Christian temporal order concerns the question of means. If it is true that means must correspond to ends, then it is clear that to prepare a social order consonant with human dignity, no means unworthy of man can be used. Many times I have spoken of the purification of the means. Aldous Huxley has also denounced the folly of attempting to achieve good ends by bad means. Will Christians finally resolve to understand the proper law of Christian action? Or are they ashamed to be called children of light? The question is not one of condemning or rejecting the means of force and physical restraint, if justly employed; it is rather a question of recognizing the primary importance of those means founded on moral or inner energy, on spiritual firmness, on personal courage, risk, and suffering. It seems very remarkable that in the great dictatorships with all their power, a single man who can say ‘I do not agree’ appears as an intolerable and extremely dangerous enemy. Why, if there is not in Conscience, Honour, Truth, Patience and Love, a certain hidden strength that the totalitarian idols fear? We are stupid not to dare to improve the terrific resources of this hidden strength.

Finally, the question for what remains of Western civilization is one of becoming very conscious of its own principles, and of having very great confidence in its own means. If one does not dare to be, how can one act and resist?

I should like to conclude by saying that Christianity now faces an absolutely vital problem of spiritual universality, evoking in a way the problem which, on a superior and transcendent plane, Christianity solved in the time of St. Paul, in its escape from the claims of Judaeo-Christian particularism. It also faces the problem which, upon the plane of temporal civilization, it solved at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire. Practically, this problem is solved only by an effusion of sanctity. It exacts an heroic detachment testifying to the primacy of the spirit. Above all must be affirmed the independence of the religion of Christ in regard to the regimes of earthly civilization and to the charge of established injustice which often encumbers these regimes; and also its absolute refusal in regard to the forms of idolatry which spring from Race, Class, or the Nation or State, when they are elevated into absolutes.

But it is not for an idealistic or angelic isolation that this detachment must be produced. The Sovereign Law of the Incarnation continues its influence here. While detaching the things of God’s Kingdom from historical formations tending to bring into subjection that life which is freedom itself, that law of the Incarnation remains the law of superabundance and fruitfulness,—the gift of self proper to love. And, consequently, the forces of Christianity must be involved again and anew in the flesh of humanity, to give birth, in the order of earthly civilization, to formations which are new and more pure.

Because Christian liberty is a pledged liberty, one which bears and transports the heavy mountains of history; because, and this is the very mystery of the Christian life, to the extent that this liberty becomes involved most deeply in history and the world, to that extent does it remain free; and bears witness to the fact that it arises neither from history nor from the world, but from the Living God.

Democracy and Authority by Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain

1. Preliminaries

I know not whether the question to be examined in this chapter presents itself to American opinion in the same way as it does to French opinion. On one hand, the crisis of political ideas is, as is well known, extremely acute in Europe, where democracies have to face both their own internal difficulties and the obstinate opposition of totalitarian propagandas; the latter imagine they offer a better principle without being aware that they are themselves but the fruit of the most morbid elements which afflict modern democracies. On the other hand, the very word of democracy covers, in the historical concrete, extremely different realities.

In Europe, the Helvetic democracy represents a very genuine democratic type, whose sources go as far back as the Christian middle ages. British Democracy rather appears—so it seems to me—as a singular combination of an aristocracy, whose hierarchies satisfy the people’s pride and whose activity serves it, and of a plutocracy, whose appetites have coincided for a long time with the national interest. A vivid sense of personal freedom and of the importance of public opinion are linked in that country with an immense and admirable heritage of antique forms and structures, whose preservation is assured by a sort of plant-like perseverance. French Democracy conceptualizes and disguises in the consecrated formulas of an ideology, which corresponds above all to a ritual satisfaction of the mind, psychological and moral realities which have little relation to these formulas: I mean a deeply rooted sense, linked with the peasant’s and artisan’s life, of the freedom to judge, to criticize, to work according to all the resources of personal ingenuity, and to economize in the same way; virtues of civilization, embodied in the very depths of popular life, which constitute a source, perhaps inexhaustible, of human energy, and which accommodate themselves quite well—maybe too well—with age-old negligences and most apparent disorders; an obstinate opposition against any eventual return to domination of social classes privileged in the past,—an opposition inscribed in the very fibres of collective memory,—which may become implacable, if it feels itself threatened, and whose natural political expression in such a case is Jacobinism. All these traits are combined, on one hand, with the cultural legacy of the oldest and most active Christian civilization and with the political heritage of the French monarchy and centralized State; and, on the other hand, with the internal logic of the democratic principle, taken in the very special and morbid form which we have inherited chiefly from Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

In the Democracy of the United States, I believe that the ideology of the eighteenth century and of Rousseau also plays a certain role, but much less than in France; yet the mental disposition to dislike any human hierarchy can be connected with this ideology. But, I think, it is the ideology of Locke rather than Rousseau which has predominated in the American case. Moreover, in America democracy is based on human realities, wherein the sense of individual freedom, of initiative, of trust in the chance of every man, are fundamental. To this profound democratic sense,—nourished by the heroic memories of an epic which taught the world how peace can be established on a Continent,—corresponds a political constitution, usually recognized as an excellent type of Constitution. Its structure owes little to Rousseau, if I am to believe some Dominican friends of mine that this Constitution has rather some relation to ideas which presided in the Middle Ages at the constitution of St. Dominic’s Order. When America criticizes herself, I suspect that she has to deal much less with the political structure of her democracy than with the practices of politicians, or with the social and spiritual evils inflicted either by modern capitalism or by the philosophical and religious disorder of our age.

I have begun with these preliminary remarks in order to notify the reader that my exposition will inevitably be set in the perspective of those historical debates with which I am most familiar: debates and conflicts of the old continent. Nevertheless, I shall not concern myself, even in these perspectives, with particular realizations, full of contingent circumstances. My point of view is rather a philosophical one, and I shall try, therefore, to disengage certain pure forms of the democratic principle, beginning with those I consider false, and ending with one I believe true. One could say of this true form of democracy what Lord Acton said once of the Whigs: ‘that not the devil, but St. Thomas Aquinas was the first Whig.’ Indeed, there is a delusive form of the democratic principle—that of Rousseau; and a true one—that based on the principles of St. Thomas.

I will not speak of democracy in general, but of the special problems concerning the relation between democracy and authority, and I will discuss authority in democracy from the point of view of political functions (the government of men). As to the question of authority and democracy from the point of view of economic functions (the administration of things), it would lead us to considerations of quite a different order, which concern rather the philosophy of labour and the problem of servitude. These I shall not consider in this essay.

I will thus examine, from the point of view of philosophical principles considered in themselves, a subject which awakens so many passions: democracy and authority. Need I excuse myself? There is no question that it is philosophy which this subject needs the most, but the philosophy of this subject is far from easy.

Let us posit, first, two definitions. I shall mean by ‘authority’ the right to direct and to command, to be listened to or obeyed by others. And I shall mean by ‘power’ the force, which one can use, and with the aid of which one can oblige others to listen or to obey. The righteous man, deprived of all power and condemned to hemlock, does not diminish—he increases—in moral authority. The gangster or the tyrant exercises power without authority. There are institutions,—the Senate of Ancient Rome, the Supreme Court of the United States,—whose authority is the more manifest because these institutions do not exercise determined functions in the field of power.

This distinction between auctoritas and potestas—authority and power—must not be exaggerated into the sort of systematic separation urged by certain German writers who, for instance, grant the Church an auctoritas in temporal things, when they involve values of eternal life, but refuse it a corresponding potestas. All authority, in so far as it concerns social life, demands to be completed (under some mode or other, which need not be juridical) by power, without which it threatens to become useless and inefficacious among men. All power which is not the expression of authority is iniquitous. Practically, it is normal that the word authority should imply power, and that the word power should imply authority. In so far as it has power, authority descends into the physical order; in so far as it has authority, power is raised to the moral and legal order. To separate power and authority is to separate force and justice.

Nevertheless, what is of absolutely primary importance is authority. To ‘gain power’ is important for him who wants to act on the community. To possess or acquire authority,—the right to be followed by the minds and by the wills of other men (and consequently the right to exercise power),—is more important still.

2. Masked and Open Anarchic Democracy

(Democracy of the Individual)

Let us consider first the peculiar form which Rousseau gave to the democratic principle. Democracy, conceived in the manner of Rousseau, suppresses authority and preserves power. It is this type of Democracy which for almost two centuries now has prevailed in the ideology of Western peoples. One may call it liberal or bourgeois democracy, or masked anarchic democracy. Its root proper is in the following principle: since each individual, as Rousseau tells us, is ‘born free’ (it is clear that each individual is born endowed with free will, but it is evidently not the latter which interests Rousseau; he is equivocal as to the word ‘free,’ and means a certain condition of existence, a freedom of independence),—since every individual is born free, his dignity demands that he should obey only himself. Naturally, as everything immediately gets out of order, and as one must live all the same, and as, moreover, the bourgeois class needs order so that it may prosper in business, the dialectic of this democracy leads to the formula of the Social Contract: ‘to find a form of association . . . through which every man, united with all others, should nevertheless obey only himself and remain as free as before.’ This formula inevitably leads to the myth of the General Will, in which the will of each is mystically annihilated in order to arise transfigured; to the myth of Law as the expression of Number, and not of reason and justice; to the myth of authority considered, not only as coming from the multitude, but as the proper and inalienable attribute of the multitude; and, finally, this formula leads to totalitarian dictatorship.

To declare that authority resides in the whole multitude as in its proper subject and without being able to emerge from it and to exist in such or such responsible men,—this is a trick permitting irresponsible mechanisms to exercise power over men, without having authority over them. Thus, power (the power of the State) masks anarchy. But, as in every case where nature is violated, such power tends to become infinite. Concentrating all their attention on the question of the origin of power, and reassured by the idea that in the democratic regime the power of the State emanates from the people, democracies of the Rousseauist type not only grant the State all the usurpations of power, but they tend toward these very usurpations. Proudhon admirably described and predicted this process. [Principe fédératif, pp. 96-97.] Moreover, the mass as such is by hypothesis the subject proper of sovereignty and yet lacks political discernment, except in quite simple and fundamental matters where human instinct is surer than reason. This results in an original equivocation, because those delegated by the multitude will actually direct it, but only as if the multitude were directing itself. Above all, the exercise of sovereignty under such conditions will require myths. Now, to dispense myths and collective images, can anything be more useful than a dictatorship—a dictatorship where the entire sovereign multitude is reabsorbed in the unique person of a half-god, sprung forth from this multitude? Thus, through an inevitable dialectic, and so long as a new fundamental principle has not been found, democracies of the bourgeois liberal type tend to engender their contrary, the totalitarian State.

The ruin of authority and of the principle of authority—to the benefit of power without authority, without the foundations of justice and law and without the limit—is consummated in the totalitarian State. A great number of our contemporaries complain with reason of the crisis of authority. Let them not be deceived by the outward appearances of a tyrannical order: this crisis is at its maximum limit, or rather it ends in complete dissolution, in the regimes of violence which call themselves ‘authoritarian democracies’. Ask the Austrians of 1938; ask the countless men, despoiled, downtrodden, thrown into concentration camps, condemned to abject humiliations, to slow death, to despair,—ask them what they think of the ‘community of the people’, and of a Power which carries to an absolute extreme its contempt for the human person? Such totalitarianism is the ultimate fruit of masked anarchic democracy.

The common conscience of the Party, being itself identified with the State, or with the Nation, or with the proletarian Jerusalem, and with their biological destiny, becomes the supreme rule of good and evil, of truth and error. Thus, from transmutation to transmutation, the Rousseauist principle ends, by way of an almost continuous series, in communist sociolatry or, through a reactive backward movement, in totalitarian statolatry. It has, as its ultimate term, the complete disintegration of authority as a moral principle, to the benefit of the absolute of power as a constraining force. To the extent that anarchy devours the substance of authority, the mask of power becomes the only reality. These considerations explain why, in the European democracies, the process of abolition of the sense of authority, of the civic sense, however advanced it may be elsewhere, reaches its maximum in those circles of opinion and of the press which are in sympathy with totalitarian ideology—fascist or communist—and aspire to a dictatorship of violence. The American people have perhaps the opportunity of observing similar phenomena.

Here we face many paradoxes: dictatorial anti-democratism is both the fruit and the destruction of masked anarchic democracy. The hypocrisy which satisfied the old theoreticians of absolutism (to manage things in such a way that force should appear just), is thus replaced by an open contempt for justice and real authority, and by a pure exaltation of force and of power, without any authority other than itself. And the democratic state of mind which, by virtue of its most genuinely human sources (I do not here mean Rousseauism, I mean far deeper sources) aspires to place the whole of social and political life under the authority of justice and law, and which is linked to the respect and the love of the human person,—the democratic state of mind seems to end and to dissolve in a perfect practical negation of justice and law, and of human dignity.

At the source of this paradox, there is no doubt a latent contradiction. Is it the tendency expressed in the middle of the nineteenth century by the French socialist Proudhon, is it democracy of the Proudhonian type which will solve this contradiction? I am thinking here of a democracy which, while suppressing authority, would at the same time also suppress power and which one might call openly anarchic: all power and all authority exercised by man over man, and by the community over its parts, being considered contrary to justice. I think that this type of democracy, by virtue of its Utopian background, played and still plays a major role in the socialist forms of the labour movement, even those most remote from Proudhon. It is summed up in the famous formula: ‘to substitute the administration of things for the government of men.’ Its root proper is, to repeat the words of a French contemporary philosopher, M. Gurvitch, the idea of ‘a non-hierarchic totality.’ Engels, so much opposed to Proudhon in other questions, here seems to agree with him, for he says that ‘the State will disappear at the same time as the classes. A society which reorganizes production on the basis of the free association of all producers on a footing of equality, will relegate the governmental machinery to the place where it belongs—the museum of antiquities, together with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe.’

However useful may be many of Proudhon’s intuitions and critiques, this idea of open anarchic democracy, which I am here considering alone, must be regarded as a capital error. A totality without hierarchy,—a whole without subordination of the parts to the whole,—such a supernatural marvel can only be found in the Divine Trinity, in Uncreated Society, where the Persons are precisely not parts.

The necessity of authority in the political community, as the necessity of the State itself, is inscribed in the very nature of things. The political community having, in so far as it is a whole, its own reality, its own unity, and its own life, is by this very fact superior to its parts as such, and demands a hierarchic distribution of its organs; hence, furthermore, it demands that certain of its parts should have as their proper work those functions which concern the unity of the whole and the direction of the common work and common life, and that they should consequently possess an authority over the others. Moreover, since the common work and the common good of the multitude must be procured in a world of contingency and singularity, which is the world of existence and of history, the agreement of minds cannot there be simply achieved by virtue of objective causality (as in speculative matters, considering mathematical essences). It demands a practical direction proceeding from minds invested with a judgment and a command of operations. Even if all individuals possessed perfect reason and perfect rectitude of will, the unified conduct of social affairs would still require a political authority and a hierarchy. That is why St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that even in the state of Adamic integrity political authority would have had to exist in order to direct free men towards the good of the social community. The leader himself exists as such only for this good, and finally, is the latter’s victim as well as its ordinator.

3. Organic Democracy

(Democracy of the Person)

The misfortune of democracy of the anarchic type (masked or openly anarchic) is that it has sought, without being always aware of it, a genuine good (the freedom of expansion of the real and open person), but has sought it under the form of an error: the deification of the fictitious individual, shut up in himself. The contradiction from which such democracy is dying has been precisely the fact that it was anarchic, that in principle it refused men the right to be obeyed by other men, while at the same time seeking political regulation, which in reality can exist only through an organization and, therefore, a hierarchy of freedoms. Now, such regulation entails ordination, the sort of commands which are issued to free men (that is to say, to men masters of their own life), and issued for the sake of a good common aim, the achievement of the work of the ‘whole of persons,’ of which these free men are parts.

More profoundly speaking, the internal contradiction of the delusive democracies, which I described, is to want to build up a work of justice and of law, of respect for the human person, and of civic friendship; and, at the same time, to refuse in this work all traces of transcendence of the supreme foundation of justice and personality; in short, to wish to be surpassingly human, and also practically atheistic.

It would be unworthy of man to renounce aspiring to a regime surpassingly human; what he should renounce is atheism. In brief, there is a democracy other than the democracy conceived according to Rousseau or to Proudhon. It is, to my mind, the true substance on which the Rousseauist and Proudhonian ideologies have lived as parasites. It is towards this other democracy, the Democracy of the Person, that the ascending movement of history tends, and for the sake of which so many brave men have given their lives. It would be a disastrous folly to reject this other democracy—communal and personalist—in a blind reaction against the errors of the nineteenth century, and because of the confusion with anarchic-individualist democracy.

This organic democracy does not suppress, even in principle, either authority or power. It wishes both to come from the people and to be exercised in its name. At its root we find the idea that man is not ‘born free’ (independent), but must conquer freedom, and that in the State—a hierarchic totality of persons—men must be governed as persons, not as things; and toward a common good truly human, which flows back to the persons, and whose chief value is the latter’s freedom of expansion. Naturally, democracy thus understood is a concrete historic ideal, which still needs many centuries of human education before it will take on all its dimensions in history. But this tendency is precisely in line with a rational nature’s aspirations towards its perfect accomplishment.

As I have pointed out in the preceding chapter, I consider such a democracy inconceivable without the super-elevation which nature and temporal civilizations receive, in their proper order, from the energies of the Christian leaven. Does not M. Bergson tell us, in a formula which has been quoted above, and which should be correctly interpreted, that democracy is ‘evangelic in its essence’?

Joseph de Maistre wrote on the other hand: ‘Man, in general, if reduced to himself, is too wicked to be free. . . . The world, until the time of Christianity, has always been full of slaves, and the sages never condemned this institution . . . Government alone cannot govern . . . It needs either slavery which reduces the number of acting wills in the State, or divine force which, through a kind of spiritual graft, destroys the natural harshness of these wills and permits them to act in common without hurting each other.’ Thus, the tendency towards atheism, inherent in democracy of the anarchic type, appears as one of the absurdities through which the latter destroys itself; while, in the political order, as I have observed, its internal dialectic carries it, by virtue of this very same absurdity, towards dictatorship which is its own negation.

An organic democracy will not efface from its ideology the notion of authority. It will, on the contrary, make it evident, because it will admit the following double truth of common sense: first, to obey, according to the just measure by virtue of which such a right is exercised in such a case,—to obey him who really has the right to direct action,—is in itself an act of reason and of freedom; and second, to thus obey him, who really fulfils the duty to direct the common work towards the common good (as in a game of football or hockey a player obeys his captain) is to act as a free man,—as a man who is not in the service of another man (nor in the service of a monster, where the State and political power outrun their nature and reduce everything, not to the common good, but to their own good, resulting in the enslavement of men to the State-Idol,—which is essentially anti-political).

But such an organic democracy will also understand that the power of constraint—that power to which nowadays everything is monstrously reduced, and which is extended to the very heart of peoples through the poisoning process of Propaganda, of Pedagogy, and of the lies of the State-Idols—that the power of constraint is not the substance of authority. It is only an attribute, which authority needs to complete itself in order to be efficacious among men, especially as regards children, or the vicious and obstinate. Organic democracy will understand, moreover, that if the vicious and obstinate are numerous, thus requiring the enforcement of sanctions which are good only if they are vigorous, nevertheless the essential office of the law (receiving its authority from justice and not from Number, and being nothing if it is unjust), is an office of pedagogy of freedom, tending to render the constraints of law superfluous. Lastly, that which organic democracy will wish to efface from existence by its very root, is power without authority. This is precisely what must be suppressed, and cannot be suppressed by a mere declaration of principles, for it is continuously reborn. Legal formulas do not suffice. An appeal to the initiative of the State aggravates the evil. The only efficacious means is the enlargement of rights and of the power of action of persons, and spontaneous groups of persons, and the state of tension thus developed.

Thus the whole question turns on the justice immanent in authority. The principle of an organic democracy does not pretend to suppress authority. It demands that authority should be just, which means an authentic authority. It demands this, not as a simple moral wish to whose inefficiency one is resigned, but as something which must be brought into existence and be continually conquered (and it is really this, which every confirmed ‘anti-democrat’ regards as ‘the surest way to miss everything’). Organic democracy holds that an unjust law lacks foundation in authority and hence does not oblige man in conscience. If, in certain cases, conscience requires one to obey an unjust law (it being supposed, of course, that this law does not prescribe the performance of an act morally bad), it is for a different reason, an extrinsic reason depending on a higher justice, that conscience makes this demand. The reason is that, in such a case, to disobey the law would bring upon the human community an even greater evil. So that, finally, whether the law be just or unjust, free men obey it only because it is just to obey, just by a justice intrinsic to the law or just—in certain cases—by an extrinsic and, in a way, accidental justice.

At the origin of the democratic sense, taken in its human truth, there is not the desire to ‘obey only oneself,’ but rather the desire to obey only whatever it is just to obey.

4. The First Origin of Authority

The inevitable philosophical question concerning the first foundation, or the first origin, of authority involves a general conception of man and of the world. How can a morally binding relation, according to which the one commands and the other obeys, be established among individuals of the same species and therefore equal in nature? As long as one considers only the human species and its individuals, the question remains in suspense. One must, as in all ethical questions, consider man in the midst of the cosmos, and the real in its relation to that which gives it rational value. If in the cosmos, a nature, such as human nature, can only be preserved and developed in a state of culture, and if the state of culture necessarily entails a certain condition—the relation of authority among men—this relation is demanded by natural law. I mean here the relation of authority taken as yet undeterminately, and not in the sense that some in particular must command and some in particular must obey; but rather in the general sense that there must be people who command and people who obey, the mode of designation of those who shall command being a different matter to be determined later and according to reason.

It is by virtue of these considerations that all non-materialist conceptions of the world, be they religious or simply philosophic, admit in one way or another that authority among men has its original foundation in the origin of nature itself and in the primordial root of the world’s intelligibility. This idea in the Christian tradition is classically expressed by the Pauline principle that all authority derives from God as from its primordial source.

An organic democracy will not commit the folly of rejecting this idea. It needs it more than any other regime. Even if, invoking in the name of the most elementary natural philosophy, and one least tinged with theology, the rule of respect due in conscience to authority, it would in any case agree regarding this subject with an essential theme of Christian philosophy and theology.

I do not ignore the fact that, whereas the early Christians heroically obeyed this rule concerning their imperial persecutors, there are many to-day who, while invoking the claims of religion, scoff at this very rule when it does not benefit their politics.

And yet, this rule of the respect due in conscience to authority exists, and its value is independent of the opinion of people. It has no theocratic value whatever. It has a twofold meaning: first, hierarchic differentiations within the social totality are required, as I have already observed, by the latter’s very nature; second, men being equal in essence, this exigency of the political totality,—that one should be placed above the other to guide the common work,—can establish a genuine right to be obeyed, only if nature itself is considered, not as a simple collection of phenomena, but as the work and the created participation of a supreme ordinating Law, ‘justified in itself’ because identical with the absolute Good. An integral realism understands that, in the physical order, the action of no being whatever can be exercised except as deriving from the motion of the primordial Agent. In the same way, we grasp in the moral order that no man possesses authority over another, except as this authority derives from the sovereignty of the Cause of being, and,—though also coming from the multitude,—has in God the immediate ground of its moral value. Thus, not only the kings by divine right of ancient Israel, but also the unstable legislators and ministers of our own day,—whose speeches and fleeting pictures are generously conveyed to us by our newspapers,—possess an authority founded in God, demanding an obedience consented to by conscience.

And so, not only is it a moral duty to give external submission to a de facto power, supposed to be tyrannical and deprived of genuine authority, as long as one has not practically ascertained whether insurrection would not result in a greater evil for the community; but regarding legitimate power, actually invested with authority (no matter whether this power is of monarchic or democratic type, whether government is exercised by the prince or by men elected by the people), this moral duty implies the recognition of a right to be obeyed, intrinsically residing, according to the measure and the degree of their attributions, in the persons of those who govern.

Such are, in the perspectives of Christian realism, the philosophical reasons of the practical rule, which an organic democracy ought to assert vigorously, and to assert even more than any other regime, because its rulers are regularly renewed and hold their authority only from the designation of the people. But, on the other hand, such a democracy not only recognizes what is true for all regimes, whatever they are, namely, that by reason of the consensus, which lies at the origin of the fundamental rule or constitution of the political community, the authority which derives from the principle of being, as from its transcendent source, also derives from the people as passing through it in order to reside in its legitimate holders; it not only recognizes that the prince governs as representing in his person the entire people, ut vices gerens multitudinis[St. Thomas Aquinas, Sum. theol., I-II, 90, 3.]; but it makes of this vicariousness the typical law of its peculiar authoritative structure, in such a way that authority passing through the people rises, degree by degree, from the base to the summit of the hierarchic structure of the community; and so that the exercise of power by men, in whom authority is brought periodically to reside through the designation of the people, attests the constancy of the passage of sovereignty through the multitude. [According to this doctrine, the right to direct and to command, which is authority, is not granted to its holders by the choice of the multitude; it is granted to them by the Source itself of being and of all Nature (cf. Leo XIII, Diuturnum illud; Pius X, Letter upon the ‘Sillon’). But the designation itself of the holders of the authority by the people involves the passage of this right through the people. ‘Political authority is immediately from God, and yet to kings and supreme senates it comes not immediately from God, but from men.’ Suarez, Defensio, lib. III, cap. 2, 5. Cf. Bellarmine, De Laicis, cap. 6. Quoted by Wilfrid Parsons, Which Way, Democracy? 1939, Macmillan.]

Finally, organic democracy excludes the paternalist domination of any social class over the mass of the people, considered as under age, and demands that an essential parity in the common condition of men destined to labour, should form the base of the relations of authority and of the hierarchy of temporal functions, be it political or any other sort of social authority. In this ‘homogenetic’ conception of temporal authority, the holder is as a companion who has the right to command his fellows. ‘All medals have a reverse. Order, necessary to political life, being more difficult to obtain in a community where authority works in one and the same “social race” than in a community where it descends from a superior “social race”, the weight of social life would be in the first case heavier, and the discipline tenser.’ [True Humanism.] This is the ransom of a regime where class divisions would be abolished) in the strict sense which this word should convey, implying a permanent and hereditary condition based on the possession or the lack of transferable goods); where an authentic sense of the dignity of the human person and of the dignity of the people would replace the contempt of the owning classes for the manual labourer, and the hatred of the crowds for all values; and where this sense would permit a spontaneous development of popular elites.

In his famous address delivered in 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared ‘that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth’. Let us observe, in this formula, that the words ‘by the people’ need comment in order to avoid all ambiguities and to prevent Rousseauist interpretations. Taken in their genuinely concrete sense, I do not think that these words mean a government exercised by the people, whose elected representatives would then serve as a pure instrument, but rather a government exercised by the representatives of the people, or by the people in the person of its representatives; a government exercised in the virtue of the people’s mission, in the virtue of the popular designation of authority, which passes authority over to its holders, according to the duration, the measure, and the degree of their attributions. One might think that between these two interpretations of Lincoln’s formula, there is only a nuance. In reality there is a fundamental difference of political philosophy.

5. Aim and Mode of Authority

For the people. The question of the origin and of the subject of authority, on which modern democracies hypnotize themselves, is certainly not the only one. The question of the authority’s finality, and the problem of its mode, are no less important. I will only briefly mention them here.

So far as the finality of authority and of political society are concerned, I shall make the following remarks: it is not for the external power of the people—regarding either other peoples or forces of nature to be subjugated through work and industry (these ends being in no way negligible, but of secondary importance)—that authority must first of all be exercised. Nor is it, according to a very just remark of Etienne Gilson, for a platonist ‘Democracy-in-itself’, conceived as an ideal, or idealistic, or idolatrous form (dissembling in reality the concrete interests of possessing classes), which the people should be destined to serve and for the sake of which it should be obliged to sacrifice itself,—as if democracy were, in the manner of God, the separated (transcendent) common good of mankind. Democracy is only real if it is immanent to the people itself, and ordained to the immanent common good of the people.

As has been explained in the preceding chapter, the common good, which authority aims at, is a common good of human persons, whose chief value is the accession of persons to their freedom of expansion. An organic democracy is a personalist democracy. That which law and authority place before themselves first of all, is the conquerable freedom by which free men are made, that is, men, accomplishing from themselves, and not by fear and constraint, that which belongs to law and justice; and sufficiently provided with bodily and spiritual goods to attain a genuine independence regarding nature. Civic friendship, which is a profane image of brotherly love, is, in the same way, not an original state, granted ready-made; it is something to be conquered ceaselessly and at the price of great difficulties. It is a work of virtue and of sacrifice, and in this sense it is that we behold therein the heroic ideal of such a democracy.

In regard to the mode of authority (or to the form according to which it is exercised), we must observe the following: the means being normally the end itself in the state of becoming, and the end of authority in an organic democracy being chiefly, as we have said, the freedom and the friendship of persons, it is normal that, in order to achieve this aim, the means of authority, however vigorous the latter may be, must be to look after the realization of freedom and friendship, rather than after the fulfilment of discipline of a military type.

On the other hand, and this idea seems to me of central importance, an organic democracy should be a pluralist democracy. And the form, according to which authority should be exercised therein, should be determined by this pluralism. Except for the functions concerning the totality of the community and of its life, and which depend on the State as such, authority would thus be distributed according to the ascending degrees of the different social bodies inferior to the political community, and assembled in the latter, starting from the natural basic community (familial society). The role played by the State being above all in this domain a role of arbitrage, which prevents the animating tension thus created from turning into conflict and disorder.

As wrote M. Yves Simon, a young French philosopher whose works I particularly appreciate, ‘the tendency to restrict the attributions of the State,—disquieting and dangerous, as long as it is accompanied by any sort of hostility regarding the temporal supremacy of the State,—becomes purely and simply salutary, as soon as the just notion of the State and its supremacy is duly re-established. This restrictive tendency then only expresses the fundamental idea of all philosophy of autonomy, to wit, that in a hierarchic whole, every function which can be assumed by the inferior must be exercised by the latter, under pain of damage to the entire whole. For there is more perfection in a whole, all of whose parts are full of life and of initiative, than in a whole whose parts are but instruments conveying the initiative of the superior organs of the community.’[Yves Simon, Notes sur le fédéralisme proudhonien, Esprit, April 1, 1937.] This very pluralist conception demands the simultaneous development of the compensatory authority of the institutions, ‘where the resistance of just freedoms’ is exercised not only against the usurpations of the State, but also against that of inferior social bodies (for the tendency to invade is natural to all social bodies). One of the essential functions of the personal property appears here at the same time.

Finally, the rights of the human person,—from the very base and through the whole system,—must be recognized and guaranteed in such a way that an organic democracy should be by essence the city of the rights of the person. The ‘Rights of Man and of the Citizen’ have been compromised in minds which imagine themselves strong, by the Rousseauism whose traces are to be found in the French declaration of 1798. To deny for this reason the existence of these rights would be as unwise as piously to despise poetry, because certain poets are drunkards. If the human person is without rights, then rights and, consequently, authority exist nowhere. In reality, the primordial rights of the person, in so far as the latter is a member of the State, express the inalienable authority of the image of God. And a just democratic mind demands that to this authority—so constantly ignored and insulted by men—should correspond a certain power on the part of civic organizations.

Now, are you wondering what is the nature of the primordial rights of the human person? I shall quote to you the words of Pope Pius XI: ‘the right to live, to bodily integrity, to the necessary means of existence; the right of man to tend towards his ultimate goal in the path marked out for him by God; the right of association and the right to possess and use property . . .’[‘Man has a spiritual and immortal soul. He is a person, marvellously endowed by his Creator with gifts of body and mind. He is a true ‘microcosm’, as the ancients said, a world in miniature, with a value far surpassing that of the vast inanimate cosmos. God alone is his last end, in this life and the next. By sanctifying grace he is raised to the dignity of a son of God and incorporated into the kingdom of God in the Mystical Body of Christ. In consequence he has been endowed by God with many and varied prerogatives: the right to live, to bodily integrity, to the necessary means of existence; the right to tend toward his ultimate goal in the path marked out for him by God; the right of association and the right to possess and use property . . . God has likewise destined man for civil society according to the dictates of his very nature. In the plan of the Creator, society is a natural means which man can and must use to reach his destined end. Society is for man and not vice versa. This must not be understood in the sense of liberalistic individualism, which subordinates society to the selfish use of the individual; but only in the sense that by means of an organic union with society and by mutual collaboration the attainment of earthly happiness is placed within the reach of all. In a further sense, it is society which affords the opportunities for the development of all the individual and social gifts bestowed on human nature. These gifts have a value surpassing the immediate interests of the moment, for in society they reflect the divine perfection, which would not be true were man to live alone. But on final analysis, even in this latter function, society is made for man, that he may recognize this reflection of God’s perfection, and refer it in praise and adoration to the Creator. Only man, the human person, and not society in any form, is endowed with reason and a morally free will.’ (Encyclical Divini Redemptoris, Secs. 27, 29.)] To which should be added: the right not to be an Aryan or a fair dolichocephalus; not to put on a shirt of brown, black, red, green or the devil’s colour; not to be re-educated in a concentration camp; not to be killed by the air-bombing of the new Western civilizers; the right to dislike and despise every form of totalitarian dictatorship.

Let us observe, finally, that a just pluralism seems to furnish the most normal remedy for the difficulties inherent in all democracies. We know, indeed, that evil and foolishness are more frequent among men than intelligence and virtue. How then is it possible to call them all to political life? Those who will try to discover in this remark a decisive argument against universal suffrage are not aware that in this case it would be still more dangerous to recognize the right of every man to found a family and to exercise an everyday authority over his children. Furthermore, experience shows that in politics (as in all spheres where the affective dispositions and the collective interests play an essential role), persons of education and refinement are no less often mistaken than the ignorant; the errors of the latter are vulgar, those of the former are intellectualized and documented, like the persons themselves. In these matters, if the central virtue of the leaders is political prudence,—which is rare and difficult to acquire,—what matters most in the rest are right instincts. And this confirms, we may point out parenthetically, the view that a general Christian education for the nation, a general development of Christian habits and Christian instincts is, in fact, a condition for the political success of democracy.

The truth is that, in any case, some element of risk is inevitable; at least, it should not be too great. Universal suffrage, as it works at present, has especially a symbolic democratic value. Because it offers the people a recourse against political enslavement; perhaps particularly because of its value as a symbol; and because it attests, according to the specific law of democracy, the right of human persons to political life, and of the multitude to the constitution of the authoritative organism of the city,—it is because of all this that modern peoples are so strongly and so justly attached to it. But, to my mind, universal suffrage will acquire a genuine value, equal to its symbolic one, only if it is itself engaged in a pluralist organization, and completed by the representation of various social bodies: communities of labour, spiritual families, regional institutions, etc. The object saves the subject. Taken as a participant in the humblest common work (I mean a work measured according to the real and implying genuine responsibilities), it is according to what is least bad and most wise in him that man has a chance to express himself. At present, I vote as an abstract atom, geographically situated in this or that electoral district. Suppose that all citizens should be grouped in communities (professional or otherwise), each electing a number of representatives proportional to the number of its members, and suppose that I vote as member of one of these communities. In this second case, my vote has a better chance of being reasonable than in the first one.

To-day in Europe,—if only with the intention of founding a unique Party (in which the defects of partisan spirit are carried to the utmost point),—political parties are often criticized; and the truth is that they deserve these criticisms. Yet, in itself, the existence of parties seems normal in all democratic regimes, in so far at least as a party groups its members precisely on the one basis of a certain political conception. If one recognizes that human persons have the right to possess a political thought and to seek legitimately to make it prevail, one must then recognize their right to constitute parties. However unsatisfactory this may appear, such parties,—on condition that they correspond to their destination and are not reduced to vast coalitions of interests, from which all political thought is absent,—outline moreover a certain political education of men. They at least develop a sort of tradition, and those instincts and reflexes, which reason governs without being able to replace, and which are necessary to the stability of political life. Dr. Salazar sees in the suppression of parties the salvation of the State. I believe that it is important not to suppress parties, but to suppress that which corrupts them and turns them into instruments of corruption of the public good. To achieve this aim, it is necessary to render the State, and government itself of the city, independent of these political parties. I do not think that this result could be attained without a recasting of political structures, and of the notion itself of party, the latter becoming rather a political ‘school’ than a political ‘party’ of the sort which we know actually. Such a reform would replace, by a new representative regime, the parliamentary system of the British type, which has served as a model to our European democracies, and which suited the age of liberalistic individualism. And I think that this transformation,—far from being incompatible with the democratic principle,—would on the contrary assure the normal application of the latter.

I will not attempt to explain here how I imagine this representative system.[However, in order to prevent the suspicion that I have no definite idea of what such a system might be, I will give, as simple indications, the following details:

In an organic democracy, political life would involve, I think, two very distinct orders of functions, concerning, on the one hand, the preparation and the maturing of authoritative decisions (consilium); and, on the other hand, those decisions themselves (judicium ultimum and imperium). And this splitting would again be found in each one of the pyramids rising from below and upwards, according to an order of increasing importance, from the smallest communal organization to the most general and highest structure of the State.

Thus we could conceive, at each level, an assembly invested with the first order of functions (preparation and deliberation), and an ‘executive’ or ‘praesidium’ invested with the second order of functions (decision and execution), composed of men who would not be elected by the given assembly, but proposed by the organ of the superior order, and accepted by the popular vote of the area which would thus be governed. (If somebody thus proposed is not accepted, another will be proposed, until acceptance by the people is reached.)

A similar form would occur for the highest structures of the State. The first order of functions, rising from the base of the pyramid to the summit, would depend on representative assemblies, the first and most direct expression possible of the political thought and the concrete interests of human persons, individually taken, and of various social bodies: their duty would be to prepare the legislative and executive work in close collaboration with the governmental organs and to exercise an office of control and of regulation (for instance, by the vote on the budget, the right to demand in certain determined conditions the revision of a law or the rejection of a man, the right of sovereign decisions in certain cases concerning in a major manner the life of the nation . . .). The second order of functions descending from the summit of the pyramid, would belong to governmental organs free from all preoccupations other than the common good, and for that very reason independent of the representative assemblies. These governmental organs, which would assume the ultimate decision (legislative and executive) would depend upon a supreme organ (where a partition could be conceived between a part assigned especially to command and designated for a shorter time and a part especially assigned to continuity and designated for a longer time), this supreme organ emanating itself from the multitude, but in an indirect way (one could conceive it as being designated and proposed by the representatives of consultative assemblies and by the principal organs of the life of the country, and this designation or proposition being subjected to the sanction of a popular referendum).

The governmental organs would thus be a second—indirect—expression of the political thought and of the concrete interests of human persons and social bodies. Independent of the representative assemblies, they would at the same time be independent of political parties. And these parties, not being able to hope to lay a hand on the State and on the advantages born from such a seizure, would themselves be saved from the principle of corruption which to-day renders them pernicious.] I am no legislator, nor an inventor of constitutions. I will only say, to conclude this chapter, that in European democracies the discussion of these subjects is, in my opinion, impaired in a twofold manner by the neighbouring totalitarianisms: first, because of the invidiously menacing atmosphere which the latter create around them; second, because in democracies themselves, which rightfully detest totalitarianism as the abasement of man and the triumph of death, it suffices to call ‘fascist’ any technical measure of reform of structure, having nothing whatever to do with fascism, to render it odious and impossible. Certainly, the question is serious. If democracies are not able to rediscover and purify their own vital principle, and to apply it vigorously with the free and active co-operation of working classes, they run the risk that certain technical measures, necessary in themselves, which ought to be a road, perhaps arduous, towards a new social order, should in fact be disturbed by the fear which privileged interests are feeling, and become a road towards a kind of germinating ‘fascisation’ from inside.

But I am convinced that if these obstacles, due to historical circumstances, were suppressed, there would still exist in democratic countries sufficient material and moral resources, sufficient possibilities of spiritual reform, to permit democracy to return to organic forms; this process being achieved thanks to very general, very deep, and substantial transformations; and these organic forms of democracy consisting in pluralist and personalist structures fully evolved; where authority would be exercised by popular elites; where parties, rejected from the proper sphere of the government of the State, will serve to assure the political formation of the masses, and where money would be entirely subordinated to man,—not by enslavement of both man and money, to collective Man or to the State, but by the real guarantees that accession of work to property should offer to human persons and their freedom. [As regards the reconstruction of the political philosophy of Democracy, I am happy to be in agreement with John U. Nef’s clarifying essay In Defense of Democracy. It also seems to me that the self-interrogation to which American Democracy is invited by men so different as Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan, Reinhold Niebuhr and Waldo Frank, and some liberals disgusted with liberalism, and some Catholics aware of their social responsibility, shows evidence of the preparation of a new political philosophy of Democracy.]

Human Person and Society by Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain

The subject treated in this chapter is, truly speaking, the fundamental subject of all social and political philosophy. But, at the same time, I must admit that it is an extremely difficult subject, and one which, in the beginning at least, is unavoidably arid.

Whence this aridity? It is due to the fact that it is impossible to discuss such matters without first embarking upon rather abstract philosophical considerations concerning individuality and personality—two notions which are usually confused and whose distinction I consider to be highly important.

After attempting to explain how man is as a whole an individual and also as a whole a person, and how at the same time the focus of individuality is quite different from that of personality, I will consider the applications of this distinction, especially in social matters. Lastly, I shall conclude by saying, that humanism of the individual and democracy of the individual, in which the nineteenth century had placed its hopes, must be replaced to-day—if we want to save civilization—by humanism of the person and by democracy of the person.

1. Individuality and Personality

The person, is it not the I, the ego? Is not my person myself? Let us immediately observe the peculiar contradictions to which this word and this notion of ego give rise.

Pascal tells us that ‘the ego is hateful’. It is a commonplace expression of Pascalian literature. And in the current language, when it is said of someone that he has very ‘personal character,’ this usually means a character shut up in itself, imperious, domineering, barely capable of friendship. A great contemporary artist once said: ‘I don’t like others.’ Such an affirmation reveals a terribly ‘personal’ character. And, considered from this angle, one might think, that personality consists in realizing itself at the expense of others, and that it always implies a certain impermeability, or a certain selfishness, due to the fact that, in a man occupied with himself and with his own affairs, there is no room for anyone or anything else.

On the other hand, it sounds like a bitter reproach to say of someone: ‘He is a man without personality.’ And do not the saints and heroes appear to us as the very highest achievement of personality and at the same time of generosity? Nothing great is accomplished in the world without a heroic fidelity to a truth which a man who says ‘I’ beholds, and to which he bears witness; a fidelity to a mission, which he, a human person, must perform,—of which perhaps he alone is conscious, and to which he sacrifices his life. One need only open the Gospel to see that no personality is more magnificently affirmed than that of Christ. The theologians tell us that it is the personality of the Uncreated Word itself.

And so, as a counterpart to the words of Pascal which I have just quoted, ‘the ego is hateful,’ we must remember the words of St. Thomas: ‘The person is that which is noblest in the whole of nature.’

Pascal says, that ‘the ego is hateful’. But St. Thomas teaches that the man who loves God must also love himself for God’s sake; he must love his soul and his body in a spirit of charity.

To be wrapped in oneself—a state which contemporary psychologists call introversion—can cause much havoc. And, I believe, many people brought up in a spirit of strict puritanism complain of the suffering and a sort of inner paralysis created by self-consciousness. But, on the other hand, the philosophers, and particularly Hegel, tell us that the faculty of becoming conscious of oneself is a privilege of the spirit and that the chief progress of humanity consists perhaps in this growing consciousness of self.

Concerning art, Mr. Lionel de Fonseca, an aesthetician of the East, declares that ‘vulgarity always says I.’ But one might answer that vulgarity says ‘everybody’ also, and that it is the same thing. In quite a different way, poetry also, and always, says ‘I’. Here again, if the selfish ego is hateful, the creative self is that which is noblest and most generous of all.

What do these contradictions mean? They mean that the human being is held between two poles: a material pole, which in reality does not concern authentic personality, but rather the material condition and the shadow, as it were, of personality; and a spiritual pole, which concerns personality itself.

It is this material pole, and the individual becoming the centre of all things, that the words of Pascal aim at. And it is on the contrary with the spiritual pole, and with the person, source of freedom and of goodness, that the words of St. Thomas are concerned.

Herein we face the distinction, which I mentioned at the beginning, between individuality and personality.

There is nothing new in this distinction; it is indeed a classical distinction, belonging to the intellectual heritage of humanity. And the distinction between the ‘ego’ and the ‘self’ in Hindoo philosophy is—with other metaphysical connotations—its equivalent. This distinction is fundamental in the doctrine of St. Thomas. The sociological problems of our days, as well as our spiritual problems, have bestowed upon it a fresh actuality. It is invoked by very different schools, by the Thomists, by certain disciples of Proudhon, by Nicholas Berdyaev and by the so-called ‘existential’ philosophers. Dr. Salazar declares himself attached to it. I remember that a few years ago, when I was in Lisbon with François Mauriac and Georges Duhamel, we were received by the Portuguese ruler. And Duhamel, who is a confirmed ‘individualist’, asked him how could a dictatorship—even of a non-totalitarian type—be combined with the free development of individual beings, which alone makes human life tolerable. ‘Ah’, answered Dr. Salazar, ‘in order to explain this to you, I would have to speak of the distinction between the individual and the person.’ Mauriac fully enjoyed this philosophical answer, addressed by a dictator to a novelist.

Does this distinction find its best application in dictatorship? I greatly doubt it. As for dictators other than Dr. Salazar, who do not possess his culture, I would say that instead of distinguishing personality and individuality, they precisely confuse these two terms. I recollect that one of them, whom a member of the French Academy visited a long time ago, praised that which he believed was saintliness in the following manner. ‘What moral strength’, he exclaimed, ‘what prodigious energy, must develop in a man who, as he gets up each morning, says to himself: act well, and you will be canonized!’ To instal one’s ego on the altar is hardly the ideal of these heroic personalities whom one calls saints.

It is therefore extremely important to distinguish the person from the individual, and it is also extremely important to grasp the exact significance of this distinction.

Let us first speak briefly of individuality. Suffice it to recall that, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the individuality of inanimate and animate things is rooted in matter, so far as matter has uniquely distinct determinations with respect to location in space. The word matter designates here, not a concept used in physics, but in philosophy: that of the materia prima, pure potentiality, able neither to be nor to be thought by itself, and from which all corporeal beings are made. Prime matter or ‘matter absolute’ is a kind of non-being, a simple power of receptivity and of substantial mutability, an avidity for being. And, in every being made of matter, this avidity bears the imprint of a metaphysical energy—‘form’ or ‘soul’—which constitutes with matter a substantial unity, and which determines the latter to be that which it is, and which, by the simple fact that it is ordained to inform matter, is particularized to such and such a being, sharing with other beings, equally immersed in space, the same specific nature.

According to this doctrine, the human soul constitutes, with the matter which it informs, a unique substance, both spiritual and fleshly. It is not as Descartes believed: the soul is not one thing—thought—existing as a complete being; and the body another thing—extension—existing in its own way as a complete being. But soul and matter are two substantial co-principles of one and the same being, of a single and unique reality whose name is man. It is because each soul is made to animate a particular body (which derives its matter from the germinative cells from which it springs with all their load of heredity); it is because each soul has a substantial relation, or rather is a substantial relation with a particular body; it is for these reasons that it has in its very substance individual characteristics which differentiate it from every other human soul. For man, as for all other corporeal beings,—as for the atom, the molecule, the plant, the animal,—individuality has its primary ontological root in matter. Such is the doctrine of St. Thomas concerning individuality. [With spiritual beings, as Angels, it is not the same; their individuality is rooted not in matter (they have no matter) but in their form itself, that is to say their essence (which is pure form); each Angel being his own specific nature and differing from another Angel as the lion differs from man and from the oak. They are individuals, they are not individualized. God is at the summit of individuality, but He is not individualized. In him, individuality and personality are one and the same, as all his perfections. In Angels as in man, the proper root of personality is not the essence itself, but a metaphysical achievement of the essence, thanks to which the essence is sealed in itself, and facing existence as a whole able to possess itself and give itself. In this essay, we consider only the individuality of corporeal beings (inanimate and animate), that is to say, individuality in so far as it involves individualization (individuatio).

{The present chapter was completed when, on my return to France, I read a recent publication of Father Pedro Descoqs (Individu et Personne, Archives de Philosophie, XIV, 2), wherein the distinction between individuality (individualization) and personality is sharply criticized. I have already noted that this distinction is difficult to make; naturally, some people have used it in very bad and inadequate formulas. Is it not sufficient to point out the great amount of nonsense which Father Descoqs gratuitously attributes to the doctrine he criticizes? Having previously written a book in order to show that he does not correctly understand the doctrine of matter and form, he now has no difficulty in showing that he does not correctly understand the doctrine of individuality and personality.}]

I said that matter is an avidity for being, without determination, an avidity which receives its determination from form. One might say that in each of us, individuality, being in one that which excludes from one all that other men are, is the narrowness in being, and the ‘grasping for oneself,’ which, in a body animated by a spirit, derives from matter.

Man, in so far as he is a material individuality, has but a precarious unity, which wishes only to slip back into multiplicity; for matter as such tends to decompose itself. In so far as we are individuals, each of us is a fragment of a species, a part of this universe, a single dot in the immense network of forces and influences, cosmic, ethnic, historic, whose laws we obey. We are subject to the determinism of the physical world. But each man is also a person and, in so far as he is a person, he is not subject to the stars and atoms; for he subsists entirely with the very subsistence of his spiritual soul, and the latter is in him a principle of creative unity, of independence and of freedom.

I have spoken briefly of individuality. Now personality is an even deeper mystery, whose profound significance it is still more difficult to discover. In order to embark upon the philosophical discovery of personality, the best way is to consider the relation between personality and love.

Pascal said: ‘On n’aime jamais personne, mais seulement des qualités. One never loves anybody, one only loves qualities.’ This is a false assertion. It reveals in Pascal himself the traces of that very rationalism which he fought against. Love does not aim at qualities, one does not love qualities. What I love is the deepest reality, the most substantial, hidden, existing reality in the beloved—a metaphysical centre, deeper than all qualities and essences which I can discover and enumerate in the beloved. That is why such enumerations pour endlessly from the lover’s mouth.

Love aims at this centre, without separating it from the qualities,—in fact, merging into one with them. This centre is in some way inexhaustibly a source of existence, of goodness and of action, capable of giving and of giving itself,—and capable of receiving not only this or that gift from another, but another self as gift and giver.

Thus, through considering the very law of love, we are introduced to the metaphysical problem of the person. Love does not aim at qualities, or at natures, or at essences, but at persons.

‘Thou art thyself though,’ says Juliet to Romeo, not a Montague. . . . Romeo, doff thy name; and for that name, which is no part of thee, take all myself.’

In order to be able to give oneself, one must first exist, and not only as the sound which passes in the air, or this idea which crosses my mind, but as a thing which subsists and which by itself exercises existence. And one must not only exist as other things, one must exist in an eminent way, by possessing oneself, by holding oneself in hand and by disposing of oneself; that is, one must exist through a spiritual existence, capable of enveloping itself by intelligence and freedom, and of super-existing in knowledge and free love. That is why the Western metaphysical tradition defines the person by independence: the person is a reality, which, subsisting spiritually, constitutes a universe by itself and an independent whole (relatively independent), in the great whole of the universe and facing the transcendent Whole, which is God. And that is why this philosophical tradition sees in God the sovereign personality, since God’s existence consists itself in a pure and absolute super-existence of intellection and love. The notion of personality does not refer to matter, as does the notion of individuality applied to corporeal things. It refers to the highest and deepest dimensions of being; personality is rooted in the spirit, in so far as the latter stands by itself in existence and super-abounds in it. Metaphysically considered, personality, being in one’s substance a signature or a seal enabling one freely to perfect and freely to give this substance, evidences in each of us that expansiveness of being which, in a corporeal-spiritual being, is linked to the spirit, and which constitutes, in the secret depths of our ontological structure, a source of dynamic unity and of inner unification.

Thus, personality means interiority to oneself. But precisely because it is the spirit which—in a manner unknown to the plant and animal—makes man cross the threshold of independence, properly speaking, and of interiority to oneself, consequently the subjectivity of the person has nothing in common with the unity without doors and windows of the Leibnitzian monad; it demands the communications of intelligence and love. Because of the very fact that I am a person and that I express myself to myself, I seek to communicate with that which is other and with others, in the order of knowledge and love. It is essential to personality to ask for a dialogue, and for a dialogue wherein I really give myself, and wherein I am really received. Is such a dialogue actually possible? That is why personality seems to be linked in man to the experience of suffering even more deeply than to that of creative conflict. The entire person is relative to the absolute, in which alone it can find its fulfilment. Its spiritual fatherland is the whole order of goods having an absolute value, and which serve as an introduction to the absolute Whole, which transcends the world. Finally, the human person not only bears to God the common resemblance born by other creatures; it resembles Him in a proper and peculiar fashion. It is the image of God. For God is spirit, and the person proceeds from Him, having as its principle of life a spiritual soul, a spirit capable of knowing and loving, and of being elevated by grace to participate in the very life of God, so as to finally love Him and know Him even as He knows and loves Himself.

Such are, if I have succeeded in describing them correctly, the two metaphysical aspects of the human being: individuality and personality, each with their own ontological physiognomy. Let us note, that we do not represent two separate things. There is not in me one reality called my individuality and another called my personality. It is the same entire being which, in one sense, is an individual and, in another sense, a person. I am wholly an individual, by reason of what I receive from matter, and I am wholly a person, by reason of what I receive from spirit: just as a painting is in its entirety a physico-chemical complex, by reason of the colouring materials out of which it is made, and a work of beauty, by reason of the painter’s art.

Let us note, moreover, that material individuality is not something bad in itself. No, it is something good, since it is the very condition of our existence. But it is precisely in relation to personality that individuality is good; what is bad, is to let this aspect of our being predominate in our actions. No doubt, each of my acts is an act of myself-the-individual, and an act of myself-the-person. But even as it is free and engages my whole self, each of my acts is drawn either into the movement which tends to the supreme centre toward which personality strives, or into the movement which tends towards dispersion, to which, if left to itself, material individuality is bound to fall back.

Now it is important to observe that man must complete, through his own will, what is sketched in his nature. According to a commonplace expression, which is a very profound one, man must become what he is. In the moral order, he must win, by himself, his freedom and his personality. In other words, his action can follow either the slope of personality or the slope of individuality. If the development of the human being follows the direction of material individuality, he will be carried in the direction of the ‘hateful ego’, whose law is to snatch, to absorb for oneself. In this case, personality as such will tend to adulterate, to dissolve. If, on the contrary, the development follows the direction of spiritual personality, then it will be in the direction of the generous self of saints and heroes that man will be carried. Man will really be a person, in so far as the life of spirit and of freedom will dominate in him that of passion and of the senses.

Here we stand before the crucial problem of the education of the human being. Certain educators confuse person and individual; in order to grant personality the development and the freedom of expansion to which it aspires, they refuse all asceticism, they want man to yield fruit without being pruned. They think that the happiness of man consists in that joyous smile which is seen, in the advertisements, on the faces of boys and girls relishing a good cigarette or a glass of coca-cola. Instead of fulfilling himself, man disperses and disassociates himself. The heart atrophies itself and the senses are exasperated. Or, in other cases, what is most human in man falls back into a kind of vacuity, which is covered by frivolity.

And there are other educators and rulers who misunderstand the distinction of person and individual. They mistake it for a separation. They think that we bear in ourselves two separate beings, that of the individual and that of the person. And, according to these educators: Death to the individual! Long live the person! Unfortunately, when one kills the individual, one also kills the person. The despotic conception of the progress of the human being is no better than the anarchic one. The ideal of this despotic conception is first to take out our heart, with anaesthetics if possible, and next to replace it by the heart of an angel. The second operation is more difficult than the first one, and is but rarely successful. Instead of the authentic person, imprinted with the mysterious face of the Creator, there appears a mask, the austere mask of the Pharisee.

In reality, what is especially important for the education and the progress of the human being, in the moral and spiritual order (as well as in the order of organic growth), is the interior principle, that is to say, nature and grace. The right educational means are but auxiliaries; the art, a co-operating art, at the service of this interior principle. And the entire art consists in cutting off and in pruning—both in the case of the person, and of the individual—so that, in the intimacy of our being, the weight of individuality should diminish, and that of real personality and of its generosity, should increase. And this, indeed, is far from easy.

2. Applications to Social Matters

Before undertaking the second part of this essay, I wanted to say these few words concerning the moral development of the person. Let us now approach the problems which concern society and its relation to the person.

We have noted, in discussing the typical character of the person, that it is essential for personality to tend towards communion. We must insist on this point which is often forgotten: the person, by virtue of his dignity, as well as of his needs, requires to be a member of a society. Animal societies are improperly called societies or cities. Society, properly speaking—human society—is a society of persons. In so far as a city deserves this name, it is a city of human persons.

And why does the person demand for himself life in society? He demands this, first, by virtue of the very perfections which are inherent in him, and because of the fact of this being open to the communications of knowledge and of love, of which I have spoken, and which require an entrance into relations with other persons.

Taken in the aspect of its radical generosity, the human person tends to super-abound in social communications, according to the law of super-abundance which is inscribed in the very depths of being, of life, of intelligence, of love.

And, secondly, it is because of his needs that the human person demands this life in society. Taken in the aspect of his indigences, he demands to be integrated to a body of social communications, without which it is impossible for him to attain to his full life and achievement.

Society thus appears as furnishing the person with the conditions of existence and development which he definitely needs. The human person cannot achieve his fullness alone, but only through receiving certain goods essential to him from society.

I do not mean only material needs, of bread, of clothes and lodging, for all of which man depends upon the aid of his fellows; but also, and first of all, the need of their aid in acting according to reason and virtue, which corresponds to the specific character of the human being. In order to attain to a certain degree of elevation in knowledge and perfection of moral life, man needs the education and the aid granted by his fellows. It is in this sense that one must give a very strict meaning to the words of Aristotle, that man is naturally a political animal. He is a political animal because he is a reasonable animal, because his reason seeks to develop with the help of education, through the teaching and the co-operation of other men, and because society is thus required to accomplish human dignity.

Yet we must not say that the aim of society is the individual good (or the mere collection of individual goods) of each person who constitutes it! This formula would dissolve society as such for the benefit of its parts, and would lead to the ‘anarchy of atoms’. It would mean either a frankly anarchic conception or the old disguised anarchic conception of individualistic liberalism—according to which the entire duty of society consists in seeing that the freedom of each should be respected, though this permit the strong freely to oppress the feeble.

The end of society is its common good, the good of the body politic. But if one fails to grasp the fact that the good of the body politic is a common good of human persons—as the social body itself is a whole made up of human persons—this formula may lead in its turn to other errors of the collectivist or totalitarian type. The common good of society is neither a simple collection of private goods, nor a good belonging to a whole which (as in the case of the species in relation to its individual members) draws the parts to itself, as if they were pure means to serve itself alone. The common good is the good human life of the multitude, of a multitude of persons; it is their communion in the good life; it is therefore common to the whole and to the parts, on whom it flows back and who must all benefit from it. Under pain of being itself denatured, such a good implies and demands the recognition of the fundamental rights of the person (and of the rights of the family, in which the persons are engaged in a more primitive mode of communal living than in political society). It involves, as its chief value, the highest possible accession (an accession compatible with the good of the whole) of persons to their life as persons, and to their freedom of expansion, as well as to the communications of goodness which in turn proceed from it.

The end of the state is the common good, which is not only a collection of advantages and utilities, but also rectitude of life, an end good in itself, which the old philosophers called bonum honestum, the intrinsically worthy good. For, on one hand, it is a thing good in itself to insure the existence of the multitude. And, on the other hand, it is the just and morally good existence of the community which may thus be insured. It is only on this condition, of being in accordance with justice and with moral good, that the common good is what it is: the good of a people, the good of a city, and not the ‘good’ of an association of gangsters or of murderers. That is why perfidy, the contempt of treaties and of sworn faith, political murder or unjust war—all these can be useful to a government, and procure, if only for a time, advantages to the peoples who have recourse to them; but they debase and destroy, as far as in them lies, the common good of these peoples.

The common good is a thing ethically good. And this common good itself includes, as an essential element, the greatest possible development of human persons, of those persons who form the multitude, united, in order to constitute a community, according to relations not only of power, but also of justice. Historical conditions, and the present inferior state of humanity’s development, make it difficult for social life fully to attain its end. But the end toward which it tends, as is shown in another chapter [The Thomist Idea of Freedom], is to procure to the multitude the common good in such a fashion that the concrete person gains a real independence regarding nature, which is insured through the economic guaranties of labour and of property, through political rights, the civil virtues, and culture of the mind.

I have insisted upon the sociability of the person and on the properly human nature of the common good, which is a good according to justice, which must flow back to the persons, and whose chief value is the accession of persons to their freedom of expansion.

But I have not yet entered into what one might call the typical paradox of social life. Here we shall find once more the distinction between individual and person. For this paradox is linked to the fact that each of us is altogether an individual and altogether a person.

The person, as such, is a whole—a whole open and generous. Truly speaking, if human society were a society of pure persons, the good of society and the good of each person would be one and the same good. But man is very far from being a pure person. The human person is an unfortunate material individual, an animal who is born in an infinitely more depraved state than all the other animals. If the person, as such, is an independent whole, and that which is noblest in all of nature, yet the human person is placed at the lowest degree of personality. He is destitute and miserable—an indigent person, full of needs. Because of these profound indigences—deriving from the matter of which man is made and from material individuality—and because of the limitations of his perfection itself, which also, in another way, derive from material individuality, it so happens that, when such a person enters into the society of his fellows, he becomes a part of a whole, a whole which is larger and better than its parts, in so far as they are parts. According, not to his entire self, but to all the complements which he receives from society, and without which he would remain, so to speak, in a state of latent life, the human person is part of a larger whole, a whole which surpasses the person in so far as the latter is a part, and in so far as the common good is other than the good of each (and than the sum of the good of each). And yet, it is by reason of personality, as such, and of the perfections which it involves as an independent and open whole, that man must enter into society; so that it is necessary for the good of the social whole, as I have said, to flow back in a way to the person of each of its members. It is the human person which enters into society. And in so far as he is a material individuality, he enters into society as a part whose good is inferior to the good of the whole; nevertheless, this good itself of the whole, in order to be what it is,—that is to say, superior to the private good,—must necessarily profit individual persons and be redistributed to them, in respect of their rights and their dignity. Because, finally speaking, society, being a whole of persons, is a whole of wholes.

On the other hand, by reason of his destination to the absolute, and because he is called upon to fulfill a destiny superior to time,—in other words, according to the highest exigencies of personality as such,—the human person, as spiritual totality, referring to the transcendent Whole, surpasses all temporal societies and is superior to them. And from this point of view,—in other words, as regards the things that are not Caesar’s,—it is to the perfect achievement of the person and of its supra-temporal aspirations, that society itself and its common good are subordinated, as to the end of another order, which transcends them.

A single human soul is of more worth than the whole universe of bodies and material goods. There is nothing above the human soul,—except God. In regard to the eternal destiny of the soul, and its supra-temporal goods, society exists for each person and is subordinated to it.

It is thus in the nature of things that man sacrifices his temporal goods, and if necessary his life itself, for the sake of the community, and that social life imposes upon the life of the person, taken as part of the whole, many a constraint and many a sacrifice. But even as these sacrifices and constraints are demanded and accepted by justice and by friendship, even so they raise the spiritual level of the person. When man gives his life for the community’s sake, he accomplishes, through an act of such great virtue, the moral perfection by which the person asserts his supreme independence as regards the world. By losing himself temporally for the city’s sake, the person sacrifices himself in the truest and most complete fashion, and yet does not lose the stakes; the city serves him even then, for the soul of man is not mortal, and there is an eternal life.

In brief, while the person as such is a totality, the individual as such is a part; while the person, as person or as totality, demands that the common good of temporal society should flow back to him, and while through his ordination to the transcendent whole, he even surpasses the temporal society, the same person, as an individual or as part, is inferior to the social whole, and must serve the common cause as a member of the whole.

We thus perceive the state of tension and of conflict, which human society inevitably involves. Social life is naturally ordained—in the measure in which I have tried to define—to the good and to the freedom of the person. And yet there is in this very social life a natural tendency to enslave the person and to diminish him, in so far as this person is considered by society as a simple part and as a simple material individual. ‘Every time I have been amongst men,’ said Seneca, ‘I have returned a diminished man.’

The person,—so far as a person,—wishes to serve the common good freely, by tending at the same time towards its own plenitude, by surpassing himself and by surpassing the community, in his proper movement towards the transcendent Whole. And, in so far as he is a material individuality, the person is obliged to serve the community and the common good by necessity, and even by constraint, being surpassed by them, as the part by the whole.

This paradox, this tension and conflict, are something natural and inevitable. Their solution is not static, it is dynamic, in motu. For thus is provoked a double motion, surely a deeper one than the dialectic motion of the Marxists. The first of these motions is a movement of progression of temporal societies, which operates above all through the energies of spirit and of freedom, and which is continuously thwarted by forces of inertia and degradation: this movement tends to bring the law of personality to prevail over the law of individuality in social life. In other words, it tends toward the realization of man’s aspiration to be treated, in social life itself, as a whole and not as a part. Such a formula offers to us a very abstract but correct definition of the supreme ideal towards which modern democracies are aspiring, and which has been betrayed by a false philosophy of life. This ideal is to be completely achieved only at the end of human history; it requires the climate of a heroic conception of life, fixed on the absolute and upon spiritual values. It can be progressively realized only by means of the development of a sacred feeling, as it were, for justice and honour, and by the development of law and of civic friendship. For justice and law, by ruling man as a moral agent, and appealing to reason and free will, concern personality as such, and transform into a relation between two wholes—the individual and the social—what must otherwise be a mere subordination of the part to the whole. And love, by assuming voluntarily that which would have been servitude, transfigures it into freedom and into free gift.

The second motion is a motion which one might call vertical, the motion of the life of persons themselves inside social life. It is due to the difference of level between the plane on which the person has the centre of its life as person, and the low-water mark, where it constitutes itself as a part of a social community. By reason of this difference of level, the person always claims society and yet tends to surpass it.

But let us return to the complex relations of structure which we have tried to characterize. One could, it seems, apply the following formulas.

The human person is a part of the political community and is inferior to the latter, according to the things which compensate in him the needs of material individuality: that is to say, according to the things which, in him and of him, depend as to their very essence on the political community, and can be called upon to serve as means for the temporal good of this community. Thus, for instance, a mathematician has learned mathematics thanks to the educational institutions which social life alone has made possible; this progressive formation, received from others, and attesting the needs of the individual, depends on the community. And the community is entitled to ask the mathematician to serve the social group by teaching mathematics.

And, on the other hand, the human person, as a superior whole, dominates the political community according to the things which belong to the ordination of personality as such to the absolute: that is to say, according to the things which, in him and of him, depend as to their very essence on something higher than political community, and properly concern the supra-temporal achievement of the person as person. Thus, for instance, mathematical truths do not depend on social community, and concern the order of absolute goods of the person as such. And the community will never have the right to ask a mathematician to hold as true one mathematical system in preference to another one, and to teach such mathematics as may be considered more suitable to the law of the social group; for example, and to speak madly, Aryan mathematics or Marxist-Leninist mathematics.

Man is constituted as person, made for God and for eternal life, before being constituted part of a human community; and he is constituted part of familial society before being constituted part of political society. Hence, there are primordial rights, which the latter must respect, and which it dare not wrong when it demands for itself the aid of its members because they are its parts.

To sum up: on one hand, it is the person itself, which enters into society; and, on the other hand, it is finally by reason of its material individuality that the person is in society as a part, whose good is inferior to the good of the whole. If this is the case, we understand that society cannot live without the perpetual gift and the perpetual surplus which derive from persons, each irreplaceable and incommunicable; and that, at the same time, what in social use is retained from the persons is transmuted into something communicable and replaceable, into something ever individualized and yet depersonalized.

We could also say that society,—its life, its peace,—cannot exist without the efficient causality of love, which is essentially personal, and yet the formal structure of society is constituted by justice, which is essentially measured according to things, and merits, without respect for persons.

3. Democracy of the Individual, and Democracy of the Person

Now let us briefly turn our attention to the materialist philosophies, the materialist conceptions of the world and of life. And let us ask ourselves what happens to the person according to these views. We must not forget, however, that when one deals with a philosophy, there are three things which should be distinguished regarding it. First, the values of sentiment, which exercise a seduction over the minds of its followers, and the simple human aspirations which the latter actually obey, perhaps even without knowing it. Second, what this philosophy says. Third, what it does, and the results to which it leads.

We shall then observe that the materialist philosophies of man and of society, are subject in spite of themselves—I mean because of the actual aspirations of their followers who are men—to the attraction of the proper values and the proper goods of personality, which they desire obscurely even when they ignore them. Hence, in practice, these doctrines can act upon men, only through invoking justice, liberty, the goods of the person.

But what do they perceive, what are they capable of perceiving and of saying, in so far as they are doctrines? Recognizing only that which belongs to the world of matter, blind to the realities of spirit, they perceive in man only the shadow of real personality—the material individuality. And of man they can only tell us this much. Thus, what they do, the result to which in fact they lead, is to deteriorate, to vilify and to enslave the person, either by dissolving it in anarchy, or, as inevitably happens under the natural necessities of political life, by submitting it entirely to the social body as Number, as Economic Community, or as State.

I can only indicate briefly the criticisms to which we should submit the materialist philosophy of society, considered under its three chief forms: bourgeois individualism, communist anti-individualism; and the combined anti-individualism and anti-communism of the dictatorial or totalitarian type.

These three doctrines equally ignore the human person, and are reduced to considering instead the material individual alone.

As one has often observed, bourgeois liberalism, whose pretension it is to base everything on the individual considered as a little god, and on his caprice, on the absolute liberty of property, of commerce and of the pleasures of life—this liberalism inevitably ends in étatisme, the hypertrophy and absolute primacy of the State.

The rule of numbers produces the omnipotence of the State—a State of the ruminant or plutocratic type. If, in fact, one wants to build up a city, with individuals free in this sense that their first duty is to obey only themselves,—it will be possible only upon condition that each one relinquishes his own will to the General Will. Man, considered in his material individuality, being only a part and not a whole, the individual will finally find himself entirely subjected to the social whole by the mechanical connections which insure his junction with it. No doubt, his freedom will remain full and complete, but in an illusory mode and in the world of dreams. Or else he will anarchically refuse the conditions of social life, and there will be the insurrection of the parts against the whole, mentioned by Auguste Comte.

Communism can be regarded as a reaction against this individualism. Its pretension is to aim at the absolute liberation of man, who will become the god of history. But, in reality, this liberation, supposing it were achieved, would be the liberation of collective man, and not of the human person. And even supposing that the political State were finally abolished, Society, as an economic community, would in turn subjugate the entire life of the person. Why? Because the reality of the person as such has been ignored from the very beginning and, with it, the very function of civil society—to procure a common good essentially human, whose chief value is the freedom of expansion of persons, with all the guaranties this entails. Under the pretext of replacing the government of men by the administration of things one transforms this administration of things,—that is, economic functions of production and distribution,—into the chief work of civil society. But, according to the nature of things, the work of civil society mobilizes for itself the human life of persons, and therefore this life, being no longer mobilized for a common work whose chief aim is the freedom of expansion of persons,—but only for the economic output,—will find itself inevitably referred in its entirety to this output and to the society which procures it.

As to the anti-communist and anti-individualist reactions of the totalitarian or dictatorial type, it is not in the name of the social community and of the freedom of collective man, but rather in the name of the sovereign dignity of the State, or in the name of the spirit of a people, the Volksgeist, or in the name of race and of blood, that they seek to annex the entire man to a social whole, composed of a multitude of material individualities, and not of genuine persons. And it is in the person of a master,—the only person in political life who remains facing a regimented world of material individualties,—and, as it were, absorbed in the unique person of this master, that the multitude will become conscious of itself and will realize its almightiness.

In all three cases, we behold the conflict of the whole with the parts, of social life with man, considered as material individuality. That which is inherent in the human person as person, and that which is inherent in society as a community of persons, have equally disappeared.

Let me add that we seem to witness to-day a sort of tragedy of these three opposite forms of social and political materialism. The tragedy of bourgeois individualism appears but too clearly in the crisis of morality of our Western civilization and in the disastrous spasms of liberal and capitalist economy.

The tragedy of communism is above all manifest in the interior failure to which its first realizations have led of themselves in Russia, and in the inner conflicts which it cannot help engendering. The successive waves of terrorism in the Soviet Republics have, from this point of view, an extraordinary significance for the philosopher: communism, which is a sort of economic theocracy, requires an extremely rigorous and tense discipline. But it can only seek this discipline through external methods of pedagogy and constraint. Now, without some sort of interior ethics, implying and respecting the aspirations of the soul and of the person, without a vivid faith which communicates its fervour to the minds of people, no strong social discipline is really possible. And thus is inevitable the internal conflict between an anarchy of passions, ambitions, individual energies, employing no matter what means,—an anarchy continually reborn,—and an ‘order’ which ignores the very principle of order.

Finally, the tragedy of totalitarian States seems to us especially manifest in the fact that, requiring for themselves the total devotion of the person, yet having no respect for the person and its inner reserves, they fatally seek a principle of human exaltation in the myths of external greatness; in an effort toward prestige and external power, never to be achieved. And this inevitably leads to war and to the self-destruction of the civilized community.

Thus, materialistic conceptions of life and of the world,—philosophies which do not recognize in man the eternal, the spiritual element,—are incapable of guiding man in the building up of a society, because these philosophies are incapable of respecting the exigencies of the person, and this means that they cannot understand the nature of society.

If this spiritual, this eternal element, is recognized, then one also recognizes the aspiration immanent in the person to surpass, by reason of what is highest in it, both the life and the conditions of temporal societies. But then, and at the same time, temporal society can be built up according to the proper order of its being. Its nature as a society of persons is understood, and the natural tendency of the person towards society, and the fact of its belonging morally and legally to the society of which it is part, are equally understood.

This means, definitely speaking, that the relation of the individual to society must not be conceived according to the atomistic and mechanistic type of bourgeois individualism, which suppresses the social organic totality; neither must it be conceived according to the biological and animal type, characteristic of the communist and totalitarian doctrines, which engulf the person, as an histological element of Behemoth or of Leviathan, in the body of the social community or of the State, and which enslave it to the work of this totality. The relation of the individual to society must be conceived according to a type irreducibly human and specifically ethico-social,—that is, both personalist and communal,—and this will then mean an organization of freedoms. Now this is strictly inconceivable without those moral realities which are called justice and civic friendship, the latter being a natural and temporal correspondence of that which, in the spiritual and supernatural plane, the Gospel calls brotherly love.

It thus appears that the most excellent common work toward which, as toward a heroic ideal, the city of our desires must tend is the arduous instauration of this friendship between brothers in labour and hope of the earthly community, which is not granted ready-made by nature, but which can be achieved by virtue.

Here we find once more the considerations which we have expressed earlier concerning the way in which (through a movement of progression which will never find its terms on earth) is solved what we have called the paradox of social life. There is a common work to be accomplished by the social whole as such, by that whole of which human persons are parts, and which is not “neutral”, which is itself engaged, held by a temporal calling. And thus the persons are subordinated to this common work. And yet, not only in the temporal order itself, is it essential for the common good to flow back to the persons; but in addition, with regard to an altogether different order, concerning what is deepest in the person, his eternal calling, with the goods attached to this calling,—there is in each human person a transcendent end, to which society itself and its common work is subordinated.

Do not forget that society’s common work itself has its chief value in the freedom of personal expansion, with the guarantees it involves and with the diffusion of goodness which proceeds from it. Because the temporal common good is a common good of human persons, it happens, by the grace of justice and friendship, that through subordinating himself to the common work, each one still subordinates himself to the good of persons,—that is, to the accomplishment of the personal life of others,—and at the same time to the interior dignity of his own person. But this solution can acquire a practical value only if the real nature of common work is recognized, and if at the same time there is recognized, as Aristotle taught, the political value and importance of the virtue of friendship.

It is difficult not to think that the temporal advent of such a city of persons would come as a consequence and an earthly effectuation of this consciousness of the dignity of the human person and his eternal calling in every man whomsoever, which has for ever penetrated, through the Gospel, into the heart of humanity.

Democracy inspired by Rousseau, which is now threatened in the world, suffers from a philosophy of life which attempted an illusory naturalization or secularization of evangelical truths. Rather, is not human history, labouring to achieve another sort of democracy, which would be an evangelization of nature?

In his book on Two Sources of Morality and Religion, M. Bergson emphasized the originally religious character of the democratic ideal; in a formula charged with sense (and even with opposite senses), he writes that one must perceive ‘in the democratic state of mind a great effort whose direction is inverse to that of nature.’

This can mean that it is an effort finally contrary to nature; which, to my mind, exactly qualifies false democracy, such as bourgeois individualism originating from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s conceptions, and which bases everything on the native goodness and native freedom of the individual—a fictitious individual, shut up in himself. But it can also mean a properly human effort to redress nature, an effort which is linked to the developments of reason and of justice, and which is to be achieved in humanity under the influence of the Christian leaven; an effort demanding that human nature should be super-elevated in its proper order, in the order of the movement of civilization, through the action of this Christian ferment. And I think this is true of genuine democracy, of organic democracy, ordained to the human expansion of concrete and open persons. It is such a democracy, to the preparation for which a well-founded philosophy of history and of society invites us to labour.

Democracy of the individual and humanism of the individual arise from an anthropocentric inspiration. Materialism, atheism, dictatorship, are their fatalities. By saying to men, you are gods by your own essence and will, they have debased men. Practically they have left to men no other internal weight than flat egoism and longing for material possessions.

Democracy of the person and humanism of the person spring forth from a theocentric inspiration. Conquest of freedom in the social and political, as well as the spiritual order, is their aim,—I mean freedom of expansion, exultation and autonomy, so far as it conforms to the image of God. They say to men: you are gods by the gift and the calling of God, gods in becoming and in suffering and in hope; gods by means of humility, virtue and grace. Their weight in men is the weight of love. They dignify the creature really—in God and as made by God and for God; not illusively—as a god itself. They know the grandeur of man, and they know his misery. They respect human dignity, not as something abstract, timeless and non-existent, ignoring historic conditions and historic diversities and devouring men pitilessly. They respect human dignity in each concrete and existing person, in its flesh and blood and in its historical context of life.

It is to the democracy of the person that one must apply, I think, and not without certain comments, the thought of M. Bergson when he writes that at the extreme limit one might say, ‘democracy is evangelic in its essence, and that its motive power is love.’

I do not mean, in quoting this formula of M. Bergson, to link religion and the Gospel to any form of government whatsoever. The Christian religion is not enslaved to any temporal regime. It is compatible with all forms of legitimate government. It is not its business to determine which one of them must be adopted by men hic et nunc. It imposes none of them upon their preference. Neither does it impose—so long as certain superior principles are safeguarded—a particular political philosophy. In contrast with individualist democracy, inspired by Rousseau, certain implications of which (as, for instance, the idea that law holds its force from the Number and not from justice) cannot be reconciled with Christian principles, I am convinced that there is nothing in personalist democracy which is not in accordance with the common doctrine of the Catholic Church. Both Rousseauist and personalist conceptions are very general conceptions of political life, reconcilable to a monarchic as well as to a strictly democratic form of government; but, contrary to the conception of Rousseau, the personalist conception of democracy is first of all determined by the idea of man as God’s image, and by the idea of the common good, of human rights and of concrete liberty; and it is based on Christian humanism. I do not pretend at all, however, that personalist democracy may ever impose itself in the name of the Christian creed, no more than, in the speculative order, Thomist metaphysics can impose itself in the name of this creed.

But the relation which is noticed—I believe justly—by M. Bergson, between the Gospel and democracy, is not a relation of right, which would oblige us, in the name of Christian doctrine and of the Kingdom of God, to recognize a certain temporal conception and a certain social and political philosophy. It is a relation of fact, which concerns only,—as in the question of slavery,—the germinations naturally produced in the depths of profane and temporal conscience itself under the influence of Christian leaven. It is from the historical and cultural point of view, from the point of view of the philosophy of history and culture, that things are here considered. Even under mixed and aberrant forms, and even in the Rousseauist tendency to naturize (and denaturize) the Gospel, is it not the Christian leaven that is still seen fermenting in the bosom of human history, while the unhappy adventure of the individualist democracy is unfolding itself? Under purer forms, and tending this time, as I have said before, to evangelize nature, is it not always, and more truly, the Christian leaven that is at work in history, preparing in it a personalist democracy?

In brief, the question is to know whether, in fact, in the historic development of humanity, a slow work is not being performed, a slow and spontaneous activation of the human mass and of profane conscience, tending to bring the temporal regime of men closer to an order, of which democracy of the individual was but a counterfeit, and which I call here democracy of the person. And the question is also to know whether this democracy of the person is not inconceivable without the super-elevation which nature and temporal civilizations receive, in their proper order, from the energies of Christian life.

These reflections induce me to think that the drama of modern democracies is to have sought, without knowing it, something good: the democracy of the person, disguised in an error, viz. the democracy of the individual, which leads by itself to serious failures. If democracies are still able to escape grave dangers, it is by turning themselves decisively in the direction of an essentially different type—the democracy of the person, discovered in its real significance. And this presupposes, truly speaking, something quite different from a simple weakening or a simple extenuation of the errors of the democracy of the individual; it means an internal transformation, a complete turn about toward spirit.

Is not the tragedy of our age to be found in the fact that modern democracies have lost all confidence in themselves? Their vital principle is justice, and they do not want to run the risks of justice. They do not want, it seems, to run any risks whatsoever. They invoke justice, but they pursue purely utilitarian politics, and they pursue them inefficiently and clumsily. [This was written before the second European war. In the face of catastrophe, the Western Democracies have been compelled by the force of things to choose finally, and courageously, to struggle for justice, at the risk of unheard of sacrifices.]

During the same period, totalitarian dictatorships, which put Machiavellian policies much better into practice, have the fullest confidence in their principle, which is barbaric force, and they risk everything thereon.

Modern democracies suffer from a philosophy of life which undermines and annihilates their vital principle from within. If they must refind the sense of justice, and of risk, and of heroism, it is under condition of rejecting their materialist philosophy, and of viewing in full light a personalist conception of life and of society.

To the inhuman humanism of the individual would thus succeed a new humanism—the integral humanism of the person, open to that which surpasses it and leads it to achievement, and open to the common service of justice and friendship.

%d bloggers like this: