Lesson 12: Evaluating the Modern Project: Towards an Integral Humanism


1. Maritain's Scholasticism and Politics

Here we see the peculiar vice of classical humanism. This vice, in my judgment, concerns not so much what this humanism affirms, as what it negates, denies and divides. It is what he may call an anthropocentric conception of man and of culture. I am aware that this word is not too felicitous, but I have used it for want of a better. We might say that the error in question is the idea of human nature as self-enclosed or self-sufficient (that is to say self-divinized, for this nature has infinite longings).

Instead of an open human nature and an open reason, which are real nature and real reason, people pretend that there exists a nature and a reason isolated by themselves and shut up in themselves, excluding everything which is not themselves. (page 12)

Instead of a development of man and reason in continuity with the Gospel, people demand such a development from pure reason apart from the Gospel. And for human life, for the concrete movement of history, this means real and serious amputations.

Prayer, divine love, supra-rational truths, the idea of sin and of grace, the evangelical beatitudes, the necessity of asceticism of contemplation, of the way of the Cross -- all this is either put in parenthesis or is once for all denied. In the concrete government of human life, reason is isolated from the supra-rational. (page 13)

In short, in this view the modern world has sought good things in bad ways; it has thus compromised the search for authentic human values, which men must save now by an intellectual grasp of a profounder truth, by a substantial recasting of humanism. In my opinion, we have today to deal. (page 17)

The new humanism must reassume in a purified climate all the work of the classical period; it must re-make anthropology, find the rehabilitation and the 'dignification' of the creature not in isolation, not in the creature shut in with itself, but in its openness to the world of the divine and superrational; and this very fact implies in practice a work of sanctification of the profane and temporal; it means, in the spiritual order, the discovery of the ways of childhood whereby the 'humanity of God our Savior', as St Paul says, finds with fewer human trappings, a readier way into man, and causes more souls to enter into his hidden task of suffering and vivifying; it involves, in the moral and social order, the discovery of a deeper and fuller sense of the dignity of the human person, so that man would refind himself in God refound, and would direct social work toward an heroic ideal of brotherly love, itself conceived not as a spontaneous return of feeling to some illusory primitive condition, but as a difficult and painful conquest of civic virtue helped by grace.

Such a humanism, which considers man in the wholeness of his natural and supernatural being, and which sets no a priori limit to the descent of the divine into man, we may call the humanism of the Incarnation. It is an 'integral' and 'progressive' Christian position, which I believe conforms to principles representative of the genuine spirit to Thomism. And, in my country, I am happy to find in agreement with it, not all theologians (that would be too much, and is never the case), but some theologians such as Père Chenu, Père Lavaud, l'Abbè Journet, and many others.

In the perspectives of this integral humanism, there is no occasion to choose, so as to sacrifice one or the other, between the vertical movement toward eternal life (present and actually begun here below) and the horizontal movement whereby the substance and creative forces of man are progressively revealed in history. These two movements should be pursued at the same time. To claim to sacrifice the second to the first is a sin of Manicheism. But to claim to sacrifice the first to the second is materialistic nonsense. And the second, the horizontal movement, unless it turns to the destruction of men, is effected only when vitally joined to the first, the vertical one, because this second movement, while having its own proper and properly temporal finalities, and tending to better man's condition here below, also prepares in history for the kingdom of God, which for each individual person and for the whole of humanity, is something meta-historical. (page 18-19)

A characteristic of the humanism, which I call integral, would be that, far from being limited to the elite, it would care for the masses, for their right to work and to a spiritual life, and for the movement which brings them, we may say, to an historically full age. On the social significance of such a humanism, I will simply say that in my opinion it should assume the task of radically transforming the temporal order, a task which would tend to substitute for bourgeois civilization, and for an economic system based on the fecundity of money, not a collectivistic economy, but a 'personalistic' civilization and a 'personalistic' economy, through which would stream a temporal refraction of the truths of the Gospel.

This task is joined to a thorough awakening of the religious conscience, and I wish to insist for a moment on this point. One of the worst vices of the modern world is its dualism the dissociation between the things of God and the things of the world. The latter, the things of the social, economic and political life, have been abandoned to their own carnal law, removed from the exigencies of the Gospel. The result is that they have become more and more unlivable; at the same time Christian ethics, not really carried out in the social life of people, became in this connection, I do not say in itself or in the Church, I say in the world, in the general cultural behaviour, a universe of formulas and words; and this universe of formulas and words was in effect vassalized, in practical cultural behaviour, by the real energies of this same temporal world existentially detached from Christ. Such a disorder can be cured only by a renewal of the profoundest energies of the religious conscience, arising in temporal existence.

On the other hand, modern civilization, which pays dearly today for the past, seems as if it were pushed, by the very contradictions and fatalities suffered by it, toward contrasting forms of misery and intensified materialism. To rise above these fatalities we need an awakening of liberty and of its creative forces, we need the energies of spiritual and social resurrection of which man does not become capable by the grace of the State or any party pedagogy, but by a love which fixes the centre of his life infinitely above the world and temporal history. In particular, the general paganization of our civilization has resulted in man's placing his hope in force alone and in the efficacy of hate, whereas in the eyes of an integral humanism, a political ideal of brotherly love alone can direct the work of authentic social regeneration: and it follows that to prepare a new age of the world, martyrs to the lover of neighbour may first be necessary. And this also shows how everything depends here on a profound renewal of the interior energies of conscience.

Granted what I said a moment ago about the pathological process of vassalization, in the behaviour of contemporary civilization, of religious formulas by worldly energies, we see that the renewal we speak of should be a kind of Copernican revolution, which would in no way affect the doctrine, not even an iota of it, but would make a great change in the relative importance of the elements in the universe of action. It would consist in general and bold acknowledgement of the primacy of the vital and the real (even the implicitly or virtually real) over matters of appearance and external trappings let us say -- for I am primarily thinking of the Christian conscience -- of the primacy of the practically or vitally Christian over the nominally or decoratively Christian. Such a Copernican revolution -- which is the revolution claimed by the Apostle James -- would have notable consequences for the question of the ways and means of political action.

Truly speaking, it is the idea of the primacy of the spiritual which here commands the debate. To say that Christianity will remake itself through Christian means or that it will unmake itself completely; to say that no good is to be expected from the enterprises of violence and constraint, -- with no compunction of heart and no interior reform or inner creative principle, -- enterprise animated by the same spirit which is at the elemental source of the evils actually suffered by civilization: to say that the evidence and the patient and persevering action of the Christian spirit in the world is more important than the outer apparatus of a Christian order, especially when those who pretend to save this order bind themselves, and also the order, either to established injustice or even to the immense pagan energies sweeping away one part of the actual world,- this is simply to affirm that the principle of the primacy of the spiritual demands respect in the very mode in which men work to give it reality; it is simply to affirm that the primacy of the spiritual cannot be realized while denying itself. (page 28-29 & 30)

Jacques Maritain, Integral Humanism (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1973), pp. 27-30; The Range of Reason (New York: Charles Scribner's Press, 1952) chapters 7, 8, 14.


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