Scholasticism and Political Freedom

with Russell Hittinger

In this edition of Liberty Law Talk, we discuss with Russell Hittinger, the William K. Warren Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Tulsa, Jacques Maritain’s Scholasticism and Politics, recently republished by Liberty Fund. The text is

 a collection of nine lectures Maritain delivered at the University of Chicago in 1938. While the lectures address a variety of diverse topics, they explore three broad topics: 1) the nature of modern culture, its relationship to Christianity, and the origins of the crisis which has engulfed it; 2) the true nature and authentic foundations of human freedom and dignity and the threats posed to them by the various materialist and naturalistic philosophies that dominate the modern cultural scene; and 3) the principles that provide the authentic foundation of a social order in accord with human dignity. 

Born in 1882 in Paris, Jacques  Maritain studied at the Lycée Henri IV and at the Sorbonne. In 1901, Maritain met Raïssa Oumansoff, a fellow student at the Sorbonne. Both were struck by the spiritual aridity of French intellectual life and made a vow to commit suicide within a year should they not find some answer to the apparent meaninglessness of life. Bergson’s challenges to the then-dominant positivism sufficed to lead them to give up their thoughts of suicide, and Jacques and Raïssa married in 1904.

Maritain’s philosophical work was eclectic, with the publication of books on Thomas Aquinas, metaphysics, religion and culture, Christian philosophy, Descartes, and the philosophy of science and epistemology. However, he also contributed mightily to a defense of the integrity of the human person in the face of twentieth century statism, in both its totalitarian and soft-despotic forms. Maritain’s political philosophy is in the Aristotelian-Thomistic natural law tradition. Maritain, however, pushed further and held that Aristotelian ethics was inadequate for a sufficient defense of human flourishing.

Maritain’s political philosophy limns the conditions necessary to make the individual more fully human in all respects. His integral humanism is twofold: The person’s private good is subordinate to the (temporal) common good of the community; however, as a person with a supernatural end, one’s ‘spiritual good’ is superior to society — and this is something that all political communities should recognize.

Reader Discussion

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on March 06, 2012 at 04:48:42 am

I agree, Jacob, that it's not possible to have a pefcertly Christian worldview right now, therefore we will always look at works of art through blurry glasses. The problem is that we create art and make decisions about consumption and interpretation of art all the time, so we need some basis for doing so, certainly.As far as I can tell, a Christian view of art comes down to understanding a couple of key points of theology. First, man is created in God's image, and thus is a sub-creator, as Tolkien liked to say. The question is not Will we create? but What will we create? Second, we are limited (in beauty, substance, quality, originality) sub-creators, primarily because of sin and our Fall from perfection, but also because of our innate limitations as creatures. We cannot dream up anything that is not derivative. We can use only the shapes, colors, sounds and ideas of our limited world.Now, we also have the revealed character of God as a basis for knowing what is good and true. It seems to me that this certainly has bearing on what and how we create.Important for me as well is my primary purpose on earth. It seems to me that man's primary purpose is to have fellowship with God as Adam and Eve did in Eden, as well as to do the work he has set out for us (being fruitful, multiplying, having dominion over the earth).In my view, the having dominion bit is where art comes in. When I have an interesting idea, or create something beautiful I am exercising my human powers over the earth. I am taking the shapelessness and shaping it, in my own small way.So how specifically do you know what to create? Well, I certainly don't think it should only be Christian Art by today's standards. God is concerned about all of our human life, and it seems inconceivable that there are areas of that life our creativity shouldn't touch. We are concerned with both the brokenness and the restoration of man, his despair and his hope, his day-to-day successes and failures.As I write this, I'm thinking that possibly the best way to ensure that our creations are true and good is to renew our minds by thinking more and more in the patterns of truth revealed in Scripture. I sometimes fear that by drawing closer to God and becoming more immersed in the Christian worldview that I will become less attune to the plight of humanity, less in tune to my deepest self. This makes no sense. By becoming more like Christ and thinking more like he does, I will in fact become more human, more creative, more true to the original joyous creative plans God set out for mankind.We will not find true humanity here on this earth, but it seems to me from Scripture that we will find it in the new heavens and earth. Then, I think, we will create and rejoice before God in our creation in a way unthinkable right now.I certainly don't mean to just throw all this out as absolute fact. I'm still trying to work through all this stuff, but I think this is a pretty accurate representation of where I'm currently standing.

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