JIS XXI 2009
Jacque Maritain in Perspective

JIS XXI 2009: 1-24


Oskar Gruenwald
Institute for Interdisciplinary Research

This essay proposes that while a “Christian” democracy may be too idealistic, liberal democracy presupposes transcendent moral and spiritual norms, in particular a Judeo-Christian foundation for human dignity and human rights. A Biblical understanding of human nature as fallible and imperfect, susceptible to worldly temptations, emphasizes free choice and personal responsibility, and the imperative to limit the temporal exercise of power by any man or institution. Maritain’s concept of integral or Christian humanism is founded on personalism, the unique value and dignity of each human being created in the image of God, and the need for community. The major challenge for liberal democracy is how to reconcile individual freedom with socio–economic-political-legal institutions and processes which require the constraint of man-made laws and the exercise of authority and power. The essay concludes that perhaps the major legacy of the American founding is the notion of the priority of liberty which offers the best prospects for conjoining reason and faith, the secular and the sacred, Athens and Jerusalem. The priority of liberty also animates Maritain’s vision of a “Christianly-inspired” personalistic society capable of advancing both individual human flourishing and the common good.

JIS XXI 2009: 25-50


Geoff Wells
Wayland Baptist University

Jacques Maritain’s concept of the personalistic society describes a democratic unity of the body politic that mitigates the tension between the material and spiritual aspects of human existence. This unity, grounded in the principles of natural law, makes possible in our terrestrial existence a communion of good living and a rectitude of life–what Maritain calls the bonum honestum. The good he envisions both facilitates and reflects the ideals of an integral Christian humanism, but it necessarily requires for its realization the infusion of Christian ideals into the body politic. It is crucial to Maritain that the process by which this infusion occurs allow for a wide participation of diverse actors, both religious and non-religious. But it is also crucial that they are able to converge from their different perspectives into an agreement on “Christianly inspired” practical principles that will subsequently guide public policy. This essay argues that the collective character of the moral personality represented by Maritain in this unity describes a problematic context for public dialogue that risks undermining the social and political pluralism it presupposes.

JIS XXI 2009: 51-65


Monica D. Merutiu
Babes-Bolyai University, Romania

The Judeo-Christian tradition has put its imprint on a fascinating and complex creation: Europe. Looking at the European stage today, one cannot help notice its struggles, challenges, and changes. The core of European unity cannot be stable and durable if the spiritual dimension is left aside, considered unimportant compared to the political and economic dimensions. In an era said to experience “pathologies of reason” and “pathologies of religion,” the interdependence of reason and religion in a democratic, liberal state becomes highly relevant. Understanding the complementarity between Christian values and the democratic ideal is the key to a genuine democracy that remains true to its goals. Maritain insisted that democracy needs virtue, and hence must not be separated from its moral dimension.

JIS XXI 2009: 66-82


Stanislaw Burdziej
University of Warmia and Mazuri, Poland

Historically, modern democracy can be rightly regarded as an extension of some of the basic tenets of Christianity, with the latter’s focus on individual dignity and inalienable rights of every person regardless of their ethnic or social origin. In some aspects, however, democracy remains a project directly rivaling Christianity. This essay traces the rivalry to the French Revolution which tried to replace Catholicism with the cults of Reason and Supreme Being, which shows that without recourse to traditional sources of authority, such as religion, democracy is incapable of constructing a legitimate social order. While democracy continues to be the form of government most compatible with Christian doctrine, the relationship between the two is not a necessary nor an equal one. It depends on whether democracy is viewed as a technique of government, when compromise and cooperation are possible, or as an ideology, when such coexistence is increasingly difficult.

JIS XXI 2009: 83-105


Catherine E. Wilson
Villanova University

Eduardo Frei Montalva, co-founder of the Christian Democratic Party and President of Chile, represented for Jacques Maritain, French neo-Thomist philosopher, an example of prophetic leadership in contemporary times. According to Maritain, modern democracy could not survive without a profound spiritual revolution of political leadership–the “prophetic factor” of democracy–which he observed in Frei as a public official, senator, and ultimately the President of the Republic of Chile (1964-1970). Under his famed “Revolution in Liberty,” Frei endeavored to meld socio-economic reforms with an effort to build a more participatory democratic culture in his native land. Guided by Maritain’s political philosophy, Frei’s initiatives set into motion the possibility of a “third way” of politics in the Southern hemisphere. In the end, this revolution ended in political disappointment due to economic stagnation, social disruption, political infighting, and the impractical idealism of Christian democracy itself.

JIS XXI 2009: 106-122


Pamela W. Proietti
Loyola University Chicago

December 2008 marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, arguably the single most important and influential document endorsed by the United Nations. Jacques Maritain was a primary author of the religious liberty clauses of the 1948 Declaration, and the most prominent Christian philosopher of the twentieth century. Maritain developed a radical critique of prevailing Western political and social thought. A persuasive critic of secular humanism and legal positivism, Maritain sought a cultural renewal of Christian Europe by means of rediscovering an integral Christian humanism. This essay explores the central ideas in Maritain’s philosophical defense of universal human rights. Maritain placed the philosophical foundation of human rights in natural law, and assumed the existence of a “natural spirituality of intelligence” grasped by a connatural, pre-philosophic intuition. Yet Pope Benedict XVI challenges the central philosophical assumptions at the foundation of Maritain’s defense of human rights.

JIS XXI 2009: 124-142


Michael Novak
American Enterprise Institute

As in the nineteenth century so in the twentieth, a number of laymen and women have appeared in the firmament of intellect and the arts to place the entire body of Christians in their debt. Of these, no one has been more influential in different spheres than Jacques Maritain. In political and social thought, no Christian has ever written a more profound defense of the democratic idea and its component parts, such as the dignity of the person; the sharp distinction between society and the state; the role of practical wisdom; the common good; the transcendent anchoring of human rights; transcendent judgment upon societies; and the interplay of goodness and evil in human individuals and institutions. To read him is to be forced to look, through such distinctions, from many angles of vision at once. And all for the sake of unity: “To distinguish in order to unite,” is a most suitable motto for his life’s work. Maritain focused on the real content of democracy understood as all those common experiences, ways of looking at things, forms of consciousness, habits, and convictions that entire peoples acquire slowly, underlining the importance of Christian renewal for the transcendent grounding of human dignity and human rights as “the soul of democracy.”

JIS XXI 2009: 143-152


Jacques Maritain
Princeton University

In this engaging APSA address, Jacques Maritain outlines the essential relationship between Christianity and democracy. In Maritain’s view, it is the Gospel or the Christian leaven which has awakened the secular, temporal consciousness to supreme moral principles and the real content of democracy understood as the earthly pursuit of Gospel truths concerning the transcendent origins and destiny of man and society. Christianity teaches the inalienable dignity of every human being fashioned in the image of God, the inviolability of conscience, the unity of the human race, the natural equality of all men, children of the same God and redeemed by the same Christ, the dignity of labor and the dignity of the poor, the primacy of inner values and good will over external values, universal brotherhood, love, and justice. Maritain distinguishes between the procedural aspects and the substantive content of democracy, but anchors the Gospel vision in the free exercise of rational and moral faculties as key to democratic self-government. He cautions that without a superior moral law by virtue of which men are bound in conscience toward what is just and good, the rule of the majority runs the risk of being raised to the supreme rule of good and evil, and democracy is liable to turn to totalitarianism, that is, to self-destruction. Maritain concludes that what has been gained for the secular consciousness, if it does not veer to barbarism, is the sense of freedom consonant with the vocation of our nature.

JIS XXI 2009: 153-160


United Nations

On 10 December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a truly historic document, the full text of which is reproduced here. Following this historic act, the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.” Jacques Maritain was actively involved in the drafting of the Declaration, especially its clauses regarding freedom of conscience and religious expression.

JIS XXI 2009: 162-180

Review Essay


Jesse J. Thomas
San Diego State University

Science in Culture.  By Piotr Jaroszynski.  Tr. Hugh McDonald.  Amsterdam, Holland: Editions Rodopi, 2007.  314 p.  Paper.  $88.
Oracles of Science:  Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion.  By Karl Giberson & Mariano Artigas.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.  273 p.  Cloth.  $29.95.
The Beginning of All Things:  Science and Religion.  By Hans Küng.  Tr. John Bowden.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007.  Cloth.  220 p.  $22.