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This is the blog of the faculty of the Ave Maria University Philosophy Department. We post our philosophical reflections on perennial and contemporary questions as well as on Departmental and University news and other topics of interest.
  • July 4, 2013 11:19 am

    The evolution of Maritain’s later political thought

    I recently reviewed a book on Jacques Maritain’s political theory for The Catholic Historical Review. The book is by Daniele Lorenzini and is entitled Jacques Maritain e i diritti umani: Fra totalitarismo, antisemitismo e decmocrazia (1936–1951). It was published last year by Morcelliana. Since I have posted on Maritain’s political theory (of which I am a critic) in the past on this blog (here) and at Thomistica.net (here, here, here, and here) I thought that I would offer some excerpts in the present post from my review.

    Here’s the first paragraph:

    This is an historical rather than philosophical investigation of Jacques Maritain’s political thought, although it should be of interest to anyone who studies this dimension of Maritain’s work. Lorenzini’s central thesis is that there is a significant development in Maritain’s political thought with respect to human rights between Humanisme intégral (Paris, 1936) and his writings during and after World War II, a development that was probably affected in some manner by the French philosopher’s collaboration with the Committee of Catholics for Human Rights [=CCHR] in the United States and its review, The Voice for Human Rights. The earlier development in Maritain’s political thought between his support of the French monarchist movement Action Française and his shift toward a more liberal position is well known. But the later development, treated by Lorenzini in his book, seems not to have received so much attention.

    Here are my comments on the second chapter, which is the heart of the book:

    The second and longest chapter charts the development in Maritain’s political theory from Humanisme intégral of 1936 to his publications and speeches on political themes in 1943. Lorenzini notes that in Humanisme intégral, although Maritain does open the door to a politically defined social pluralism, he is not yet prepared to defend a human right to practice a non-Christian religion or to follow a non-Christian way of life.The pluralism supported by Maritain in this text is one based on a politically prudent tolerance. Although Maritain does elaborate a theory of “rights of the human person,”he avoids the language of “human rights” or the “rights of man” during this period.The latter language found its way into Maritain’s work for the first time in 1939, in the draft of “The Conquest of Freedom” (subsequently published in 1940). According to Lorenzini, behind the lexical difference there was, for Maritain, a philosophical and theological difference. Talk of the rights of the human person was linked to the Christian understanding of man as created by God, whereas the language of human rights and the rights of man was linked with the secular political theory of the Enlightenment, especially Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Lorenzini contends that Maritain’s experience with the [CCHR] and of the evil of fascism during the war led him to rethink his approach to rights and finally to work out a reconciliation in his own thought between a Christian political vision and the political legacy of the Enlightenment, a reconciliation made clear by the title of his book Les droits de l’homme et la loi naturelle (New York, 1942).

    Lorenzini’s tone and judgments in the book suggest that he is sympathetic with Maritain’s political theory. The book seems important to me for its account of the evolution in Maritain’s later political thought on human rights, which, as far as I am aware, has not been much discussed.

    In my view this evolution in Maritain’s later political thought is a decline. The position in Humanisme intégral on toleration vs. rights seems more sensible to me. That is not to say that I endorse Humanisme intégral as a whole.