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Issue 03 – Christ the King 2020


Jacques Maritain's One-Hundred Fifteenth Dream

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Jacques Maritain's One-Hundred Fifteenth Dream

In 1990, Michael Novak penned “The Return of the Catholic Whig,” a declaration that the future of the Church belonged to those for whom classical and Christian philosophy aligned with Friedrich von Hayek. Among the luminaries he endowed with the title of “Catholic Whig” was Jacques Maritain. Maritain’s crucial role in establishing the post-war political order (including the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) have tempted some to laud (or as the case may be dismiss) him as the French John Courtney Murray, with a few interesting things to say about art, or a Catholic John Rawls. This characterization has been buttressed by a selective reading of Reflections on America, The Person and the Common Good, Christianity and Democracy, and other books. Such judgments efface the true image of Jacques Maritain, who was brilliant, politically restless, and above all, quixotic. To call him a “Whig Thomist,” especially under the grimly succinct definition given by Graham J. McAleer (“the conviction that there is, or ought to be, continuity between Catholic social thought and the Scottish Enlightenment”), is a crudely Procrustean falsification. As the postwar global political order continues to dissipate around us, it is important to remember that Maritain saw his own political activity as inadequate and was already planning for a radically different future.

In the fall of 1972, Jacques Maritain met with two members of the Little Brothers who had spent the last seven years in Cuba. Their conversation revolved around Fidel Castro’s recent attempt to eliminate currency. Maritain, fascinated by the staggering ambition of this policy but wary of the totalitarian manner in which it had been implemented, started reading works of political economy at a furious pace. Though he was sick and weak at this point in his life, this conversation called forth from him “a vast and fearful effort of the imagination,” which was eventually put down in the form of a short essay called “A Society Without Money.” Maritain was under no illusion that his attempt to sketch the lineaments of such a society would be adequate to its realization. He set himself the seemingly more modest goal of inspiring economists and all men “disgusted with a civilization in which everything is subject to the absolute rule of the almighty dollar.” Nearly fifty years later, Maritain’s essay remains if anything even more valuable, for we are in a position to see perhaps even more clearly than he did how capital disintegrates, disenchants, misenchants, and evacuates those realities which are most lovely, fragile, and sacred in our world. It does not hesitate, as Pope Francis has shown us in Laudato Si’ and Querida Amazonia, to devour the world herself.

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Andrew Kuiper

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