Jacques Maritain Center : The Range of Reason

Chapter Thirteen



IN addressing the Second International Conference of Unesco I should like first to make reference to two remarks made by President Léon Blum on November 1, 1945, when he spoke at the Conference which established the Organization. At that time Mr. Léon Blum recalled that, as early as 1944, in San Francisco, the French delegation bad caused a motion to be adopted the first clause of which stated that "peace among nations, if it is to be just and enduring, must be based upon mutual understanding and knowledge." He added: "What all of us want (not only those of us here present, but also those whose temporary absence we regret) is to contribute to international security and peace, as well as to the welfare of the peoples of the world, as the blue-print of the Conference of ministers states in its first sentence."

Speaking of the French delegation's request to have the headquarters of the Preparatory Commission established in Paris, Mr. Blum also said: "We beg you not to interpret our request as something which France would consider its due because of some intellectual or spiritual prerogative. France's qualifications are more ancient than those of other nations; they are not more glorious. If we did have an advantage, it would stem from the fact that French culture has always tended towards universality, and that there is in France an age- old tradition of generosity and liberality with respect to the things of the mind which are in keeping with the spirit of the future organization. It would also stem from the fact that in France, all branches or forms of human civilization -- the sciences, general culture, literature, the arts, and technology in so far as it borders upon art -- have always developed side, by side and in reciprocal connection."

In my opinion these lines accurately characterize the contribution which the French spirit may be expected to make to the common work of an organization in which all cultures and civilizations must play their part, each being animated by its own particular spirit, whether it springs from the Latin or from the English-speaking world, or from the Eastern or the Far-eastern world, and in which patient experimental inquiry and search after guiding rational principles must complement one another. Mr. Blum's general remarks are also of great value to a philosopher, as I am, whose calling demands that he examine things in their universal aspects, and that he endeavor to bring out from reality the principles of an intelligible synthesis. So I feel encouraged to call to your attention certain general problems which seem to me of crucial importance.

Our Conference meets at a particularly serious moment in the history of the world, a moment when faced with growing international tension and antagonisms the dangers of which cannot be ignored, vast portions of public opinion risk becoming obsessed by the spectre of catastrophe, and surrendering to the idea of war's inevitability. The anguish of peoples breaks like a mighty surf on every shore. In this world prostrated by post-war grief, and by the leaden mantle of rival economic, political and ideological interests, shall not those who are dedicated to the works of the mind and who feel the responsibility of such a mission give voice to the primitive instinct for preservation, to the immense longing for peace and freedom, to the repudiation of death and misfortune which, despite a strange apparent passivity more closely resembling despair than strength of soul, is stirring within the deepest recesses of men's consciousness? Shall they not proclaim that resignation to disaster is the worst of follies; that fear and fear-engendered reflexes, if one yield to them, attract the very dangers one most apprehends; that the more dramatic the plight of the people becomes, and the more clear-sighted firmness it demands of statesmen, the more vigorously the idea of the inevitability of war must be denounced as a fatal surrender on the part of human intelligence and human dignity? Shall they not, if only for the honor of our race and for the resources of the future, appeal to that conscience of men, which must be awakened and upon which depends the whole outcome of the struggle against collective suicide and for the actual building of peace? I am well aware that such declarations are neither within the province of Unesco nor of this Conference. At least I may say that the present conjuncture reminds us forcefully that the mission of Unesco is to contribute effectively -- as Mr. Léon Blum said in the speech I have quoted -- to international security and peace. I also may say, as Mr. Archibald MacLeish pointed out at the second session of the Executive Council, that Unesco was not created to look after the theoretical progress of Education, Science and Culture, but to make use of it in the concrete and positive work of peace to be established among peoples.

It is this practical goal of our organization that I wish to emphasize. At the same time I shall try to analyse its implications.



Before coming to Unesco's specific work, I shall take the liberty of making a few remarks concerning problems which inevitably arise in conjunction with the practical goal just mentioned, and which are of consequence for the personal conscience of each one of us. For it is not through ideas alone nor through facts and figures alone that the preliminary task which conditions and prepares the work of peace can be brought about both in the world and in human consciousness; it is through an effort of man's spiritual powers to bring to light the basic difficulties, and to reach decisions concerning them; and such an effort can only result from a personal meditation in which each individual commits himself.

The first questions which present themselves to one who meditates seriously on the conditions for a just and enduring peace are obviously those called forth by the idea of a supranational organization of the peoples of the world. Everyone is aware of the obstacles to carrying such an idea into effect; they are even greater today than immediately after victory. At the present time, a truly supranational world organization is beyond the realm of possibility. A philosopher, however, would fail in his duty if he did not add that this very thing which is today impossible, is nevertheless necessary, and that without it the creation of a just and enduring peace cannot be conceived. Hence it follows that the first obligation incumbent upon the men of today is that they work with all their forces to make possible what is thus necessary.

If you speak to specialists in international law of the ideas set forth by Mr. Emery Reves in his Anatomy of Peace, if you tell them that the advent of a state of permanent peace necessarily presupposes the abandonment of the concept of absolute national sovereignty, and demands that relations between nations be regulated no longer by treaties but by law, they will answer that these ideas are not new to them; they have known all this for a long time. What they also know full well is that, in the present structore of the world, as history has formed it, and precisely because it is based on the absolute sovereignty of states, all the paths by which the states and the governments, even if they so desired, could move toward such a transformation, are blocked by insuperable obstacles. What are we to conclude except that this transformation, if it is ever attained, will be attained along other paths? I mean through an impetus arising from human conscience and from the will of the peoples, and so vast and powerful that it will command the assent of states and governments, even of those least disposed to give free rein to spontaneous movements of opinion. If there exists an effort toward creative transformation in support of which men of good will may call upon the peoples of the earth, (and even should some irrational currents join in, as usually happens in such cases) it is precisely this effort toward a supra- national community founded upon law and directed, within the limits of its well-defined powers, by men whose functions invest them with a citizenship which is itself supra-national.

Is the world capable of making such an effort? What crises will still be needed to convince men that it is a necessity? All we can say, without being unduly optimistic, is that a few preliminary signs are to be seen. It is not without significance that under the authority of Doctor Robert M. Hutchins a Committee of intellectuals and educators to Frame a World Constitution was formed in the United States in 1945, deriving its inspiration from the initiative taken by the Federalist at the time of the struggle for the Constitution of the United States of America.{2} It is not without significance (and it is a privilege for me to have the honor of calling it to mind at this time), that one of the paragraphs in the preamble to the Constitution of the Fourth French Republic is drafted in the following terms: "On condition of reciprocity, France consents to those limitations of sovereignty necessary to the organization and defence of peace."

Now may I be permitted to dwell for a moment on an observation which, however commonplace, commands, I believe, the attention of every one of us: namely that in human history the spirit's achievement always lags behind matter and factual event. It is all too clear today that the spirit has failed in a certain number of essential tasks which the world expected of it, and whose nonfulfillment may well prove costly. Our intellectual atmosphere will remain poisoned as long as a few crucial problems are not clearly posed, and a solution to them proposed to men, at least as concerns the intrinsic truth of the matter. Among these problems, I shall cite three, each of a very different nature.

The first is the problem of Machiavellianism and Realpolitik. The rehabilitation of the post-war world imperiously required that (if not, alas, in the behavior of states, then at least in the consciousness of the peoples, and in common intelligence) it be clearly understood that the maxim according to which politics must not be concerned with moral good and evil is a homicidal error. We had to understand that Machiavellianism, although it may afford immediate success, by its very nature leads to ruin in the long run; that absolute Machiavellianism inevitably devours moderate Machiavellianism, and that the principle and virtue of Machiavellianism, whether absolute or moderate, can only be conquered by the principle and virtue of genuinely political justice, in a spiritual climate fit for the development of some heroic determination.

The second problem concerns the collective moral transgression into which a people may fall, and the collective moral recovery to which they may be bound in conscience. For speculative thought as well as for practical judgment, there is no more difficult, no more perilous problem. But that is no reason for evading it. Ever since we were confronted with the crimes committed against humanity by Nazi Germany, this problem has had us by the throat. It is not good for men to remain in the dark about it.

It is doubtless true that no nation is blameless; in the distant origins of the conflicts which have taken place in the course of history, every nation may have more or less cause for self-accusation. But that is not the point. Nor is it the point that the faults committed by a state and by its leaders entail historical sanctions which the nation must accept, not only as inevitable, but as justified. The true question concerns a people's awareness or lack of awareness of the evil by which they allowed themselves to be contaminated, and of which the members of a community (even those who remained personally immune, even those who fought against that evil) recognize or do not recognize that the community was guilty.

It is not good for a people to humiliate itself before others. But it is not good for a people to settle into stiff-necked pride. There is a way of beating the breast and accepting abjection which destroys the dignity of a nation. But there is also a way of refusing to beat the breast, while deceiving one's conscience and nurturing hatred, which destroys this dignity just as unmercifully. Is there no way out of this dilemma? Is there not a way of acknowledging, with sorrow and strength of soul, the faults of the community to which one belongs, and of desiring at all cost that the community atone for them and free itself of them -- a way which, for a people determined to rehabilitate itself morally, is at the same time an evidence and a safeguard of its dignity? After having wished to enslave the world and trusted in a Fuehrer of perdition for the sake of national interest placed above any other consideration, the German people underwent an unprecedented defeat. Today they are suffering grievously, and it is our duty as human beings to have compassion on them in their pain. But the worst tragedy which could befall them would be if such suffering proved vain and failed to awaken an awareness of their responsibilities, and, at the same time a horror of the evil committed and the will to give worthy service to the human community in a purified moral atmosphere. It is up to the nations to help the German people against despair. It is up to those who are solicitous of the spiritual rehabilitation of the German people, particularly those who, within Germany itself, are in charge of moral and religious interests, also and first of all to tell them the truth, not in order to humiliate them or to overwhelm them, but in order to give them what they have a right to expect in their misfortune, and what is the primary condition of their moral rebirth. At this point it is necessary more than ever to reaffirm the primacy of the spiritual. If, in the depths of the German conscience, repentance and hope -- a virile repentance and a righteous hope -- are not awakened at one and the same time, then the German problem will continue to be fraught with misery for the German people themselves and for the peace of the world.

The third problem, the urgency of which each one of us realizes, is the problem of the human value and human use of science and technology. The coming of the atomic age has suddenly exposed to the world the terrible countenance of this problem. Man no longer believes that science and technical skills can by themselves ensure the progress and happiness of the race. Rather he is filled with terror at the sight of the destruction and calamities science and technical skills can bring about. Men of science are examining themselves; and it is with profound respect and in a sincere attempt to discern the bearing of the drama involved, that we must consider the anguish of a scientist of genius like Albert Einstein.

It is not enough to draw the attention of the peoples to the world- destroying catastrophes which the discoveries of modern physics may well lead to, if another armed conflict should occur. Fear is not enough to make men wise. And it is not enough to tell them that these same discoveries, if used for purposes of peace, can open unprecedented vistas of prosperity and freedom to the human race. A possibility is not enough to create happiness. What is required of human intelligence is an awareness of the fact that we have entered a crucial age in our history, a period when, under pain of death, the gigantic implements of power obtained by the scientific mastery of matter must be made subject to reason, in overcoming the irrational temptations to which human beings are liable, especially in their collective existence. It is also necessary to understand that there is an inner hierarchy and a vital inter-connection among the virtues of the human soul, so that, whereas the province of science deals with the means, the realm of ends pertains to something which is not science, and is not commensurable with it, and is called wisdom. We can be assured of neither peace, nor liberty, nor dignity in the world of tomorrow so long as, in the structures of civilization and in the consciousness of men (and of the scientists themselves) science and wisdom are not reconciled, and the practical applications of science are not rigorously submitted to right ethical will and to the true ends of human life. There was a time when we expected science to solve or do away with problems of ethics, metaphysics and religion, then we counted on the scientists to constitute one day the spiritual authority which would lead mankind toward the green pastures of necessary progress. Today we have to defend science against those who, after asking of it more than it could give, now accuse it, just as unreasonably, of being bankrupt. And, on the other hand, we see men of science engaged in a serious internal examination, in which is questioned the relationship between their conscience as men and the possible use of their work as scientists. We even see them in danger of being treated by the states as mere industrial ore made particularly valuable by its output in terms of discoveries. Thus it is the very dignity of science and of the scientist which is at stake; and it is to maintain and preserve this dignity, as well as to direct the applications of science toward the welfare of the world and not toward its destruction, that mankind stands in need of a powerful renewal of the disciplines of wisdom, and of a re-integration of ethical, metaphysical and religious truths into its culture, and of that reconciliation of science and wisdom which I have mentioned above.



I have spoken of a few problems which concern all of us because they relate to certain spiritual and cultural conditions dealing with that to which Unesco aims to contribute, namely the building of peace. My final remarks will bear upon another type of problem, which refers to the proper work of Unesco and to the kind of agreement in the midst of diversity which is required by that work.

At first glance there is something paradoxical in Unesco's task: it implies intellectual agreement among men whose conceptions of the world, of culture, of knowledge itself are different or even mutually opposed. In my opinion it behooves us to face this paradox, which is but an expression of the great distress in which the human spirit finds itself today.

Modern thought has been labeled with Babelism, and not without reason. Never indeed have men's minds been so deeply and cruelly divided. As human thought is pigeon-holed into more and more specialized compartments, it becomes more difficult to bring to consciousness the implicit philosophies to which each of us, willy nilly, is committed in actual fact. Doctrines and faiths, spiritual traditions and schools of thought come into conflict without it being possible for the one even to understand the signs which the others use to express themselves. Every man's voice is but noise to his fellow- men. However deep we may dig, there is no longer any common foundation for speculative thought. There is no common language for it.

How then, under these circumstances, is an agreement conceivable among men assembled for the purpose of jointly accomplishing a task dealing with the future of the mind, who come from the four corners of the earth and who belong not only to different cultures and civilizations, but to different spiritual lineages and antagonistic schools of thought? Should an agency like Unesco throw up the game, give up any assertion of common views and common principles, and be satisfied only in compiling documents, surveys, factual data and statistics? Or should it, on the contrary, endeavor to establish some artificial conformity of minds, and to define some doctrinal common denominator -- which would be likely, in the course of discussion, to be reduced to the vanishing point?

I believe that the solution must be sought in another direction; precisely because, as I pointed out at the beginning, Unesco's goal is a practical one, agreement among its members can be spontaneously achieved, not on common speculative notions, but on common practical notions; not on the affirmation of the same conception of the world, man and knowledge, but on the affirmation of the same set of convictions concerning action. This is doubtless very little; it is the last refuge of intellectual agreement among men. It is, however, enough to undertake a great work, and it would mean a great deal to become aware of this body of common practical convictions.

I should like to note here that the word ideology and the word principle can be understood in two very different ways. I have just said that the present state of intellectual division among men does not permit agreement on a common speculative ideology, nor on common explanatory principles. However, when it concerns, on the contrary, the basic practical ideology and the basic principles of action implicitly recognized today, in a vital if not a formulated manner, by the consciousness of free peoples, this happens to constitute grosso modo a sort of common residue, a sort of unwritten common law, at the point of practical convergence of extremely different theoretical ideologies and spiritual traditions. To understand that, it is sufficient to distinguish properly between the rational justifications, inseparable from the spiritual dynamism of a philosophical doctrine or a religious faith, and the practical conclusions which, separately justffied for each, are, for all, analogically common principles of action. I am fully convinced that my way of justifying the belief in the rights of man and the ideal of liberty, equality, fraternity, is the only one which is solidly based on truth. That does not prevent me from agreeing on these practical tenets with those who are convinced that their way of justifying them, entirely different from mine, or even opposed to mine in its theoretical dynamism, is likewise the only one that is based on truth. Assuming they both believe in the democratic charter, a Christian and a rationalist will, nevertheless, give justifications that are incompatible with each other, to which their souls, their minds and their blood are committed, and about these justifications they will fight. And God keep me from saying that it is not important to know which of the two is right! That is essentially important. They remain, however, in agreement on the practical affirmation of that charter, and they can formulate together common principles of action.

Thus, in my opinion, can the paradox I pointed out earlier be solved. The ideological agreement which is necessary between those who work toward making science, culture and education contribute to the establishment of a true peace, is restricted to a certain body of practical points and of principles of action. But within these limits there is, and there must be, an ideological agreement which, for all its merely practical nature, is none the less of major importance. In the justification he offers for that body of practical principles, everyone commits himself fully, with all of his philosophical and religious convictions -- how could he speak with faith, if not in the light of the speculative convictions which quicken his thought? But he is not entitled to demand that others subscribe to his own justification of the practical principles on which all agree. And the practical principles in question form a sort of charter which is indispensable for any effective common action,and the formulation of which would matter to the good itself and the success of the peace- making work to which their common endeavors are dedicated.

That is why it is fitting to stress the crucial importance -- but limited to the merely practical order -- of the common ideology to which Unesco has appealed from the time of its foundation. I am thinking especially of the declaration of principles, in the Preamble drafted at the London Conference, in which it is stated, among other things, "that the great and terrible war which has just ended was made possible by the denial of the democratic ideal of dignity, equality and respect for the human person, and by the will to substitute for that ideal -- in making capital out of ignorance and prejudice -- the dogma of the inequality of races and of men"; and "that, since the dignity of man requires that culture and education be made available to all in view of fostering justice, freedom and peace, all nations have in this regard sacred obligations to fulfil in a spirit of mutual assistance." That is why I believe that one of the most important tasks undertaken by the United Nations is the new declaration of the rights of man, which Unesco is helping to draft.{3}

More generally speaking, if it is true not only that the end of Unesco's task is a practical end, but also that on this practical end depend both the harmony of the minds within the organization and the effectiveness of its action, then is it not obvious that the Organization of the United Nations for Education, Science and Culture can best carry out the difficult work assigned to it, and fulfil the expectations of the peoples, by concentrating primarily on a small number of far-reaching accomplisbments? This view has already been supported by the representatives of France on previous occasions.

I should like to add another recommendation: that we should not give to human sciences less interest and favor than to the physical ones. Do we not believe that the knowledge of man and the development of a new humanism are, in the order of science and culture, what matters most for the preparation of a peace lastingly established? Our knowledge of man, moreover, is much more difficult and much less advanced than our knowledge of the physical world; it needs all the more to be helped and encouraged. In this connection one is surprised to see that up to now, in the budget of Unesco, not only are the credits set aside for administrative expenses considerably larger than those destined to creative undertakings, but that even within this latter category, the amounts allocated to human sciences -- to that science of human relations whose importance President Roosevelt rightly stressed -- have been much smaller than those ear-marked for the sciences concerned with material nature.

I should like to add that to make science, culture and education serve the tasks of peace does not mean separating the organization of scientific work from action for peace in such a way that on the one hand we would concentrate on purely theoretical and supposedly exhaustive, analysis and planning and, on the other hand, we would confine our practical activity for peace to a mere effort to spread Unesco's ideals by means of the techniques of masscommunication. Our specific task consists rather in organizing the scientific work itself, as well as the cultural and educational work, with a view to the task of peace to be promoted. It is from the very beginning that the organization should aim at that practical goal, so that by serving science itself in its very search for truth, by furthering international co-operation betw&en scholars and scientists, and by urging them to join forces in enlightening common consciousness, we may succeed in interesting the world of science and culture, as well as peoples themselves in the work of peace pursued by Unesco.

In any case, what I have tried to set forth in the latter part of this address is the practical nature of the goal toward which we are working together, and the necessity that our task be based on practical convictions and practical principles held in common. The goal of Unesco is to contribute to the peace of the world, to international security and to the lasting welfare of peoples, through the instrumentality of Education, Science, and Culture. We all know that there is no peace without justice. We all know that, in the words of the Preamble I referred to a moment ago, "since wars are born in the minds of men, it is within the minds of men that the defences of peace must be erected." And we all know that if the work of peace is to be prepared in the thought of men and in the consciousness of nations, it is on the condition that minds come to be deeply convinced of principles like the following: Good politics is first and foremost a politics that is just; -- every people should strive to understand the psychology, the development and traditions, the material and moral needs, the proper dignity and historic calling of the other peoples, because every people should look out not only for its own advantages but for the common good of the assembly of nations; -- this awakening of mutual understanding and of the sense of the civilized community, though it supposes (given the age-old habits of human history) a sort of spiritual revolution, nevertheless answers requirements of public emergency in a world which, from now on, is one world for life or for death, while it remains disastrously divided as to political passions and interests; -- to place national interest above everything is a sure means of losing everything;.a community of free men is only conceivable if it recognizes that truth is the expression of what is, and right the expression of what is just, and not of what is most expedient at a given time for the interest of the human group; -- it is not permissible to take the life of an innocent man because he has become a useless and costly burden to the nation, or because he impedes the successful undertakings of any group whatsoever;the human person is endowed with a dignity which the very good of the community presupposes and must, for its own sake, respect, and is also endowed, whether as a civic, or as a social or working person, with certain fundamental rights and fundamental obligations; -- the common good comes before private interests; -- the world of labor has a right to the social transformations required by its coming of age in human history, and the masses have a right to participate in the common treasure of culture and of the spirit ; -- the domain of consciences is inviolable; -- men of various beliefs and spiritual lineages must recognize each other's rights as fellow-citizens in the civilized commuitity; -- it is the duty of the state, for the very sake of the common good, to respect religious freedom as well as freedom of research; -- the basic equality of men makes prejudices of race, class or caste, and racial discrimination, offences against human nature and the dignity of the person as well as a deep-seated threat to peace.

If a state of peace worthy of the name, firm and enduring, is to be established one day among the peoples of the world, this will depend not only upon the economic, political and financial arrangements reached by diplomats and statesmen, nor will it depend solely upon the juridical building up of a truly supra-national co-ordinating organism endowed with eflicient means of action; it will depend also upon the deep adherence of men's consciousness to practical principles like those I have recalled. And, to state things as they are, it will depend also upon that bigger soul which, according to Bergson, our world, become technically greater, needs, and upon a victorious outpouring of that supreme and free energy which comes to us from on high, and whose name we know -- whatever may be our religious denomination or school of thought -- to be brotherly love, a name which has been pronounced in such a manner by the Gospels that it has stirred the conscience of man for all time.

{1} United Nations Educational. Scientific and Cultural Organization. This conference was held in Mexico, November 6, 1947.

{2} Dr. Hutchins, who is now one of the Directors of the Ford Foundation was then President of the University of Chicago. The "Preliminary Draft" for a world constitution was printed in the March, 1948, issue of the monthly Common Cause (University of Chicago), edited by Mr. G. A. Borghese.

{3} This new declaration was adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.

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