Jacques Maritain's

Reflections on America










This little book grew out of three seminars which were held at the University of Chicago, under the auspices of the Committee on Social Thought, on November 6th, 7th and 9th, 1956. My talks were stenotyped, and in revising the copy I have added a number of pages, taking care, moreover, in no way to change the original character of my approach. I doubt that I would ever have undertaken to treat of the topic ex professo. So it was essential for me to keep in the book the tone of informal, familiar, and desultory conversation that I used originally. It may happen that some undignified colloquial expressions will be found here and there in my text. Why did I indulge in this kind of vernacular? I no longer wish (as I did in my youth) to irritate the reader, or even to put his sense of humor to the test. But the fact is that I hate a perpetually and uniformly serious style; it is, to my mind, like those grandes robes de pédants of which Pascal spoke and in which people's fancy likes to clothe philosophers. I take truth seriously; I don't take myself seriously.

I thought it especially advisable to have these "random reflections on the American scene"[1] put forward before an American audience and tested by its reactions and criticisms. I must say that the reactions were most encouraging, and that, except for a few points of detail (such as the role of ideology in American history), the comments of the participants in the seminars were a corroboration of the general accuracy of the views I submitted. I wish to express my gratitude to the audience, and especially to the chairman, Professor John U. Nef, as well as to Saul Alinsky, Professor Yves Simon, Mrs. Russell Davenport, Reverend Father John Egan and Reverend Father Edward O'Connor, whose remarks I particularly appreciated.

I am also indebted to the valuable observations of my friends John Hite, Marshall Suther, E. B. O. and Cornelia Borgerhoff. To all of them my most cordial thanks.

I would like to add three remarks.

In the first place: this book emanates from experiences and convictions which are common to my wife and myself. Her admiration and love for this country are as deep as mine. She has long wished that I might bear this sort of testimony, and she has a great part in it.

In the second place: no allusion to politics is to be found in my talks. It is not, to be sure, that I disregard or ignore the importance of political activity. As I grow old I realize more and more how fundamental for mankind this activity is -- and how deeply it depends on the most disappointing contingencies. If I were ever to write on these matters, especially on the matter of international politics, I would have many things to say, and not always flattering, even for the countries I love most. But the subject I had to treat of was quite different, and more appropriate to the only task to which I am now holding fast, which is philosophy. It is by peoples, not by governments, that the attention of a philosopher is captivated.

In the third place: I venture to think that the remarks contained in this book draw a particular significance from the fact that its author is a Frenchman, brought up in the culture and traditions of his country, who looks at the American scene with European eyes -- unbiased, I hope, European eyes -- and who, privileged enough to have been accepted as part and parcel of today's American cultural life, is all the more at ease in uniting love for America and love for France in his inmost affections as he sees between the French people and the American people, how ever profoundly different from one another they may be, a mysterious affinity, a strange and deep-rooted congeniality, which make their historical destinies convergent.


Random as they may be, the remarks submitted in this book are not without some internal order. They are, in actual fact, divided into three groups. The attentive reader will have no difficulty in discerning the reasons for this grouping. Yet it is perhaps better to give some explanation of my own, and to make clear that the first group, composed of Chapters I to VIII, deals with things which are more obvious or more immediately apparent. The second group, composed of Chapters IX to XIV, deals with things which are more difficult to grasp because they relate to aspects more deep-seated in the soul; and the third group (Chapters XV to XX) deals with things which, to my mind, are also of crucial significance, but which have especially to do with the realm of social and cultural life, and with American institutions.

These three groups of reflections are linked by a melodic thread, if I may so put it, which passes from Chapter II to Chapter XIII and Chapter XIX.

May I be permitted to add that in writing these pages I have tried to submit a great variety of remarks to the golden rule of brevity. This book was not made to be read in a hurry. If it is read at leisure, it will perhaps appear not completely useless.

©1996 by The Jacques Maritain Center, University of Notre Dame. All rights reserved.

Reflections on America I