Jacques Maritain Center : The Range of Reason

Chapter Twelve



IN an article published under the title The Dilemma of T. S. Eliot,{1} Mr. Sidney Hook reaches by means of questionable theoretical arguments a practical solution which for quite different reasons seems to me to be on the right track. Even if we are in agreement -- in qualified agreement -- on this practical solution, there are important particulars in which we disagree. These I should like to try to elucidate. Since I have endeavored for many years and in many books to discuss the matters involved, I shall take the liberty of summing up my position here.


1. In the "sacral" era of the Middle Ages a great attempt was made to build the life of the earthly community and civilization on the foundation of the unity of theological faith and religious creed. This attempt succeeded for a certain number of centuries but failed in the course of time, after the Reformation and the Renaissance; and a return to the medieval "sacral"{2} pattern is in no way conceivable. In proportion as the civil community has become more perfectly distinguished from the spiritual realm of the Church -- a process which was in itself but a development of the Gospel distinction between the things that are Caesar's and the things that are God's -- civil society has come to be based on a common good and a common task which are of an earthly, "temporal," or "secular" order, and in which citizens belonging to diverse spiritual groups or "families" equally share. Religious division among men is in itself a misfortune. But it is a fact that we must recognize, whether we wish to or not.


2. In modern times an attempt was made to base the life of civilization and the earthly community on the foundation of mere reason -- reason separated from religion and from the Gospel. This attempt fostered immense hopes in the last two centuries, and rapidly failed. Pure reason appeared more incapable than faith of insuring the spiritual unity of mankind, and the dream of a "scientific" creed uniting men in peace, and in common convictions about the aims and basic principles of human life and society, vanished in contemporary catastrophes. In proportion as the tragic events of the last decades have given the lie to the optimistic rationalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we have been confronted with the fact that religion and metaphysics are an essential part of human culture, primary and indispensable incentives in the very life of society.


3. As concerns, therefore, the revitalized democracy we are hoping for, the only solution is of the pluralistic type. Men belonging to very different philosophical or religious creeds and lineages could and should co-operate in the common task and for the common welfare of the earthly community, provided they similarly assent to the charter and basic tenets of a society of free men.

For a society of free men implies an essential charter and basic tenets which are at the core of its very existence, and which it has the duty of defending and promoting. One of the errors of individualist optimism was to believe that in a free society "truth," as to the foundations of civil life, as well as the decisions and modes of behavior befitting human dignity and freedom, would automatically emerge from the conflicts of individual forces and opinions supposedly immune from any irrational trends and disintegrating pressures; the error lay in conceiving of free society as a perfectly neutral boxing-ring in which all possible ideas about society and the bases of social life meet and battle it out, without the Body Politic's being concerned with the maintenance of any common conditions and inspiration. Thus democratic society, in its concrete behavior, bad no concept of itself, and freedom, disarmed and paralyzed, lay exposed to the undertakings of those who hated it, and who tried by all means to foster in men a vicious desire to become free from freedom.{3}

If it is to conquer totalitarian trends and to be true to its own mission, a renewed democracy will have its own concept of man and society, and its own philosophy, its own faith, enabling it to educate people for freedom and to defend itself against those who would use democratic liberties to destroy freedom and human rights. No society can live without a basic common inspiration and a basic common faith.

But the all-important point to be noted here is that this faith and inspiration, this philosophy and the concept of itself which democracy needs, all these do not belong in themselves to the order of religious creed and eternal life but to the temporal or secular order of earthly life, of culture and civilization. Even more, they are matters of practical rather than theoretical or dogmatic agreement: I mean that they deal with practical convictions which the human mind can try to justify -- rightly or wrongly -- from quite different, even conflicting philosophical outlooks; probably because they depend basically on simple, "natural" apperceptions, of which the human heart becomes capable with the progress of moral conscience. Thus it is that men possessing quite different, even opposite, metaphysical or religious outlooks, can converge, not by virtue of any identity of doctrine, but by virtue of an analogical similitude in practical principles, toward the same practical conclusions, and can share in the same practical democratic faith, provided that they similarly revere, perhaps for quite diverse reasons, truth and intelligence, human dignity, freedom, brotherly love, and the absolute value of moral good. As Mr. Hook puts it, "the underlying premises, whether theological, metaphysical, or naturalistic, from which different groups justify their common democratic beliefs and practices must not be subject to integration" -- let us say to socially or politically enforced integration. "It is enough, so to speak, that human beings live in accordance with democratic laws" -- and, let us add, share in the common -- human, earthly, temporal -- democratic faith and inspiration. "It is foolish intolerance to make only one justification of laws legal."

Here, if we want to be thorough in our thought and do not fear words, we should point out that where faith is -- divine or human --there are also heretics who threaten the unity of the community, either religious or civil. In the "sacral" society the heretic was the breaker of religious unity. In a lay society of free men the heretic is the breaker of "the common democratic beliefs and practices" the totalitarian, the one who denies freedom -- his neighbor's freedom -- and the dignity of the human person, and the moral power of law. We do not wish him to be burned, or expelled from the city, or outlawed, or put in a concentration camp. But the democratic community should defend itself against him, by keeping him out of its leadership, through the power of a strong and informed public opinion, and even by handing him over to justice when his activity endangers the security of the state -- and over and above all by strengthening everywhere a philosophy of life, intellectual convictions, and constructive work which would make his influence powerless.

On the other hand, a serious task of intellectual re-examination should be undertaken regarding the essentials of democratic philosophy. And it would be especially desirable to develop the understanding of the pluralistic principle and the techniques of pluralistic co-operation. It seems to me that the free traditions and the historical set-up of this country would provide special opportunities for such a development.



4. Now what about certain statements offered to us by Sidney Hook in connection with the preceding considerations, and which he seems to regard as self-evident? Are we ready to believe that in the type of society which we are discussing, the "world-wide common faith" implied would find in scientific method its highest source of authority? That an "intelligent social planning" would be sufficient to insure the "integration" of culture? And that, in the democratic culture of the future -- if it has a future -- it will be "the teacher dedicated to the scientific spirit," "and not the priest," "who will bear the chief responsibility for nurturing, strengthening, and enriching a common faith"?

Here are the main points on which I should like to express disagreement with Mr. Sidney Hook's views. I am afraid he has been inspired in these passages by that rationalistic bias whose illusory character I pointed out above (Paragraph 2).

The very expression "common faith" which Mr. Hook uses should make us realize that democratic inspiration cannot find in "scientific method" its highest source of authority. This "faith" is "of a secular not supernatural character"; yet even a secular faith implies the commitment of the whole man and his innermost spiritual energies, and draws its strength, therefore, from beliefs which go far beyond scientific method, being rooted in the depths of each one's individual options and personality. In other words, the justification of the practical conclusions which make such a "common faith," common to all, is in each one, and in the perspective peculiar to each one, an integral part of this very faith. As for social planning, even supposedly intelligent, it is hard to imagine a culture organized and unified by social planning alone. Planned and plain as it might be, such a cultural paradise would offer, I am afraid, little chance for the creative powers of human personality as well as for the enthusiasm and happiness of the people.

The scientific spirit is of invaluable help for culture in so far as it develops in human minds, in a general way, respect and love for truth and the habits of intellectual accuracy. (This is why, let us observe parenthetically, the scientific spirit of the thirteenth-century Schoolmen played so basic a part in the rise of Western culture.) Yet neither culture nor democracy lives on science alone. Science, especially modern science, deals with the means, especially with the material means, of human life. Wisdom, which deals with the ends, is also -- and above all -- necessary. And the fact remains that democratic faith -- implying as it does faith in justice, in freedom, in brotherly love, in the dignity of the human person, in his rights as well as in his responsibilities, in that power of binding men in conscience which appertains to just laws, in the deep-rooted aspirations which call for political and social coming of age of the people -- cannot be justified, nurtured, strengthened, and enriched without philosophical or religious convictions -- "whether theological, metaphysical, or naturalistic" -- which deal with the very substance and meaning of human life. Here appears the truth of T. S. Eliot's emphasis on the organic character of culture, as well as the injustice of reproaching him with suggesting proposals which, if enforced, would result in some kind of "ecclesiastical fascism." For we can be sure it is not to the compulsory power of any ecclesiastical agency but rather to the persuasive power of truth that he makes the effort toward the integration of culture appendant. The effort toward integration must not only be brought about on the level of personality and private life; it is essential to culture itself and the life of the community as a whole, on the condition that it tends toward real cultural integration, that is, toward an integration which does not depend on legal enforcement but on spiritual and freely accepted inspiration.

As a result, it is but normal that in a democratic culture and society the diverse philosophical or religious schools of thought which in their practical conclusions agree with regard to democratic tenets, and which claim to justify them, come into free competition. Let each school freely and fully assert its belief! But let no one try to impose it by force upon the others! The mutual tension which ensues will enrich rather than harm the common task.


5. As for myself, who believe that the idea of man propounded by the metaphysics of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas is the rational foundation of democratic philosophy, and that the Gospel inspiration is its true living soul, I am confident that, in the free competition of which I just spoke, the Christian leaven would play an ever-growing part. In any case the responsibility for nurturing, strengthening, and enriching a common democratic faith would belong no less to the priest, dedicated to the preaching of the Gospel, than to the teacher, dedicated to the scientific spirit, if both of them came to a clear awareness of the needs of our times. Moreover, since it is a question of a secular faith dealing with the temporal order, its maintenance and progress in the community depend primarily on lay apostles and genuine political leaders, who are indebted to the scientific teacher for knowledge of the factual conditioning of human life, but much more, certainly, to the priest for knowledge of its meaning, its ends and its ethical standards.

Finally, if I affirm that without genuine and vital reconciliation between democratic inspiration and evangelical inspiration our hopes for the democratic culture of the future will be frustrated, I do not appeal to police force to obtain such reconciliation; I only state what I hold to be true. It would be foolish intolerance to label as intolerance any affirmation of truth which is not watered down with doubt, even if it does not please some of our democratic fellow- citizens. I insist as forcefully as T. S. Eliot that the Christian leaven is necessary to the life and integration of our culture. From the religious point of view, I would wish all men to believe in the integrity of Christian truth. From the social-temporal point of view, I would be satisfied if the Christian energies at work in the community were radiant with the fulness of supernatural faith in a number of men, and retained at least a sufficient degree of moral and rational efficacy in those in whom these energies still exist, but in a more or less incomplete -- or secularized -- form.

It is true, moreover, that supernatural faith does not provide us with any particular social or political system. In such matters supernatural faith must be complemented by sound practical philosophy, historical information, and social and political experience. Yet supernatural faith, if it is truly lived -- in other words, if Christians know "of what spirit they are" -- provides them with basic inspiration and vital truths which permeate their social and political systems and work for human dignity, against any kind of totalitarian oppression.

Allow me to add that to consider the religious faith of a poet like T. S. Eliot as "the object of a deliberate will-to-believe enjoying an uneasy triumph over the scruples of intelligence" is perhaps the only way in which an unbeliever can explain to himself such a strange phenomenon, but is, I venture to think, a sure proof of those lofty intellectual scruples and large capacities for explanation fostered by unbelief. It is not more relevant to pretend that the neo-Thomists regard as "disorder" "the spirit of inquiry and innovation" -- I don't mean skepticism -- and "the advance of liberty of thought and behavior," if this liberty is inspired by a love for what is true and good.

I should like to conclude by saying that I am sincerely pleased in finding myself this once in agreement, even qualified, with Sidney Hook -- except for the points to which I have just referred, which are of no little importance. Such an agreement on practical conclusions between philosophers whose basic theoretical outlooks are widely separated is, to my mind, an illustration of the pluralistic co-operation of which I spoke.

{1} The Nation, January 20, 1943.

{2} On the notion of "sacral" (or "consecrational") civilization, see True Humanism, pp. 137 ff., and Man and the State, pp. 157 ff. -- See also Charles Journet, L'Eglise du Verbe Incarné, Desclée De Brouwer, Paris, 1941, p. 243.

{3} Cf. Augusto J. Duvelli, Liberation de la Liberté, L'Arbre. Montréal, 1944.

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