Once the idea of the authority of God as the Judge of right and wrong is forgotten, law must necessarily lose its primary authority and justice must perish: and these are the two most powerful and most necessary bonds of society. Similarly, once the hope and expectation of eternal happiness is taken away, temporal goods will be greedily sought after. Every man will strive to secure the largest share for himself. Hence arise envy, jealousy, hatred. The consequences are conspiracy, anarchy, nihilism. There is neither peace abroad nor security at home. Public life is stained with crime.
-Pope Leo XIII On Jesus Christ The Redeemer”
“…the appetite of natural riches is not infinite, because according to a set measure they satisfy nature; but the appetite of artificial riches is infinite, because it serves inordinate concupiscence…”
St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 2, a. 1 ad 3.
Jacques Maritain takes up the materialist philosophies and the goal of Catholic social teachings as viewed from the perspective of the individual and the person:
Now let us briefly turn our attention to the materialist philosophies, the materialist conceptions of the world and of life, And let us ask ourselves what happens to the person according to these views. We must not forget, however, that when one deals with a philosophy, there are three things which should be distinguished regarding it. First, the values of sentiment, which exercise a seduction over the minds of its followers, and the simple human aspirations which the latter actually obey, perhaps even without knowing it. Second, what this philosophy says. Third, what it does, and the results to which it leads.
We shall then observe that the materialist philosophies of man and of society, are subject in spite of themselves — I mean because of the actual aspirations of their followers who are men — to the attraction of the proper values and the proper goods of personality, which they desire obscurely even when they ignore them. Hence, in practice, these doctrines can act upon men, only through invoking justice, liberty, the goods of the person.
But what do they perceive, what are they capable of perceiving and of saying, in so far as they are doctrines? Recognizing only that which belongs to the world of matter, blind to the realities of spirit, they perceive in man only the shadow of real personality — the material individuality. And of man they can only tell us this much. Thus, what they do, the result to which in fact they lead, is to deteriorate, to vilify, and to enslave the person, either by dissolving it in anarchy, or, as inevitably happens under the natural necessities of political life, by submitting it entirely to the social body as Number, as Economic Community, or as State.
I can only indicate briefly the criticisms to which we should submit the materialist philosophy of society, considered under its three chief forms: bourgeois individualism, communist anti-individualism and the combined anti-individualism and anti-communism of the dictatorial or totalitarian type.
These three doctrines equally ignore the human person, and are reduced to considering instead the material individual alone.
As one has often observed, bourgeois liberalism, whose pretension it is to base everything on the individual considered as a little god, and on his caprice, on the absolute liberty of property, of commerce, and of the pleasures of life — this liberalism inevitably ends in étatisme, the hypertrophy and absolute primacy of the State.
The rule of numbers produces the omnipotence of the State — a State of the ruminant or plutocratic type. If, in fact, one wants to build up a city, with individuals free in this sense that their first duty is to obey only themselves — it will be possible only upon condition that each one relinquishes his own will to the General Will. Man, considered in his material individuality, being only a part and not a whole, the individual will finally find himself entirely subjected to the social whole by the mechanical connections which insure his junction with it. No doubt, his freedom will remain full and complete, but in an illusory mode and in the world of dreams. Or else he will anarchically refuse the conditions of social life, and there will be the insurrection of the parts against the whole, mentioned by Auguste Comte.
Communism can be regarded as a reaction against this individualism. Its pretension is to aim at the absolute liberation of man, who will become the god of history. But, in reality, this liberation, supposing it were achieved, would be the liberation of collective man, and not of the human person. And even supposing that the political State were finally abolished, Society, as an economic community, would in turn subjugate the entire life of the person. Why? Because the reality of the person as such has been ignored from the very beginning and, with it, the very function of civil society — to procure a common good essentially human, whose chief value is the freedom of expansion of persons, with all the guaranties this entails. Under the pretext of replacing the government of men by the administration of things one transforms this administration of things — that is, economic functions of production and distribution — into the chief work of civil society. But, according to the nature of things, the work of civil society mobilizes for itself the human life of persons, and therefore this life, being no longer mobilized for a common work whose chief aim is the freedom of expansion of persons — but only for the economic output — will find itself inevitably referred in its entirety to this output and to the society which procures it.
As to the anti-communist and anti-individualist reactions of the totalitarian or dictatorial type, it is not in the name of the social community and of the freedom of collective man, but rather in the name of the sovereign dignity of the State, or in the name of the spirit of a people, the Volksgeisrt, or in the name of race and of blood, that they seek to annex the entire man to a social whole, composed of a multitude of material individualities, and not of genuine persons. And it is in the person of a master — the only person in political life who remains facing a regimented world of material individualities — and, as it were, absorbed in the unique person of this master, that the multitude will become conscious of itself and will realize its almightiness.
In all three cases, we behold the conflict of the whole with the parts, of social life with man, considered as material individuality. That which is inherent in the human person as person, and that which is inherent in society as a community of persons, have equally disappeared.
Let me add that we seem to witness to-day a sort of tragedy of these three opposite forms of social and political materialism. The tragedy of bourgeois individualism appears but too clearly in the crisis of morality of our Western civilization and in the disastrous spasms of liberal and capitalist economy.
The tragedy of communism is above all manifest in the interior failure to which its first realizations have led of themselves in Russia, and in the inner conflicts which it cannot help engendering. The successive waves of terrorism in the Soviet Republics have, from this point of view, an extraordinary significance for the philosopher: communism, which is a sort of economic theocracy, requires an extremely rigorous and tense discipline. But it can only seek this discipline through external methods of pedagogy and constraint. Now, without some sort of interior ethics, implying and respecting the aspirations of the soul and of the person, without a vivid faith which communicates its fervor to the minds of people, no strong social discipline is really possible. And thus is inevitable the internal conflict between an anarchy of passions, ambitions, individual energies, employing no matter what means — an anarchy continually reborn — and an “order” which ignores the very principle of order.
Finally, the tragedy of totalitarian States seems to us especially manifest in the fact that, requiring for themselves the total devotion of the person, yet having no respect for the person and its inner reserves, they fatally seek a principle of human exaltation in the myths of external greatness; in an effort toward prestige and external power, never to be achieved. And this inevitably leads to war and to the self-destruction of the civilized community.
Thus, materialistic conceptions of life and of the world — philosophies which do not recognize in man the eternal, the spiritual element — are incapable of guiding man in the building up of a society, because these philosophies are incapable of respecting the exigencies of the person, and this means that they cannot understand the nature of society.
If this spiritual, this eternal element, is recognized, then one also recognizes the aspiration immanent in the person to surpass, by reason of what is highest in it, both the life and the conditions of temporal societies. But then, and at the same time, temporal society can be built up according to the proper order of its being. Its nature as a society of persons is understood, and the natural tendency of the person towards society, and the fact of its belonging morally and legally to the society of which it is part, are equally understood.
This means, definitely speaking, that the relation of the individual to society must not be conceived according to the atomistic and mechanistic type of bourgeois individualism, which suppresses the social organic totality; neither must it be conceived according to the biological and animal type, characteristic of the communist and totalitarian doctrines, which engulf the person, as an histological element of Behemoth or of Leviathan, in the body of the social community or of the State, and which enslave it to the work of this totality.
The relation of the individual to society must be conceived according to a type irreducibly human and specifically ethico-social- — that is, both personalist and communal — and this will then mean an organization of freedoms. Now this is strictly inconceivable without those moral realities which are called justice and civic friendship, the latter being a natural and temporal correspondence of that which, in the spiritual and supernatural plane, the Gospel calls brotherly love.
It thus appears that the most excellent common work toward which, as toward a heroic ideal, the city of our desires must tend is the arduous instauration (vocab: The institution or establishment of something, particularly after decay, lapse, or dilapidation) of this friendship between brothers in labor and hope of the earthly community, which is not granted ready-made by nature, but which can be achieved by virtue.
Here we find once more the considerations which we have expressed earlier concerning the way in which (through a movement of progression which will never find its term on earth) is solved what we have called the paradox of social life. There is a common work to be accomplished by the social whole as such, by that whole of which human persons are parts, and which is not “neutral,” which is itself engaged, held by a temporal calling. And thus the persons are subordinated to this common work. And yet, not only in the temporal order itself, is it essential for the common good to flow back to the persons; but in addition, with regard to an altogether different order, concerning what is deepest in the person, his eternal calling, with the goods attached to this calling — there is in each human person a transcendent end, to which society itself and its common work is subordinated.
Do not forget that society’s common work itself has its chief value in the freedom of personal expansion, with the guarantees it involves and with the diffusion of goodness which proceeds from it. Because the temporal common good is a common good of human persons, it happens, by the grace of justice and friendship, that through subordinating himself to the common work, each one still subordinates himself to the good of persons — that is, to the accomplishment of the personal life of others — and at the same time to the interior dignity of his own person. But this solution can acquire a practical value only if the real nature of common work is recognized, and if at the same time there is recognized, as Aristotle taught, the political value and importance of the virtue of friendship.
It is difficult not to think that the temporal advent of such a city of persons would come as a consequence and an earthly effectuation of this consciousness of the dignity of the human person and his eternal calling in every man whomsoever, which has forever penetrated, through the Gospel, into the heart of humanity.
Democracy inspired by Rousseau, which is now threatened in the world, suffers from a philosophy of life which attempted an illusory naturalization or secularization of evangelical truths. Rather, is not human history laboring to achieve another sort of democracy, which would be an evangelization of nature?
In his book The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, Bergson emphasized the originally religious character of the democratic ideal; in a formula charged with sense (and even with opposite senses), he wrote that one must perceive “in the democratic state of mind a great effort whose direction is inverse to that of nature.”
This can mean that it is an effort finally contrary to nature; which, to my mind, exactly qualifies false democracy, such as bourgeois individualism originating from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s conceptions, and which bases everything on the native goodness and native freedom of the individual — a fictitious individual, shut up in himself. But it can also mean a properly human effort to redress nature, an effort which is linked to the developments of reason and of justice, and which is to be achieved in humanity under the influence of the Christian leaven; an effort demanding that human nature should be super-elevated in its proper order, in the order of the movement of civilization, through the action of this Christian ferment. And I think this is true of genuine democracy, of organic democracy, ordained to the human expansion of concrete and open persons. It is such a democracy, to the preparation for which a well-founded philosophy of history and of society invites us to labor.
Democracy of the individual and humanism of the individual arise from an anthropocentric inspiration. Materialism, atheism, dictatorship, are their fatalities. By saying to men, you are gods by your own essence and will, they have debased men. Practically they have left to men no other internal weight than flat egoism and longing for material possessions.
Democracy of the person and humanism of the person spring forth from a theo-centric inspiration. Conquest of freedom in the social and political, as well as the spiritual order, is their aim — I mean freedom of expansion, exultation, and autonomy, so far as it conforms to the image of God. They say to men: you are gods by the gift and the calling of God, gods in becoming and in suffering and in hope; gods by means of humanity, virtue, and grace. Their weight in men is the weight of love. They dignify the creature really — in God and as made by God and for God; not illusively — as a god itself. They know the grandeur of man, and they know his misery. They respect human dignity, not as something abstract, timeless and non-existent, ignoring historic conditions and historic diversities and devouring men pitilessly. They respect human dignity in each concrete and existing person, in its flesh arid blood and in its historical context of life.
It is to the democracy of the person that one must apply, I think, and riot without certain comments, the thought of Bergson when he writes that at the extreme limit one might say, “Democracy is evangelic in its essence, and that its motive power is love.”
I do not mean, in quoting this formula of Bergson, to link religion and the Gospel to any form of government whatsoever. The Christian religion is not enslaved to any temporal regime. It is compatible with all forms of legitimate government. It is not its business to determine which one of them must be adopted by men hic et nunc (Latin: here and now). It imposes none of them upon their preference. Neither does it impose — so long as certain superior principles are safeguarded — a particular political philosophy. In contrast with individualist democracy, inspired by Rousseau, certain implications of which (as, for instance, the idea that law holds its force from the Number and not from justice) cannot be reconciled with Christian principles, I am convinced that there is nothing in personalist democracy which is not in accordance with the common doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Both Rousseauan and personalist conceptions are very general conceptions of political life, reconcilable to a monarchic as well as to a strictly democratic form of government; but, contrary to the conception of Rousseau, the personalist conception of democracy is first of all determined by the idea of man as God’s image, and by the idea of the common good, of human rights and of concrete liberty; and it is based on Christian humanism. I do not pretend at all, however, that personalist democracy may ever impose itself in the name of the Christian creed, no more than, in the speculative order, Thomist metaphysics can impose itself in the name of this creed.
But the relation which was noticed — I believe justly — by Bergson, between the Gospel and democracy, is not a relation of right, which would oblige us, in the name of Christian doctrine and of the Kingdom of God, to recognize a certain temporal conception and a certain social and political philosophy. It is a relation of fact, which concerns only — as in the question of slavery — the germinations naturally produced in the depths of profane and temporal conscience itself under the influence of the Christian leaven. It is from the historical and cultural point of view, from the point of view of the philosophy of history and culture, that things are here considered. Even under mixed and aberrant forms, and even in the Rousseauan tendency to naturize (and denaturize) the Gospel, is it not the Christian leaven that is still seen fermenting in the bosom of human history, while the unhappy adventure of the individualist democracy is unfolding itself? Under purer forms, and tending this time, as I have said before, to evangelize nature, is it not always, and more truly, the Christian leaven that is at work in history, preparing in it a personalist democracy?
In brief, the question is to know whether, in fact, in the historic development of humanity, a slow work is not being performed, a slow and spontaneous activation of the human mass and of profane conscience, tending to bring the temporal regime of men closer to an order, of which democracy of the individual was but a counterfeit, and which I call here a democracy of the person. And the question is also to know whether this democracy of the person is not inconceivable without the super-elevation which nature and temporal civilizations receive, in their proper order, from the energies of Christian life.
These reflections induce me to think that the drama of modem democracies is to have sought, without knowing it, something good: the democracy of the person, disguised in an error, viz. the democracy of the individual, which leads by itself to serious failures. If democracies are still able to escape grave dangers, it is by turning themselves decisively in the direction of an essentially different type — the democracy of the person, discovered in its real significance. And this presupposes, truly speaking, something quite different from a simple weakening or a simple extenuation of the errors of the democracy of the individual; it means an internal transformation, a complete turn about toward spirit.
Is not the tragedy of our age to be found in the fact that modern era democracies have lost all confidence in themselves? Their vital principle is justice, and they do not want to run the risk of justice. They do not want, it seems, to run any risk whatsoever. They invoke justice, but they pursue purely utilitarian politics, and they pursue them inefficiently and clumsily. (This was written before the second European war. In the face of catastrophe, the Western Democracies have been compelled by the force of things to choose finally, and courageously, to struggle for justice, at the risk of unheard of sacrifices.)
During the same period, totalitarian dictatorships, which put Machiavellian policies much better into practice, have the fullest confidence in their principle, which is barbaric force, and they risk everything thereon.
Modern democracies suffer from a philosophy of life which undermines and annihilates their vital principle from within. If they must refind the sense of justice, and of risk, and of heroism, it is under condition of rejecting their materialist philosophy, and of viewing in full light a personalist conception of life and of society.
To the inhuman humanism of the individual would thus succeed a new humanism — the integral humanism of the person, open to that which surpasses it and leads it to achievement, and open to the common service of justice and friendship.