The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature - Vol. 1

By John Witte Jr.; Frank S. Alexander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Jacques Maritain (1882–1973)

PATRICK MCKINLEY BRENNAN

According to a commonplace expression, which is a very profound one, man
must become what he is. In the moral order, he must win, by himself, his free-
dom and his personality
.

—JACQUES MARITAIN, SCHOLASTICISM AND POLITICS

Of the twenty figures selected for study in this volume, only one appears in the most comprehensive textbook of Anglo-American jurisprudence. The singleton is Jacques Maritain (1882–1973), and included in Lloyd's Introduction to Jurisprudence are excerpts from one of Maritain's leading books in political philosophy, Man and the State.1 Absent from Lloyd's, however, is any analysis of the inclusions from Maritain. This omission of analysis, a deviation from the textbook's usual practice, perhaps suggests something of the meaning of Jacques Maritain to mainstream English-language jurisprudence. Maritain's work is acknowledged in the wide world of legal philosophy, but not comprehended. Jacques Maritain was a philosopher; indeed, to philosophize, he believed, was his vocation. But Jacques Maritain philosophized, inveterately, in a once-regnant dialect that many today hear but cannot—or will not—understand, let alone defend. It was Maritain's passionate vocation as a philosopher to know, develop, and apply the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, that thirteenth-century member of the Dominican order to whom Pope Leo XIII in 1879 recalled the attention of his faithful. But though Maritain applied his Thomism to the times, to the engines and aspirations of “analytic philosophy” of law, his contribution has seemed largely irrelevant.2

It is not only mainstream philosophers of law who have trouble embracing Maritain. To numerous contemporary Catholics, even those who find in Maritain great jurisprudential treasures, the man is an enigma. Some find in Maritain an authentic Thomist. Others warm to him for going be-

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