'Integral Humanism, Freedom in the Modern World, and A Letter on Independence; Revised Edition'
By Jacques Maritain (Author), Otto Bird (Editor, Translator), Joseph Evans (Translator), Richard O'Sullivan K.C. (Translator)
The three books presented in this volume, Integral Humanism, Freedom in the Modern World, and A Letter on Independence, were all written in the early 1930s, a time of dire trouble for France. France was then surrounded by enemies preparing for war and was itself so violently split between parties of Left and Right that it seemed on the verge of Civil War. In this collection, Jacques Maritain accepts the responsibility of a Christian philosopher to actively address the agonizing practical problems of the time.
Maritain discusses major political issues such as the relation of freedom and religion, the opposition of democracy to any form of totalitarianism, the relation of the spiritual and the temporal, the need for an integral and Christian humanism, and the prospects for a new Christian civilization, all in opposition to the materialism of both communism and capitalism.
Against the fierce antagonism of the parties of the political Left and Right, Maritain declares a plague on both their houses and strongly affirms the need for independence from both of them. He does so by distinguishing between two senses of the terms Left and Right, one denoting a temperamental or physiological disposition, the other a definite political position. In the latter sense, Maritain asserts that he is an independent, while acknowledging that he is, by temperament, a man of the Left.
T. S. Eliot once called Jacques Maritain "the most conspicuous figure and probably the most powerful force in contemporary philosophy." His wife and devoted intellectual companion, Raissa Maritain, was of Jewish descent but joined the Catholic church with him in 1906. Maritain studied under Henri Bergson but was dissatisfied with his teacher's philosophy, eventually finding certainty in the system of St. Thomas Aquinas. He lectured widely in Europe and in North and South America, and lived and taught in New York during World War II. Appointed French ambassador to the Vatican in 1945, he resigned in 1948 to teach philosophy at Princeton University, where he remained until his retirement in 1953. He was prominent in the Catholic intellectual resurgence, with a keen perception of modern French literature. Although Maritain regarded metaphysics as central to civilization and metaphysically his position was Thomism, he took full measure of the intellectual currents of his time and articulated a resilient and vital Thomism, applying the principles of scholasticism to contemporary issues. In 1963, Maritain was honored by the French literary world with the national Grand Prize for letters. He learned of the award at his retreat in a small monastery near Toulouse where he had been living in ascetic retirement for some years. In 1967, the publication of "The Peasant of the Garonne" disturbed the French Roman Catholic world. In it, Maritain attacked the "neo-modernism" that he had seen developing in the church in recent decades, especially since the Second Vatican Council. According to Jaroslav Pelikan, writing in the Saturday Review of Literature, "He laments that in avant-garde Roman Catholic theology today he can 'read nothing about the redeeming sacrifice or the merits of the Passion.' In his interpretation, the whole of the Christian tradition has identified redemption with the sacrifice of the cross. But now, all of that is being discarded, along with the idea of hell, the doctrine of creation out of nothing, the infancy narratives of the Gospels, and belief in the immortality of the human soul." Maritain's wife, Raissa, also distinguished herself as a philosophical author and poet.
Note: 'Great Books of the Western World' recommends 'Integral Humanism' and 'Freedom in the Modern World' by Jacques Maritain.