1944 Political Society

From the very fact that society is a whole made up of human persons, it is apparent that the mutual relationship between the individual and society is complex and difficult to perceive and to describe in its complete truth. The whole as such is greater than its parts. This is a principle which Aristotle emphasized and which every more or less anarchic political philosophy chooses to disregard. But the human person is something more than a part with respect to society. Here is another principle which Christianity has brought to light and which every absolutist or totalitarian political philosophy relegates to darkness.

A single human soul is of more worth than the whole universe of bodies and material goods. There is nothing above the human soul except God. In the light of the eternal value and absolute dignity of the soul, society exists for each person and is subordinate thereto.

‘Every individual person, writes St. Thomas Aquinas, ‘bears the same relationship to the whole community as the part bears to the whole. From this point of view and in this connection, in other words, by virtue of certain of his own conditions, which make him a part of society, the entire person is engaged in and exists with a view to the common good of society.

World_War_II_1942Anarchical individualism denies that the entire man by reason of certain things which are in him, is a part of political society; totalitarianism states that man is part of political society by reason of himself as a whole and by reason of all that is in him (‘everything within the State, nothing against the State, nothing outside the State). The truth of the matter is that the entire man is a part of political society and exists with a view to its common good, but not by reason of himself as a whole.

The entire human person is a part of political society, but not by virtue of all that is in it nor of all that pertains to it. By virtue of still other things which are in it, the entire human person is also above political society. Man finds himself by subordinating himself to the group, and the group attains its goal only by serving man and by realizing that man has secrets which escape the group and a vocation which the group does not encompass.

There is thus for persons themselves within social life a movement which might be called vertical: because the taproot of human personality is not society, but God; and because the ultimate end of man is not society, but God; and because the centre where the person makes more and more perfect its very life as a person is on the plane of eternal things, whereas the level on which it is made part of the social community is that of temporal intercourse.

Thus the person craves society, and tends always to surpass it, until man enters at last into the society of God. From the family group (more basic because it has to do with the perpetuation of the species) the person moves on to civil or political society (more exalted because it has to do with rational life itself), and in the midst of civil society it feels the need for more limited groups or fellowships which will contribute to its intellectual and moral life.

These the person enters of its own free choice, and they assist in its efforts to ascend to a higher level, yet they will end by cramping it, and it will feel obliged to pass beyond them. Above the plane of civil society, the person crosses the threshold of a kingdom which is not of this world and enters a supra-national, supra-racial, supra-temporal society which is called the Church, and which has to do with the things that are not Caesar’s.

The Rights Of Man And Natural Law by Jacques Maritain 1882-1973     Publication date 1944 


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