Maritain thought most Catholic ideas in his day on the relation of Church and State were ideological rather than an earnest grappling with the increasing secularity of modern society. He sought to describe a relatively “secular” regime that would nonetheless recognize the principles of redistribution and transcendence and conform itself to them. For several decades, his idea seemed likely to succeed, and Christian democracy, to become the postwar alternative to totalitarianism and secular liberalism.
By now, however, that hope can be said largely to have failed. It makes no sense to fault Maritain for that failure or to make him the bête noir by contrast with which a new form of integralism seeks to define itself. For, the moral failings of modern states, and of contemporary culture more generally, can best be understood precisely in a failure to respect the principles of redistribution and transcendence that Maritain articulated so well.
Our age tends to think of economics in terms of winners and losers, as Marx encourages, rather than in terms of a shared good. We make a utilitarian calculus of “greatest good for the greatest number” our standard, rather than the fulfillment of personhood. We have no means to account for the honor involved in sacrificing one’s life for one’s country or faith. We make a little pointless “god” of the individual’s will, rather than respecting the destiny inscribed in each person by the essence of the rational soul. We are “anthropocentric” rather than “theocentric” in our humanism to the extent that we have not merely become anti-human altogether. Our age requires not another integralism, but a renewed integral humanism. Whatever his limitations, Maritain should be the thinker with whom we begin that work.
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