Born and raised in the age of the horse and buggy, the Frenchman Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) is widely regarded as the 20th Century’s most eminent Catholic philosopher. In youth he was a self-admitted candidate for suicide before he abandoned atheism. Early on, at the suggestion of his wife Raissa, he steeped himself in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and by old age had written sixty books of philosophy and theology. At the end of World War II his fame as a thinker earned him appointment to the team that crafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights commissioned by the newly created United Nations. Soon after, he wrote The Person and the Common Good (1947), a book that has suffered unfortunate neglect over the last 70 years, and is now more than ever a necessary guide to overcome the resurgent waves of socialist insanity threatening yet again the collapse of Western Civilization.
Enter Thomas Aquinas
Maritain begins his book by asking, “Does society exist for each one of us, or does each one of us exist for society.” But Maritain regards this traditional way of asking the question as fraught with difficulties. Reaching back into the teachings of Aquinas, he formulates the question differently. The rights of the individual and the rights of society cannot be truly examined unless we stop seeing only the rights of the one against the rights of the many. This is a purely numerical equation that leads to disastrous results. The individual is more than a unit of one. Society is more than a unit of many. Working from St. Thomas, Maritain reminds us that there can be no peace between individualism and collectivism unless first it is recognized that a certain metaphysical proposition is missing from consideration.