They live by gospel values: honesty, integrity, and compassion. They obey the law. They resist the selfishness that unbelief and materialism breed. And they subordinate their own interests to the common good.
No wonder, says Maritain, that American democracy -- which arose from a Christian people -- has served so well and lasted so long.
Here Maritain shows that in a society unleavened by religious ideals, an enduring democracy can never take root. And once a religious people abandons its faith, even the greatest democracy must wither and die. Untethered from transcendent values, democracy becomes little more than a struggle to be won by the most powerful and the ruthless.
The hour is late. Too long have we stood by while politicians promise never to let their religious beliefs influence their political judgments. Too long has a false understanding of democracy cowed us into laying aside our Christian values when we vote.
As Maritain demonstrates in these lucid pages, Christians are vital to democracy. Good Christians make good citizens, and good citizens make strong democracies. If America and her ideals are to endure, says Maritain, Christians and their values must not be excluded from public discourse, but eagerly welcomed into it.
In looking at the contemporary relationship between Church & State, the compatability of the 'American Experiment' and liberal democracy with Catholic Christianity, the role of religion in public life and education, one is likely to encounter the Jesuit political scholar John Courtney Murray. Less recognized, but rather more substantial in my opinion, is the Thomistic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) -- without consideration of whom no discussion of these issues is complete.
As Michael Novak said in his "salute to Jacques Maritain":
Against the secularist philosophies of his day, Maritain espoused an "integral humanism" -- that is to say, a fully Christian humanism which "considers man in the integrality of his natural and supernatural being" -- which he believed could, if embraced, rescue modern democracy from the materialist spirit by properly orienting it to the 'horizontal' and 'vertical' dimensions of mankind:
Having authored over twenty books, Maritain's writings on these topics can be rather daunting. Hence I was pleased to discover Christianity, Democracy, and the American Ideal, a "Jacques Maritain Reader" by Sophia Institute Press. In the space of a hundred or so pages, James P. Kelly III -- President of the Solidary Center for Law & Justice and Director of International Affairs for The Federalist Society -- compiles small nuggets of Maritain's thought on a diversity of subjects, arranged by pertinent themes as "The Limits of Social Planning," "Christianity and the Common Good," "Faith-Based Initiatives," "The American Experience", and "Christian and Democratic Evolution."
The book itself is deceptively small. Most of these selections are no more than a paragraph long -- just enough, in my experience, to whet the reader's appetite. But Kelley has skillfully arranged the work such that one quickly picks up connections from one chapter to another, and is moved to carefully ponder what Maritain is saying in one passage before moving along to the next.
Those who really want to benefit from Maritain will avail themselves of Kelly's recommendations for "further reading and reflection" at the end of each chapter, conveniently listing key passages from Maritain's numerous works, as well as related papal encyclicals and counciliar documents.
This would make an excellent gift for any student of political philosophy or Catholic layman interested in the social doctrine of the Church -- and, perhaps, to many a political legislator as well.
Maritain's True Humanism, by Richard Francis Crane. First Things 150 (February 2005): 17-23.
The Faith of the Founding, by Michael Novak. First Things 132 (April 2003): 27-32. (defends Jacques Maritain's assertion that modern democracy of the American type cannot be understood apart from the inspiration of the gospel of Jesus Christ).
Nature and Grace: The Theological Foundations of Jacques Maritain's Public Philosophy, by Eduardo J. Echeverria. Associate Professor of Philosophy. Conception Seminary College. Markets & Morality Vol. 4, no. 2 Fall 2001.
Jacques Maritain: Integral Humanism, by Michael S. Joyce. First Things 101 (March 2000): 49-50.
The Christian Personalism of Jacques Maritain Faith and Reason Summer 1991.