- Jacques Maritain e i diritti umani: Fra totalitarismo, antisemitismo e decmocrazia (1936–1951) by Daniele Lorenzini
This is an historical rather than philosophical investigation of Jacques Maritain’s political thought, although it should be of interest to anyone who studies this dimension of Maritain’s work. Lorenzini’s central thesis is that there is a significant development in Maritain’s political thought with respect to human rights between Humanisme intégral (Paris, 1936) and his writings during and after World War II, a development that was probably affected in some manner by the French philosopher’s collaboration with the Committee of Catholics for Human Rights in the United States and its review, The Voice for Human Rights. The earlier development in Maritain’s political thought [End Page 385] between his support of the French monarchist movement Action Française and his shift toward a more liberal position is well known. But the later development, treated by Lorenzini in his book, seems not to have received so much attention.
The book is divided into three chapters. The first chapter treats the history of the American Committee of Catholics for Human Rights and Maritain’s collaboration with it. The committee, founded in 1939 as the Committee of Catholics to Fight Anti-Semitism, sought to counter the growing anti-Jewish tide that was abetted by the radio sermons and periodical Social Justice of the Catholic priest Charles Coughlin. Two leading committee members and friends of Maritain, Emmanuel Chapman and Harry McNeill, encouraged his involvement with the group and asked him to write articles for The Voice. As Lorenzini details, the committee changed its name to the Committee of Catholics for Human Rights to emphasize its support for the brotherhood of men with God as Father and to work for human rights on this basis against the “new barbarisms” of the day that threatened not only Catholics but also numerous other social, ethnic, and religious groups. Maritain’s contact and work with the committee became quite close, given his decision to remain in the United States during the war.
The second and longest chapter charts the development in Maritain’s political theory from Humanisme intégral of 1936 to his publications and speeches on political themes in 1943. Lorenzini notes that in Humanisme intégral, although Maritain does open the door to a politically defined social pluralism, he is not yet prepared to defend a human right to practice a non-Christian religion or to follow a non-Christian way of life. The pluralism supported by Maritain in this text is one based on a politically prudent tolerance. Although Maritain does elaborate a theory of “rights of the human person,” he avoids the language of “human rights” or the “rights of man” during this period. The latter language found its way into Maritain’s work for the first time in 1939, in the draft of “The Conquest of Freedom” (subsequently published in 1940). According to Lorenzini, behind the lexical difference there was, for Maritain, a philosophical and theological difference. Talk of the rights of the human person was linked to the Christian understanding of man as created by God, whereas the language of human rights and the rights of man was linked with the secular political theory of the Enlightenment, especially Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Lorenzini contends that Maritain’s experience with the committee and of the evil of fascism during the war led him to rethink his approach to rights and finally to work out a reconciliation in his own thought between a Christian political vision and the political legacy of the Enlightenment, a reconciliation made clear by the title of his book Les droits de l’homme et la loi naturelle (New York, 1942).
The final chapter is an account of Maritain’s work on the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the systematization of his later political [End Page 386] thought—as it developed after Humanisme intégral—in Man and State (Chicago, 1951).