Reflections on America

Reflections on America III

Jacques Maritain

XV. Some American Illusions

The illusions I shall point to in this chapter are in no way specifically American. But they seem to me to be not infrequent in this great country; so that their very generality allows me to speak of them as "some American illusions."

Illusion number one. In some respects the American conception of life appears as a continuation of the eighteenth-century optimistic views on Man and Nature.

At first glance it would even seem that this country fosters belief in the goodness of Nature, the natural goodness of Man, in the Rousseauist sense. Everything would be all right if Nature were not repressed, and were left to its own inclinations (without distinguishing between the metaphysical essence of man and the particular nature and existential condition of each one). In other words, there is no hidden root of evil in our nature, no original sin, no need for divine grace. In this way of thinking, which is seemingly accepted here and there but remains quite superficial, and concerns words and the conversational approach more than concepts or any reasoned-out conviction, we have to do with a trend toward naturalism more insidious, I think, than the threat of materialism. The assumption (rather general in our modern world) is that man will attain a state of merely natural perfection and merely natural bliss, and triumph over evil by the sole instrumentality of human energy and human science, and that he is his own Saviour (with the additional guarantee, if you need the solace of religion, of God's approval and encouragement).

Yet there is some serious inconsistency in this very naturalism, because we are confronted with a quite opposite tendency, originating, I think, in a residue of (and bitterness against) old Puritanism.

And from this other point of view Nature is not so good. There is an idea that human nature is fundamentally miserable -- a set of brute instincts and desires which clash with each other, and which are not disciplined from within by moral conscience, to be sure, but only repressed from without by social taboos.

As a result, if it were not for the existence of psychologists and engineers, we should say with the ancient Greeks: it were better for man never to have been born.


Illusion number two. It is generally believed that success is a thing good in itself, and which it is, from an ethical point of view, mandatory to strive for.

In this American concept of success there is no greediness or egoism. It is, it seems to me, rather an oversimplified idea that "to succeed" is to bear fruit, and therefore to give proof of the fact that psychologically and morally you are not a failure.

This is a very old illusion, already denounced by Socrates: mistaking external success, which depends on a great many ingredients extraneous to ethical life -- good connections, cleverness, good luck, ruthlessness, and so forth -- for genuine "success" in the metaphysical sense, that is, for the genuinely human happy issue which is internal, and consists in having, as Socrates said, a "good and beautiful soul."


Illusion number three. This is an illusion into which ethically minded people are liable to fall, and which boils down to mistaking the part for the whole.

What I mean is that given a particular objective -- for instance, such and such group interest, or business interest, or national interest -- which, considered in itself, is, moreover, morally good, some responsible people happen to make this particular good into a universal or an absolute, disregarding the superior and more general good on which, under the circumstances, the rightness of our conduct depends.

Then they believe that what is good for their business or for the particular job with which they are entrusted is good for America, and for mankind. And they believe it with a perfectly clear conscience -- a fact which enrages more cynical people, who know very well that if they had taken the same course of action they would have done so without bothering about any moral justification.


Illusion number four. Every professor is liable to meet young men or young women who loathe, in the name of equality, the very notion of any kind of hierarchy even if it is a question of the degrees of knowledge (it is offensive to say that wisdom is superior to science, or philosophy to chemistry).


Illusion number five. Americans seem sometimes to believe that if you are a thinker you must be a frowning bore, because thinking is so damn serious.


Illusion number six. You seem, also, to believe that you don't obey any man but only law; and that your condition as free men demands that you should be governed not by other men, exercising authority under the law of the land and according to law -- but by Law itself, with a capital "L," by an abstract entity which has neither soul nor hands.


Illusion number seven. A number of Americans seem to consider that marriage must be both the perfect fulfillment of romantic love and the pursuit of full individual self-realization for the two partners involved.

XVI. Marriage and Happiness

Among the "American illusions" of which I just spoke, the last one -- about marriage, romantic love and the pursuit of full individual self-realization -- poses, I think, particularly important problems and deserves particular attention.

It is perhaps advisable to try to elucidate the matter a little more by resorting to a few general considerations, and first of all to state more explicitly what I had in mind when I used the expression "romantic love."

To my mind "romantic love" is sexual love when it goes beyond the sphere of simple animality (in which it remains rooted), and bursts into full bloom in the properly human sphere, exalting and ravishing everything in the human being -- sentiments, thought, creative activity, which are henceforth imbued with and stimulated by the basic passion of desire.

Such a love carries man beyond himself -- in imagination -- into a kind of poetical paradise, and makes him believe that he is entirely and eternally dedicated to the one he loves, and that he lives and breathes only for this one, while in reality this other human person is so passionately cherished first of all for the sake of sexual desire and possession, which remain the primary essential incentive.

This romantic love might be defined as a total intoxication of the human being by sexual desire taking the loftiest forms and disguised as pure and absolutely disinterested, pure and eternal love of the other.

Now, since sexual attraction and satisfaction remain the essential incentive and the essential aim, it must be said that romantic love -- l'amour passion -- being but a transcendent human expression of the strongest animal instinct, is, by nature: first, deprived of permanence and liable to fade away; second, unfaithful and liable to shift from one object to another; and third, intrinsically torn between the love for another, which it has awakened, and its own basically egoist nature.

Consequently, to found marriage on romantic love, and to think that marriage must be the perfect fulfillment of romantic love is, as I submitted, a great illusion.

Mankind has been so well aware of this fact that for centuries marriage, being considered a merely social affair, was regarded as a thing with which personal inclination and personal love had nothing -- or very little -- to do. I am thinking of all those marriages which were arranged by parents, for family interests or tribal considerations -- even national interests when it was a question of kings and queens. So that sometimes a boy and a girl had never met one another before they were married.

There was some sad, wicked wisdom in this conception, so far as it recognized the fact that romantic love and married love are two quite different things; and that the aim of marriage is not to bring romantic love to perfect fulfillment.

Yet, in proportion as, in the course of history, the human person became more and more aware of his or her own value and own importance, the merely social conception of marriage to which I just alluded appeared more inhuman and more harmful. For, especially in modern times, a result was that in a number of cases men and women looked for mutual personal love, and romantic love (which is an inherent dream of the human being) outside of marriage. Thus people came to realize that if mutual personal love, and even initially an element of romantic love, are not a necessary requirement of the validity of marriage -- at least they are a necessary requirement for its intrinsic dignity and welfare.

Finally, the truth of the matter, as I see it, is, first, that love as desire or passion, and romantic love -- or at least an element of it -- should, as far as possible, be present in marriage as a first incentive and starting point. Otherwise, it would be too difficult for the human being, if and when an opportunity for romantic love outside of marriage should later appear, to resist the temptation; for what makes man most unhappy is to be deprived not of that which he had, but of that which he did not have, and did not really know.

The second point is that far from having as its essential aim to bring romantic love to perfect fulfillment, marriage has to perform in human hearts quite another work -- an infinitely deeper and more mysterious, alchemical operation: I mean to say, it has to transmute romantic love, or what existed of it at the beginning, into real and indestructible human love, and really disinterested love, which does not exclude sex, of course, but which grows more and more independent of sex, and even can be, in its highest forms, completely free from sexual desire and intercourse, because it is essentially spiritual in nature -- a complete and irrevocable gift of the one to the other, for the sake of the other.

Thus it is that marriage can be between man and woman a true community of love, built not on sand, but on rock, because it is built on genuinely human, not animal, and genuinely spiritual, genuinely personal love -- through the hard discipline of self-sacrifice and by dint of renouncements and purifications. Then in a free and unceasing ebb and flow of emotion, feeling, and thought, each one really participates, by virtue of love, in that personal life of the other which is, by nature, the other's incommunicable possession. And then each one may become a sort of guardian Angel for the other -- prepared, as guardian Angels have to be, to forgive the other a great deal: for the gospel law of mutual forgiveness expresses, I believe, a fundamental requirement which is valid not only in the supernatural order, but in the terrestrial and temporal order as well, and for basically natural societies like domestic society and even political society. Each one, in other words, may then become really dedicated to the good and salvation of the other.


After these general considerations, I come now to the American scene. I shall content myself with a brief outline of my subject -- I am afraid a whole book would be necessary to attempt a satisfactory study of it.

Speaking of books, there are, from the point of view of rather superficial but witty and valuable observation, a lot of interesting remarks in a book by David L. Cohn, Love in America,[43] which I remember reading some years ago.

The first thing I would say is that the problem of the relations between the sexes seems to me to be still more important, and still more dramatic, in this country than that of the relations between management and labor, and even that of the relations between races.

Then, I would say that in my opinion American men and women have undertaken with great courage and good will an attempt to found marriage on mutual love (more than on considerations of social standing, clannish interests, expectations of inheritance, and so forth), and to have marriage bring happiness to husband and wife as human persons essentially equal in rights and dignity.

And this is all for the best, indeed, except for the fact that the attempt in question does not seem to be largely successful, and that in too many cases good will ends in unhappiness and conflict: probably, I think, because there was some fundamental mistake in the interpretation of the ideal I just alluded to, and which is quite right in itself but can be understood in a misleading way (if by love one understands romantic love, and by happiness, individual self-realization).

My final observation is that the problem of which I am speaking, and which risks making the pursuit of happiness a delusion for so many people, will be successfully solved -- so far as in human affairs any solution is possible -- when the American mind comes to realize two basic verities.

The first verity is that love is not sex, and that that kind of love on which marriage must be founded is not primarily sensual passion, l'amour passion, nor romantic love and that philtre by which Tristan and Isolde were divinely intoxicated -- but a deeper and more lasting love, into which, as I said a moment ago, romantic love must be transmuted, and in which sex and passion are but a prime incentive. This deeper and more lasting love takes root and develops at the properly human and spiritual level where the one accepts to be entrusted with the revelation of, and the care for, all that the other is in his or her deepest human depths, and where the will is fully dedicated to the good and happiness of the one loved.

The second verity is that if one expects from marriage, in the name of the equal dignity of each one, a final assertion and realization of what one thinks of as one's personality and which is actually no more than self-centered individuality, one prepares for oneself a hell of disappointment and bitterness: because without love, genuinely human love, marriage is a state of servitude, and because love, genuinely human love, is essentially the gift of oneself, that is to say, precisely the opposite of any selfish and self-centered assertion and enjoyment of one's individuality.

As a result, it is through renouncement of such self-realization that real love leads man and woman to a superior form of freedom and happiness, which is purified, and spiritual in nature, and in which the personality of each one is enlarged and uplifted, each one being henceforth primarily centered in the other, or having his or her dearest self in the other. In contradistinction to love as desire or passion, we have here, I would say, in the etymological sense of the word, love as ecstasy, which makes the human being pass, and exist, outside himself.

I am not suggesting that the two verities I just mentioned are put into practice anywhere in the world more than in this country, or that it is easy to have married life conform to them.

I do suggest that these two verities show us the only way in which it is really possible to make successful the American attempt to found marriage on mutual love only, and have it bring happiness to husband and wife as human persons essentially equal in rights and dignity.

In other words, they express the only true and really human meaning of the ideal after which the American concept of marriage is striving.

XVII. American Openmindedness and Intellectual Courtesy

I have particular admiration for the openmindedness and intellectual courtesy which are to be found here, and which are characteristic of American culture. Nowhere, I think, is it possible to find such eagerness for everything which appears as genuine research and genuine endeavor to disclose some aspect of truth -- an eagerness which is in relation with that thirst for knowledge, that sense of mutual toleration, and respect for human effort, of which I previously spoke. Such vast, encyclopaedic interest in the multifarious aspects of intellectual pioneering is not separated from the typical American interest in man. American people -- not only institutions of learning, centers of research, or foundations, but a surprising number of private individuals as well -- are anxious to discover men from whom any kind of improvement in the common treasure of the mind may be expected, and to give them a helping hand, so that they can pursue their work in a way profitable for mankind. And all this is done with unequalled thoughtfulness and courtesy.

In some strata of the American population there is, as everybody knows, strong racial bias, and a good deal of religious bias also. Yet what about intellectual bias? My long experience in American life has taught me that there is considerably less intellectual bias and prejudice here than in Europe.

Of course, bitter personal jealousies between scholars, scientists, and professors, not to speak of other vocations, exist here as elsewhere; and even the fact of seeming eccentric, or of appearing too brilliant and aggressive a reformer, or of not "playing the game" according to accepted social rules, is no more forgiven here than elsewhere.

But this fact has to do with community life, with social rules and customs, not with the inner content of the intellectual message a man is conveying. As concerns the proper life and works of the intellect, what I have experienced here is an openmindedness which partakes of the nature of fairness and generosity, and which is a blessing for the general progress of culture.


Permit me to take my examples from the field I know best -- the field of philosophy.

I am, as you perhaps know, a Thomist philosopher. There was in France, before the war, a strong Thomist movement, but it resulted from the effort of a few rebels who had a talent for crying the truth from the housetops; the steady policy of the official intellectual circles was -- and still is -- to refuse to recognize even the existence of their work, because nothing, of course, can be expected for philosophy in our times from a man -- a theologian! and a saint! -- who lived in the thirteenth century.

Now in America, philosophers who hold Thomas Aquinas to be a contemporary thinker are teaching not only in Catholic but in secular universities as well. Here in Chicago we remember some good stories on the matter.[44]

In no European university would I have found the spirit of liberty and congeniality I found at Princeton in teaching moral philosophy in the light of Thomas Aquinas.

Speaking of Princeton, where I am now enjoying the Elysian status of an Emeritus, let me say how indebted I am to President Harold Dodds,[45] and let me indulge, by the same token, in a bit of personal recollection. In December 1947, returning to Rome from Mexico City, I stopped in New York for a few hours to change planes. President Dodds was there; he had been so kind as to come to New York to offer me -- if I should resign my diplomatic post at the Vatican -- a professorship at Princeton University, precisely in my capacity as a philosopher dedicated to the spirit and principles of Thomas Aquinas. The fact that Princeton is a secular university of Presbyterian origin made him only more interested in such a teaching appointment.

The spirit of liberty of which I am speaking is linked, I think, to the perpetual process of self-criticism and self-improvement which can be observed in small colleges (which are the backbone of your educational system) as in great universities, and in great Catholic universities like the University of Notre Dame as in great secular universities like Princeton or Chicago. I am proud to give regular lectures now both in Notre Dame and Chicago, and at Hunter College too, which is an old friend of mine -- I had the honor of speaking at the inauguration of President George Shuster, on October 10th, 1940 -- and where the same spirit of liberty is fostered by this great Christian humanist.

Well, to return to my point after personal digressions (which are, I am afraid, not yet quite finished), the fact is that in philosophical reviews of the most various persuasions it is objectively stated that "neo-Thomism," as they say, is one of the living currents in American philosophy today. The National Society for the Study of Education asked a Thomist philosopher to write a chapter in its Yearbook for 1955, entitled Modern Philosophies and Education. (So, according to this Yearbook, Thomism ranks among modern philosophies. Never did M. Emile Bréhier or his colleagues at the Sorbonne recognize the fact.)

All that is a simple matter of intellectual fairness and objectivity.

And let me tell you of another instance, which has for me quite special overtones. There is a great commentator on Thomas Aquinas, John of St. Thomas, who lived in the seventeenth century. He was a dearly loved master and inspirer for me and my friends. But we were quite lonely in our worship of him. The French intellectual circles of which I just spoke were, of course, sublimely ignorant of him; nay more, among people interested in Thomas Aquinas a strong majority assumed that they had sufficiently good eyesight to read the text of the Summa without any assistance, and they simply loathed all commentators, and particularly John of St. Thomas, because of his highly technical and involuted style. Finally, however, it was possible to have a good edition of his works published in Latin in France and in Italy; and even a French translation of his treatise on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which is a basic treatise in spiritual life, was published by my wife. But the very idea of having his logical and philosophical treatises translated into French (or into Italian, or German) was inconceivable; and as a result of the general situation I just described, he was for our little group a kind of hermetic and esoteric wise man, whose knowledge was the privilege of the chosen few.

Well, the Material Logic of John of St. Thomas, a book of six hundred and fifty pages, has appeared in English here, translated by our friend and colleague Professor Yves Simon and two remarkable young American scholars.[46] The book was published by the Chicago University Press, and was given a large and most favorable welcome in the philosophical reviews of this country.[47] If it seems today almost as natural to read John of St. Thomas as to read Berkeley or Leibnitz, we owe this victory over age old prejudices, which we could not even have dreamed of twenty-five years ago, to the openmindedness of American culture.


Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.

America makes life hard for her great men. It is not, however, in the funeral oration that she is interested, as some other nations are. She puts her great men to the test, she enjoys seeing them fiercely attacked by their adversaries, but she loves them, even before the grave.

And in the ordinary course of life, when simply men, and not necessarily great men, are involved, Americans are generous enough not to be afraid to feel and express gratitude each time they have an opportunity to do so.

Chateaubriand has a telling sentence: "Les hommes sont ingrats," he said, "mais l'humanité est reconnaissante." Men are ungrateful, but mankind shows gratitude.

Let us say that the distance between man and mankind does not appear so great in this country.

XVIII. Work and Leisure

Many anti-American cartoons abroad depict Uncle Sam brandishing a dollar as a symbol of American civilization. There is more ignorance than malice in this platitude. As a matter of fact, it is not money, it is work which holds sway over American civilization.

Everybody is working, and working hard. In this sense all are fundamentally equal, as working people (and people burdened by mortgages and deferred payment systems) who work to make a living, and who, after their daily hours, busy themselves again with any kind of task -- handicrafts, improving their houses, sometimes building them, as Dr. Butterfield did, who was so sorry to leave his frame house, entirely built by him, when he became President of Wesleyan University. And they are more proud of their hobbies than of their jobs.

American civilization thus lays stress on the dignity of work and the fecundity of work transforming matter and nature. These are basic verities, in spite of all the fuss that the modern age is making about them -- verities that essentially matter to man and society, and which ancient civilizations more or less ignored.


Yes. And for all that the fact remains that a certain boredom is caused by the absolute primacy of work and the disregard for the human value of leisure. Here is the dark side of the picture.

Let us think of the American attitude toward time. There is here, it seems to me, a certain horror of any span of time which a man might have at his own disposal in order to do nothing. The great value and efficacy of standing idle, and lingering over one's dream, is little appreciated in this country. One might wonder, for instance, whether committee meetings and all similar periodically recurrent administrative nuisances have not been invented to prevent professors, once they have finished lecturing, from having any time for idleness -- that is to say, for thinking at leisure and pursuing their own research.

Well, friendship requires a great waste of time, and much idleness; creative thinking requires a great deal of idleness. So it is that leisure constitutes a serious problem for American life, especially given the social and technical progress, the automation, for instance, which makes working hours shorter and shorter in industry.

The question will be to have leisure time occupied in a manner really profitable to man, and not entirely taken up by the sort of stupefying passivity that is more often than not developed by movies or television. As long as a new cast of mind does not develop, involving a certain amount of spiritual epicureanism, the quality of leisure in the modern world will not be on a level with the quality of work.

If it is true, as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas thought, that man cannot do without a certain amount of delectation, so that when he is deprived of spiritual delectations he passes over to carnal ones, how be surprised that all over the rnodern world the mass of humanity tamed by the general boredom of mathematized labor, should, if no superior flame is kindled, naturally become a prey to the obsession of sex (here the phenomenon, while taking especially pedantic forms, mentioned in a previous chapter, has its external or symbolic expression in a curious return to a Greek nostalgia for the figure of Venus).

No leisure time will be enough for man to experience the joys of knowledge, of art and poetry, of devotion to great human causes, of communicating with others in the dreams and anxieties of the mind, of silently conversing with himself and silently conversing with God.

Work, which is a fundamental necessity of our existence, is not an end in itself. We work in order to improve human life. But will this very improvement, in ourselves and in others, only consist in working again and working more? Or will it also consist in the attainment of some superior possession, in which we shall rest? There are many kinds of rest. Laziness is sin. Amusement is good, but less good than work. Certain kinds of repose, in which the mind is supremely active, and reaches, however imperfectly, some fruition of immortality through its contact with truth, or with Eternal Love, are better than work.

Higher forms of leisure are no longer leisure but act come to completion. And the highest form is contemplative activity. Be still, and know that I am God.[48]


And now, as regards work itself, further considerations may be submitted. The multiplication of technical and artificial facilities for work is intrinsically good, there is no doubt about that. But if these facilities grow at the expense of the natural energies and resourcefulness of individuals, they might result, per accidens, in a sort of overcivilization, removing us too far from our native source and that keenness of instinct which was a privilege of primitive man. The mental habits produced by the mechanization of work impair to some extent the sensitivity and agility of fingers in certain especially delicate manual tasks, and the average American worker, accustomed as he is to following carefully elaborated plans and standard regulations, happens sometimes to shift for himself in unforeseen situations less well than his European fellow worker. I don't deny the fact. I do not believe that the risk implied will ever develop into a serious threat.

Some Americans think that their country, despite the wonderful candor and freshness which are shown by its young people, is rendered older than the Old World by the excess of artificial contrivances and artificial improvements of which it likes to make use. Are they young or old, all these cities where it has become a problem to purchase food products which have not been improved, enriched or energized by a foolish lot of vitamins, proteins, maltose, dextrins, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium bicarbonate, milk powder, honey, butter, spices and artificial flavors (fruits are sometimes varnished but not yet injected with anti-histamines or tranquilizers)?

I have never been very much impressed by this line of argumentation. The description just offered was of course slightly exaggerated, for the fun of it. And in general the facilities which art adds to nature only make older, I think, those who have no real youth in themselves. Here, in any case, the instinctive counteraction is not lacking; almost every American dreams of having a farm, and a number of people -- not to speak of the farmers themselves -- enjoy the real thing. Furthermore one notes, in this highly industrialized country, an amazing fondness for roving about in trailers, breaking new ground, prospecting for the natural riches of the soil, conquering the wilderness, or even leading a solitary life in forests, mountains and lonely spaces.

If it can be said that Americans are not a young people, this is surely not because they like gadgets. The statement is true in quite another sense -- in the sense that while they are cheerfully engrossed in building their skyscrapers and their cyclotrons, the age-old experience of the world in misfortune and hard times is secretly flowing back into their hearts, and the unconscious, nocturnal part of their minds is obscurely struggling with all the old dreams, anxieties, and fatigue of mankind, as with haunting ghosts: a revenge that the maliciousness of history is taking on them . . .

XIX. American Lessons on Political and Social Philosophy

This chapter will deal with matters in which, as a philosopher, I am especially interested.

In actual fact, it is in America that I have had a real experience of concrete, existential democracy: not as a set of abstract slogans, or as a lofty ideal, but as an actual, human, working, perpetually tested and perpetually readjusted way of life. Here I met democracy as a living reality. Residing in this country, and observing with lively interest the everyday life of its people, as well as the functioning of its institutions, is a great and illuminating, an unforgettable lesson in political philosophy.

Let me submit a certain number of remarks in this connection.


My first remark deals with a characteristic which is peculiar to this country, in contradistinction to Europe. We are confronted here with a social structure which is spontaneously and organically differentiated from its very base -- just the opposite of the false dogma of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who asserted that no particular society should be permitted in the state.

There is in this country a swarming multiplicity of particular communities -- self-organized groupings, associations, unions, sodalities, vocational or religious brotherhoods, in which men join forces with one another at the elementary level of their everyday concerns and interests.

At the higher level we see here a plurality of states, each one with its particular political life and legislation, which have finally grown into a single great Republic, a single Federal State.

Such basic organic multiplicity, with the tensions involved, and sometimes a kind of puzzling diversity which resembles a medieval feature (I am thinking, for instance, of the diversity from state to state in the laws regarding daylight saving time), such basic organic multiplicity is, in my opinion, a particularly favorable condition for the sound development of democracy.

Historically, the great fact is that this country was born of politico-religious communities whose own autonomous behavior, traditions, and self-government have left an indelible impression on the general mood of the American people. Hence, at the very time when the necessities of life and the extraordinarily fast growth of the American nation oblige it to increase more and more the powers of the Federal State, the American mind still does not like the look of the very notion of state. It feels more comfortable with the notion of community.

I understand in the same way the fact that the feelings and instincts of community are much stronger in this country than in Europe (especially in individualistic France), the result of which is a tension, perpetually varying in intensity, between the sense of the community and the sense of individual freedom.

Such tension, to my mind, is normal and fecund in itself. Of course, it happens to create conflicts, especially when the community feels that it is threatened in its very life, and reacts, biologically so to speak, with "posses" which hunt men who are not necessarily criminals. Then a counteraction follows as a rule, in the name of moral tenets such as individual freedom and civil rights, without which the very existence and unity of the nation cannot hold.

Is it true that today the genuine sense of the community has degenerated, in a certain number of people, into what Dr. David Riesman calls the "other directed" type? I am afraid this sociological category is a little too much of a scientific myth, though the worship of adjustment to the environment is sure to be, everywhere in the world, one of the mental diseases of present times. The special dangers it represents for this country must not be underrated. Too many schoolboys and schoolgirls crave to be "popular." Too many individuals are made either sheep-like or miserable by the tyranny of social conformity in suburbs or country towns (and not only there).

Pursuing now the considerations with which I began, about the organically differentiated structure of American society, I would like to observe, from the practical point of view, that without that background of differentiated and variegated grouping at the most elementary level of social life, on which I have laid stress, a great social undertaking like the one Saul Alinsky started in Chicago with the Back-of-the-Yards movement, and now the Industrial Areas Foundation -- an undertaking which is rooted deeply enough in the people, and whose inspiration is genuine enough, to be able to re-oxygenate the blood of our democracies -- would be either impossible or at least very difficult.

In Europe the collective life of the people is both so atomized and so imbued with politics, so subjugated by political parties, that such an undertaking would require there much longer and more exacting preparatory tilling of the soil. A good friend of mine, who was as enthusiastic as I was about Alinsky's book, Reveille for Radicals,[49] and who had accompanied me when I went to Rome as French Ambassador to the Holy See, made every effort to start a similar work in Italy, in order to encourage the people and their various natural leaders, in a particularly needy community in the suburbs of Rome, to awake to their collective problems and to join forces in solving them. For a few weeks it was splendid; he thought he had scored. But very soon everything went to pieces, because the whole business shifted to politics -- the only question became which political party would take the upper hand, and reap the moral benefit of the organization.

I must add that in Saul Alinsky's view my friend had put the cart before the horse. He should have begun by stirring up in these atomized communities small local, non-political, grass-roots groups; and only after such groups had functioned for several months should he have attempted to make the community as a whole start a common task. This is the way in which Saul Alinsky himself proceeded, and succeeded, with completely unorganized Mexican immigrants in some regions of the United States.


I come to my second remark. It has to do with the fact that in this country we see the democratic philosophy of life at work in everyday existence. I remember my first impressions in your American cities. I was struck by the fact that I was confronted with no humiliated or servile attitudes, or resentful and aggressive faces.

I know that there is the Bowery and the over-crowded and distressed areas of Harlem in New York, and the slums in Chicago. There are the tramps, there is the subproletariat of the "poor whites" in the South and some sections of the Negro population. And, thank God, there are also the hospitality houses founded by Dorothy Day. It is a fact that everywhere in the world the industrial regime tends to make the unorganized or unorganizable individual, the pauper, into the victim of a kind of human sacrifice offered to the gods of civilization. That is the last social disease for mankind to cure by dint of intelligence and generosity everywhere in the world.

But let us return to my remark, which is concerned with the behavior of the average citizen of this country, considered from the point of view of political life.

The average citizen here, whatever his particular vocation may be, appears, as a rule, satisfied to be a man and aware of his basic freedom and dignity as a human being. This basic feeling of personal human dignity is also deep-rooted in the French people. And yet I have come to realize here that the motto of the French Revolution, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity -- which can be read even on the front of French prisons (just as in Rome the name of the Holy Spirit is used in connection with a bank, Banco di Santo Spirito) -- this motto means in America more than a venerable formula; it corresponds to a general way of thinking which is really at work in the common consciousness and the common existence of the people, and which imparts to the feeling of personal human dignity I just pointed out that kind of assurance which comes from common social recognition.[50]

Let's go a little further. It is the teaching of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas (when they speak of the city, the political society, as distinguished from the tribe) that political society is a work of reason and virtue, and implies a will or consent to live together, which freely emanates from the "multitude," or the people.

Well, my point is that nowhere in the world has this notion of the essence of political society been brought into existence more truly than in America.

The American body politic is, I think, the only one which was born independently of the various historical constraints (wars of subjugation, conquests, submission of the conquered to the conquerors, etc.), which in actual fact contributed to create human societies and played so great a part in its own pre-natal conditions. The American body politic is the only one which was fully and explicitly born of freedom, of the free determination of men to live together and work together at a common task. And in this new political creation, men who belonged to various national stocks and spiritual lineages and religious creeds -- and whose ancestors had fought the bitterest battles against one another -- have freely willed to live together in peace, as free men under God, pursuing the same temporal and terrestrial common good. Lincoln's phrase about the government of the people, by the people, and for the people is the best definition of political democracy, and was but an expression of the concrete, existing reaity he dealt with. Furthermore, as regards the aim of American democracy, they cannot be better defined, I think, than by another statement of Abraham Lincoln's -- when he spoke, in his First Message, of "the struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life."

I add that the great political achievement of which I am speaking was not only brought about by the forefathers of this country. It is a continuous process of self-creation. And so it is that we can witness here the temporal fellowship of men who have determined to live together by a free choice of their own, in freedom and for freedom; and, consequently, the integration of the new-comers, by virtue of their own free choice, into this terrestrial fellowship in freedom and for freedom. This freedom is not a celestial condition received once and for all, and to be simply enjoyed. Existing in history, and being a human thing -- a most precious and lofty, and therefore endangered, human thing in the realm of civilization -- it is perpetually threatened by new obstacles and perils arising from new situations in the process of time; and it must be perpetually defended and improved, it must be a new conquest and creation for each generation. It permits of no inertia, no passivity, no rest. It must be unceasingly regenerated by the life-breath of a free people, and so it is one with this very life-breath.


The American system is in my opinion the best conceived and the most efficient (at least in the long run) among all existing democratic regimes. For all that, it is neither perfect nor (and this is a proof of its very excellence) made for perfect beings. In order to operate in actual existence, the superior wisdom and lofty principles of the Constitution need the assistance of the less noble stir of human interests and ambitions that the political machines shrewdly elaborate into a kind of political fuel finally available for the progress of the nation. Hence it is that according to witty observers the gratitude of the country should extend not only to the Founding Fathers, but also far below them -- to the "Founding Uncles,"[51] whose psychological flair was responsible for the practical mechanisms, tricks and gadgets in question (such as log-rolling and the "spoils system" for instance).

A particular weak point present in every political regime founded on freedom is the fact that -- the people as a whole being unable to keep an eye on each and every force at play in the nation -- certain sorts of invisible powers inevitably tend to develop behind the scenes. The "eternal vigilance" exercised by good citizens is the only answer, with the subsequent reforms and readaptations it entails. In America this answer is always sure to be given, sooner or later. But the problem surely exists, nevertheless. It has chronic symptoms, such as the impact exercised on public life by pressure groups and powerful semi-offlcial organizations. For the time being, it seems that its most urgent form has to do with the astonishing growth of corporations.[52]

The weak point I mentioned in the preceding paragraph is common, in one form or another, to all democracies. May I now offer some remarks which are concerned with this country in particular? On the one hand, I think that the American institution of the Supreme Court is one of the great political achievements of modern times, and one of the most significant tributes ever paid to wisdom and its right of pre-eminence in human affairs. Yet, on the other hand, and perhaps because Frenchmen are great admirers, at least in theory, of the principle of the séparation des pouvoirs, I am afraid this principle is not always as treasured here as it deserves to be. Let us not speak of the distinction between the executive and the legislative branches of the government -- this distinction is impaired in practice to a much greater extent in the French system than in the American one. But a European observer is, I think, inevitably made unhappy by the fact that in America judges[53] and district attorneys[54] are elected by popular vote as are any candidates of a given political party, and have to be successful at the polls and therefore have to avoid estranging the voters. Does not, moreover, a kind of mingling of the judicial and the political take place in other typical instances? As far as I know, a Congressional committee is not considered to be invested with any judicial authority, because its final purpose[55] is only to gather adequate material for legislative work; that is why it is not subject to the specific rules and guarantees of the courts; and, nevertheless, being empowered to investigate the private activities of individuals it performs in actual fact a certain number of functions which by their very nature pertain to the judicial realm.[56]

Finally, with regard to some present attitudes of the people themselves in their political life, there is probably a good deal of truth in the observation made recently (that is, at the time when this book was being completed) by a competent authority on the matter. "Complacent, prosperous and well fed," Adlai Stevenson said, "most of our people want to also feel secure. They don't want to worry. . . ." And thus, instead of worrying about the common good, they prefer to busy themselves "with their new suburban homes and communities. . . ."[57] It has been widely remarked in recent years that -- perhaps because they are confronted with world problems apparently too big to be mastered by man -- people seem to have, in general, little interest in the dangers involved in a certain trend now developing, whatever the party in power may be, toward conformity and regimentation.

The various criticisms I have just brought up invalidate in no way my praise of the American political system. They only show that this system is human, not angelic; and that, precisely because it is a great human conquest, it demands from men a perpetual effort to surmount its imperfections, and to keep it working, and to keep improving it.


I hope you will pardon me if I seem now to give a more personal turn to my reflections. The fact is that I would Iike to refer to one of my books, Humanisme Intégral,[58] which was published twenty years ago. When I wrote this book, trying to outline a concrete historical ideal suitable to a new Christian civilization, my perspective was definitely European I was in no way thinking in American terms, I was thinking especially of France, and of Europe, and of their historical problems, and of the kind of concrete prospective image that might inspire the activity, in the temporal field, of the Catholic youth of my country.

The curious thing in this connection is that, fond as I may have been of America as soon as I saw her, and probably because of the particular perspective in which Humanisme Intégral was written, it took rather long time for me to become aware of the kind of congeniality which existed between what is going on in this country and a number of views I had expressed in my book.

Of course the book is concerned with a concrete historical ideal which is far distant from any present reality. Yet, what matters to me is the direction of certain essential trends characteristic of American civilization. And from this point of view I may say that Humanisme Intégral appears to me now as a book which had, so to speak, an affinity with the American climate by anticipation.


Let me give a few indications in this regard.

First, American society is, at least in the most basic, if not the most complete sense, a classless society. This has nothing to do with the enormous difference in economic welfare and social standing which exists between a few multimillionaires, a number of wealthy ladies and gentlemen, and the huge mass of the population. It has nothing to do, either, with the subtle gamut of social differentiations which depend on family traditions and customs, and make American society really so diversified behind a misleading appearance of uniformity: these differentiations are all the more interesting as they are half concealed, and only disclosed to persons in the know through significant nuances in the vocabulary, the dress, the manners; yet they do not interfere with the stream of social inter-communication, and they relate to cultural differences in education and behavior, more than to differences in economic standing.

My point deals with the genuine concept of class, which, as Goetz Briefs has shown in his book on the industrial proletariat,[59] implies in its very definition a certain element of fate or inevitability, I mean the fact that a class, in the proper sense of the word, refers to a social condition which as a rule is hereditary, and to a fixed, solid, relatively immobile social structure: the children of a man and woman who belong to a certain class will also belong to this class; and save for a few accidental exceptions which are but confirmations of the rule, it will be so from generation to generation.

Furthermore, as a result of this fixed social partitioning, a given class mentality, even a given class morality, will develop within each of the social classes in question.

Now, nothing of this nature exists in America, by reason of the kind of fluidity which is peculiar to this country.

On the one hand, there is the well-known fact that everyone is liable to shift from one social position to another; today poor -- tomorrow rich -- day after tomorrow, penniless again. And this perpetual change is normal, so that there is no hereditary stability in social conditions.

On the other hand, the utmost diversity of social standing exists among the children of any given family. There is a basic inter-communication, a universal mixing of men and ideas. The most various mentalities, owing to national, religious, geographical, professional, environmental factors, are to be found here. There is no class mentality.

We see, thus, in what sense it must be said that America has brought about in the climate of freedom a classless society. This statement is basically true, as far as the strict sociological concept of class is concerned. But it will become truer in proportion as actual equality of opportunity for each one develops, and as the differences in economic standing become lesser. I am not worried by the fact that some people have too much (I would rather wish that this might be said of everybody). What worries me is the fact that many people don't have enough, even if they are not in dire poverty. Furthermore no society can be called classless in the full sense of the word as long as there are still in it certain areas of dire poverty, or, to put it another way, as long as it does not minister, free of charge, to the absolutely basic needs of human life in each one.


Another crucial point relates to the fact that the American economy is now growing beyond capitalism, in the proper, classical sense of this word. I have laid stress on this point in a previous chapter. I shall not discuss it again.

Of course, the "big change" in question will develop in many unforseeable ways and at the price of unceasing efforts. It will have to gain greater extension and deeper significance. But the thing that matters to me is that this country has discovered the direction in which a new regime, both beyond capitalism and beyond socialism, will gradually take form -- a regime which it does not seem inappropriate to describe, as I did in my book, as personaliste et communautaire, personalist and community-minded at the same time.


A third point which was emphasized in my book was the pluralist structure of such a society. I need not insist on the congeniality between the pluralist idea and a number of basic features of this country, in which you have a single multi-national state or nation.


This pluralism is also to be found in the religious life of America.

Here I come to the last point I wish to make in this seciton. One of the main themes in Humanisme Intégral is the notion of a temporal civilization which is not "sacral" but secular in nature, and in which men belonging to diverse spiritual lineages work together for the terrestrial common good, but which, for all that, is a civilization religiously inspired and vitally Christian in its concrete behavior and morality as a social body.

Now what is in this regard the situation on the American scene?

This situation has been described in a telling fashion by Peter Drucker in his article, "Organized Religion and the American Creed," in the Review of Politics of July, 1956.

"The unique relationship," he wrote, "between religion, the state, and society is perhaps the most fundamental -- certainly it is the most distinctive -- feature of American religious as well as American political life. It is not only central to any understanding of American institutions. It also constitutes the sharpest difference between American and European institutions, concepts, and traditions. This country has developed the most thoroughgoing, if not the only truly secular state . . . The United States is, however, also the only country of the West in which society is conceived as being basically a religious society.

"By its very nature the sphere of the state has to be an autonomous sphere, a sphere entirely of the 'natural reason.' But also, by definition, a free society is only possible if based solidly on the religious individual . . . This leads to the basic American concept: the state must neither support nor favor any one religious denomination. That would be 'establishment,' if not 'prohibition of the free exercise of religion,' and strictly forbidden by the First Amendment to the Constitution. But at the same time the state must always sponsor, protect, and favor religious life in general. The United States is indeed a 'secular' state as far as any one denomination is concerned. But it is at the same time a 'religious' commonwealth as concerns the general belief in the necessity of a truly religious basis of citizenship."[60]

This description of the American situation is clear and plain enough. I shall only add, with respect to my own personal experience, that the first time I heard the President of the United States (it was Franklin Roosevelt) speaking on the radio, address a prayer to God [61] I realized all of a sudden that the expression "separation between Church and State" does not have, to be sure, the same meaning in French and in American.

I would have been less surprised if I had paid attention to the fact that "the same Congress that wrote the principle of separation of State and Church into the Constitution in perfectly unambiguous form: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof' also established as a matter of course chaplains for both its Houses,"[62] and also provided for the appointment and pay of chaplains for the army.

Far beyond the influences received either from Locke or the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, the American Constitution, as I put it in another book, is deep-rooted in the age-old heritage of Christian thought and civilization. "It can be described as an outstanding lay Christian document tinged with the philosophy of the day. The spirit and inspiration of this great political Christian document is basically repugnant to the idea of making human society stand aloof from God and from any religious faith. Thanksgiving and public prayer, the invocation of the name of God at the occasion of any major official gathering, are, in the practical behavior of the nation, a token of this very same spirit and inspiration."[63] The Founding Fathers were neither metaphysicians nor theologians, but their philosophy of life, and their political philosophy, their notion of natural law and of human rights, were permeated with concepts worked out by Christian reason and backed up by an unshakeable religious feeling.

So it is that a deep-rooted, sometimes hidden sometimes unconscious, but actual and alive religious inspiration is embodied in the temporal, secular, lay life of this country; and the very fact does not seem to make those who lack any religious convictions or who are decidedly atheists, especially uncomfortable -- except when the very idea of buses transporting free of charge children educated in denominational schools gives them an intolerable shock.[64]

It is unlikely that, however powerful it may be, the antagonistic trend toward secularism will ever be able to tear away from American civilization the religious inspiration which Peter Drucker's analysis gave us an opportunity to emphasize.


These remarks having been made, it must now be said that the necessity for intelligent cooperation between Church and State, apart as their domains may be -- a necessity for cooperation which is founded not on mutual will to power but on the service of the common good -- has not gained sufficiently explicit recognition in American practice today, especially when it comes to Jefferson's "wall of separation" as understood by the Supreme Court in the McCollum case.[65] And in general, present reality, however significant the four great characteristics I just mentioned, is far from coinciding with the solutions I tried to delineate in Humanisme Intégral with respect to the historical ideal fit, in my opinion, for our age of civilization.

Yet the characteristics in question are typical enough to show that nowhere as in this country can we find a state of affairs involving definite though remote possibilities for some conceivable development toward these solutions.


The religious inspiration which is at work in the temporal consciousness of this country is rooted, of course, in the particular religious creeds to which such or such individuals or families subscribe, and which, so far as the life of souls is concerned, pertain to the spiritual order. But this same religious inspiration, so far as the collective behavior of the nation is concerned, appears rather as a projection of religious belief into the temporal order -- a temporal projection of religious belief which holds, in actual fact, for a number of individuals who have slipped away from religious faith, though it can obviously preserve its vitality only if in many others it is not cut off from living religious faith.

Furthermore, thanks to the spirit of fellowship and mutual toleration on which I laid stress previously, this inspiration is compatible with the multiplicity of religious denominations which can be seen here, and with the tensions between religious groups, which are revealed now and then on the American scene.

The aspect I am speaking of has been made very clear in a recent book (Will Herberg's Protestant, Catholic, Jew)[66] which gives a remarkable account of the basic religious pluralism in American life, and, at the same time, shows how this pluralism remains encompassed within the single framework of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

Now, just as it is not particularly favorable, as a rule, for religion to be too much brandished about and made use of by the officials of any government, so the much deeper phenomenon of which I just spoke -- temporalized religious inspiration in a nation or a civilization -- however normal and salutary it may be in itself, involves its own accidental dangers. The risk is that religion itself might become temporalized, in other words, so institutionalized in the temporal structures themselves and the temporal growth itself of a given civilization, that it would practically lose its essential supernatural, supra-temporal, and supra-national transcendence, and become subservient to particular national or temporal interests.

As Miss Barbara Ward rightly puts it, "It is one thing to argue that a recovery of faith in God is necessary as a safeguard of Western freedom. It is quite another to put forward sociological and political and historical facts as the basis for a revival of faith. . . . Faith is not a matter of convenience nor even -- save indirectly -- a matter of sociology . . . Faith will not be restored in the West because people believe it to be useful. It will return only when they find that it is true."[67] In other words, we do not need a faith to live by; we need a faith to live for, and if necessary, to die for.

Let us say, then, that any temporalized religious inspiration runs the risk of terminating in a failure if religion in its own order does not victoriously resist any trend toward becoming itself temporalized, that is to say, if, in the inner realm of human souls, faith in supernatural Truth and obedience to the law of God, the fire of true love and the life of divine grace are not steadily growing.


To say that a nation is religiously inspired is in no way to assert that this inspiration is as deep and as decisive as it should be. There is a long way from the present state of affairs, anywhere in the world, to a civilization vitally Christian in the full sense of the word, and to the ideal, even relative to a given age in human history, of a genuinely Christian-inspired civilization.

But what matters, when it comes to an appreciation of our present times, are the possibilities for the future which exist in our day.

From this point of view we may believe that if a new Christian civilization, a new Christendom is ever to come about in human history, it is on American soil that it will find its starting point.

Then, the Atlantic Ocean would become the great inner lake of Western civilization, as the Mediterranean Sea was for classical antiquity. And then, perhaps, the old Christian vocation of France,[68] for which, despite misfortune and disillusionmnt, Frenchmen will always yearn, would revive at the contact of the Christian vocation of America, and grow in association with it.

On the question of a new Christian civilization I would like to make my thought completely clear.

I am far from saying that today's American civilization is a new Christendom, even in outline. It is rather a combination of certain continuing elements of ancient Christian civilization with new temporal achievernents and new historical situations.

I do say that today's American civilization may become a soil particularly propitious for the development of a new Christendom, if the spark flies and a spiritual renewal takes place in souls strong enough to reverse the trend toward naturalism mentioned in a previous chapter, and to make Christian faith and morality actually prevail in the common consciousness and common behavior; and if such a spiritual renewal is also strong enough to express itself in public life, so that, to begin with, Christian justice would make prejudice and inequity toward colored people definitely disappear, and, in the face of modern war with its devilish weapons, Christian wisdom would succeed in making obedience to moral imperatives and to the law of God dominate over all other considerations, and would discover a way to bring the threat of atomic warfare to an end.

Now I seem to hear somebody ask me: how can you have the face to speak of a new Christendom to come, when you see the state of our present world, with all the threats of degradation and even destruction to which mankind is being subjected, and had you not better speak of new barbarism already come?

Well, a three-fold answer is possible.

First: history is ambivalent. At the very same time that evil seems to grow triumphant, the ferment of justice and the energies of renewal are more or less secretly making headway and quickening the movement of mankind. At each epoch of history the world was in a hopeless state, and at each epoch of history the world muddled through; at each epoch the world was lost, and at each epoch it was saved.

Second: a new Christendom is possible to the very extent to which faith in Christ is actually alive among men. And despite the progress of absolute atheism (this at least has unmasked the hypocrisy which sheltered anthropocentric humanism's[69] practical contempt for God) not only is faith in Christ still alive, but it is bolder -- and more intent on understanding and transforming the temporal realm of civilization -- in contemporary man than it was in the man of the nineteenth century.

Third: a new Christendom is not only possible, it is also a focus toward which all really progressive energies at work in history since the disintegration of the Middle Ages have actually been tending. There are other forces, working in the opposite direction. It is on human freedom that the issue depends.

And now, if these answers are not accepted, what can I do? I shall say: I believe in the possible advent of a new Christendom because my name is Jacques. Peter typified faith, and John charity; James typified the second theological virtue.

I expect Saints and Miracle-workers to arise in the midst of the labors of the world. Without them I have no idea how a new Christian civilization can ever come about.

XX. America Is Promise

Given the contingency of matter and the free will of men, there are, at each moment of history, always two possible different directions open regarding the future.

Thus there is a possibility that in the course of centuries America may become embourgeoisée -- a nation interested only in its own materia1 welfare and power. The realization of such a possibility is, to my mind, improbable. The obvious fact is that America is not a nation like others; and she will not become so as long as she remains true to the specific, original impulse and spirit by virtue of which she was born.

Her true future, I said a moment ago, lies in the task of somehow clearing the way for a new Christian civilization. If such an undertaking takes place, it will be a common undertaking. It can be accomplished only in cooperation with all the nations that are stirred by the Christian ferment. (And, no doubt, those Christians who are now the "silent Church" and suffer persecution behind the Iron Curtain will have in this connection particularly great lessons to teach the world, if and when they can speak out freely.) In his remarkable book, The United States and Civilization,[70] so genuinely American both in its generous inspiration and its soul-searching self-criticism, John Nef has rightly emphasized the universally human character of the endeavor to which we are called today. Quite significant in this regard, and with respect to the supra-national spirit which is now more necessary than ever, is the appeal with which the author terminates his book, paraphrasing two famous passages from Rousseau and Marx: "Goodness and wisdom were born free, but everywhere they are in chains. Good people, honorable people, intelligent people, truth-loving people of the world, unite. You have nothing material to gain for yourselves; but you have the opportunity to serve humanity. You have the opportunity to bring about a rebirth of the human mind and spirit."


It is not irrelevant to say again, at this point, what I said in 1943: "There is indeed one thing that Europe knows well, and knows only too well; that is the tragic significance of life. . . . There is one thing that America knows well, and that she teaches as a great and precious lesson to those who come in contact with her astounding adventure: it is the value and dignity of the common man, the value and dignity of the people . . . America knows that the common man has a right to the 'pursuit of happiness'; the pursuit of the elementary conditions and possessions which are the prerequisites of a free life, and the denial of which, suffered by such multitudes, is a horrible wound in the flesh of humanity; the pursuit of the higher possessions of culture and the spirit. . . . Here heroism is required, not to overcome tragedy, but to bring to a successful conclusion the formidable adventure begun in this country with the Pilgrim Fathers and the pioneers, and continued in the great days of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War.

"No lasting good can be done to the world if the sense of the tragedy of life, and that quality of heroism which Europe must display to overcome its tragedy, and the sense of the great human adventure, and that quality of heroism which America must display to lead her adventure to completion, are not joined with one another in boldness and faith. . . .

"It will be necessary for the European spirit and the American spirit to meet and cooperate in common good will. We do not believe that Paradise will be reached tomorrow. But the task to which we are summoned, the work we will have to pursue, with all the more courage and hope as it will be incessantly betrayed by human weakness, must have as its aim, if we want civilization to survive, a world of free men penetrated in its secular substance by a real and vital Christianity, a world in which the inspiration of the Gospel will direct the common life of man toward an heroic humanism."[71]


There is no place in the world where Christian philosophy is more needed and has better opportunities than in this country.


The great and admirable strength of America consists in this, that America is truly the American people.


I have laid stress on the crucial change which took place in the American economic and social regime under the steady, unsystematic pressure of the spirit of the people, Stronger than the logic of the structure, considered in its material components, of the industrial system.

The inner transformation through which corporations are becoming aware of the primacy of human welfare and the political common good must not be looked at separately from the growing power of organized labor and its growing sense, too, of the primacy of the general welfare and the political common good. These two phenomena taken together are great signs foreshadowing a new age in the development of democratic societies. But big corporations, even when they have "obtained intelligence" -- in default of a soul -- are surely not enough to herald a new Christian civilization. The same must be said of organized labor power. Intelligent collective self-interest remains very far indeed from anything resembling such an ideal.

Both socially minded corporations and socially minded labor are but laying necessary pre-conditions for any possible start toward the ideal in question. The decisive factor is the spiritual one, and the decisive question is whether the genuine spirit of the Judaeo-Christian tradition will be able to take the lead.

There is matter for fruitful meditation in the last two pages of Adolf Berle's previously quoted book: "In ascending scale," the author says, "is the fact that so long as speech and thought are free, men will always rise capable of transcending the massed effects of any organization or group of organizations. There is solid ground for the expectation that twenty years from now the men of greatest renown in the United States will be the spiritual, philosophical, and intellectual leaders for the sufficient reason that they will be needed more than any other type of men. Society still tends to produce and to honor the kinds of men it needs most.

"We have noted that priests have usually been able to intimidate the policemen, and that philosophers can usually check the politicians. There is fair historical ground to anticipate that moral and intellectual leadership will appear capable of balancing our Frankenstein creations. Men working in that range are measurably steeled to resist normal pressures and often free from normal fears. They frequently have a rough time on the way. It is no accident that some of the greatest saints in the Christian Calendar were non-conformist deviants in their time; but they still grasp the future with their conceptions.

"These, I think, are the real builders of any 'City of God' Americans would come to accept."[72]


"America was Promises" -- that is the title of a beautiful poem by Archibald MacLeish. From the very beginning the European peoples dreamed of America as the Fortunate Isles, the land of promise here below. America can give them goods, food, industrial equipment. They will take them, of course, but they will never be content with them, and never be grateful to America for them.

What they expect from America is: Hope. And please God that this critical fact may never be forgotten here.

It is possible to be more specific, and to say: what the world expects from America is that she keep alive, in human history, a fraternal recognition of the dignity of man -- in other words, the terrestrial hope of men in the Gospel.


Of course, we always tend to see those we love in the light of our own dreams and our own hopes. I trust, nevertheless, that my random reflections, subjective as they may be, are truer than many a study conceived in merely statistical terms. There are, moreover, a great number of aspects, even important aspects, in the American scene which I have not touched upon. Random reflections may indeed be unending, but the patience of the reader has an end.

©1996 by The Jacques Maritain Center, University of Notre Dame. All rights reserved.

Reflections on America: Notes