Reflections on America

Reflections on America: Notes

Jacques Maritain

1. This was the original title of my three seminars in Chicago.

2. At a lunch given by the French American Club, New York, March 15th, 1945. In Pour la Justice, New York: Maison Française, 1945, p. 358.

3. I have carping-minded friends who insist that the system has its flaws. People, they say, who might have started at their own risk some work which would be genuinely original or would genuinely answer certain definite needs, sometimes wait for the mouthful of a grant, like gaping chicks, before undertaking anything (any project so conceived as to have a chance of being successfully applied). I don't know whether there is an element of truth in such a criticism. In any case it has to do with quite accidental drawbacks, and the great American foundations, born of freedom and immune from State control, are one of the most noble and beneficial institutions in modern culture.

4. May I note in this connection that it would perhaps be a good idea for official propaganda not to seem regularly to ignore the various dissenting currents, the conflicts and oppositions, the more or less adventurous reforming enterprises, which are a sign of American vitality.

5. From among the great scholars who are representing in the United States the tradition of the highest humanistic culture, I would like to mention and pay my personal tribute of admiration to Mark Van Doren, Lane Cooper, Whitney J. Oates, Erwin Panofsky, Huntington Cairns, R. P. Blackmur, Francis Fergusson, who was the first director of Princeton University's Seminars in Literary Criticism, and E. B. O. Borgerhoff, who succeeded him in the direction of the Seminars (Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism).

6. This lecture, given in the United States in 1938, was published later as Chapter VII in my book Scholasticism and Politics, New York: Macmillan, 1940. Used with the permission of The Macmillan Company.

7. See infra, chapter VIII

8. J. B. Gremillion, The Journal of a Southern Pastor.

9. I would like to mention this fundamental book, John La Farge, The Race Question and the Negro, New York: Longmans, Green, 1943. As regards recent progress toward integration, cf. the remarkable report by Harold Fleming and David Loth, Integration, North and South, New York: Meridian Books, 1956. See also Joseph P. Lyford, "Race Relations Improve," in America, April 20, 1957.

10. J. B. Gremillion, The Journal of a Southern Pastor, Chicago: Fides Publishers, 1957, p. 276. -- Let me quote a few other lines from the same book: "'Well, Father, what are you aiming at? Why did you invite those colored folks for a meeting here? Are you trying to break down the wall of segregation?'

"'Sure, I'm trying to destroy segregation.'

"'You don't mean you are for social equality, too!'

"'Sure I am. I have frequently Negro friends in for dinner at the Rectory . . .

"'We're having a meeting tomorrow night -- Negroes and whites together . . . And about segregation in church, several years ago I instructed the ushers to seat Negroes anywhere in Church and preferably not in the back pews . . .'

"We must understand the irrational in man. Only radical Christianity can root out this irrational element . . ." (pp. 44-46).

And he goes on to say: "South of the Mason and Dixon line in this area stretching between Louisiana and Virginia there reside one and one-half million Catholics. But more than half of these Catholics, eight hundred thousand, reside in south Louisiana. The pattern of justice or injustice, of Christian love or racial heresy, the pattern established here will affect irrevocably the whole Southland, the whole nation, the whole world . . . " (p. 275).

11. New York: William Morrow. Copyright 1956 by Margaret Mead.

12. Ibid., pp. 168-169.

13. Ibid., p. 168.

14. Ibid., p. 175.

15. Ibid., p. 177.

16. Ibid., p. 178.

17. San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 1957.

18. Cf. Herbert Schneider, A History of American Philosophy, New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1946; French trans., Paris: Gallimard, 1955.

19. Ibid., French trans., Préface, p. 8.

20. See infra, chapter XIX.

21. This modesty is partly responsible, it seems to me, for another kind of harm: I mean the spreading of the notion (imported from Germany) that only specialists have a right to think -- and that each one of them, moreover, is all the more competent in his own field, and all the more reliable, as he shuns knowing anything outside the field in question.

22. In this letter George F. Baer, president of the Philadelphia and Reading Company, wrote: "The right and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for -- not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country, and upon the successful management of which so much depends." Cf. Saul Alinsky, John L. Lewis, An Unauthorized Biography, New York: 1949, Putnam, p. 12. The strike was finally victorious thanks to the strong intervention of President Theodore Roosevelt, which obliged the mine owners to capitulate.

23. In the course of a strike the management of the mines of Ludlow, Colorado, "fought the union in every conceivable way, importing the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, which rode around in an armored car shooting down strikers on sight. They got injunctions and indictments against labor organizers. They evicted miners and their families from company homes into the freezing temperatures of a Colorado winter. To meet this forced exodus, the union set up tents, where soon hundreds of miners and their families were sheltered. "The tension increased, and the militia was called in under the command of a Major Patrick Hamrock. Early on the morning of April 20, 1914, just as this tent community was preparing for breakfast, the state militia attacked. The New York Times (April 21, 1914) reported: 'The Ludlow Camp is a mass of charred debris and buried beneath a story of horror unparalleled in the history of industrial warfare. In holes that had been dug for their protection against the rifle fire, the women and children died like rats when the flames swept over them. One pit uncovered this afternoon disclosed the bodies of ten children and two women."' Ibid., pp. 9-10. In the background of the American labor movement there was no lack of other human victims, like "the Haymarket martyrs who had been 'framed' and put to death in Chicago in 1887" (Cf. Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness, New York: 1952, Harper, p. 46), or the men, women and children trampled down by mounted police in the Tompkins Square riot in New York (January 13, 1874), or that Joe Hill who was unjustly condemned and shot to death in Salt Lake City, in 1915, and whose ashes in tiny envelopes were scattered to the winds by his friends all over the country, and abroad -- a migratory worker who had composed most of the songs of the I.W.W., and who became himself the hero of a ballad. On Joe Hill (Joseph Hillstrom) see Ralph Chaplin, Wobbly, The University of Chicago Press, 1948, Chapter XVI. I am grateful to Professor Willard Thorp of Princeton University for bringing this book to my attention. On the Haymarket Square riot in 1886 see Foster Rhea Dulles, Labor in America, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1949, 1955, pp. 122- 125. On the Homestead and Pullman strikes (1892 and 1894), see ibid., Chapter X. The author points out that in the combat against labor organization certain operators did not hesitate to use not only strikebreakers but also agents provocateurs (even from among the "Molly Maguires," ibid., p. 117), and dynamite planting (ibid., p. 216).

24. On the nature of the American corporation, see Peter F. Drucker, Concept of the Corporation, New York: Day, 1946; and The Practice of Management, New York: Harper, 1954.

25. Ralph Coghlan, in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, quoted by Frederick Lewis Allen, The Big Change, New York, Harper, 1952, p. 252.

"So it seems," Adolf Berle writes, "the corporations have a conscience, or else accept direction from the conscience of the government. This conscience must be built into institutions so that it can be invoked as a right by the individuals and interests subject to the corporate power." Adolf A. Berle, The 20th Century Capitalist Revolution, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1954, pp. 113-114.

26. Stockholders tend more and more to become mere profit-sharers with no control over the management of the enterprise. Cf. Peter Drucker, The New Society, New York: Harper, 1949, p. 340: "There is absolutely nothing in the nature of investment that either requires or justifies ownership rights, that is, rights of control. A future age may well regard the idea that control of a productive organization of human beings can be bought and sold for money, in the same light in which we today regard the buying and selling of human beings under slavery." Even the right of stockholders to the profits made by corporations is subject to limitation: "Twenty-nine states have already passed statutes authorizing corporations, both presently existing and subsequently organized, to make contributions to philanthropy and education. Constitutional validity of one of these statutes -- that of New Jersey -- was the subject of a recent test case (A. P. Smith Manufacturing Company v. Ruth Barlow, et al.) and was forthrightly upheld by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the United States dismissed appeal, holding that no Federal question was involved. For practical purposes, the state has authorized corporations to withhold from their shareholders a portion of their profits, channeling it to schools, colleges, hospitals, research, and other good causes." Adolf Berle, op. cit., pp. 168-169.

27. Paradoxically enough (this is a remark of Saul Alinsky's) one of the industries in which this concern -- sometimes too pervasive indeed -- for the human welfare of the individuals involved is most developed, is the one whose products are intended to make the human brain superfluous -- the International Business Machines Corporation.

28. An especially interesting document, in this connection, is the "Fundamentals in Management, a Basic Guide for Executive Development" prepared by John Hite, Director of Training, Johnson and Johnson, for the Institutes in Leadership and Management for Manufacturing, Research and Sales personnel throughout the corporation.

See also Human Relations in Modern Business, A Guide for Action sponsored by American Business Leaders. Copyright 1949 by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J. I quote some lines (pp. 14- 15) from this booklet, in which General Robert Wood Johnson had a not small part:

"Employees do offer their services in a competitive or a regulated market. But these same employees are men. They have human hearts and minds. They love and they are loved. They have their moments of noble desire, and their lapses into evil ways. They are average men with average lives.

"Most of them do not ask much from the world, but their basic needs are vital to them. Their first demand upon society is that they be treated as human beings, not as machines. ". . . Men want self-respect, the respect of others, a chance to live, some assurance of security, and a social life. If we concentrate upon only one of these needs and neglect the others, men become unhappy and frustrated. This was the fallacy behind the notion of the 'economic man.' it dealt only with the desire for survival. It assumed that if employees received sufficient wages so that they were fed, clothed, and housed adequately, they would be content. But such a limited approach is bad psychology and bad ethics. It ignores vital needs and noble aims of man's nature. It fails to respect his inner dignity, based on his spiritual nature, his origin from God, and his destiny in God's plan for the universe. Even though men may or may not be fully conscious of these noble sanctions, they must be taken into account." Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

29. F. L. Allen, op. cit., p. 237,

30. Cf. The Executive Life, by the Editors of Fortune, New York: Doubleday, 1956.

31. This point, to which I only allude in passing, is discussed on its own merits in Adolf Berle's and Scott Buchanan's books mentioned on p. 117. Adolf Berle concludes: "Corporate managements, like others, knowingly or unknowingly, are constrained to work within a frame of surrounding conceptions which in time impose themselves. The price of failure to understand and observe them is decay of the corporation itself. Such conceptions emerge in time as law. It may be said of the corporation as old Bracton said of the Crown: 'There is no king where the will and not the law prevails.'" The 20th Century Capitalist Revolution, p. 188. Scott Buchanan writes, in a similar vein: "As Plutarch in the life of Crassus says, when economy deals with men as well as things there is polity. It would seem that a full recognition of this in principle should lead to a full study and revision of our visible and invisibie governments, and that this study might play midwife at the birth of a new political liberty." Essay in Politics, New York: Philosophical Library, 1953, p. 192.

32. F. L. Allen, "The Unsystematic American System," Harper's Magazine, June, 1952, P. 21.

33. Ibid., p. 22.

34. Ibid., p. 25.

35. "Indeed, to call the American system 'capitalism' is utterly ludicrous, considering what the term means elsewhere . . . The free industrial society that emerges from this analysis is certainly very different from what we have traditionally considered to be 'Capitalism.' It is also very different from what we have considered traditionally to be 'Socialism.' An industrial society is beyond Capitalism and Socialism. It is a new society transcending both." Peter F. Drucker, op. cit., pp. 349, 351. (Drucker's italics.)

36. I mention, in addition, another challenging book written from another point of view, and in the perspective of political philosophy, Scott Buchanan's Essay in Politics.

37. Cf., in particular, Gilbert Chinard's Notes on the American Origins of the "Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen" (Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 98, no. 6, December 23, 1954), with the Bibliographical Note, p. 394. As is well known, the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and the American Constitution (1787) preceded the French Déclaration (1789). The Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was a prelude to the Bill of Rights of the U. S. Constitution, "is older by thirteen years than the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789. Your country can take just pride in being the one where this historically significant affirmation of human Rights was given." Dag Hammarskjold, The International Significance of the Bill of Rights, Address delivered in Williamsburg, Virginia, on May 15, 1956.

38. D. H. Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent, New York: Copyright 1926 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., pp. 73-74.

39. In general "she speaks for Lawrence," William York Tindall writes in his Introduction to the fourth printing (1951), p. ix.

40. Ibid., p. 72.

41. William York Tindall, Introduction, op. cit., p. ix.

42. "The Air-conditioned Nightmare," as Mr. Henry Miller (who feels like Kate, but has more humor) puts it.

43. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1943.

44. When I came to Chicago for the first time, in March 1933, Mortimer Adler was teaching Thomist metaphysics in the Law School. And the Department of Philosophy did not like it. As for myself, freshly arrived from Paris at the Institute of Mediaeval Studies of Toronto (a place to which I am particularly indebted, as I am to Etienne Gilson, Dr. Gerald Phelan, and the Basilian Fathers), it was in Chicago that I first met America in the flesh. I had been invited by Robert Hutchins, then President of the University of Chicago, who supported Adler and whose fight against pragmatism was in full bloom; and I gave there my first lecture in English without knowing yet a single word of this language.

45. President Dodds retired in June, 1957; the new President of Princeton University is Dr. Robert Goheen.

46. The Material Logic of John of St. Thomas, Basic Treatises, translated by Yves R. Simon, John J. Glanville, G. Donald Hollenhorst, with a Preface by Jacques Maritain, Chicago: The Chicago University Press, 1955.

47. The Summulae of John of St. Thomas were also published recently, under the title Outlines of Formal Logic, 136 pages, by Francis C. Wade, S.J., Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1955. (With an interesting essay by the translator on traditional and symbolic logic.)

48. Psalms, 45:11 (Vulg.)

49. University of Chicago Press, 1946.

50. "In this country," as I wrote elsewhere, "what is known as the common man is neither servile nor arrogant. He has a sense of the dignity of human existence, and he exists in the collective consciousness of the value of each and every man. We have here, in a shape so simply human that pretentious and pedantic people fail to see it clearly, a spiritual gain of infinite price." "America's role in the New Europe," The Commonweal, February 26, 1943. In Pour la Justice, New York: Maison Française, 1945, p. 224.

51. Cf. Gerald W. Johnson, "Our Founding Uncles," The Reporter, January 17, 1950.

52. See supra, chapter XIII.

53. Except in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey, where judges are appointed by the chief executive; in South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia, where they are chosen by the legislature; and in Rhode Island, whose trial court judges are appointed by the executive, and Supreme Court judges chosen by the legislature. In Missouri and California judges are selected by the executive but this selection is either corroborated or defeated by popular vote.

Furthermore, in order somehow to lessen the entanglement with politics, sixteen of the thirty-six states whose judiciary is elected at the polls have provisions according to which these elections of judges take place on a more or less nonpartisan basis. (See Institute of Judicial Administration, "Selection, Tenure and Removal of Judges," August 10, 1956, 4-U42.)

The members of the Federal judiciary, including those of the Supreme Court, are appointed by the President (confirmation by Congress being always required).

54. Federal district attorneys, who act as deputies of the Attorney General, are appointed by the executive.

55. In sound philosophical doctrine, it should be observed at this point that any human activity is not specified by its end or final purpose, but by its formal object.

56. The important decision in which the Supreme Court (Watkins case, June 17, 1957) has assigned proper limits to the power of investigation of Congressional committees, and stressed the individual rights of those called to testify, refers to abuses that originated in the root ambiguity I am pointing to, and which, for a time, obscured in the eyes of foreign peoples the true traditions of the American nation.

57. Address at Democratic National Conference in San Francisco, The New York Times, Feb. 16, 1957.

58. This book was translated into English under the title True Humanism. I am pleased neither with this title nor with the translation. One day perhaps a new and better one will be made.

59. The French translation of this book appeared under the title Le Prolétariat Industriel, Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1937, with a preface by me; English translation, The Proletariat, A Challenge to Western Civilization, New York and London: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1937, with a foreword by Horace Taylor.

60. Loc. cit., pp. 296, 298- 299.

61. We know that Lincoln, during the Civil War, proclaimed national days of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, the most important of which was the day of April 30, 1863.

62. Ibid., p. 298.

63. From Man and the State, University of Chicago Press, 1951, pp. 183-184.

64. Cf. the controversy about the Supreme Court decision in the Everson case (330 U.S. 1, 1947), and the subsequent outburst of anti- Catholic feelings. The organization known as POAU (Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) "was formed directly as a result of the Everson decision." Robert F. Drinan, "Everson Case: Ten Years After," America, February 9, 1957.

65. In the McCollum vs. Board of Education case (333 U.S. 203, 1948) the Supreme Court declared that religious instruction on public school premises was contrary to the Constitution. "The way we have handled the problem in the few cases that have come up so far is nothing to be very proud of," Peter Drucker writes with respect to this cause célèbre. "I am convinced that it is a thoroughly untenable decision on ordinary legal grounds alone." Loc. cit., pp. 301-302.

66. New York: Doubleday, 1955. From the numerical point of view the Jewish denomination represents a small minority in comparison with the Protestant and Catholic denominations. But this fact does not prevent the Jews from playing an essential and indispensable part, as a dynamic ferment, in American life.

The mutual ties between the Jewish mind and the American mind were rightly stressed in a collective letter written apropos of the State of Israel and signed by a number of influential American personalities (The New York Times February 3, 1957). I quote from this letter:

"One of the first characteristics of our country is that we are a nation of immigrants who have attained unity in seeking a common goal. Israel, in opening its door to 800,000 immigrants from seventy-two nations in the past eight and a half years, has re-enacted our own earlier history.

"Our United States is proud that we are a nation of many origins. We are also proud of being a pioneer people and of still cherishing the pioneer spirit. Israel, in its small area, is carrying on what could be called intensive pioneering; exploring and developing what seemed limited resources with the same imagination that enabled our ancestors to develop far larger and more obvious ones.

"Americans literally have died to establish a democratic equality of opportunity within a republican frame of government. Israelis have shown the same devotion to that ideal.

"Long ago we in the United States committed ourselves to the concept of protection of individual dignity. Just so have the Israelis established laws to defend civil and religious rights, with a Supreme Court, modeled on our own, as a strong bulwark of those liberties."

67. Barbara Ward, Faith and Freedom, New York: W. W. Norton, 1954, p. 256; London: Hamish Hamilton, Ltd., 1954.

68. I mean the Christian vocation of France as a nation, and in the temporal and cultural sphere. As for French Catholics, they have never fallen short of their vocation as pioneers in the spiritual field of apostolic work and self-sacrifice.

69. In contradistinction to theocentric humanism, which is, I believe, the sort of humanism especially needed by our age.

70. University of Chicago Press, 1941.

71. "America's Role in the New Europe," The Commonweal, February 26, 1943, Vol. XXXVII, No. 19. In Pour la Justice, New York: Maison Française, 1945, pp. 224-227.

72. Adolf Berle, op. cit., pp. 187-188.

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