Jacques Maritain Center

On Authority*

By Jacques Maritain

The Review of Politics

Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 250-254, April 1941

The Aquinas Lecture, 1940, given at Milwaukee by Prof. Yves Simon, and published in the same series as St. Thomas and the Gentiles by Mortimer Adler and St. Thomas and the Greeks by A. Pegis, deals with Nature and Functions of Authority. A great deal of speculative and practical wisdom is contained in this small book, which is indeed a little masterpiece of Thomist philosophy. Prof. Yves Simon examines here the problem of authority in a perfectly clear and profound manner, and the statements he draws from the very core of philosophical principles are most useful and important in everyday political life. Few things are more urgently required, by the modern democracies, in the intellectual field, than a clear insight into the nature and functions of authority, and it is to be wished that this valuable book be studied not only by students in political science, but also by many of the voters and leaders of democratic nations.

As Prof. Yves Simon rightly points out, it is generally assumed, in the liberal as well as conservative currents of thought of the XIXth Century, that the progress of liberty necessarily implies a continued decay of authority "so that three terms, social progress, the progress of liberty, and the decay of authority, are currently identified." Now, if it is true that by virtue of the nature of things, authority plays some essential part in political community, then a kind of split, the consequences of which may be rather painful, is accordingly introduced into our modern societies, between the way of living political realities and the way of thinking these same realities; citizens and rulers are doing in fact something other than what they believe themselves to be doing -- a disgraceful condition for thinking beings. What is first needed, therefore, is to determine exactly the essential part played by authority in human societies and their movement toward freedom.

Prof. Yves Simon carefully distinguishes, on the one hand, authority from the power of constraint, and, on the other hand, the dominion of servitude from the dominion of freedom, which properly concerns political life. He shows that as regards political life, the function of authority is required by the direction of the social whole toward its common good and its common task. And after having exposed the exact notion of terminal liberty, he offers us the following conclusions, the value of which is enormous, both from the philosophical and from the practical viewpoint: "The progress of liberty implies the decay of authority insofar as authority takes the form of a dominion of servitude."

"The progress of liberty implies the substitution of persuasion for coercion wherever this substitution can be reasonably realized."

"The progress of liberty implies the decay of authority insofar as authority assumes substitutional functions." "On the contrary, the progress of liberty does not imply the decay of authority insofar as the essential function of authority (namely to assure the unity of action of the united multitude) is concerned." Finally, the practical truth of political life consists -- with respect to authority -- in the mutual balancing of the "Principle of Authority": "Wherever the welfare of a community requires a common action, the unity of that common action must be assured by the higher organs of that community," and of the "Principle of Autonomy": "Wherever a task can be satisfactorily achieved by the initiative of the individual or that of small social units, the fulfillment of that task must be left to the initiative of the individual or to that of small social units."

As Mr. Simon points out, these views are in perfect agreement with the thought of the founders of the American Republic; he quotes in this connection a striking passage from Thomas Jefferson.

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The central point of this book, the point which matters the most to Mr. Simon, and which he clarifies with vital, original insight, is his philosophical demonstration that the essential function of authority is a necessary one. The necessity is grounded in the fact that the prudential judgment is of an essentially different nature from the scientific judgment, that the truth of prudence consists in the relation of conformity of the judgment with the requirements of a right appetite of the end to he pursued, and that consequently the prudential judgment can never he demonstrated, or intellectually intersubjectivized. Therefore, "However conscientious the deliberation may be, since it cannot afford to prove its conclusions, anybody can, at any time, object that a better course of action could be conceived, and the unity of action which is supposed to be required by the pursuit of the common good will be ceaselessly jeopardized unless all members of the community agree to follow one prudential decision and only one which is to submit themselves to some authority."

Here we have a perfectly clear and valid demonstration which shows both the very nature and the necessity of the essential function of authority in every political commnunity; Prof. Simon must be thanked for such a precise and enlightening contribution.

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His book is good not only in its statements and explanations; it is good also for the intellectual excitement it produces in the reader; this stimulating power is a sign of the fecundity of perennial philosophy, when it is worked out by a living mind.

I should like to make this review of Mr. Simon's book contribute to our common improvement by discussing with him some ideas that came to my mind while reading the book, and in asking him what he thinks of these questions.

The first problem is as follows: -- In the argument I summarized above, he makes an hypothesis which is impossible indeed, but which throws vivid light upon his demonstration. Let us suppose, he says, a community made up of perfectly intelligent and perfectly virtuous human beings. Even in this case, the necessity of a ruling authority is required by the nature of things; because in the order of prudential judgment no agreement is certainly and de jure to be expected even from perfectly intelligent, perfectly well-informed and perfectly virtuous men.

Now this seems to be certainly true even of perfectly intelligent and perfectly well-informed men. But if they are at the same time perfectly virtuous, what must we say? Prudence as such is infallible; therefore, if we suppose two men perfectly intelligent, well-informed and virtuous, placed in the same circumstances, will not the prudential judgment of these two men necessarily be the same, since in both of them it is taken in conformity with an appetite that perfect virtues cause to be right toward the end? If such is the case, we should say that in a community made up of perfectly intelligent, well-informed and virtuous human beings, there will surely be agreement among them in the prudential judgments concerning the good of this community, -- an agreement which is not due to any demonstration, but to the common rightness of their appetite for the end.

I think we are therefore obliged to add to Mr. Simon's considerations concerning the natural diversity of prudential judgments, another set of considerations, which I would summarize as follows: 1) It is inherent in the very notion of a community of human persons that such a community involves a division du travail, a differentiation or specialization of the parts of this whole as regards the proper working or functioning of each one of them. 2) It is inherent in the notion of such a differentiation or specialization that some parts of this whole have as their proper working, as their special functioning, the care of the whole itself and of its common good. Such is, in my opinion, the reason for which even in a community made up of perfectly intelligent, well-informed and virtuous men an authority must exist, directed toward the common good of the whole. Internal improvements of the intellect and will, special habitus and special virtues must develop in some parts in order to keep at its best that special function which bears upon the whole as such.

The second question is linked to the first one. Is there an order among Angels? Yes, there is. Is there an authority in the community of Angels? Yes, there is, although deserving this name analogically, not univocally. What is now the primary foundation of this authority? If I consider the protecting mission assigned to Angels, (I speak of the good Angels) toward men and nations, I feel inclined to admit that the principle emphasized by Prof. Simon about prudential judgment, stands even in this case: perhaps a practical disagreement might occur among Angels, according to their love -- a right love, proceeding from their very mission -- for the people they protect and whose proper welfare may be in opposition to one another. But as regards the common good of Angels themselves, that is to say, God to know, to love and to worship, there can he no disagreement among them; even in this regard, however, authority exists among them, as to the ordering of worship and praise. Well, in such a case, is not the foundation of authority only the principle of necessary differentiation, according to which some are charged with providing the proper perfection of the whole of the angelic chorus?

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My third question is in connection with one of the most delicate and fruitful explanations given by Prof. Simon. He emphasizes with perfect accuracy the fact, sometimes disregarded, that the distinction between the dominion of servitude and the dominion of freedom is in no way equivalent to the distinction between regimen politicum and regimen despoticum. The first distinction is made from the point of view of final causality: the "slave" -- in the extremely large and philosophical sense given to the term by St. Thomas Aquinas -- is a man who is directed by another man not for the common good of the political community but for the private good of the one who directs. The second distinction is made from the point of view of efficient causality: -- the "slave" is a man who is not given some power of resisting the orders he receives.

Now it is clear that the dominion of servitude must be excluded, as well as the regimen despoticum, from any good political life. But what is the source of the dominion of servitude, as it is defined by Thomas Aquinas in an extremely general sense (which implies moreover that "servitude" thus defined has innumerable other forms, and possibly less inhuman ones, than ancient slavery)? Does this source consist of the common welfare of society, which some people believe requires the exploitation of a number of men for the sake of a privileged class? Such a view pertains to the philosophies of enslavement: it is untrue and inhuman. The source of the dominion of servitude is to be sought in the domain of work, or of economic life. It seems to me that this unhappy dominion appears to be limited to these two facts: 1) the private property of material goods; 2) the co-operation of men who are not the owners or co-owners of the private enterprise in the work of the owner. From this point of view it seems that the dominion of servitude, the disappearance of which is one of the principal aims of the progression of human history, can entirely disappear only if a regime of co-ownership can extend to all human enterprises. Now is such a universal extension possible in every domain? This may be doubted. Professors as well as business men use the services of secretaries (and nowhere indeed are the secretaries so intelligently and devotedly co-operative as in this country). But according to the both philosophical and paradoxical definition of St. Thomas Aquinas, a secretary is a "slave," she is in a state of "servitude," since she works for the private good of the one who employs her. Will the professors some day work without the aid of secretaries, or will the secretaries accede to some statutary co-ownership in the work and scientific enterprise of the professors? Moreover, it might be said in this connection that many people find more enjoyment in co-operating in the good achievement of the workings of another than in performing some private work, perhaps less stimulating.

This observation leads me to my fourth and last question, If the abolishing of every "servitude" in every domain seems practically difficult to conceive, there is, on the contrary, something much more easy to provide, which concerns the forms or modes of "servitude," and upon which the principles indicated in this book throw a good deal of light. I have already pointed out that wherever a regime of co-ownership is possible, abolishing servitude to this extent, the introduction of such a regime is in itself desirable. But in the domains where a regime of co-ownership is not to be considered, at least for a long time to come, the progress of human society as regards the dominion of servitude could be defined in this formula: a regimen politicum is step by step to be introduced in the very relationships of the dominion of servitude. A wage worker who can be dismissed at the whim of his employer is not only in a state of "servitude," but also under a regimen despoticum. A wage worker who enjoys, thanks to workers' unions, collective contracts, etc., some power of resisting any arbitrary orders he receives, remains in a state of "servitude," but he is no longer under a regimen despoticum. I can readily imagine some organization of employment in which the secretaries could enjoy in regard to the professors, a regimen politicum, even while remaining their "slaves" as to the juridico-social status.

And another consideration must immediately be added. The juridico-social status in which men are involved is not alone to be taken into account; the moral and psychological status is of no lesser importance. By a spirit of truly human co-operation, of friendship and trust, the conditions of the juridico-social status can be transfigured in a certain measure. Even while not being co-owners in the enterprise, workers can enter into a truly human co-operation and friendship with their employers, if the latter let them participate in a measure in the administration of the enterprise, by consulting them and even making in common with them certain decisions concerning the direction of the common task. If a professor or a writer introduces his secretary to his scientific thoughts, makes her a confidant of his intellectual concerns, and if, on the other hand, she has the feeling, not of serving, but of helping him, her juridico-social status of "servitude" may remain, in fact, it has no longer any momentous importance; relationships of another order, in the moral and psychological domain, have placed it, so to speak, in parenthesis. That is to say, that even in the economic order, the last word belongs to friendship and human charity.

Jacques Maritain.