Salleron on Maritain

When Maritain's book Humanisme integral first appeared it was reviewed by Louis Salleron in the Revue hebdomadaire of 22 August 1936. This is certainly one of the most perceptive analyses of the deficiencies of Integral Humanism which has ever appeared and it is even more remarkable for the fact that it was not written with the benefit of hindsight but at the time when Maritain was at the height of his reputation. In contrast with Professor Salleron, many Catholic intellectuals not only failed to see that Integral Humanism was a system replete with the serious inconsistencies and self-contradictions exposed by him, but looked upon it as a blueprint for Catholic action in the temporal order which could prove to be the salvation of the Church in the twentieth-century. As was mentioned in Chapter XIII, Fr. G. B. Montini was so enthusiastic about Humanisme integral that he translated it into Italian.

In view of its exceptional relevance to the present situation in the Church, L'Ordre Francais reprinted Professor Salleron's review in its issue of December 1973. The introduction it provided to the review is also included in this appendix and the fact that it was written in 1973 should be noted when reading the comments on the situation in Chile. Professor Salleron has most kindly given his permission for a translation of his review to be included as an appendix to Pope John's Council.

The review was translated by Geoffrey Lawman who also made his own translation of the extracts from Humanisme integral cited by Professor Salleron. For the convenience of readers who possess the official English translation, or who might obtain it from their libraries, I have included the page numbers on which these quotations can be found in the translation made by M. R. Adamson and published in London in 1938 under the title True Humanism. These page numbers will be found in brackets after those provided in the notes to the review which, of course, refer to the original French edition.

Finally, this review does not make easy reading not least because, as Professor Salleron remarks, the style in which Maritain expresses himself is not always ''as clear as it might be." The review needs to be studied rather than read, and to be studied carefully during the course of several readings. And careful note must be taken of Professor Salleron's remark that there are "many excellent things to be found in Humanisme integral." It would be surprising to find any Catholic who could read it without deepening his knowledge of theology, the history of the Church, and authentic Catholic social teaching. The book does, in fact, contain so much that is excellent that without the insights of such authorities on Catholic Social teaching as Louis Salleron or Hamish Fraser the ordinary reader might well have overlooked its defects. And even where these deficiencies occur, Maritain's philosophic brilliance enables him, as Fr. Meinvielle is quoted as stating in Chapter XIII, "to defend theses which had previously been advanced by the enemies of religion without appearing directly to contradict the teaching of the Church."

M. Jacques Maritain, Christian Marxist

In a recent article in Carrefour 1, Louis Salleron reminded us, most opportunely, of some lines Jacques Maritain had written in his Peasant of the Garonne:

"I only know one example of an authentic 'Christian revolution,' and that is the one that President Eduardo Frei is trying to carry out in Chile at the moment, and it is by no means certain that it is going to succeed. (It is true too what among those of my contemporaries still alive as I write these lines, I can only see three revolutionaries worthy of the name: Eduardo Frei in Chile, Saul Alinski in America, and myself in France, light-weight though I am alongside the others, since my vocation as a philosopher has completely clouded any talents I may have had as an agitator.) ..."

At a moment when events in Chile have taken the turn we all know of, and in view of the undeniable fact that it was the Catholics who put the Marxist Allende in power, it is interesting to note that Maritain has recognized Frei as a disciple of his.

"Today," writes Louis Salleron, "the Christian intending to undertake Christian political action thinks that the GOSPEL message must be received as a POLITICAL message, and this inevitably leads him to think that it is a REVOLUTIONARY message. This is the very opposite of Catholicism, and indeed of Christianity." Louis Salleron does not hesitate to hold Jacques Maritain as principally responsible for this confusion.

In the Revue hebdomadaire of 22 August 1936, Louis Salleron analyzed Jacques Maritain's book Humanisme integral, which had just been published and which created a great stir at the time. It is interesting to note that this article of Louis Salleron, which we reproduce below in extenso appeared just a few weeks after the establishment of the Popular Front in France.

Nada, Nada, Nada, Nada
(ST. JOHN of the CROSS)

"A Civil Guard, a big man with a bullet in his stomach, ceaselessly hiccups this word: "Nothing, nothing, nothing ..." (Louis-Delapree, reporting the Spanish Civil War in Paris-Soir, 28 July 1936)

It is not easy to talk about Monsieur Maritain.

On the purely contingent political and social problems of man's "here and now" he has taken up some very advanced positions and yet his central concern has always been with what is eternal in philosophy and contemplation. This last has conferred on him an almost sacrosanct status, so that one hesitates to criticize him in the same way as one would any others of his contemporaries. Even when he initiates arguments in fields where we have a right to join in and take issue with him, he inspires us with a strange awe. However often he repeats that he is not involving the authority of Aquinas in such arguments, we still cannot help feeling a sort of unease; we are afraid of infringing some orthodoxy that is far above our heads and our understanding, or else we feel we may be attacking him unfairly in the name of such an orthodoxy. It is a most uncomfortable feeling.

So let it be understood quite clearly here that we leave it to others better qualified, or more presumptuous than ourselves to find fault with M. Maritain in the lofty spheres of theology or Thomism. It is on the rudimentary level of the most primary "degrees of knowing" that we take our stand in these observations suggested by a reading of his Humanisme integral. 2

As a Christian before all else, M. Maritain is obsessed by an idee fixe, the deChristianization of the common people. His most heartfelt desire and aspiration is to see the masses restored to the communion of Christ.

This central concern inspires and determines every step in his thinking and all the progressive stances he takes up on temporal questions. We say this openly, so as to make it quite clear that however outspokenly we may criticize M. Maritain, we shall never be attacking the intention behind his work, a noble and moving intention which cannot help but gain the support of believers and the respect of non-believers. But, whether Christian or not, we remain free to criticize the theses and hypotheses in the political and social field that he is led to form in his pursuit of that intention. And, believe me, in this field we shall certainly not be the only ones to disagree with him.

The very title Maritain gives to his book reveals the full extent of his hope ... and, in our eyes, the magnitude of his error or of his temptation.

Integral Humanism for him is nothing other than Christian humanism, a humanism which recognizes "That God is the centre for man," which presupposes "the Christian concept of man sinning and redeemed, and the Christian concept of grace and freedom." 3 In short, Integral Humanism is God-centred, whereas traditional humanism was man-centred. "The fundamental defect of anthropocentric humanism " writes M. Maritain, "was that it was man-centred, not that it was a humanism." 4

But it is surely obvious to everyone that humanism is by definition man-centred! The adjective is quite superfluous, a pure tautology, only possible through the linguistic trick of using a Greek root that repeats the meaning of the noun of Latin origin. The words themselves prove M. Maritain wrong, just as he proves history wrong. For it is indeed true that humanism - the thing and the word - arose as recently as the sixteenth century as a counter blast to the prevailing theocentrism, and ever since then has reappeared with each of the revolutions that have set man up against God by making man himself a god. When so many intellectuals declare that they support Communism in the name of humanism, the paradox is only an apparent one. Although absurd from all other points of view, their position is a valid one from the religious point of view. Communism gives them back a "soul"; it restores their "fertility," as Malraux says.

M. Maritain is aware of this, and he does not contradict it. (All his chapter entitled "The Tragedy of Humanism" is first rate.) But the conclusion he draws from this is that a total reversal of the terms is not merely possible but essential. He wants to replace pure atheism by a pure Christianity, to offer God to the man without God. Humanism is not to be abolished but transfigured, and this concept may well be called Integral Humanism.

"We believe," he writes, "that what we call Integral Humanism is capable of saving and fostering, within a fundamentally new synthesis, all the truths affirmed or glimpsed by socialist humanism, by uniting them in an organic and vital way to many other truths." 5

In pure logic this is true. But it would be just as true to say "integral egoism," "integral hedonisms" "integral communism." Since evil exists only as privation of being, any "integralized" evil becomes a good, becomes indeed the good. Any error becomes truth if one projects whatever truth it contains onto the absolute plane.

This applies too when one considers morality. The sinner seeks some immediate and temporary good. One could say to a sinner who commits the seven deadly sins seventy times a day: "Go and ask God, and you will obtain straight away what you are so vainly pursuing." But that is no reason for calling sanctity "integral sin."

Of course, Maritain could reply that "sin" signifies evil as such, and that "integral sin" is nothing but evil at its maximum, whereas "integral humanism" signifies the maximalization of whatever good is contained in the mixture of good and evil we call humanism. I do not disagree. All I am trying to do is to show how dangerous his use of language is; it is a verbal trick that does not help to resolve any of our problems, since it leads just as validly in two opposite directions. Unfortunately the danger implicit in M. Maritain's handling of words affects his philosophical (or apostolic) arguments too. He is tossing the coin for heads or tails, and there is no certainty that heads ... the side with the cross on it ... will come face upward.

Does M. Maritain have a doctrine of freedom? He says he does, but the underlying reason for his present social and political views is an historical determinism.
This determinism does not attempt to conceal itself, and crops up on page after page of his argumentation.

M. Maritain divides the past into "historic ages," "ages of civilization." He is entitled to do this; it is moreover a convenient way of explaining history. But his determinism becomes most clearly marked when he is discussing the present and future. M. Maritain claims, in fact, to be able to distinguish all those elements of the present that are of necessity for the future. In other words, he claims to know what the essential nature (he calls this the "historic climate") of the society of the future will be.

Setting as his objective the working-out of "the concrete historical ideal" of a new Christendom, he writes:

"What do we mean by 'concrete historical ideal'? It is an image projected into the future, signifying the particular, specific type of civilization towards which a certain historical period is tending.

"When Thomas More, Fenelon, Saint-Simon or Fourier drew up their Utopias, what they were building was purely an 'ens rationis,' a mental construct deriving its being entirely from their own reason, isolated from anything having real existence at a particular period and date, having no relationship to any particular historical climate; a construct expressing an absolute maximum of social and political perfection and whose structure it is possible to describe in every little imaginary detail, since it is a fictitious model, offered to our minds as a substitute for reality.

"By contrast, what we call a concrete historical ideal is not a pure creation of thought, but an ideal essence, one that is capable of attainment (with greater or less difficulty, more or less perfection, but that is another question; concerning only the process of realization, and not the finished product), an essence that is capable of existence, calling into being an existence appropriate to a given historical climate, and then responding to a relative maximum (relative, that is, to that historical climate) of social and political perfection, and displaying-precisely because it implies an order capable of concrete existence - only those lines of force and adumbrations of a future reality whose final shape must be determined later." 6
The style of the passage is not as clear as it might be, but the thought is crystal-clear, to the point where it immediately suggests a name to our mind, that of Marx.

It is not M. Maritain's habit to avoid dangerous encounters. And so he speaks of Marx. He blames him for having reduced man's freedom "to the mere spontaneity of a vital force", 7 and for "not having brought out clearly the notion of virtuality (potentiality)." 8 He also blames those who criticize Marxist Hegelianism and historical materialism and yet often accept the Marxist "way of posing the question." 9 The fact remains, that if we put his speculative posture on one side, he looks to us terribly Marxist himself, in a practical sense. Not Marxist in his conclusions, of course, but in his dialectic. What is more, he observes, very rightly, that "Marxism is only able to reject the concept of an ideal at the price of a contradiction (and, in fact, its propaganda evades neither the concept nor the term 'Communist ideal'). It expressly claims to be a philosophy of action, an action destined to transform the world, and how can man act on the world unless he sets himself a goal determined not solely by economic and social progress but also by his own choice and his own loves? A goal which includes not only the movement of objective reality, but also man's own creative freedom controlling and directing that movement? Such is precisely what I mean by concrete historical ideal." 10
Between Marxism and the philosophico-social position of M. Maritain there are two theoretical differences; a doctrinal difference - M. Maritain believes in freedom, and Marx denies it: and a difference of purpose - M. Maritain pursues Integral Humanism while the Marxists are content with humanism pure and simple. But there is one very important similarity: M. Maritain is in agreement with the Marxists on how to interpret contemporary history and what direction its transformation will take. He is so much in agreement with them that his whole activity is nothing but a race, not a race to get there first (for the victory of Communism is presumed to be inevitable), but a race to arrive in time to effect an immediate transformation of defeat and error into triumph and truth in that new Christendom that he is working to bring about. He is in a sense in a hurry to arrive at that definitive simplification of the data of the problem" ... The place is ready (he writes) for a new absolutism, and this time a materialist one (whether open or disguised), more hostile than ever to Christianity ... Thus the apparently most logical of historical positions reappears, and the old battles of the Christian faith against the despotism of the powers of the flesh." 11

Readers might perhaps like us to give some evidence of this agreement we note between M. Maritain and the Marxists on the interpretation of contemporary history. We shall do so, but briefly: treated in full the subject would require many pages.

It is quite clear that when M. Maritain says that politics must "estimate the amount of energy available for historical realization and the coefficient of futurity present in the good and evil aspects" of passing events; an agreement about the present implying a partial agreement about the future. It cannot be disputed that an agreement on the present is already in force.

M. Maritain considers, indeed, that the "proletariat" has made an historical advance by gaining a certain awareness of itself, which is both "an awareness of its offended and humiliated human dignity and an awareness of its historic mission." 12

But this awareness implies, in his eyes, a consequence: "If the proletariat asks to be treated as an adult, it follows that it is not to be aided, bettered or saved by another social class. It is to the working class itself, and to its historic upward climb, that the chief part in the next phase of evolution falls." 13 And he adds "... since man is at the same time flesh and spirit, since any great enterprise in temporal history has its material, biological and sociological bases into which even man's animality and the whole wealth of his sub-rational being are incorporated and exalted, it is normal that in the transformation of a regime such as capitalism, it should be the working class that provides this sociological basis, and in this sense one can speak of its historic mission, and one can consider that the destiny of mankind depends largely today on what action it takes." 14

All this is clear enough, but we are still in the field of generalizations. What follows, is, by contrast, quite concrete. Trying to foresee what form future political organizations "temporally and politically determined and specifically Christian in inspiration" could take, M. Maritain examines the position they would find themselves in at the present moment.

We feel it advisable to quote the passage in full. "Their concrete situation (and hence their practical attitude) towards the Communist forces and those forces which, for lack of a more suitable generic name, we shall call 'fascist' (Italian fascism representing the first form under which certain basically common but very variously specified energies have manifested themselves in history) will in our view be determined primarily by the following dominant ideas or factual conditions: on the one hand the various sorts of fascism are all, by virtue of their original bent and their glorification of the State, in opposition to the historical ideal in which such political organizations should see their specificatory purpose, and opposed to the existential base itself, and to that very primordial necessity itself which they (the organizations) would recognize, - by 'existential base' I mean the movement that bears history towards a substantial mutation in which the 'Fourth Estate, 15 will (whether under a good or a bad banner still depends a good deal on man's will) come into possession of property, real freedom and a real share in the direction of politics and the economy; and by 'primordial necessity' I understand the historic necessity to 'reintegrate the masses' into a civilization Christian in its spirit. On the other hand, Communism does indeed recognize the existential base we have spoken of, but falsifies the notion because of its erroneous philosophy of man and society, and consequently distorts the direction to be given to its evolution. Where our new (Christian) political organisms would proclaim the overriding need to reintegrate the masses into a civilization Christian in spirit, Communism declares the necessity of integrating them into a civilization atheist in spirit; where our organisms would admit the need for a large measure of economic collectivization so as to allow the individual to lead a supra-collective life, Communism intends a total collectivizing of the economy in such a way that the whole life of the human being is thus collectivized.

"In this way, the goal and very raison d'etre of the whole movement are perverted in the case of Communism, the historic basis (and the goal) are rejected in the case of fascism." 16

This passage is all-important, for it clearly shows that although M. Maritain rejects both the various fascisms and Communism, he at least grants a certificate of orthodoxy to Communism as far as the 'historical base' is concerned. That is all we wanted to prove.

Other texts are no less characteristic.

"... Communism (writes M. Maritain) appears as an erroneous system which both stimulates and distorts an historical process, positively given 17 in existence: the process of historical 'birth and decay' by virtue of which a new civilization ... will be established outside the shattered framework of bourgeois civilization. By contrast, the different types of 'fascism' arose right from the beginning as defensive reflexes, both against this existential process and against. Communism itself ..." 18

I have given enough quotations to make my point. Once one has read them, one will not be surprised that M. Maritain considers that "fascist and racist totalitarian regimes cannot grasp the movement of history in its most basic aspect" 19 and that these regimes appear to him as "historical fatalities that in reality make Communism or other historical disasters of equal magnitude all the more likely, since, although in their reaction against Communism they score immediate short-term successes that strike the imagination, they are incapable of rising above Communism and discovering the truly human form that the movement of history calls for. This discovery will only be made by an effort of the spirit and of human freedom overcoming the determinism of the material forces of progress." 20

Such postulates seem dangerous to us, for they constitute in fact a net contribution to the cause of Communism.

Please do not accuse us of unfairly selective quotation. We know - and we have said so - that M. Maritain is too learned, too prudent and too sincere ever to fail to draw attention to doctrinal errors. He does not preach heresy, he does not preach Marxism, nor does he preach revolution. His reservation is always there, as a footnote or in a parenthetical clause. But we have a duty to look beyond these details. He has an accent, a slant, and it is his slant, his emphasis that we are focussing on and underlining here. The whole of M. Maritain's dialectic is purely Marxist and all his 'socio-temporal' likes and preferences are directed towards Communism because it is only the latter that possesses an historical meaning and an historical mission.
M. Maritain reprobates Communism but he opens the way to it and fosters its realization by the fact that he considers it to be the necessary end-product of the errors of the past, and to be the medium moreover for the transmission of a host of social truths which Christianity has the responsibility of bringing to full fruition. We defy any honest reader to challenge our interpretation.

Likewise, we do not think M. Maritain will accuse us of misinterpreting or distorting his thinking. In fact we think that, if an opportunity presented itself, he would confirm the attitude he has taken up as regards the present age, and would even contribute new justifications for his views. It seems likely that there is only one subject on which he would agree to a debate, and that would be the "historical basis" of his position. "Show me first of all that it is wrong," he would say.

But we should not agree to a debate on such a subject; its starting-point seems to us full of error. For although it is true that our acts follow us and that the present determines the futures it is impossible for us to know what these historical "lines of force" to which M. Maritain attaches such importance really are. And even if we did know them in the form in which they appear in our days, we could not imagine under what new form they would appear tomorrow; not only does the human will exist with its amazing capacity for creating history, but even if we remain on the plane of that social alchemy and its determinism that exercises such a strong effect on M. Maritain's mind, there are surprises ... in fact we find nothing but surprises. Our imagination is so bound up in the superficial appearances of the moment that it soon grows exhausted by the effort of trying to invent the future. It is true that once the future has in its turn become the past, we manage to relate it to the earlier past with faultless logic. But our imagination had been incapable of conceiving it. It then had just been one of a great number of possibilities and, nine times out of ten, just the very one we had not foreseen.

Does this mean that man is powerless as regards the future? Certainly not. But the future does not belong to him, and the only hold he has on it is through his will and through his knowledge of laws and causes. Let us take a good look at what separates us here from M. Maritain (once again we are speaking of his manifest tendencies, not of his doctrine). We say that the intelligence can know the immutable, that is to say the necessary relationships that exist between man's nature and the nature of things at each moment in history. This knowledge implies positive solutions in order that order, justice and peace may reign, all those elements, in short, of the common good of society, in which the Christian is as interested as the non-believer. Taking this knowledge as its starting-point, the will of man then acts to impose his solutions. This seems to us a good translation of the admirable phrase of Canovas de Castillo when he said that one must make possible whatever is necessary. One must first of all make it possible, and then do it.

M. Maritain, on the other hand, starts (from a practical viewpoint) from a knowledge of progress, and goes on to infer its future development; and in order to modify this future he appeals less to our will than to our freedom, which he conceives as the spiritual directing element of a mysterious collective biology. For Maritain, the necessary is not so much what is (substantially and in a permanent manner) as what is becoming; and if he wanted to plagiarize Canovas de Castillo, he would willingly say, I think, that one must Christianize what is necessary. Hence the formulas one finds on every page of Humanisme integral, according to which one must "act upon history" 21 (why indeed not?), one must "devote all one's energy to constantly increasing the sum of goodness and justice in the bank account of history ," and "not act as if, in order to separate the cockle from the wheat, we had to close the bank account and thus halt the very movement itself of that historical existence in which we are living," etc. 22

At bottom, all M. Maritain's error arises from the fact that his immense generosity is badly ordered. We mean by this that its natural order or plane is that of thought, and that he wrongly transposes it onto the order or plane of action. By so doing he even vitiates his thought. He was made to know and explain, and nowadays he thinks less clearly and his explanations are all awry, thanks to his desire to direct a movement.

Since he hasn't the slightest vocation for leading men or controlling events, he ends by bowing down and yielding to the allegedly irreversible trends of history, his hope and intention being to steer these by sheer force of spirit. Here he is doubly mistaken, since these inevitable trends do not exist, and also because spirit alone is powerless. If some new Joan of Arc should (purely as an hypothesis) arise and declare that "when it comes to exchanging hard knocks, we shall see which side God is on," no doubt M. Maritain would send her back to her parents after explaining to her that such bloodthirsty delight in fighting was no longer appropriate to the "historical climate" into which we are now entering. And yet our new Joan of Arc (once again as a pure hypothesis) could answer him just as the first Joan did to the doctors of Poitiers: "Sire, God has a book in which no clerk has ever read, however perfect he may be in clerkly learning." 23
We need go no further. Our objection to M. Maritain's ideas is sufficiently clear without our saying any more.

Our criticism does not, in any case, prevent us from appreciating the many excellent things to be found in Humanisme integral; even less does it prevent us from paying homage to M. Maritain's many fine books of pure philosophy, which we have always read with great pleasure.

But M. Maritain must not try to turn himself into a social or political philosopher; he is quite unfitted for such a role, and is indeed positively dangerous.

Indignation, say the diplomats, is not a constructive state of mind in which to approach political affairs. Neither is the spirit of 'todo y nada.' 24


1. 18 October 1973, Chile and Christian politics.
2. Published by Editions Montaigne, one volume.
3. Humanisme integral, p. 35. ( 19)
4. Ibid. p. 35. ( 19)
5. Humanisme integral, p. 98. (81)
6. Humanisme integral, p. 140 (121-2)
7. Humanism integral, p.141 (123)
8. Ibid., p. 142. (124)
9. Ibid., p. 155. (136)
10. Ibid., pp. 143-144. (125)
11. Humanism integral, pp. 172-173. - Cf. also p. 258. (153-154)
12. Ibid., p. 246. (225)
13. Ibid., p. 250. (229)
14. Humanism integral, pp. 251-252 (230)
15. M. Maritain means here the proletariat, not the Press, often called the "Fourth Estate" in English. (Translator's note).
16. Humanism integral, pp. 290-291. (268-269).
17. In the philosophical sense (translator's note).
18. Ibid., p. 295. (272-273).
19. Ibid., p. 297. (275). In no sense should it be thought that Professor Salleron is expressing any sympathy with fascist or racist regimes. He is using this particular quotation to emphasize the fact that Maritain sees the advent of some form of Communism as inevitable, i.e. because in this instance Maritain is criticizing these regimes for failing to accept that this is so ("the movement of history in its most basic aspect"). (Note by Michael Davies.)
20. Ibid, p. 300. It is surely worthwhile to emphasize the extent to which the vocabulary and, in a sense, the very curve or graph of all the arguments we have just quoted from M. Maritain, are impregnated with Marxism. (277)
21. Humanism integral, p. 15. (xvi)
22. Ibid., p. 236. - The words history, historic movement, historic forces, progress, energies, lines offorce, etc., recur constantly in M. Maritain's writing. (215-216)
23. One feels entitled to ask what "line of force" in the destiny of France could be apparent to a Thomist philosopher in the year of grace 1429.
24. i.e. 'all and nothing'.


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