Jacques and Raïssa Maritain

ALBUM 2015




ALBUM 2010










A statement of encouragement to
l'Association Canadienne Jacques-Maritain
on the occasion of their international conference titled
“Revisiting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,”
Wednesday and Thursday, 6 and 7 June 2018 at
l'Université du Québec à Montréal


     I remember a time in 1960 when I purchased two books by Jacques Maritain. A week later I went back and purchased three other books by the same author, Jacques Maritain. I had bought these books at old Kreimann's bookstore in Duluth, Minnesota when I was still in high school. These purchases, as acts of truth, should suggest that I thought and still think that Maritain is a thinker who deserves some attention.

     At the end of World War II, after 3 or 4 decades of mass-irrationalism and hysteria, Europe and the world became amazed by the emergence of two individuals who clearly advocated for one and all a policy of logic, reason, and civility in public and private discourse: Jacques and Raïssa Maritain (i.e., Raïssa Oumançoff). It was like the figurative “breath of fresh air” before a world cast down in a swamp of mass grief and mass demoralization. The Maritains dared to suggest that another path to the future was possible.

     When I first wrote to THE CATHOLIC WORKER, someone there sent me a big roll of issues of the paper. I don't mean that these were many copies of one issue; they were copies of many different issues, a complete run of the paper back through the 1950s and 1940s. Dorothy Day as editor, in her prime, published many articles or essays by most of the iconoclastic intellectuals of the time. Soon I found myself reading one essay after another by Raïssa and Jacques Maritain (among many others). It was very stimulating to my mind, and I remain thankful of the encounter.

     Most of the articles in THE CATHOLIC WORKER were signed by both of them, Jacques and Raïssa, as co-authors. They were/are one perfect example of a husband and wife couple who were able to think and act as a dimensional team! Indeed, I found myself wondering why she is not included in the Institute's name. Perhaps someone could pay attention at the Conference, and let me know what the members think on this subject. They are missing a perfect opportunity, I think, to display and celebrate a creative man and a creative woman working together as true equals.

     The Maritain essay “EXISTENCE AND THE EXISTENT” is, I think, a persuasive and compelling expression of and for the Existentialist Movement that emerged in France and the rest of Europe during the 1950s. It is much more compelling than the “NAUSEA” of Sartre, which left me decidedly unsatisfied. Sartre simply retreated into the failed irrationalism of the past rather than create a truly new movement for the time.

     Then in 1956, Raïssa and Jacques Maritain, joined by other Catholic intellectuals, together with Albert Camus and other Existentialist philosophers, published “THE ECONOMIC AND PHILOSOPHIC MANUSCRIPTS” written by Karl Marx in 1844. This publication, in French, was the very first publication of the 1844 Manuscripts, even though Marx himself had indicated that these writings were the “fountain” from which all his other writings had flowed. Both the Second International and the Third International had manuscript copies of these writings but never published them. In fact, they suppressed others from publishing them. If Marx was correct in 1844 and state-control of everything was not the objective, than the Soviet Union itself was an aberration and could never bring about meaningful liberation.

     Later in 1956 occurred the Hungarian Workers' Revolution, a revolution against Russian state-capitalism. From then until the utter collapse of the Soviet Union, the 1844 Manuscripts became a focal-point for analysis and critique of the Soviet system. This was true with dissidents in Russia, but even more it was true with dissidents and intellectuals in Eastern Europe. Amazing! It was possible to make a Marxist critique of “Marxist” economic structures and formations. Raya Dunayevskaya was the first to publish the 1844 Manuscripts in English, and in America. She included these essays as an Appendix at the end of the very first edition, in 1957, of her book “MARXISM AND FREEDOM.”

     After the very end of World War II, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, in March of 1949, fled from South America to Paris and then the south of France. Strangely, he was then appointed as an official of the French Customs and Immigration. This was during the very slow transition from the Vichy (Fascist) regime to the post-war “democracy.” Neruda was not a citizen of France. Also, Neruda had no legal right to become a citizen let alone become a government official of France. Neruda, a Stalinist, suddenly demanded the expulsion and deportation of all the non-Stalinist Spanish republicans who had been living as refugees in the south of France since 1939. Neruda especially demanded the deportation of José Peirats and Federica Montseny. This would have meant immediate execution, across the border in Spain. The dictator Franco was thorough, if not exactly forgiving.

     Raïssa and Jacques Maritain, joined by other Catholic intellectuals, together with Albert Camus and other Existentialist philosophers, campaigned against Neruda and for Peirats, Montseny, and others. They were very successful. They saved a number of lives! Dorothy Day was the Honorary Chair of SPANISH REFUGEE AID (S.R.A.) and Nancy Macdonald was the Executive Secretary. Nancy Macdonald was the author of “Homage to the Spanish Exiles : Voices from the Spanish Civil War,” published in 1987 by Insight Books at New York, New York. The archive of Spanish Refugee Aid (S.R.A.), with photographs, office records, and case files, was moved to The Tamiment Library of New York University in 2004-2006.

     In 1938, Pablo Neruda had had himself appointed a special consul of the Chilean government for the Spanish refugees in the south of France. There he was responsible for what he called “the noblest mission I have ever undertaken,” transporting 2,000 Spanish refugees, who had been housed by the French government in squalid camps, to Chile on an old ship called The Winnipeg. Neruda selected only fellow Communists, members of the Spanish Communist Party, for emigration, to the exclusion of others who had fought on the side of the Spanish Republic in the Civil War. Many of those abandoned Spanish Republicans — Syndicalists, Socialists, and Anarchists — were killed during the German Nazi invasion and occupation of the south of France toward the end of World War II. Neruda himself, though, said he chose only a few hundred of the 2,000 refugees personally; the rest were selected by Juan Negrín, the head of the Spanish Communist Party in exile.

     In 1940, after the failure of an assassination attempt against Leon Trotsky in México, Pablo Neruda arranged a Chilean visa for David Alfaro Siqueiros, who was accused of having been one of the conspirators in the murderous attempt. This enabled Siqueiros, then jailed, to leave México for Chile, where he stayed for a long time in Neruda's private villa. Years later, Octavio Paz wrote that whenever he thought of “Neruda and other famous Stalinist writers … I feel the gooseflesh that I get from reading certain passages of Dante's Inferno. No doubt they began in good faith … but insensibly, commitment by commitment, they saw themselves becoming entangled in a mesh of lies, falsehoods, deceits and perjuries, until they lost their souls.”

     Sartre, who always tried to brush aside the Catholic existentialists, did not participate in the publication of Marx's 1844 Manuscripts or the campaign to save Peirats and others from the Spanish executioners. Sartre always tail-ended the Communist Party, even in 1968; even when his own critiques brought him to the metaphorical edge-of-the-cliff of a break with Stalinism, he just would not break-away.

     Raïssa and Jacques Maritain were largely responsible for the revived interest in the thought and methods of St. Thomas Aquinas after World War II. The Church hierarchs, in contrast, for 150 years at least, had sunk deeper and deeper into mere sentimentalism, empty mood, emotionalism, sectarianism, and hysteria. This had paved the way for fascism and war.

     Ratzinger, in our own time, i.e., Pope Benedict XVI, as one of his wild acts as pre-Pope, canonized Duns Scotus as a saint. Duns, from which the word “dunce” derives, insisted that it was moral and just to torture and kill Jews to force them or their children to accept baptism as Catholics. Thomas Aquinas, in contrast, opposed such notions and such behavior. Indeed, there were very good reasons why 7 centuries of Popes had refused to canonize “the dunce.” But, in Ratzinger's Age, irrationalism itself prevailed wherever we looked.

     Raïssa and Jacques Maritain, after World War II, were largely responsible for the revived interest in plainchant (Ambrosian, Gregorian, Gallican, etc.) which is and has been a constant source of solace and calm for so many people. What? Do I dare to suggest that calm and solace could be aspects of human liberation?

     During the 1950s, as France was torn apart by its colonial war in Algeria, the Maritains, running dead-set against the cultural grain of that time, revived interest in Averroës, the Muslim philosopher, who had advocated rationality and logic in civil discourse. Even the unrestrained chaos and violence of colonial race war did not bully the Maritains into silence.

     The Maritains also revived interest in the thinking and the methods of Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher. The Maritains truly sparked a re-awakening of interest in the Classics and the broader sense of “civilization” in “Western Civilization.” Also, the Maritains were involved in the writing of “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” for the United Nations. Etc., etc.

     Will the telegraphic clichés of Trumpian authoritarianism bring us to a new Dark Age(s) of barbarism, ignorance, and desperation? Today, throughout this same Trumpian world, ideas themselves have been reduced to mere simplisms, catch-phrases, or abstractions. However, Ideas, as such, cannot exist without context(s). For the Maritains, and their Existentialism, the Idea and the Act must be interpenetrated. Did they not insist with Hegel that there is such a thing as an Idea whose time has come?

     In peace and freedom,

     Séamas Cain