The Crisis Of Modern Times
by Jacques Maritain


To avoid misunderstanding, I should note at once that here my point of view will not be that of the mere logic of ideas and doctrines, but that of the concrete logic of the events of history.

From the first point of view, that of the mere logic of ideas and doctrines, it is evident that there are many possible positions other than the 'pure' positions which I shall examine. One might ask theoretically and in the abstract, what value these various positions have. That is not what I am going to do here. In brief, my point of view will be that of the philosophy of culture, and not that of metaphysics.

From this point of view, that of the concrete logic of the events of human history, I think that we may be satisfied with the following rather general definition of Humanism, which I have already proposed in another book.

Not to prejudice further discussion, let us say that Humanism, - and such a definition may itself be developed along quite divergent lines, - tends essentially to make man more truly human, and to manifest his original dignity by enabling him to participate in everything which can enrich him in nature and history (by 'concentrating the world in man', in Max Scheler's words, and by 'making man as large as the world'). It demands that man develop his powers, his creative energies and the life of reason, and at the same time labour to make the forces of the physical world instruments of his freedom. Certainly the great pagan wisdom, which, according to the author of the Eudemian Ethics, aimed to link itself to 'that which is better than reason, being the source of reason', cannot be cut off from the humanistic tradition; and we are thus warned never to define humanism by excluding all reference to the superhuman and by foreswearing all transcendence.

What is it that I call the concrete logic of the events of history? It is a concrete development determined, on the one hand, by the internal logic of ideas and doctrines and, on the other hand, by the human milieu within which these ideas operate and by the contingencies of history as well as by the acts of liberty produced in history. Necessity and contingency are quite remarkably adjusted in this concrete logic, and to designate this logic we may use the word 'dialectic' in the sense I have just indicated, a sense neither Hegelian nor Marxist.

And because we are here in the practical and existential order of human life, with the exigencies of the universe of desire and of its concrete ends, of passion and action, this dialectic involves a movement much swifter and much more violent than that of abstract logic. Positions theoretically tenable (rightly or not) are swept aside, because practically they appear at once unlivable, I do not say for such and such an individual, but for the common consciousness.

Here we see the peculiar vice of classical humanism. This vice, in my judgment, concerns not so much what this humanism affirms, as what it negates, denies and divides. It is what we may call an anthropocentric conception of man and of culture. I am aware that this word is not too felicitous, but I have used it for want of a better. We might say that the error in question is the idea of human nature as self-enclosed or self-sufficient (that is to say self-divinized, for this nature has infinite longings).

Instead of an open human nature and an open reason, which are real nature and real reason, people pretend that there exists a nature and a reason isolated by themselves and shut up in themselves, excluding everything which is not themselves.

Instead of a development of man and reason in continuity with the Gospel, people demand such a development from pure reason apart from the Gospel. And for human life, for the concrete movement of history, this means real and serious amputations.

Prayer, divine love, supra-rational truths, the idea of sin and of grace, the evangelical beatitudes, the necessity of asceticism, of contemplation, of the way of the Cross, - all this is either put in parenthesis or is once for all denied. In the concrete government of human life, reason is isolated from the supra-rational.

It is isolated also from all that is irrational in man, or it denies this, - always in virtue of the very sophism that whatever is not reducible to reason itself, must be anti-rational or incompatible with reason. On the one hand, the life proper to the sphere of will is ignored; and the non-rational in the very world of knowledge is equally ignored. On the other hand, the whole world of the infra-rational, of instincts, of obscure tendencies, of the unconscious, along with that which it includes of malicious and, indeed, of demonic, but also of fecund reserves, is put in parenthesis and religiously forgotten.

Thus, little by little, will spring up the man conformable to the pattern of bourgeois pharisaism, this respectable conventional Man in whom the nineteenth century so long believed, and in whose unmasking Marx, Nietzsche and Freud will glory. They really have unmasked him, but in the same act they have disfigured man himself.

At the same time, enormous promises have been made to man, ever since the day of Descartes, in the prediction that progressive enlightenment will automatically bring about a complete felicity of release and repose, an earthly beatitude.

This has not happened, as the unfolding of the story, - of the history, - has shown. Having given up God so as to be self-sufficient, man has lost track of his soul. He looks in vain for himself; he turns the universe upside-down trying to find himself; he finds masks and, behind the masks, death.

And then we witness the spectacle of a tidal wave of irrationality. Then comes the awakening of a tragic opposition between life and intelligence.

This opposition was begun by Luther, and carried on by Rousseau. But certain phenomena of symbiosis, which I have not time to analyse here, took place later. To-day this opposition appears sometimes in servile forms, for example, in the form of the philosophy of Klages, or in the form of racism, or in the greatly simplified form of certain military men who shout: 'Death to intelligence.' I shall return to this point presently.

It appears also in noble and very noble forms. I am thinking of Nietzsche, of Kierkegaard, of Karl Barth, of Chestov. But even here, no matter with what intelligence they develop the theme that intelligence comes from the serpent, and no matter with what generosity they try to salvage human values, this position unmistakably gives way to what one may call a counter-humanism. I am not blind to the fact that one might raise objections here, and ask whether a humanism defending man against reason is not conceivable. Nevertheless, my point is precisely that if we set out to defend man, not against a certain use of reason, but against reason itself, and against knowledge, the result - inevitably and in spite of everything - will be a counter-humanism.

Here it is evident that reason has been imperilled by rationalism, and humanism by anthropocentric humanism. Terrible voices rise up in man, crying out: We have had enough of lying optimism and illusory moralities, enough of the liberty which starves workmen and burns the stacks of grain, enough of the idealism which kills us, which denies evil and unhappiness and robs us of the means of struggling against them; take us back to the great spiritual fruitfulness of the abyss, of the absurd, and of the ethics of despair.

The lofty counter-humanism of a Kierkegaard or a Barth may be regarded as a mistaken Christian position. In Barth particularly it is a reactive and archaic position, inasmuch as it signifies a will to absolute purification by a reversion to the past, - in fact, a return to primitive Reformation. In Nietzsche it was rather a confounded Christianity: no longer able to adore, it denied and blasphemed, and nevertheless it still searched and still loved. And all these lofty forms of counter-humanism, - because in them is a spirit which protests against itself and destroys itself with a kind of Promethean generosity, - still preserve admirable values of humanity and spirituality. But they are only of the passing moment, for they give way fatally to the servile forms of which I spoke a moment ago. Poor Nietzsche! The truly terrifying voice, the fatal voice is not the voice of Nietzsche; it is the voice of that mediocre and base multitude whose mediocrity and baseness, and disgrace, themselves appear as apocalyptic signs, a voice which scatters to the four winds of humanity the gospel of the hatred of reason, in the form of the cult of the fecundity of war or in that of the cult of race and blood.

When love and holiness do not transform our human condition and change slaves into sons of God, the Law makes many victims. Nietzsche could not bear the sight of the lame and halt of Christianity; more even than Goethe, he rebelled against the Cross; he dreamed of a Dionysian superman, who was a fiction. Dionysius! The newspapers and radio give us news of him every morning and tell us how he leads his dance through the concentration camps and the new ghettos, the cities of China and Spain eviscerated by bombs, Europe maddened in the armament race and feverishly preparing for suicide. Nietzsche could not see that man must choose between two ways: the way of Calvary and the way of slaughter. The irrational tidal wave is in reality the tragic wheel of rationalistic humanism; it reacts against a humanism of reason closed up in itself, but it does so by making man open to the powers from below, and shutting him off from higher communications and the spirit which liberates, and walling the creature up in the abyss of animal vitality.

We witness another spectacle, a spectacle quite the contrary of a continuation, aggravation and exasperation of anthropocentric humanism in the direction which it followed from its origin, in the direction of rationalistic hopes, now constituted no longer solely as philosophical religion, but as a lived religion. This other development arises from taking all the consequences of the principle that man alone, and through himself alone, works out his salvation.

The purest case of this tendency is that of Marxism. No matter how strong some of the pessimistic aspects of Marxism may be, it remains attached to this postulate. Marx turned over Hegelianism; he remained rationalistic nevertheless, so much so that for him the movement proper to matter is a dialectical movement. In Marxist materialism, it is not irrational instinct or biological mysticism, but reason which decapitates reason.

Man alone and through himself alone works out his salvation. Hence this salvation is purely and exclusively temporal; this salvation is accomplished naturally without God, since man is truly alone and acts truly alone only if God does not exist; and even against God, I mean against whatever in man and the human milieu is the image of God, that is to say, from this point of view, the image of heteronomy. This salvation demands the organization of humanity into one body whose supreme destiny is not to see God but to gain supreme dominion in history. It is a position which still declares itself humanistic, but it is radically atheistic and it thereby destroys in reality the humanism which it professes in theory. It is known that dialectical materialism claims to be heir to classical humanism, and Engels used to write that the revolutionary proletariat was the heir to classical German philosophy. If it is true that this is the most pure and therefore the most active form of the spiritual impulse which appeared earlier in the quite different form of rationalistic humanism, we understand that the God of rationalism does not count in the presence of this atheism, and that what remained of disaffected Christianity in classical rationalism is in relation to such an alcohol like a cake of starch. As for the humanism to which it invites us, the way in which revolutionary, materialistic dialectic has lived for twenty years in the country it conquered, has devoured its leaders, reduced their morality to the justification of any means by the end in view, put to death or persecuted thousands of suspected men, - this is sufficient to edify us on that subject.

There is finally a position removed as far from anthropocentric humanism as from anti-humanist irrationalism. This is the Christian humanistic position, according to which the misfortune of classical humanism was not to have been humanism but to have been anthropocentric; not to have hoped in reason, but to have isolated reason and to have left it to dry out; not to have sought liberty, but to have orientated itself toward the myth of the democracy of the individual, instead of toward the historical ideal of the democracy of the person.

In short, in this view the modern world has sought good things in bad ways; it has thus compromised the search for authentic human values, which men must save now by an intellectual grasp of a profounder truth, by a substantial recasting of humanism. In my opinion, we have to-day to deal with a considerable liquidation, - a liquidation of five centuries of classical culture, - the culture in question being a brilliant dissolution (in which new creative forces appear) of medieval civilization. It is the merit of Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More to have called attention to the historical necessity of a new humanism, and to the responsibilities of Rousseau in the tragedy of modern humanism. What I wanted to indicate in the preceding analysis is the breadth of this tragedy, the double responsibility of the rationalistic current and the irrationalistic current (the latter nevertheless depending on the former, as reaction on action), and the breadth with which we have as a consequence to conceive a new humanism. A new humanism ought then to be new in a singularly profound sense, it ought to evolve within the movement of history and create something new in relation to these five centuries behind us; if it has not such power to renew, it is nothing.

The new humanism must reassume in a purified climate all the work of the classical period; it must re-make anthropology, find the rehabilitation and the 'dignification' of the creature not in isolation, not in the creature shut in with itself, but in its openness to the world of the divine and super-rational; and this very fact implies in practice a work of sanctification of the profane and temporal; it means, in the spiritual order, the discovery of the ways of childhood whereby the 'humanity of God our Saviour', as Saint Paul says, finds, with fewer human trappings, a readier way into man, and causes more souls to enter into his hidden task of suffering and vivifying; it involves, in the moral and social order, the discovery of a deeper and fuller sense of the dignity of the human person, so that man would re-find himself in God refound, and would direct social work toward an heroic ideal of brotherly love, itself conceived not as a spontaneous return of feeling to some illusory primitive condition, but as a difficult and painful conquest of civic virtue helped by grace.

Such a humanism, which considers man in the wholeness of his natural and supernatural being, and which sets no a priori limit to the descent of the divine into man, we may call the humanism of the Incarnation. It is an 'integral' and 'progressive' Christian position, which I believe conforms to principles representative of the genuine spirit of Thomism. And, in my country, I am happy to find in agreement with it, not all theologians (that would be too much, and is never the case) but some theologians such as Pere Chenu, Pere Lavaud, l'Abbe Journet, and many others.

In the perspectives of this integral humanism, there is no occasion to choose, so as to sacrifice one or the other, between the vertical movement toward eternal life (present and actually begun here below) and the horizontal movement whereby the substance and creative forces of man are progressively revealed in history. These two movements should be pursued at the same time. To claim to sacrifice the second to the first is a sin of Manicheism. But to claim to sacrifice the first to the second is materialistic nonsense. And the second, the horizontal movement, unless it turns to the destruction of men, is effected only when vitally joined to the first, the vertical one, because this second movement, while having its own proper and properly temporal finalities, and tending to better man's condition here below, also prepares in history for the Kingdom of God, which, for each individual person and for the whole of humanity, is something meta-historical.

End of The Crisis Of Modern Times by Jacques Maritain