Conference Lecture on Jacques Maritain

Hey Guys! I’m going to a conference in South Bend this October, and thought y’all might like to see the topic I’m speaking on. The conference will be at Holy Cross College, hosted by the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. I’m giving a panel lecture called “Lessons from the Friendship of Jacques Maritain with Saul Alinsky”:

Students of Catholic neo-Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain may be surprised to find out that Maritain was a longtime friend of the famous (or infamous) community organizer from Chicago, Saul Alinsky. Interest in Saul Alinsky and his books has grown enormously in recent years, thanks to the election of a famous fan of Rules for Radicals, President Barack Obama. It is only a matter of time before the reader of Alinsky’s works repeatedly comes across the name of Jacques Maritain, the man Alinsky called his “spiritual father.” The affinity between Maritain and Alinsky seems paradoxical considering the difference between Maritain’s Christian natural law view and Alinsky’s overtly Machiavellian approach to politics. This paper will inquire into what the exact nature of the relationship was between Maritain and Alinsky by comparing their correspondence to their respective individual works.
For any given premise found in Machiavelli’s Prince, a similar premise can be found in Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals; “the ends justify the means,” “it is better to be feared than loved,” and “the natural thing is to desire to acquire” all find their places in Alinsky’s work. Jacques Maritain had a very different view toward Machiavelli, writing several anti-Machiavellian passages in his classic text, Man and the State. Maritain sees two different kinds of Machiavellianism– Moderate Machiavellianism and Absolute Machiavellianism. These two modes are tyrannical, mirroring Aristotle’s description of the two modes of preserving tyranny found in the Politics. Maritain claims that Moderate Machiavellianism, which Alinsky seems to advocate, will ultimately lead to Absolute Machiavellianism because it exempts politicians from acknowledging they have performed an evil action. Maritain suggests political realism, but not one that undermines the regime by calling evil “good.”
Jacques Maritain’s letter congratulating Saul Alinsky on writing Rules for Radicals contains these criticisms of Machiavellianism, and shows that Maritain in fact did not agree with Alinsky’s political teachings. Maritain’s tone in the letter is friendly, but he clearly disagrees with Alinsky’s teachings. Maritain says in essence to Saul Alinsky, “You know better than that.” This form of friendly correction treated Saul Alinsky not as an enemy to be hated, but as a confused, good man.
In appraising the Maritain-Alinsky connection, I argue that Maritain should not be criticized for associating with this man in the least bit. Rather, I think the correspondence shows that Jacques Maritain spoke “the truth in love” to Saul Alinsky, and that there were some positive effects on Alinsky’s life as a result of this friendship.

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