Dazzling Knowledge

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Maritain on America

In the January issue of First Things, Thomas Albert Howard has an essay reviewing the thought of French philosopher Jaques Maritain on America. Some of this stuff is pretty profound:

Maritain was struck by the ongoing vitality of America's founding era. A living past, instead of an exhausted one, and a palpable sense of a future amenable to human initiative appeared to him to have inocculated Americans from continental ideologies claiming "historical necessity." Accordingly, he posited a "root incompatibility" between the American people and Marxism. "For Marx," he elaborated, "history is... [a] set of concatenated necessities, in the bosom of which man slaves toward his final emancipation. When he becomes at last, through communism, master of his own history, then he will drive the chariot of the Juggernaut which had previously crushed him. But for the American people it is quite another story. They are not interested in driving the chariot of the Juggernaut. They have gotten rid of the Juggernaut. It is not... in mastering the necessities of history, it is in man's present freedom that they are interested."
Maritain sought to rebut the frequent charge that Americans were peculiarly given to materialistic pursuits. He did not deny that untoward attachments to consumer goods characterized the postwar industrialized world, but he wondered if Americans, in some respects, were the least materialistic among the wealthy nations. The reproach of materialism did not derive from empirical evidence, he felt, but drew its strength from and Old World elitist tradition of "confusing spirituality with an aristocratic contempt for any improvement in material life." This elitist critique--perfected "among certain high-brow Europeans with large bank accounts and delicious wine in their cellars"--exerts such a powerful moralistic appeal that "you yourselves [Americans] are taken in by it."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that the confusion about the nature of materialism lies in the fact that only in the recent past has the common man or woman been given access to technology that not even the richest of nobles would have been able to own a century before.

With a wide variety of goods available to make everyday tasks easier to accomplish -- at prices that almost everyone can now or soon afford --, it should come as no surprise that consumers would be quick to acquire as many time-saving devices as possible.

With more time thus saved due to these products and services, people can take on new tasks, which then means new products developed to help them accomplish even these additional items, and so on.

The bottom line is, consumers have a choice as to the level of material acquisition in which they wish to indulge. That is the basis of freedom: choice. You are free to own as much or as little as you can afford, without having to explain your choices.

To quote Churchill: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

11:45 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home