Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Political Rights

FROM NATURAL RIGHT MARITAIN SEGUES into political rights or what he calls the "rights of the civic person." Maritain, 80. Directly, these rights arise from "positive law and from the fundamental constitution of the political community." Maritain, 80. Like all law and all institutions, however, political rights are indirectly predicated upon natural law, and this in two ways. First, the positive law, including that law relating to political rights, complements or supplements where the natural law leaves things undetermined. But political rights seem particularly close to the natural disposition or "aspiration inscribed in man's nature." Maritain, 80. It is for very good reason that Aristotle called man a "political animal," a zōon politikon (ζῷον πολιτικόν) or homo politicus. Politics, 1253a7–18. And the political rights of man are an expression of this deep-seated inclination towards the political life, towards the common good of the group.

Maritain understands Aristotle's description of man to be more than merely the truism that man naturally lives or flourishes in society. Aristotle also intended the term to include the natural capacity and desire that men have to lead a political life, to participate, in an active way, in the life of the political community. The right to vote--suffrage--is ultimately Aristotelian in inspiration: "It is upon this [Aristotelian] postulate of human nature that political liberties and political rights rest, and particularly the right of suffrage." Maritain, 81.

Of course, historically, men have not enjoyed participatory democracies over other forms of government, and neither did Aristotle suggest that all men--especially women, slaves, and children--participate in the political life, the leadership life of the polis. (Naturally, all these disenfranchised were active and necessary parts of the polis but they acted, not in public, political roles, but in private, domestic roles.) How then can such a aspiration be as universal as Maritain suggests? Maritain suggests that there is a sort of tug-of-war in man wherein the labors associated with the political life to which man aspires are checked by the desire to renounce such a life and let others take custody over the common good of the community. He suggest that for every Demosthenes in us that wants to participate in political life there is a Cincinnatus who wants to turn back to the plow. There is therefore also a tendency to reject the natural desire to participate, something which Maritain says is against the human dignity that political life implies.

Perhaps it is easier for men to renounce active participation in political life; in certain cases it may have happened that they felt happier and freer from care while dwelling in the commonwealth as political slaves; or while passively handing over to their leaders all the care of the management of the community. But in this case they gave up a privilege proper to their nature, one of these privileges which, in a sense, make life more difficult and which bring with them a greater or lesser amount of labour, strain and suffering, but which correspond to human dignity. A state of civilization in which men, as individual persons, by a free choice designate those who shall hold authority, is itself a more perfect state.

Maritain, 81. For this reason, Maritain values highly the right of universal suffrage, and sees it as "a wholly fundamental political and human value and is one of those rights which a community of free men can never give up." Maritain, 82. Allowing for universal suffrage simply makes for a better social framework, politically-speaking.

In addition to the right to vote, persons have the right to form political groups, "according to the affinity of their ideas and aspirations," and thus form"Freedom of investigation is a fundamental natural right, for man's very nature is to seek the truth."
--Jacques Maritain
"political parties and political schools." Maritain, 82. Maritain admits the potential for abuse in these associations, and that political parties can even cause democracy to degenerate into mere partisan bickering and quest for power against the interests of the common good. But abusus non tollit usum. The abuse of political parties does not take away from their proper value.
[The vices in political parties] however, are not essential to the very notion of these groups, whose diversity corresponds to the natural diversity of practical conceptions and perspectives existing among the members of the political community.
Maritain, 82. Moreover, as Maritain trenchantly points out, one-party systems do not remedy, but exacerbate the party problem; one party systems "bring[] to a peak the vices and the tyranny with which the adversaries of democracy reproach the party system." Maritain, 82. "The totalitarian Single Party system is the worst form and the catastrophe of the party system." Maritain, 82. Better is it to put up with the problems of political parties and simply guard against the excesses that frequently arise with them.

More fundamental than the right to vote or the right to political association, is the "right of the people to take unto itself the constitution and the form of government of its choice." Maritain, 83. "The constitution established by the people is the right of the people, as the rights and liberty of the citizen are the rights of the civic person." Maritain, 83. "Such a right," Maritain insists, "is subject only to the requirements of justice and natural law." In the past the constitutions of societies and their governments were "a matter of consent and tradition," largely unwritten, and not principally a matter of "juridical institution." However, the juridical institution of a political constitution, "formulated and established, by virtue of the will of the people deciding freely to live under the political forms thus set up," is a tremendous progress in the "grasp of political consciousness and in political organization." Maritain, 83. It is something that, once learned, ought not to be let go.

The political rights of civic persons also encompass what Maritain calls the "three equalities." Maritain, 83. The "three equalities" are:
  • Political equality which assures to each citizen his status qua citizen, and his security and liberties within the State.
  • Equality of all before law, which implies an independent judiciary, access to courts, and the right to the rule of law, including due process.
  • Equal admission of all citizens to "public employment according to their capacity," and free and ready access of all the various professions without racial or social discrimination.
Maritain also considers it important to stress, that, though citizens, as compared to aliens or the underage that reside within the State, have certain prerogatives over the non-citizens with respect to the political rights relating to the administration of the State, non-citizens retain rights "of the civic person," rights related to the ius gentium or Law of Nations, rights that come with their living and participating in civilized life. Maritain, 84.

Maritain completes his discussion of political rights and the rights of the civic person by visiting the right of association and freedom of expression, two rights that clearly have importance in the matter of exercising political rights, so closely are these two linked to political expression.

The right of association is a natural right. The right of association has political effects, and so it legitimately can be the subject of State regulation, even prohibition if the common good requires it. The State "has the right to prohibit and dissolve--not arbitrarily, but according to the decision of appropriate juridical institutions--an association of evil-doers or an association of enemies of the public good." Maritain, 84. The natural right of association does not protect crime syndicates or terrorist organizations.

"What we know as freedom of speech and expression," Maritain suggests, "would, in my opinion, be better designated by the term freedom of investigation and discussion." Maritain, 84. "Freedom of investigation is a fundamental natural right, for man's very nature is to seek the truth." Once the truth is found, the knowledge of it may clearly be promoted, and so there is a concomitant freedom to spread ideas. "Freedom to spread ideas which one holds to be true corresponds to an aspiration of nature." Yet, "like freedom of association it is subject to the regulations of positive law." Maritain, 85. Freedom of speech--like freedom of association--is not absolute:

For it is not true that every thought as such, and because of the mere fact that it was born in a human intellect, has the right to be spread about in the community. The latter has the right to resist the propagation of lies or calumnies; to resist those activities which have as their aim the corruption of morals; to resist those which which as their aim the destruction of the State and of the foundations of common life.

Maritain, 85. Maritain is disdainful of censorship and police methods, since these are the "worst way--at least in peace-time--to insure this repression" of illegitimate speech. Better to use a sort of common moral suasion, "that spontaneous pressure of the common conscience and of public opinion, which spring from the national ethos when it is firmly established." Maritain, 85.

It is manifest that the freedom of association and freedom of speech are both essential to the political life fundamental to the State and yet present it with the potential for its destruction if captured by those intent on dissolving the State or injuring the common good. Even in a democracy, the State is justified in protecting itself from those who would harm it, even if it means a limitation on association and speech:
I am convinced that a democratic society is not necessarily an unarmed society, which the enemies of liberty may calmly lead to the slaughterhouse in the name of liberty. Precisely because it is a commonwealth of free men, it must defend itself with particular energy against those who, out of principle, refuse to accept, and who even work to destroy, the foundations of common life in such a regime, the foundations of which are liberty and co-operation and mutual civic respect.
Maritain, 85. What then distinguishes a free society from one that is unfree in the matter of controlling associations and speech when the latter are commandeered toward the destruction of common liberties? "What here distinguishes a society of free men from a despotic society is that this restriction of the destructive liberties takes place, in a society of free men, only with institutional guarantees of justice and law." Maritain, 85.

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