Posted by: gcarkner | November 7, 2013

Jacques Maritain on Human Rights

Jacques Maritain, Philosopher and Advocate of Universal Human Rights

Jaques Maritain (1882-1973) a French convert to Catholicism, became one of the leading philosophers of the neo-Thomist revival sparked by the crises of the 1930s and the Second World War. A critic of the WWII French Vichy regime, Maritain spent much of the wartime in the US, where he gave political and spiritual direction to the Gaullist Free French movement. His most influential writings were on the topic of universal human rights, where he presented a widely influential neo-Thomist case in Les droits de l’homme et la loi naturelle (New York: Éditions de la Maison Française, 1942); The Rights of Man and Natural Law, trans. Doris C. Anson (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943.)

 After the war, and during the rise of the Cold War, Maritain played a central role in providing philosophical and religious foundations to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the UN General Assembly in December 1948. Maritain’s writings and political engagements on this topic were guided by, and amplified, Thomist imago dei themes, but he also presented a capacity to work with other religious and philosophical traditions and leaders in a carefully-defined pluralism which searched for pragmatic common ground.

 Maritain was a frequent visitor to Canada from the 1930s through the 1950s, often teaching at the Toronto Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies during summer sessions, while also holding a position at Princeton University. His influence in Canada was profound, not only amongst Anglophone Catholics, but especially among Quebec Catholic intellectuals and leaders where support for human rights was problematic in the years of Duplessis’ governments. Liberal Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent was steeped in Maritain’s writings when the Canadian government gave a very reserved positive vote for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. It was the original policy of the Liberal Government to abstain on the vote unless the Declaration made an explicit reference to God and imago dei theology as the foundation for universal human rights.

 Thinking on human rights in Canada, and especially Quebec, has changed radically since the 1960s. Readers can find more extensive treat of this topic in the attached publications.

 ~Dr. George Egerton, Professor Emeritus History, UBC

CHRA Egerton

Copy of 85.3egerton CHR

BetweenWar+Peace KirbyRev

See also talk on human rights by Brad Gregory  Dr. Brad Gregory, Early Modern Historian, Notre Dame University

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