Jacques Maritain in the 21st Century: Personalism and the Political Organization of the World by Walter Schultz

Reviewed by Christopher S. Morrissey

This handsome hardcover volume contains a collection of essential studies by the Jacques Maritain scholar Walter Schultz. It offers readers a splendid synoptic view of the trajectory of Schultz’s academic work, from his Ph.D. dissertation on Maritain’s social thought to his discovery of the project of Rabbi Mark S. Kinzer and its potential harmonization with Maritain’s own. The collection thus builds to a crescendo, concluding with two studies by Schultz of the thought of Maritain in relation to Kinzer, which first appeared in the pages of Kesher (Summer-Fall 2020 and Winter-Spring 2022), presented now as Chapters 12 and 13.

Readers of Kesher will be intrigued by everything in this volume. The studies of the political and religious thought of Jacques Maritain that precede Schultz’s Kesher essays provide the indispensable context for those fascinating explorations. These articles demonstrate the importance of Maritain for the promising stage of Jewish-Christian dialogue that, thanks to path-breaking work by Maritain and Kinzer, has now been reached in the 21st Century.

Chapter 1 sounds the theme announced in the book’s subtitle (“Personalism and the Political Organization of the World”) by providing us with an updated introduction to Schultz’s 1982 Ph.D. dissertation (McMaster University) on Jacques Maritain’s Social Critique and His Personalism. Personalism is the eminently fitting name for the philosophy cultivated by Maritain, by which he considers how far political organization can attain humanity’s highest aspirations. Such organization must strive to be attentive to existing structures of injustice and oppression. As we realize by the book’s end, it is just as important to approach “the mystery of Israel” (to use the title of a revealing 1965 essay by Maritain) in the same way we must approach “the mystery of the Church,” because both mysteries find their source and union in the enigmatic person of Yeshua/Jesus. By contemplating both mysteries and not seeking to reduce either to an unwittingly ideological conceptual scheme, we have real hope for bringing healing to the nations, working for the higher kingdom of justice announced by biblical revelation as our ultimate purpose.

Schultz confesses in his Preface that his youthful enthusiasm for confronting and opposing oppression and injustice, his leftist activism, was temporarily derailed. Oddly enough, it was his conversion to becoming a disciple of Yeshua that led to this biographical detour. In his own voice, Schultz tells us he became “a dupe of the Christian right” for some years until he realized that a conservative pose of pretending to be “apolitical” was untenable for a man of faith because one thereby “inadvertently supports the politics of the status quo.”1 Such a stance is hardly worthy of one seeking to be a follower of Yeshua’s teaching. So, studying Maritain’s profound political philosophy was the way for Schultz to penetrate more deeply into that divine teaching and come full circle, returning to the authentic ideals of the Left’s highest aspirations.

With the discovery of Kinzer’s work, Schultz came to see Maritain’s thought as providential preparation for how Jews and Christians can better contemplate working together for global democracy, human rights, sustainable economics, and education for liberation—as God wills it. Schultz illuminates Maritain’s emphasis on the need for education to activate the highest capacities within each person. This fact points to the most significant task for society, which is not simply to empower individuals as if augmenting our material selves in isolation should be our greatest concern. Instead, it is to unleash the depths of every person’s uniquely and divinely endowed personality since each person is an indispensable bearer of irreducibly spiritual gifts.

One of Maritain’s outstanding contributions, rigorously investigated by Schultz, was to debunk the notion of “sovereignty” plaguing modern political thought. Nations, and even individuals, wrongfully claim sovereignty in ways that amount to being virulent forms of idolatry. Maritain carefully distinguished how a global development of democracy should proceed without such misconceptions to avoid such idolatry. Therefore, worldwide diversity and pluralism should be embraced within a supra-national democratic organization that would empower the full flowering of the gospel message.

Schultz’s happy discovery late in his career, as he returned to the prophetic resistance of his idealistic youth, was a mature contemplation of the reality of oppression that coincided with a renewed Christian encounter with the Jewish people. Christians must understand antisemitism more seriously if they wish to understand the Messiah intimately. According to Yeshua’s authentic teaching and call, only such a renewal holds the seeds for the full flowering of the gospel. Schultz contributes judiciously to this dialogue by noting exactly where Maritain’s thought—despite being aided by marriage to his Jewish wife Raïssa—still fell short of what this renewal requires.2

Schultz’s work bloomed during his years of service as President of the Canadian Jacques Maritain Association and Editor of the association’s journal, Études maritainiennes/Maritain Studies. Accordingly, in this one convenient volume, many of Schultz’s important studies in that journal are available to those wishing to further explore the mutual enrichment from Maritain for readers of Kinzer. The Études maritainiennes/Maritain Studies monographs spanning the years of Schultz’s diligent study are reprinted in Chapter 2 (Vol. XVII, 2001), Chapter 4 (Vol. XVI, 2000), Chapter 6 (Vol. XIV, 1998), in Chapter 7 (Vol. XXXIII, 2017), Chapter 8 (Vol. XXI, 2005), and Chapter 9 (Vol. XXXII, 2016). Chapter 3 includes a publication from an American Maritain Association book (from 2017), Chapter 5, a study from the journal Philosophy, Culture, and Traditions (Vol. 7, 2011), and Chapter 10 from the journal Science et Esprit (Volume 73, 2021). Chapter 11, a rousing—yet previously unpublished—conference paper (from 2017), “Multitude Rising: Jacques Maritain’s Contribution to Awareness and Resistance in the Twenty-First Century,” engages insightfully with the writing of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Perhaps it alone should convince many a reader to invest in owning this beautifully curated volume.

By its nature, Jacques Maritain in the 21st Century is an anthology rich in scholarly detail. For this reason, we should be thankful that the publisher has invested in placing all the footnotes at the bottom of the pages rather than inconveniently as endnotes at the end of the book. Because serious scholars always have one eye on the footnotes, it is commendable that Schultz’s work is gathered in the way that best facilitates its contemplation by thoughtful scholars.

Hopefully, scholars engaging with this volume will be inspired to have their political thinking further enriched by Maritain, in which case they can turn to Maritain’s great works Man and the State (1951), The Person and the Common Good (1947), Scholasticism and Politics (1940), and Humanisme Intégral (1936; translated in 1938 as True Humanism and again in 1968 as Integral Humanism: Temporal and Spiritual Problems of a New Christendom). The careful work of Schultz’s colleague in Maritain studies, William Sweet, is also recommended for those who wish to investigate further the unique role Maritain played in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Conversely, Maritain scholars new to the work of Kinzer will hopefully follow up on their reading of Schultz by reading widely in Kinzer.3 Thanks to all these studies, readers of both men can be well prepared to find common cause. Their fraternal spirit provides us with resources for finding creative ways forward together in the 21st Century as we seek to resist the depredations of both neo-liberalism and neo-fascism and repair the world.

Christopher S. Morrissey is Sessional Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada.

1 Walter Schultz, Jacques Maritain in the 21st Century: Personalism and the Political Organization of the World (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2022), xii–xiii.

2 For details, see Schultz, 292.

3 Mark S. Kinzer, All Things Under His Feet: Psalm 8 In the New Testament and in other Jewish Literature of Late Antiquity (1995, Ph.D. dissertation); Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (2005); Israel’s Messiah and the People of God: A Vision for Messianic Jewish Covenant Fidelity (2011); Searching Her Own Mystery: Nostra Aetate, the Jewish People, and the Identity of the Church (2015); Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen: The Resurrected Messiah, the Jewish People, and the Land of Promise (2018); Israel in the Heart of the Church: Jesus in the Heart of Israel (2020, in Dutch); and Besorah: The Resurrection of Jerusalem and the Healing of a Fractured Gospel (2021, co-authored with Russell Resnik).