The French Catholic philosopher Jaques Maritain (1882 – 1973) helped to revive Thomas Aquinas for modern times, and heavily influenced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Second Vatican Council and the creation of the European Community.
Excerpts from Jacques Maritain’s
Introduction to the 1948 UNESCO volume,
Human Rights: Comments and Interpretations
“[S]ystems of moral philosophy are the products of reflexion by the intellect on ethical concepts which precede and govern them, and which of themselves display, as it were, a highly complex geology of the mind where the natural operation of spontaneous reason, pre-scientific and pre-philosophic, is at every stage conditioned by the acquisitions, the constraints, the structure and the evolution of the social group…. What is chiefly important for the moral progress of humanity is the apprehension by experience which occurs apart from systems and on a different logical basis – assisted by such systems when they awake the conscience to knowledge of itself, hampered by them when they dim the apperceptions of spontaneous reason, or when they cast suspicion on a genuine acquisition of moral experience by linking it with some error of theory or false philosophy….
“The function of language has been so much perverted, the truest words have been pressed into the service of so many lies, that even the noblest and most solemn declarations could not suffice to restore to the peoples faith in Human Rights…. [T]o reach agreement, no longer merely on the definition of Human Rights, but on arrangements for their exercise in daily life the first necessity… would be agreement on a scale of values. For the peoples to agree on the means of securing effective respect for Human Rights, they would have to have in common, however implicitly, not necessarily the same speculative concept, but at least the same practical concept, of man and life, the same ‘philosophy of life’….
“Pending something better, a Declaration of Human Rights agreed by the nations would be a great thing in itself, a word of promise for the downcast and oppressed throughout all lands, the beginning of changes which the world requires, the first condition precedent for the later drafting of a universal Charter of civilized life.”
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was written in stages between 1937 and 1949, amid the horrors of fascism, communism, the Second World War and genocide perpetrated on an industrial scale. Set within the mythical realm of Middle-earth, Tolkien’s novel portrays the perennial struggle between good and evil. The Dark Lord Sauron has openly returned to Middle-earth. Humans, dwarves, elves and hobbits must choose whether to unite and oppose the forces of tyranny, which seek to conquer, enslave and/or annihilate every living creature in Middle-earth.
Those who join “the Fellowship of the Ring” — and the communities they represent — differ immensely from a cultural, linguistic and even genetic (i.e., species) perspective. What unites them is a set of shared values, for which they are prepared to risk their lives in order to re-establish and guard the boundaries between civilization and barbarism.
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us it oscillates with the years. And even within the hearts overwhelmed with evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an un-uprooted small corner of evil. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions in the world. They struggle with the evil inside every human being.”
~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago