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Jacques Maritain on the dynamism of freedom (1938)

The French Thomistic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882–1973) believes that the “dynamism of freedom” consists of using one’s “freedom of choice” in order to gain another kind of freedom, the “freedom of spontaneity or of independence”:

These things being understood, one immediately perceives the consequence they entail from the point of view of what one can call the dynamism of freedom. The first freedom (freedom of choice) exists for the sake of the second freedom (freedom of spontaneity or of independence) toward which the aspirations of personality themselves tend. I have called this second freedom, freedom of spontaneity or of independence. … The freedom of choice, the free will, is not its own end. It is ordained to the conquest of freedom in the sense of freedom of exultation or autonomy. And it is in this conquest, demanded by the essential postulates of human personality, that the dynamism of freedom consists.

IV: The Dynamism of Freedom

These things being understood, one immediately perceives the consequence they entail from the point of view of what one can call the dynamism of freedom. The first freedom (freedom of choice) exists for the sake of the second freedom (freedom of spontaneity or of independence) toward which the aspirations of personality themselves tend. I have called this second freedom, freedom of spontaneity or of independence. In order now to describe it more clearly in its relation to the aspirations of the person, we can also call it freedom of exultation and, in the Pauline, not the Kantian, sense, freedom of autonomy.

The freedom of choice, the free will, is not its own end. It is ordained to the conquest of freedom in the sense of freedom of exultation or autonomy. And it is in this conquest, demanded by the essential postulates of human personality, that the dynamism of freedom consists.

In this dynamism are involved two essentially distinct forms, which I can only briefly discuss; a social form and a spiritual one. If we remember what has just been said about the two defeats inflicted in us in respect to the claims of personality in its pure formal line,—one by divine transcendence, and the other by the burden of nature,—we can say that the object of the social form of the dynamism of freedom is to remedy the defeat inflicted by nature; while the object of the spiritual form of this dynamism is to remedy the defeat inflicted by the transcendence of God.

In the order of social life, it thus appears that the end of civil life is a common earthly good and a common earthly undertaking, whose highest values consist in aiding the human person so that it may free itself from the servitudes of nature and achieve its autonomy in regard to the latter.

About this Quotation:

On the eve of the Second World War (1938) the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain was visiting the US to give a series of lectures on the Scholastic alternative to the philosophies of totalitarianism, both communist and fascist, which had taken control of Europe. He termed his vision “integral humanism” in which the individual person and their hopes and aspirations were given prominence in contrast to the totalitarian societies which demanded “the total devotion of the person” to the state and promoted “human exaltation in the myths of external greatness”. Naturally, a significant part of the book focused on the nature of human freedom, the role played by the freedom of choice each person had to make their lives according to their own vision of the good, and to achieve the ultimate freedom which he called the “freedom of spontaneity or of independence”. The latter goal required freeing oneself from “the servitudes of nature” in order to become a more autonomous human being – goal which was a very hard thing to do at the best of times, but even more so in the years immediately following his lecture tour.

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