March 23, 2004

Aquinas for the Democratic Age

Review of Hittinger's "Liberty, Wisdom, and Grace: Thomism and Democratic Political Theory":
One may surmise, therefore, that John Hittinger is an unusual kind of scholar who blends together Catholic, Straussian, and American concerns and who is driven by the intellectual challenge of finding a Thomistic justification for modern liberal democracy while possessing a keen awareness of the difficulties he faces.

The difficulties are evident in part one of his volume which begins with several chapters on the achievements of Jacques Maritain and Yves Simon. Hittinger clearly reveres these 20th-century Thomists, as well as the college professors from Notre Dame who introduced them to him as a young student. But Hittinger's reverence does not blind him to their shortcomings, as can be seen especially in chapter three, "Jacques Maritain's and Yves R. Simon's Use of Thomas Aquinas in Their Defense of Liberal Democracy."

In point of fact, Hittinger says, Thomas argued that the best regime is not a democracy but a mixed constitution which looks "something like constitutional monarchy." Hittinger concludes therefore that Simon's and Maritain's justification for liberal democracy is "not fully warranted by the texts of St. Thomas" and that their "advocacy of the democratic spirit and the sense of historical progress take Simon and Maritain well beyond the political philosophy of St. Thomas."

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