Short Notes on the Family and the City


by Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.

The following article is the first in a series of translations from the works of Jacques de Monléon (1901-1981). Along with his friend Charles De Koninck (1906-1965), de Monléon was a key figure in Laval School Thomism. So much so, in fact, that the school was sometimes called the “de Monléon-De Koninck School.”[1]

De Monléon was born in 1901 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera. He was sent to the Catholic boarding school Collège St. Jean in Fribourg, Switzerland (where Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a fellow pupil). He then studied at the university of University of Aix-Marseille, earning degrees in law (1922/1923) and philosophy (1924). He then moved to Paris to continue his philosophical studies. In Paris he became close to Jacques Maritain.[2] But after a few years he began to diverge from Maritain. One point on which he disagreed with Maritain was the question of “moral philosophy adequately considered” (that is, on whether moral philosophy can be properly scientific without being subalternated to theology).[3] De Monléon was moving towards what he saw as more consistently Thomistic position. He was therefore happy to be invited to the Universty of Laval in Quebec in 1934.

Thomism of the strict observance was established in Quebec by Msgr. Louis-Adolphe Pâquet (1859-1942), who had studied under Cardinal Satolli in Rome. Paquet wrote a commentary on the Summa in Latin,[4] and an intransigently ultramontane-integralist treatise on ecclesiastical public law, written in French.[5] As dean of the faculty of theology at the University of Laval, Pâquet steadily expanded the teaching of philosophy, until it was possible to establish a full pontifical faculty of philosophy.[6]

It was during the expansion of the teaching of philosophy that Laval hired De Koninck and de Monléon. Through a miscommunication they both arrived to fill the same position. In the end, both were retained—De Koninck as professor of natural philosophy, and de Monléon to lecture in political philosophy and ethics. De Monléon was, however, to split his time between Quebec and the Institut Catholique in Paris. Pâquet was originally skeptical of the two laymen, since he thought scholastic philosophy should be taught by clerics, but he was soon won over by their love of St. Thomas.[7]

De Koninck and de Monléon became dear friends. They wrote many letters to each other during the months of each year that de Monléon spent in France. Florian Michel has analyzed their correspondence, showing how they developed the typical theses of Laval School Thomism in the philosophy of science and in political philosophy together.[8]

When De Koninck was appointed dean of the philosophy faculty in 1939, he and de Monléon also began to develop the pedagogical approach that was to become typical of the Laval School. It was an approach that emphasized the importance of learning step by step and in the proper order. The role of the teacher was to lead the students by the hand from the common conceptions of the truth naturally known to all to the first principles of reality. Thus de Monléon wrote to De Koninck:

We [have hitherto] certainly not [been] Thomistic in the way we teach. […] It is indisputable that we proceed in the manner of mathematicians and idealists. […] We immediately plunge poor little immature minds into the dark depths of being and non-being. […] One must lead such minds by the hand if one is allowed to forge such a twisted image. Manuducere. Sicut Zoé (my dear little Zoé[9]) manuducit pueros suos.[10]

This emphasis on the order of learning seems also to have led indirectly to less emphasis on publication in the Laval School, since “leading by the hand” was felt to be something that required personal contact. And, as it turned out, they were to feel that their few publications were often misunderstood. They did, however, begin the Journal Laval théologique et philosophique.

It was in Laval théologique et philosophique that the following “Short Short Notes on the Family and the City” were first published. Later they were included in the volume: Personne et Société, Overtture Philosophique (Paris: Editions L’Harmattan, 2007). Many thanks to Alessandra Fra of L’Harmattan for permission to publish this translation. The translation was originally made by a group of tutors at Thomas Aquinas College for a seminar on Catholic Social Teaching. Many thanks to Anthony Andres for permission to publish the translation on The Josias.

The nature and scope of political authority, and its relation to the incomplete community of the family, is a key issue in recent debates among integralists.[11] I am convinced that de Monléon’s profound reflections can contribute key insights to this debate. A printable version of the essay can be found here.

Short Notes on the Family and the City

Jacques de Monléon

1. – We know that many very eminent authors do not recognize the essential difference between domestic society and political society. Plato, for example, writes: “Well, then, surely there won’t be any difference, so far as ruling is concerned, between the character of a large household, on the one hand, and the bulk of a small city on the other? – Not at all. – So, in answer to the question we were asking ourselves just now, it’s clear that there is one sort of knowledge concerned with all of these things, and whether we call it the science of kingship or political science or household management makes no difference.”[12] The nineteenth century political philosopher, Louis de Bonald, writes in a similar vein: “Such is the likeness, or rather the complete identity that everyone recognizes between domestic and public society, that from the most ancient times kings have been called the fathers of their peoples.”[13] And the same idea is found in Fustel de Coulanges’s The Ancient City, and this opinion is the one of its directive principles: “Family, brotherhood, tribe, city, are societies in exactly the same way, and are born one from another by a succession of federations.”[14]

2. – Plato studies this issue using the same method that he uses everywhere in his study of reality. This dialectical method, that is, the method of logic, consists in comprehending objects, not by seeing their place in the order of reality, but by seeing their place in the logical order, that is, their place in the universality of our concepts, such as in the composition of subject and predicate in a proposition. The dialectical method is not necessarily illegitimate; not only can it be useful, but it is often the only good way to study some real thing. But we can abuse it, and its abuse begins when we suppose that things exist in reality in exactly the same way in which they exist in the mind. Its abuse begins, for example, when we suppose that the universality of the concept in our thought corresponds to some universal nature in realm of real being. And here is an example of what follows from such a supposition: since the logical genus is the principle, the foundation, and even the substance of our knowledge of things (after all, specific differences are imposed upon the genus to which they are added), it would then follow that the genus is also the substance or essence of the object in the order of reality, in such a way that the specific differences which are joined to the genus end up being accidental determinations of it. But this is false; the genus and the specific difference together express an essence which in reality is essentially one and indivisible. We can also be led to think of the genus as if it were the whole essence when we consider its relation to the subjects of which it is predicated. We can come to see the genus as a superior attribute, since it is more universal and extends to more subjects than the species. Then we might think that the genus is superior because it represents that which is more perfect in reality. Here we have the genus monopolizing the essential and reducing the specific difference to a mere accessory. We have imposed the properties of the logical order, in which the predicate is superior, upon the real order. Even though the genus is superior to the difference in universality, it does not really tell us that what it names is more perfect: on the contrary, it expresses what is indeterminate and potential in the notion of a thing.

Of course, we need to see that the city and the family are two species which fit under a more common notion.  But how can we avoid abusing this dialectical method? How can we resist the temptation to think that the genus expresses the whole substance? How can we avoid thinking of the specific difference as if it were merely accidental? Moreover, how can we know that there is a difference between the two kinds of societies, the city and the family, and what that difference is? To achieve these goals, it is necessary to follow a natural method, that is, it is necessary to try to grasp these things insofar as they are real beings.  That is, we cannot just consider the genus, the starting point of logic, and the logical modalities which exist only in the soul; we must also grasp the parts which compose the whole of the thing in its real existence. And so, to know the nature of this whole which is called the household, we must examine its distinctive parts, the elementary associations that form it in reality: the partnerships of husband and wife, of parents and children, of masters and servants. We must do the same for the city, since the distinctive parts of these two societies are truly and essentially different.  We must raise our minds up to their real foundations, proper, complex and living, the irreducible differences which distinguish them.

3. – Because it starts with facts, history might seem immune to the abuse of the dialectical method. But what do we actually find in Fustel de Coulanges’s History of the Ancient City? Of course, the author does insist on the growing strife between the city and the family, and on the final victory of the city against the family and the tribe; but by itself this does not prevent him from asserting that there is an exact likeness between these diverse societies. And that makes sense: it is not unlikely that beings of the same species fight among themselves and that the greater and stronger wins. – Again, one of the fundamental themes of his book is that religion, according to the ancients, has been the chief inspiration and the principal organizer of society. Fustel emphasizes the opposition between one kind of religion, a kind which worships domestic divinities, and another kind, which worships political divinities.[15] He neatly indicates the subjective allure of the first, the objective character of the second, and we can appreciate this contrast. But in fact Fustel is not as surprised as he should be. He does not appreciate enough the importance and the reason for this difference. His starting point, the likeness of societies in a common genus, is insufficient for understanding the progression between these things.

In truth, the facts of history cannot be deduced from logical relationships. It is neither the essence, nor the nature, nor the specific difference which form the object of history, but the singular, the contingent and the accidental insofar as they appear in time.  But these latter make up a fabric that unfortunately is torn by irrationality. How can we repair this fabric? The following might seem to work: let the historian, in place of simply telling everything that happens in the course of a particular time, also order it as unified and illuminated by a logical conception. Let him consider the accidental relations of events to each other as if they were an accidental relation of differences added to a logical conception. For example, the historian might look at the city not just as something which happens to come after the household temporally; rather, he might consider the city as an accidental variation, the same in kind as the family and the tribe. The advantage in basing historical accident upon a logical accident is that we infuse the events of history with a seductive rationality; we gather everything that happens in history under the same logical conception, just as the method of limits leads us from the square to the circle under the logical conception of the polygon. Moreover, since historical realities slowly emerge in time, and things that change little by little do not differ except in terms of “more and the less,” the use of a dialectical method in history does not appear to abandon its foundation in historical fact – but only if we gloss over the abrupt changes (for example, the joining of villages) that tear into the slow and continuous evolution of life. The dialectical method uses history in its attempt to discover a “more and the less” compatible with our thinking that the genus is in itself permanent, and that ultimately this “more and less” should clarify everything. Taken all the way to its logical conclusion (we cannot actually accuse Fustel of going all the way here), the historical-logical method which we have spoken of explains history as the development of just one substance. It should remind us of the Hegelian method, here used so brusquely by Karl Marx:

If from real apples, pears, strawberries and almonds I form the general idea “Fruit”, if I go further and imagine that my abstract idea “Fruit”, derived from real fruit, is an entity existing outside me, is indeed the true essence of the pear, the apple, etc., then in the language of speculative philosophy — I am declaring that “Fruit” is the “Substance” of the pear, the apple, the almond, etc. I am saying, therefore, that to be a pear is not essential to the pear, that to be an apple is not essential to the apple; that what is essential to these things is not their real existence, perceptible to the senses, but the essence that I have abstracted from them and then foisted on them, the essence of my idea — “Fruit”. I therefore declare apples, pears, almonds, etc., to be mere forms of existence, modi, of “Fruit.” My finite understanding, supported by my senses, does of course distinguish an apple from a pear and a pear from an almond, but my speculative reason declares these sensuous differences inessential and irrelevant. It sees the same thing in the apple as in the pear, and the same thing in the pear as in the almond, namely “Fruit”. Particular real fruits are no more than semblances whose true essence is “the substance” — “Fruit”.[16]

This way of thinking, moreover, has the effect of annulling all genuine evolution in history: since it eliminates essential specific differences, the uniformity of the genus allows only apparent or accidental changes.

But now let us suppose that the healthy desire to escape from this last consequence makes us decide to reintroduce the specific difference into the substance, instead of leaving it out. But let us also suppose that, fearing to lose the benefit of dialectical rationality, we refuse to let go of the ancient postulate, that what is substantial in the order of logical predication, the genus, is purely and simply substantial in reality. We can immediately see that trying to satisfy these two conditions simultaneously forces us to incorporate contradiction into the very substance of things. For if, on the one hand, the genus society constitutes the whole substance of both domestic and political society, and yet on the other hand these two societies are substantially different, it follows that they are, at the same time, essentially the same and essentially different.

And then we could take this substantial contradiction and make it the primary motivation in the soul which causes the movement of history. – We could also think, and this would be even better, that a contradictory essence is really not an essence; and thus that neither essence nor substance really exist; and in particular, that man has no nature, but only a history. And if we then dismissed the next world as an “illusion,” we could transfer all of our being into the accidentality of our actions. – But what this line of reasoning finally amounts to is a critique of the postulate which treats the genus and the logical substance as if it were the substance of things in reality.

4. – In contrast, Bonald refuses to accept the fundamental difference between the domestic and political societies because he deliberately contradicts those who base civil society upon a human and free convention. Society is necessary; it is natural. It is natural because it is necessary for the production and conservation of man. And since the society that is most clearly necessary for the production and conservation of man is the family, he reduces civil society to the family. But his error comes, not in saying that the family is necessary to the production and conservation of man, nor in holding that political society is natural and necessary to man. His error is not to see that the words ‘natural’ and ‘necessary’ have different meanings, and that we cannot apply these terms to the family and to the city in the same way. The family is necessary for the formation and preservation of the very being of man, while the city is natural and necessary for him to achieve his end: For the end of the generation of man is the human form; still, the end of man is not his form, but through his form it is fitting for him to work to an end.[17]

Such a serious mistake leads to unsettling consequences. For example, Bonald generalizes from the fact that in the family the subject proceeds from the sovereign (the child from the father) to infer that it will be the same in every society. He says that “subjects, insofar as they are subjects, proceed from sovereign and his ministers, just as the child proceeds from his father and mother.”[18] If we too argued this way, we might think that we have enlarged the family. We might also think that in (clumsily) establishing civil society upon this basis we further assure the solidity of the family. What we have actually done, however, is to justify beforehand and in principle the dissolution of the family into the State.  In fact, it is one of the pretensions, or if we wish, one of the ideals of the totalitarian State, that its subjects proceed from its power.

But these are not just the consequences of the kind of philosophy which we encounter in our day. In fact, these are its principles. It frequently happens that the most implacably opposed philosophical systems actually stem from a common principle, a common major premiss. By adding to that major premiss two different minor premisses, each in itself quite true, they ultimately arrive, by rigorous deductions, at two contrary conclusions that are equally and dangerously false. Isn’t this the case here? Let us take as our major premiss that the society which is concerned with the substance of man is the most perfect, and all others are reduced to it. If we add to this principle a minor premiss which is incontestable: the family is the society that is concerned with the substance of man, the traditionalist conclusion inevitably follows: the family is the most perfect society, and all others are reduced to it. But if, on the contrary, confronted by a conclusion so doubtful, I assume (always under the same major premiss) this other premiss: the most perfect society is the political society, the totalitarian conclusion is now imposed upon us: The State is essentially concerned with the substance, form, preservation, and betterment of man.

Of course, in an argument in which the minor premisses are true and the inferences are irrefutable, but the conclusions are false, our only recourse is to doubt the major premiss. But it is often difficult to track that major premiss down, above all when it is common to opposed systems, and all the more when it represents a very profound metaphysical principle. In the present case the major premiss implies nothing less than this: substance, being primary in the order of being, is also primary in the order of finality and action. That is, this premiss entirely confuses and even identifies the ontological primacy of substance with its teleological perfection. But neither in man nor in any creature are these two things the same: it is obvious that we are not perfectly good merely from the fact of our existing. Rather we are good only because our actions are properly ordered to our end. Being and action are identical only in God, and only God is absolutely good through his very being. Thus, the confusion of the city and the family implies, at its root, whether we like or not, consciously or unconsciously, that man has claimed for himself the Divine prerogative. And vice versa, every philosophy which makes action (thinking or any action, it does not matter) the substance or being of man posits a first principle which causes us to confuse the family with the city.

5. – Generation is the primary object of the association between a man and a woman. But generation is not something belonging to man according to his proper nature, that is, according to reason. Rather, it is common to him and to the other living things, and even to merely physical beings. The desire to leave behind another being that resembles himself is not, in man, an effect of a deliberate determination: nature itself inspires this desire in both animals and plants. As a tendency, it is as natural as it is universal. Nothing is more certain than that generation, as we have taken it, is rooted in the world of nature, is spontaneous, and stirs up the most vehement, the most impatient, and the most profound of desires. Nothing better shows us how we are natural. We must not forget this when we discuss the family. Now, while the first intention of nature is the preservation of the species, nature also universally intends to conserve and to guarantee the individual being which it brings into being. Still, this is a less primary intention which nature leaves to the care of the individual engendered. For, although the individual cannot be the principle of his own generation, in the end he is always reckoned to be the principle of his own conservation. He nourishes himself, nutrition being the most fundamental of the functions through which he assures his own preservation. What follows is that nature is responsible all by itself for generation; we see that generation does not make use of any art except the extrinsic and accidental. In contrast, the conservation of the individual requires more directly the help and the completion provided by art and reason. Thus, man preserves his own existence by building houses and making clothes and preparing food in the kitchen. Often among the animals, an art participates in instinct, each contributing to the preservation of the individual. These arts even demand specialized workers who are placed, as it were, on the edge of nature, since they do not reproduce themselves. All of this shows that the conservation of the individual, even if it is understood as encompassed in the intention of nature, even if it has its principle in nature, and in the vegetative nature which man has in common with other living things, is not so profoundly and exclusively natural as generation. We can see this last thing to have been well-understood by Maeterlinck  in his book, The Life of Bees:

Here again nature has taken extraordinary measures to favor the union of males with females. If she had devoted half the genius she lavishes on crossed fertilization and other arbitrary desires to making life more certain, to alleviating pain, to softening death and warding off horrible accidents, the universe would probably have presented an enigma less incomprehensible, less pitiable, than the one we are striving to solve.[19]

Nature’s “. . . constant cry on all sides is, ‘Unite and multiply; there is no other law, or aim, than love,’ while she mutters under her breath: ‘and exist afterward if you can; that is no concern of mine.’”[20]  The full meaning of the passage is this: the art which provides for the conservation of the offspring is marvelously displayed and used in the hive; but the union of the male and the queen happens far from the hive, in the depths of space, as if nature wished to show that she is self-sufficient for generation. And we are the bees.

Of course nature calls upon art and reason for the preservation of the individual most urgently and clearly in man. In the case of man, nature both intends the preservation of the species and is entirely charged with the execution of that intention. But, although nature intends the preservation of the individual man, she requires the prolonged and multiplied aid of reason for the execution of the intention. The first foundation of marriage is here. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman who are deliberately and determinately tied to one another. But mere generation does not require such a union because generation occurs in every species by the simple momentary joining of the sexes. The problem is that, left to herself, the female would not be able to fittingly provide for the nourishment, protection and education of the child.  The man must remain with the woman after generation, and this occurs only by a deliberate determination.[21]  Thus, nature first has recourse to reason in order to nourish the engendered individual.

It would be interesting to compare Hobbes and Rousseau with Bonald, on the subject of the preservation of the individual. All three would agree with an idea meriting careful consideration, that the conservation of the individual is taken up in political society, if not only there. But this is how they disagree: Bonald always links generation and conservation together; both are for him absolutely natural, natural in the same way. Hobbes and Rousseau, on the contrary, think that the conservation of the individual is the concern of reason and liberty. Isn’t the foundation for this divergence in what we have come to see? We have seen that conservation is natural in the sense that nature inclines to it, but it still requires the assistance of reason. We are here touching upon the principle of the distinction and relation between economics and politics.

6. – A thing is natural because nature produces it. But nature can produce a thing in many ways.

1. First, because this thing fits the nature of man in this, insofar as his nature has something in common with animals, with plants, or more generally yet, with all physical beings. This is the sense in which nature is inclined both to the generation and preservation of the individual. It is according to this meaning of the term that generation and preservation are called natural and are called more and less natural. Now, the inclination that is common to more different kinds of beings will be to that degree ‘more natural’ in each of them. But in some cases, in order to be fully satisfied, the inclination derived from what man has in common with other beings must have recourse to that which is proper to the nature of man, reason. This latter is the sense in which the conservation of the individual in the human species is natural, and in this way it differs from generation which, we have seen, requires nothing, so to speak, from reason.

2. In the second place, a thing is natural because it fits man in what is proper to his nature, reason. But even here we must make distinctions.

a) In some cases rational nature can be inclined towards acts which nature guides from beginning to end. It is in this way that nature produces in us from their very beginnings the most universal judgments, such as that the whole is greater than the part, or that we must do good and avoid evil. etc.

b) In other cases rational nature is inclined to something which can only be accomplished by the application of reason and will. If something is called natural in this sense, it is because it conforms to a thing’s nature, because it corresponds to its ultimate desire, which is its perfection. This is something that is not provided by nature alone. Knowledge, virtue and political society are ‘natural’ in this sense and in this sense only. In such things the natural inclination varies in degree in different individuals; nature only provides a beginning, a spontaneous tendency, more or less vague and confused, toward something that can only come about by an extended and laborious application of art, reason and the will.

These are the principal senses of the word ‘natural,’ although there are others. We see how the word ‘nature’ hides equivocations and that it can be the source of fallacious reasoning. We see also the vigilance and dexterity which is needed when we use it. Otherwise, we speak in vain about the ‘natural’ character of the family and society. To understand anything we must distinguish.

These necessary distinctions help us discern between the contrary positions, of Hobbes and Rousseau on the one hand, and of Bonald on the other. It is true, as the first two posit, that political society is not natural; it is not natural because it cannot be formed unless reason and freedom are applied to establish it, although of course it is natural in that it corresponds to the inclination and perfection of man. And it is true to say with Bonald that political society is natural, in the sense that it corresponds to the inclination, the desire and the perfection of human nature, although it is not natural as if reason and free will do not need to intervene in order to institute it.

7. The third object of the family is the education of children, their apprenticeship in human life. But what do the words ‘human life’ signify in the sense in which it is now necessary to take them? “Life” does not designate being but acting. Human life is made up of specifically human acts, i.e., acts which proceed from a deliberate will. Thus education is something so different from generation and conservation that it seems at first difficult to assign it to the family along with them. Insofar as it generates and conserves children, the family as a cause ought to provide for the being of children. Insofar as it educates children, it regards them, on the contrary, as principles of action. But since the milieu par excellence of properly human acts is political society, ought not education pertain to it? Education is inevitably contested terrain, a sort of perpetual Gran Chaco[22] where the two communities, the family and political society, face each other.

At this point we must lay down a general principle: As soon as man is seen as a principle of his own actions, it follows that there must be a concurrence between the family and public society. Already on the economic level, with respect to man’s conservation and maintenance, the two communities interfere with each other. However trivial the claim may seem, let us not forget that the living being is itself the active principle of the assimilation of its food, even if not always a principle of the production.

Can we call the family a ‘natural’ association with respect to education? The very question implies another: is it natural that a principle of action, above all when it acts by reason and will, when it is causa sui [cause of itself], depends in its action on some prior principle? On the contrary, doesn’t its nature demand that it act by itself? We know that certain educators rely on the principle of letting the child move himself. That it conforms to the nature of a principle made for self-movement that it move itself is obvious, but nothing can move itself unless it has first been put into act. A car doesn’t start on its own; the driver has to start it. And this is the nature of every agent outside of God, whose being is action. This is a universal law, transcendental within creation: in order to act a creature must first of all have been acted upon by another; and the creature is subject to this law even when it is of itself a cause by reason and by will. Now the role of education is exactly this: to put man on track, to put him in act in the order of human action, and to elevate him to the status of a principle which is a movens seipsum [self-mover].

Nature demands more: it demands that that the generated be set going and put into act by its generator. To the degree that we follow the thread of generation and heredity, our access to the soul of the child is more intimate, easy, and natural. In fact, we see very clearly that the same is true here. Being is the root of doing, and doing is the end of being. The father is, then, the natural educator of the child.

Still, nature seems perplexed and hesitant on this point. It inspires certain kinds of generators to restrict themselves pretty strictly to generation.  In these cases, they have hardly put their offspring into the world before they lose interest in them. They say to them something like: “We have begotten you; our job as far as you go is done. You are living; it’s up to you to move yourself; it’s up to you to keep out of trouble.” Fish, for the most part, and often men too, end their association there. For others the reverse is true: they seem to more or less forget that the limit of their activity in regard to their offspring should almost be a refutation of their activity; that the goal to be attained is to enable their descendants spontaneously to move themselves well. There are parents who tend to bind their children to themselves indefinitely; to exaggerate and prolong their causality. “I want my daughters. I made them. They’re mine,” says Pere Goriot.[23] The root of this tendency is found in generation, the first basis of paternal behavior. My daughters, I made them; thus, the daughters do not belong to themselves. Poor Goriot reasons very formally once the principle is posited. What has been engendered, as such, is entirely an effect. It is not the cause nor the master of its own life: it owes that to its parents. So it is that, rather than sustain and animate from within, the voice of the generator can, in the father, overmaster the voice of the educator. It is difficult, indeed, for the cause of something to see it otherwise than as an effect; to know, when the time comes, to treat its effect as a principle; more: to exercise its causality so as to make its effect itself be a cause.

8. From the principle posited, “I have made them,” Goriot logically infers that his daughters are his. But must we not question the principle itself and ask whether a father pronounces it from within the plentitude of fatherhood? In fact, neither Goriot nor Grandet[24] represent the father in his absolute and complete idea, in his Platonic essence. What Balzac depicts in these characters is rather, in the twilight of a fading day, the disparagement of human paternity. Speaking as he does, Goriot sinks far below the perfect Father of whom one cannot admit that He uses the word make with regard to his Son: genitum non factum. And even with regard to human generation we sense something trivial, inelegant about using the word make. In truth, the physical generation of living things, adequately grasped, encloses a conflict which the story of Oedipus symbolizes in a striking way. The destiny of Oedipus is, among other things, a paternity which sinks from its royal, almost divine heights:

Children, young offspring of ancient Cadmos…,[25]

into the ambiguous and pitiful obscurity of the lower regions:

But today the gods have abandoned me. I am the son of impure beings, and I, miserably, have seeded the womb whence I came.[26]

Should we erase this immanent antithesis between grandeur and misery, all the tension of the drama is released. Whence comes the conflict? What importance does it have? We will do well if we get just a glimpse of the answers to these difficult questions.

We are not subsistent life, but corporeal living things. Our life is a participated life, existing in a matter which is its subject. Consequently, the propagation of life for us is tied to the generator’s transmutation of the matter from which the generated being is made. From this point of view, the father can in a certain sense be compared to an artist or a worker, and he can say that he ‘makes’ a child as they make their works. The base, vulgar, ambiguous, and sordid connotations, everything miserable or repugnant which can be met with in physical generation is attached to the material cookery which is its precondition. Without conceding anything at all to the morose repulsion of the Manicheans on this issue, their attitude is explained by this condition. However much the shadowy regions of generation contrast with its sublime heights, the shadowy regions still have their mystery.

If the physical generation of the living is imperfect insofar as it is physical, it owes its grandeur to the fact that, all the same, it is the generation of something living, i.e., a communication of life, the production of something living from a conjoined living thing according to a similitude of nature. Considered in itself, what could be more wonderful than to propagate life, to communicate to another the perfection which consists in self-movement? In itself, this includes no imperfection and we find it in God. The shadows and contrast appear when the communication of life is complicated by the subjection of a matter, a subjection more profound to the degree that the perfection to be communicated is higher and more interior. For there is an opposition between the perfection communicated, which is to be moved by oneself, and the mode of communication, which implies that a matter, a subject, is moved ab alio [by another].

At bottom, isn’t this the antithesis between life and subject? If we agree to call ‘subject’ that which receives or possesses in itself a determination, a movement, and act, every life is a victory over subjectivity. For the living is not such because it receives an act in itself, or because it possesses it in itself, but rather because it moves itself, applies itself, and determines itself to action. This feature of the living thing led Bergson by extrapolation to deny that any coming to be demands a subject. “There are changes, but there are not, under the change, things that change: change has no need for a support.”[27] Bergson goes too far, first of all because change demands a subject, and then also because life has consented to being participated in by a subject. We find the right manner of thinking about and saying these things in these lines from John of St. Thomas: “The vitality of an act does not belong to it precisely due to its inherence in a living subject (for this only implies passivity, and what is passive as such has nothing vital about it); the vitality of an act belongs to it insofar as it proceeds actively from a living thing, for the most formal notion of the living thing is that it moves itself, not that it undergoes something.”[28]

Because it is a transmutation,  an alteration of a subject, biological generation is a signpost of becoming. It is in itself a riotous movement, a paroxysm of life. It is transitory and repeats itself indefinitely. Entirely concerned with bringing things into existence, but not with conserving them in existence, it pursues multiplication in an unlimited becoming. But all of this is not sufficient for achieving the full perfection of paternity. No one can really lay claim to the title of father except by the care which he gives to the preservation and the development of those whom he begets. There are peoples for whom the legal father is the one who takes charge of the children, and not simply the procreator.[29] This is because to preserve something in being is more perfect and demands a higher and more universal causality than it does to bring things into existence. To nourish is, in a sense, more noble than to beget. To nourish is to procure food. Food presupposes a being which is already able to move itself, since the one being fed must vitally assimilate its food, and in fact food is the very object for this vital power of assimilation. Now every movere seipsum [self-mover] confronts an object, while the moveri ab alio [things moved by another] is completed by an efficient cause. For living things, food is the first object which they have the ability to make use of themselves. Finally, as we have already noted, food presupposes the cooperation of reason. Let us add to this the protection and education of the offspring and we will begin to see that it is in going beyond mere generation that paternity develops its true greatness. It is by this sort of extension and enlargement that paternity is elevated unto a royal dignity, even unto divinity, as we find in Egypt, where the Pharaohs were fundamentally the food suppliers of the people.

9. Of the three essential functions of the family, generation, nourishment, and education, the first two concern the substance of man, the third, his action. Moralists and sociologists as a rule do not think much about substance, and this is quite understandable, for they are concerned with human acts, which, as we have noted, are accidents. Let us look into this further. If men who are concerned with human action easily turn away from the substance, the essence, or the nature of man and if they even come to deny it, the first reason for this attitude is the dislocation in the creature of the order of being and the order of good. A man has being, in the absolute sense of the word being, not because he is good, but because he is a man. On the contrary, a man is good, in the absolute sense of good, not because he is a man, but because he acts well. We have being absolutely in virtue of our substance, which is not good except in a relative way, radically, that is, as the first ‘root’ of our acts. And we are good absolutely by our actions, which are not being except in a relative and , as it were, secondary way, since they are no more than accidents of our substance. This great divergence between being and good certainly does not make us feel completely comfortable, nor perfectly secure, and we always try to mask or reduce the divergence. Recall in passing two contrary philosophies on this point: that of Leibniz, who turns substance into an at least virtual action, and Existentialism, which suppresses substance to reduce all our being to the accidentality of our acts.

Even if it is normal that the moralist and the sociologist do not take any time to think about the human substance, it would nevertheless be good if they took a little more interest than they are wont to do. The simple recollection of what a substance is already brings in some serious clarifications on the question of the family and the city. We call a ‘substance’ a thing to whose nature it belongs to exist by itself. This is not to say that a substance cannot have a cause of its existence. With the exception of God, all substances exist because of one or more causes which produce them. The words ‘by itself’ do not exclude a cause, but rather a subject in which the substance would exist and which would sustain it: a substance cannot be received into something else. Existing by itself, maintaining and retaining its existence in itself, substance cannot be specified by anything exterior to itself, in the way sensing, thinking, willing are specified by their objects. Not existing in another thing, it is not open to another thing: it is interior to itself, shut in on itself, enclosed on itself. It is ‘in itself.’

Now, it is remarkable that the family, whose primordial occupations concern the engendered and conserved substance, also tends to shut in on itself. Where the family is strong, it has trouble opening up. Where men open themselves up too easily or too quickly to their circle of friends or to the world, the family loses its cohesion. The old Sabine families opposed Romulus when he wanted to make Rome an asylum for all comers. We can multiply observations of this kind with regard to peasant families, provincial ones, etc. However hackneyed the subject, we know that reality does not lag behind imagination. Experience shows us how varied, comic, refined, or violent are the lives of families. Further, many men find their vital support there: domestic bears who love their cage, who decorate it to their taste, who see irresistible pleasures there and refuse to leave; owls who indeed have their wisdom, but whom the light of day dazzles and who prefer their hole; and also delicate plants: in the open field they can only vegetate and die: they need a greenhouse and a planter.

But for other temperaments the family is soon too narrow; they need the open air. Close them in and they get jumpy. You can put a geranium in a vase, but not an acorn, which will break it when it becomes an oak. This is how the family, when it yields to its demon of isolation, works for its own destruction: it makes those who do not find their fulfillment in it displaced persons, vagabonds. We send young men into the world because the permanence of the domus [home] is unable to assure their livelihood; their attachments are broken, and when they return the family no longer knows them or hardly recognizes them for its own. Here colonization can be a safety-valve, except that colonial life is not generally very favorable to the solidity and stability of families. Relations with the metropolis are developed and multiply, resulting in an ebbing of mores, while new customs corrode traditions. The Roman patres were well guarded against the influence of those returning home. Rome did not swarm off like the Greek cities: it constituted provinces; it organized the universe around itself. If time permitted, it would be worthwhile to consider all this more thoroughly, taking the notion of empire as our frame of reference.

Do not forget, moreover, that it is not only because it is self-enclosed, but also because it is stable that substance reverberates with the behavior of the family and that it provides here a healthy antidote to the city, whose bent, on the contrary, leans somewhat dangerously in the direction of the indeterminate mobility of action.

10. To the degree that substance is self-sufficient in the line of being, of esse, since it exists in and by itself, to that same degree it is insufficient in the line of action and of bene esse, of well-being. For action is specified by an object, that is, it is turned toward an end extrinsic to substance. This profound antinomy of the ‘in itself’ and the ‘of the other’ is not simply a matter of metaphysical speculation. It finds expression in human behavior. It provokes differences of attitude, disagreements, misunderstandings, antipathies secret or declared, and sometimes implacable combat. Is this not one of the sources of the permanent antagonism between Athens and Sparta? In The History of the Peloponnesian War, the people of Corinth declare:

Lacedaemonians…you do not show much comprehension of foreign affairs…. Alone among the Greeks do you remain inactive…You have no idea, moreover, of the adversaries you have in hand with the Athenians. How completely different from you! They love innovations, are prompt to conceive and to realize what they have resolved; even if you intend to safeguard the way things are, you lack invention, and you do not even do what is necessary. They show themselves audacious even beyond their strength, bold beyond any expectation, full of hope even amidst dangers. Your line of conduct consists in doing less than you might…. They act and you temporize; they travel abroad while you are the most domestic of men…. Rest without occupation burdens them more than laborious activity. In brief, in saying of their nature that they are as incapable of remaining quiet as they are of leaving others in peace, we would be speaking the absolute truth.[30]

But precisely because it inclines first of all to the being of substance, the family is incapable of being completely self-sufficient in the order of human acts. It does not belong to the family to assure the full per se sufficientia vitae [self-sufficiency of life], the full development of life in action. This is not to deny that it is good for certain men (and in certain cases which are in fact frequent) to be enclosed in a strongly familial society. It is so among primitive peoples, and in civilizations in decay, i.e., every time men are not ripe enough or end up being too ripe to live a perfect human life. To the degree that man is too imperfect to be up to the standard of the city, it is necessary that the family maintain or firmly reestablish its controls. Whence the benefit of the middle ages: coming after a used up and defeated civilization, it recovered and rejuvenated its seeds in a natural and life-giving family climate and so prepared new developments.

We cannot exaggerate the concrete, the practical importance of these reserves. Nevertheless, this should not hide the deep-seated incompleteness of substance and thus the insufficiency of the family. This insufficiency can again be seen from the following perspective: to act, a created substance must be surrounded, armed, equipped with powers or faculties like intelligence, will, etc. The development of these faculties of man relative to action for the sake of the perfect human good finds its perfection in political life. Thus, philosophies which propose to relieve substance of these encumbering faculties and which make of substance itself an immediate principle of action – all philosophies of this sort posit a principle of confusion between domestic and public society. Those who give everything to the family, like Bonald (a great admirer of Leibniz), and those who pretend to remove everything from it, like the totalitarian state, can together lay claim to this principle and these philosophies. Doesn’t the Marxist solution to the human problem also express the same viewpoint? Isn’t it finally a question of inverting these two, the faculties and actions of man as superstructure of a nature, and the substance which the faculties presuppose? Of integrating our action into our essence, so that the former no longer depends on the latter, but the latter on the former? Isn’t this, in fact, the true end of the quarrel between man and his nature? The true end of the quarrel between essence and existence? The second coming of freedom?

11. But have we now made such a sharp distinction between substance on the one hand and faculties and action on the other, that we are inclined to make a definitive argument that education does not belong to the family? How can we escape this conclusion if the city is the place par excellence of human action and if human actions are the object of education? Or maybe this distinction really supports the opposite: civil society must not intervene in education if it will not aid the family and subordinate itself to the family?

But since being is the root of action and acting well is the end of being, society naturally has a responsibility even for being. Thus we cannot purely and simply deny that it has a responsibility for action and acting well. Man does not receive only his being from his causes. They must set a man in motion, give him his start, otherwise he would not be in a position to move himself. The role of familial education is precisely to begin us in life, in human acts, by putting us in act in such a way that we can in the end act and act well on our own. This beginning is a long and laborious affair. For the angel it needs only an instant; for the animal it sometimes demands a certain length of time; but in the case of man it needs a very long time, for he can only slowly acquire the formation and the necessary experience to face the indefinite and shifting sea of life.[31]

But the family does not secure a man’s entire education. Familial education always implies that the child is moved to some degree by his causes, increasingly less so as the child grows up. Thus, the aptitude to move oneself cannot be perfected without being exercised in the city. On the other hand, familial education is accomplished in a certain way by impressed motions, by undergoing impulsions. In the family there is always a kind of “inculcation.” We may recall here the observations of Plato on the role and mode of familial education in the acquisition of good order, on the δοκοὖντα νόμιμα [apparent laws], the πάτριοι νόμοι [paternal laws]. In the family there are all kinds of prescriptions that resemble law: Remain quiet, stand up in the presence of your elders, etc. It would be ridiculous to make ‘laws’, in the proper sense of the term, for all the little matters and uncertainties. It is necessary however to immerse children in them, to provide them the sense of what is right, what is legitimate, and thus prepare them to obey the legal. But this immersion proceeds by way of νουθέτησις, “putting yourself in the mind, in the head . . .”[32]

Now the properly and fully human act requires that man, instead of acting under a impulse received from outside, brings himself to one end or another by particular means that he has deliberately chosen. These are the modes of objectivity and finality that establish the character and specific excellence of the education received in the city. It is easy to make a mistake on this point because we often have a debased idea about the political completion of education, and because that education is confused with education or teaching by the State. For good or ill, the State can make itself a teacher and take over the part of education that normally is left to the family. The terms public or national education may deceive us: we do not thereby know what the goal of education must be in the city as such.

In the funeral speech that Thucydides puts in the mouth of Pericles, one of the reasons for loving Athens is its shows and festivals.[33] To offer to the eyes of men the objects that affect, open and form them is in fact a very important part of public education. We cannot explore this here since the details are endless. Let us say simply that in every matter and every order, from monuments to displays, and from landscaping to hats, the city must thoroughly maintain an atmosphere such that the things surrounding the citizens are not crude but are presented with the quality, harmony and excellence commensurate with the good life of man. Bread, for example, consists not only of carbohydrates, proteins and vitamin B; its nutritive power must be flush with true flavor and harmonious with the first degree of wisdom, namely, the first discernment of order that is the sensation of taste. Wine, too, should have its bouquet. Men should not allow themselves to be buried in a materiality that is scientific and brutish, the funeral of comfort, but convenience should raise itself up to a little of true and free beauty. The city watches over language, which is not simply a kind of exchange but an incomparable means of formation through its phonetics, through the expressive power and intelligence of which it is objectively full. The city must attend to public performances, music, theater, cinema, contests, matches, races, Olympiads, ball games, fireworks, festivals, fairs, broadcasting and bullfights. It must not only sustain artists but also protect and promote a certain quality in the works themselves, even if it must act contrary to the artists themselves. It should abandon neither the artists nor the public to the mercy of snobbery, clique, ambition, or moneyed interests. Clear the air, as much as possible, above the marshes of literature. All this is not easy. It requires neither edicts nor bureaucrats nor the nationalization of the arts and letters, but a kind of superior and free judgment and a sense of life. But how can this be accomplished?

We must look for those craftsmen who have the gift of following the trail of true beauty and grace, so that like the inhabitants of a healthy country, the young may receive benefit from all things about them, whence the influence that emanates from works of beauty may waft itself to eye or ear like a breeze that brings health from wholesome places, and so from earliest childhood that influence must insensibly guide them to friendship, to imitate the beautiful and to establish between it and them a perfect harmony.[34]

Moreover, all this formation which comes from the city must begin at childhood and surround and bathe familial education.

Finally, it is through the law that the education of man is truly achieved. There are no laws in the family, except in an imperfect manner. Law is objective and universal, an order emanating from reason in view of the end which is the common good. But reason, objectivity, universality, and finality make it that the law speaks to men only to the degree that they can move themselves deliberately, and therefore it speaks not to children but to citizens.

12. Just as art presupposes matter and the gifts of nature, so the city presupposes men. Receiving them from nature by way of the family, the city has for its object not to make men, but to perfect them, to give them a sufficiency of those means necessary for attaining by reason and will the end of human life: Homines non facit politica, sed sumens a natura, utitur ipsis.” “Political [science] does not make men, but taking them from nature it uses them.”[35]

Moreover, when a society, a political regime meddles with generation (for example, with the intention of maintaining purity of race and blood), it admits its impotence and resigns as a regime, as a political society: for the object, purpose and greatness proper to politics is to bring to the highest possible degree of perfection the human matter that nature furnishes. It is more difficult to lead a man than to beget him. As Joseph de Maistre said: “The great difficulty is not to make children, but to make men.” Even the greatest artist does not produce the matter that his art works upon; rather, he receives it “as is” from nature, and knows how to pull off a great work, notwithstanding how inconsistent or rebellious the matter may be. The greatest marvel of the divine art is not creation, but the elevation of the creature to the supernatural order. This is not to say that the city must be purely and simply uninterested in generation. On the contrary, the city must take it into account, but only in order to assure that the family can do it well: as city, its object lies elsewhere.

13. The distinction between domestic and public societies becomes even clearer when we consider it from the viewpoint of causality. In the family the efficient cause manifests quite clearly, whereas the final cause plays a more implicit role and within the context of nature. The parent is the efficient cause of the offspring and of the nourishment he provides for it, and the education proper to the family is conducted to a great degree by a kind of “pushing.” But the end is always present in the life of the city, which has as its express goal the happiness of man, the ultimate end to which it tends through its deliberate action. Moreover, there is a great difference between the way an end works and the way an efficient cause works. The end does not trigger the will; it causes action only if it is presented in the guise of object: ignoti nulla cupido (there is no desire for what is not known). There is no parallel in the case of efficient cause, which acts by a thrust that the patient undergoes obscurely. In the family there is often a compulsion that is felt and often very compellingly, but often it is more instinctive than objective. Traditions are received without examination, accepted and handed down simply because they descended from previous generations. Justice in patriarchal societies assumes the appearance of Themis: an oracle given by the father, by the king, under some inspiration come down from on high. Law is not what one reads, but what binds us as a holy, traditional matter, for which one does not have to advance reasons. Contrary to this, the more the city rises and the more men know and want to know the reasons behind their actions, the more the final end affirms its role in their life: justice becomes Judgment [Gr.: Dike]. Law will then proceed from deliberation and be established upon principles and written down for all to see.

14. Whatever corrections they might require, the considerations found in Fustel’s The Ancient City concerning religion and the family provide much to ponder. Without a doubt the first issue concerns the basis of the family’s sacred character, once so widely recognized. If nature aims at generation with such a strong impulse, it is because by generation corruptible beings imitate, as much as they are able to, the eternity of God. The individual passes, but the species abides. What pushes these beings to reproduce themselves is the divine desire in nature to resemble its own indefectible principle. To participate in God’s immutability and eternity through succession, through the decay of time and individuals, is the end that nature pursues by means of generation.

For in all things, as we affirm, Nature always strives after ‘the better’. Now ‘being’ . . . is better than ‘non-being’: but not all things can possess being, since they are too far removed from the principle. God has therefore adopted the remaining alternative, and fulfilled the perfection of the universe by making ‘coming-to-be’ uninterrupted, . . . because, ‘that coming-to-be’ should itself be perpetual, is the closest approximation to eternal being.[36]

Let us note here a few points:

a) In accomplishing a task divine in the way we have just spoken of, it is normal that the family in all its vigor (that is, especially before the appearance or clear development of the city) feels instinctively its existence and its permanence as something divine. It puts itself above the individual, who is reduced in a way to being only its support, its transitory and unceasingly replaced instrument. It tends, in the manner of monism, to absorb all human life, leaving the individuals, its proper members, to be hardly more than modes or accidents of its own being. Fustel felt all that deeply and perhaps even exaggerated it a little.

b) But Fustel constantly opposed religion and nature with respect to the family. Let us distinguish: if we think of nature insofar as it is made real and concretized in this or that individual, then it is true that the family can, in the name of its own existence, neglect nature, or even oppose it, for example, in breaking certain bonds of natural affection. But if one thinks of nature as the divine wish of always maintaining itself across the passing individuals, then there is nothing more strongly natural than domestic religion.

c) Imitation of divine permanence is the end of nature and generation. But this end is not an object that nature must know in order to reach it. This is why the atmosphere of domestic religion is so dark, peopled with ghosts and shadows, with shades and household gods in indistinct outline, with occult influence. These divinities do not give rise to a true mythology, which is something more luminous and objective. Rather, the household gods are honored by superstitious practices or magic. And the rites and formulas are repeated long after anyone understands them.

There remains much more to examine in the relation between the family and religion. Thus, let us consider religion according to its precise definition. Religion is an incomplete form of justice and has for its object the worship rendered to God insofar as he is the first principle of being and of the government of the world. In other words, religion looks to God principally as the Creator and Sovereign Mover. If it reaches out for him under the title of Last End of the Universe, it does so less openly, so to speak, and in a secondary, implicit and indirect way; in fact, in such a way that we find in religion the predominance of the efficient cause that we find in the family. Isn’t this one of the foundations of the close affinity between the family and religion?

Now it is true that domestic religion is at first very closed in, and that each household is jealous for its particular divinities. Then one day, when the idea of a Single God, the Principle of All Things, was affirmed, domestic religion opened up, enlarged itself and became related to the universality of the first cause. God is adored and entreated as the Father par excellence and the source of all fatherhood. Parents and ancestors are now venerated as ministers of God in his communication of being. But this enlargement of religion does not require it to rise above the reference point of efficient causality. Narrower or wider, the divinity is always manifested as the source of being. In sum, religion does not lose its profound affinity with the family just because it understands and has recourse to a higher and more universal deity.

Also, the religion of the city is not a simple expansion on domestic religion, in such a way that there is an historical continuity which leads from the second to the first. Rather, when we pass from one to the other, we enter a different order of things. Fustel himself insinuates this using excellent terms which we wish to emphasize: “On the other hand, man applied his idea of ​​the divine to the exterior objects that he beheld, that he loved or feared, to the physical agents who were the masters of his happiness and his life.”[37] The political religion is turned towards its own objects and its own ends.

15. Thus, the family is spontaneously religious, first because of the divine end which nature pursues by means of generation, but also because of the primacy of efficient cause and the mode of this kind of causality. In contrast, the family is less fully in harmony with the supernatural. If the evolution of the life and religion of the city had not displaced the ancient religion of the household, would the Gospel and Revelation have been able to capture the ancient world as they did? The paradox is clear. Religion and the supernatural are very much connected, but they are different and it would be erroneous to confuse them. There are societies and governments which are very hostile to the supernatural and yet which invoke God religiously. Moreover, if a religion has for its object the worship which is owed to God as First Principle of reality, that religion can be purely natural.

Of course, the supernatural supposes that the creature depends upon God as the cause of its being. But to discern what religion consists in essentially, we cannot stop there. The lowliest student of theology clearly sees that if he limits himself to considering God as an efficient cause, as the cause of being as being and the proper and universal cause of existence, he can discover nothing about the intimate life of God in the Trinity of Persons. Considered from the point of view of efficient causality, the actions of God proceed ad extra [towards what is outside] from the divine omnipotence in its essential unity. No effect of God, as effect, would manifest the mystery of the Trinity. An effect as such, that is, in its reference to the efficient cause, does not have any connection to the divine Persons insofar as these are distinct relations, but only insofar as these are one self-same God. The mystery of the Trinity is the mystery of divine life, interior and transcendent, and nothing of its secrets is made known through the conduit of efficient causality alone.

But the supernatural is precisely a participation in the nature and the intimate life of God. It confers on us a likeness to God so particular and appropriate that the creature is seen to be associated with the knowledge and the joy which God has in Himself. The supernatural order is not at all defined by God in his function as creator, nor by creatures insofar as they descend from their principle. We must leave behind the consideration of Him as efficient cause. The supernatural order is formally defined by the return of the creature to God.  He makes his intimate life, considered as object and end, as happiness, the eternal life of angels and men.[38] If I  consider grace only as an effect which God brings into existence – which in truth it is – I manifest it only under an aspect common to all created things and I am incapable of seeing it as a participation in the divine nature. How could we hold onto a univocal participation in deity while staying within the limits of efficient causality? An effect of God as such can only have an equivocal and extended likeness to Him.

We often criticize Aristotle because in the Metaphysics he only sees God as the end, not as the author of the universe. But perhaps he has very serious reasons to do what he does in this oft-criticized book. May I stammer out some brief remarks on a subject so large and which none should be allowed to discuss lightly? The intention of Aristotle is to rise up to the perfection of God as pure act, absolutely immobile. “As pure act”: what does this mean? We can understand by this that God possesses in Himself all the perfection of being, and consequently that He is the source of being for all other things. Such a meaning is certainly not excluded from the text of which we speak. But the intention of Aristotle goes further, is more profound and more daring. “As pure act” can signify not only all of the perfection which pure act possesses, but also the manner in which pure act possesses all perfection. But the manner in which pure act possesses all perfection is as an act which cannot be made determinate by any other, by any act which is before any other, outside of any other, and more ultimate than any other. But, between the two orders of causality, efficient and final, it is only the latter that by its very formality entirely excludes being made determinate by something other than itself. An efficient cause must be made determinate by the end, but the end in itself is an immobile mover. Thus with wonderful certainty Aristotle adheres to final causality in his effort to rise up to the supereminent mode of divine perfection. And thus he approaches, insofar as man’s unaided reason is able, not only to God as a being or substance containing all perfection, but also to God as a nature, that is, as an interior principle of operation, a nature which is the actuality of life, a life which is thought, and a thought which is thinking itself. All this is a more and more rigorous and ascending expression of pure act considered under the mode most determining its own perfection: non determinatur ab alio [it is not determined by another].[39] At least we cannot honestly take away from Aristotle the conspicuous merit of having brought to bear, with respect to God, the notions of nature and of end. Without these notions, taken up and elevated by Revelation, it is impossible to discern what the supernatural is. It is really arrogance on our part to hastily blame the insufficiency of Aristotle’s doctrine, because we ourselves have forgotten the insufficiency, in this matter, of considering only efficient causality. But let me close this Aristotelian digression and return to our main subject.

There is an affinity between religion and the family, but there is also an analogy between the supernatural order and the political order, in both of which the object and end are primary. To corroborate our reflection on this point, it is fitting to make a further examination of the theme of substance. Man can only participate univocally in the divine nature by taking his actions for his object and his end. This is because it is impossible to conceive of a creature which would be supernatural in its substance. For, insofar as it is a creature, it would be other than God; but insofar as it is a substance, it would not be specified by anything other than itself. Thus, it is always in relation to God as object and end, it is always in relation to the actions which allow the creature to reach this object and this end, that the creature participates in the supernatural order. As in the political life, the supernatural life presupposes the created substance, of which it is only an accident. Grace does not have the task of producing this substance any more than the city does. We can say of grace what Aristotle said about the city: it receives things generated by nature and uses them.  We maintain that, on the contrary, the family, insofar as it furnishes the human substance, keeps itself at a distance from the supernatural order.

There still remains this considerable difference between the supernatural order and the political order, that the first allows us to participate in the divine nature by making us children of God. In this higher order, the political and domestic orders are combined: citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. Also, the Virgin Mary, is invoked near the beginning of the Litany as Mother of Divine Grace, but near the end as Queen of All Saints. Which of these two titles is greater? And which of these other two, Queen and Mother of Mercy?

16. The specific difference between the family and the city, and the preeminence of city should not, however, make us forget the intimacy of their relationship, nor the necessary transfusion of the influx of the family in political life. The city is the ultimate sphere of human action, which proceeds from a deliberate will. It is the sphere where man moves himself to an end that he knows objectively as the end, that is, as the principle and the measure of his actions. But, we can now see clearly how much, because of its very perfection, the causality of the end finds itself compromised. While the efficient cause only needs passivity in the subject that it moves, the causality of the end can only bloom in the secret of the appetite. Without the interior and living response of willing, the end remains ineffective, inactive, and powerless. If someone pushes you, you will move. But will you move if someone calls you? In this way, political life presupposes an intimate fulfillment in man. The city cannot profitably welcome in a man it if he has not been sufficiently raised and has not actually acquired the correct interior dispositions. Such dispositions enable him, when entering into the “kingdom of ends,” to properly answer its call. The family is necessary for bringing about this interior formation. Without the family it is impossible to work out in a connatural fashion the subministratio virtutis [the development of virtue], because only the family approaches, in the process of the generation, to the substantial and subjective regions of the individual, to his very marrow. Mitte radices.[Go to the root.]

Moreover, this intimate formation not only has the role of tracing for us determinate ways for choosing means, since these choices depend on our deliberations; it affects us more secretly. It is about animating in us this first affective and effective love of the end that is the principle of all our actions. It belongs to the family to awaken the first infused, but diffuse, inclination to want the right thing. It belongs to the family to ensure this profound apprenticeship of the heart.

However, this sort of infusion does not proceed only from the immediate family, but more largely from all that composes the mysterious, mystical, and concrete reality of the homeland. The homeland, the fatherland, is an intermediary between the family and the city. In it, the constraining environment of the family is relaxed, to mingle in the sea of political life. We need this widening. Without cutting us off from our roots, it frees us from the narrowness and the inevitably prosaic tedium found in the family. At the same time, the fatherland establishes and immerses the material of the political life in the current of heredity and tradition. Outside of our family, it is in our fatherland that we are formed, incubated, ripened, so that so many enduring sensible and spiritual goods, slowly developed by the multitude of our ancestors, are naturally transmitted to us in a warm, constant, gentle, maternal humoral symbiosis. And this is necessary to dispose us to move, to move well, to move with ease, naturalness, and freedom in the environment of the city. The fatherland brings about an intimate and living harmony between the subjective and the objective, the instinctive and the deliberate, the moveri ab alio [to be moved by another] and the movere seipsum [to move one’s self].

At the same time that it forms us from the side of the subjective interior response which such objects and the ends require, it also tempers the excess of autonomy that is a danger to what is essential to the life in the city. The fatherland reminds us that, while in some way we ourselves are principles, there are nevertheless principles from which we come. It reminds us that we cannot place ourselves above such principles and detach ourselves from them under the insolent and juvenile pretext that we are beyond them, or that everything is not rationally evident to us about them. It demands of us an attitude of piety with regard to our fathers and their descendants. This is exactly the contrary of what Rousseau recommends in these lines from the Emile:

For by a right which nothing can abrogate, every man, when he comes of age, becomes his own master, free to renounce the contract by which he forms part of the community, by leaving the fatherland in which that contract holds good. It is only by sojourning in that fatherland, after he has come to years of discretion, that he is supposed to have tacitly confirmed the pledge given by his ancestors. He acquires the right to renounce his fatherland, just as he has the right to renounce all claim to his ancestral domain.[40]

It is very certain that the original principles of man, his dependence on them, the transmission of what he receives from them, cannot be reduced to clear and distinct ideas. There are too many obscure things in generation, too much hidden grandeur in paternity. In this sense, we cannot see so deeply into the principles of our being that we could justify them geometrically.  Our adherence is something natural, instinctive, mystical and deeply interior. There is also the filial acceptance of our dependence with respect to these causes, which are prior to us and superior to us, without which we would not even exist and without which we would not be what we are. In the atmosphere of the fatherland one accepts this obscurity and this dependence, but they do not seem entirely compatible with perfect freedom, full self-control by reason and will. Hence we are tempted to free ourselves, and in particular to replace the fatherland with the nation, and to replace the piety that one owes to the fatherland with nationalism. For the nation is still a community of birth, but now it claims that it possesses a revelation, a luminous and transparent self-consciousness. In the nation we no longer feel the weight of darkness and dependence. The feeling of piety disintegrates. The causes from which we come may either be left behind or will only take their meaning and their value through the gradual revelation of the national community. Nationalism, at least in the most basic and most fierce forms, is the opposite of the fatherland and tradition.


I will begin with our ancestors because it is fair and just, in such circumstances, to pay tribute to their memory. This country without interruption has been inhabited by people of the same race and, thanks to their valor, it has been handed down free until today. Our ancestors deserve praise, but our fathers deserve more still.  To the heritage that they received, they added, and have bequeathed to us, at the price of a thousand labors, the power that we possess. We have increased it, we who are still living and who have reached full maturity. It is we who have put the city in the position of being sufficient unto itself in everything, in wartime as in peace.[41]

These words of one citizen to other citizens manifest a balance between the mind of tradition and the mind of progress. The Athenians remain attached to their origins, to their principles; they venerate the springs and submerge themselves there. However, the man of the city cannot simply stand still even among the holiest sources. He must not be frozen in the cult of ancestors, in the preservation of ancient mores. The city and the complete human life are undertakings of active reason, of art, and of freedom. Without turning away from our causes nor avoiding their impulses, we must look to their ends and achieve them by our own initiatives. In this lies an attitude of wisdom and salvation.

In fact, history teaches us that the epochs in which the authority of tradition and autonomy of reason happily conspire are exceptional and brief. To leave the conservative status quo and achieve the fullness of life, men and the city launch out. However, as paradoxical as it sounds, by entering into the order of the deliberate pursuit of the end, man arrives at the infinite, the infinity of possibilities, of circumstances and contingencies, means, and movements of life. The call of purpose, of happiness is thus combined with the almost irresistible attraction that the infinite has to reason, freedom, and desire. And soon the determined and determining course of tradition is submerged by the sea of promises, of resources, of unlimited roads.

The city carries in itself this principle of infinity. To ensure the full sufficiency of life, the city must contain a certain number of men and also a whole apparatus of resources, a variety of occupations: the army and navy, industrial and commercial organizations, communication systems, etc.—all this in incessant movement, ever in the process of becoming. In this complex situation the devil of the infinite both strolls and attends to his work. Gradually from the city rises a whisper, and then a whole rumor of ideas, works, business, passions, pleasures, pains: the aura of concupiscence, of endless traffic. It looks like a nebula in limitless expansion, expanding from its own resources. Once its movements have taken too much acceleration and amplitude, it becomes humanly impossible to subordinate them to the purpose that should govern them: the good of human life. The only thing that can now be established is a sort of Leibnizian equilibrium: forces and beings struggle for life within their capabilities. The symbols of goals and ends, the acropolises of the purest design, the best-cemented capitols fade, dissolving slowly in the smoke of the city.

The city looks a little like an angel: she is sufficient unto herself in all that is necessary for the perfection of life. But the fall of cities and civilizations also resembles the fall of an angel. When man turns away from both his causes and true purpose, he acquires a sort of freedom, the freedom to move in the infinite. Then there is a tumultuous, intoxicating, and proud effervescence of life. This is not scarcity, but prosperity, even abundance. In numerous fields, discoveries and conquests indeed go their pace. And then one day civilization and the city die, exhausted, suffocated in their excessive exuberance. They have consumed themselves with their own fire. The city and civilization have wanted to conquer the infinity of the sea by their traffic, but that very sea advances to engulf them:

Thou wast replenished, and made very glorious in the midst of the seas.

Thy rowers have brought thee into great waters: the east wind hath broken thee in the midst of the seas.

Thy riches, and thy fairs, thy merchandise, thy mariners, and thy pilots, thy calkers, and the occupiers of thy merchandise, and all thy men of war, that are in thee, and in all thy company which is in the midst of thee, shall fall into the midst of the seas in the day of thy ruin…

What city is like Tyre, like the destroyed in the midst of the sea?[42]

And here, correspondingly, the fall of the angel:

Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.

Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.

Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.

By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.

Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee.

Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.

All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more.[43]

18.—Theology shows us that the Holy Spirit necessarily proceeds from the Father and from the Son, not only for this reason, that if He only proceeds from the Father, He would not be distinguished from the Son, but also for a reason taken from His definition, from His proper character: the Holy Spirit necessarily proceeds from distinct persons because he proceeds from a love that is friendship.[44] It seems here that theology applies a principle like that which Aristotle opposes to Platonic communism: too much unity corrupts the city. In denying the Filioque, we would make the error of exaggerating unity in the procession of the Holy Spirit, and at the same time we could no longer maintain the bond of a union of friendship. Likewise, in exaggerating unity in certain forms of communist or totalitarian societies, we would distort and make difficult, even impossible, the strictly political union of citizens.

To make my meaning clear, let me remind you that a single essential and substantial will animates God the Father and the Son. But for a love of friendship to spring forth, it is necessary for distinct persons to be friends in active communication with one another. Likewise, a sole and common will must animate all the citizens: the conservation of the common good, the salvation of the city, etc. But this one and common will does not suffice to form the unity characteristic of society, whose living immanent link is an active communication among the citizens, in other words, a friendship.

The unity of society is not attained simply by an attitude of respect for the laws and for the rights of other members of the community. If this were enough, the Arcadians, who lived separately, each in his own home without disturbing each other, would have been real citizens.[45] But conversely, to react against the centrifugal  tendencies or isolationists tendencies of the individuals, sometimes we crowd the multitude elbow to elbow, so that we form one single mass carried by a single movement. In this way great unity is clearly achieved, but this is not a city at all, but the very opposite. Bringing about a will common to all and tending towards the same goal is one thing, but the birth of an active and communicative, vitally unifying friendship  between distinct and different persons who have this common will is another thing entirely. In a mass, individuals are unified and uniform, but also very isolated: each person can only think of himself and can only love himself. The mass, in itself, is not necessarily more than an association of tyrants diligentes seipsos magis quam civitatem [each loving himself more than the city]. This is actually the complete dissolution of the city, of the political order. But this dissolution is not opposed at all to a very compact unity: thirty tyrants and plenty more can be vigorously unified, like wolves.

When the connection between the elements of the multitude and the coherence of the political machine no longer emanates from distinct parts that organically make up the whole; when the connection of the parts and their consensus no longer comes from these various parts insofar as they are diverse, but mutually and amicably communicating in the common good; when the genius of the city is no longer living in these parts, each being in its place in the heterogeneous whole according to legal justice: then political life ceases to be in the parts, it becomes a stranger to them; political life becomes transcendent and the parts only passively receive its effects. In sum, the city is replaced by The State.

Yet, in order for the friendship that is the intrinsic bond of the city to be living, it is necessary that the citizens order themselves to the common good. The common good is not only the good in which the citizens take part, or may take part, or must take part; it is the good from which they must receive or take their part, to the distribution of which they have the right. It is true that I have the right to take my turn to sit for a certain time on a bench in the Jardin des Plantes.[46] It is true, but this is not enough to justify my pretention to citizenship. To consider the common good under this light is to consider it from a social perspective and not a political one. It is certain that this participation in the common good and this distribution of goods must be assured by society and assured in justice. But as long as we rest in this, we see in the member of the community nothing more than the subject of this good, a good in which he ought to participate. But the citizen as such is more than a subject. And to be more than a subject, he must turn towards the common good insofar as it is diffusive or communicative of itself; in other words the citizen must be the source of the communication of the good. The citizen helps himself, but he must pass the plate. It is not the subjective participation in the good that defines the activity of the citizen as a principle of the city. This subjective participation does not imply in itself any specifically political activity. When the State gets to providing all the good to each of the atoms of the uniform mass, we will no longer have anything to spontaneously communicate to each other; we will be the society of glutted subjects; we will no longer be citizens at all. This is how society curdles into the State, and how well-being ceases to be the good life.

[1] Florian Michel, La pensée catholique en Amérique du Nord (Paris : Desclée de Brouwer, 2010), p. 200.

[2] Michel, La pensée catholique, pp. 204-205.

[3] Michel, La pensée catholique, p. 206. For the controversy on Maritain’s view of “moral philosophy adequately considered” cf. Ralph McInerny, The Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain: A Spiritual Life (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), pp. 109-118. Maritain’s position was that, given that man’s final end is the first principle of moral philosophy, and given that in this order of providence man’s final end is supernatural, moral philosophy must be subalternated to theology to be fully scientific.

[4] Michel, La pensée catholique, pp. 199.

[5] Droit public de l’Eglise, 4 vols. Principes généraux; L’Eglise et l’éducation à la lumière de l’histoire et des principes chrétiens; L’Organisation religieuse et le pouvoir civil; L’Action religieuse et la loi civile (Québec, 1908–15). Cf. John R. Shook, “Pâquet, Louis-Adolphe (1859–1942),” in: The Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers, vol. 3 (Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, 2005).

[6] Laval University developed out of the seminary of Laval (founded by Bishop Laval in 1663) it was chartered as a University in 1852. The Faculty of Philosophy was established in 1935 (until then philosophy had been under the Faculty of Arts). See: Michel, La pensée catholique, pp. 198-199.

[7] Michel, La pensée catholique, pp. 207-208.

[8] Michel, La pensée catholique, pp. 208-215.

[9] Zoé was De Koninck’s wife.

[10] “Leads her children by the hand.” Quotation following: Michel, La pensée catholique, p. 223.

[11] See, for example: Andrew Williard Jones, “What States Can’t Do,” New Polity, July 24th, 2020 (accessed November 18th, 2020).

[12] Statesman, 259b.

[13] Constitutive Principle, c. 6.

[14] Fustel de Coulanges, The Ancient City, III, c. 3.

[15] Ibid., c. 2.

[16] Karl Marx, The Holy Family, (taken from Selected Writings, Paris, Gallimard, 1934, p. 44).

[17] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Physics of Aristotle, Book II, lesson 11, n. 2.

[18] Op. cit., c. 6.

[19] The Life of Bees, I.

[20] Ibid., II.

[21] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, IIaIIae, q. 154, a. 2.

[22] Area is South America claimed by several countries.

[23] A character in a novel by Balzac.

[24] Another character from a Balzac novel.

[25] Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, 1.

[26] Ibid., 1360.

[27][27] H. Bergson, La Pensee et le Movant, p. 185.

[28] John of St. Thomas, Cursus Theologicus, disp. 32, a. 5, n. 32 (ed. De Solemnes, T. IV, p. 79)

[29] Encyclopedie Francaise, T. VII, 7’14-1ss.

[30] Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, I, 68-70.

[31] John of St. Thomas, op. cit., disp. 23, a. 2.

[32] Cf. Souilhe, La Notion d’intermediaire, pp.146ff.

[33] Thucydides, op. cit., II, 38.

[34] Plato, Republic 401c.

[35] Aristotle, Politics 1258a21.

[36] Aristotle, Generation and Corruption 336b27.

[37] Op. cit., III, c. 2.

[38] John of St. Thomas, op. cit., Disp. 37, art. 2, nn. 1 and 2. (T. VI, p. 353).

[39] Illud, cuius sua natura est ipsum eius intelligere, et cui id quod naturaliter habet non determinatur ab alio, hoc est quod obtinet summum gradum vitae. [That, whose very nature is its very act of understanding, and to which it naturally belongs not to be determined by another, reaches the highest level of life.]  – S. Thomas, Summa Theologica, Ia q. 18, art. 3; John of St. Thomas, op. cit., disp. 16, art. 2 (T. II, p. 336).

[40] J.-J. Rousseau, Emile, V, Des Voyages.

[41] Pericles to the Athenians. Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War II, 36.

[42] Ez. 27: 25-27, 32 (KJV)

[43] Ibid, 28: 13-19

[44] John of St. Thomas, op. cit., disp. 35, art. 4 (T. IV, p. 227).

[45] Aristotle, Politics II, c. 1, 1261b29.

[46] The main botanical garden in France.