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.”
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. 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). 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, and an intransigently ultramontane-integralist treatise on ecclesiastical public law, written in French. 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.
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.
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.
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) manuducit pueros suos.
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. 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.” 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.” 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.” Continue reading “Short Notes on the Family and the City”