The Charles De Koninck Project

Yves Simon’s Correspondence with Charles De Koninck and Jacques Maritain on the Common Good

Yves Simon’s Correspondence with Charles De Koninck and Jacques Maritain on the Common Good

translated by Michael Waldstein

Introductory Note
by Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.

Charles De Koninck’s book On the Primacy of the Common Good: Against the Personalists was highly controversial at the time of its publication in 1943. One controversy had to do with whom exactly was meant by “the personalists” of the subtitle. The French philosopher Yves Simon (1903-1961) wrote a review of the book, in which he praises De Koninck for vindicating the true nature of the common good, as a good which is not merely a collection of private goods, nor the good of the community considered as a quasi-individual, but is really the good of each member of the community, but one which can only be had in its communicability to others. But then he criticizes De Koninck for his vagueness about who “the personalists” are, and what exactly their system proposes. Personalism can mean many things, and has been applied to contradictory philosophical systems, but for circumstantial reasons “everybody has believed, and still believes that [Jacques] Maritain is the real target of De Koninck’s vindication of the primacy of the common good, against the personalists.” Simon, however, did not at all agree that his friend and teacher Maritain, at the time of the most distinguished Catholic philosophers in the world subscribed to any of the errors that De Koninck attributed to the personalists.

Simon was acquainted with De Koninck as well as with Maritain, and he corresponded with both men during the whole of the controversy over De Koninck’s book. His correspondence with the two of them helps to shed light on the controversy, and what was at stake in it. The following excerpts from the Simon-De Koninck and Simon-Maritain correspondences were translated from the French originals kept at the Yves Simon Papers and the Maritain Center at the University of Notre Dame. They were translated by Michael Waldstein, and are to appear in his forthcoming book on the common good. They are published here with his permission. I have inserted in its chronological place an excerpt from a letter from Maritain to Étienne Gilson, that bears on the controversy, translated from the published edition of their correspondence .

Simon to De Koninck, May 31, 1943

Dear Sir, I thank you very much for sending me your little book, On the Primacy of the Common Good: Against the Personalists. I would have thanked you earlier if I had not felt the obligation of reading and rereading it before saying anything to you about it and if I had not been so occupied in the last few weeks with revisions of a book on authority and freedom, which owes nothing to personalism.

Our common friendship with Jacques [de Monléon] is a sufficient bond to make me experience the desire make known to you some of the reflections which your book has inspired in me, without claiming in any way that you must find them interesting.

I have studied with particular attention the pages directly devoted to the theory of the common good. I find myself in complete agreement with everything they contain. You have succeeded in plumbing deeply into the extreme difficulties of this theory. I have reflected about the problems of the common good for the past twenty years. Thanks to your exposition, my weak knowledge has been enriched on many points of capital importance by propositions that I shall never lose sight of.

I regret, dear Sir, that the remarkable depth of your views was not accompanied by a sufficient effort of elaboration. In the best passages of your work I constantly have the impression that all this would need to be reconsidered, matured, developed, coordinated and finally set forth in a more felicitous way. I recognize the all philosophers have the right to use technical terms whenever this is the only means for expressing a thought with complete precision. Yet, I cannot understand the continual literal transposition of Scholastic idiomatic phrases which are only intelligible when one has translated them back into Scholastic Latin: appetite which “follows” knowledge; the “reason” of final cause; necessity “takes itself from,” etc. It is as if I said to an English speaker, “I have forty years” or as if an English speaker said to me, “Je suis quarante.” We will understand each other fully if he is able to translate my words back into French and if I am able to translate his into English. It would be better for us to decide once and for all whether we are going to speak English or French.

The title of your work shows that its intentions are polemical. You will doubtless remember that having heard about your articles in Semaine Religieuse I told you of my desire of reading them and added, “I have an old hatred for the personalists.” This statement surprised you.

I have an old hatred for the personalists because in certain aspects of what one calls personalism in our time I often thought I recognized simple varieties of individualism, pure and simple, with a strong tendency to compromise that primacy of the common good without which life is nothing but despair. I have an old hatred for the personalists because I thought I could observe that their propaganda too easily provided sublime masks for egoism and pride. (I say too easily because it is evident that every philosophy can be exploited by these fundamental vices that are never embarrassed about providing masks for themselves.) Finally, it has seemed to me, particularly in the last few years, that the personalist ideology accommodates itself with too much easy agreement to interpretations that are capable of reducing it to zero as a guarantee for the rights of man and of the citizen. . . .

Let us talk about the polemical aspect of your work. I deplore, dear Sir, the anonymity of your adversaries. In fact, among personalists the only ones you mention are (1) Mortimer Adler and Farrell and (2) Doms. You rightly classify as ignoble the idiotic page on which the two former wrote about justice and the common good. As for the latter, I am unhappy that his theory of marriage is summarily treated as “profoundly perverse.” I have heard people say that the Church has taken some measures to stop the uproar caused by Doms’s book. I am not surprised. Doms, who is one of the most mediocre philosophers, has succeeded in overturning the theology of marriage without being able to build up a satisfactory synthesis. The popularity of his ideas runs the risk of provoking an unfortunate confusion in many minds. But when you reject Doms’s theory with the etiquette “profoundly perverse” without further ado, don’t you incline your readers, who have a strong tendency towards making little effort, to fail to recognize the weak points and lacunas of ordinary teaching about marriage?

Yet, this is only a parenthesis. Beyond these three names that play only a secondary role in your argument, complete anonymity covers your adversaries. You say, “the personalists” and “one”. The reader asks himself, Who are these people that hold such stupid positions? Already in his beautiful preface, H. E. Cardinal Villeneuve deprives us of the pleasure of learning the name of the inventor of “the dialectical materialism of Aristotle and St. Thomas,” though he would merit being passed down to posterity for this pearl. But it is not only a matter of curiosity. It is a matter of justice. Who can be these personalists in the minds of the readers of the publications of the University of Laval and of Fides, Montréal? Perhaps Scheler, Doms and von Hildebrand; Mounier and the group around Esprit; Aron, Dandieu and the group around L’Ordre Nouveau; some obscure Canadians such as that Hertel from whom I recently received an unappealing book, For a Personalist Order; and finally, given the importance of the role played by the concept of “person” in the moral and political writings of Mr. Maritain, there is no reason why “the personalists” and “one” should not refer, in the reader’s mind, to Mr. Maritain.

You should have foreseen what was inevitably bound to happen. As far as I can see, the whole world believes, whether rightly or wrongly, that your work is a pamphlet against Maritain. There are two possibilities. Either you really did direct your criticism against Maritain, in which case your critique lacks frankness (one would have had to name him, quote texts, take pains to distinguish their actual assertions and their implications) bravery and justice, because these ideas which you describe as personalist are, with few exceptions and perhaps without exception, as odious to Maritain as they are to you and me; and the beautiful things you say about the common good are as dear to him as they are to you and me. The other possibility is that your criticism is not directed against Maritain, in which case it is gravely unjust to let the public think that a man who is as competent as the Dean of the Department of Philosophy of the University of Laval, with the approval of his Archbishop, attributes to Maritain errors, idiocies and monstrosities of which you know that they are not found in his work. Or should one suppose that you did not foresee the reaction of your readers, although it was easily foreseeable? In this unlikely case, there is still room to ask whether justice does not demand repair of the damage involuntarily committed.


De Konink to H. Guindon, June 20, 1943

You have understood well that “Ego Sapientia” is a much more radical attack against Personalism than The Primacy of the Common Good… Since we must love the Holy Virgin more than ourselves we must subordinate our person wholly and entirely to that Mary who is nevertheless a purely created person.


Maritain to Simon, September 7, 1944

(1) Waldemar [Gurian] told me that de K[oninck] does not sufficiently distinguish between the temporal common good and the divine common good and that here lies a continuous source of confusion in his book.

(2) You might note that the different “personalist schools” or rather tendencies were born independently from each other from the spontaneous desire of opposing totalitarianism, another thing than individualism in the literal sense; and that this reaction is good in itself; on the other hand, the different tendencies are not only very heterogeneous, but often opposed to each other on important philosophical points, and one ought in no case speak of a “personalist” school.

(3) Among [De] K[oninck]’s references to personalists, was it intentional that you omitted the one in the preface (the only part of the work which I have read) where he claims the devil was the first personalist? (I have never seen in St. Thomas that Lucifer preferred his own personal good to the common good. He wanted to be like God by his own strength, not by grace . . . .).

(4) Adler and Farrell. He has reason to criticize them, not to injure them.

(5) I do not believe that Doms is deeply perverse. If that were true, our dear Fr. Lavaud would never have translated his book!


Simon to Maritain, September 8, 1944

I will run through your suggestions (in haste, because it is very late).

(1) Temporal and supernatural common good: there is nothing to say; de Koninck distinguishes them when it is truly necessary.

(2) The personalist tendencies, born from the desire to oppose totalitarianism, another thing than liberal individualism: quite right, but either I launch myself into a precise study of these tendencies (impossible) or I content myself with mentioning the fact, which would be a disaster from the polemical point of view. I must absolutely not say a single word that could be interpreted as a defense of personalism.

(3) The devil a personalist. De Koninck does not exactly say this, he only says that personalism transposes into the speculative order an error which in the case of the devil was purely practical. The text he quotes to support the idea that the devil has chosen a private good over against a common good is by John of St. Thomas. I have just compared it with St. Thomas (I, 63, 4); St. Thomas says what you say. John [of St. Thomas] links the idea of the private with the forces of nature and that of the common with the idea of grace. Indeed.

(4) Adler and Farrel. I have nothing to reproach De Koninck for in their regard. “. . . certain personalists, more naive than others, have not hesitated to adopt as their own this very logical and perfectly ignoble conclusion.” This is not injurious, it is true. The page he quotes is a concentrated dose of revolting and disgusting idiocies. Read it when you have the time. It is good from time to time to recall to what point human stupidity can go.

(5) I have said absolutely nothing about how De Koninck describes Doms. . . .

. . . After the lecture there was a party at my house. I had told W[aldemar Gurian] to open fire. He didn’t delay. Hardly had De Koninck sat down when he got the fatal question right in the solar plexus: Who are these personalists? De K[oninck] hesitated visibly and showed a little less Belgian good nature and a little more reserve. He mentioned a Californian review (do you remember, The Personalist, which Mounier discovered four or five years after launching Esprit); Adler and Farrel; Garrigou-Lagrange (with insistence),[1] Fr. Schwalm, the author of lessons in social philosophy. As for Esprit—he did not know it; Maritain—he did not know him. When we insisted that the whole world believed Primacy of the Common Good was directed against you, he asked if the ideas of Maritain are such that one could recognize them in the personalism he described: the common good as mere instrument, etc. We insisted that many readers have the impression that you shared these idiocies. In private conversation I told De K[oninck] twice that, whatever his intentions may have been his book was being exploited “as an instrument of defamation,” that I would not want to have this on my conscience, and that he should publish an article or a note to put an end to this. His objection: “But then I would have to read Maritain! I don’t have the time.”

Gurian could not believe that he has not read you. As for me, I believe it readily.


De Koninck to Simon, December 12, 1944

Your review arrived together with your letter of December 7.

This review is not at all disagreeable to me. I myself am fully in agreement with your remark at the end.[2] The judgment about the appropriateness of my action which I followed is, in the last instance, a prudential judgment. While I assume complete responsibility for it, I recognize that it could be wrong.

. . . . The opinions which you make me attribute to the personalists are, for the most part, conclusions from their common opinion, namely, that the human person has greater dignity as a whole than as a part. It is in this way that we say the Molinists confer on the creature a creative power, or that they make the divine truth depend on created truth. As for my composition, I admit that it is deplorable. This summer, when I reread certain pages of my essay for a talk, I turned red all the way down to my navel.


Simon to De Koninck, December 30, 1944

How can I thank you for all the good I have just received from you? By accepting in this amicable way the “concluding point” in my review you have given me great comfort.


Simon to Maritain, January 9, 1945

Let us therefore say that he [i.e., De Koninck] is a good boy who has sinned through thoughtlessness [légèreté].


Maritain to Simon, January 29, 1945

I have just reread your article on De Koninck in The Review of Politics and I feel the need to thank you once again from my whole heart. It is written with perfect and decisive mastery, and in what concerns me it renders me an incomparable service by cutting short a host of slanders already launched or in preparation. In this regard, have you read the essay by that fool of a Petainist Baisnée in the January issue of The Modern Schoolman? It really takes a French priest to slander so foolishly another Frenchman, even to the point of expressing the hope at the end that I be condemned by Rome. My present mission makes this condemnation unlikely! But though I would have liked to respond to this Baisnée, unfortunately I don’t have the time, I think. If I could, I would write to The Modern Schoolman and ask it to reproduce the last page of your article.


Simon to Maritain, February 2, 1945

I have read the article by Baisnée and found it superficial and of small importance, but greater fairness than De Koninck’s anonymous criticism. . . . I have reread your writings on the person. I believe that some day one should take up all of that under the form of a synthesis. There is a very deep agreement between De Koninck’s best theses and yours.


Simon to Raissa Maritain, July 4, 1945

Have you received the last number of The Modern Schoolman, which contains the article by Fr. Eschmann, “In Defense of Maritain”? I had asked the director of The Modern Schoolman to change the title, because of the danger I saw of making the reader identify the positions of Fr. Eschmann with those of Jacques. My fears were not entirely vain. I believe that Jacques would not approve all the formulations of the Reverend Father. On the whole, it is a good article that puts De Koninck in his place. It contains some very touching lines. The same Eschmann has published two very important articles on the common good in Medieval Studies (Toronto). I have read them with great care and I hope to publish something one day on this subject to have done with De K[oninck] and company.


Simon to Maritain, September 16, 1945

Speaking of the common good, I suppose you had a chance to see the article by Fr. Eschmann in The Modern Schoolman, “In Defense of Jacques Maritain.” I have also read his two long articles on the axiom of the primacy of the common good in Medieval Studies (Toronto), though I have not been able to complete studying them. It is learned, competent, but I believe that all things considered he is mistaken and furnishes De Koninck with weapons. To put it briefly: Eschmann has not understood that the deepest form of social life, the most social level of the common good, consists of communion in knowledge and love, communion in immanent activity. He thinks of contemplative life as an individual affair and wants to limit the primacy of the common good to safeguard the primacy of contemplation. At least this is what I think I understood, and this is a rather profound stupidity (une ânerie assez profonde) that distorts everything. I believe I told you that I had opposed entitling his article “In Defense of Maritain” so that your name would not be connected with his elucubrations. I am sorry they did not follow my advice. If I have the time, I might write an article myself in The Modern Schoolman, but not before some months have passed. I want to submit the following fundamental propositions to you and I would like to know if they represent your own teaching.[3]

  1. Any good of a higher order is greater than any good of a lower order.
  2. Within one and the same order, the common good is greater than any private good.
  3. When a person is an absolute person, there is no real distinction whatsoever between personal good and common good (or better: personal good and common good coincide entirely). (E.g., the personal good of each Divine Person is one with the common good of the society of the divine persons.)
  4. Insofar as a person (who is not absolute) is a person, his personal good tends to coincide with the common good.
  5. Accordingly, the problem of primacy disappears when, and insofar as, the terms of the comparison are the common good of a society of persons and the personal good of each person existing in that society.
  6. It does not follow that the bearing of the “dictum authenticum” concerning the primacy of the common good should be limited in any way whatsoever. The axiom holds universally. When it seems not to hold, it is because the question which it answers no longer makes any sense. Let us say that it holds whenever the question which it answers makes sense. There is no case in which it can be said that the private good is greater than the common good (within one and the same order). But there are cases of congruence between personal and common good, and in those cases the problem vanishes altogether.

This is what I personally am inclined to think. I think that this is a very exact interpretation of your philosophy and your . . . personalism. I would love to get a confirmation. What I would above all like to know is whether one can say—as I believe—that you never taught that there existed any primacy whatsoever of the personal good in relation to the common good within the same order.

My article on De Koninck in The Review of Politics earned me a crudely insolent reply in Le Canada Français, organ of Laval, by young Babin, a carbon copy of De Koninck, who was my student here for two years. Of course, I disdained responding. Besides, I believe that the author, a peasant who passed through the seminary, lacks the subtlety to be aware of his insolence. De Koninck himself shows himself very kind and cordial as soon as I put my foot on him somewhere.


Maritain to Étienne Gilson, November 15, 1945[4]

I was deeply touched by the article of Fr. Eschman in The Modern Schoolman. He has masterfully exploded Koninck, and we can now enjoy entering a fine period of scholastic controversy worthy of the Baroque age. While the world is in its agony, and Monsieur Sartre offers to the intellectuals an existentialism of nothingness, the integrists of Quebec will doubtless raise the cry of alarm in the presbyteries of the New World against the Neo-Liberalism, Neo-Individualism, and, as our good friends at the Tablet call it, Neo-Pelagianism menacing the Holy Church.


Simon to Maritain, December 11, 1945

Finally we [Simon and de Monléon] talked about the common good: well understood, you don’t know anything about it. But here I finally asked some precise questions. I summarized the theory of the common good in five clear propositions, and Jacques [de Monléon] had nothing more to say when I said that on these five essential points there was perfect agreement between you, myself, De Koninck and himself. These five propositions are:

  1. Any good of a higher order is greater than any good of a lower order.
  2. Within each order there is an absolute priority of the common good over the private.
  3. When a person is an absolute person (in God), there is an absolute coincidence between the common good and the personal good.
  4. Insofar as a (created) person is a person, there is a tendency toward the coincidence of the personal good and the common good.
  5. The primacy of the common good is not subject to any restriction in the same order, for when this primacy disappears (3 and 4) this is not because the primacy belongs to the private good, it is because the problem of primacy has disappeared.

Jacques [de Monléon] had difficulty understanding the fourth proposition and tried to see the fall of the angels in it (naturally) but ended up agreeing.

The result of all this for me is that I have lost a friend who is infinitely dear to me. The result is also that with my article on De Koninck I hit the bull’s eye. It is apparently this article that has caused a change of attitude in Jacques [de Monléon]. While de Koninck and Jacques [de Monléon] exercise an iron dictatorship at Laval, I have the impression that one laughs about them at the University of Ottawa, at the University of Montreal and naturally at Toronto. Without boasting I believe I can say that I was received at Montreal in a fashion that shows the house is not in the hand of these young saviors of Thomism. The dean of the faculty of philosophy wrote to me that it is “the dearest desire” of students and professors that I come back every year, and I believe he is telling the truth, to judge from the way students and professors treated me. I obviously do not want to do anything to harm Jacques [de Monléon], who remains a brother, or De Koninck, who has been perfect towards me, particularly after I gave him a kick in the rear. I am only waiting for an occasion for kicking them in the rear as publicly as possible. To be noted, according to Viatte, De Koninck said he does not attribute the theses of Fr. Eschmann to either you or me. I had a long conversation with the latter. He seemed very confused to me. I deplore the fact that despite my request The Modern Schoolman presented his mixed up thoughts as a “Defense of Maritain.”

All of this has tried me enormously. Intensely religious people like Jacques [de Monléon] have the power to hit and shake me in the heart of conscience, in the solar plexus of moral and religious life. I understood better what you have suffered when you were struggling with these theological possessed [énergumènes] who have such holy intentions. I am having the greatest trouble finding my equilibrium again.


De Koninck to Simon, February 15, 1946

Dear friend, . . . The reader knows our agreement about the doctrine. There is thus no problem in quoting you. You know the ideas of Mr. Maritain well and I have reason to believe that he will never subscribe to the ideas of Fr. Eschmann.


Simon to De Koninck, February 23, 1946

You do me great honor in saying that I know the ideas of Mr. Maritain well. I know them certainly well enough to know that they have nothing in common with the “personalist stupidities and monstrosities” assailed by you in your little book. As for the “doctrine” of Fr. Eschmann I prefer not to say anything about it for the moment. I have read his article in The Modern Schoolman, but I have not had a chance to get deeply into his German article in Medieval Studies. During my stay in Montréal, I had several conversations with Fr. Eschmann in the course of which I formulated various objections against his article. Listening to his answers one would have thought that my objections concerned only some ways of expression that he, in addition, had come to regard as inadequate or equivocal. I then presented to him some theses that summarized, in my judgment, the theory of the common good. He expressed his agreement with all these theses, including that of the absolute primacy of the common good within each definite order (si sit eiusdem ordinis). So far did he go that I finally said to him, “If we abstract from the polemical process which we all dislike what is it that separates you from Mr. De Koninck?” I don’t think I am being indiscreet if I tell you that he simply gave this response: “The univocal notion which Mr. De Koninck has made for himself of the common good.”

We are thus in a complete mess. This was doubtless inevitable because of the character of the polemics from the beginning. The fact is that the debate had its true origin in motives that were never brought out in public; the fact is that these true motives remained unknown to the very persons who, in the eyes of the public, were the leaders of the campaign. Polemics of this nature have no chance of serving the truth. This is the case in this affair of the common good, which is nothing but an episode in an imbecile and odious campaign against Mr. Maritain. As far as I can understand, the true motives of this campaign have remained unknown to you. The motives are not philosophical. Hence the confusion of the public, which must believe, as you yourself make them believe in very good faith, that this is a controversy between philosophers. Philosophical truth can gain nothing from this confused operation in which secret emotions distort everything. The day these emotions are cleaned away the whole world will realize what I know already, that between you, Mr. Maritain, Jacques de Monléon and myself there is not, there cannot be, a serious philosophical divergence (between Jacques [de Monléon] and myself I have never observed one, I absolutely cannot conceive one) and that the differences that exist are those that are fully compatible with a fruitful collaboration, to say nothing of friendship, which must be preserved at any rate.

Maritain to Simon, March 24, 1946

Thank you for all the pains you are taking with “Charles”. As for Fr. Eschmann, I see nothing wrong in his “doctrine”, except when he says that the common good is a useful good (but this is an obiter dictum and more a lapse rather an error). He is right when he reproaches “Charles” for his univocal concept of the common good and for the horrible confusion he creates between the divine common good and the created common good.

I hope to send you in a little time a copy of the essay on “The Person and the Common Good” which will probably be published in French in the Revue Thomiste. I would be very happy if this essay were translated into English and published in some review.


Maritain to Simon, April 16, 1946

This note in haste to tell you that I have sent you . . . a copy of my essay “The Human Person and the Common Good.” . . . . W. R. Thompson wrote to me in a letter I just received that De Koninck has responded to Eschmann. I have not read the essay (Where did it come out? I would very much like to receive it.) but I suppose it is the battle between Québec and Toronto. Even while avoiding entering into the Canadian conflict (although I am the occasion of it) it is clear that I am in this war on the side of my friends in Toronto. I do not like to place myself “above debates” (especially when I am the occasion of them) and I don’t in any way want to give the impression that I am dropping Eschmann even if he committed some blunders. Thank you with all my heart for what you are doing for my essay.

In the manuscript you will receive I have added in pencil some lines to a note where I give the reference to the article by Fr. Eschmann. These lines are not good, they are not very explicit. Please replace them with the following.

I want to express my gratitude to Fr. Eschmann for the generosity with which he intervened in a debate in which, strangely enough, it has happened that in criticizing ideas which are not mine one has nevertheless, even when carefully refraining from uttering my name, allowed the reader to believe that I was indirectly referred to. I would like to hope that the present essay would put an end to the misunderstandings and confusions due to the original vice of such a controversy.

(If the word “original vice” seems to hard, you could perhaps replace it with “original lack of clarity.” But I think one ought to be hard.)

If De Koninck does not pronounce my name in the response to Eschmann, I think this is a completely insufficient satisfaction. Fr. Baisnée has publicly attacked me on the basis of De Koninck. Eschmann said that I was the object of the attack. In these circumstances De Koninck would have the duty of explaining himself thereupon and of saying publicly whether yes or no he meant to attack me or not and to express his regrets (in case he pretends he did not have me in mind).

I am eager to receive the article by De Koninck, to write him if appropriate.


Simon to Maritain, May 26, 1946

. . . I have sent you De Koninck’s paper . . . When I had decided to write to De Koninck to tell him he is a bastard [salaud], I had the curiosity to reread Eschmann and I saw again that Eschmann himself was dishonest in his polemics. Reread, for example, p. 189, note 2: he wants to denigrate De Koninck by showing that he knows nothing about causality, and this is dishonest. In fact, it seems that Eschmann has simply read De Koninck badly . . . . Especially he is dishonest to suggest that De Koninck is an ass in matters of causality. This is simply not true. All things well considered, I think that Fr. Eschmann made three mistakes:

  • he agreed to discuss the question of the common good;
  • he formulated in a disastrous manner even what was best in his ideas (e.g., that direct relation of the soul to God which you have expressed so well);
  • he tries to make somebody of himself and seeks to put De Koninck in his place, and even below his true place.

You know that Eschmann was for three years in Québec, under the orders of De Koninck, before he went to Toronto. I suppose that there was some personal hatred between these two braggarts [olibrius]. Eschmann tells me in a letter that De Koninck “slings mud” at him, which is true, but he himself has thrown some mud on De Koninck. I conclude, and this is also the opinion of Gurian, that it is necessary to eliminate the name of Eschmann and any mention of his article from your essay. I understand completely your desire not to give any appearance of dropping him, but there are two reasons to drop him: (1) his ideological policing and the personal character of his critique; (2) he is not the only one who wrote on this matter; nobody would think that you dropped me because you didn’t quote my article. It would be disastrous if you gave the impression that there was any connection with Eschmann, either on the level of ideas—in which case one will hold you responsible for his unfortunate expressions—or personal—in which case one will hold you responsible for his improprieties. I very much hope that his name disappears from your essay . . . .

It is terrible that this school of Mr. Charles De Koninck and Co. poisons life for us. (Every day after the first of November 1945 I have suffered acute pain from my conversation with Jacques [de Monléon] at Montréal); . . .


Simon to Maritain, May 31, 1946

I have finally decided to write a letter to De Koninck, but I cannot decide to mail it without the advice of a virtuous person who can only be you. You know my conscience. It lacks clarity and when I am at the point after long deliberation of smashing into somebody I am afraid I am about to do something bad. De Koninck’s “In Defense of St. Thomas” arrived on Good Friday. So, by yesterday, Ascension day, De Koninck will have waited forty-two days for my letter. He can wait another three weeks. May I ask you to read the enclosed letter and to give me your advice by airmail as soon as possible? So that you have all the givens of the problem in my conscience I will quote to you what de Koninck told me on the subject of these “monstrosities and stupidities” right after the publication of my review “The remark on the political good and the good man I admit comes into my text like a horse in the soup. I did not intend to attribute this opinion to the personalists. I noted it as an example of the small importance one attributes to the common good. Also, the opinions which you say I attribute to the personalists are, for the most part, conclusions I infer from their common position, namely, that the human person has greater dignity as a whole than as a part. It is in this way that we say the Molinists confer on the creature a creative power, or that they make the divine truth depend on created truth.” Do you think that this self-interpretation prohibits my saying, as I have forcefully said, that De Koninck has slandered you by making his gogos believe that the “characteristic propositions” are found in your work? He will respond that they are perhaps found there virtually and that he made nobody believe that they are found there actually, like the propositions of the Molinists above. Is this an excuse? I do not believe it is, but I want to have your opinion.


Simon to De Koninck, June 20, 1946

I would have thanked you much earlier for your kindness in sending me your article, “In Defense of [St. Thomas]” if I had not felt such repugnance against entering into the atmosphere of this regrettable affair. Here then, on the subject of this Defense, are a few very simple remarks.

By declaring that the testimony of Fr. Eschmann is opposed to mine and holds it in check you tend to make the docile reader believe that Fr. Eschmann, a witness as well qualified as Mr. Yves Simon, has really and truly found in the work of Mr. Maritain the characteristic propositions of personalism as De Koninck sees them, these “stupidities and monstrosities” of which I made a list in The Review of Politics. Now, reread Eschmann: he did not say this. Whatever may be his personal doctrine and his interpretation of Maritain, you cannot settle the affair of this slander by letting the (docile) reader believe that Fr. Eschmann has really found in Mr. Maritain the propositions exploited by the slander or equivalent propositions.

Fr. Eschmann did not claim that the personalism of Mr. Maritain was correctly set forth in your Primacy of the Common Good. (Among the readers of Mr. Maritain who would dare to make this claim?) And above all, since your able polemic consists in opposing the witness of Fr. Eschmann to mine, he did not claim that the personalism of Mr. Maritain was correctly expressed by the characteristic propositions which I had appropriately called stupidities and monstrosities. Only anonymity permitted you to attribute to Mr. Maritain these characteristic propositions, stupidities and monstrosities. If one had to sustain this attribution by precise quotes, the comedy would be finished instantly. As for avenues of retreat, it is true that they are not easily available except for ending up in a dead-end, for nobody has ever believed that “these personalists” are Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange (!) and Fr. Schwalm. . .

There is something lacking in the parallel you draw between your Primacy of the Common Good and the Anti-Averroist works of St. Thomas. You do not tell us if St. Thomas, in writing these works, made his readership believe that Siger was the author of propositions he never professed.

Another sophism: You say on page 6 that the supposition that Mr. Maritain “has spoken clearly and consistently on this subject” is difficult to reconcile with the contradictory judgments of Fr. Eschmann and Mr. Yves Simon. Let us assume to simplify that Fr. Eschmann and Mr. Yves Simon had contradictory interpretations of Mr. Maritain’s teaching. What is the value of the logic of your argument? Doesn’t the whole history of philosophy testify that all the deep philosophers, even the clearest, gave rise to contradictory interpretations, even by people who read them carefully? Let us reassure ourselves: nobody will believe that you don’t know the history of philosophy. The whole world, except for fools, will know that something non-philosophical troubles the lucidity of judgment here.

There is one phrase in this long article that pleased me particularly. Page 8. “But enough of this sort of thing.” This is excellent. Let us make it our motto and let us talk about more worthy things.

I should have written you long ago to tell you what a joy it was for us to receive you at Notre Dame and how much we appreciated your talk on internal experience in which we found so much suggestive thought. I desire very much that this talk be published in the next issue of Laval. This is a study on which I would like to meditate and which seems to me apt to clarify many problems concerning the interpretation of Aristotelian physics.

And to conclude, I want to thank you for having called me friend in this “Defense of [St. Thomas]”. I do not know whether it is despite the context or by reason of the context, at any rate this word has given me singular pleasure. You believe me, I am sure, when I tell you that this entire nauseating controversy would have affected me little if, together with much esteem for your philosophical spirit, I did not have a lively affection for your person. In addition, despite the misfortune of the times, there is the fact, fundamental for me, that you are a very dear friend of Jacques [de Monléon].


Maritain to Simon, June 20, 1946

I am sending you the complete list of corrections I made for my essay on “The Person and the Common Good.” Forgive me for imposing on you the painstaking labor of entering these corrections into the manuscript. I count on your friendship and charity. In the midst of exasperating and continuous troubles, I have revised this work from the roots up, tightened especially where the key connections are, and I hope that now it escapes all risks of misunderstanding and all quibbles of which the De Koninck-Monléon crowd is capable. I think I have responded—without alluding to it directly—to all that can be considered of some value in the enormous reply by De Koninck, which often smashes through open doors but has the merit of forcing clarifications. I am very satisfied, particularly about some footnotes I added about the person and the universe and on the societies of animals. The article is supposed to come out in the Revue Thomiste. Fr. Garrigou has reread the work and is in agreement. I think that the corrections will arrive in time so that they can be translated with sufficient leisure. Review the translation yourself, dear Yves, I have confidence in you.

You will see that I have taken into account all your remarks, for which I thank you with my whole heart. The only one I neglected is the one about 6 and 3+3. It is clear that I refer to this word of Aristotle only to draw from it an enormous a fortiori.

The Eschmann Question: I agree with the reproaches you bring against him. He has terribly fouled up and expressed in skewed fashion even the truths he has understood, and there is personal resentment in him. Yes, but this is little in comparison with the dreadful sentiments and bitter pedantry that infect “Charles’s” essay. And above all, though things are as they are, I cannot give the impression that I am ignoring Eschmann’s article and that I am coldly dropping a man who got himself into serious trouble for taking up my “defense” as he was able to. I think I have adopted the best solution: to relegate the name of Eschmann to a footnote and to compose this footnote in such a way that everything is said there in covered words (including my reservations about Eschmann’s excessive formulations). Those who want to understand will understand.

The question of the final part of the essay: Your arguments and those of Waldemar [Gurian] to leave out this last part are very strong and they convinced me at first. But when I thought through the question attentively I was arrested by another very strong argument on the other side. I want to stick to it absolutely that my essay remains a philosophical essay, despite the numerous theological allusions. But, if I suppressed the last part it would end with considerations that touch on the beatific vision, and such a conclusion would inevitably place the essay in the category of theology, which I could not deplore too much.


Maritain to Simon, January 18, 1947

Charles and the Review of Politics: I am seriously angry with Gurian who wrote to me that he asked [De] K[oninck] to respond to my article in his review. I have written to G[urian] that I did not accept this and that in my judgment my article is the definitive clarification. I hope that he has shown you my letter. If he publishes an article by de K[oninck] I will consider this an inimical act and a kind of treason.


[1] See, e.g., Garrigou-Lagrange, De Beatitudine Hominis, 85: Dubium: Utrum individuum humanum sit proper societatem, an e contra societas sit propter individuum. [Cf. “Was Garrigou-Lagrange A Personalist?” Sancrucensis]

[2] The last paragraph of Simon’s review reads: “In so far as De Koninck’s essay vindicates the primacy of the common good and carries out the criticism of definite positions, it is entirely praiseworthy. Insofar as it seems to be aimed at books that the writer never read, at doctrines that he does not expound, and men whose names he does not mention, the essay against the personalists, is a purely private affair, which concerns exclusively De Koninck, and is of no concern whatsoever to the reader.”

[3] Simon wrote the following six points in English. Immediately after them he reverts to French.

[4] This letter is translated from Gery Prouvost (ed.), Jacques Maritain, Étienne Gilson: Deux approches de l’être: Corespondance, 1923-1971 (Paris : J. Vrin, 1991), p. 141; trans. partly following: Francesca Aran Murphy, Art and Intellect in the Philosophy of Étienne Gilson (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2004), p. 243.

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