Author: Carmen Hendershott, Librarian, The New School
Jacques Maritain (b. November 18, 1882, Paris; d. April 28, 1973 Toulouse) was a noted Christian humanist philosopher and convert to Roman Catholicism. Maritain, raised Protestant, and his Jewish wife, Raissa Oumansov, converted jointly in 1906, two years after their marriage in 1904. Later, Maritain studied St. Thomas Aquinas, on whom, along with Aristotle, much of his own philosophy was based. He then taught at the Institut Catholique from 1914-1939, and annually at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto from 1933-1938. He was lecturing in the United States in 1940 when France fell to the Nazis; he stayed in America for the duration of the war, teaching at Princeton (1941-1942) and Columbia (1941-1944) as well as the New School, which became the temporary home to the École Libre des Hautes Études, in which he was deeply involved. Afterwards, he served as French Ambassador to the Vatican from 1945 to 1948, appointed to the post by Charles DeGaulle. He again taught philosophy at Princeton from 1948 to 1952, and then retired. After his wife’s death in 1960, Maritain lived in a religious community in Toulouse, the Dominican Les Petits Freres de Jesus, until his own death in 1973.
At the New School
Maritain’s involvement with the New School pre-dated the founding of the École Libre. In Spring 1941, he taught a five-week course, “Perennial Problems and Contemporary Problems” in the Adult Division. Once the École Libre was established in late 1941, Maritain was one of its best-known and most active members, first serving as one of four vice-presidents of the organization and then, after the death of its founder Henri Focillon in early March 1943, its president. He also was a part of the administrative offices of the Latin American Center (Le Centre d’Études et d’Informations pour les Relations avec l’Amérique du Sud), an integral part of the École Libre. He was a member of the École Libre’s Institute of Sociology, and participated in its section on Democracy and the Planned Economy with presentations on “The French Economy after the War.” He joined the group of members who formed the signature journal of the organization, Renaissance. And he taught three courses: “Liberté et déterminisme” (Spring 1942); “Les Grands Problèmes de la Philosophie: L’Idée de L’Homme et Son Histoire dans les Temps Modernes” (Spring 1943); and, in Spring 1945, “Déterminisme et Contingence.” His active participation in the École Libre lessened in 1945 when he was made French ambassador to the Holy See in Rome. Within a year of his taking that office, in March 1946, the École Libre gave a reception in his honor. And in 1959, the New School bestowed on Maritain its final honor, awarding him a Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa, in a ceremony commemorating “twenty years of cultural cooperation between the United States and France.” His acceptance speech was published as an editorial in the New School Bulletin in December 1959.
“Maritain, Jacques,” World Authors 1900-1950 (Bronx, N.Y./Ipswich, MA: H.W. Wilson Co./EBSCO Information Services, 1996)
“Maritain, Jacques,” Encyclopædia Britannica
“Fonds – Jacques Maritain Fonds, “Maritain, Jacques 1882-1973[-] Biographical History.” ([Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies] University of St. Michael’s College Archives)
Aristide Zolberg and Agnès Callamard, “The École Libre at the New School, 1941-1946,” Social Research 65 (1998)
École Libre des Hautes Études, course catalogs and bulletins, The New School
Photo: Crisis Magazine. Web. 06 Nov 2014.