The Dignity of Politics and the End of the Polity

by Henri Grenier


We have published several extracts from Henri Grenier’s Manual of Thomistic moral philosophy on The Josias. We find Grenier’s manual notable for its rich understanding of the common good. Grenier’s understanding of the common good allowed him, as an early reviewer noted, to return to Aristotle’s division of practical science into ethics (or monastics), domestics (or economics), and politics, with politics given pride of place. Many other modern Thomists, affected by liberal-reductionist accounts of the common good, saw the final end of man as being a matter of individual ethics, and reduced politics to a subdivision of the special ethics. But Grenier recovered Aristotle’s insight that the end of man and of the polity are the same (Ethics I,2), that is, that the end of man is a common good. It follows from this that in the natural order politics is the preeminent moral science. The following sections are taken from the General Introduction, where Grenier defends Aristotle’s division of practical philosophy, and the preeminent role it gives to politics; and from the section on the causes of civil society, where he argues that the end of civil society is happiness. — The Editors


821. Division of Moral Philosophy

1° Moral Philosophy, as a practical science, is specified by its end, which is the principle of human acts and the formal object quo of moral science, i.e., of the science of human operations.

2° Man is a social animal, and, in the natural order, is a part, i.e., a member, of two societies: domestic society and civil or political society.

3° Society is a whole of which man is a part.

But a whole can be absolutely one, i.e., can have absolute unity, or it can have relative unity, i.e., unity of order, as, for example, the order of an army.

In a whole which has absolute unity, the operation of the whole and of the part is one and the same; v.g., vision, which is the operation of the sense of sight, is the operation of a man. Therefore, when a whole has absolute unity, the science of the whole and of the part is one and the same. Thus Philosophy of Nature, which deals with man, deals also with the human intellect and will.

In a whole which has only unity of order, the part can have operation which is not the operation of the whole, as a soldier in an army has operation which is not the operation of the whole army. Moreover, a whole can have operation which is not proper to any of the parts, but to the whole, as, for example, the conflict of an army as a whole. Therefore, when a whole has only unity of order, the science of the whole and of the part is not one and the same.

4° Society, which is a multitude characterized by order, is a whole which has not absolute unity, but only unity of order. Therefore the science which deals with the operations of a single man is not the same as the science which deals with the operations of the whole of society.

Hence Moral Philosophy is divided into three parts.

The first part deals with the operations of individual man as directed to their end, and is called Ethics or Monastics.

The second part treats of the operations of the domestic multitude, i.e., of the family, and is called Economics or Moral of the family.

The third part is concerned with the operations of the civil multitude, i.e., of civil society, and is called Politics[1] or Moral of civil society.

Monastics, Economics, and Politics are not material parts of one and the same science, but are essentially distinct practical sciences, for the end of individual man, the end of domestic society, and the end of civil society are specifically distinct from each other. […]

822. Politics is wisdom in the order of the practical sciences

1° A science is wisdom when it considers things according to their first principles. But the ends of the practical sciences are their principles. Therefore the science which considers human acts in relation to their ultimate end is wisdom in the order of the practical sciences. But Politics deals with human acts as related to their ultimate end, i.e., to happiness.

Since it is only in civil or political society that man can attain natural happiness, happiness is the end with which Politics is properly concerned. Hence, just as Metaphysics is wisdom in the order of the speculative sciences, so Politics is wisdom in the order of the practical sciences.[2]

2° Certain scholastics, as Liberatore and Zigliara, distinguish between two aspects of human acts. They maintain that a human act may be considered a) either in itself, i.e., in relation to its ultimate end, b) or in its relation to persons other than its author.

Because of these two aspects of human acts, they divide Moral Philosophy into two parts:

a. Ethics, whose object is human acts in themselves, i.e., in relation to their ultimate end;

b. Natural Law (Jus Naturale), whose object is the moral relations between different persons, i.e., human acts as just or unjust.

This division is inadmissible because there is no opposition between the parts, and especially because it destroys the nature of political science, which is concerned with human acts in relation to their natural end.

3° Certain other philosophers, as Kant, hold that Natural Law (Jus Naturale) is not only distinct from Ethics but independent of it, and consequently is not concerned with morality. This opinion is, of course, untenable, because Politics, which is concerned with civil society, deals with the mutual relations of men (Natural Law), and is at the same time the principal part of Moral Philosophy, for it deals with human acts in relation to their ultimate natural end.

The End of Civil Society

1082. Statement of the question

1° Civil society, called the State by the ancients, is political society, and may be defined: the perfect natural society.[3]

It is called a natural society, because it is according to the design of nature, and because it owes its establishment to men acting under the impulse of nature; it is called a perfect society, because its end is a perfect good, namely, the perfect sufficiency of life, i.e., happiness.

2° Man’s happiness is of two kinds: natural, which is the temporal happiness of this life, and supernatural, which consists in the beatific vision.

Man cannot attain supernatural happiness unless he lives in, i.e., is a member of, the Church founded by our Savior Jesus Christ. The Church is a perfect society, for its end is a perfect good, the most perfect of all goods.

Hence civil society may be described: the most perfect of all human societies.[4]

It is described as most perfect, because all other human societies, as domestic society, commercial and industrial societies, and the various associations are parts of civil society.

Moreover, it is said to be the most perfect of all human societies, because civil society is a society set up according to human reason, and thus is distinct from the Church, which is a society founded and established by God.

3° In the thesis, first, we shall prove that civil society was instituted for an end; and, secondly, we shall prove that this end is the temporal happiness of this life.

The temporal happiness of this life contains two elements: life, and a good life, i.e., a life consisting in the practice of the virtues.

Hence the temporal happiness of this life consists principally in the practice of virtue, and instrumentally in those bodily and external goods, the use of which is necessary for a life of virtue.[5]

4° Although human happiness is the most important of all human goods, it is not, nevertheless, man’s absolutely ultimate end, which is the divine good.

The divine good, as we consider it in the thesis, is God, as He is, from the natural point of view only, the ultimate end of all human acts, and also as He is the supernatural end, attainable in Himself, in the beatific vision. We state in the thesis that the end of civil society is the temporal happiness of this life as directed to the divine good considered as the natural and supernatural end.

1083. Opinions

1° Some deny that civil society has a natural end, i.e., is directed to an end determined by nature.

a) Agnostics and Positivists teach that civil society has no final cause, or at least no final cause of which we can have certain knowledge.

This opinion is held also by the Evolutionists, as Spencer, who consider the battle for existence as the explanation of all social conditions.

b) Haller and Fouillée claim that the end of civil society is the same as the end of the private societies of which it is constituted.

c) Montesquieu holds that each civil society has a proper and special end of its own choice; v.g., the end of the Spartan State is war; of Athens, culture; of England, political liberty; of the Jewish nation, religion; of the kingdoms of Rome and Carthage, world domination.

2° Others restrict the end of civil society.

a) The adherents of materialism hold that the common good, i.e., the end of civil society, consists in material goods.

b) Kant, considering that liberty, which he confounds with moral independence, is something almost divine to which all else must be subject, restricts the supreme duty of the State to the mere protection of liberty, i.e., to the establishing of conditions under which the liberty of one person is made compatible with the external liberty of all others.

c) The advocates of Liberalism imagine that the liberty of man living in society tends to what is best. Hence they hold that the end of civil society is the protection of private rights from which peace and harmony result. This is the opinion of Quesnay and Adam Smith.

Certain Catholics favor this opinion in some measure. But, in doing so, they are concerned only with the end which is the form of society.

d) Certain Moderns hold that the instinct of the race is
the first source and the supreme rule of the whole juridical
Hence they restrict the end of civil society to the de
velopment of the perfection of the race.

3° Others exaggerate the end of civil society, either by considering it as an absolute end not directed to God as to its ultimate end, or, rejecting the natural law, in holding that civil society is the sole source or principle of all individual and domestic rights.

a) Modern Pantheists, as Schelling and Hegel, teach that civil society is the ultimate term of the evolution of the Deity. Durkheim favors this opinion to some degree.

b) According to Plato, the State is a superior man to which the citizens are subordinate as the members to the body, in order that it live a life of virtue.

c) Machiavelli, Hobbes, and the Democrats, as Rousseau, teach that a thing is just or unjust, good or evil, because it is commanded or prohibited either by the ruler or by the State, i.e., by the people.

This opinion is held also by many Moderns, especially in Germany, who teach that the State is the source and the end of man’s being.

Later, we shall deal with the relations of individuals and families to the State.

1084. Statement of the thesis

Thesis: Civil society is directed to and end; and this end is the temporal happiness of this life as directed to divine good.

First part: Civil society is directed to an end.— Every society instituted by man is directed to an end. But civil society owes its institution to man. Therefore civil society is directed to an end.

Major.— Man performs all his operations in view of something which appears to him as a good, i.e., for some end. But every society instituted by man owes its institution to human operation. Therefore every society instituted by man is directed to an end[6].

The minor is evident.

Second part: The end of civil society is the temporal happiness of this life.— The end of the most perfect of all human societies is the temporal happiness of this life. But civil society is the most perfect of all human societies.

Therefore the end of civil society is the temporal happiness of this life.

Major.— Since the proportion existing between things directed to an end is commensurate to the proportion which obtains between their ends, the end of the most perfect of all human societies is the most perfect of all human goods. But the most perfect of all human goods is the temporal happiness of this life: for happiness is the ultimate end for which man acts; and supernatural happiness, both of this life and of the life to come, is not a human good, but a divine good, i.e., a good which is unattainable by the power proper to man. Therefore.

Minor.— Just as that whole is most perfect of which all other wholes are parts, so too that human society is most perfect of which all other societies are parts. But civil society embraces all other societies, viz., domestic societies, municipalities, associations of various kinds, etc. Therefore.

Third part: The temporal happiness of this life is directed to divine good, i.e., to the beatific vision.— Every human good is directed to divine good. But the temporal happiness of this life is a human good. Therefore the temporal happiness of this life is directed to divine good.

The major is evident: divine good is the absolutely ultimate end of all human acts.

The minor also is evident: the temporal happiness of this life is the most perfect of all human goods.

1085. Scholia

1° The temporal happiness of this life is the common good, in as much as men can attain it only by living in society and by common means,[7] and in as much as private happiness can be only a part of the common happiness.[8]

The end of civil society is called, without qualification, the common good, because it is man’s most perfect common good. But we may speak of the common good of domestic society, or of any other community, since the end of every society is a common good.

2° The peace and security of all may be called the end of civil society.[9] But peace as signifying the tranquility of order, i.e., well-ordered harmony among men, which obtains when each one is given his due, is the intrinsic end of civil society, whereas happiness is its extrinsic end.[10]

3° The end of civil society is formally distinct from the good proper to individual men: for the former is the common good which corresponds to human nature, whereas the latter is that good which corresponds to individual man as such. Therefore the end of civil society is not the aggregate of the ends of individual men, and civil society is a heterogeneous society.

4° Civil society must attain its end by external means, for men communicate in society by external actions. Nevertheless, the end of civil society consists chiefly in goods of the soul,[11] i.e., in a life of virtue, as we have said.

5° Even though man had not been elevated to the supernatural order, civil society would be a religious society, i.e., it would have the care of religion and of public divine worship. But, because of man’s elevation to a supernatural end and the existence of the Church, which is charged by God with all that pertains to the attainment of this end, a) the direct care of religion was removed from civil society, and committed to the Church; b) and civil society is subordinate to the Church, whose end is the absolutely ultimate end of the whole of human life.

Hence civil society has an obligation to encourage and support the work of the Church, and thus exercise indirect care over religion. In the concrete, civil society is in duty bound to show due reverence to the holy name of God, to rid its territories of the teachings of atheism, and, having embraced the true religion, to protect it by the benevolence and authority of its laws, and to institute or decree nothing which would be a danger to its safety and security.[12]


Notes

[1] In Ethic, 1. I, 1. 1, a. 6 (Pirotta).

[2] In Politic. Prooemium, circa finem.

[3] In Politic, 1. I, 1. 1.

[4] In Politic, Prologus S. Thomae.

[5] Since it is the end of society to make man better, the chief good society can possess is virtue. Nevertheless, in all well-constituted States it is in no wise a matter of small moment to provide those bodily and external commodities, « the use of which is necessary to virtuous action ».— Rerum Novarum.— Divini Redemptoris, n. 75.

[6] In Politic, 1. I, 1. 1.

[7] De Regimine Principum, 1. XIV.

[8] II-II, q. 47, a. 10, ad 2.

[9] Education cannot pertain to civil society in the same way in which it pertains to the Church and to the family, but in a different way corresponding to its own particular end and object. Now this end and object, the common welfare in the temporal order, consists in that peace and security in which families and individual citizens have the free exercise of their rights and at the same time enjoy the greatest spiritual and temporal prosperity possible in this life, by the mutual union and coordination of the work of all.— Divini illius Magistri.

[10] [Editor’s note: I would argue that the order or peace of a perfect society is happiness, and that happiness is therefore the intrinsic common good of society (cf. section 34 of The Good, the Highest Good, and the Common Good). Arguably the extrinsic common good of society is the ruler (cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics 1075a 15; St. Thomas, Q.D. De Virtutibus, Q. 2, a, 4, ad. 2.) — Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.]

[11] Divini Redemptoris, n. 73.

[12] Immortale Dei.Divini Redemptoris, n. 74.

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