The Sovereign as the Personification of National Unity

As today is Bastille Day and I happen to be in France I want to post something fittingly royalist. I have just been reading Alan Fimister’s fascinating book on Catholic social teaching and the founding of the EU: Robert Schuman: Neo-Scholastic Humanism and the Reunification of Europe. According to Fimister, Robert Schuman –  the French foreign minister considered the “father” of the EU – so closely conformed to the model of politician that Pope Leo XIII envisioned that “if he were a saint of the dark ages historians would assume his ‘life’ was largely fictional” (p.28). This means that he was a republican — that is, he was part of the movement of “ralliement,” of rallying to the Republic on the basis of the fact that a republican form of government is not per se contrary to the natural law. Nevertheless, Schuman account of how the sentiments of patriotism were first wakened in his heart is just what a monarchist would desire. It was in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where Schuman happened to have been born:

It is in Luxembourg that I acquired the first notions of patriotism. It was in 1890 under the Grand Ducal balcony. The people acclaimed Grand Duke Adolf who came to make his solemn entry into the capital. I was a little boy of four years old lost in the crowd. I was enflamed by its enthusiasm and taken up in its pride. With everyone else I sang -as best I could [tant bien que mal]- the Fierewonn : ‘Wir welle ja ken Preisse sin’ – before all else we didn’t want to be Prussians. I only came to know the Marseillaise later. Henceforth I knew what it is to love one’s country, and the attachment to the sovereign who personifies and guarantees the unity, continuity and independence of the nation. (p. 145)

This is a marvelous demonstration of St Thomas’s principle that the common good exists primarily in the sovereign:

Since love looks to the good, there is a diversity of love according as there is a diversity of the good. There is, however, a certain good proper to each man considered as one person, and as far as loving this good is concerned, each one is the principal object of his own love. But there is a certain common good which pertains to this man or that man insofar as he is considered as part of a whole; thus there is a certain common good pertaining to a soldier considered as part of the army, or to a citizen as part of the state. As far as loving this common good is concerned, the principal object of love is that in which the good primarily exists; just as the good of the army is in the general, or the good of the state is in the king. Whence, it is the duty of a good soldier that he neglects even his own safety in order to save the good of his general. (De virtutibus, q. 2 a. 4 ad 2)

7 thoughts on “The Sovereign as the Personification of National Unity

  1. Thanks for the book recommendation! I’ll try reading it as soon as I can. How are the lecture preparations going?

    A thought I’ve had about the Fifth French Republic is that the great political achievement of Charles de Gaulle–who grew up a monarchist–was to found a republic which was sufficiently amenable to the traditionalist, royalist, and old Catholic elements of France that much of the bitterness over the question of republicanism that had characterized French politics since the Napoleonic era was drained away. In other words, it wasn’t until the Fifth Republic that a republican form of government could function even minimally as a unifying element across society. Given your deeper reading of the period, would you agree?


  2. You’ll love Fimister’s book; it’s fantastic. I think your right about De Gaulle. The end of the Fourth Republic was the end of Schuman’s political career, as De Gaulle had a strange aversion for him, but despite that, Fimister suggests that Schuman saw the necessity of the De Gaulle’s founding of the 5th Rep.: For all the unfortunate consequences for his own aspirations of de Gaulle’s return to power, only a few days after his UCLA speech Schuman acknowledged that something of the sort was becoming necessary, asking in the course of an address at the University of Virginia, “Should present day France, if I may say this in passing, perhaps resort to the same solution [as NATO] by giving one man or better a small team a temporary power to reform its political institutions which, as everyone agrees, are unsound? I hope you will forgive this marginal and probably incautious remark.”


  3. Oh, and sorry about not posting updates as promised on the empire lecture. I have now delivered the lecture twice, but now I’m in an intensive French class, and so I probably won’t be able to polish and post the MS till I get back to Austria


  4. from the link to the book:
    “As French Foreign Minister he sought to act upon Maritain’s belief that a European federation conceived under the banner of liberty would ultimately lead to the establishment of a new Christendom.”

    I am interested in the good aspects of the founding of the EU, yet the fruits seem to be strikingly different from the hopes of the founders. It’s the typical story of the post-WWII era: hope and optimism at the outset, frustration and chaos in the end. We need clearer eyes.


    • Very true. There was a strong hope after the war that Europe was returning to the faith; there was no anticipation of the 1960s. Here’s a nice long passage from Fimister’s conclusion:

      The Christian Democratic Thomism of Robert Schuman has imposed a lasting character upon the European project which sits uncomfortably with the present secular age. The supranational elements of the integration project were the product of this intellectual movement within the Church. The purely secular forces behind integration did not require these elements, and, without the power of Christian Democracy, secular utopian federalism was too weak to push national governments beyond the intergovernmental level. Secular utopian federalism and Catholic solidarism differ markedly, in that the former seeks the replacement of the sovereign nation state with a new sovereign federal entity whereas the latter seeks to build a supranational edifice whose final justification is supernatural upon the essentially natural foundations of enduring nation states. In the absence of genuine Christian Democracy, the debate is dominated by secular federalists who seek to create a new European Nation State, and secular nationalists who seek to confine sovereignty to its natural frontiers in the existing nation state. The Communitarian Europe is left as an anomalous no-man’s-land between them.

      Maritain assumed that a Federal European organisation would constitute in itself a new Christendom, because our natural social impulses do not reach out beyond the nation and the family to encompass permanent positive obligations to all men. In the absence of an adequate natural foundation for supranational society any actually existing society of this kind would tend inevitably towards the supernatural society which alone is capable of bearing such a weight. He did not consider the alternative possibility that such a supranational political entity would seek to resolve its difficulties differently by suppressing the natural national units that composed it, inventing an artificial nation or super-state. Such a super-state, in seeking to live parasitically upon the natural energies of its predecessors, would find in the supernatural community of the Church a competitor rather than a cooperator in the process of European construction.

      If – as Maritain argued, the popes taught, and Schuman believed – the only power on earth capable of transcending without destroying the natural social units of family and nation is divine grace, then a political institution which attempts to achieve this transcendence while spurning such assistance will by an inevitable law become the enemy of those natural units as well. Even at the national level, the social goals of post-Christian states are far more ambitious than those of the pre-Constantinian era, because these goals too are the bastard offspring of the theological virtues. We should not be surprised therefore if they are also possessed of a powerful antipathy for marriage and the family, the basic structures of society. Schuman never denied the possibility of anti-Christian democracy; he merely said it would end in anarchy or tyranny. Presumably the same goes for generalised democracy. And, presumably in this case, the tyranny is worse than the anarchy for at least men are naturally divided into nations. Maritain presumed too much upon his Creator, casting himself from the temple parapet and calling out for the multitude to witness the expected miracle. Without divine grace the supranational becomes an abomination set up where it ought not to be. If the Lord disdains to be put to the test then an anti-Christian generalised democracy must necessarily pervert nature in its efforts to justify the naturally unjustifiable, trampling grace and nature in its fury. And what goes for the supranational and its natural units goes for the national and its natural units as well: anti-Christian Democracy indeed.

      The demise of real Christian Democracy as an ideological force has helped to ensure that integration has never returned to the level it reached in 1953. This demise is due to a double attack from theological conservatives who had the necessary doctrinal positions to sustain Maritain’s thesis but disliked liberal democracy, and from theological liberals who believed that knowledge of man’s supernatural end could be attained by human reason and so that Christian revelation was not required as the foundation of a just society. Maritain himself increased the likelihood of rejection by theological conservatives by gratuitously excluding the goal of a professedly Christian civil order. Schuman differed from Maritain on this important point: he held out the possibility that a numerical preponderance of believers might ultimately licence a confessional Christian Democratic state, and so remained faithful to the Papal Magisterium. Maritain, in contrast, did not allow for this possibility, which rendered this part of his theory doctrinally suspect.


  5. When President George Washington first received an ambassador from Revolutionary France (after the King’s execution), he did so in a room graced with a portrait of Louis XVI. That sums up rather neatly the relationship between the American and French revolutions (as well as saying something about President Washington personally).


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