But is there another ideal relation between this larger order, and the established political, cultural, intellectual orders of society? Is the ideal relation one in which there is no lack of fit, in which the two cohere perfectly? This ideal has often haunted converts in the last centuries. They look back and see the glorious past of Christendom, be it in the European Middle Ages, or in the early modern period, or in the time before the French Revolution, or before the Reformation; or even, as with the American “Christian Right”, the age they want to restore is only a few decades in the past. Their grievance against the established order (or “le désordre établi”, to quote a favourite phrase of Maurras and Action Française) is that it is out of joint, both with itself and with the higher order; and indeed, the two go together, because it could only get back in true with itself by recovering contact with this higher, more encompassing order.
A great many converts have felt this, at least as a temptation, even where it wasn’t their main reason for converting. It was strong in the followers of Action Française, but we can also see it for instance in Christopher Dawson, in Hilaire Belloc, to some degree in G. K. Chesterton, although without the nostalgic dimension, and in T. S. Eliot (who, not coincidentally, admired Maurras).
Several strands came together in this. For some, like Dawson and Eliot, it seemed clear that the deepest sources of European culture were in Christianity, and that this culture must lose force and depth to the extent that moderns departed from it. Another strand identified the basic error of modernity in subjectivism, that is, in philosophies which stressed the powers of the free individual subject, constructing his scientific and cultural world. Eliot also took up this theme, but the best known articulation of this critique came from the pen of Jacques Maritain. In particular, his Trois Réformateurs lined up Luther, Descartes, and Rousseau as targets, three highly influential figures who progressively had contributed to the apotheosis of the modern subject. The great and necessary remedy was a renewed Thomistic philosophy which would once more bring about a recognition of objective reality. This philosophy can liberate because it forces us “to lift our heads”, to consider “the object as other” (“l’objet en tant qu’autre”); it makes me subordinate myself to “a being independent from myself”.
For Maritain, this philosophical standpoint was identified with “intelligence”, and we can see here one of the reasons for his alliance with Maurras throughout the teens and early 20s of the century. For “l’intelligence” was one of the key slogans of the Maurrasian party, defined in similar terms as a rejection of modern subjectivism, but then further spelled out as demanding an unremitting hostility to liberalism, and to the “idol” of democracy, as well as an affirmation of the primacy of Catholicism, and the recovery of the power of the state through a restored monarchy. This was the poisoned fruit from which Maritain had to struggle to liberate himself.