In November of 1917, Dorothy Day traveled from New York City to Washington D. C. to join a suffragette group in picketing the White House. Dorothy, along with the other women, was arrested and jailed, although President Woodrow Wilson offered a pardon in time for them to make it home for Thanksgiving Dinner. All the while, Dorothy pondered her meaning and purpose, her place in the world...
Many years, and many shattered dreams and loves later, Dorothy got an assignment from America magazine to report on a communist-organized "hunger march" to occur in Washington. While there, her heart ached for a way to put into action her ideals, and not just report on the efforts of others. When Dorothy returned to New York on December 9, 1932, she met the person who was going to guide and inspire the rest of her life. Peter Maurin was both an itinerant philosopher and an (most likely) undocumented immigrant from France. Peter, later described as a "saint" by Dorothy Day, stood as a sign of contradiction to the mainstream flow of "progress" in the twentieth century. He believed that the human person was the focal point of human history and that all systems were meant to serve and liberate the person.
Maurin and Day's philosophy is rooted in the personalism of Emmanuel Mounier. Mounier's book, The Personalist Manifesto, was one of Peter's favorites. Mounier wrote: "One does not free a man by detaching him from the bonds that paralyze him; one frees a man by attaching him to his destiny." For the personalist, the Divine Oneness is the center of Universe, history, and the human person: each as a "mirror of the divine", is charged with the task of rEvolution: building the New Creation in justice and peace. This exalted identity and purpose contradicts both jihadist and Wall Street: as it likewise contradicts much (if not most) of what passes for religion in the post-modern world. In every "ism", the human person is expected to submit, to serve the dominant culture and system (the only path into privilege), or simply to go shopping. Privilege, Greed, and Power are the Unholy Trinity at whose feet we must surrender our thinking minds along with our creative passions...
The personalist believes, on the other hand, that every social institution, whether religious, political, economic, educational, or cultural, only exists to serve the full development and liberation of every human person within the context of the common good. The economy, as an example, must be constructed to be of, by, and for all of the people -- not just the privileged few. Do we really believe that democracy necessarily means the domination and corporatization of the world? The time is ripe for a groundswell of passionate mystic-activists wanting to dedicate their lives to global transformation to the good, the true, and the beautiful. What could be better than entering the whirlwind of history, serving the marginalized, while also practicing our freedom and creativity to build the "beloved community" (Martin Luther King, Jr.).
The human person is never superfluous to any system. The tyranny of Privilege, Greed, and Power must not be allowed to make expendable the Beauty of the human person. The science of selling things puts at risk the transcendental value and dignity of the human person: we become things to be manipulated and our value is then determined by our off-shore bank accounts. This is not progress! The personalist would place all progress and development into the service of the human person, the common good, and the care of the Planet. Technological developments must come "with a human face", for the personalist affirms with Martin Buber that "The primary aspiration of all history is a genuine community of human beings -- genuine because it is community all through." Love one another is the animating principle of personalism, as it is for both genuine democracy and essential religion.
Any system that allows for the starvation of a single child is not about its only just purpose: to pursue the full development and liberation of every person. Any system that places profit over people, or the privileges of corporations over continents, is not about its only just purpose. Any system that fails to hear the cries of the poor, or that fails to understand the absolute need for a healthy and diverse Planet, is not about its only just purpose. Any system that crushes the spirit of its people by oppressive religious revelations and interpretations, is not about its only just purpose. Any system that cultivates fear and hatred of the stranger, the different, or the other is not about its only just purpose.
This is, admittedly, an oversimplified critique of the structures, policies, and procedures of the modern world. But it does serve to point the way towards the personalist perspective. "Begin with the person and you make an end of ideology, an end of political rhetoric generally." (Theodore Roszak). Thomas Merton had his own unique and mystical way of saying the same thing: "Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By 'they' I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even your rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness."
In conclusion, "I will not and cannot believe that evil is the normal condition of mankind... I have seen the truth... I have seen it, seen it, and the living image of it has filled my soul forever... Suppose that this paradise will never come to pass... yet I shall go on preaching it. And yet how simple it is: in one day, in one hour everything could be arranged at once! The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that's the great thing, and that's everything..." (Dostoevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man). Dorothy Day lived, worked, and died a prophet of personalism. Her passion for the works of mercy validated her ideals. Her commitment to the works of peace and justice yet gives hope to a world wandering the confusion of endless war. And her daily faith bears steady witness to these words of Dostoevsky that colored the walls of every soup kitchen she worked in: "The world will be saved by beauty." It only remains to be asked, "Are you too a personalist?"