On Sense Of
IHAVE just been reading an article by Fr. James Gillis in the New York Catholic World about Mussolini and Hitler.
" Dictators," says Fr. Gillis, " of course, have no sense of humour. If they had, they wouldn't he dictators . . . " This sets me wondering, because it is as hard in my opinion to generalise about dictators as about bosses in a business (" Bosses, of course, have no sense of humour. If they had, they wouldn't be bosses "), or about Presidents of the United States. The fact is that nothing varies so much from continent to continent or country to country as the sense of humour : most Americans think the English are the most humourless of peoples, and the English think the Americans are unduly serious.
How dangerous it is to generalise! The only thing the average European knows about George Washington was that he never told a lie. Indeed, to some, this has seemed a serious flaw in his character. But can we say that all the other American politicians who have lived since Washington never told lies either? No, we must await what is called " the verdict of history."
But, as a European, I feel like advocating a spiritual Monroe doctrine for Europe when I read what Fr. Gillis has to say about Giovanni Papini—one of the best-known Italian writers and a famous
convert to Catholicism. Says Fr. Gillis:
" One of his (i.e. Mussolini's) fondest admirers is, I believe, Giovanni Papini, who used to be an atheist and a rather blatant one. Papini was converted, or says he was . . . In fact he thinks himself something of a St. Augustine. That, of course, comes under the head of a superiority complex or a delusion of grandeur."
Perhaps it is my European prejudice which makes me side with Giovanni Papini, Florentine. I believe that when be says that he was converted he is telling the truth and has no sinister or ulterior motive, such as corrupting the Americans. Moreover, when he parallels his case with that of St. Augustine (" thinks himself something of a St. Augustine " is perhaps an unencouraging gibe), Papini, I daresay, believes that he must have received unusual grace to overcome an unusually disordered life. For the rest, though he supports a dictator, Signor Papini has quite a strong sense of humour : indeed, an Irish minister who met him told me that the dictator in question had a sense of humour too—though this conflicts with Fr. Gillis's evidence.
More About Papini
Giovanni Papini, in Italy, has the repu
tation of being a terrible bear. I had quite a correspondence with him when starting our little Colosseum in Switzerland and found him very kind in making suggestions. I remember, when I sent him the first issue, he said he liked the Contents but the design on the cover was more suited to a theosophical review than to one which was Roman and universal in tendency. Signor Papini may have felt a certain sympathy with a struggling review—as ours then was---as, during his literary career, he founded a large number of reviews himself in Florence, which is perhaps the most mentally active of all Italian cities. His handwriting is immensely large and sprawling, and I believe his sight is very had.
What is interesting is the differences of definition of the word " civilisation " in modern times. I would like to get such a definition from Signor Papini and from Fr. Gillis and compare the two. Signor Papini is very critical of AngloSaxon civilisation, especially of the United States and, if I remember rightly, the main character in his satirical book called Gog was an American. He considers that the Anglo-Saxons deserve their fate for having broken off from the tree of Rome. His main criticism of Anglo-Saxon civilisation, however, is the emphasis it puts on money: money the enemy of beauty and of liberty. It would be surprising for Americans if they knew that the Italians did not consider them a free people. Yet such is often the fact.
For myself I must say I would much rather be an Italian peasant owner than art employee of some big New York store, and I have never been able to see what is the good of having a vote if most of your life is spent in absolute dependence on a boss who himself is dependent on another boss who is dependent on the neuroses of Wall Street.
In fart I often feel that a lot of shouting about " freedom of speech" comes because people have to be so careful of what they say during all their working hours: and they say about Mussolini, who can't hit hack, all the things which have been repressed "at the office."