FRANCE, EUROPE AND THE FAITH World Democracies Could Learn From Recent French History
By Douglas Jerrold
0 Catholic, no democrat, and no Englishman can be indifferent to the present crisis in "'relax.. France has been a prey to the disruptive influence of a militant secularism for three generations, but she has avoided the greater evil of falling a victim to a myth. of adopting a secular religion. France remains European and civilised. and Frenchmen remain not merely Christian but Catholic in spirit. Secularism, out of anti-clericalism by indifference, has weakened the French defences, both moral and material. Yet France remains.
But for how long? Let us make no mistake about the gravity of the present crisis. A strong and determined minority is anxious to destroy European France. to embroil her in a war, not on behalf of, but against, her historic civilisation, which is also ours. In pursuit of that endeavour, it is possible that revolutionary action may be taken.
The present stay-in strikes, if prolonged and extended, will inevitably assume the character of a revolution, designed to achieve, by a coincidence as sinister as it is natural, the declared purpose of our own trades unionists, who wish to make' the security of the nation a bargain counter in the politics of the world revolution. We arc ready, say the English trades unionists, to expedite the rearmament programme if the minority party to which we belong may dictate the policy of the nation.
We are ready, the French strikers declare, to allow the work of rearmament to proceed, if the minority party to which we belong is allowed to govern the country in a sense manifestly contrary to the wish of the elected representatives of the people.
NEW GOVERNMENT'S HOPE
We can, and shall, resist the threat to our liberties. Will France be equally successful? M. Daladier's new Government has at least a hope of success, because it contains no Socialist Ministers.
Its formation marks the temporary and unrcgretted collapse of the Popular Front, the most evil of all parliamentary devices for misgovernment. Does it, however, mark the end or merely the interruption of that essentially dishonest coalition? On that simple question depends the future of Western Europe.
Why, some Catholics may ask, is the Popular Front any more dishonest a coalition than that which governs England under the National label? And why, since all Frenchmen arc agreed on preserving friendly relations with this country and in supporting our diplomacy, should we worry what son of government the French choose?
Let us answer the second question first. We are pledged to defend France against attack. We are therefore vitally concerned
with the question of provocation. Very recently a proposal was put forward in most influential quarters in France for the despatch of an Expeditionary Force to Spain to recapture from General Franco his 36 provinces of Continental Spain and the Spanish Colonial Empire. That proposal was abandoned, in view of the British Government's firm opposition. Had M. Blum possessed a secure majority, and had his Government acted contrary to the British advice, or, more probably acted without consulting us, what would our
position have been if Germany had declared war on France? We should have been faced with the grim alternative of seeing the destruction of France or the ruin of Western Europe.
It is, in other words, of vital importance for everyone in this country, that the Government of France should truly represent the people of France. We can rely always on the sense and the justice of the French people. The dishonesty of the Popular Front, in France as in Spain, lies in the fact that it is an electoral device sp;cificaily designed to misrepresent the people.
The slogan " No enemies to the Left " had a certain plausibility in terms of late Victorian or even Edwardian politics. Given a fundamental agreement on the basis of society it is true to say that a coalition of the Left can make bettor progress than a coalition of the Centre in the tasks of social reform. You can compromise on the pace at which you shall proceed but not on the direction in which you shall go.
This simple fact explains why the first and most loquacious supporters of the modern " Popular Fronts " are always elderly liberals, thinking in terms of the politics of their youth.
Today, the situation is radically changed. On the Left, in all democratic countries, is found the hard core of the confessed revolutionaries. If these men came into office on the backs of moderate Labour and advanced Liberals (of such parties, that is, as the Trade Union Labour Party and the Independent Liberals in this country, and the Socialists and the Radical-Socialists in France). they are able to face the government, from the day of its formation, with the alternatives of public disorder, a surrender to extremist policies, or resignation.
Parliamentarianism being what it is, any democratic government will, in the circumstances, make concession after concession to avoid facing the inevitable issue: when it faces it, the country will be on the verge of bankruptcy, as in France, or faced with the actual threat of Civil War, as in Spain.
This is no accidental result of an inconclusive election or weak leadership. It is an intended result, to secure which is the whole purpose of the Popular Front manoeuvre.
REVOLUTIONARIES' FAILURE The French genius for politics has so far evaded the consequences. The chief hope of the revolutionaries, to provoke a threat from the Right which will drive the Centre towards the Left in self-defence, has not been fulfilled. France's terrible weakness has once more proved her strength. She is traditionally the country of the Centre, the land where the sceptical arc not faithless, where the croyants are not always pratiquants, where the men of the Left are intensely Conservative and even the revolutionaries patriotic.
We must always expect to find more crises in such a country than in our own, and to see them more easily surmounted. There are clear signs however, that the issue must soon, even in France, be faced. You cannot build a positive policy on the basis of even the most resolute scepticism, and you cannot save civilisation by even the most urbane indifference. There are minimum conditions of public order and private morality without which affairs, even in a nation as essentially practical and simple as France, cannot be carried on.
The present coalition, or one further to the Right. may be adequate, but it is at letest equally probable that nowhere outside the army, will he found sufficient loyalty to the regime combined with sufficient faith in the fundamental moral principles without which no regime can survive In that Asc. France will be driven to accept a military coup d'etat.
SIGNAL TO ALL DEMOCRACIES
France's problem is one fundamental to the future of all democracies where the political machines have fallen into the hands of professional politicians.
The greatest of all the French political parties, the Radical-Socialist party, of which M. Daladier is the leader, has governed France, from the front or from the rear, for almost the whole of the term of the Third Republic.
It is quintessentially the creation of a political machine, not the spontaneous product of a political creed. It produces skilful politicians, but not leaders of men. It exists to defend the regime, but as it is itself the regime, its public purpose is not evident even to Frenchmen! With its prosperity are linked the careers of a majority of all Frenchmen engaged in active politics. In that respect it Is precisely like our awn Labour Party, and wholly unlike any other party which has ever existed in this country.
Till the Labour Party became a power in the land, French politics were unintelligible to Englishmen. Today we can understand them, when we remember that the fortunes of all members of the working class actively engaged in politics are bound up with the Labour Parity. No-one opposed to the Official Labour Party case can " get on " in the working class movement. There is thus an immense vested interest working all the time to consolidate its hold on the machine and to make the machine an efficient instrument for seizing political power and patronage. In time, the pursuit of office becomes an end in itself. This has not yet happened in this country, but it has happened long since in France. There is not one Frenchman in a hundred who could tell you today what was the political creed of the founders of French Radical-Socialism. The leaders of the party 'govern France, but they are leaders without a party or without a programme. If we ever form a National Party in this country we shall have an even more exact parallel with the French Radical Socialists than the Labour Party provides. We should also have a close parallel to the general political position as it exists in France today, for we should have a small Conservative Party on the Right and a small Marxian Socialist party on the Left, with two centre parties controlling large political machines both of which derived their strength not from any enthusiasm for their positive policies but from the reaction of the electorate from less attractive extremes.
ROOT OF THE CRISIS
This analogy, rough as it is, may enable us to understand what is at the root of the French crisis today. France is a democracy in which the people have ceased to
speak : a Catholic country which has banished religion from its public life: the home of reason and culture which has made scepticism its creed. Yet no new panty, either of the Right or the Left, can break the power of the political machinery of the Centre. Force, said Jan Bright, is no remedy. Would he have said the same if he had been in France today? The positive policies of the world revolution demand a positive answer, yet even the mildest measure of constitutional reform, enabling the French people to speak in a crisis on a direct issue, have been found impossible. The machines bend, but they will not break. It is possible that only the hammer can break them. In that case it will be the sickle that will reap the harvest. But, although the risks are very grave, I fancy not. The revolution has met with
defeat in Spain. It may yet meet with annihilation in France. if France can conquer her scepticism and recapture her faith in reason, which was, for so many centuries, the reason for her Faith.