Page 5, 14th February 1964

14th February 1964
Page 5
Page 5, 14th February 1964 — Must a centralist be conservative?

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Locations: Rome


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Must a centralist be conservative?

SI R,—Sonnetimes a light sur prises me when I come across some controversy now troubling the Church. I am thinking of the alleged division of those at the Council into conservatives, liberals and moderates.

I am also thinking of some sentences uttered by Cardinal Ottaviani, widely believed to he a leading figure among the so-called conservatives.

Cardinal Ottaviani was querying the wisdom of what amounts to a devolution from the centralist government of the Church. He was querying certain allegedly "liberal" notions of collegiality. It was noticing an implicit connotation of liberalism and devolution that made me catch a glimpse of a truth which. I fancy, has hardly been apprehended, namely that the centralist is not by that token a conservative. He is simply thinking in a Latin way.

Often enough we of the West who belong to the Latin Rite suppose that as Latins in that sense we are inheritors of a secular Latin tradition.

0. M. Olsen, a Danish member of the Information Bureau of National Minorities, makes the point that two concepts of nation in relation to state have existed side by side in Europe.

The first, in Latin concept, developed in a region where the state reached its categorical form before the arrival of the nation.

"In Grecian urban communities or the Roman Empire no equivalent of the concept of national rights is to be found. Roman citizens were connected with the actual population of Rome itself, and later developed without regard for nationality."

Thus Patrick and Seneca and Augustine were simply Romans, though Patrick was a Briton, Seneca a Spaniard and Augustine a Carthaginian—from our point of view.

The Latin tradition proposes "equal laws" and has next to no feeling for the distinctness of the peoples under a state which makes such "equal laws". On the other hand there exists a large body of northern European law which is deeply affected by the feeling of nation.

A northern European state is inclined, then, either to be roughly co-terminous with a nation or feels able to grant various autonomies to minorities, You may see this readiness in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, West Germany, and the United Kingdom. Compare, for example, the readiness of the English state to allow a linguistic educational syllabus for Wales and the French resistance to even the mildest proposal for such cultural autonomy for the Bretons.

The Portuguese have a quite remarkable legal case for holding that they have no colonies. The people of Angola are simply Portuguese.

In much the same way the six million Catalans and the two million Basques are repressed if they tty to behave as Catalans and Basques. Italy is an exception to this only because Italy was forced by the victors of the last war to give autonomy to Aosta and the Southern Tyrol. It is however a very serious blunder to suppose that a liberal is a devolutionist. One may take several examples at random to suggest the contrary. Thus the liberals of 19th century Switzerland wanted to increase the federal power and the conservatives who wanted to maintain the confederal outlook.

An ultra conservative Swiss thinker like Haller was, moreover, a violent opponent of centralism. In England Disraeli attacked the Liberals for what he called Nei policy of "cheap and centralised government". In Belgium the conservative Flemings resist Walloon hegemony—and the Walloons are radicals. In Canada the conservative French speakers arc extreme devolutionists—behaving here consistently with their conservatism if not their French background.

As a conservative in religion and in politics I regard centralising schemes with great dislike. It has, of course, been mentioned here and there that the Eastern representatives at the Council are inclined to the conservative position; but no one would dare call them Latins or defenders of the position maintained so heroically by Ottaviani.

This is hut one aspect of the matter. There are many other aspects of which I would mention the notion that a liberal is inclined, because he is a liberal, to hob-nob with Protestants. It is because I am a Conservative that I hob-nob with Calvinists and Evangelical fundamentalists like Dr. J. I. Packer and subscribe to the Welsh Fellowship of the Lord's Day Observance Society.

Henry Edwards Rhondda.

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