Who Writes These Notes?
Our recent notes, we are told in a letter printed in our correspondence column, " have given many Catholics pause." Another correspondent deplores our " irresolution."
These criticisms give us a chance to say
something that should be said. These weekly notes do not represent the personal views of any individual, whether it be the proprietor or the editor or any member of
the staff of the paper. An individual commits no one but himself and therefore he may judge for himself, hastily or slowly according to his temperament. Public judgment — under God — about nations or individuals is the duty of properly constituted authority or courts. A weekly paper is neither an individual judging for his own satisfaction nor an authority judging for the public good. Its purpose in this connection is twofold : to record the authoritative judgment of those competent to judge—and in the case of a Catholic paper to record in particular the judgments of the Church, either implicit or explicit—and to record all relevant facts to help its readers to judge for themselves.
At the present moment, for example, the ordinary press of this country has constituted itself prosecutor and judge of the Italian conduct. Would it be of any particular help to our readers for us to re-state the so very obvious case frier the prosecution, even if we refrained from delivering final judgment? Are we not doing a greater service to them in bringing out—without in any way pre-judging the issue—points for the defence or at any rate points that may make us pause before delivering judgment? Our readers are perfectly free to say that we can make no case, but, having come to that conclusion, will not their final judgment be by so much the more informed?
A Case in Point
Dr. Barnes, Bishop of Birmingham, to take an obvious instance in point, has been deeply scandalised by the fact that the "Te Deum" has been sung in Italian churches to thank God for victory. "Praise we the
Lord for poisoned gas, etc". "I should hate," he said in effect, "to be an Italian ecclesiastic : The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small."
The bishop's attitude is obvious and easy to understand, and, maybe, Catholics themselves feel in some sympathy with him. None of us who thank God for what He has done for us presume that evil has not been mixed with good in the making of the series of events which we recognise to be a blessing; nor need we suppose that Italians necessarily think that nothing but good has gone to make their victory when they thank God for it.
But has it ever occurred to the bishop that the Italians, as a whole, probably honestly believe that the war they have waged has been a necessary and just war ? Putting it at its very lowest has it not even occurred to him that Italians have had no opportunity whatsoever to judge of both sides of the case? This may be deplorable, but it is another question. Nothing, in fact, is more natural when we come to analyse it out, but that the Italians led by their clergy should thank God for having allowed their country victory, for bringing the war to a speedier conclusion than they expected and for having spared the lives of their fighting relations. Yet through lack of thought and sympathy, through dependence on an immediate emotional reaction, the bishop talks nonsense about the mills of God grinding Italian ecclesiastics.
The Italian Case
Actually, of course, there is an Italian case, the worth of which cannot yet be estimated. But the time may come when we shall be very thankful that the Italians have stood up for it. It goes very deep and it may well be due in the long run to the defects of a Fascist regime. Allow, if you will, that Fascism has driven Italy into an impasse—but remember that Fascism itself was probably the only way in which Italy could have been restored to order after the European war. Granted Fascism, a Fascist Empire may have been a necessity. Abyssinia gives trouble; its internal state makes it a perpetually dangerous neighbour; in itself it can scarcely be called a united nation, but rather a loose feudalism dominated by
conquering chiefs. Italy, believing that the League as at present constituted represents almost exclusively a liberal trend of thought out of touch with realities, takes on the conquest and ordering of Abyssinia on her own account. In retaliation for uncivilised methods of warfare, Italy has recourse to gas—as we had during the war and as we intend to again next time—and finishes the war off quicker than anyone imagined she could.
In all this there were errors, but it is arguable that they were not all on one side and that they sprang from a condition of affairs that goes back even farther than the League.
We do not say that this is the whole story4 but, whatever be the rights and wrongs of the past, the thing is done. What now?
Surely we must respect the view that Europe and the League must order their policy according to the facts and not according to theories which would only have been applicable in a very much simpler world than the League ever allowed for.
We have received a letter from a correspondent in Switzerland, a person who, we know, is in no sort of sympathy with Fascism. He writes: "In this tiny country surrounded by three great world powers one has the impression of being on the nerve of Europe. . . .
"Here in Switzerland, where the question is a crucial one, whatever people's political views and their attitude to Italian fascism, it is generally conceded that the one outstanding hope for Austrian independence is Italy. In theory the League of Nations might try to interfere to save Austria, but in practice the force that
really matters is an Italian army. It is felt that it would be extremely unlikely that the League could do anything except note the fait accompli, as Germany would make the Austrian annexation seem like, the free choice of the Austrian people, expressing their will through a putsch: and doubtless there would be a plebiscite in favour of the Anschluss after it had happened.
"For that reason even many who have a strong distaste for Italy's action in Abyssinia dislike any further talk about sanctions. Supposing the sanctions at present imposed continued for a long time and began to wear Italy down, in that case there is a feeling that Mussolini would play his last card—a trump! —that of offering Austria as a sacrifice for Nazi support. Nothing then could save Austria except a European war. It is felt that England would be unlikely to go to war over Austria, and France and Russia would either have to risk a fall or face the possibility of a sort of German hegemony on the Continent within a few years' time."
Sacrificing the Future to Our Righteousness?
And further than this, as Lord Mottistone pointed out in the Lords, we have to ask ourselves whether we can allow Italy to succumb to the results of her own victory? Mussolini has put up a bluff over sanctions, and his bluff has not yet been called. But there is still time. Those sanctions though they have certain obvious advantages in uniting Italians and developing their internal trade, may well cripple her in the end. She has Abyssinia on her hands on the one side, and on the other, as the Pope has hinted, she stands as one of the bulwarks against the insidious spread of a communist materialism destined to smash our Empire and this country as surely as it will ever smash Italy.
Can we afford, before the case is finally judged in theory—let us remember that historians are still arguing about the rights and wrongs of the beginning of the world war—to allow the ideas or even ideals of the past to stand before the crying realities of the present?
Allowing that we have done our best all the time, what can we show for it? Japan and Germany out of the League, and now Italy absent. Surely we must be much more Certain than we are that we are keeping the spirit as well as the letter of the law before we allow the whole world to disintegrate into explosive pieces before our very eyes.
Years ago Hobbes asked what was the use of talking high morality in a state of nature. That was a cynical way of putting it, but it contains the truth that the building up of a moral world is an enterprise that has to begin from the bottom, on secure foundations, and bit by bit.
That striking paper the Catholic Worker of New York advocates " Communitarianism" as the truly Catholic social movement. The name, which comes from the writings of Emmanuel Mounier, editor of the Catholic review Esprit, serves to distinguish it from atheistic communism or State socialism on the one hand and materialistic capitalism on the other.
Communitarianism is described as follows: " The Communitarian Movement aims to create a new society within the shell of the old with the philosophy of the new, which is not a new philosophy but a very old philosophy, a philosophy so old that it looks like new."
It stands, in fact, for the Catholic personal and social revolution against the prevailing this-world social and economic systems, in accordance with the spirit of the Encyclicals.
In the same number of the paper Peter Maurin gives some useful prose-verses defining various attitudes of mind in the world of to-day :
A Bourgeois is a fellow who tries to be somebody by trying to be like everybody which makes him nobody.
A Dictator is a fellow who does not hesitate to strike you over the head when you refuse to do what he wants you to do.
A Leader is a fellow
who refuses to be crazy the way everybody else is crazy and chooses to be crazy in his own crazy way.
A Bolshevist is a fellow who tries to get what the other fellow has and to regulate what you should have.
A Communitarian is a fellow who refuses to be what the other fellow is and chooses to be what he wants him to be.