POSITION OF ITALY
Her Christian Responsibility
The Natural Law May Not Be Flouted
By Michael de la Bedoyere I
THE history of the last twenty years can be read in the light of many different ideals and standards that interest mankind. It can be read in the light of the maintenance of peace, of the great and revolutionary changes that mark the end of the liberal economic era, of the balance of power, of the attempt to re.gularise international relations through the League of Nations and collective security, and so on. To judge fairly and accurately all these aspects of the problem must be constantly borne in mind; but, in the long run, we shall always be thrown back on to one ultimate ideal and standard, the one which is perhaps best suggested in the word " Christendom."
By " Christendom " one means the acceptance of the moral and social values in the running of temporal society which flow from the dogmas of Christianity, dogmas which themselves are the explanation and fulfilment of the Natural Law whose principles are written in the consciences of men and seen to be true through -the application of human mason to the problems of conduct.
IDEALISMS THAT FAILED I T would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that the values of Christendom have been wholly disregarded during this long period of international crisis whose consequences we are suffering to-day. It might even be more accurate to say that one of the chief troubles of the contemporary world has been its attempt to apply true moral standards with an insufficient understanding of their meaning and a refusal to clear the ground sufficiently so that they may take root. The idealism behind the League of Nations constituted in itself a remarkable advance m mankind's effort to order international relations and, at length, -rid the world of the plague of war. And, on the other hand, the violent reaction against moral, social and economic disorder on the part of the new rogimes in Italy, Portugal, Germany and Spain cannot he dismissed as a mere nationalist tyranny.° A serious effort was made, however misguided in some of these countries, to re-create a social and economic coherence, a common understanding and aim, for want of which even the best moral efforts of the liberal era had failed. In fact, while the liberal ideal of the League failed to realise the need to clear the ground so that its moral aims could " bite " and take concrete shape, the authoritarian reaction, especially ill Italy and Germany, failed to appreciate the sacredness of the principles of the Natural Law as the only structure upon which a truly human social order could be built up.
NO FAITH TO STOP AGGRESSION
I OOKING back from the situation as we find it at present, we are L. able to assess fairly clearly the gravity of the respective errors. The great democratic Powers (victors of the last war) have been heavily blamed for, not stopping the rot at the beginning. It is easy to number the countries which have been sacrificed to aggression through this mistake : China, Abyssinia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Poland, the Baltic States, Finland, Denmark and Norway. The list is formidable. But the plain fact is that the democratic Powers never possessed the spiritual conviction, the positive faith, even perhaps the easy conscience required in order to ad. They appreciated the abstract gravity of the breach of the Natural Law and more or less realised the dangerous consequences of that breach, but each acted throughout upon a rough and ready calculation of its own immediate hest interests. And this for two reasons : the first was the lack of a common inspiration about the kind of world there ought to be; and the second was a considerable degree of suspicion about the real ends of those who seemed nearest to possessing a faith. Half the people had no real faith, except in the maintenance of the present political and economic order, and no real conviction except in the enormity of those who broke the laws to challenge it ; and the other half were seeking a vague, international, Godless, liberal, progressive socialism whose spiritual capital could he found nowhere but In Moscow, the home of the " people's " revolution against the ancien regime. In such a state of empty or suspect faith, nations, however great their respect for the moral law, were spiritually incapable of doing more than try to save their own skins. And in effect it is perfectly possible to trace the growing realisation that their own skins were in such danger as to demand at length the tremendous sacrifices needed to resist or go under. To-day Britain and France are fighting because they have to. The United States refuses to tight because it thinks it has not got to. The neutrals have left matters so long that they are now caught between two evils, each one so appalling that they are reduced to a sort of mesmerised inaction.
THE GREAT SIN OF THE NEW REGIMES IN a very real sense the war has saved us, or, more accurately, given I us the opportunity of saving ourselves, for the grim necessity of fighting has restored to us the conviction that we lacked. At present, it is true, we have but a. negative conviction, the conviction that Nazism and Stalinism are so evil that the Western world must actively repel them at whatever cost or betray the moral and cultural inheritance of Christendom. That negative conviction is by no means sufficient to carry us through to a peace worth the name, but it serves to unite us for the supreme war effort. Our real test will come later.
The authoritarian States have each followed different paths, but some of them have not been able as yet to recover from the immense moral mistake of losing touch with the fundamental principles of Natural Law. They had their excuses. It was not easy for them to see or admit that the very imperfect League did stand, at least in the abstract, for international order, for the rights (if not the duties) of nations, small as well as great, against unjust aggression and war as an instrument of policy ; above all it was not easy for them to relish the thought that it was the great possessing Powers which stood so firmly, but so intractably, for a system of law and order immensely convenient to those Powers. They had the right to criticise, the right to protest, the right to make constructive suggestions, and even the right to resist in the name of something better, and they could have been pardoned—for nations, as well as men, are sinners—for concrete acts of defiance, such as were represented perhaps by the Abyssinian war or the Anschluss; but they never had the right to turn their hacks upon the ideal of an international community, upon the primacy of the moral law and upon the Christian teaching on war and peace. This Germany has done in theory and in practice : this Italy has done in theory, though not fully in practice ; this Spain is in danger of doing at least in theory.
Let it be clear that we are not attempting to apportion moral guilt; we are only concerned with the objective rightness and wrong ness of the two camps. We were lucky enough to hang on to these moral principles because we were trying to maintain the status quo in which they were vaguely incorporated ; but they, who had under taken a great reconstructive task, failed to build their international system upon a Christian or moral foundation.
THE ITALIAN PRESS WEhave seen what has happened to Germany as a result of her complete denial of Christian values. However much we may sympathise with her post-Versailles treatment, however well we may understand and appreciate the economic and social and even moral worth of important aspects of the Hitlerian revolution, the whole world cannot but see the moral grossness, the complete cynicism and callousness of such acts as the pact with Stalin, the treatment of Poland, and the latest aggression against Denmark and Norway.
We say that the whole world cannot but see this—and yet we find in the more or less officially directed Press of Italy, and, no doubt, Spain, an approval of the latest events. And it is to the significance of this fact that the present article leads.
However much we may personally sympathise with Italy and Spain and the difficulties with which they have had to contend, it is still clear that these countries are also on trial before the world, trial 4-1 the supreme moral court, trial by Christian standards. The startling clash between the views of the Italian Press and that of the Vatican organ (edited after all by Italians and ever most careful to avoid any unnecessary difference with Italy) is the proof of it.
One hopes that the present Italian Press campaign is only directed to keeping a large portion of the Allied fleets in the Mediterranean or as a bargaining counter with the unpopular Reynaud. But any failure on Italy's part to appreciate the fundamental immorality of Germany's foreign policy—and the latest aggression is a fair and simple test case, for no Italian can believe in the light of subsequent events that we had an expeditionary force almost on its way to Norway— would surely deprive that country of the right to be classed internationally as moral, still less Christian.
A GREAT RESPONSIBILITY WE are not suggesting that Italy should take our side, for we have shown the great defects of our position ; but we are suggesting that, whatever Italy may think of us and whatever policy she may ultimately adopt in the calculation of her best interests, she may not approve of the Nazi-Russian pact, of the treatment of Poland, and of the acts of aggression against Denmark and Norway. If she does the whole spiritual basis of the Fascist experiment falls to the ground ; if she does, she turns her back on Europe and Christendom. And the same applies to Spain.
And for Italy's sake, as well as for Europe's, it is of paramount importance that she should not make the great betrayal. The Allies, fighting for a negative conviction and one that may well collapse when victory is achieved, will need much of the spiritual stuff, the European mentality, the practical realism, the Latin and Christian tradition that went to make the revolutions in Italy and Spain. Left to ourselves we shall make a hash of what will be a liberal and agnostic peace. And for this reason alone there could he no greater tragedy than that Italy should follow the path of Germany in finally letting go Of the very essence of the Natural Law and thus betraying once and for all that Latin Christian tradition without which Europe cannot he saved for Christendom. Hers is a great responsibility in the face of a difficult and perhaps tempting position, but it is absolutely certain that the true and ultimate good of Italy (and Spain) cannot be found in a policy that blatantly defies the very essence of the Natural Law which is the law of God.