IF. J. Blyton
0 UTSIDE thinking religious circles, where to-day is that rich suggestive literature concerned with the treasures of the individual human mind — personal idealism — the powers and privileges of the soul —the deeps of personality—and the right of the spirit to that further evolution called eternal life and immortality?
There has been a slump in these great books and thinkers, and it means that the mental life of many people has become shallower. What has caused it?
Partly it was to be expected : it is post-war social unrests and the search for cures (or nostrtuns). But for one thing this violent externalisa tion of human intelligence has gone on rather too long, and gone too far. In the noise, a man can hardly ever
hear himself. And that is sheer loss. It may be a case of a man gaining, or not gaining, the world but losing his own soul.
Not ten, but ten million, of us would be benefited by a " Retreat." We ehouldn't be entire/y public creatures. Simon Stylites on his lonely pillar is not our model—but his line is more defensible than the Marxian's or the ideologist's who scarcely knows he has a self to make or lose, and who is everlastingly agitating or ordering life for " the community."
Addison's " Public Undertakers"
After long and wide experience of this busy, scheming type—whom Addison long ago called " public undertakers "— I find that they are mostly very narrowly read and lopsidedly educated people.
What do 99 per cent. of them know or care for the world's greatest free and disinterested thinkers, for the amazing body of religious teaching and experience, for the wonderworlds of Nature and the Arts, for the significance of saints and martyrs and the deep hes • t of man? Universes of meaning al.,. brushed aside with a flick of the fingers, in an excited engrossment with forma, fiveyear plans, materialist (or race) " dialectics," technocratic notions and the arts of muscling in on the avenues to momentary political power. For them, Life is nothing, nothing at all but economics, sociology, biology. combination, and removing anyone who feels or thinks in any larger way.
It is surprising and at first disappointing to discover that hardly one of these " ncw men that in the flying of a wheel cry down the past " has ever carefully read St. Paul or a Kempis, Aquinas, or say, the Stonyhurst Philosophical series, or a papal encyclical on marriage, the family, and the social-spiritual order, or the Divine Comedy, or the City of God, or the English Platonists, or the great poets, or any deep non-partisan history! Astounding.
And so without education, they set out to educate.
Without understanding, they noisily teach. It takes many years to ripen a priest; philosophy, morals, theology, pastoral science, literature, liturgy, history and so on; but the worldchangers fancy they have improved on that. They can do it all in a month's correspondence course, or even at one fell blow at a party meeting.
It's Happened Before
This doctrinaire ignorance (which can Upset a world) is no new thing.
In the time of the French Revolution, with which he largely sympathised, Hazlitt pungently noted it. He says : " There is Mr C.; he has but one subject, Parliamentary Reform. Now Reform is (as far as I know) a good idea and a subject to talk about; but why should it be the only one? He is a political homily personified, a walking commonplace. It is just as if a man insisted on your hearing him go through the fifth chapter of the Book of Judges every time you meet, or like the stale story of the Cosmogony in The Vicar of Wakefield. It is a tune played on a barrel organ. He has admittedly got hold of a subject of fairly general interest, and on that plea may hold you by the button as long as he chooses. Universal Suffrage or annual Parliaments stand first on the order of the day: any other topic, grave or gay, is an impertinence! Put him in the frozen north, and he will celebrate Reform; place him under African suns, and he will talk of nothing but Reform—Reform so smiling and promising for these last forty years. If you see such a visionary in the street, you can tell as well what he is thinking of as the man who fancies himself a teapot or the Czar of Russia.
" There are some," he adds, " who are sure the Corn Bill is the root of all evil; and others trace every misery of life to the muffling up of children in night-clothes when they sleep or travel. It is in vain that you give them the point : they only begin again, 'But don't you see . . ?' Another entertains you all dinner-time with an invective against meat diet. I have known persons taken up at all hours with the abolition of the Slave Trade, the Restoration of the Jews, and the progress of Unitarianism. How many projectors have gone mad in good earnest from incessantly harping on one idea: the discovery of the philosopher's stone, the finding of the longitude, or paying off the national debt! There is a conceited fellow about town who talks always and everywhere on Kantean philosophy. He wears the Categories round his neck like a pearl-chain : he plays off the names of the primary and transcendental qualities like rings on his lingers. He talks of it to his children, his apprentices and his customers. He knows no more about it than a pikestaff."
A dunce may -talk one of these new. sweeping, over-easy ideologies with impunity : if he opened his lips on any other, he would be found out. This is a " labour-saving " age, especially in thought; and one slogan, that pretends to solve a question by ignoring all others, is irresistible to many.
Poor Marx, fuddled on Hegel (whom he did not understand) in his Bloomsbury lodgings; Lenin, also in Bloomsbury, half understanding Marx, and with not a thought outside this groove, were monomaniacs.
Someone may say : " But monomaniacs get things done! " They do. It would be mercy if they didn't. They get things half-done, or over-done, or ill-done, or un-done. And to a man, you notice, they will see ten million fellow-creatures " liquidated " in agony, just in order to enthrone one half-baked catch-cry, No heart and half a head is not a safe equipment for self-elected founders of a new paradise.
" They look at you," said Hazlitt, " with a smile of contempt at the futility of all criticism or reserve, and the idleness of all encouragement." He was thinking of a fellow, " a radical reformer and logician, who makes clear work of the taxes and national debt, reconstructs the State from the first principles of things, shatters the Holy Alliance at a blow, and grinds out the future of society with a machine."
Such people are like Dickens's Mrs Jellyby, who could not see her own husband and children and duties because she lived in a condition of excitement about heathens ten thousand miles away: about whom all her knowledge could have been put in one sentence.
For God's sake and our own, let us be fairly all-round developed personalities, not absolutely absorbed in affairs, but with time and thought and discipline for the selfhood, with interest in the spiritual and invisible as well as in bread and butter or some dictator or some party move.
Pascal said that even the Universe is not as wonderful as a single soul that feels and knows and largely understands and surpasses it. How much more true that is, then, of this particular earth, and of some districts of it, and of certain economic and political details in them. Any sociological planning that is ignorant of man's interior spiritual nature, or is not motived by love of man and God, will be jerry-building, giving trouble to the occupants till it collapses on them. It is the cobbling of an amateur engineer who knows little of the nature of iron and steel, of strains and stresses.
We demand a skilled plumber to put our kitchen boiler right. But any determined faddist, without preparation, will do for some people to erect and run a State.
The " side " which an educated Catholic will take in politics is the side which takes account of all the factors— of God's Law, of Nature, history, tradition, the marriage vow, family rights, self-discipline and self-improvement as a duty, justice tempered with great humaneness, and no idolatries or short cuts. A geometrically perfect " system" will not make men good or happy. They have their own larger contribution to make.
Revolutionary democracy forgot that, and still does. So why wonder that the totalitarians often forget it too?