Critical Christian Citizenship Is The Best
Danger To Our Cause Through Blind Loyalty
IBy Michael de la Bedoyere I WE wrote last week of the differing attempts that are being made to invoke Christian principles and values in support of national policies, but we did not leave ourselves room in which to try to examine the other side of the picture, namely, what should be the attitude of the Christian (who is also necessarily a citizen of a secular State) to the national and international policies of the day?
PRE-CHRISTIANS AND POST-CHR1STIANS EVIDENTLY this question depends upon our practical application of the maxim of Our Lord : "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." We should, however, begin by noting that there is a very real distinction between the allegiance which we owe to Caesar and what we cal! the virtue of patriotism. Evidently we may have difficulty in deciding about what we owe to Caesar and what we owe to God, but there cannot, properly speaking, be any clash between our duty to God and our patriotism. Our love for our country must make us desire the best for our country, and that hest, for Catholics, cannot be other than the Christian best, so that our highest patriotism is always in our service of God in and through God's Church.
On the other hand, to distinguish between what we oeve to Caesar and what we owe to God is always a hard and perplexing thing. and we may say that it has become even harder since Our Lord's life on earth. It has become harder because Caesar's mind and claims have changed. It is true that it was to a pagan Caesar that Our Lord was referring, but the Roman Caesar was a preChristian, not a post-Christian Caesar. Though there was much that was unacceptable to the Christian conscience in the Roman Empire, that Empire was a triumph over barbarism and the precursor of the order which was destined to be Christianized. Even so, the early Christians immediately came to see themselves as a world apart, doing their civic duty indeed as functionaries. professional men, workers, soldiers, but feeling more and more that the values which they had at heart were completely opposed to the values for which the Empire stood. values which came to be openly expressect as soon as the Christian opposition made itself felt. Hence it very soon became a crime to be a Christian.
But today we find ourselves in a position that may even be considered worse than that of the early Christians. The early Christian's allegiance to the State was an allegiance to something naturally good that was on the way to beineperfected by the still unknown Christian revelation. What is good in the secular world of today is, on the contrary, the heritage (too often unrecognized as such) of a past Christian order. Our temporal allegiance is towards certain things that are still (when considered in the abstract) good, hut which are in fact subsumed under a general movement away from Christianity. And whereas the early Christian could hope to direct a morally neutral contemporary world towards a more perfect order, our best hope is to arrest a process of paganization and turn it back again towards an ideal which has been rejected or by-passed.
THE LOSS OF A FIXED MORAL LAW
THEN again. Even the ancient pagan world conceived of a fixed -I. and God-given moral order, a natural law, to which all men were bound. Hence allegiance to Caesar was part of the higher allegiance to God, whose law, whether in the physical or moral order, was easily recognised. But the whole trend of post-Reformation thinking has been in the direction of destroying this belief in a fixed and objective law. And in no department has this tendency been more marked than in the theory of the State. By coming to regard the State as the expression of the general will of its members who themselves were conceived as being emancipated from any inherited belief in God and a fixed moral code, we have in fact turned the modern State into a god. It can do exactly what it likes so long as its policy can somehow be shown to be the will of the people. And it is important to notice that this is just as true of the totalitarian as of the Parliamentary State. Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin all pretend to be the representatives of the general will of their country and they all seek their sanctions in that general will. They can play all kinds of tricks to ensure that the general will is behind them. but none of them dares either to stand up for himself or to appeal to a God-given law against the will of their people.
Therefore our modern allegiance to Caesar is an allegiance to an authority that in theory is completely man-made and in practice often purely arbitrary.
It may seem that we are really going too far in such an analysis. But we go no further than Pius IX went when he issued the famous Syllabus in 1864. That list of eighty condemned propositions leaves very little standing of the principles upon which the modem State is based, and many of the developments which that Pontiff feared have come about since his time.
Of course, there is another side to the picture. The Syllabus itself was not intended to leave modem Catholics high and dry, still less was it meant to force them back on to the extremely imperfect relics of the older monarchic States that had claimed the name of Christian, but with very little right to it. It was admitted that even within the condemnable modern State there remained hope of better things, and that Catholics ought therefore to work within the legal order of the State in order to safeguard and increase what there was of religious and morel good in it, as well as in order to participate in the common patriotic and civic tasks of furthering the social and economic good of the country and defending it against unjust aggression. And • this in fact has been the constant practice of Catholics, following the direction of national hierarchies.
CONSPIRACIES AGAINST THE LIBERAL STATE BUT the duty of a critical, rather than an uncritical, allegiance to the modern Caesar remains—and the chief point we wish to make is this: the critical Christian allegiance is worth far more, even to the modern Caesar himself, than any uncritical allegiance. This is amply borne out by the lesson of modern history.
Consider that the Christian State was followed by the liberal State. i.e., a State whose main function it was to keep that degree of order as would allow its citizens to think and act as they pleased without injuring their neighbours and to enable the freely reached majority view to prevail within these liberal limits. To the Christian mind, which knows by experience the impotence of mere reason and toleration as against force, blackmail and cunning, this liberal ideal is extremely defective and impractical, but on paper it is certainly the best alternative to the State that bases itself upon the positive Christian moral order. Now modern political history is the story of the various conspiracies against the ideal of the liberal State. There has been the capitalist conspiracy to substitute the power of money for the authority of the State. There has been the socialist conspiracy to substitute the power of a class for the authority of the State. There have been the .totalitarian conspiracies to substitute the power of illegal parties for the authority of the State.
These conspiracies have succeeded because of the uncritical nature of the allegiance given by modern men to the modem State. That allegiance has not been given to the State as the instrument of God's authority, but to Caesar's self-assumed authority, whether Caesar be the sovereign people, or the power of the strongest, or a cunning dictator. The result has been that modern man's uncritical allegiance has been given with equal readiness to whomsoever can grab the mantle of Caesar. But if men had been concerned to distinguish between the moral claims of the competing Caesars, the post-Christian liberal State (which still remains the British ideal in theory) might have survived., and the world might have been spared the horrors of contemporary history.
We can go further and suggest that if Christians all over the world had lived up to the Papal teaching and been as critical in their allegiance to modem Caesars as was demanded by the Syllabus, a powerful brake on the decline from the liberal ideal to the era of naked force would have been applied, with the result that the good in the liberal State might have been preserved through the very help of e Christian allegiance that was highly critical of liberalism because of the inherent dangers in it.
APPLICATION TO PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES THERE is surely a lesson in all this. In time of war there is a demand, largely enforced by heavy sanctions,. for a completely uncritical allegiance to the threatened State. That is understandable, and .the Christian, to whom the virtue of patriotism (by which God's special gifts to each ,country are preserved) is a matter of high importance, will sympathise with it. But even in war-time God's claims come first. This not only applies to the special temptations towards immoral behaviour which the needs of victory bring, but also to the direction and aims which the belligerent nation proposes to itself as the result of that victory. And in a war which, in large part, is itself a clash between rival ideals, all of which are, in varying degrees, post-Christian and erroneous. God's claims can never be forgotten by the good Christian. How clear this is to us when we consider the position of Christians in the belligerent camp. Why do not the Christians of Germany or Italy show more signs of divided allegiance, we demand? What nonsense to talk of anti-Bolshevik crusades or the establishment of Catholic States that follow an immoral international policy!
We agree. But do we suggest that our cause is so perfect in all its aspects, our aims so clear and constructive, our internal regime so satisfactory that, while we protest against the too uncritical allegiance of Christians on the enemy side, we can demand a wholly uncritical allegiance from Christians on our side?
On the contrary, the whole lesson of modern history is that a highly critical allegiance is the strongest guarantee of the preservation of what is really worth preserving in the modem State. And therefore the stronger we feel and the more conscious we are of the essential good in our cause, the more we should welcome a criticism based upon absolute fidelity to God's law and God's claims.
We admit that the " safety of the people" in war-time (though not " the supreme law") must set limits to the degree and kind of criticism that is permissible, but, even so, we insist that the conscientious critical allegiance of the Christian is worth far more to the country than the uncritical allegiance of those who do not care for anything but the defeat of the enemy. Just as that same uncritical allegiance caused the ruin of what was best in the modern liberal State, so it may well cause us to lose all that was worth fighting for in the war even through a paper victory, Hence it seems to us that, so far from any countries having the right to claim to be fighting a crusade, the degree of real strength and goodness in any national cause is to be measured by the freedom which it allows to Christians to indicate the moral weaknesses in that cause by word and action. And we shall probably all agree that* judged by this test, our cause comes out best. But it is up to us to take advantage of the very strength in our cause to make it yet stronger by a persistent insistence on God's claims being remembered and by a courageous protest against whatever is inconsistent with those claims.