Page 6, 1st May 1936

1st May 1936
Page 6
Page 6, 1st May 1936 — NOTES AND COMMENTS

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Organisations: Nations Union
People: Chesterton
Locations: Laval


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The Bewildered Public

One of the most curious characteristics of the present international situation is the bewilderment of the public in nearly every country. Generally the public is pretty well of one mind as regards foreign politics at any given time and in any given situation—and for obvious reasons. Foreign politics has nearly always been a direct expression of this or that country's nationalist ambitions. Since the war, however, new forces have cut across these rival nationalisms, the. idea ,of collective security through the League and pacifism, ideas powerfully impelled by the consciousness of the terror of modern warfare,.

Collective security has not yet overcome the nationalism of governments, but Whereever it has had the chance it has made great strides among the people. In this country in particular where collective security coincides obviously with national welfare—since we have nothing more to gain and much to lose—the desire for it is extraordinarily strong. Let us not overlook the remarkable results of the League of Nations Union's ballot a few months ago, and let us not forget how much that union had to do with the overthrow of the Hoare-Laval plan.

Since the ballot, however, the public has come to realise what we so often pointed out at the time, namely, that collective security is almost the opposite of pacifism. And this is an unpleasant thought. So we get three cross-currents running through the ordinary man's mind : nationalism, pacifism, and collective security.


Nationalism is a simple enough creed. In its extreme form it is expressed by the dictum, " My country, right or wrong," and in that form it is undoubtedly an immoral doctrine. To be complete it need not be an aggressive nationalism. Whether it be aggressive or not depends on the condition of each country. In Italy and Germany and Japan it is aggressive, because these countries have (or believe themselves to have) vital national needs unsatisfied and because they believe themselves to be strong enough to satisfy them at someone ely's expense. In Britain, France, and America it is probably very nearly as strong,.but it is a defensive nationalism. These countries are still victor countries, and they possess all they need both in the way of land and of money. But when you scratch an Englishman or an American you find a nationalist as vigorous and complete as any Italian or German.

A distinction must be drawn between nationalism and patriotism, between " My country, right or wrong," and " Given justice, my country easily first." But as most individuals are unable to judge of " right " and " wrong " in reference to national policy, and indeed are not called upon to do so, the distinction sometimes amounts to little in practice. It needs to be properly drawn by governments, for, unless it is, nationalism in the bad sense will remain a paramount disturbing influence.


Pacifism, properly speaking, is the conscientious holding of the doctrine that war is intrinsically wrong, and that therefore under no circumstances may it be prepared for or waged. We doubt whether in this form it is very strong in this or any other country. To hold it sincerely requires a very delicate and a very brave moral character, based on a consistency of outlook seldom found. It is noticeable,

for example, how • many people follow Christ literally in his so-called pacifism, but would not dream of following him literally in other aspects of his life.

The pacifism that is making such headway in this country is really a utilitarian (and often a selfish) conception. War is too terrible to contemplate. Wars solve nothing—and in the last analysis a war will probably kill me and my family : therefore, under no circumstances will I fight. It is at best a hopelessly muddled point of view. It cannot prevent war so long as there exist millions of peoples, and any strong nations who are sufficiently dissatisfied with what they have to take the risk of bettering it at someone else's expense; and if war comes, either through warmongering or—much more likely—by accident, it ceases to have any meaning. To refuse to fight when everybody else is actually fighting is, from the utilitarian point of view, to throw oneself from the frying-pan into the fire.

For these reasons, when the acid test comes, it is unlikely that this kind of pacifism will count for much, but for the moment it helps to confuse the issue.

Collective Security

Many people have confounded collective security with pacifism of the above kind. It seemed to be the most practical way of avoiding war. But when you think out the meaning of collective security you find that it may have two meanings : (1) an international system whereby a number of nations without immediate desire for further gains agree to ally themselves together for the purpose of resisting anyone who challenges the status quo; (2) an international system whereby a number of nations agree to give up purely nationalist pretensions, substituting for them a practical desire to redistribute territory and wealth in accordance with equity and justice and, having'done this, to preserve such a just or equitable system by a readiness to resist by force any nationally aggressive state.

In the first case no one could possibly suppose that collective security would prevent war, for the simple reason that an alliance of a few big nations who have will sooner or later force big nations who have not to make the challenge or perish.

In the second case, one has yet to find even the theorist, let alone the practical statesman, who can suggest any equitable re-partitioning of a world whose present frontiers are the result of hundreds of years of fighting and politics that have had no relation with moral issues: and even should this difficulty be overcome it is clear that the maintenance of so perfect a system would require as much physical force as is required in a country like Germany, for example, to maintain an artificial national and racial "purity."


Neither nationalism, nor pacifism, nor unthought-out collective security point the way to peace, while the confusion of the three together leaves the ordinary man in a state of bewilderment.

Are there any avenues of escape? The most obvious is isolationism which is offered as an alternative to collective security. It is a blend of nationalism and pacifist mentality peculiarly suited to a country that has nothing to gain and every

thing to lose. But unfortunately the moment it is analysed it becomes pure nonsense. And here we may relieve our readers by offering instead of our own pedestrian reflections some sentences from Mr. Chesterton from last week's G. K.'s Weekly:

"There never was any period when we were not incessantly interfering in conti nental affairs, with continental allies and continental ambitions. If we had not done so, we could never conceivably have had any colonial ambitions. Practically all our colonial possessions were the prizes of our continental wars. We gained Canada because we were allied with Prussia against France; we gained South Africa because the Dutch were allied with the French against us. But for our foreign intervention we should never have had our empire at all; that empire which the isolatior.ists talk about as if it were a snug little country seat in Devonshire, to which we could retire and forget the world."


Must we then conclude that the outlook is entirely hopeless? And what of Christianity and the Christian solution of which we tend to speak so glibly?

Protestantism has certainly challenged the .details of the present international

order, or rather disorder. We say the details, for apart from a certain amount of pacifism—not all of it of the purely moral order—and apart from a support of vague collective security, its main challenge has been against rearmament and inhuman methods of warfare, both of which are effects of a system which can only be dealt with at its source.

Catholics in this country hardly count, while in France, Italy, and Germany they appear to be largely identified with the aggressive or defensive nationalisms of those states. This fact, if it be a fact, has no direct relation with the teaching of the Church, for the latter, unlike Protestantism', in no way depends upon the state of mind of its members at any given time. Yet the complaint is heard that the world and, a fortiori, Catholics receive no clear lead from the Church.

If there is anything in the considerations discussed above it is not surprising that the Church does not make the attempt to apply moral principles to the present impasse. The world has for centuries deliberately rejected the authority of the Church, and it cannot now expect the Church to pronounce some magic word which will solve the world's insoluble difficulties.

The Church

All the Church can do is to reiterate the truth, which comes to this. Both men and states can attain to some kind of working order on this earth so long as they seek and try to model themselves on the perfect order which is revealed by God in various ways, but which will not be attained during the period of probation on this side of the grave. This sounds very vague, yet if one applies it to the present problem it does throw considerable light on it.

It immediately rejects the selfish disorder of pure nationalism; it immediately rejects the superhuman perfection of pure pacifism, while likewise rejecting the self-centred elements in utilitarian pacifism; it is suspicious of the hypocrisy and utilitarianism of the kind of collective security, which is nothing more than a veiled alliance on the part of those who have to keep what they have for ever, just as it suspects the perfectionism implied in a system of collective security that would start with a perfectly just and equitable redistribution of territory and wealth, for there can be no such thing in this world.

It is for the world to find the possible alternatives to these fallacious ideals, and it is certain that if a start were made by seeing these fallacies we should be very much -farther along the road to a solution than we are.

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