Problems That Cast Light On The World Dilemma
AMERICA in the eyes of most Englishmen is the modern country par excellence, conscious that its methods and its prosperity are the envy of the world. In commerce, in technics and in wealth America is between twenty-five and fifty years ahead of those European countries which for historical and cultural reasons are most open to " Americanisation " — England, Holland and Scandinavia. And when we think of this huge continent, with its mechanisation, its vast cities and industries, and its restless energy, we are bound to ask ourselves: "Is this the direction in which we are moving? Is this the natural development of 'twinkind?"
A great number of modern writers and thinkers unhesitatingly answer "YES." For on a materialist philosophy of history America is much more worth studying than a primitive country like Russia. This is especially true for Englishmen, I fancy, because in spite of the many dissimularitics between America and England, both countries form part of a common AngloSaxon civilisation With a common democratic and liberal-capitalist philosophy, and it is possible that the conservative and aristocratic tradition of England, which differentiated England from the United States, is on the decline, and that Manchester and Glasgow are different from Pittsburgh and Chicago mainly in being poorer.
Dangerous Generalisations But here we need to make a certain number of distinctions. And before going any further I would like to say that my experienced knowledge of America is very limited; that is to say, that I have spent little more than four weeks on American soil: and I would like to add that generalisations concerning America are treacherous owing to the differences between different states and cities of the Union, which vary from Baltimore for instance— which with its traditions and its old street names remind one of England--to Chicago which is unlike anything that exists in Europe. There are also great differences between north and south about which I am less informed.
And then, I think no foreigner can write about America without expressing his gratefulness to individual Americans whose generosity is of the highest quality in the world—and to Americans in general for their personal agreeableness, which is one of the most charming things about the country.
Discovery of Social Problem I have suggested that technically America is today what England may become tomorrow. But on the other hand from the social point of view America is only beginning to face the problems which England has faced for at least thirty years. I think it is broadly true to say that until the economic crash of the twenties there was no serious social problem in America.
The crisis has made a difference to American thought which it is hard for a European to appreciate. Though individual Americans foresaw that America had not discovered a new law of perpetual motion, and saw that American capitalism had serious flaws, the great mass of Americans only had their dreams shaken by the economic crisis. American capitalism was, so to speak, satisfactory, as long as it seemed possible for every American citizen, provided he worked, to become a capitalist himself, to " get on," to " make good." Thus labour, in the race for wealth, did not organise, and the spirit of class war would have appeared a folly to most Americans, when the country had still resources enough to make everybody rich.
The End of Fantasia
The mass of Americans, as was natural, did not seriously think that the day would come when the limits of American progress in prosperity would be reached, and they thought that the law of progress in prosperity (which was accidentally true for a moment of America's history) was a universal law governing all mankind. But whereas American society once appeared open and flexible, there are now signs of its hardening into classes, and signs of its becoming " closed " like European society.
And though technical progress still continues, economic progress reached a standstill with the crisis. and indeed something like an economic decline set in, with which America is still battling. That is to say that the era of fantastic dreams is on the wane, and an era of struggle for bread and butter is beginning—bringing with it class war and other phenomena that Europe has known for an age, the struggle between the
have-nots and the haves for the limited (though comparatively great) amount of riches that America can provide.
Thus there is every reason to think that the already violent struggle between capital and labour in America will increase in intensity with coining years, and that labour, a negligible factor in American politics so far, will continue the work of organising itself with the speed with which it has been doing this recently. And from a long-distance point of view, America has ceased being a historical paradox, an exception to the hard laws which governed the rest of mankind, and has come with a bang again into history. These facts may discredit the theory of progress in America, as the great war discredited the theory of progress in England.
Religion and Culture
But the spirit of America cannot be discussed with sole reference to American economics.
If we examine the religious and cultural development of America we may come to the conclusion that from the spiritual point of view America is an extreme development of one particular branch of modern civilisation, and that, as has been suggested, American civilisation is to a great extent bound up with the Calvinist spirit of Protestantism.
The great mass of Americans, of course, have no specific and definite religious faith.
In this they are like the great mass of modern Europeans. But one never leaves a faith as easily as one thinks one does. And just as in Catholic countries those who have thrown over the Church's dogmatic teaching still preserve a certain attitude to life, a certain pessimism concerning man's natural perfectibility, which can still be called Catholic, so in America the imprint of Nonconformist Protestantism is strong enough to be a major influence over " the American mind."
The influence of Protestant civilisation over the thought of people who are no longer even Christians can often be observed in England: but it is much more marked in America, partly because America is more isolated and insular than England is, and partly because American Protestantism has always been more evangelical and less ecclesiastical and traditional than English protestantism, in a sense more characteristically protestant. Its extreme form is that of the peculiar evangelical sects. But the largest number of Americans have lapsed from strict and theelogical interpretations of religion, and religion has become primarily a moral code —or a sentiment of Humanitarianism.
The Humanitarian frame of mind is perhaps even more widespread in America than in England. A difficulty is that the humanitarian and liberal outlook so much governs the mind of America today that it is hard for Americans, whether Catholic or Protestant, to understand the mentality or problems of continental Europe.
Spanish War Americanised
For Catholics this difficulty may turn out to be very serious in time to come, because it may isolate them from the Catholic mind elsewhere—and lead them to accept, all unwittingly, humanitarian standards for Catholic standards, simply because they are unaware that other standards exist.
I feel for instance that it is exceedingly difficult for most Americans to visualise the sort of problem which Catholics in Europe face in, say, the Spanish conflict. It is hard enough for Englishmen, who are much nearer the scene of action and anyway are able to travel more. But Americans have a strong and natural tendency to translate the Spanish issue into Americall and therefore quite unreal terms. And in their confidence in their own form of democratic government they are certainly as liable to identify social progress with universal democracy as Italians are liable to identify social progress with their form of government.
Moreover American Catholics are liable to identify Catholic social thought with " democracy," and accept the prevalent American belief that all forms of dictatorship " arc as bad as one another "—a sentiment which most European Catholics would find very hard to understand. Perhaps this means little more than saying that Catholicism faces very great difficulties in modern times owing to the everincreasing separateness of national outlooks, and that we can Ace two extremes of such development iT we compare the views of Catholic democratic pacifists in the United States, and that of the Catholic militant Carlist peasantry in Spain. But in this distinction (as I pointed out in a previous article) we must remember for clarity's sake that the spirit of the Carlists is that of a Catholic tradition which has remained pretty well unchanged since the Middle Ages, and that it is the spirit which seems most naturally to emerge from a purely Catholic culture. But this is a controversial point, and raises some of the most complicated questions concerning the relationship of religion and culture and of how far religion can associate itself with the aims of a civilisation alien to it and bred on different ideas and aims.
All we can say is that unless American civilisation persecutes Catholicism and drives it into the catacombs, it is likely to have a strongish influence over it. Many American Catholics are seriously perturbed by this problem — and various solutions have been suggested, including a strong " Back to the Land " movement.
Anglo-Saxon Culture Myth The majority of Americans think that Anglo-Saxon civilisation is the best and finest thing that mankind has seen so far. I do not agree with this point of view and it seems to me that the extreme activism of American civilisation is as inhuman as the extreme lack of activism in oriental civilisations. America has produced the means for spreading culture beyond the dreams of man, The Americans have huge newspapers, a huge radio system, wonderful and cheap
means of rapid travel, wonderful means of distributing knowledge, the technical won der of Hollywood and the cinema industry. These may be good. But they arc only means. The printing presses serve us little if they scan tell us little or nothing in what they print.
American newspapers are still on the whole far less interesting, and of far lower intellectual standard than Spanish or Italian
newspapers. Railway bookstalls are littered mainly with the lowest kind of periodical literature. And human beings may still some day discover that the desire
for speed is a sort of disease. I would scarcely have dared to say all this—but that I am mainly repeating what American friends have told me. And America casts so much light on the problems of modern England, and indeed on the dilemma of the modern world.