WE need not expect the B.B.C. to announce one day on the news that Western civilisation has come to
an end. Even so, it might well
have ended, and neither the B.B.C., the Press, nor the great majority of the people be any the wiser.
The rise and fall of civilisations is a continuous process, and it is konly after the worst has happened that man recognises the stages of To-day we are living at a moment when the thoughtful observer must begin seriously to wonder where exactly we are; and it is important to realise just what are the real marks of decay.
In the first place let us not make the mistake of supposing that material destruction, however great, is in itself a sign of decline. Material destruction in some form or other is the lot of all mankind, just as death is. Even war itself, on however great a scale, cannot in itself be decisive in measuring the rise or fall of a civilisation. War in itself only multiplies into a specific area and a short time the material destruction, suffering and death to which irk some degree or other every man is condemned.
What matters is not the destruction, suffering and death in themselves, but in their effect on the human spirit And that is why there is no security whatever in victory. Victory can hasten a process of decline as certainly as can defeat, and it can indicate far more accurately the stage we have reached.
Let us consider some of the things we are doing to-day in this light—and We do not mean the obvious international immorality which threatens to make the cornplete.st nonsense of the idealism of the Atlantic Charter. Here, again, it is not open and naked violence which really tests civilisation. That has always characterised mankind in high as well as low civilisations. We need to look, not at the things of which we are in our hearts ashamed. but at the things in which we glory and take
pride. , '
For example, over the centuries of the development of Western civilisation man has developed a code of conduct in regard to his fellow man—a code which has a very direct bearing on war for the very simple reason that civilised man recognises the terrible danger of war to the human soul.
The Civilised Code
According to that code man imposes on himself certain token " restraints in the actual ,waging of war. During war he recognises the status of neutrality, with the help it can afford to all belligerents. Respect for the enemy is taught. And after the war (usually ended by pegotiation) the defeated
side, subject to the terms of the treaty (which may be very harsh), is recognised as belonging again to the comity of nations and men.
This code goes much deeper than the " shake and he friends again " of General Guderian, and the sportsman's honour, which, indeed, is only a distant imitation of it. This code is based on a deep recognition by civilised man that the world is a fallen world in which no man can claim to be without guilt—a world which can only work if all pull together, once certain specified and universally recognised "crimes are dealt with.
The well-nigh universal rejection to-day of that code may well be considered by later historians to be the decisive mark of the ending of Western civilisation.
It matters not whether the rejection is due to plain barbaric ferocity (as with the new totalitarianisms) or to the righteousness of the democracies which have elevated their own ideal of conduct into an absolute. God-revealed standard and sought to condemn once and for all everyone who has challenged that idealism. If anything, the second is the more dangerous case, since there is less hope of moral recovery from pride than ferocity.
When to-day (whether within countries as in Russia, Russiancontrolled countries, and France; or as between different countries) we totally reject that deep human realisation of common guilt and pronounce sections of the human family to be " criminal " and deprived of all human rights, save such as we may freely and indulgently concede in our mercy. we are destroying the basic postulate on which civilisation among fallen men can alone rest.
How obvious this is can be realised from the fact that any victory, however complete, must be a temporary occurrence in the human story. To-morrow, we or our children may not be victorious. Should we wish to be judged then by the standards we are setting and in terms of the propaganda we are putting over? Could mankind survive above an animal level if our present behaviour were universalised?
That is the test.