"SPECTACLE OF MADNESS AND FOLLY" How Confidence Was Destroyed
Conditions Under Which It Can Be Rebuilt
TOWARDS the beginning of a long and interesting speech on the general situation the Prime Minister said last Saturday: " When I look round the world I must say I am appalled at. they prospects. War, accompanied by horrible barbarities, inflicted either wittingly or unwittingly upon civilian populations is going on today in China and much nearer to us in t.ipaiti. .Alinost, every week we hear rumours of war on this question or on that in other parts of the world, and all the principal nations are spending their precious savings on devising awl manufacturing the most efficient instruments for the destruction of one another. 1 wonder whether, since the world began. has it ever seen such a spectacle of human madness and folly?"
(i) BRITISH CONTRIBUTION
It is an extraordinary thing, when one comes to think of it, that the whole world is so sunk in its own folly and madness that at the present time it is not making any effort permanently to remedy a state of affairs thus described in the sober language appropriate to the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Consider the British Government which today is undoubtedly one of the more constructive elements in the world. The Prime Minister has reduced the jumping of hurdles to a fine art, but does he or anyone else know in what direction he is
running? Each problem that arises is dealt with solely in terms of the concrete issues presented: He has asked himself what compromise can be made here, what adjustment can be made there, and, having struck a paper balance, he has devoted all his skill and energy to making it a reality—for the moment. France, Italy, both sides in Spain, Germany, Ireland, Turkey, the Balkan States, even the United States and Russia: their mutual relations are all tending to adjust themselves by passing through the British clearing-house. The whole thing constitutes a remarkable triumph of the business commonsense of the Premier, nor is there any doubt that it has succeeded in considerably easing the international tension. Can it last? To what is it going ultimately to lead? These are questions which Mr. Chamberlain has probably never put to himself.
THREE AGGRESSIVE ELEMENTS Considered from another angle the position is even odder. When the Prime Minister is talking of the world's folly and madness, he has in mind the armaments race and the repeated threats of a world-war. Yet it is that very war for which we are all preparing which is the cause of the putting-off of all the real problems with which the world is confronted. The sequence of events is as follows: one of the world's problems conies to a head; world-war is threatened; fear of the war causes all parties reluctantly to accept some sort of compromise generally suggested by Great Britain; the problem is then shelved for a few months.
It is only fair to admit that this hand-to-mouth method tends to achieve one thing: it really does weaken the force of the more aggressive elements in Europe. These aggressive elements can be reduced to three: Revolutionary Socialism, Right Totalitarianism and Doctrinaire Liberalism. The first aims at world revolution in the alleged name of workers but in reality in the name of a self-constituted international gang of Bolshevists working on the extremist leaders of every country. The second aims at the imperialist expansion of Germany in the East and Italy in the Mediterranean. The third, whose existence is often overlooked, aims at imposing, mainly through the League of Nations, a purely secularist and a priori system expressing the minds of the intellectuals of France, Britain, the United States and the lesser democracies. In practice the first and third have allied themselves together to resist the aggression of the second. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that Mr. Chamberlain's realism has succeeded in a year in weakening all three aggressors. International Communism has made no headway, but is everywhere on the defence; the League and its friends are reduced to loud-voiced but impotent opposition; while Germany and Italy have been definitely checked in their expansionist plans.
CONFIDENCE Nevertheless, as the Prime Minister confesses, the spectacle of human madness and folly continues and does not diminish. It must do so until international confidence begins to replace international fear. Confidence must be in something. No one could possibly have confidence in the Chamberlain system of temporary adjustments induced by fear of immediate war. Hence nothing that has so far been done can possibly slow down the armaments race nor help towards solving the conflict caused by the clash of these aggressive elements. It is as certain as anything can be that if the fear of immediate war were removed by any measure of disarmament the conflict of ideas would be intensified, and if the conflict of ideas is again intensified the armaments race would once again hasten its tempo. It is a vicious circle from which there would appear to be no escape. That is why the wisest prophets who agree that immediate war is now unlikely shake their heads when they are asked to consider what may happen in another year or two. Nothing has been done and nothing is being done to break down the psychological tension built up through twenty years of mistakes and ignorance, and to substitute for it a new order based upon an understanding of human nature.
MEN LEFT TO THEMSELVES Yet, contrasting with this black outlook, we have the picture of millions of individual men and women and millions of ordinary businesses and professions, all of whom ask for nothing better than to be at peace with their neighbours and fellow-businesses all over the world and to profit from their mutual relationships. Left to themselves they have confidence in one another. Can this natural confidence of man in man and business in business be transferred to the plane of international relationships? We believe it can if it is not misunderstood. It is easy to fall into the humanitarian error of saying that all men are brothers, while all rulers are enemies. The men of Germany, of France, of Italy, of England, of the two sides of Spain are nationals and believers in certain contrasting ways of living as well as brothers. A German in personal contact with a Frenchman is likely to be friendly, but he does not thereby cease to be a good German and a good Nazi. Nor should we be surprised to hear of Spaniards on both sides fraternising one day and killing each other the next. It has happened in every war. The reason why this is possible is that there is something very real common to all men and something equally real different between all men. This contrast is of course especially evident in the case of Christians and it is, as such, a grave cause of scandal to many. But not only is it perfectly easily explained and natural: it is the one hope for the permanent peace of the world.
THE LIBERAL SIN Oddly enough, the worst offenders against this truth are not the Totalitarian States, nor even the Revolutionary Socialists (both of these are perfectly aware of the ultimate differences between human beings and for this reason they are prepared to resort to force to change men for their purposes), but the Liberals and supporters of the League. They are so certain that all intelligent men should be like them that they are unable to grasp the fact that Germans are Germans, Italians Italian and Spaniards Spanish. Nine Englishmen out of ten —and all Englishmen are brought up on this Liberal tradition —refuse to admit that the Germans can be happy or contented under Hitler or that Franco can command the free allegiance of any reasonable number of Spaniards. It has been against the powerful, though often silent, pressure of this refusal on the part of the Western secularised intellectual to believe in the possibility of real differences as between men that the Central European aggression has developed and attained exaggerated proportions. That is why the democratic Press, so powerful a factor in forming and disseminating opinion, has long been playing a dangerous role in Europe and America. It is one of the chief agents in this refusal to recognise profound differences between human beings and, when forced to admit them, to 'despair at once of the possibility of there being an equally profound unity. Christians are of course the chief example of this contrast, but it is present as between all men when they are properly understood.
The little that Mr. Chamberlain has been able to do has itself been based on the unconscious realisation that in every dispute there must be something common to the two sides and some differences which can never be got over, but must be recognised as such. But a new basis of confidence can only be established by the rapid realisation on the part of those who speak to the world (politicians, writers, public men and, above all, the Press), that countries, classes and individuals have a right to their own way of life and yet that, even so, there is much between them all that is common. As this understanding develops, it will be found that the armaments race and the critical problems will ease of their own accord. Though a long and difficult task, it is one which imposes a constructive duty of all of us, whether eminent or not, and especially on Catholics who can understand the truth better than any others. The method of trying to water down differences has failed. It is time we turned to another. Let us admit and respect differences, but work on that which remains common to us all, that upon which we depend when in conversation with others in private life. There is no need to emphasise the fact that Christianity is the great constructive common faith among men of every kind and that therefore every advance of Christianity is a notable advance towards world-peace.