In the manifesto* to which the major part of this issue of The Commonweal is devoted, and the main text of which begins on the facing page, a certain number of European Catholics sojourning in Canada and the United States set forth the reasons for their attitude toward the war and the present crisis of civilization. The importance of this document springs from the principles which it elucidates and the moral authority of the personages who have signified their adherence to it. These men and women belong to many different nations and their fields of activity are also highly diversified. The unanimity which links together these varied representatives of Catholic thought, with regard to the fundamental positions and the fundamental obligations which they hold necessary for our day, is all the more impressive.
The signers of this manifesto are Catholics from Europe who are presently engaged in the New World in their activities on a spiritual or intellectual level. The point of view they here take is independent of all partisan affiliation. They know that the war at present being fought confronts Christians with grave problems and duties, and that, aside from their personal opinions on more particular matters, it is possible to formulate in common certain fundamental principles.
I TOTALITARIANISM AND ITS THREAT TO CIVILIZATION
I. The universal crisis, whereof war is merely ditional values which it mendaciously invokes, the culminating paroxysm, represents the most dire threat ever to have menaced a civilization of free men. This threat has been given a name: Totalitarianism.
Totalitarianism, apart from certain externals, holds nothing in common with the regimes based on authority which Christian peoples have known in the past. It is something even lower than the most primitive of ancient commonwealths, before the working out of Greek philosophy or of Roman law. It is absolutely incompatible with the message of the Gospel which made manifest to mankind the inalienable dignity of each human soul. Its action on the political or social level assumes a philosophy of life which denies all transcendence to the human person, whether it be with regard to matter, with regard to nature, with regard to society; and it carries this philosophy along with it. Here is its definition, in crude terms, as stated in the words of Japanese educators: “The individual is not an entity, but depends upon the whole, born of the State and maintained by the State.” Italian fascism, built on nationalism and state-worship, has summed up its doctrine in a formula which yields nothing to that just quoted: “Nothing outside or above the State, nothing against the State, everything in the State, everything for the State.”
Marxist historical materialism in order to triumph over the world requires the destruction of religion, of the family, of everything which protects the human person and prevents its absorption into the social mass. Nazi biological materialism requires the same radical destruction, here closely linked, moreover, with an anti-religion founded on the forces of pride and instinct, and with the will to submit humanity to the domination of a people or a race displaying its superiority by its oppression of others. Essentially incompatible with that traditional “order” and those traditional values which it mendaciously invokes, nazism represents, in the order of concrete achievement, the most irremediable outcome of the process of corruption so long at work in modern history. It raises up against Christianity a root denial of the unity of mankind and the fraternity of all men, sons of the same Father and redeemed by the same Christ. By means of its technique of propaganda, coupled with the fearful strength of its party organization and of its army, it today shows itself more efficient than communism, better suited to bring about the triumph of the anti-Christian revolution unleashed upon the world.
The present war has its immediate causes and its distant causes–political, economic and social; but the struggle between the peoples is only the manifestation on the international level of a deeper break: the break in men’s agreement over the principles of civilization.
It is therefore in the light of the principles they involve that the war aims of each belligerent group appear in their final meaning.
The war and democracy
II. Is democracy the issue at stake in the struggle? If by the word democracy you mean the political and social life of a community of free men, the answer must be in the affirmative. Not so, however, if you mean thereby some particular system or some particular political forms, as, for instance, they were known to certain European countries under pre-war conditions. Inspired as they are by democratic principles, these forms are merely a realization thereof as linked to certain historical contingencies; they do not exhaust these principles’ fruitfulness. Without forgetting the power of improvement which they in fact displayed in Europe as well as in America—without denying for instance that the Third Republic coincided in France with an up-surging irrefutably evidenced not only by a splendid flowering in literature, the sciences and the arts, but by mighty achievements such as the Colonial Empire and finally the victory of 1914–18—without denying all this, we must grant that it is a characteristic of civilization that each people should have the freedom to create institutions appropriate to the new needs of each epoch.
But there are principles which under no circumstances must ever be questioned. Such are those which assert the necessity for society’s being founded upon relationships of justice, those which assert the rights of the human person, to which democratic formulas, notably the principle of universal suffrage, have in practice given political expression. Liberty, that is, the right of the body politic, and of each of its members, themselves to determine the paths they will follow to their natural end; equality of citizens before the law and before life’s tasks; civic friendship or fraternity whereof justice is the prerequisite, and which presupposes not only the consanguinity resulting from our common origin, but also, and far more deeply still (and we Christians know this) that brotherhood in which all men have been established in Christ and which requires of them that they strive toward a friendship higher and more universal than civic friendship, one founded in God and in the love of charity: surely the democracies were not wrong to have invoked these three principles; their wrong lay in too often having failed to recognize their true foundations, and in having been powerless to give them reality. These principles find their purest wellspring in the Gospel’s inspiration, and they are at one with the Christian ideal of civilization: the campaign of denial now being waged against them marks a tragic withdrawal from that ideal.
Capitalism is not the issue at stake in the war
III. Is the preservation of capitalism the issue at stake in the struggle? We can grant that capitalism has greatly contributed to the development of the material elements of civilization, that it has allowed the individual, to the degree wherein he possessed and managed at his pleasure the means of production, to assert his power over things and to maintain the independence of his undertakings. But the anarchical conception which capitalism has made prevalent of the function of freedom in economic matters, the dominance assumed by material riches under this regime, the subordination of man to production, the concentration, without social guarantee as to their morality, in the hands of a small number of men, of economic wealth and the power it confers—in short, the inhumanity of this economic system, the consequences of which have been the creation of a proletariat and the class struggle, incurs the condemnation of morality and the reproaches of any political or economic philosophy which has the common good at heart. If, then, “plutocratic” interests are at the moment defending themselves under cover of the war, this encounter—accidental in regard to what is really at stake and obviously made transitory by the ruins and transformations which the war itself produces—binds neither our judgment nor our action nor our will for social reform. Moreover the errors, failings, contradictions of Christian principles, springing from capitalism, are themselves certainly less radical and less “total” than those of totalitarian doctrines and regimes.