In the Face of the World’s Crisis

A manifesto by European Catholics sojourning in America.

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.

This war is not an economic or political war, it is a war of civilization

The issue at stake in the war is civilization itself and the Christian values therein involved

IV. Finally, the revolution in arms which is seeking to conquer the world doubtless does not set itself the direct and avowed object of destroying supernatural faith; nevertheless the temporal aims which it pursues imply the establishment of a radically anti-Christian order on this earth.

It is therefore, at the outset and directly, the relationship of our faith to civilization which is at issue and which involves us in the struggle. For our faith does indeed enlighten our conception of the temporal social order: it creates for us a duty to act as Christians throughout social life, to provide social life with institutions which are characteristic of Christian societies and which condition the individual’s spiritual life. Thus it is not enough that the Church preserve the integrity of its dogma and, under circumstances which totalitarianism—by whatever name it be named—makes ever more threatened and precarious, preserve the performance of its ritual, the administration of its sacraments. It is necessary that the Church, and we believers, should retain the possibility of making the Gospel serve as a leaven in society. The liberties of the Christian and of the Church in the world, the possibility of fulfilling their most urgent social duties, the principles, also, of natural law which Revelation assumes and confirms—here are the things hanging in the balance, until that day when the essential mission of the Church herself with regard to the salvation of souls shall also in its turn be openly and ferociously attacked.

Whenever the totalitarians, accused of hostile designs against religion, insist that they are being slandered and that they do not intend to strike any blow either against Christian beliefs or Christian worship as such, they deceive themselves—assuming that they can be sincere—and they deceive us. The implacable perseverance and the frightful cruelty of a systematic, enraged persecution—notably in Poland—cast a brilliant light upon this pretense. Needless to say they will then indict the ministry of the Church for having abused its sacred power by undue intervention in the field of politics; long ago the Pharisees won Christ’s condemnation for having made a similar indictment.

The truth is this: that totalitarianism’s new order is rooted in a conception of existence and in a spiritual attitude utterly incompatible with Christian faith and life.

It attacks Christianity at the very heart by denying and blaspheming Mercy and Charity and by sacrificing everything to the pride of power. In every corner of the earth where our religion has any vitality, it cannot fail to be a major danger for such regimes, and they cannot fail to be determined to fight it. Persecution could be avoided only at the price of making the faith impotent and sterile among Christians, of the corruption of the Catholic world from within, of that which the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon has called a de-christianization of the Church herself. Even in those cases where they are clothed in less radical forms and where they are introduced under some protective veil, totalitarian regimes inevitably move toward the realization of this pattern, more deadly to religion than open persecution. There is no more pernicious illusion than to imagine that one can christianize totalitarianism. The totalitarianisms which today seek to invade the whole world can only triumph over the ruins of Christianity.

In short this war is not an economic or political war, it is a war of civilization, and by virtue thereof, because it involves the spiritual and religious principles of the civilized order, it is also a religious war. It must even be said that no more fearful spiritual crisis has appeared since the beginning of the Christian era. And surely this crisis does not spring from partial denials alone, of the sort of which modern history supplies so many specimens. Marxian totalitarianism is founded on an absolute denial of God; it is an attempt to erect a total social order of Humanity on foundations of materialism and atheism. Fascist totalitarianism rests upon the deification of the national state. Nazi totalitarianism rests upon the deification of race and “blood” and on a radically pagan conception of the world and of life—something which carries with it as its inevitable consequence not only the denial of Christ and of the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and of healthy philosophical reason, but at the same time the denial of the human person, the denial of justice and of law, the worship of violence and of hate, erected into a positive and religious principle. Hence the conflict is radical and universal. Hence nazism is incapable, even if it wanted to, of setting itself a limit. Hence the hope of seeing a civilized society survive under its governance anywhere in the world is sheer delusion.

The actual issue at stake in the present conflict is the very possibility of living as men, the very existence or destruction of the elementary bases of the natural law and civilized life, the maintenance or the destruction of the essential principles of Christianity in the life of peoples, and the very possibility of working toward a Christian civilization.

Our position in the Russo-German conflict

V. With regard to the conflict which today sets German National Socialism and Russian Communism against each other, Christians are confronted with a problem of conscience. This practical problem, like all problems relating to a particular case, is linked to an appraisal of the actual circumstances involved, and it is resolved in our minds by the following considerations:

1. In the death struggle in which the free peoples of the world are engaged, it is their great good fortune, with which it would be senseless to refuse to cooperate, that Russia, rather than remaining neutral or joining with Germany, should have brought into play its military power, the measureless effort and the patriotic bravery of its people against the common enemy, nazism. Russia was attacked by the nazis. The Russian people are defending their homes. By helping them in their struggle, the United Nations do nothing which does not conform to the rules of the law of nations.

2. Given the present situation of opposing forces, a victory of Hitler’s Germany would immediately hold for the entire world consequences of a breadth and gravity to which even a sweeping Russian victory would not lead. Such a Russian victory would leave the democratic powers their freedom of action, would leave free to act the Christian energies which still work therein and have therein every opportunity to widen their range. The Western world would retain the possibility of opposing the development within its own body of the communist ferment by any fitting action—above all by depriving communism of its pretexts. It is important only, while helping the Russian people, that one be thoroughly resolved to guard against communism—which, of course, presents difficult problems. Where today are the easy problems? Yet thus to guard oneself is not at all impossible.

3. Finally the all important historical fact is that in moving over to the democratic camp, the Russian people is in the process of re-entering the Western community, and that in itself enlarges the possibilities of civilization’s victory. The leaven of Christian forces ever exists in this people, despite the havoc wrought by atheist propaganda in Russia and despite persecution. An action of generosity and justice toward the Russian people on the part of Christians will help them in the work of transformation which may take place within them, and which, without leading that people back into the social patterns of the past, can deliver them from the spiritual and political evils from which they now suffer 

The threat springs from totalitarianism; the cure should consider human life in its total ordering.

II  DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES FOR THE INSTITUTIONS OF THE FUTURE

VI. Of course it is impossible at the present juncture to have a precise idea of the institutions of the future. Too many unforeseeable circumstances will give them shape. And civilization, like Christianity, can accommodate itself to many different regimes. But it is possible and necessary to set up a number of main directive principles, fully conformable to the teaching lavished by the Church ever since the days of Leo XIII.

The threat springs from totalitarianism; the cure should consider human life in its total ordering. The latter stands on a two-fold base: (1) the rights and liberties of the human person, (2) the necessity for the organization of these liberties at all levels of social life with an eye to the common good.

In the light of these principles it is easily seen that the errors of anarchical individualism and liberalism, as well as those of exaggerated nationalism, bear their great share of responsibility for the present crisis of our civilization and that they call for a general recasting—on condition that this recasting insure in greater reality and more completely the essential liberties and the equality of all before the law, and restore the intrinsic primacy of morality in political, economic and social life and in international life.

The function and limits of political authority

VII. It is possible—and some of us believe it to be true—that in Europe’s present disorganization a particularly vigorous political authority may be necessary: but the form lent to the exercise of power by circumstances does not change its end, nor the foundation of the authority of which it makes use. To exercise power is properly to manage the interests of the multitude—vicem gerens multitudinis—and the multitude cannot abdicate either the principle of its responsibility nor its control of its own destiny without forswearing human dignity. Moreover we are all convinced that the part to be played by the worker and peasant classes will be of capital importance in political and social reconstruction, assuming only that these classes become conscious of their responsibilities and clearly embrace an ideal of liberty.

Autonomy of economic groups and the political liberties of the person

VIII. It will be necessary to give to states a structure more in harmony with new social realities as well as with the rights and liberties of the person. It is not to be denied that certain organic elements in the social order—the family, the professions, sectional groups, cultural groups, communities of a linguistic and national character—have not, under individualistic and liberal organization, enjoyed the status they deserved. Economic groups and the forces of labor especially have not found in modern institutions a proper representation nor means of expression proportionate to their importance and suited to their functions in the community. But it is not in the dictatorship of some corporatism, or of some state paternalism, that the answer will be found. The freedom of groups and associations of a rank inferior to the State is, together with the recognition of the social dignity of the working person, an essential condition for all true reconstruction. The State, taking into account the actual structure of society, should no longer merely coordinate individual activities, but the activities of the groups which are component parts of society, and its power must be sufficient to make the strongest groups subject to the law. In these matters the power of the State nonetheless remains a power of coordination, which carries with it neither the absorption of groups by the State nor its trampling upon their natural authority and their natural autonomy. Such groups should be thought of as organs of the civil community, not as organs of the State.

The distinction between the political and economic orders, between the political structure of the State and the economic organization of society must be firmly maintained. The political structure of the State must above all be founded on the recognition of the rights of the human person to political life. The political life and organization of the State are on a level above those of economic groups. The political organization of the State must rest essentially upon the political rights and liberties of the citizens. The political life of the State must express the citizens’ thought and will, and it is up to the latter freely to designate those who wield authority, and to be represented in deliberative assemblies.

Freedom of conscience

IX. In social life it is important forcefully to insist upon that which is commonly known as freedom of conscience. Adherence to religion is an act of the conscience, which should be submissive to the dictates of reason and to divine guidance. It is not the function of the State either to dominate or to control consciences. The creeds which, in the present state of religious disunity, share souls’ allegiance should be free to establish their rites, to preach their teachings, to shape souls, to exercise their apostolate, without the civil authority’s mixing into their proper province. We are aware, moreover, that by its teaching on the act of faith, God’s free gift, freely accepted, and which no constraint can produce in souls, it is Christianity itself which lays the basis for civil tolerance in religious matters.

Contrary to Christianity is every doctrine which, by error or by hatred, makes nought men’s exercise of their natural rights by reason of their ethnic or religious affiliations.

Anti-Semitism is not Christian

X. We reprobate every measure of discrimination against whatever religious or racial group, and we assert with Plus XI that it “is not possible for Christians to take any part in anti-Semitism.” By attacking that people from whom Christ came forth, anti-Semitism shows itself as anti-Christian in its very root. Contrary to Christianity is every doctrine which, by error or by hatred, makes nought men’s exercise of their natural rights by reason of their ethnic or religious affiliations. If individuals or groups of any particular race or religion threaten the common good, repression must punish such actions in accordance with personal responsibilities; and preventive measures can never deprive any individual of the enjoyment of natural rights and of the conditions of a free, worthy and human life which the State, by its very reason for being, must insure everyone. Every law of “exceptions” or of “discrimination” is unjust. And furthermore we know that Christians must not only take care of themselves and their interests, but of the good of all their brothers and of the fate of justice and of law, and that the hideous racial, religious and political persecutions which today engulf the world in blood strike at the heart of each one of us in so far as he belongs to Christ.

The freedom and interdependence of peoples

XI. Yet the structure of the social order would be incomplete, weak and contrary to law if it did not take into account both the freedom of peoples and their growing interdependence. The two ideas of independence or autonomy and of interdependence or solidarity are not incompatible if neither the one nor the other be carried to its extreme.

“So, Venerable Brethren, it is indispensable for the existence of harmonious and lasting contacts and of fruitful relations, that the peoples recognize and observe these principles of international natural law which regulate their normal development and activity. Such principles demand respect for corresponding rights to independence, to life and to the possibility of continuous development in the paths of civilization; they demand, further, fidelity to compacts agreed upon and sanctioned in conformity with the principles of the law of nations” (Summi pontificatus).

“Assuring to all nations, great and small, weak and powerful, the right to life and independence” is thus a “fundamental postulate of a just and honorable peace. The will to live of one nation must never involve injustice, even less be equivalent to a death sentence for another. When this equal status has been wounded or destroyed or put in danger, juridical order requires reparation the measure and extension of which are not determined by the sword nor by arbitrary egoism but by the forms of reciprocal justice and equity.”

On the other hand, “The idea which credits the State with unlimited authority is not simply an error harmful to the internal life of nations, to their prosperity, and to the larger and well-ordered increase in their well-being, but likewise it injures the relations between peoples, for it breaks the unity of supra-national society, robs the law of nations of its foundation and vigor, leads to violation of others’ rights and impedes agreement and peaceful intercourse.

“A disposition, in fact, of the divinely-sanctioned natural order divides the human race into social groups, nations or states, which are mutually independent in organization and in the direction of their internal life. But for all that, the human race is bound together by reciprocal ties, moral and juridical, into a great commonwealth directed to the good of all nations and ruled by special laws which protect its unity and promote its prosperity” (Summi pontificatus).

“Between peoples assured of their autonomy and independence,” then, should be tied fast the moral and juridical bonds required by their solidarity, which becomes all the stronger as civilization develops (Address of Pope Pius XII in answer to Christmas greetings, 1939).

This interdependence is made manifest on the cultural level. Every culture legitimately bears the marks of the historical, local, psychological contingencies which helped give it birth, but there remains in each a particular incarnation of values common to all, since they are essentially human and constitute the common heritage of humanity.

It is made manifest on the economic level. If there is a legitimate appropriation of the soil and its resources to the profit of the people which dwells thereon, there is also a general destination for earthly goods, which can be exploited only through the collaboration of all and should be exploited only for the good of all.

It is made manifest on the level of social progress. Technical progress, the mainspring of production, the multiplication of the material elements of civilization permit a bettering of the general conditions of life, in accordance with a rule of justice. But at the same time they cause men to run the risk of being crushed and dehumanized by the sheer weight of economic institutions. Only a collaboration between peoples can keep technical progress in hand and effectively protect men against the fluctuations of an economy which is, henceforth, at once national and international.

It is made manifest on the international level. Be it a matter of their own interests—security, assistance against aggression, justice in their relationships, the functioning of the major international administrative services—or be it a matter of the protection of the interests of their subjects, states have today ceased to be able to insist upon an absolute independence which events and the natural law replace with the principle of collaboration and collective organization.

In every domain—cultural, economic, social, political—some organization should give expression to the bonds of solidarity. For these, after having become manifest in growing yet sporadic fashion, today are transforming the community of peoples into a true society: which calls for a positive organization and requires states to give up the principle of absolute sovereignty. Institutions should correspond to needs, supply them with the means to express themselves and to satisfy themselves; juridical rules promulgated and applied by international agencies should determine and sanction moral precepts.

At the foundation of this truly new order there is the human person, and moreover it is the good of that person, or the idea of the good of mankind, which is the goal of that organization.

Toward an organization of freedoms

XII. Hence on the one hand organization should spring up from the exercise of that freedom which is at the root of national, economic, cultural, political institutions, and on the other hand these freedoms must tend to organize themselves in a truly new order as compared to the chaos left behind by modern political and economic individualism, or as compared to that order of hegemony built upon the destruction of human freedoms to which communism, fascism and nazism lead. At the foundation of this truly new order there is the human person, and moreover it is the good of that person, or the idea of the good of mankind, which is the goal of that organization.

* * *

We firmly hold that no true peace or prosperity are possible unless these principles be observed.

That we must go back to the very bedrock of our thought, that we must once more in all realms quarry out the principles on which rests the Christian conception of the world, in its turn the basis for our action—that is the lesson taught us by the progress of totalitarianism. It is forgetfulness of these basic truths which favors this progress, and which has too often made impotent the labors of even the most well-intentioned. Too many minds pinning themselves down to the incidental in economics or politics lose sight of that which is essentially, and above all else, important. Reason has ended by denying itself in its denial of any transcendent absolute or in worshiping lying absolutes; force alone has remained. Even the very vagaries of marxism, fascism, and nazism by contrast make more obvious and manifest the value of the primary principles of the intelligence and of life; it is by integrally reaffirming these principles, adhering to them with all our being, that we shall set up against the dynamism of the false prophets the irrepressible impulse which has its source in the Gospel and in the Truth which sets men free.

* * *

This manifesto was already formulated when the United States, treacherously attacked in its turn, entered the war against the axis powers. The moral and spiritual meaning of this war was clearly indicated by President Roosevelt when, addressing the American hierarchy, he declared that “in victory we shall seek not vengeance but the establishment of an international order in which the spirit of Christ shall rule the hearts of men and of nations.” We all of us Europeans from many lands sojourning in the new world wish to assert our full solidarity with the great American democracy and our will to cooperate with all our strength in the effort of the United States, Canada and the other countries of the western hemisphere for that common victory which will also be the victory of our peoples and the liberation of Europe.

 

Among the signatories of the manifesto we make public the names of the following:

José Antonio de Aguirre (Basque)
Charles Boyer (France)
Frans J. Van Cauwelaert (Belgium)
The Reverend Marie-Alain Couturier, O. P. (France)
André David (France)
The Reverend Joseph-Thomas Delos, O.P. (France)
The Reverend Joseph-Vincent Ducattillon, O.P. (France)
Lady Gainsborough (Great Britain)
Sir Philip Gibbs (Great Britain)
Waldemar Gurian (Germany)
Oscar Halecki (Poland)
Monsignor Edward Hawks (Great Britain)
The Reverend Nicholas Higgins, O.F.M.Cap. (Great Britain)
Dietrich von Hildebrand (Austria)
E. Hula (Austria)
Helen Iswolsky (Russia)
Henri de Kérillis (France)
Otto Michael Knab (Germany)
The Reverend H. J. A. Koevoets, S.C.J. (Holland)
Aurel Kolnai (Austria)
Jacques Maritain (France)
Raïssa Marltain (France)
René de Messières (France)
The Reverend Thomas Michels, O.S.B. (Austria)
The Reverend Peter Mommersteeg (Holland)
Joep Nicolas (Holland)
Alfred Noyes (Great Britain)
The Reverend Johannes Oesterreicher (Austria)
L. A. H. Peters (Holland)
Stefan de Ropp (Poland)
Eva J. Ross (Great Britain)
Baudouin Schwarz (Germany)
Frank Sheed (Great Britain)
Yves Simon (France)
The Reverend Charles O. Von Soden (Germany)
Monsignor P. J. de Strycker (Belgium)
Don Luigi Sturzo (Italy)
Hugh S. Taylor (Great Britain)
Georges Theunis (Belgium)
Sigrid Undset (Norway)
Auguste Viatte (France)
Paul Van Zeeland (Belgium)
Guido Zernatto (Austria)

*Original French text published by Editions de la Maison Française.

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