- A Commentary (Apr 1926)
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[ 777 A Commentary The New Criterion: A Quarterly Review, 4 (Apr 1926) 221-23 The Future of the Roman Empire An overworked and harried prime minister, addressing a non-political body on a non-political subject, is in a peculiarly difficult position. No recent tenant of that place, except perhaps the Earl of Oxford, could have composed a more admirable specimen of such oratory than Mr. Baldwin’s recent address to the Classical Association.1 Any prime minister, of any party, might have been glad to make the same speech in the same circumstances . And as every public word of any statesman is suspect of political significance, and as we are convinced that Mr. Baldwin had nothing of the sort consciously or unconsciously in mind, and as the subject of his address is akin to the subject of a paragraph in an early number of The Criterion,2 * it seems suitable for mention in these pages. It should be obvious that Mr. Baldwin’s speech (reported in The Times of January 9th) bore no allusion, and cannot be cited either in support or condemnation of the present government of Italy.3 With the benefits or disadvantages of the present administration of Italy, except in so far as they can be shown to advance or obstruct Italian literature and culture, we have nothingtodo,nor,wesuppose,hadMr.BaldwininhiscapacityasPresident of the Classical Association. We presume that his address would have been the same, whatever government had been flourishing or dwindling in Italy at the moment. The point upon which we ought to insist is this, that the Roman Empire does concern us, but that whatever use may be made of that idea in Italian politics as an incentive to Italian action is a local matter which does not concern – in either way – those persons who are interested primarily in European ideas. The old Roman Empire is an European idea; the new Roman Empire is an Italian idea, and the two must be kept distinct. It may be objected with reason that Mr. Baldwin vacillates between the idea at a certain moment – at what moment is not clear, and in his speech there is even some ambiguity as to whether he is not at moments thinking of the idea of the Roman Republic – and the general idea of the Roman 1926 778 ] Empire. The general idea is found in the continuity of the impulse of Rome to the present day. It suggests Authority and Tradition, certainly, but Authority and Tradition (especially the latter) do not necessarily suggest Signor Mussolini. It is an idea which comprehends Hooker and Laud as much as (or to some of us more than) it implies St. Ignatius or Cardinal Newman. It is in fact the European idea – the idea of a common culture of western Europe. And when Mr. Baldwin asks whether there are “enough of the breed” left in Britain, we should transpose the question, and ask, are there enough persons in Britain believing in that European culture, the Roman inheritance, believing in the place of Britain in that culture, and believing in themselves?4 In this number of The New Criterion we publish an essay by the editor of La Revue Universelle, M. Henri Massis, in which the author states the problem as it appears to a Frenchman, and in which he states his own conclusion .5 InEngland,inGermany,inItalyorSpain,theproblemmayappear under a different light. We hope to obtain contributions to the same discussion from men of equal eminence and of different nationalities. Freedom of Speech In a recent, and most interesting address to the Lessing-Akademie in Berlin, Herr Max Scheler summarises the present situation in words which may be paraphrased somewhat as follows:6 Russia: an index librorum prohibitorum, on which stand both Testaments, the Koran, the Talmud and all philosophers from Thales to Fichte. No book, in which the word “God” appears, is allowed over the frontiers.Onlyareallowedbooksofdirectutilityofatechnical,hygienic and economic class. . . . Tolstoi’s writings of his elder period publicly burnt. – The United States of America: A movement called “fundamentalism ,” according to which the Bible as verbally inspired is established as the foundation of knowledge and life; a popular movement which aims at nothing less than the legal prohibition to teach in any publicly supported educational institution the theory of Evolution in any of its forms. . . . In Italy: a popular movement that in a childish, so-called “activism” and “vitalism” cultivates a verbose and vapid philosophy of history . . . which accepts the Church of Rome...