Mr. Barnes and Mr. Rowse
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[ 657 Mr. Barnes and Mr. Rowse The Criterion: A Literary Review, 8 (July 1929) 682-91 I am gratified that my comments on the literature of Fascism, in The Criterion of December last, provided the occasion for the very able articles on Fascism and Communism by Mr. J. S. Barnes and Mr. A. L. Rowse respectively in the April number.1 My own rôle was merely to ask questions ; but I find that Mr. Barnes and Mr. Rowse have suggested to me new, and I hope more intelligent, questions to ask. Indeed I think the interesting questions are those which can be asked of both parties or schools, for the most interesting is precisely the question of what the two political theories have in common. Between the exposition of the two causes there is one obvious superficial difference: that Mr. Barnes, who is a friend of Signor Mussolini and a Director of the International Centre of Fascist Studies2 at Lausanne, speaks as a convinced supporter of fascism, whereas Mr. Rowse, likesomeotherintellectualstudentsofcommunism,speaksrather(ifIunderstand him) as a sympathetic critic.3 Yet the phrase is attributed to Mussolini that “fascism is not for export”; whereas the protagonists of communism in Russia seem to be desirous of converting the whole world to the doctrine of Moscow.4 In spite of these and other contradictions I am by no means the first person to observe a family likeness between fascism and communism – MajorDouglas,Ibelieve,hascalledattentiontoit,amongothers:butperhaps it deserves reiteration.5 One of the characteristics which the two doctrines have in common is certainly familiarity. They have both been already partially absorbed by the popular mind, so that, in the intellectual sense, there is nothing “shocking ” about them; and as they seem to be so easily absorbed by the popular mind, one suspects that they must have a good deal in common with what was in the popular mind already. They are both, in other words, perfectly conventional ideas. When the ordinary man is terrified by the bogey of a fascist or communist dictatorship, it is not his mind that is terrified. He may be terrified by the notion that fascism may interfere with his right to “brawlashelikes,”orthatcommunismmayconfiscatehissavings,ormerely by a vague prospect of bullets flying about the streets. If, on the other hand, you talk to him about the divine right of kings, or the advantages of an 1929 658 ] hereditary oligarchy, he will retort either with open derision and hearty giggles,orwiththepatientgentlenesswithwhichhetreatsaharmlessmaniac. These ideas, are, as ideas, and whether true or false, revolutionary; and a really revolutionary idea is often to be divined by the laughter it evokes. Fascism and communism, as ideas, seem to me to be thoroughly sterilized. A revolutionary idea is one which requires a reorganization of the mind; fascism or communism is now the natural idea for the thoughtless person. This in itself is a hint that the two doctrines are merely variations of the same doctrine: and even that they are merely variations of the present state of things. Nothing pleases people more than to go on thinking what they have always thought, and at the same time imagine that they are thinking something new and daring: it combines the advantage of security and the delight of adventure. Man can believe almost anything: his capacity for credulity is unlimited. Only, he makes one condition: that his old beliefs shall not be disturbed. (I distinguish between what he believes, and what he thinks he believes.) The wildest fancy, which does not touch his rooted beliefs, can be accepted; the strongest reasoning will be rejected with contumely if it injures one of these beliefs. It is easy to believe the proposition “that the propositions of Einstein are true” – because they disturb nothing: the “disturbance” has all taken place in the minds of physicists. Facility of belief is of course irrelevant to the question of truth and error: I have merely made the point that neither fascism nor communism is now shocking or revolutionary to the ordinary mind. I must hasten to declare that I have cleared my mind of any prejudice against what communists or Marxians call the “materialist theory of history .” Marxians sometimes fear that outsiders will connect the materialist theory of history with materialism. There is an ancient and respectable philosophical doctrine called “materialism,” which is almost extinct; represented to-day by the eminent solitary figure of George Santayana.6 But what could this Aristotelian, neo-Thomist materialism of Mr. Santayana have to do with...