A Commentary (July 1933)
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[ 527 A Commentary1 The Criterion: A Literary Review, 12 (July 1933) 642-47 It seems to be the necessity of the moment – at least in America – for the editor of a literary periodical to explain exactly where that periodical stands on the great political and social issues of the day.2 I have no intention of doing that myself on this occasion; and I have not yet framed any manifesto against manifestoes. In the new American Review I recognize doctrines with which I have already expressed sympathy; and it is just as well to be told again that Communism and Capitalism are only forms of the same thing; I said this myself several years ago, and the statement was already so obvious a commonplace that I have forgotten who said it last before me.3 In The Symposium is another manifesto – this one drawn up formally, perhaps too formally; for its thirteen propositions are a sad reminder of the methods of the late President Wilson.4 It is interesting to observe that The American Review and The Symposium agree in denouncing Communism and Capitalism; there is one interesting, and rather important point, on which they appear to differ. I say “appear,” because only The Symposium formulatesitsviewinsomanywords;butanoppositepointofviewemerges from contributions to The American Review; and the earliest contributions to a review of this character may have something of editorial authority. The words of the editors of The Symposium are these: The moral and spiritual goods should not be the direct concern of a politico-economic party at the present time. [133] Here, I think, is a real issue. It appears that the word “direct” used above is a superfluity, to judge from the sentence which follows: “If its program is acceptable at the level of social practice and if it does not conflict with these moral and spiritual goods, then that program is just, is all that should be attempted, and all that any individual has a right to ask for” [133]. It would appear, then, that the “party” does not need to be concerned with moral and spiritual goods at all in order to do its job, to save us on the politicoeconomic plane. Furthermore, I do not find it stated in any part of the manifesto, that it is necessary or desirable for the individuals composing that party to have as individuals any direct concern with the moral and spiritual goods either; possibly, indeed, the children of this world are wiser Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1933 528 ] in their generation than the children of light.5 And this does seem to me to create a real issue between two types of reformer or revolutionist: the coming type of Liberal Reformer, which the Symposium strikes me as prefiguring , and the Reactionary, who at this point feels a stronger sympathy with the communist. What, in fact, is the relation of morals and politics? It might seem at first that an ally of any sort is welcome in an emergency – and we are always in an emergency – and that the temperate economic or political reformer, the sensible revolutionist, should be on working terms with one kind of ethical reformer or revolutionist, we will say the Christian ethical reformer. But if that is to be accepted, we must be very sure about the terms, and dupe neither others nor ourselves. I remember that I was once scolded (and if my memory serves me it was by the editor of the American Review) for sowing discord among the ranks of the wellintentioned , for betraying the cause, by exposing my doubts about Humanism.6 That was only a few years ago; but where is Humanism now? In the arms of John Dewey and a committee of Unitarian clergy.7 She is a fallen sister; we cannot now speak of her in front of the children. A united group, we should have learned by now, acts, if we have patience, more surely than a large and miscellaneous group. There were equivocations about Humanism towards which no compromise could be extended; so there may be about some of the economic philosophies which aim at setting things right without moral discipline. Disguised as they are, veiled from common minds like mine, by the categories of their sacred science, any of them may belong in those utopias which take no account of human nature. But I believe that the study of ethics has priority over the study of politics; that this priority is something immutable which no famine or...