A Commentary (Apr 1936)
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358 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 15 (Apr 1936) 458-63 I have been reading a book which, if I remember rightly, met with a good dealofcriticalapprovalwhenitwasreviewedinLondon–itisanAmerican book – some months ago: Was Europe a Success? by Joseph Wood Krutch, published by Methuens at 3s. 6d., with the approval on the front flap of Albert Einstein and Aldous Huxley.1 Mr. Krutch is a thoughtful littérateur of considerable ability and power of persuasion; he is described by his publishers as a “liberal intellectual”; and he objects, in the name of reason and liberalism, to both fascism and communism. His objections are the substance of his book; and anyone who also objects to fascism and communism is prepared to read the book in a sympathetic state of mind. But the more I read of it, the more I became convinced that Mr. Krutch was an ally to be regarded with the gravest suspicion by anybody with any positive beliefs. Among the characteristics of the “European man,” which Mr. Krutch finds valuable,2 and which he believes that communism would eradicate, are (1) “a sense of the reality, the worth, and the sacredness of the individual , who is thought of as having in himself a value for which there is no equivalent, not merely because he seems unique to himself but because – since every man differs somewhat from every other – he contributes something unique and possibly of value to society itself ”; (2) “a sense of the importance of something which has been variously defined but always called ‘freedom’ for this same individual”; (3) “the tendency to regard differentiation and variety as desirable in themselves, and a consequent tendency to stress the importance of something called ‘personality’”; (4) “a disposition – very different from the collectivist stress upon the importance of the common denominator – to assume that all excellences are arranged in a hierarchy, the uppermost levels of which are not only inaccessible to most but barely if at all even visible to the best and the most excellent of men” [27-28]. And another thing that Mr. Krutch is not willing to surrender without a protest is “the privilege of making free intellectual judgments, of discriminating between the true and the false, the just and the unjust, or the right and the wrong, upon some basis other than a purely partisan one” [35]. [ 359 A Commentary (apr) Mr. Krutch does not attempt to trace the development of these characteristics through the course of European history, or to point to any epoch at which they seem to him to have flourished most fully. Nor is he very seriously concerned with how some of these characteristics came about; if he were, he might find them developing in periods which do not meet with his approval. The combination of all the characteristics which he wishes to preserve hardly seems to have appeared before the Renaissance, and perhaps is best illustrated in the best society of the eighteenth century. For Mr. Krutch’s “European man” is not a person who can easily be identified throughout the whole of European history. Mr. Krutch turns out to dislike Christianity quite as much as he dislikes communism: the chief difference is that Christianity is a dead issue, while communism is a menace. He does not appear to think that Christianity had very much to do with the development of European civilization, except to obstruct it; and it is largely the resemblances between Christianity and communism that make him the enemy of the latter. At any rate, he seems to be pleased to remind his communist friends that they are no more intelligent than Christians. Finding them intolerant and violent, he holds up for their admonishment the horrid example of Tertullian – in comparison with whom Plato is the “liberal”;3 finding them contemptuous of bourgeois literature, he reminds them of St. Jerome’s scruples about reading Virgil;4 and as for their theories about moulding the minds of the young, he reminds them that they were anticipated by the Jesuits.5 As for the development of communist practice and theory , he looks forward to an age of “Byzantinism” in which they will ally practical brutality with metaphysical speculations as futile as those of the Homoousian and Homoiousian doctrines.6 As for the positive accomplishment of Europe in the past, Mr. Krutch admits that “one certainly cannot buy exactly what Europe bought at any price except the one paid. You could not, for example, have Dante without his bigotry...