A Commentary (Jan 1937)
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410 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 16 (Jan 1937) 289-93 Those who would like to believe in the progress of political institutions can take no honest satisfaction either in events in Spain or in the opinions and sympathies which these events have tended to arouse in this country.1 What has to be remarked is rather a deterioration of political thinking, with a pressure on everyone, which has to be stubbornly resisted, to accept one extreme philosophy or another. The situation at the moment of writing is not yet quite that of two great groups of nations, aligned against each other with a fanaticism (complicated with self-interest) that no previous combinations and coalitions in our time have shown: at present, and from our point of view, it is rather that of an international civil war of opposed ideas. The present danger for us, as individuals in this country, is that the precarious balance of ideas in our heads may be upset by one or the other extreme view, according to our individual backgrounds and temperaments. As I have suggested, the greater part of the Press not only does nothing to restrain this disintegration, but actually tends to hasten it: by simplifying the issues in very different and very imperfectly understood countries, by resolving emotional tension in the minds of their readers by directing their sympathies all one way, and consequently encouraging mental sloth. One might think, after perusing a paper like The New Statesman, that the elected Government of Spain represented an enlightened and progressive Liberalism;2 and from reading The Tablet one might be persuaded that the rebels were people who, after enduring with patience more than one would expect human beings to be able to stand, had finally and reluctantly taken to arms as the only way left in which to save Christianity and civilization .3 Now an ideally unprejudiced person, with an intimate knowledge of Spain, its history, its racial characteristics, and its contemporary personalities , might be in a position to come to the conclusion that he should, in the longest view that could be seen, support one side rather than the other. But so long as we are not compelled in our own interest to take sides, I do not see why we should do so on insufficient knowledge: and even any eventual partisanship should be held with reservations, humility and misgiving. That balance of mind which a few highly-civilized individuals, such as [ 411 A Commentary (jan) Arjuna, the hero of the Bhagavad Gita, can maintain in action, is difficult for most of us even as observers, and, as I say, is not encouraged by the greater part of the Press.4 One tendency of which we must take account is that of the winning “idea” to deteriorate. Political fanaticism in releasing generous passions will release evil ones too. Whichever side wins will not be the better for having had to fight for its victory. The victory of the Right will be the victory of a secular Right, not of a spiritual Right, which is a very different thing; the victory of the Left will be the victory of the worst rather than of the best features; and if it ends in something called Communism, that will be a travesty of the humanitarian ideals which have led so many people in that direction. And those who have at heart the interests of Christianity in the long run – which is not quite the same thing as a nominal respect paid to an ecclesiastical hierarchy with a freedom circumscribed by the interests of a secular State – have especial reason for suspending judgment. Some people have agitated for the raising of the embargo on the export of arms to the Spanish Government. But at this stage of the game, I suspect that those who “support the popular demand that the ban on the export of arms to the Spanish Government be lifted”5 are really asking us to commit ourselves to one side in a conflict between two ideas: that of Berlin and that of Moscow, neither of which seems to have very much to do with “democracy.” Irresponsible zealots who have advocated “intervention” on one side or the other – who advocate, that is to say, the overt supply of arms – will never be deterred by considerations such as these;6 but they would do well to read Mr. Bertrand Russell’s Which Way to Peace (Michael Joseph [1936]: 7s. 6d. net). The last...