lig Michael de la iledoyere
Since it would he ralher unnatural to maintain the more impersonal note of "Questions of the Week" when describing certain aspects of a brief holiday tour to the Continent, the following notes are written as a single article mid in the first person,
RY far the strongest political impression which I have derived from my journey is the infinitely greater degree of apprehension about world conditions which is being felt across the channel, as compared with our views over here. Yet this generalisation may not be accurate since on a holiday tour a journalist will avoid rather than seek out a variety of contacts. In point of fact. the people I saw were exclusively what we should call " gentry " or upper bourgeoisie. The contrast, however, between the .feelings of this class on the Continent and the feelings of the same class over here, remains both striking and important. A certain amount of weight should also, no doubt, be attached to the coincidence that my journey was taking place while the papers were full of the political and social troubles in France, Hungary, Austria and elsewhere. " These are the most important weeks in the world's history since 1938 and 1939," was the view given me by a most distinguished writer. " We are on the eve of war, and the Communists are taking up their positions in exactly the same way as the Nazis did in 1938 and 1939. There is only this difference, namely, that the Nazis could he resisted. whereas to-day there is neither the will nor the means to resist the Communists. This time the war may be over before we rea lise that it has really started." I pointed out that my reading of the British Press did not suggest that any such alarming an interpretation was being given in Britain, and that the different events could be explained partly as genuine social troubles. as in France, and partly as Russia's determination to strengthen her political position before the retirement of her armies of occupation. " It is monstrous that the English should.not be alarmed " was the retort, " You have always made the same mistake of trying to think the best of the worst people." I report this fragment of conversation both because of the authority of the person with whom I was talking and because I came across similar sentiments everywhere.
COMPLEMENTARY to this
extreme reading of Russian policy was the sense that Europe is on the eve of a sudden and sinister social revolution of far greater proportions than anything which has taken place in the past. To us, so deeply habituated to seeing politics as an essentially peaceful struggle within the law, however tense the situation may at times become, this continental feeling that the Left is an open enemy ready to spring at any moment and literally destroy by physical violence the upper and middle classes, comes as a shock. But it is easy enough to understand, One has to appreciate the truth that the war has, indeed, left the Continent at the mercy of violence and lawlessness. The tradition of law and order has largely disappeared; there are no effective armies: and Left ideology has made such progress that any idea of a coup d'etat from the Right to bring back the idea of moral authority, is not to be thought of. These people, moreover, who seem to live in a state of perpetual apprehension, while having as good a time as possible before the cataclysm comes, have had plenty of evidence of the power of Communism. They do not share the general British view that the Resistance was always an honest and patriotic affair. They know that they resisted, too, making little in the way of a song and dance about it. They know that thousands upon thousands of small people resisted quietly and effectively also. But this kind of resistance had little, indeed, to do with those who advertised themselves so loudly while the war lasted and proceeded. as soon as it was Over, to attack, rob and murder, whether within a legal apparatus or not, those of whom they were jealous, those whose positions they sought, those against whom they had old scores to repay. Resistance as a movement has been for them more of a revolutionary technique than an act of genuine patriotism. And we are living now, they said, in the uncertain aftermath of the first stage of a planned attack; we hourly await the next and worse phase. not accurate and important. But I think their existence is more widespread than is usually realised in the totally different atmosphere of this country, and they are no important factor in the explanation of the general situation. For what seems to have happened, especially in countries like Belgium and France, is the conversion in a few months of the naturally stable military and professional leadership of the older tradition into a disparate horde of apprehensive risen and women. too frightened to act in any way and driven to get what they still can out of life. Speaking to a French ex-officer, now farming his estate in Brittany under immensely difficult conditions, I got the impression that his one prayer was for a Gaullist coup d'etat, but that he neither expected it (though all his village was Gaullist) nor cared to speak of it even to a foreigner. One was shocked, too. in Brussels, to hear Catholics speaking quite habitually of the Democratee Chretiens as the Demoorates Cretins —a title, doubtless, given them by the Left, but accepted with pleasure by the very Right. In this same circle I could find no sympathy for the Jocistes, who were considered to be plas ieg with fire and thus helping to get everybody burnt the sooner. I could see that to them my arguments meant nothing at all, because they derived from a totally different world. On the Continent
you jump Left and hope vaguely for the best—both' for Christianity and yourself—or you back into as obscure a corner of the Right as you can find.
THE atmosphere in Switzerland
is, of course, very different. There one is, in a sense, back in Britain.There is a similar sense of retreat and a similar sense of history, tradition and ceremonial. Yet Switzerland. which came as near invasion during the war as ourselves, is in large part to the East of France and Belgium, and it is entirely surrounded by troubled countries. Within it, therefore, there was a much stronger sense of apprehension than we have, a sense enhanced, to doubt, by the prosperity of the country. But even that prosperity looked a trifle fictitious. The shops are filled with jewellery and watches; there is plenty of food and drink on show; but the cost of living is extremely high, and the food. which is actually severely rationed, is neither quite RS plentiful nor as good as outward appearances suggest.
In Catholic Switzerland I was in a position to have long conversations with people who knew a good deal of what was going on behind the scenes. They. too, were deeply alarmed, and it was difficult to arouse in them any great enthusi asm either for United Europe or for the Marshall plan. They were, of course, wholly sympathetic and anxious to do all they could, but they seemed to doubt whether much in fact could be done, "'There are laws of renaissance and decadence," one historian observed to me, '' and each has to fulfil itself to the end before the reaction can set in. We are still on a steep curve of decadence, and shall have to see it through."
Yet when we came to talk about the Church in the face of the crisis, this same historian deplored the seeming passivity of Christians. " When Moses prayed," he said, " there was an army fighting in the plains. We appear to be content to
pray." And then, changing his point of view, he deplored the haste with which certain elements in the Church seemed to think that salvation was only to be found by running Aced of the enemy. " From some of the things one hears and reads," he said, " one would think that a man may only be saved to-day if he is a working-man, and one well to the political Left at that!" Then he rapidly returned to his study to work all the harder on a book, " lest
it appear too late."
IT is to be hoped that we who live on the sidelines of Europe, though indeed we now share much of its economic trouble, see with a dearer vision than those whei live within it. It may well be so, for the man of the Continent to-day seems either to be wholly influenced by his own insecure circumstances or by sonic abstract ideology for a new world rising from the ruins of the old. Neither position is likely to make for clear observation of the forces actually at work. But we dare not disregard the facts, which are certainly grim at the moment. Even if we discount. as we still have a right to, the worst fears about Russia's present manoeuvres or about the closely connected Communist-led revolutionary movement, we must face the facts that, economically, the situation is generally appalling (evidences of apparent prosperity being nearly all more or less illusory and even dangerous in that they witness to all the greater economic dislocation elsewhere). and, socially arid politically. the idea of authority, law and order has most dangerously w'eakened. All this has created a situation that is simply made for the Communists. United Europe and American aid will not greatly change these basic facts. Only a new leadership of honest socialists, the great mass of the centre and the traditional leaders of the professional class will accomplish this. Nor will these have any chance if they refuse to be guided by the moral principles and the values of Christianty courageously and eifeclivelY put forward by both Catholics and. Protestants.
My journey was far too short and limited to enable me to judge what signs there may be of this reaction. All I can say is that I saw few or .none.