THE year 1955 might be called a year of great hopes and considerable subsequent disappointments.
The people of the whole world are growing more and more weary as each year passes of the strains which the international situation imposes. Nothing could be more unnatural, more frustrating, than a continuous sense of tension, nol as in previous eras localised to one part of the globe, but universal. This tension, moreover, no longer betokens limited troubles or even the disasters of wars as previously known; it derives ultimately from the haunting realisation that universal disaster could result if the tension were ever broken by that general loss of patience and temper which, in the natural order, is the normal escape from intolerable and prolonged strains.
In the circumstances it is by no means surprising that people will eagerly clutch at a straw in the prayer and hope that the nightmare may pass. It is not surprising that the temptation to compromise and yield, camouflaging the betrayal in highsounding moralisations, can scarcely be resisted. Least of all is it surprising that all who can do so seek escape through making the most of the opportunities to enhance the pleasures and excitements of living with little regard for the ultimate moral, social and economic effects.
TT is probably true that the actual danger of universal catastrophe through the unleashing of nuclear war has receded during the past year. But this danger has not passed because a any constructive and positive moral reaction to the perilous situation. It has come about only through the negative reaction of fear—fear which has caused everyone to realise together that we can no longer think of nuclear world war as a remote danger, but that we must think of it as a reality round the very next turning.
That even this much has at least been realised is a great blessing from God, but the fact, as we have come to learn gradually in 1955, does not in itself solve a single problem within the general situation which logically would end in war.
On the side of Communism the evidence has become overwhelming that the policy of mischief-making is to continue. Indeed, it seems clear that the Soviet leaders have decided to make use of this very realisation of the imminent universal disaster of war as a cover for new adventures in the sport of fishing in troubled waters.
This initiative of theirs has clearly left the West without any effective answer. All is dangerous confusion in the Middle East, and there seems to he no answer to the Soviet .flatteries and lies which obviously have their effect in the parts of the world where the long superiority and mastership of the great Powers of the West have left a legacy of jealousy and resent
ment. • •
BUT hardly less disturbing in the long run is the escapist mood of the West which reacts to the apparently insoluble world situation by merely trying to close its eyes and get the best out of life.
This last year has seen a con tinuation of economic prosperity and full employment which in itself is once more a great blessing from God. It has meant in fact that millions of human beings have achieved something of what the Church has always regarded as just and proper, namely, a social and economic living which allows the person and the family to live a full human life. Normally such a life is the condition of realising the spiritual and moral potentialities of creatures created in God's image.
But one has only to express it in this way to see how completely the Western world has put the cart before the horse. Our social progress and our economic prosperity have in fact no purpose but the material enhancement of living with perhaps a veneer of humanist culture.
The consequences arc inevitable. Material values are not ends in themselves. Whatever we obtain in the way of riches, comforts and pleasures are but stepping-stones towards the increased desire for more. Not only that, but in this technocratic age the means of achieving any material standard involves a degree of planning from above, and consequently of authority from above, which more and more depersonalises the individual.
Whether it be in the hectic competition for wealth, with its perilous anticipation of wealth yet to be earned, which characterises a capitalist country like America, or in the class struggle which underlies so much of political and economic life of a semi-socialised country like our own, it is this materialist and fundamentally selfish craving which governs the social system.
T° get a view, therefore, of the realities of the world situation today it is necessary to contrast the muddled, misguided, externally irreponsible materialist idealism of the Communist challenge with the lack of any real social idealism in the far more politically experienced West with its individualist and class materialist aims. Seen in those terms, the contrast between the " had " and the " good " is a good deal less arresting.
And the contrast surely gives us a clue to the answer of part at least of the world problem.
The truth is that the free world has been negative not only in its actual resistance to the Communist challenge in all its aspects, not least this latest one, but in its whole outlook. Faith in roan and the future is hardly more than a vague, self. defensive aspiration, and it really survives only in the impotent individual. And this is even more true of that genuinely spiritual faith whose power and reality were in fact the means of creating the civilisation in, which we still live.
AS, then, we watch the passing of 1955 into 1956, with the sorrowful realisation that even the general agreement that war is no longer a possible sanction and instrument of policy fails to break the impasse in which the world has so Icing found itself, we should surely be stimulated to ask ourselves how far the free world is responsible for that impasse, simply because it can no longer transcend a materialist outlook, which is but another version of the materialist idealism we rightly fear in Communism.