Dangers of Materialist Pincer Movement
from .West and East WHEN we grow restive as to the increasing influence of Russia in European affairs, we are apt to find consolation in the fact that parallel with this increasing influence is that of the United States. If Russia is atheistic, America is Christian. if Moscow introduces a semi-Asiatic element to Europe, it is still men of our own blood and speech who constitute the dominant factor in the Western Republic. The tradition of friendship which allows the tong frontier between the Atlantic and the Pacific to remain undefended is no dead letter. The welcome accorded our King and Queen in the States shortly before the war was no mere official thing but a genuinely popular gesture. That it was a personal tribute we are aware, but it also expressed the growing consciousness that the two peoples concerned have identical interests. We, on our part, have admired the combination of courage and wisdom in the policy pursued by the President. The knowledge that our Chiefs had met on the high seas appealed to the imagination and to the hearts of both nations. It registered in a spectacular way a friendship which already existed. Nevertheless, the view that America in the West may act as a corrective to the dangers involved in our alliance with Russia in the East must be accepted with caution. It may even be that certain points of resemblance between the two make the combination specially menacing.
THE BRITISH OLIGARCHY THERE is, in the first place, the danger to our national traditions. To regard the United States as a larger Britain is a gross error. Setting on one side other important differences, we are not a democracy in the sense in which that is true of America. We still cling to our oligarchical tradition. It is one of the secrets of our strength that we possess a class whose position makes them more or less independent of popular clamour and frees them from the suspicion, as regards their public actions, of mercenary motives. It is a class in which the words " honour" and " loyalty " still carry weight and in which the cultural values which a commercial age is rapidly destroying survive. The status of " gentleman " in Britain is an indigenous product of our soil. We claim it to be typical of a certain strain in our national character, and the loss of this class would mean an impoverishment which might be a serious obstacle to the fulfilment of our destiny.
Such a loss is far from inconceivable. In fact, the process of decay has set in already. The Industrial Revolution introduced standards incompatible with an aristocracy rooted in the soil and free from the hustling activity of commercial life and the vulgarisa tion incidental to a competitive and acquisitive society. Political democracy has deprived this class of much of the power it once possessed; it has now passed to the organized proletariat, But perhaps the greatest dissolvent of the values it preserved has been that transatlantic influence functioning through the cinema and the radio and other agencies. Unfortunately they are the worst elements in American life which are the most articulate and have most deeply impressed themselves upon the national character. We, cannot avoid the fear, therefore, that the closer relationship between the two peoples which the war is bringing about may intensify the effects indicated, This, however, is not the only or even the greatest danger.
THE PURITAN LEGEND THE America which lives in the imagination of many Englishmen is that associated with the Puritan tradition. The moral idealism which is so distinctive a feature of the American peoples serves to perpetuate the idea that this tradition is still alive. The fact has not been sufficiently realised that the religious basis on which American idealism originally rested has largely disappeared. As Christopher Hollis has argued in The American Heresy, the slogan of the Revolution—Liberty. Equality and Fraternity—has been divorced from those Christian dogmas from which they were derived, even to the extent of becoming the watch-words of an anti-religious liberalism. The League of Nations had no explicit religious sanctions whatsoever.
But transatlantic Puritanism, speaking generally, has undergone an even greater change. As to the nature of that change, let us take the word of an American writer. In Our America, Waldo Frank wrote: "Religion as a revealed, mystical consciousness—the religion of Christ—was among the weakening realities which the Puritan discarded when he set sail from England. The ancient might of Christianity lay in the Form it brought to life as a unified experience in God. In this sense, Europe had long been Christian. But this sense could live only in men whose inner energy was great, in whom the subjective life held dominion over the outer world. This sense was doomed when energy went forth upon the frenzied material career which dated from the Renaissance, and at length flung man upon the spiritual desert of the twentieth century. Luther is less the symbol of the decline of Christianity as a world-force, than Columbus. Columbus made for energy a channel into a boundless outer world. The boundless inner world of Christ was shrunken by his passage and Christ was withered." The connection between Calvinism and plutocracy has been pointed out repeatedly. The discipline that had made godliness a real force in the world was diverted to the task of acquiring that wealth the possession of which was regarded as a sign of divine favour. The austere temper which had repressed Christmas festivities was passed on to the pioneer forging his way to fortune through an inhospitable wilderness and to the speculator denying himself innocent pleasures in order to keep his head clear amid the noise of the Exchange. So did Puritanism become Plutocracy. PLUTOCRACY PREACHES Bur there is one feature of Puritanism which has survived—we mcan the cult of the preacher. Inseparable 'from the theocratic religion of , New England was the disposition to lay down the law for other people. The belief that " the Elect " constituted God's Chosen People was followed by the assumption that this favoured position entitled the believer to dictate the conditions under which his non-believing neighbour should live. Even though he has abandoned his father's creed, the descendant of the Puritan continues to preach and legislate in the same spirit. "Every American," says Professor Siegfried in America Comes of Age, "is at heart an evangelist, be he a Wilson, a Bryan. or a Rockfelter. He cannot leave people alone, and he constantly feels the urge to preach. His good faith may be incontestable and his efforts often magnificent, but one is always aware of a certain moral superiority which is the most unsympathetic of Anglo-Saxon traits. His self-satisfaction as a member of God's elect is almost insufferable, and so is the idea that his duty towards his neighbour is to convert, purify, and raise him to his own moral heights." It adds not a little to the difficulty of listening with patience to such preaching that the sermon has all the complacency of those who have been blessed with this world's goods. The Puritan pulpiteer at least shared the hardships of his congregation. but the plutocratic preacher has had no such training in sympathetic understanding. Ile is quite capable of rubbing the salt of criticisms into wounds it should be his task to heal.
A NEW TECHNIQUE THE Plutocrat as preacher has one advantage, however, which his predecessor lacked. The former might threaten the fires of Hell but he could not offer mundane inducements to accept his guidance. It should be observed that the type mew under discussion has adopted a new technique in the art of dominating the world. The Nazi depends on force, the Communist on subversive propaganda, but the plutocracies have discovered that nations can be controlled by promises and threats couched in monetary terms, or, in blunt English, that they can be bribed. The method indicated plays a considerable part in Western diplomacy. As it happens, we are able to study this technique in actual operation, and thus learn how an affluent U.S.A., professing the most altruistic motives, might exploit the weakness of an exhausted Europe in order to impose on it the civilization so admirably illustrated in Holly-wood films.
THE illustration in question is that afforded by the relations between North and South America, and the account shall be given in the words of a writer familiar with both parts of the Continent. Speaking of the programme for unifying these, John E. Kelly, in an article contributed to a recent number of America, says: " The New Deal inherited a difficult task, into which it has rushed characteristically with a burst of enthusiasm, lack of co-ordination, vast appropriations and contempt for the experience of those North Americans who know the Latin nations through years of residence and business therein. The Hispano-Americans regard our advances with a mixture of reserve and justified suspicion. Is this sudden affection quite disinterested? Is it altruism or power politics? Will bases obtained by guarantees against Axis penetration be surrendered after the war, or retained as citadels to police South America? . . . No part of Latin America has escaped selfish exploitation by the Yankee Colossus (something quite different from equitable economic relations). There followed dollar diplomacy,' imperialism and, since 1933, the Good Neighbour ' policy, which all too often has given encouragement to radical elements in those countries . . . Hemisphere defence means to Latin America more than forts against the landing of panzer columns; it means also the preservation of their Catholic way of life and their Spanish tradition . . . The political and cultural phase of the New Deal campaign has its commercial and economic fellow. The first step in implementing the Good Neighbour ' policy was the appropriation of five hundred million dollars, to be distributed to applicant Latin-American Governments, for defence projects, public works, health and culture developments, etc. . . . This is power politics, the use of money to influence governments to obtain political and military advantages. It is highly reprehensible when practised by totalitarians."
• THE WARNING THE description here given applies, it is obvious, only to a section, though it is a powerful section, of the North American public. There is another section as high-minded, disinterested and generous as any public in the world. But there remains the possibility, unless we are on our guard, that our fate may be neither to be conquered by the Nazis, nor revolutionised by Moscow, but to be bought in the interests of philistinisrn and plutocratic materialism, From that point of view, it is possible to regard the materialism of the East and that of the West as complementary to one another, differing only in the fact that they represent different classes, but constituting together a pincer movement, between which, spiritually speaking, we may perish. "Put not your' trust in princes," cried the Psalmist, and the warning holds good even if for " princes " one reads " proletarian dictatorships " or " bourgeois democracies."