The struggle which is today rapidly approaching its climax is basically the antagonism between Personalism and Socialism.
At the beginning of the eleventh century, Feudalism was finally dissolving. The solvent was social. The collective authority, with Nationalism as its main sign, was taking precedence over the family authority. Now at the end of the social millennium, the collective ides is crystallizing in its final form of Socialism, in diffusive unity against the rise of Personalism.
What is Socialism? I think it may be reduced to the last denominator by saying that it is majority assent. How does this come to conflict with traditional custom? Is it unchristian? If so, How?
The answer to these questions is of the first importance especially to European Civilization as well as to those people not living in Europe but dependent upon Europe for spiritual and cultural authority.
The Socialist idea, as exemplified by Russia, is basically at odds with traditional custom: that the majority assent for the masses of the governed has well neigh become absolute in the model Socialist regime. This is popularly expressed by the socialist formula “Adaptability to or cooperation with ‘the group interests.’” The point to notice is that the criterion of group welfare is absolute and admits of no other authority among the masses of governed; neither the authority of the family, nor of the person is allowed in the slightest degree to influence, to challenge, the social authority.
This leads us directly to the religious problem. Why? Because Christianity has always insisted upon the sharing of authority between the family, the society, and the person, and has always tended to uphold this balance against extreme and exclusive authority of either the family, society, or the person. It was so in Feudal days when, in the last part of the ninth century, family was arrayed against family. In the breakdown of Feudal tyranny, the mind of the Church played a greater part in the process of destroying the tyranny of the noble barons than any other factor.
So it is today, Christians more or less vaguely, accordingly as they are in touch with tradition, instinctively feel that authority cannot be left absolutely in the hands of society. For to Christians this would mean in effect that their consciences would be surrendered to society. This would, to a Christian, be tyranny. For to him an action is not morally right only because a majority approves. There must be a final court of justice, namely, his own personal conscience. This is especially true to a Catholic Christian whose personal integrity has been guaranteed right through this extremely social period by means of personal confession in the Sacrament of Penance.
Incidentally, it is an interesting point that in a breakdown, which is at the end of our millennium, the conscience of most people is collective. How else could we have achieved war on such a grand scale? I am sure the only hope for sanity—for a return to goodness and beauty—lies in the rapid advance of the personal idea. Not of course in personal tyranny which is worse if possible than social tyranny. But unless the personal conscience challenges and checks the social conscience, we will go to the devil. The Barbarian will have triumphed.
Luckily, however, that is impossible, because Christians will bob up all over the place just when the Socialists have seemingly entirely abolished Christianity, because that is the effect Christ has had on everyone and is the credential of His Divinity. Nobody can get rid of Him within themselves. Since He died, totalitarianism was inevitable.
Today the issue is between Collective Totalitarianism (Belloc’s Servile State) or Personalism. We used to call it “a little privacy.”
Speaking of Belloc reminds me that the enemy is on us and our Dunkirk is here. Since Belloc and Chesterton have ceased to write we must take to the boats. The last of the great Catholic apologists in English is silent. Our rear guard has collapsed.