G.K.’s Weekly, May 4, 1933
It may be a pure coincidence, but it is a strange historical fact, that though Church and State have constantly been at loggerheads in most countries in the world, the State never seems to get on very well without the Church. From the time when the State was governed by the man who had most strength, most soldiers at his command, to the time when the State is governed by the man with the most money, the loudest voice or the most newspapers at his command, the Church has been both a help and a nuisance to the State. It has been a help in teaching people to behave themselves, keep social order, and bear their trials patiently. It has been a nuisance in insisting that people who do so must be governed with justice, on a socially and economically fair basis. The Church has upheld the authority of the State, but it has most inconveniently set limits to and defined the proper exercise of that authority.
The State, left to itself, would have it both ways, because the State is a much more haphazard affair than the Church. Its authority, though it may come from God, was established by force, and still rests ultimately on force or the threat of force. But the force at the disposal of the State has not always been constant or sufficient. The State in such cases has survived and achieved its stability and organisation, because the people, taught by the Church, have valued and respected its authority. Whenever they have felt secure, Governments have persecuted the Church, robbed it and derided its importance to the people and the State. Because the force that backs the authority of the State can also be used for plunder, that is because jobs in the Government could always be used for making money, the sphere of Government has always attracted grasping unscrupulous men, as well as public-spirited honest men. And since the unscrupulous always have that advantage over the scrupulous, they have generally been top dogs.
The only restraint on self-seekers in governments, is provided by the moral teachings of religion, of the Church. It is significant that the civilised countries of the world are now in a state of unprecedented economic disorder, which means they are on the edge of unprecedented social disorder, and the collapse of the governments that cannot prevent it, that cannot govern, when everywhere religion and the Church are either oppressed or just tolerated by the governments. Where determined attempts, on carefully thought-out lines, are made to cope with the chaos, as in Russia and Italy, so necessary is religion to the State that the State itself is set up as a god with its political theory as a religion. In Italy, where the Church was found to be too strong, a compromise was made and the Church tolerated better as a friend than an enemy. The explanation and fact of this matter is plain enough, and it offers a solution of the worldwide social and economic problems.
Unfortunately it is a solution that is unpalatable to the go-getters, the international pagans who are very rich, or the international politicians who are very powerful, which in the end means the same thing. The solution lies in two essential characteristics of human nature, reason and a sense of morals. Man is a reasoning animal. He has been given reason to live by, instead of the instinct that has been given to the rest of the animal world. He cannot live as the rat and the rabbit live. When he tries he dies. He has not their apparatus. He has other apparatus that necessitates another way of living. He must think out his way of life, how he will live as an individual. Similarly men must think out and plan how they will live together corporately in the State. Before you can think out a plan of living, individually or corporately, you must have some first principles to work on. To conform with the nature of man these principles must be of at least two kinds, physical and spiritual, or if you like, moral. On the physical side you must be aware of, and base your action upon, the principles governing the production of food and fuel, means of transport, and so on. On the moral side, you must be aware of the principles governing the relations of men with one another, with their families, their employers and employees, what they may rightly do to one another and what they may not.
The Church has always looked after this second set of principles, and the State until recently has been guided on them by the Church. As the State has scorned the Church, in the times preceding our present industrial and economic disorder, expediency has been put before principles. When the workers threatened serious trouble, then (and not before) a minimum of restraint was put upon oppressive employers. As one difficulty has arisen after another, the Government has taken the easiest and quickest way out of the mess, without regard to justice. State Insurance that bribed both workers and employers, rather than a just wage enabling the workman to provide for his family in all its circumstances; Prohibition in America and easy divorce everywhere rather than a proper education of the young; the creation of a social condition in which men depend on the State for their daily bread, rather than one in which they can get their daily bread for themselves; the destruction of food, rather than the fixing of just prices to ensure a living for the producer; and now compulsory marketing, rather than just dealings by middlemen, to revive crippled agriculture—all these are expedients without thought of justice or moral consequences.
Now suppose, just suppose, that each state had done all along what the Church has urged should be done. Suppose the State had made and enforced vigorous laws against the “oppression of the poor” and “defrauding labourers of their wages,” against circumventing one’s brother in business, against unjust and usurious profits, against the repudiation of social responsibilities by the rich, against the forms of lying and cheating and ruining competitors, that are covered by the words “business” and “finance.” Does anyone imagine that if that had been done, there would now be any socialism or communism, or complicated international financial machinery whose imminent collapse threatens to starve poet and peasant, and politician alike? Big business would have been impossible, socialism unnecessary.
There can be no social order or stability, no workable system, economic, financial, or industrial, that is not built in accordance with man’s sense of right and wrong, mine and thine. It has been the business of the Church to formulate the principles governing that sense, and the rules that follow from them. Hence in the economic and social order, the State needs the Church. And since a man must pray, even if it is only to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, his conduct in the State will be affected by that fact. And the Church is needed there also. But that is another story.
It might be worth while to suggest that the State should try, purely as an expedient of course, the gradual application of a few of the elementary Christian principles of social justice and business dealing to the present crises. They might be a little more effective than successive Conferences that fail for want of elementary principles.