Thursday, 11 May 2017




By Rev. W. A. SPENCE

In the following well-informed analysis of the present position of Italy under the Fascist regime, the "Catholic Times" correspondent sets a new and extremely interesting angle upon a subject that is of very real importance to Catholics, and particularly those in England. The relations between Church and State in the Italy of to-day, as well as a thought-provoking view of what they may become in the future, are matters of prime concern in view of the recent dispute between the Holy Father and Signor Mussolini.

Fifty Years of Liberalism.

The Italian nation is a Catholic people, and their culture is a Catholic culture. It is evidently difficult for the average Englishman, who is still insular, to appreciate many of the qualities of the Italian mind. A tincture of cosmopolitanism, where it is found, does not help; for no more than insularity does cosmopolitanism make for the valuing of national distinctions.
In spite of a mischievous propaganda, Protestantism gains no ground in recommending itself to the Italian mind. The vast mass of the people cannot understand it at all; it is simply a form of infidelity. Where the propaganda—which is indirect—makes any way, it succeeds only in robbing the Italian of his own religion; but that is probably sufficient to satisfy its agents.
Italians are realists; they are apt to be passionate, but not sentimental, as the English are. Generally, they do not suffer from the idealistic philosophy which, consciously, or (for the most part) unconsciously, forms the mentality of the non-Catholic English man. If the idealism of Croce and Gentile should spread beyond the intellectuals who at present affect it, it will be a serious thing for the national character.
There is still, at least latent, a good deal of Liberalism, both anti-clerical and of that peculiarly incoherent and distressing kind known as "Catholic Liberalism." We have to remember that the cause of Italian unity was, as it happened, bound up with Liberalism, and that for half a century the united nation suffered Liberal Government, whether of the Right or of the Left. Loyal Catholics were for long deterred from an exercise of political power at the elections by the non-expedit; the State schools and the Government offices were in the hands of Liberals.
Where Liberalism prevails, there Freemasonry find a home. Though the actual number of Freemasons in Italy was never very large, they were very powerful in proportion to that number, and had great influence over national and municipal politics. It will take time to undo the harm done between 1870 and 1922.
Liberalism, as the Holy Father has lately reminded us, is the parent of Socialism, and until the advent of the Fascist regime, Socialism had made considerable progress among the working classes and middle-class "intellectuals." Though it is now suppressed, and though most of the Socialists have been converted to Fascism, no doubt in some cases—perhaps in many—that conversion is not altogether sincere, and as somebody has said, underneath a good many black shirts there is still a red one, and from time to time a rent lets that appear. Freemasonry, too, is scotched, but not killed, and the peculiar conscience it produces does not favor sincerity and thoroughness in conversion. It is not easy for the leopard to change his spots.
All this has to be taken into account in estimating the political condition of the country, and the relations between Church and State in Italy.

 . . . .

National Unity and Religion.

We know Italy as a united nation; but we have to remember that its unity is of very recent growth. It is not many years since it was said, with a good deal of truth, "United Italy is a geographical expression." The Great War, more than anything else, unified Italy politically, and Fascism has consolidated its work. Hence the saying, "Fascism was born in the trenches." Liberalism was never really at home in Italy; nor did the Liberal-Democratic regime suit the country, nor govern it effectually and profitably, still less unify it.
Until the war the only unifying force in the country was its religion, and the religious revival under Pius X. came before, or at any rate, advanced more rapidly than the national movement. I think it is true to say that without the religious revival the Fascist success would have been impossible.

The Nationalist Spirit.

The Fascist State is, then, intensely nationalistic, and in that quality there are, of course, dangers. As we know very well, nationalism may be carried too far, and produce a bellicose and chauvinistic spirit. The sense of national greatness and desire for national glory (in themselves good in the natural order) may lead to an aggressive imperialism and contempt for other nations' rights. It may do so eventually in Italy; but it need not do so, and there is no sufficient reason to think that it will grow beyond bounds under Mussolini. He wants peace in order to consolidate his work, and is hardly likely to run the risk of an aggressive war, and the ruin of the prosperity which he is slowly building up amid great difficulties.
The "sabre rattling" is largely dramatic, and intended to keep up the military spirit of the nation; and that is clearly necessary.
Fascism is the foe of Internationalism and Communism, and we shall do well to remember that these are the chief enemies of the Church. No Pope has ever condemned nationalism as such (which is patriotism), but excessive nationalism; and certainly no Pope has ever blessed or encouraged godless internationalism, which is a more deadly enemy of the Church even than extreme or perverted nationalism.
Now, International Communism is out for the conquest of Europe, and, indeed, of the world. It cannot permeate Catholic Italy as it is attempting to permeate Protestant England, and it has failed once to raise a successful Bolshevist revolution, such as it seems to have inaugurated in Spain. It will probably try, later, conquest by arms. Hence the need for a militant nationalistic spirit in the Italian people. If Fascism remains what it is—still more if it becomes more and more permeated and informed by the Catholic religion—it would seem that Fascist Italy has to look forward to a time (perhaps not so very far distant) when she will have to fight for her life, or at least for all that makes life worth living. No greater disaster could befall the world than the conquest of Italy by Atheistic Communism.

Fascism and Liberal Democracy.

If Fascism is the enemy of Communism (itself hostis humani generis), it is also opposed to Liberal Democracy. Now, Liberal Democracy is the offspring of the "Reformation" and the French Revolution. Consequently, although a working agreement may be come to between a Liberal Democratic State and the Church (of course, many such agreements or concordats have been made), Liberal Democracy cannot be ultimately reconciled with Catholicism. I do not say Democracy, but Liberal Democracy. Liberalism is its specific quality, and Liberalism has been condemned by Pope after Pope in the course of the last hundred years or more. But the only Pope who has had experience of Fascism has not condemned that system—at any rate, as yet. On the contrary, Pius XI. has said in his Encyclical, "Non-Abbiamo Bisogno" (on Catholic Action):—
"In everything that we have said up to the present we have not said that we wished to condemn the party [i.e., the Fascist Party] as such. Our aim has been to point out and to condemn all those things in the programme and in the activities of the party which have been found to be contrary to Catholic doctrine and Catholic practice, and therefore irreconcilable with the Catholic name and profession."
The Liberal State is agnostic, mechanical, individualistic; the Fascist State is dogmatic, organic, authoritative. The Fascist State is monarchical and hierarchical, and is not divided horizontally into classes, but rather vertically into professions and occupations. The Liberal State leaves the seat of authority with the people, and is governed (at least in theory) by the will of mechanical majorities. It would seem, then, that the Fascist State can become a truly Catholic State in that it is consonant with the Catholic doctrine of authority. But it is not yet a fully Catholic State. As the Pope says: There are—"things in the programme and in the activities of the party which have been found contrary to Catholic doctrine and Catholic practice."
The Fascist State in Italy does not yet, perhaps, see (by reason of the foreign elements already mentioned, which cloud its vision) the full implication of its principles. If it develops, as it should do, into fully right relations with the Church—if it sincerely and whole-heartedly acknowledges the Church's magisterium in faith and morals, and her supreme rights as guardian of the moral law—it will surely become a Catholic State, which no Liberal State can do. If the Liberal, Socialistic, and Masonic elements, not yet completely absorbed and transformed, gain the upper hand, and the State presses its claims beyond their proper limits, it will become, no doubt, a form of Socialism, and eventually Communistic.

The "National Church" Danger.

All discerning Catholics must rejoice that the late quarrel of the Fascist Government with the Church has been made up. If a final rupture between the Church and the Italian State were to take place, Fascism would almost certainly break up, and Italy would suffer what Spain is now suffering— and perhaps a worse fate. As things are we have to expect disagreements between Church and State from time to time; but as long as the government is in the hands of wise, patriotic, and honest (if fallible) men, such disagreements will eventually be settled. Even in a fully Catholic State clashes would sometimes occur, as they did frequently in the Middle Ages.
To some people there has seemed to be a danger that the Fascist State may come to regard the Church as a national thing, or attempt to set up a national Church. But if Italianita is a mark of Fascist Italy, so is Romanita; and the Roman spirit is supranational. Rome, it is true, is now the capital of Italy, and as such, it will never become the capital of the world. But Rome is also the seat of the Papacy, for the Pope is still the Bishop of Rome, and as such it is the centre of a supranational and world-wide institution.

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Fascist Discipline.

The Fascist regime is authoritative and disciplinarian; the Government really governs. Firm government—and therefore strict discipline — is not tyranny if it is not arbitrary, but is in accordance with justice. The laws of Italy are more satisfactory of the requirements of Christianity than are those of England. For example: the Catholic religion must be taught in the State schools; adultery is a crime; divorce is not recognised; the sale of birth-preventive literature and appliances is forbidden. The discipline is, no doubt, strict; but strictness is required. The Italians, having undergone a terrible experience, have no desire to see it repeated. "But there is a censorship of the press." Yes! Articles subversive of morality, order, and political security fall under the ban, and the immodest pictures which disgrace so many of our English papers are not seen in Italy now. Secret societies and subversive movements and their agents are severely dealt with; but there is no tyranny in this. A good dose of Fascist discipline would not be amiss in England !
In more tranquil and less perilous days that discipline may be safely, and no doubt will, be relaxed; meanwhile it is necessary.
English Catholics will do well to follow the development of Fascism with more attention and greater sympathy than many of them do now—and with earnest prayer. Much that concerns ourselves, and the future of Europe, depends upon its fate.—"Catholic Times."

Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1954), Friday 26 February 1932, page 5

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