We Build the Future
ALL of us who have followed the career of Mrs. Anne Morrow Lindbergh respect her literary accomplishments, her bravery and intelligence. Yet, because of her success in giving literary form to romantic adventure, her latest book, The Wave of the Future, is perhaps being questioned less seriously than it deserves. The author disarms criticism by urging the reader not to regard her as ‘a specialist in history, economics or foreign affairs.'
Is the future a wave, as Mrs. Lindbergh describes it in her ‘Confession of Faith’? Is it something outside of us which will sweep over us? Is there ‘no fighting it’? Are we ‘just children who could not fight against the gigantic roller that loomed up ahead suddenly’? The helpless determinism imposed by the use of these word pictures strikes at the root of Christian ethics. Our civilization has been built upon the conviction that the future is what we, each one of us, make it. The future of humanity is built out of many creative acts; we all participate in the shaping of it.
The bewilderment Mrs. Lindbergh seems to feel in the face of the future which she cannot comprehend results in her passive acceptance of all change. ‘There is no sin,’ she tells us, ‘punished more implacably by nature than the sin of resistance to change. . . . To resist change is to sin against life itself.’ In comparison with this sin, persecution, aggression, rape, and war sink into insignificance. They are sins too, to be sure, but they merely constitute the ‘scum of the wave.’
But is not much of life resistance to change? Surely it depends upon the direction of the change whether it is a ‘sin’ to resist it. To have resisted the change which was threatened in the assault of the Turks upon Vienna was surely no ‘sin,’ or the change which was resisted by the heroes of Thermopylae. On the other hand, Pilate’s rejection of Christ was a sin, if we accept the Christian view. This ‘if’ is all-important. It shows that sin has meaning only in relation to the ideas we value. The mere fact that the Nazis represent change tells us nothing about whether or not we ought to oppose them.
Are Hitler & Co. — that is to say, Hitler and all those marching under his banner, from Stalin to the men of Vichy and the Bund in the bargain — simply the scum of the wave? Are they but the ‘evil associates’ of ‘great ideas,’ as Mrs. Lindbergh would have us believe? What are these great ideas ? Unfortunately she never gives us even an inkling of what they may be. Presumably she herself is not sure. She feels a wave coming and she is frightened. No one can blame her for that; the spectacle of a world dominated by Hitler is terrifying. But that does not mean that we have to accept the changes which the dictators seek to bring about. For they are clearly the most extensive reactionary movement known to us in history. Far from supporting Mrs. Lindbergh’s notion, the facts show us that the dictators would throw mankind back into feudalism. Tyranny is nothing new. The Führer principle is an attempt to disguise the reintroduction of the feudal system in which serfs were bound to their lord by unquestioning loyalty. Is it not characteristic that this neofeudalism is strongest in those lands which still contain many feudal remnants — Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, and Japan?
Mrs. Lindbergh would label the dictators ‘part of a vast revolution,’ but was not Napoleon also ‘part of a vast revolution’? Were the British wrong in resisting him? Or were they right in asking the vital question: ‘Is this still the revolution? Or have ideas been turned into tools of oppression and force? Is this still a forward march, or is it terrified reaction?’ Not to make this vital distinction is romantic vagueness, the emotionalism of Weltschmerz. It is a very common confusion of historical perspective, and one assiduously promoted by the dictators, to term their movements an ‘ inevitable revolution.’ But these historical analogies are not well worked out; for, if there is any comparison between the French Revolution and our own time, the Dantons and the Robespierres find their counterpart in the Trotskys, the Liebknechts, and the Lenins, and just as the reaction triumphed over them in the person of Napoleon Bonaparte, so reaction has triumphed over revolutionary socialism in the persons of Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler. This may be the analogy; we cannot be sure about it.
We cannot be sure, because it is not yet clear what the direction of revolutionary socialism has been. That our industrial society is increasingly socialized, only a blind man could deny. Was revolutionary socialism, such as developed in Russia and Germany after the war, a part of that development? Very probably. But was it a change in the right direction? Who could be sure? Historical analogies are very dangerous, particularly when drawn with contemporary events in mind. The world around us is a world hard to see in perspective.
Both the French and the Russian revolutionaries saw themselves as fighting for democracy. They did not know how to achieve their ends, and hence were overtaken by a bloody reaction, followed by imperial aggression. Mrs. Lindbergh, not recognizing the present as a reactionary phase, would like to clinch her argument by juxtaposing ‘the old world of England, France and the United States to the new world of fascist Europe.’ By putting it that way, she neglects the powerful forces working in the right direction here. She forgets that the only places where a man today can say and discuss freely what he thinks Marx, Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler mean are England and the United States. What, then, about the new world of the United States? How can we build it, as she herself wishes us to do, if we accept her counsel of not resisting the fascist reaction and its corruption of the future?
We like Mrs. Lindbergh’s frank avowal that if we do not better our civilization — our way of life and our democracy — there will be no use in trying to save it by fighting. But, while elder conservatives may think that we can save it merely by fighting, we of the younger generation have no such illusions. We ask another question: How can we better our civilization while the gang of dictators are at work? Look at America today as contrasted with only a few years ago. The resources urgently needed for social improvement have now to be expended for a colossal armament to break that very wave which Mrs. Lindbergh would have us ride.
What is even worse, many people are getting so agitated about certain groups in our midst that they advocate ‘abandoning democracy temporarily in order to save it.’ And what about the increasing tendency to call one’s political opponent a dictator and a fifth-columnist? This all constitutes the impact of totalitarianism upon us. Surely we are entitled to ask: How can we build our fut urc, as long as this reaction confronts us?
This does not mean that we think the job is done when Hitler has been defeated. Far from it. Thoughtful people will never pretend that ‘civilization can be “saved” by simply going to war.’ It is certainly true that the most gigantic problems will face the world after it has emerged from the present reactionary phase. The collapse of the dictators will be followed by large-scale unemployment and economic dislocation. For, since they ‘created’ employment by preparing for war, bold thought will be required to project a reconstruction as vast as was the preparation for war and the destruction it brought.
No one recognizes that more clearly than the Brit ish. Indeed, unless all signs are deceiving, a great change is taking place in Britain. The common man is emerging. Democracy is on the march. We all realize — most of all the British themselves — that, much was wrong with the British Empire and its social system. But this does not alter the fact that the British are now defending the future of freedom. They are defending the right of people to decide for themselves the direction in which they wish to go in the future, not as the defenseless victims of an inexorable fate, but as the responsible participants in a great task.
We wonder whether Mrs. Lindbergh would not, on further reflection, accept this interpretation herself. She finds eloquent words for a tribute to the gallantry of the British. But the British are not alone. There are millions among the various peoples that have fallen under the conqueror’s heel who are sacrificing life and all to carry on the struggle. Mrs. Lindbergh evidently does not recognize their struggle as meaningful. In speaking of those who ‘ defend the good, the Christian, the democratic, the capitalistic world’ she asserts: ‘They are right, but only right relative to that small stage at which they are looking.’ But why call the stage small upon which the drama of the Christian and humanist revolution has already been playing for two thousand years — and with the end not yet in sight? There seems to be little justification for lumping together the capitalist and the Christian world, for surely the ethical principles of Christianity as exemplified in democracy far transcend capitalism, both in time and in space.
We cannot believe that Mrs. Lindbergh will not come to a sounder view of the present struggle. In her efforts to ‘find a deeper and truer answer’ she ventures the guess that the terrible upheavals of our time are due to ‘some new and perhaps even ultimately good conception of humanity trying to come to birth.’ True enough, but the dictators are seeking to prevent it. Ruthlessly suppressing the creative impulses in man, they are trying to turn the clock back. Against a progressive Germany, a liberal Italy, they marshaled the forces of a decaying feudalism, the frenzy of an obsolete nationalism. Mrs. Lindbergh’s concluding paragraph shows her to be on the other side, our side. Reform, she writes, should be a reaffirmation of our beliefs.
It should be a reaffirmation of them, an extension of them to wider fields and deeper recesses. It need not mean abandoning our fundamental principles, but rather a reëxamination of them to determine whether we are following the dead letter or the living spirit which they embody. It should not mean forsaking the beacons which have led us in the past, but a rekindling of them. It should be essentially a life-giving process. In other words, it seems to me that a creative act is demanded of us. And like all acts of creation it will take labor, patience, pain — and an infinite faith in the future.
This is grand. It is the democratic view. It is the future.
And therefore, when Mrs. Lindbergh says that in this war the ‘Forces of the Past’ are fighting the ‘Forces of the Future,’ she is utterly wrong as she means it. For the dictators certainly stand for the past. In the light of her own conclusion, Democracy, the social democracy of continuous reform, embodies the Forces of the Future — the Future we build.