Something is telling me louder and louder that we have got it wrong, or that it is going wrong. I mean the system we generally sell as ‘European values’.
It is like over recent months I have been constantly catching snatches of another song, with a beat that penetrates deeper than the daily musical diet of the last sixty odd years:
- From reading various German authors up to about 1960 (Jünger, Wiechert, Andres), all born before WWI, I get strains of another, older value system, that has been nearly smothered out of existence. Essentially ‘aristocratic’, at times unashamedly elitist, with a deep sense of honour and loyalty, and its moral code closely linked into the established church.
- I pick it up also in the traditional Spanish system, for example from the accounts of the family of the late Belgian Queen Fabiola. Historically it was monarchist and anti-Republican and welcomed Franco’s putsch of 1936, even if it and the Franquist regime kept each other at a cautious distance.
- I pick it up in the traditionalist Catholics of the Society of Pius X (Lefevrists), which seems to have made particular inroads into the French aristocracy, many of whose more Catholic members may be more in favour of Le Pen (the French far right leader) than they would want to say publicly.
- I am getting it from Russia, whose propaganda machine is making a pretty good job of making European values look spineless and unfocused, a society in which a basic human right is to have no values.
Against this what we seem to have in Western Europe right now is a system that, while it works well in terms of economic goods , general law and order and bureaucratic efficiency, fails to meet a deeper hunger. You can talk about a missing religious element if you want. Yes, the Christian church has been talking for the past 40 years of the need to reevangelize, as church congregations wither. But it has preached a distinctly individual Christianity, missing out on a basic human need for religion at a group and identity-giving level.
I am beginning to think that this need for a ‘religious’ foundation to society is something fundamental to the way we are and are meant to function, and we neglect this at our peril. This is something the European political establishment is really scared about: with memories of Hitler, Mussolini and Degrelle, it does not want mass movements which get out of its control (demagogy is a top ‘fear word’ for this class), is unhappy at certain of the moral dictates that such a mass movement will call far (stronger emphasis on family, stricter abortion laws, keeping LGBT activity off the streets) and has the problem of avoiding such a movement turning into immigrant or gay-bashing. Modern Christian theology too has a problem with religion at this level, as it means concentrating much of the energy of one’s elite on maintaining a broad-based religion, inevitably in some sort of inter-action with the powers-that-be, that keeps religion on a very ‘low’ level, with a constant danger of being used for political ends. For these theologians, Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 AD was a major wrong turn.
I am beginning to think, that if we are ever to have a credible shared value system in Europe, we are going to have to go back and reevaluate our history. We will need first to look again at society as it existed before the 1914-1918 cataclysm, the last period of relatively stable values, for the most part couched in religious language, and see what we can learn. But in particular, we will have to look very hard indeed at the period 1918 to 1945, a period of strong clashes of values, and ask whether the post-war solution settlement we had in Western Europe, and which now extends to most of the rest of Europe, was and remains, the best one. The big problem is that one of the strongest movements in the interbellum period with a sense of value, in particular with both a society-wide and religious aspect to it, was fascism. This was essentially proscribed in the post-war settlement (Spain and Portugal, where it continued were too off-centre and poor to matter). My own personal reading of the Third Reich is that Hitler and (perhaps more Goebels) smelled the spiritual vacuum that existed with the fall of the German Imperial system. Anyone who has read Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf or Ernst Wiechert’s Ein einfaches Leben will sense what I mean. Read or watch the film newsreels of Hitler’s or Goebels’ speeches and you realize that they are speaking straight into this vacuum. Today I fear this vacuum is being filled by consumerism and easy sex.
This blanket proscription of fascism may, in my view, have been a mistake.
There are, I believe, two spiritual principles involved here. The first is that the spiritually very right and the spiritually very wrong are often very close: when something is spiritually good the Evil One will make serious attempts to pervert it (as someone said: ‘The devil never pays his own taxi’), second that when fighting and defeating something spiritually wrong, one must take great care not to throw out the good with the bad. My hypothesis is that there was potentially something deeply right in the movement that brought the Nazis, the Fascists and the Falange into power, that the Evil one went hard for it, and perverted it, causing enormous bloodshed, but that in rebuilding society after 1945, a lot of good got thrown out with the bad. Now, nearly seventy years on, it may be time to ask again in Europe what was both good and bad in these movements, and then whether there is any way of keeping this good with solid safeguards against the bad. If you like, a form of social being that combines a sense of pride in being, a sense of duty to society and social purposefulness, minus concentration camps, gas ovens and master-race language. Something with a sense of the ‘aristocratic’ in the best sense of the term, without being limited to inherited title or wealth.
I suspect also that this is the question that, in a different language, the Russian church and the power structures close to it are asking.