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The View from London Bridge
The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany by Guenter Lewy. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1964. 464 p. $7.50.
IN OCTOBER 1840, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Whig-Protestant and the most widely-read and influential English historian of the nineteenth century, reviewed Leopold von Ranke’s The Ecclesiastical and Political History of the Popes of Rome, during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. In Macaulay’s time Roman Catholicism, after two centuries of decline which culminated in exile and imprisonment for Pius VII by Napoleon, was demonstrating a vitality and dynamism which enabled it to threaten both Protestantism and liberalism. Macaulay and Ranke explored and expanded upon the sins of Rome, but both recognized and were puzzled by her permanence. In a famous passage from Macaulay’s review of 1840 he observed:
Nor do we see any sign that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.1
Now, a century later, Guenter Lewy in his recent book has rediscovered the Scarlet Lady and, while most of the secular and religious press of the United States is filled with the spirit of ecumenism and the excitement of Vatican II, has indicted her once more on the grounds of immorality and institutional opportunism. His study is fascinating and complex both because of the problems which it raises and the motives which lie behind its charges. Its tone of ill-concealed hostility and its unnerving assumption of moral superiority are matched only by the thoroughness of its documentation and the clarity of its analysis. Mr. Lewy clearly possesses what Justice Holmes described as an “instinct for the jugular.”
There is a certain naive charm in those historians who discover, with an intensity of moral indignation which nearly lifts them above the moral insensitivity and the common fallibility of mankind, that Popes sin, that prelates mistake institutional advantage for the will of God, that even good men, indeed saints, are not much better than the average run of their fellow men. They somehow forget that moral grandeur is not the hallmark of fallen man; that Moses doubted, that David murdered and fornicated, that Solomon as all his people before and after him, turned away from Jehovah to whore after false Gods and to live in injustice and iniquity; that Peter, reckoned by Catholics as the first pope, denied Jesus three times when Jesus’ hour of passion had come; that Judas among the chosen twelve betrayed; that mistaken Paul assisted at the martyrdom of Stephen. Those who stand at some distance from Holy Scripture and the common experience of mankind are always surprised at the history of Christianity; forgetting somehow that we are formed of the dust of the earth. Perhaps the error lies in a generous overestimation of the moral resources of human nature rather than a deeper commitment to morality. This emphasis upon perfectability and innate goodness is a common characteristic of recent Protestantism, of Whig politics, and of liberal humanism. The view, however, from London Bridge leaves few illusions and holds few surprises. The Old and New Testaments should be required reading for graduate students in history, not because they are good history, nor because they expound the basic religious attitudes and values out of which our society has developed, but because they give us such a long, uninterrupted, and candid view of the nature and possibilities of this creature, man.
AT THE WAR’S END IN 1945 a myth seemed in the process of crystalizing. As with other myths the myth of the opposition of the Catholic Church to National Socialism had its roots in reality. From the outset there had been tension and open hostility between Catholicism and National Socialism; but the myth and the world ignored those wide areas of agreement and open cooperation between National Socialism and German Catholicism, and chose to overlook the curious ambivalence and friendly neutrality so often exhibited between the Holy See and the Nazi State. Only history was capable of pointing the finger of guilt and disestablishing a myth which comforted both the Roman Church and the new Germany.
The truth, when it is finally established, will be far more interesting than the myth and far more consistent with past history and with our experience of human behavior. Yet the truth is not easily come by and there is reason to suspect that the truth in all its ramifications is still and will long be incompletely known. There is a great deal more evidence in the Vatican archives which the Church owes the world. Its effects upon world opinion cannot be more damaging than the silence which has cloaked this important aspect of contemporary history; but when the evidence is all in, there is reason to suspect that an important aspect of the truth will be a sympathetic analysis and understanding of motive. It is precisely this understanding of motive which is absent in both Rolf Hochhuth’s play, The Deputy, and Guenter Lewy’s The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany. Lewy gives us, in his study, with great care, detail, and accuracy, the facts. But in history, aside from the know-nothing histories of the positivists, the facts are always less than the truth.
As we also might suspect, the facts are far more damning than the truth. There is the fact that German Catholicism was hostile to the Weimar Republic; that it marshalled its great power against the ideological and social pluralism, the liberalism, the democracy, the secular tone of Weimar Germany. The Church’s vision was dominated by the ideal of an authoritarian state whose object was the promotion of virtue and true religion. The libertarian secularism of the Weimar Republic could only be considered by the Church as social disease, the work of Jews, liberals, Freemasons, and Bolsheviks.
There was, moreover, the fact to reckon with that German Catholics were enthusiastic nationalists who, since the days of the Kulturkampf, had been stung by the charge that Catholicism was incompatible with German patriotism. In an effort to prove themselves both good Catholics and good Germans they displayed an understandable but excessive devotion to “national rebirth,” militarization, and the revision of the Versailles treaty. Since this “national rebirth” was obviously being achieved under the leadership of the National Socialists, Catholics in large numbers joined the party and enthusiastically supported the Nazi program. As Guenter Lewy points out, such actions were not limited to the secularized laity. Numerous priests and bishops supported National Socialism out of patriotic motivation.
THE CONCLUSION IS plain. Traditional German and Catholic anti-semitism played an important role in strengthening the accommodation between National Socialism and Catholicism. It is too easy to see anti-semitism as George Mosse does in his recent study, The Crisis of German Ideology,2 as the product of volkish ideas and a social response to the crisis of the emergence of German society into modernity. Anti-semitism is much more complicated than the partial explanation which Mosse proposes. It is clear that its roots were to a substantial degree cultural and religious and reach back into German and Christian history to a point well before the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was easy for German Catholics, consequently, to be at best insensitive to the fate of the Jews under National Socialism, though most of them did not support the morally monstrous “final solution.”
There was, too, the very human effort on the part of the Church to derive some advantage from an accommodation with the dynamic National Socialist movement. When Rome was captured by the Allies in World War II, a cynic remarked of the behavior of the Roman citizenry in welcoming the Allied armies, “Everybody loves a winner, but the Romans love them just a little more.” There is a strong (if we are to judge from the historical record) parallel between Rome’s citizens and the clergy of the Roman Church. It is all too easy to see the hand of Providence supporting the successful conqueror and the triumphant tyrant. A belief in Providential history leads almost inevitably to the assumption that “whatever is, is right.”
Additionally there is a confidence in the Church, born of the divine promise and two thousand years of experience, that the Church can outlive its enemies, profit from their concessions, and eventually assist in their undoing. But in accommodating to National Socialism through the Concordat of July 1933, the Church put its stamp of approval upon a criminal regime and opened the way for a recognition of that regime within Germany and abroad. The cooperation of the Church went well beyond the Concordat. The Church played an important role in the Saar referendum, in the remilitarization of the Rhineland, in the Austrian Anschluss, in the German war effort, 1939-1945, and in the “crusade against Soviet Bolshevism.” The Catholic press in Germany was frequently little more than an extension of Goebbels’ propaganda ministry and German bishops and priests often spoke the party Chinese of the Nazis.
Ultimately the worst sins of the German Catholic Church and of the Papacy were those of omission; the failure to speak out against racism, persecution, the violation of the peace, murder on a scale hitherto unknown in human history, in morally unambigious terms. To be sure, there were infrequent statements from the German bishops and the Papacy, but they were couched in the muted and esoteric language of encyclical-Latin. If Jesus Christ had spoken this language he might have been appointed to the Sanhedrin.
THESE ARE THE “FACTS.” There are explanations possible which are more sympathetic than those adduced by Guenter Lewy. George O. Kent’s article, “Pope Pius XII and Germany: Some Aspects of German-Vatican Relations, 1933-1943,”3 is, at certain points, both more exact and more charitable than Lewy’s account. Klaus Epstein’s discussion of the problem, entitled “The Pope, the Church and the Nazis,”4 is the sanest, deftest, and most knowledgable review of the whole matter. Still, if the worst possible construction is put on the “facts,” Pius XII and his fellow bishops emerge as figures of singular moral grandeur when compared with their fellow bishops of earlier date. Given the moral condition of the world in the thirties and forties, that any objective moral standards were maintained (as indeed they were) was a signal victory. That these standards were not forcefully voiced or adequately implemented is only another in the long series of moral failures which serve to remind Catholics of the human dimension of their Church. Nor is this simply an easy way of shunting moral responsibility. “Woe to the world because of scandals! For it must needs be that scandals come, but woe to the man through whom scandal does come.” (Matt. 18:7)
If a more charitable construction is placed on the events of 1933-1945, it is frequently understandable that the protests were necessarily weak and ineffectual Pius XII was frequently forced to weigh saving Catholic souls as against saving Catholic and Jewish lives. His choice was wholly in accord with that which he thought the more important obligation. One is tempted to reply to Lewy’s condemnation of the German Church for having failed to foster an active resistance to Hitlerism by asking where, during the period of 1933-1945, the Jewish resistance was? Is it not possible that those who suffer indignity and persecution without resisting also do God’s work? One may question the reasonableness of such inaction, it is difficult to question the motive.
WHATEVER MAY BE the “ultimate truth,” Catholicism need not fear a temporarily “bad press.” Religion is rooted in responses which are not, fortunately, contingent upon the moral probity of its communicants or its leaders. The more interesting and fundamental questions, however, concern the attitude of the Catholic Church which made the initial enthusiasm of German Catholics for National Socialism possible and, secondly, the danger which this set of ideas still poses for the Catholic Church. In terms of these ultimate questions Guenter Lewy’s final chapter “Catholic Political Ideology: The Unity of Theory and Practice” is perhaps the most interesting and important part of his book.
Since St. Paul, the political theory of Catholicism has been unsatisfactory. It has been unsatisfactory largely because the Church at first saw itself and mankind as pilgrims and strangers on earth. The time between Christ’s ascension and his second coming was thought to be short, and life in the interim was provisional. Political institutions were not important to the Christian who had his treasure elsewhere. As eschatological expectation waned and the institutional Church solidified its forms and achieved victory in the struggle with paganism, some accommodation between the supernatural order which the Church represented and the secular state was necessary. Eusebius viewed the Empire of Constantine the Great as the embodiment of God’s kingdom on earth, and Constantine was elevated, at his death, to sainthood (Catholic churchmen have been making the same error as Eusebius from that day to this.) As the centuries passed Church and State were ever more completely identified. In the Christian East the identification was complete and the State emerged as the dominant partner in this strange and uncertain relationship. In the Christian West the Church with difficulty maintained its independence from the State, and the struggle of the medieval papacy to establish a theocracy left a permanent impress upon Catholic political theory.
In its growing recognition of permanence and its accommodation to temporal society, the Church identified itself ever more closely with the authoritarian culture of the medieval era. It grew progressively more difficult to distinguish the boundaries of the realms of nature and of grace as the so-called “medieval synthesis” developed. So close, indeed, was this identification between the Church and its cultural context that when, as was inevitably the case, medieval society began its long process of transition and dissolution, the Church failed to adjust its institutional structure or its political theory to the new culture which was emerging. It continued down to the last decade to maintain the necessity for a close and intimate association between Church and State and an authoritarian social order. Its views were, and in many instances remain, anti-democratic, anti-pluralistic, anti-liberal, anti-capitalistic. It is for this reason that the Church opposed liberal democratic political and social forces in the reactionary first half of the nineteenth century, when the restoration Church dreamed of a medieval revival and an alliance between throne and altar.
It is for this reason that neo-romantic Papal social theory at the turn of the century created the grotesque intellectual charade of “corporatism,” grounded, as it was, upon an imperfect understanding of medieval society. It is true, as Lewy points out, that Pope Leo XIII revolutionized Catholic political theory by divorcing it from emphatically teaching the necessity of monarchy as a state form for the welfare of the Church. Yet while other state forms were recognized as licit, the presumption of correctness was clearly in favor of authoritarianism. This is the basic reason that the Church welcomed the dissolution of liberal democratic governments in Italy, Germany, and Spain in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Nor need we point to Europe in quest of evidence. One need only recall the rasping voice of Father Charles Coughlin, leaf through an old file of Social Justice, or study the inconography of the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak to understand the full implications of the so-called “social teachings” of the Church in the 1930’s. In this atmosphere the fact that Father Coughlin circulated the antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion was no accident. It should be remembered that the Church resisted the anti-Christian aspects of National Socialism. Its guilt lay in the fact that it espoused a political phantasm which bore no relationship to the economic, cultural, or religious reality of modernity. Finally, there is no assurance at the present time that Catholic political theory has broken with the traditions of a thousand years.
Implicit in the difficulty is the fact that Catholic theologians have confused the temporal with the divine order, have confused man’s culture, which is man’s creation, with God’s revelation. When man’s culture, which always is imperfect, erring, and inextricably bound up with man’s creaturely imperfection and sinfulness, is elevated to a position of absolute validity (as it is in so much of contemporary Catholic social thought), the Church invites disaster. The institutions of man are neither eternally valid nor unambigiously moral. Even the most perfect of institutions, the Church, bears eloquent testimony to the imperfections inherent in man’s condition. It is for this reason that the Church dare not attach itself to a particular social or political order. The attachment to the older authoritarian order of Western society was the source of the failure of the Church to meet squarely the challenge of totalitarianism.
Passion and Social Constraint by Ernest van den Haag. New York, Stein and Day, 1963. 368 p. $6.95.
AMONG CONTEMPORARY American sociologists, Ernest van den Haag is perhaps the most creative and the most independent; the unique character of his work is doubtless owing, at least in part, to a most catholic upbringing. Born in Holland of Dutch parents, van den Haag was reared in Germany and later studied in France, Italy, and America. He remained for ten years in Italy, spending part of this time at the University of Bologna. After later receiving a doctorate in economics from New York University, he embarked on a career in psychoanalysis, and although he is a practicing analyst, van den Haag is best known today for his contributions to sociology.
This broad and varied background is reflected in a distinctive contribution to American social science. Whereas the overwhelming majority of his colleagues are modern-liberal in viewpoint, van den Haag is an avowed conservative. Whereas modern psychoanalytic theory has gradually blended orthodox Freudianism into the ego-oriented psychology of the neo-Freudians and their related cohorts, van den Haag holds firmly to Freud. In an age when form and order are held by many to be no longer applicable to art, literature, or even to society, when a slovenly relativism is the favored approach to life and art, van den Haag advocates an old-fashioned reliance on moral and aesthetic “truths.” He calls a spade a spade, and vulgarity, vulgarity. Popular Western culture is vulgar, he says, and for him that vulgarity is not redeemed by the material it offers for his acerb humor.
Both van den Haag’s background and his philosophical position are reflected in Passion and Social Constraint. Opinion and fact are carefully delineated and distinguished, however; a precision not often shown by van den Haag’s modern-liberal colleagues.
The opening section of the book deals with personality, which is handled from an orthodox Freudian point of view. Van den Haag presents the Freudian developmental position clearly, carefully limiting the number of “technical” terms he uses, concisely defining those he does employ, and thus managing to be easy to read without diluting what he has to talk about. In presenting evidence for and against his interpretations, he does not engage in the currently all-too-common serpentine manipulations of logic whereby a particularly embarrassing set of facts is somehow made to lead to a conclusion directly opposed to that obviously called for. In those very few instances when the facts do not seem to justify van den Haag’s interpretation, he quite candidly resorts to a salvation-is-by-faith-and-faith-alone appeal, and invokes Freud to settle the dispute—this touch of dogmatism at least provides a consistent framework for the analysis and interpretation of the existing evidence.
The most controversial aspects of the book derive from van den Haag’s insistence on the inherent “limitations of man’s nature and on the tragic nature of human destiny.” The essence of this strictly Freudian position is that biology sets limits on man’s development; culture determines only to what extent his biological potential may be fulfilled. Social change cannot eradicate basic differences between men. Hence social change will never accomplish all that its egalitarian advocates hope for.
THE SECOND SECTION of the book, that dealing with society, blends the predominantly psychoanalytic approach of the personality section with van den Haag’s conservative approach to sociology. He treats such standard sociological topics as group membership, tensions and rivalry, power and authority, cultural constraints, class and caste, but in a refreshingly original manner. Of particular interest here is the material dealing with prejudice and the Supreme Court’s desegregation decisions. Van den Haag argues that it is impossible to prove “that prejudice is clinically injurious.” If prejudice cannot be shown to be clinically injurious, then no damage has been wrought of which a court may properly take judicial notice. Van den Haag discusses the famous study of Dr. Kenneth Clark, which was cited as evidence before the Court and which declared that Negro children in a segregated school suffered psychological injury. Van den Haag points out that the same tests administered to Northern Negro children in integrated schools showed even greater manifestation of the behavior interpreted by Clark as the outcome of injurious, that is, prejudiced treatment. On the basis of Clark’s logic these findings should lead to the conclusion that desegregation is psychologically more injurious; and therefore that segregation should prevail as a means of protecting Negro children from psychological harm.
Van den Haag’s distaste for what he considers a distorted egalitarianism becomes most apparent in Part III of this book. Interestingly, he, like his modern-liberal counterparts, is vitriolic in denouncing the popular culture of today, but where they blame this deterioration on the corrupting influence of advertising and other mass media, he feels that advertising does not create taste, but merely reflects the abysmally low level of public taste. Advertising has pandered to the populace, but advertising has not created its vulgarity. The responsibility for that lies with the same leveling influences which have lowered the purchasing power of those cultivated persons who have “individual taste” while raising the purchasing power of the masses so fast that they have not been able to acquire, via education and acculturation, a respectable level of personal taste. The free market has operated to translate tastes into economic demand under these circumstances, and that demand has evoked the corresponding supply.
Whatever one’s opinions on the individual and social issues discussed in this highly readable book, one cannot fail to be impressed by the clarity of van den Haag’s exposition. Contemporary sociological jargon is little in evidence here Van den Haag also manages to make seemingly dull topics fascinating by introducing historical examples (Frederick II’s experiment to determine the natural speech of children—their nurses were instructed not to talk to them, but instead of speaking any language, all the children died). This interesting synthesis of psychoanalysis and sociology presents a truly novel discussion of contemporary mass society in a book which the educated layman can enjoy, and which the social scientist should respect.
[* ] Stephen J. Tonsor is professor of history at the University of Michigan. He is a specialist in the history of ideas, and a contributor to professional journals.
[1 ] T. B. Macaulay, “Von Ranke,” in Works (London: Longmans, Green, 1897), VI, p. 455.
[2 ] (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1964).
[3 ]American Historical Review, LXX (Oct. 1964), 59-78.
[4 ]Modern Age, IX (Winter 1964-65), 83-94.
[1 ] Richard McConchie is currently pursuing graduate studies in psychology at Columbia University.