Across one of the meanest of London's slum streets at the time of the Jubilee of King George V there hung a streamer on which was inscribed, "To hell with the Capitalists. God Save the King." I do not claim that there was any deep or accurate philosophy behind the first of these sentences. Yet they are, I think, expressive of a new, and yet old, faith that is alive in the world. The old-fashioned Swinburnian radical who saw in the priest and the king the two enemies of the people is dying fast. The true enemy is he whom Mr. H.G. Wells so happily calls the "smart Alec,"(224) the man to whom the whole end of life is the extraction of money from the pockets of his fellow-citizens by a variety of tricks. Priests and kings may have had their faults, but at least they are symbols of a power that is not of this world; they are reminders of values that the "smart Alec "has never known. And with all his pomposity what is the high financier but a "smart Alec" in a top-hat ? It is intolerable that the high culture of Christendom should be thrown into jeopardy to provide a platform for the tricks of these empty men.
Nor is it only by their follies and their incompetence that they throw us into jeopardy. There is a more subtle danger. They set up their standards of what life is, and weary, simple souls answer that, if that is all that life is, then it is not worth living. It is to that conclusion of futility that the Western world has been gradually coming under the tyranny of "smart Alec's" rule. There is no materialistic reason at all why our civilization should be in danger of dissolution. The material damage of the last War was tiny. The new inventions which its necessities called forth were sufficient to replace all that was destroyed again and again. The danger to our civilization is a spiritual danger the danger that a race is growing up which is unable to see any point in life, which merely does not care to survive. The poetry of Baudelaire, M. Paul Valery tells us, is "la poésie même de la modernité."(225) Statistics do not carry us very far in the demonstration of this danger, but, in so far as a statistic is relevant, it is not that of material productivity but of the falling birth-rate.
In any newspaper that one picks up one can find raging the eternal controversy whether people should be permitted to use contraceptive devices. But it is extraordinary how rarely one hears the comment, "What an amazing thing it is that people should not want to have children!" And it is extraordinary, too, among all the welter of statistics, how rarely attention is called to the exact and grim coincidence between the fall in the birth-rate and the rise in the suicide-rate.(226) Yet it is our sorry privilege to belong to the generation which reproduces itself less frequently and which blows its brains out more frequently than any generation since Christendom began.
It is not easy to find arguments against the use of contraceptives, where for medical reasons, the woman is unable to bear a child. The Christian indeed must refrain because he believes that the sexual gift is a very special gift of God, and it is only legitimate for him to use God's gifts in the way which God ordains. But, if he be asked what is his evidence that God has so ordained, the only utterly convincing answer is that the Church, which is the voice of God, says so. It is therefore unreasonable to expect those who do not recognize in the Church the voice of God necessarily to accept its ordinance. But what is interesting is that in the modern world the use of contraceptives is, more often than not, defended not as an exceptional expedient where child-bearing is impossible but as a general habit to prevent child-bearing. The argument used is the economic argument. Now this argument is not only a false argument; it does not begin to make sense at any point whatsoever. If there is unemployment to-day, the reason for it is that there are not enough consumers. Never has there been a time when the world could more easily produce the necessities for a population vastly greater than it possesses. And the true reason for the fall in the birth-rate is beyond question not an economic but a psychopathic one. People are ceasing to have children because they are ceasing to want children; they are ceasing to want children because they are ceasing to want anything; they are ceasing to want anything because they are ceasing to believe in anything. To them(227)
The ultimate punishment then which usury exacts is a spiritual punishment the destruction of joy. It is the great cheater. It cheats the few, the lenders, with the vain hope of living for ever upon their breeding metals and a permanent, independent income, they and their families plastered round with their mechanical amusements, bored while they have them and terrified lest they lose them. It keeps the many, the borrowers, under the continual tyranny of a debt that is irrepayable, though the failure to repay it is a deadly sin. To Voltaire, the high prophet of the faith of Mammon, the London Stock Exchange was a holy place, for there they asked no one for his religious faith "et ne donnent le nom d'infiddles qu'á ceux qui font banqueroute."(228) The mocking sceptic thought that he was putting forward a humorous plea for tolerance. But he did not foresee that the turn of time would give to his words an irony more terrible than any of which even he was ever master. He did not foresee that a whole world would come to hold his faith and that the whole world would be driven into bankruptcy. For under usury life withers, and the worship of the sterile metals spreads sterility over the whole life of society.
Now the deepest strength of President Roosevelt's appeal, as we can see from such a book as Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt's Farewell to Fifth Avenue, is that it is at bottom a spiritual remedy for a spiritual disease. Both he and his ministers have perhaps made mistakes in detail and will perhaps make still more mistakes. But such mistakes can never blur the mighty truth that his appeal has not been to one class against another class. His appeal has been to a people and a world, sick to death of the division of the Two Nations and the meanness of class war, an appeal to the noble soul against the petty soul in every man of every class, an invitation to destroy class divisions in the transcendent unity. It has been, as he himself has put it with courage and with simplicity, an appeal "to restore ... the ancient truths."(229)
224. Experiment in Autobiography, H. G. Wells.
225. Do What you Will, Aldous Huxley. Essay on Baudelaire.
226. See the present writer's Breakdown of Money, pp. 198-210.
227. "All is laughter, all is dust, all is nothing; everything is born of unreason." Glycon, ed., Greek Anthology, Mackail, 12, 34.
228. Quoted by Amintore Fanfani, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism, p. 98.
229. From his Inaugural Address.