18 OCTOBER 1946, Page 16

The Cult of Sermonizing

The Cult of Power : Essays. By Rex Warner. (John Lane. 7s. 6d.) THE first of Mr. Rex Warner's essays gives this book its title, and introduces the thetne—" the conflict between freedom and authority." The other subjects are Dickens, Aeschylus, allegory, freedom of expression, VE-Day, study of the classics and Dostoievsky. The essays are of interest on account of their expression of a point of view, rather than for any notable originality of thought ; while, evJ and anon, the reader might believe himself to be dipping into a volume of sermons—thoughtful, earnest " jaws" by a well-read curate, who believes in planning and doesn't mind calling a spade a spade.

The author's thesis (as we understand it) is, in the first instance, that he was deceived by lecturers from the League of Nations Union, who assured him that wars would cease because no one wanted to be killed. Then came " the violent self-assertion of the individual," and the emergence of Fascism and its attendant evils. Now (says Mr. Warner), although " There were many people who made careful and correct analyses of the way in which things were going, who protested at each betrayal of the ordinary common-sense principle without which peace would certainly be threatened," there were also " certain powerful interests and powerful people who were so blinded by their fear of Soviet Russia that they successfully blinded many of their own countrymen and led them into death and destruc- tion." But we have already been told (in the first essay) that " The only reply to the cult of individual or racial power and violence is the actual practice of general justice, mercy, brotherhood and under- standing." Well and good ; but how was this very general directif to be interpreted, and where does the Soviet come in? Presumably we were not to appease Germany. Were we to accede to the price of Russian alliance—half Poland, the Baltic States, the Finnish polls, and the Dardanelles? Even so, Fascism would have remained ; or

" the arbitrament of war." Som . thing should have been done earlier? But many of the people making " careful and correct analyses " had declared that Versailles was unjust and Germany, freed from Allied subjection, must go her own road. What form vis-à-vis Hitler (or Stalin) was "justice, mercy, brotherhood and understanding" to take?

Nor are matters clarified by Mr. Warner's assessment of nationalism, which he calls " one of those constricted ideas which the critical philosophy of Europe imagined to be discredited." With- out investigating the credentials Of that mysterious entity "the philosophy of Europe," one may at least enquire wilat evidence in recent years suggested to Mr. Warner that nationalism was " dis- credited." It is like saying that the wet weather this summer has been " discredited." When the ownership of Teschen is discussed, do the Poles and the Czechs feel that nationalism is " discredited " ; or the Hungarians and Rumanians when Transylvania is in question? Is nationalism "discredited " in Yugoslavia, or Eire, or Palestine ; or for that matter in the United States? The Soviet, it is true, might be said to " discredit " the national susceptibilities of the States over which she exercises a hegemony ; but at home Russian nationalism can hardly be described as " discredited." In this connection we may consider the essay on Dostoievsky and the Collapse of Liberalism, to which a third of the book is devoted. No reader un- familiar with Dostoievsky's writings could hope to guess from it that Dostoievskv was a fanatical pan-Slav and apostle of Russian chauvinism, who wrote (together with much else in that vein): " War, far from being the scourge of humanity, is extremely bene- ficial." On the subject of Freedom of Expression Mr. Warner remarks: " Here I assume only this: that the new State will have met the pressing needs of humanity—food, work, peace, security." We may well echo: " Only this! " and turn to Mr. Warner on the classics or Dickens, where he is more at home than in solving the country's problems, regarding which he remarks: " Nor is the situa- tion likely to be helped by bogus religious revivals led by elderly generals." Some may feel that the speculations of civilian pundits— even scarcely middle-aged ones—are equally unsatisfying unless