23 FEBRUARY 1940, Page 9



ONE of the most hopeful figures of the last war never survived it. He was Gilbert Talbot. Toc H. is his memorial, but it might have been something greater still, an experiment in Christian statesmanship, by which we remember him. Unlike his brothers he chose not to seek ordination, because he was convinced that God had called him to another task, to become a Christian statesman in a sense different from such Christian statesmen of the past as Gladstone and Salisbury. Neither was his model. He meant, so the tradition runs, to hold aloof from the ordinary political parties, and to fight his elections and win power on what an American would call the Christian Ticket. The conception is bewildering, and a German bullet left him no chance of testing whether his was a far-sighted perception of reality or an idle dream. But it might have been the former. His was a rare spirit, and many who knew him believed as fully in his vision as they did in himself.

Now we are at war again, and, almost punctually, the same kind of dream troubles the rest of our more creative spirits: Christian politics in a Christian polity ; there is otherwise no hope for England or for Europe. But the approach today is not the same as it was in 1914, and while no responsible thinker supposes that it is possible to make a Christian country without having in the process to act through political channels, nobody is suggesting the forma- tion of a Christian Party as a possible alternative to Labour or the National Government. The new approach is still more radical and exacting.

In England it is largely associated with the thinking of Christian laymen of the type of J. H. Oldham, T. S. Eliot, Middleton Murry, and Christopher Dawson. There are others as well, and they lead a considerable number of clergy. They form no group. So far as I know they are not in active association with each other, and their move- ment is at present a movement in thought only. But all their minds are moving in the same direction: That is likely enough, for the data on which e.very Christian mind is bound to work today are so impossible to mistake or mis- interpret. The point from which all Christian thinking is bound to start is God's judgement on our civilisation. To judge a thing is to assess its value, and such a judgement becomes universally apparent in periods when the thing judged is, so to speak, shown up in its own consequences. Such a period is our own. The worth of our civilisation is being declared, and that worth is not great. The Christian must add that the little worth of our civilisation is precisely due to the extent to which the spirit of secularism has per- meated it. Hence his problem is clear : how to turn a secular into a theocratic civilisation with as little suffering as possible. For the prophet of 1914 it seemed natural to look first to Parliamentary action to effect the transformation. The prophets of 194o are looking elsewhere.

It is inevitable that they should, and the fact that they do is not in the least another facile, silly sneer at Par- liamentary-institutions. But in the last ten years or so we have learned two new words, Leadership and Community, and between them they govern most modern thought. The very titles of the three books I have most in mind as I write are symptomatic of the changed approach of Christian thinkers to the " Kingdoms of this world." They are Beyond Politics, The Price of Leadership, and The Idea of a Christian Society. Put them together, and what emerges? The necessary leadership will not come from Parliament, not because it is an effete body, but because we do wrong to look there. A community does not live through its legisla- ture alone ; it hardly expresses itself through its legislature at all. Its real soul, and its means of self-expression, is through the innumerable lesser communities within itself, artistic, economic, parochial. Before there can be seen even the beginnings of a Christian society the life of these lesser communities must, so to speak, be told in Christian phrases. The daily paper, the municipal orchestra, the town council, the Federation of British Industries, the Mineworkers' Federation—these are the real centres of gravity and organs of creative social power. The real problem is how to make the incorporation of a governing Christian ethos into the essence of their being seem to them natural and practical.

It is hard to imagine a stiffer proposition, but a good part of the difficulty lies in the fact that the technique for tackling it has hardly been explored, and the machinery does not exist. For this is a work quite beyond the scope of the ordinary diocesan-parochial organisation of religious force. The parishes are designed to offer to individuals, one at a time, the challenge of the Gospel, and this work is in all circumstances crucial, since it recruits the Christian indi- viduals to serve Christian policies. Without the steady maintenance of parochial work at its highest level, all talk of the best way to bring the Gospel to the community as such is academic chatter and no more. But, given that, what these thinkers are doing is to work out a new technique to build upon it.

Leadership and Community are its keywords. They stress again and again that these two conceptions are not incom- patible but complementary. To put a soul into a secular organism is to provide it with consciously Christian leader- ship. It is for that reason that two of these books have so much to say about education, and the need to spread the public-school training in leadership throughout the educa- tional system of the State. Leadership is a vital principle, even though totalitarianism has made its name stink. But it is only a life-giving principle when exercised from within the community and in conscious service of it.

If it is true that this war is fought between Christian and Satanic principles, it is obvious that our English community must be girding up its loins to make of itself a Christian society, and that it will only survive the disillusion of the post-war years, when they come, if it is making such an effort. The suggestions of this mode of prophesy are a really hopeful feature of our time. They may be riddled with every kind of practical difficulty, but they are genuinely contemporary, and they do tackle the issue at its real point of gravity. Moreover, we must not exaggerate even the difficulties, for there is one tremendous asset which, so far as I remember, is not mentioned in any of these books. It is the apparently unquenchable theism of the ordinary man No changing intellectual fashion, no march of science, no horrifying disaster and no war seems able to drive out of his head the certainty that somewhere there is some sort of God. As long as that is true no Christian policy is hopeless.