Having abandoned our traditional rules we have not known how to organize our individual life according to new ideas. We were passionately in love with liberty. The majority of us took a positive pleasure in the disorder and indifference which inevitably follow the throwing off of all constraint. But, beyond the traditional discipline, we have not found the Promised Land of the fathers of materialistic Liberalism. Very few of us have the time or the taste for meditation. For those who have, however, the freedom engendered by the progress of rationalism, science and technology does not show the shining countenance our forefathers attributed to it in advance. Emancipated man is by no means comparable to an eagle soaring in the immensity of the sky. He far more closely resembles a dog escaped from its kennel and dashing hither and thither among the traffic. He can indeed, like the dog, do exactly as he pleases and go wherever he wants. He is none the less lost because he does not know where to go or how to protect himself from the dangers which surround him. How is he to discover once again the moral security his ancestors knew when they built the Gothic cathedrals on the soil of Europe? Those men were part of a society in which each had his place and from which none was excluded; where the humblest as well as the greatest knew how he should behave, whither he was bound and what was the true meaning of life and death. Nowadays we have left forever the little house which made up the universe of our forefathers. We have left the trees and the plants, our brothers the animals, and the sweet valley where, in the misty dawn, the angels of the Lord sometimes walked at our side. We are content to be imperceptible microbes, vegetating on a grain of dust which itself is lost in the empty heavens. We are strangers in this mysterious universe where our joys, our desires, our anguish wake no single echo; where, in no realm, do we ever encounter the spirit.
Nevertheless, it is impossible for us to ignore the existence of the world of lovers, saints and poets. But this spiritual world differs profoundly from the physical from which, none the less, it is inseparable. In the shoreless ocean of reality, man finds only what he seeks. St. Francis of Assisi found God; Einstein, the laws of the cosmos. God can only be encountered outside the dimensions of space and time; beyond the intellect, in that indefinable realm, which according to Ruysbroek the Admirable, can only be penetrated by love and longing. For the majority of men, the universe of the physicists and that of the mystics are alike sealed. The first is symbolized by mathematical formulas which we do not yet understand and the second is described in terms of medieval philosophy which have lost their meaning for us.
Both these languages are only intelligible to a few initiates. Today there is no communication between the realm of the soul and the realm of matter. No one has attempted to do for us what St, Thomas Aquinas successfully did for the men of the Middle Ages. Yet we need a coherent universe in which each person can once again find his place; where the spiritual and material are not in separate compartments; and where we know how to find our way. We are beginning to realize that it is dangerous to travel the roads of life without compass or guide.
It is strange that the realization of this danger should not have induced us to find a means of organizing our life in a rational way. True, the number of those who clearly perceive the acuteness of the danger is, even now, infinitesimal. Hardly anyone understands that the policy of laissez-faire produces as disastrous results in the life of individuals as in that of nations. The Church alone continues to fight for the maintaining of strict moral rules but this fight is far from being victorious. The vast majority nowadays is determined to five as it pleases. Intoxicated by the material facilities which the immense progress of technology is able to offer it, it has no intention of foregoing a single privilege of modern civilization. Like the water of a stream which loses itself indifferently in lake, desert or marsh, life follows the slope of our desires and flows into every form of mediocrity or corruption. Today its current is set toward profit, amusement and sensual satisfaction.
In the mental climate created by Liberalism, the idea of profit has invaded our whole field of consciousness. Wealth appears as the supreme good; success is measured in units of money. Business affairs are sacred. The search for material gain has spread from banking, industry and commerce to all other human activities. The mainspring of our actions is the desire to gain some personal and, above all, pecuniary advantage. Equally, we want to satisfy our vanity by promotions, titles, decorations and social position. This self-interest is dissimulated with subtle hypocrisy; it appears as altruism or disguises itself in various ingenious ways. In the army and the university, in administration and law, we witness long-term plots against the dangerous rival; carefully camouflaged betrayals, stabs in the back in the dark. Honor has become an anachronism. Those who devote themselves to an ideal and who work without self-interest are considered hypocrites or fools. The love of gain penetrates everywhere. It operates in that charitable lady whose secret aim is not to help the poor but to be president of a committee, to be decorated with the Legion of Honor or, more prosaically, to make a profit out of opening a canteen. It operates in that great doctor who is always insisting to his pupils and patients the efficacy of some remedy when, all the while, he is being secretly paid by its manufacturers. What of that learned professor whose effort is directed, not to the advance of knowledge, but to a chair in the Academy and the discreet financial perquisites of authority? What of those doctors who, in their public pronouncements and even in their private practice, display an astonishing moral decadence? What of that undergraduate who bribes someone in the know to tell him beforehand the subject of an examination essay? Or of that schoolboy selling vitamin sweets, given to him by his school, on the black market? Too often the vulgar and cruel face of self-interest hides behind the mask of devotion, knowledge, charity and even innocence. We have this passion for gain because money can procure anything. First and foremost, it purveys power. Nearly every man can be bought: if not with money itself, at least with those things which only those who have it can give.
Money can satisfy all our desires because the desires themselves are base.
Our idea of living is the blind satisfaction of appetite. We eat to excess, without regard to the laws of nutrition. Our food is ill-chosen and often ill-prepared. Women have forgotten how to cook. Civilized people have formed the habit of daily intoxicating themselves with overlarge doses of tea, coffee, spirits, wine, cider and tobacco. Thanks to commercial advertising, the people of the West have created new needs for themselves. The craving for alcohol is partly responsible for our modern decadence. Civilized people are also at the mercy of their sexual appetites; appetites whose perversion is so harmful to old and young. But there are other, subtler appetites, less apparently harmful than sexual excesses or the craving for drink. Such are the love of denigration and lying; delight in duplicity, a taste for sophistry, verbosity, verbalism and witty backbiting. This spiritual immoderation is almost as dangerous as the ridiculous pleasure of excessive drinking.
Western civilization is distinguished by its worship of the intellect. Yet there is no reason to give intellect pride of place over feeling. It is obviously wrong to classify young people by examinations in which moral and organic values have no place. To make thought itself the goal of thought is a kind of mental perversion. Intellectual and sexual activity alike should be exercised in a natural way. The function of the intellect is not to satisfy itself but to contribute, along with the other organic and mental functions, to the satisfaction of the individual's total needs.
life that has neither aim nor discipline naturally tends to wander off into the morass of amusement. The brute satisfaction of appetite can have a certain grandeur. But nothing is more absurd than an existence spent in amusing oneself. What is the point of living if living consists in dancing, driving frenziedly about in cars, going to the movies and listening to the radio? Such amusements uselessly dissipate the leisure which the workers have slowly and painfully acquired, thanks to machinery and modern methods of production. That vast labor has procured them four extra hours to their day; precious hours which, well used, would allow them to educate themselves; to develop themselves physically, mentally and spiritually. Instead, amusement absorbs every free moment left over by office or factory. Many young workers spend three or four evenings a week at the movies, the dance hall or the music hall. Idle chatter or silly novels take up the rest of their spare time. Another method of frittering away one's life is listening to the lies and absurdities of the radio. Some schoolchildren, it seems, can only learn their lessons while listening to the radio. The radio, like the movies, imposes complete passivity on its addicts. Amusement is in opposition to life, for life is action.
To sum up, during the period between the two world wars, all the ancient rules of conduct were thrown overboard. Everywhere, fantasy ruled. Our collective life was inspired by Liberal ideology, that fantasy of the mind In our individual life we pursued the fantasies of our senses and our intellect. Nevertheless we knew that the laws of nature existed. We should have deduced that human nature too was subject to certain rules. We thought ourselves independent of universal order and free to act as we pleased. Eating, sleeping, copulation, the possession of a car or a radio set, dancing, going to the movies and making money seemed to us the whole destiny of man. In a cloud of cigarette smoke, in the lazy bliss engendered by alcohol, everyone, in his own way, enjoyed life.