Before getting into our discussion of World War III, I should like to make my political and religious positions clear. I am for independence, and the Catholic Church.
Perhaps this will sound vague, to a contemporary reader. The first part – an acknowledgment of national sovereignty – is intended to be vague. I realize that most are more patriotic than I, by disposition. My heart leaps at national anthems, and brave heraldry, but then, it leaps at any pretty tune.
To reverse Doctor Johnson (“patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”), I am more patriotic than nationalist. It is a comfortable sentiment, varied occasionally by the sense of shame, but preferring to be proud, rather than embarrassed. Freedom is what counts, in the winning of my sentimental loyalty. It is what makes this loyalty a voluntary thing.
When I declare that “I come from a free country,” I am announcing my loyalty. If one cannot say or, worse, think that, one’s loyalty is impaired: for loyalty is really then a form of slavery. One makes whatever accommodation he can, consistent with his higher moral and civic commitments, but as a subject who is essentially captive.
Needless to say, there are different degrees of capture, and enslavement. But the purer forms of liberty are not presently available in the West, or in any other polities I know of. It is directly contradicted by our “ideal” of democracy, which brings majority rule, with all its impositions.
My own tastes and enterprise have never followed the majority scheme, in any country I have lived in. There is hardly an official program, eleemosynary or other, that I do not wish to be exempted from. I should like to decide what to do with my possessions, and not have them monitored. I don’t like being monitored, myself.
Yet currently, more than half of one’s income and substance is appropriated by the state, which is armed by the force of law. The proportion may be disputed, but not if it is looked into compendiously.
The argument for financing national defense and the administration of the laws may be considered as an aside. Mr. Trump thought Germany should increase its defense spending to 2 percent of GDP. Let us generously part with 5 percent for the whole government, plus voluntary contributions for its charitable causes.
What one surrenders to the Church is “whatever.” You chose to be a member of it, or perhaps of some unholier organization, which may kick you out if you don’t pay. Perhaps, too, a nation may kick you out if you refuse to submit your “poll tax.” I won’t make an issue of such things, so long as the amounts are within the threshold of what I can afford.
Nor would I make an issue about the style of government, and its secular “parade” – so long as they don’t compel me to watch it. I like good music and a fine parade, with costumes and dancing. I am quite allergic to identical military uniforms, however, and the more the dance resembles a march, the less I am thrilled by it.
It doesn’t finally matter, though – or should not matter – because governments are merely human. Most governor-type persons I have encountered suffered from personal pride and even arrogance; none appeared to be receiving messages and instructions from God. Of course, I only say this speculatively; who knows what motivates them?
But the purpose of the Church (or, “a church,” as Catholics mumble today) is to take divine instruction, which admits doubt. Everything that suggests earthly attachment may be doubted.
In the disputes between nations, we must take a strictly philosophical interest, for God, or more poignantly, Christ, takes no part. His Kingship is neither Russian, Ukrainian, German, British, American, or Chinese; one does not reach Him by appealing to any national tradition. It is rather difficult to appeal without these familiarities, but Christian prayer is said to be hard. The gate is narrow.
But, too: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
This is the message to those who are encumbered, and must set down what is encumbering them. Politics, and the burden of nationality, are things that will not be carried to Heaven, and may not even be maneuvered around the next bend – on whatever road one has chosen. All the weight of the world is in them, and all of the accumulated grief of generations.
Patriotism is, to my mind, only to be welcomed as something light and aerial. It is a field of memory, from which one can detach. But nationalism makes its demands on the person; upon his psyche, his heaviest part.
While I am “rooting” for the Ukrainians, because they have been invaded, and are suffering the violence of conscripted men, my support is incidental. From what I read, and already knew, the Ukrainians got just a little more than they deserved, and the Russians will have their turn. It is obscene to cast missiles and shells into inhabited buildings; it is cruel even to fire them into tanks and helicopters (though understandable, in the circumstance of war).
But, to fire with the full weight of passion, so that one does not consult with Reason before taking aim – this is almost certainly mistaken.
It may seem an odd thing to say, among contending armies, but there is no prospect of a happy soldier in such a contest. And soldiers, as all participants in life, should aspire to be happy. Rather, in this case, murder – and the intention of murder – has settled into their hearts, and that is the worst cardiac condition.
We fight, when we must fight, for freedom. Yet we do not fight for freedom as the end in itself. For among the mysteries is the demonstrable fact that freedom is allied with Reason, and lifts the subject free of his illusions.
Christ is there, where the world has fallen away.
*Image: Photo from the Twitter page of Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, posted on March 7, 2022
You may also enjoy:
Robert Royal’s Ukraine, the Political and the Personal
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s On Ukraine