Chapter One (2/10)

The crisis of liberal reason

"Today, humanity is going through a crisis which has had perhaps no equal in history" (SS, II, 158). And this political, social, and religious crisis corresponds to the crisis of reason, which has attempted constitute itself as the guide and organizer of human life. This crisis of reason has become, then, a crisis of authority, of coexistence, of ideas themselves ("what idea remains standing, what idea is respected, what idea is saved in this chaos of confusion, what idea is there of God, with whose light mankind can be oriented and channeled?") (SS, II, 158). Rationalist liberalism, by recognizing the right to citizenship of all ideas, has practically destroyed the idea itself, with objective value, plunging humanity "in this ocean of skepticism in whose sky there is no star that can orient man on his course" (SS, II, 159).

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The crisis humanity is going through is, therefore, a crisis of faith and, simultaneously, a crisis of reason, which is proclaimed to be self-sufficient. "My intelligence in me," says Arizmendiarrieta, "just like my heart, is an interested party, and cannot extract itself from the interests that animate my body or my heart. It cannot be an impartial judge, but rather is always an interested party" (PR, I, 124). That is why reason alone is unable to define the goals of human life, just as it cannot find the righteous path.

In Arizmendiarrieta’s opinion, to believe is the law of life: "To live, it is necessary to believe; to live as it corresponds to him, man has to believe" (PR, I, 125). This principle will remain constant in his thought until his last writings, even though later, he will prefer to express it as need for ideals, for utopias.

By its nature, the insufficiency of reason does not so much mean a deficiency, to Arizmendiarrieta, as it does the possibility of unlimited development and a radical opening of human nature. Recalling Pascal, he tells us, "man cannot be defined as a rational animal, but as a rational and religious animal, which is called to the infinite" (SS, I, 139). Man cannot achieve the infinite by himself: he is a mysterious, inexplicable mix of grandeur and misery, of beast and angel. He must recognize his weakness. "The ultimate act of his reason is to know that it cannot know everything." But, from the moment reason comes to recognize its own limitation, unsuspected possibilities open up before it, and the path on which the truth is revealed to us opens up (SS, I,139).

The insufficiency of reason is not relative only to God; it is also relative to man himself, which is an aspect that deserves to be specially highlighted for the consequences it will have in Arizmendiarrieta’s thinking. Man, by reason alone, is incapable, in Arizmendiarrieta’s opinion, of discovering true human dignity. Man is, to man, an enigma, and "natural reason does not project radiant and immense enough light to be able to always dissipate those doubts and determine, by reason of the dignity and nobility recognized in him, an attitude of respect and consideration" (SS, I, 209). Arizmendiarrieta believes he can prove this assertion through an analysis of the various evaluations the most illustrious thinkers, especially the pre-Christians, have done throughout history.

The immediate consequence derived from this thesis is that a social order based on reason alone must remain well below what human dignity deserves. On the other hand, having tried to base them on reason alone is the cause, in Arizmendiarrieta’s opinion, of the multitude of ideologies and social doctrines, not infrequently mutually opposed, and the subsequent disintegration of society. "The chaos and the confusion of ideas, of duties and rights, will not disappear until we look at things in the light of faith, which is the only way we are capable of discovering ourselves in our neighbor, beyond the appearances of poor or rich, friend or enemy, compatriot or foreigner, as a brother of ours, bestowed by God with inalienable rights, and always worthy of our respect and consideration." (SS, I, 218)

The Modern Era, which started by proclaiming the sufficiency and primacy of reason, precisely with the intended purpose of exalting man with his deserved dignity, is over, in Arizmendiarrieta’s estimation, and he clearly proclaims the total failure of the attempt. In modern society, man is again considered as he was in ancient, pre-Christian societies: "Man, the supposed king of creation, is the most unfortunate being. Man disregards himself, does not know himself, does not know his dignity and is a toy, rather, is a wretch or any old thing that does not deserve or instill respect" (SS, I, 124-125). Arizmendiarrieta ironically comments: "There you have him with his lantern, with his reason alone!" (Ib. 125). Old liberal reason, humiliated now, is shown powerless to do work of restoration. "Today," he says, "after so many transformations and developments, we have come to a halt at state of things in which no human solution can be discerned, because in the world as it stands, there remains no element or resource that can be used." (Ib. 155) There no longer remains any principle, or any moral authority, on which to remake humanity in war. Authority has ceased to exist, has lost credibility, from the moment that the exercise of rights was entrusted to strength. Principles have lost value, because, from the moment that the freedom of ideas was declared, they have torn each other apart, and today, it is impossible for men to agree on any point. This relativism with respect to principles and ideas, translated into the lack of respect for ideas and principles, has turned mankind, emptied of ideals, into an animal that follows its instincts, unchecked and unrestrained. "In the name of what, in the name of whom, will order be brought, or justice established, if justice for some is a thirst for revenge, and for others, the annihilation of one’s neighbor…?" (Ib.).

Arizmendiarrieta sees the world divided into democrats and totalitarians (collectivists), both being incapable, in his opinion, of finding a solution to the grave problem of class struggle. Democratic systems do not guarantee such a solution, because they rapidly degenerate into demagoguery. The totalitarian systems have been able to overcome class struggle, but not by giving a solution, but rather, on the basis of transforming it in struggle of collectivities (Ib.). Neither formula can be assured a true social peace. "There is no human remedy, there is no human power capable of creating a stable order of things, and it will all come down, as the steeple collapses when the walls fail, like the arch on which the support rests." (Ib.)

Peace and unity will only be possible when mankind finds a high ideal, a convergence point that shows itself to our wills. But this point itself must be outside the borders of this visible world, it cannot be man himself, because otherwise, man, carried away by selfishness, ultimately sets himself up as an end, trying to subjugate his peers. "In this world, which is decomposed, broken, in pieces; in this chaos, we can assert, on the one hand, that the unity that is needed, unity in which we must find peace and well-being, must not be brought about by reawakening in her the awareness of common blood and the pride of that blood, nor kindling the awareness of strength itself, which must degenerate necessarily into violence; that universal unity that is needed must not be made and accomplished around myths of homeland, empire, destiny, or blood, but rather, that unity must burst forth like pure spring water, must appear when our intelligence is informed by those dogmatic truths of supernatural brotherhood over and above natural diversity (…), intellectual illumination which must then be translated into the concordance of wills, which must converge on that point of common aspiration." (Ib. 156-157)

The most prominent critical allusions always refer to National Socialism. But, as can be seen, allusions to Falangist ideology, to nationalism in general and, perhaps, to Basque nationalism are not lacking.

The principles around which efforts have been made to unite communities (homeland, destiny, empire, race, blood) have failed, because, behind them, "in reality, is hidden nothing but ambition, the desire for dominance, and despotism." The crisis has become widespread: "today, there is no human resource in the world usable for social renewal, to unite wills and undertake the path of reconstruction." (SS, II, 159)

There remains no other way than that of the return to social principles and Christian dogmas. "That crisis of ideas will find no solution except in humanity’s return to the principles of faith. Human reason, which is weak and sick, must find its cure in the return to religious dogma; it needs to believe, and when it does not believe in God, it believes in man, and it is seeing how it turns out to believe in man" (SS, II, 159-160).

Human reason, stripped of interests and selfishness, has no obstacles to humbly accepting the eternal truths; it is when interests intervene that it refuses to accept them, having to then resort to justifications of noble appearance (SS, I, 206), but that, in Arizmendiarrieta’s opinion, have none of the impartiality and rationality they claim.

The triumph of selfishness, for its part, has a cause, which is the loss of faith, and the abandonment of God. Arizmendiarrieta seems, then, to move in a circle, with the loss of faith and the explosion of selfishness being mutual causes.

Arizmendiarrieta takes as his own Balmes’ idea of historical periods of delirium, in one of which he believes he finds himself, even though he has not stopped to explain how such historical delusions arise. In these periods, fury blinds understanding and denatures hearts, and the most horrendous crimes are committed, always invoking august names ("man has such a strong and lively feeling of the excellence of virtue that even the greatest crimes try to disguise themselves with its cloak," in Arizmendiarrieta’s expression). Societies, then, are like a man in the throes of delirium, and the ideas, the nature, and the conduct of the delirious man would be poorly judged by what he says and does while in that lamentable state. History shows numerous examples of such episodes. "In our own days, we have been witnesses to this state of delirium, which society has passed through, in which we ourselves have been perhaps more than simple spectators" (SS, I, 143).

This explosion of selfishness and delirium was prepared by liberalism, by proclaiming freedom as a supreme value, unlimited and unconditioned, which is equivalent to the proclamation of man for himself, the truth and the law being subordinate to him. If man places himself above the truth and the law, social authority "has no more function or mission than those of a traffic cop" (SS, II, 146). Man will be able to think as he likes, and work as well, so that the employer will oppose laws and contracts that stipulate working conditions, and the worker will not commit himself to anything. The result will be that "mankind lives for a few." (SS, I, 147)

Arizmendiarrieta does not lament "the disappearance of this kingdom, falsely called Christian, in which the combining of the truth with the lie is more hateful and repugnant than error, boldly professed and practiced." (SS, I, 155)

The century of freedom has been succeeded by the century of strength, of violence, the twentieth century: strength and violence, which are translated into the predominant political systems, and into the methods that all sides employ. The Church, formerly mocked for teaching that freedom has to be exercised within legality, is now belittled for condemning the way of violence (Ib. 148). As in the last century, it came to be conventional wisdom that the exercise of full freedom would lead to well-being, to peace and universal prosperity; today, it has become conventional wisdom that there is no other way to establish justice than with the edge of the sword.

The new dawn of mankind that was expected has already led to tragedy twice. A radical return of principles is required, and a search for new foundations.

This crisis of ideas, it has already been said, will find no solution except in humanity’s return to the principles of faith. The crisis of unity can only be overcome by the Christian spirit of love and fraternity, based on the awareness of equality of souls and the destiny of all mankind. The crisis of authority, finally, can be overcome when its exercise does not amount to the imposition of personal ambitions, but rather service provided to people in the name of God. Constituted States will not be able to save us from the present crisis, as they themselves were created on principles that are corrosive—principles that lead, over the long term, to decomposition, to despotism, to war, to injustice. All these myths, Arizmendiarrieta repeats, of homeland, of race, empire, destiny, class, are corrosive (SS, I, 160): they will not be able to provide us with peace and well-being any more than an elm can give pears.

Only the Church, whose mission is to make a second golden age flourish on Earth, in which the difference of races and nations, classes and professions, no longer engenders haughtiness and disdain, envy and hatred, can provide the solution to this crisis and this delirium. Only the Church can be the basis of the new order, to which we are all called. (SS, I,161)

To explain the insufficiency of human reason, Arizmendiarrieta uses Alleluia, the magazine directed to youth (PR, I, 123), to tell a great adventure of Baron Munchausen: One day, he fell down a deep well, and, because he did not know how to swim and was unable to grab onto anything, needed to find a way to escape. In this desperate situation, he had the happy idea of saving himself by grabbing ahold of his own ears with his hands and giving a strong upwards pull.

"This escape, so extravagant and so implausible (…), is an escape that men in other areas of life admit as an acceptable and natural thing. There are many, philosophers and wise people, who think and teach that man, ever afloat on a sea of doubts and worries, and agitated by all kinds of passions, can be self-sufficient and successful, led through life with steady steps by invoking his reason and following the path that it shows him. Reason is his only guide, and the path laid out by it, his only path." (Ib.)

What is striking about the case is that the children would not believe the story of the Baron fallen in the water and rescued in such an original way, but many sensible people believe, without difficulty, the philosophers "who tell them that man is self-sufficient, and there is more than enough reason for everything." (Ib. 125)

The Church, sign of contradiction

Arizmendiarrieta worked to defend the Church publicly, as well as he could, in the difficult postwar years. It is necessary to distinguish, however, the political level and the social. We will deal briefly with the political issue, leaving for another place the topic of the relationships of the two societies, the Church and the State (cf. 9, 1; 9, 2).

The Church of the conquerors

A very widespread accusation at that time was of having made common cause with the conquerors. In Arizmendiarrieta’s writings, not a single allusion is found to the role played by the Church in the war. We only find observations like one that is repeated, that the religion is not responsible for what is done in its name. Instead, allusions are frequently made to the fact that the Church, in public life, appears united to political power, and, as such, is the object of a great deal of criticism, which Arizmendiarrieta rejects.

"’What is the Church doing,’ it is often asked, ‘consenting to sometimes place its canopies in the hands of its most unworthy children? What is the Church doing, allowing those who have not loved their neighbors to approach the altar? What is it doing, surrounded by so many Pharisees and hypocrites?’" (Ib. 137) Arizmendiarrieta, remembering the conduct of Jesus with the public sinner, responds by asking: "What is Christ doing surrounded by so many sinners, so many publicans? What is he doing? But is not [the Church] the mother who must seek the conversion of the sinner?" It is not easy to imagine that Arizmendiarrieta could sincerely have considered as equal the situations that are equated here.

In fact, Arizmendiarrieta does not insist that the Church, with its conduct at the side of the powerful—undisputed sinners, it would seem—is following the example of its founder, the friend of sinners and publicans. It should be seen more as an argumentation of the historical type, even though its validity continues to be rather doubtful from many points of view.

The Church, he says, is intransigent and intolerant with error, "because it knows that it alone possesses the truth, and it alone is the teacher of the truth. This intransigence, this doctrinal intolerance of the Church, which watches over its teachings and the purity of its doctrine with such scrupulousness, is a commendation in its favor, it is a test that reflects well on it." (Ib. 139)

But also, God, who cannot bless evil, tolerates it; in the same way, the Church has always been tolerant with people, according to what he tells us (Ib. 141). Trying to relativize the same criticisms, he will add that, for a whole century, the nineteenth century (Arizmendiarrieta considers it the century of rationalism and liberalism), the Church was accused of not being sufficiently tolerant. Its intransigence and firmness scandalized the peoples of that century. Freedom was proclaimed as the supreme value, that needed to be respected and held to by the Church as well. The century has changed, and the way men think has changed, too: the spirit of struggle and violence dominates; "even the truth itself must be imposed." (Ib. 137-138; 147) Today, the Church is criticized for its tolerance, for its condescension with human weakness. It is required that it, too, act with a violent spirit, with that spirit of war and class struggle characteristic of our time, and which the Church has always detested. "Thus, the Church is always between two fires, as Christ was." (Ib. 145)

In May of 1946, Arizmendiarrieta tries to respond to the objections arising because of the Eucharistic Congress. First, to the objection that such celebrations are more political events than religious, he does not deny that political and religious intentions coincide, but considers this fortuitous; the Church, in spite of everything, cannot stop celebrating such festivals because of the fact that some want capitalize on them politically (SS, I, 212; cf. SS, II, 43): the Church has organized Eucharistic Congresses for many years, in times of prosperity and of crisis, in all countries and under all regimes (SS, I, 217).

To the objection to the costs that such Congresses incur, he responds that bullfights, movies, etc., cost no less, and that no one protests them, adding: "Nor does anyone stop attending because this or that authority presides over them and honors them with their presence, or this or that flag is flown." (Ib. 212)

The interest in these matters stems, above all, from the fact that they reflect very well the climate in which Arizmendiarrieta began his labor, as well as the mentality of the young priest who was confronted with hard reality with no more intellectual preparation than what he received in seminary. His thought in relation to faith and to the Church seems to be formed on the basis of St. Thomas, de Balmes, and authors like De Maistre, "the genius with the penetrating gaze" (SS, I, 153), etc., which are quoted in his first writings. His social thought, fundamentally inspired by the doctrine of the Church, seems, however, to run through fairly independent channels, with its own dynamic. Certainly these determine and enrich each other, but differences continue to be observed in his areas of interest. While in theological thought, Arizmendiarrieta shows himself to us as a repeater, and quite well-informed (his knowledge of Strauss, Harnack, Renan, and the Central European Protestant liberals is noteworthy), on the social question, his very personal sensitivity appears from the earliest days, showing him to be a thinker on his own path.

The criticisms of the Church for cooperating with authority, for maintaining cordial relationships with authority, come to nothing, he says: "Anyone searching for something to criticize should look for it where the Church distances itself from the people, not where it deals with authority." (Ib. 215)

Arizmendiarrieta insists on this aspect: because the mission of the Church is just that, because the Church lives in the people, because it is the people whom it needs at all times. The Church is divine, the treasure it keeps is divine, but all those who represent it are human, very human, and run the risk of allowing themselves to be seduced by the goods they own, and by the favor of those to whom they owe such goods. The Church, he will insist, should be poor, to be able to be free and impartial. "Congratulations always to the Church that remains in contact with the people, just as a people that has the Church as its friend is fortunate, for that Church has magnificent means to protect their rights and safeguard their dignity. If it has the Church together with it, no one can ever tyrannize that people, whose consciousness of dignity remains alive, thanks to the doctrine of the Church, which ferments it" (Ib. 214).

Humanity without God (Considerations on war)

For Arizmendiarrieta, without God, no social life is possible. Without God, "mankind would cease to exist, and mankind must cease to exist if the hand of God does not sustain it, does not care for it." (Ib.) Without God, there is no norm, no connection of consciousness that makes it possible to provide a foundation for social life. There is no more than chaos, to which mankind, over the long term, will succumb irredeemably.

Many peoples and the immense majority of people live today as if God had not incarnated, "as if Christ had not established the only foundations of social co-existence." (PR, I, 102) They have followed the slogan the Heine, "the impious": "let us leave the sky for the sparrows and the angels; we want champagne, roses and the dancing of smiling nymphs." With the help of technology, modern man wanted to transform the land into a paradise, in which he would be self-sufficient, without God. God has been dethroned, man has been brought up in disregard of his commandments. The consequence is that selfishness triumphs, and hatred sows death. "They cross the skies," he writes for the soldiers in 1943, "with no one able to prevent their passage, those artifacts of Technology that threaten to bury mankind under the rubble of that which has been raised at the cost of so much work." (Ib.) They are the consequences of the loss of faith, announced more than a century ago by Dupanloup.1 Where faith in God is lost, and to the extent it is lost, "barbarism, ferocity and slavery advance, symbolized by hammers and sickles or by false crosses." (SS, II, 171)

Quoting Montesquieu, Arizmendiarrieta writes: "it is wonderful that the Christian religion, which offers no other argument more than happiness in the next life, has also consolidated happiness in this one" (Ib. cf. SS, II, 286). That is the only way the early Christian community was possible, in which slave and free, rich and poor, Roman and barbarian, were able to live in equality and full fraternity, because "the fulfillment of the eternal laws in and through Christ erased those differences" (Ib. 103). Distance from God, in contrast, entails chaos and disorder, and the ruin of peace, both external and internal. Selfishness reigns in men, and violence in society. "Where God does not reign, there is war." (Ib. 102)

In the years of the Second World War, these ideas appear very firm in Arizmendiarrieta. A year later, returning once more to the topic of war, it seems to him to have no other explanation than the abandonment of God by mankind. War is absurd. Why do rulers send their people to war? It cannot be ambition for command, or for wealth. "If what has been spent on war had been destined to the production of automobiles, every inhabitant of the Earth, including women and children, could have had a car. And yet there was more than enough money… A billion villas could have been built. Just with what is spent in an hour, houses for a million working families can be made … With income on the capital invested in military expenses by warring States during these years, all the costs could be covered for the working population all over the world to have a pension, accident insurance, unemployment insurance, disease insurance, etc., for hundreds of years, without the need for them to put in a penny." (Ib. 104)

War is absurd, it has no possible rational explanation. How to explain it, then? "War is a lash that God wields over a treacherous mankind. Noncompliance with eternal laws has this sanction." (Ib. 105)

Again and again, Arizmendiarrieta insists that "referring to the present calamity, we can assert without fear of error that one of the motives that has moved the Almighty to allow the chain reaction of this World War is to punish the crimes of individuals and of peoples" (SS, I, 105). It does not come only from economic imbalances and the struggle of interests, nor is it only the result of economic or hegemonic objectives, but is, rather, "the consequence of profound moral causes, of the official public negation of the royalty of Christ, of the abandonment of his law of truth and of love, of forgetting human solidarity and Christian charity, of the lack of knowledge of authority and of the Supreme Being and of the moral order established by Him. These laws were so serious and so universal, that [ignoring them] had to result in the universal and nameless disaster we are witnessing" (Ib.).

With the war over, in April of 1946, Arizmendiarrieta keeps insisting on the still-recent "lesson of history": "Let us not forget it, because the lesson is edifying, it is worthy of keeping in mind. Not long ago, man had more than enough bread, to the point where he felt saturated, and even to such a point that its possession and security seemed to be guaranteed, and, in effect, he thought that he no longer needed ask God for it, or hope in God for it. He forgot all about the Our Father, stopped invoking the celestial Father, stopped looking to heaven to remember God the common father, and, of course, did not take long to forget the common brotherhood of all men, who started to look on each other as strange beings, and at last, to consider each other irreconcilable enemies, and thus, civilization, which is first and foremost coexistence, collapsed" (SS, II, 285). When God is abandoned, and mankind appears to have been freed from everything, there is the rise of "those fetishes which have been worshiped with nothing less than rivers of blood" (Ib. 286).

A grave issue is posed here for Arizmendiarrieta. The novelty of Christ’s teaching about God stems precisely from its conception of God as Father, giving primacy to love over the Law. "Law and doctrine for Him [God] are not ends, but rather means that help man, who is misled and sick, to arrive at the heart of God, from which he proceeds. Just as the channel or the causeway has the merit of conducting water to its endpoint, so the law and doctrine God gives to man is with the objective that he will return to the paternal lap, and if God urges the fulfillment of those laws through various means, even by punishment and threat, he always does so guided by the feeling of love for man." (SS, I, 101) The precept of loving God, and in God, one’s neighbor, is not one of those 613 commandments which the pious Jew must scrupulously fulfill; it is the only precept of the New Law.

However, war, which does not correct, but rather exterminates lives, bears no resemblance to a channel that conducts waters to a good end without losing them along the way; it cannot be understood as a usual punishment with purposes of paternal correction. War, which Arizmendiarrieta recognizes is rationally inexplicable, is also inexplicable from the theological point of view. There remains no another solution than accepting that there exists "a Providence that governs the world and directs all events according to its infinitely wise and just designs" (Ib. 103). That these designs are inscrutable for man is easier to understand, since the finite does not comprehend the infinite. "We can all understand without difficulty that an eagle that glides in the air two thousand or three thousand meters up sees everything—men and events—differently than a chicken pecking in a small yard" (Ib. 105).

This prophetic—or rather, Old Testament—view of history, will not be found again with that crudity in Arizmendiarrieta’s later writings. It seems specific to his early years of apostolate, still close to his personal experience of the civil war and as a prisoner of war, and also concurrent with the horrors of the World War. If the idea of war as a punishment from God does not appear again, his conviction remains firm that without God, a just social order is not possible. Years later, in 1967, commenting on the Populorum Pregressio of Paul VI, he repeated these words of an unnamed commentator: "Certainly, man can organize the land without God, but without God, ultimately, he can only organize it against man; exclusive humanism excludes. Man can only be realized in overcoming himself. According to the thoughtful words of Pascal, ‘man infinitely overcomes man’" (FC, II, 267).

Only once do we find a related observation, in 1965, although in no way could it equate to the conception of war as a punishment from God. After chastising the enormous social differences between rich and poor nations, pointing out that such differences are causes of discomfort and of wars, he adds: "The Empires of today continue to be punished, just as the ancient ones were, with one of the worst divine punishments: blindness. They see prestige only in raising new pyramids, or cathedrals of stone, when there is no greater prestige for a people than that of bequeathing to posterity a cathedral of living stones: a humanity that is better crafted, structured and linked" (FC, II, 74). The text makes a clear allusion, apart from the New Opera of Madrid, etc., to the construction of the Cathedral of the Holy Family of Barcelona. "As the miserable suburbs have surrounded Madrid and Barcelona, the current Empires have been surrounded by suburbs composed of entire nations; the new slaves of the new pyramids" (Ib.).

Humanity without Christ (Considerations on nationalism)

What favors the succession of ideologies, such as going from liberalism to collectivism, is the widespread anxiety for renewal. In a liberal and individualist regime, man, abandoned to the measureless greed and ambition of the capitalist, has been freed in part, thanks to association. In this respect, the collectivist reaction offers an undeniable positive aspect: "we must recognize that all systems, Marxist or non-Marxist, all social systems have alleviated man and contributed to overthrowing that existing state of things of a century ago." (Ib. 118) Certain bindings have been broken, which has eased the situation of man… "but it is another thing to lead him to a safe endpoint, to create a state of things, a social order, which simultaneously guarantees his subsistence and his existence as a living being, his independence and his freedom; in a word, his personality, his dignity of man" (Ib. 118). "We do not lament and cry because a state of things and a civilization or social order have passed into history in which man was not respected and was not given the consideration and treatment which, for the mere fact of being a man, corresponds to him, and he was considered to be an engine that ran on blood, an extension of machines, a flimsy commodity and subject to the same law of supply and demand. But can our just anxiety for renewal be satisfied with a state of things like the social reality of Europe presents to us? Is the new social order we are anxious for perhaps that which the systems and political and social forms in vogue presage to us?" (Ib. 117).

Given a choice between the two extremes, liberal and collectivist, Arizmendiarrieta’s anthropological philosophy leans towards the latter. However, he shows himself to be very critical of it, because he thinks it does not sufficiently guarantee the freedom and dignity of mankind: "man, which, in the liberal and individualist system, had the experience of loneliness and realized that alone, he was nothing, has ended up losing all sense of his personal independence" (Ib.). He has come to understands himself as a mere part of a greater body, which, in the end, means the first step towards "the new slavery," which is to say, the "new form of slavery that oppresses man in collectivist systems, in this absorbent statism" (Ib.). The role that the capitalist assumed before, today is assumed by "society," in other words, public power, which presumes the right to have everything and everyone at its disposal, even the very life of its subjects. "We are in a social order in which the interests of man are not respected for the mere fact of being a man." (Ib. 119) If the dignity of the person is recognized, a person deserves respect and consideration, not for his/her qualities (ideas, situation, etc.), but rather for the mere fact of being a person. But this principle has still not found acceptance in modern social systems. Quite to the contrary, Arizmendiarrieta thinks that, as a reaction to liberalism, modern society is returning to the state of things in paganism, and against which Christianity had to fight for centuries.

For example, among the Greeks, if the individual deserved any consideration, it was not due to his quality of being a man, but because he was Greek, and for no other reason than being Greek. Strangers and barbarians do not deserve any consideration. In Lacedemonia [Sparta], a child who was deformed or deprived of some body part was thrown down a chasm by the birth police: he was a person which could not serve or be useful. In Rome, it was the title of Roman citizen that made a man, in fact, a man. "Is there any difference between the spirit that animates our European civilization and what we have just described, when men are inculcated with a patriotism that is so exaggerated that it carries in its bowels hatred for all that is not itself, when every right is reduced to strength, and no more value is recognized in man than those that come from belonging to a nationality, or those that come from the service provided to the State, when the very right to life is not given to man except insofar as the State recognizes it?" (Ib. 120). Modern States sacrifice millions of lives to their security, or to their spirit of revenge, or to their imperialist ambitions, as if the end of human life consisted of backing the ambitions of governments. If it is agreed that man should remain subject to the State, then flinging those who cannot show positive utility to the State into the abyss must be a logical consequence. Along these lines, "the Lacedaemonian legislation has faithful interpreters in Europe today," affirms Arizmendiarrieta, without specifying what he is referring to, although perhaps he is thinking of laws on euthanasia and abortion.

Modern nationalisms constitute one form of collectivism. "It resurrects, with all its strength, the formidable maxim of the ancients, salus populi, the salvation of the people, the pretext for so many and such horrendous attacks, the pretext that sometimes wraps itself in the mask of social or common interest, and leads to a frenetic and ferocious patriotism, which superficial men—in the words of de Balmes—admire in the ancient republics" (Ib. 117). Arizmendiarrieta clarifies that in no way does he mean to exalt individualist selfishness that refuses to give its life for the homeland under any circumstances; nor does he want to deny the value of heroism, to the extent that it is just and laudable. But he does believe it necessary to draw attention to the investment of values in many such gestures, when they are inspired and motivated by ideals that in no way are worth the cost of the sacrifice of human lives, like many of the affairs that public powers engage in with financial purposes, or conquest, or revenge—purposes that, in the end, "are the ones, both today and in other times, that induced empires to declare those horrendous wars, which cost so much blood to obtain so little" (Ib. 120). Modern States, endowed with powerful technological means of persuasion, achieve the adherence of their subjects to the extreme of inculcating, as supreme values, attitudes and conduct which really mean the denial of all human dignity. "The very acts of heroism and the very patriotism that are admired and extolled today often have a certain note of sadness to them, because more than an exaltation of human values, more than a testimony of a man who overcomes, they are a violent extortion of a man who is destroyed, of man who, in a supreme gesture, recognizes his own nothingness… sacrificing his life in the interest of ideals that do not deserve such sacrifice and reveal the low esteem we have for ourselves."2

While Arizmendiarrieta expressed himself in these terms, men continued to give lives "for the homeland" in the battlefields of the Second World War. Would this bloody struggle be possible, wonders Arizmendiarrieta, if man was conscious of his dignity? The investment of values that has gone on is extremely grave. "The gesture of the Roman slave who, not wanting to survive its owner, is killed, is also heroic, if you like, but it reveals to us the destruction of the human personality; we also admire Indian women who calmly throw themselves onto the funeral pyre after their husbands have died; but the heroism of the Roman slaves and the self-denial of Indian women are not an obvious sign of souls, but rather, are the result of not knowing one’s own dignity, of imagining oneself consecrated to another being, absorbed by him, of seeing existence itself as a secondary thing, with no more objective than to serve someone else’s existence." (Ib. 121)

Modern society is, in Arizmendiarrieta’s opinion, returning to Greek, pre-Christian conceptions, unaware of individual human dignity, as can be seen in two aspects which Arizmendiarrieta argues as examples: the lack of respect for life and modern slavery.

"Wherever life is not seen as sacred, as useless–miserable and weak as it may be–and the killing of a child who has just been born, or who has not been, is not counted among homicides the same as the murder of man in the prime of life, and individuals are not considered to have rights that society must respect, with secrets that it cannot interfere with, or costly sacrifices are demanded that are not first justified by a true need, the spirit of Lacedemonia, of Greece and Rome is revived." (Ib. 125-126)

The most eminent spirits of Greece, like Plato and Aristotle, approved of slavery, just as today, that more refined form of slavery is approved of, "but in the end, is still slavery," which is "the huge mass of workers who are excluded from the banquet of life" (Ib. 126). The situation of these workers, in proportion to the advancement and progress the rest of the world has made in the meantime, has scarcely any advantage over that of the ancient slaves; nor can it be said that "the factory owners, who think that they give the worker everything he is owed and unscrupulously keep those immense benefits, which, in the end, have come from the effort and of the spiritual, technical and material contribution of their workers," deserve a better description than the ancient slave-owners. Arizmendiarrieta preaches hard words in the Parish of Mondragon. "What capitalist or master considers [their workers] brothers—as they really are—because if he considered them as such, sons of the same father, sharing in the same inheritance and a common fate, how, in good consciousness, could he take away everything he can carry?" (Ib. 126).

The parallelism continues: just as Antiquity, lost in darkness, clamored for a redeemer, "from the bottom of this social, political, ethical or moral disorder, also comes a common cry, asking for a saviour." (Ib.) In the pagan world, that clamor was a reliable testimony to the powerlessness of reason to lead man to a new order; today, on the contrary, after twenty centuries of Christianity, "it is, more than anything else, an accusation against us, Christians who have not been able to project the light we have received from Christ over the world, an accusation against those Christian generations who have failed to create a Christian order in the world." (Ib. 126-127)

It is worthwhile here to quote Arizmendiarrieta’s Christian self-criticism at full length; it also shows his social rhetoric:

We, Christians of the twentieth century, must recognize that we are responsible before God, before our conscience and also before history and the world, for these atrocities, for these deviations, for this paganism reigning in all spheres, paganism which we cannot cover up, but rather must unmask and combat, but combat as Christ would combat it, fully accepting his creed and his doctrine, accepting it and living it and bringing it into practice in all spheres, in the moral in the first place; the moral and Christian order which turns on two hinges, which are justice and charity, justice and charity which are equally mandatory in Christian doctrine, justice and charity, which are complements of each other and not, as some would like to think, replacements for each other. And do not believe, as it often seems to be believed, that the political order is independent of the Christian, that it is a sphere in which Christ and his doctrine have no entry; nor let it be believed that while the crucifix hangs on the wall, we are excused from other duties, and that hearts can give free rein to passions of hate and revenge. And, while Christ guarantees respect and obedience to authority, identifying it with himself, “who resists authority resists God,” says Saint Paul; authority has to know that in the Christian conception, to rule is to serve; to serve, in the first place, the interests of families and individuals, because, just as God, the supreme authority, is love and, as such, does not make contact with his children except to fill them with his benefits, in the same way, authority should be in contact with its subjects to dictate rules that are instructive, beneficent, and self-denying. And no less than in the moral and political sphere, Christ also has interests in the social and economic. How many times do we see Christ in the chapel—imprisoned—but refuse to see him in the gears of a safe! And unfortunately, it is very true what they say: "He is supported fraudulently, perhaps no longer with the throne on the altar, but with the treasury on the altar of the Church.

We Christians have done no more than discuss everything, accepting as much as we like of the Gospel; Christians, who, possessing an all-encompassing doctrine of life, have kept what pleased us and abandoned what displeased us about it, we are responsible for all of these disasters, for all of these deviations. And today, in view of that paganism which we saw triumph in ancient times and be reborn in our days, we need to proclaim that we do not believe in the promises of those who do not respect man as man, recognizing in him certain inalienable rights, of those who see in man no more than an animal, a subject, with no more mission than to be useful and advantageous to society; nor do we believe in the Christianity of those have the name of God on their lips, but whose God is not the Christian God, which is the only absolute goal of human life, God the Father, who has other children who deserve the same consideration and the same respect, who must be respected and loved, because they are also children of God, and have the same destiny as us, God the Redeemer who has redeemed man, and not the State, God the Rewarder, who must remunerate man, who is immortal, and who has a supernatural destiny. We believe only in Christ, who has words of peace and eternal happiness, and not only eternal, but also human, the only human happiness mankind is capable of in this vale of tears.

"There are silences that are betrayals": it is the obligation of today’s Christians to remind man that he is more than a machine, and also very different from herd animals. It is necessary to oppose modern doctrines which, ignoring human dignity, "bring confusion to minds, and to the social order; they bring a lamentable inversion of values, despotism, and unbearable, brutal, inhumane, and unnatural tyranny." (Ib. 152)


  1. F. Dupanloup (1802-1878), French prelate, illustrious pedagogue (teacher of Renan); bishop of Orleans beginning in 1849, partisan (with Lacordaire and Montalembert) of the freedom to teach, head of the Catholic liberals under Napoleon III, staunch enemy of the Ultramontane L. Veuillot, contrary to the definition of papal infallibility. Liberal and anti-bonapartist, all his political activity was at the service of the ideal of the restoration. Arizmendiarrieta (PR, I, 102) transcribes the following phrase of his: "Draw away from Christ, ignore his commandments and his teachings… and tomorrow, we will be in mutual frightful disorder, and all our material progress, of which we are so proud, will bring us only to the hands of a studied barbarism and tyranny, to give new and unparalleled strength to oppression and ruin."

  2. The allusions to "vital space" (SS, I, 125), the Plato quote relative to the regulation of sexual relations to keep the race pure (Ib. 124), etc., seem to indicate that the nationalism to which Arizmendiarrieta primarily refers is German National Socialism.

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