What It Means to be On the Right – Catholic Herald

Writing in 1940, the Catholic Herald columnist Douglas Jerrold describes his understanding of what it means to be on the political Right. For more on the writer, see How the Left Slanders the Right

The article, titled “The Sword of the Spirit: The Fatal Division of Camps,” appeared in the issue of 2 August 1940. The whole article can be read here. It includes a note that the editor asked Jerrold to give “his own independent views” in his “Week by Week” column, adding “which are not necessarily those of the Catholic Herald.” 

The truth is that the men of the Right can never by their nature be either Fascist or Communist: they are the supporters, by implication if not by definition, of something like the existing social order.

They might be hard-boiled business men or mere thieves, or members of a class still fortunate enough to be privileged — landowners, trade unionists belonging to sheltered industries, government servants or rentiers — or merely men convinced on intellectual grounds that neither socialism, communism, nor fascism, nor any amount of state regulation or bureaucratic tyranny can compensate man for the loss of his freedom. They may, on the other hand, be ecstatic dreamers or ardent pioneers of some form of distributist state, but forced to put off the organisation of their own revolution by the one great need of defeating a revolution of a different kind which would put an end to freedom as they understand it.

The Essence of the Right

The essence of the so-called Right position is that a healthy society is something which, in their judgment, cannot be dissociated from economic independence, from private ownership, and from a rough and ready, but still wide, distribution of property. Most of the effective reforms have come from the men of the Right because of their very real anxiety to preserve a system which, if it does not give them the ideal society which they want, at least does not finally close the door upon their dreams.

Obviously the men of the Right are a very mixed bunch. Some of them, more numerous in Left-wing cartoons than in real life, but still numerous enough, can see no further than the mystical virtues of competition. Others, including men so diverse as Edmund Burke, Mr. Hilaire Belloc and His Holiness Pope Pius XII, base their attitude on a closely-reasoned philosophy of life.

Others, again, are just anxious to keep as much as they have succeeded in wringing, legitimately or illegitimately. from their fellow-men. Finally, the vast army of the intellectually inert will always be found in the party of the status quo, although an important exception to this generalisation must be noted. The intellectual inertia among the professionally intelligent classes is very marked, and these people appear to drift as a matter of course to the Left.

The Value of Freedom

The first thing to realise in this business of “left” and “right” is that the fight between Communists and Fascists is essentially a sham fight. Stalin and Hitler appear to be the only two people in Europe who realise this, but after all, they are in the best position to judge. The real fight is between those who at the same time value freedom and understand what it is, and those who, either because they do not value it or because they do not understand it, are ready to sacrifice it.

There are plenty on the Right, as on the Left, who do not value freedom. This is as true of the hard-boiled capitalist, or of the merely passively-possessive rentier, as of the Communist. On the other hand, there are on the Right many who understand what freedom is without necessarily valuing it very highly, and many on the Left who value it without understanding.

And there is on the Right a hard-core of Catholic-minded men who do both. These facts provide the opportunity for The Sword of the Spirit. Freedom as an ideal derives directly from Christianity, the first religion to teach the dignity of the human personality. Our task is not to restore the belief in this dignity, which is, thank Heaven, very much alive, but to show what conditions of life, what opportunities and what rewards are necessary to its preservation, and why. In that task we can confidently expect to enlist all honest men, whether of the Right or the Left.

The rest we can, and must, fight to the end. Happily they are in England a very small minority and intellectually negligible. Nor are they fighting men. We are.

The other “Lessons From the Archives” can be found on this page. The previously published one was How the Left Slanders the Right.

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