Dante’s Appeal to the Nations

The Seer of Six Hundred Years Ago Has a Message for Europe To-day.

February 1 1917

Dante’s Appeal to the Nations

The Seer of Six Hundred Years Ago Has a Message for Europe To-day.

February 1 1917

Dante’s Appeal to the Nations

The Seer of Six Hundred Years Ago Has a Message for Europe To-day.

TO-DAY. perhaps owing to the pressure of great practical anxieties, we would welcome the man of action more than the man of vision; it is natural, when the hour has come that we should look for the man who can act. but the world could not do without the man of vision. At any rate the man of vision has often inspired the man of action. When, however, we turn to Dante and ask what message he has for us, we may be sure we shall not listen to the vapouring* of a visionary, but to the carefully devised/schemes and well-weighed words of a man A ho had imagination enough to understand A he great things of the world, and good sense enough to remember the little things \vhich are also great. This is true in spite of the fact that we must regard him chiefly as an idealist, and so judge the appeal which comes to us across the stretch of six hundred years Quoting briefly from The S’ineteenfh Century Magazine :

We are to-day spectators of a conflict which will alter the map of Europe and revolutiorze the conditions of social and political life. The children who are born to-day wil! grow up in a new worldThings and institutions which we and our fathers have

known may vanish, a new earth may be born, better or worse than the one we have known and lived in. From the spectacle of the convulsed Europe we know we turn to Dante, who in his day also looked out upon & Europe seething with unrestin which theories seemingly irreconcilable fought for the mastery, and self-seeking men and unprincipled opportunists waited warily upon events, in which thousands of the combatants fought for principles which they did not understand, and shouted rallying cries which had lost their meaning, in which few had any real guiding principle of judgment, and many exercised a prudent caution' of concealment. He lived in a Europe, in fact, which, though wholly different from the Europe we know, was filled with men like the men we know—men brave but ignorant, men astute but cowardly, men patriotic and self sacrificing, and men who measured everything by self-interest. Human nature with its greatness and littleness is the same to-day as it was 600 years ago. We may. therefore, hear from Dante an appeal which has its message for our own age. I call it an appeal, and I hope that I can justify the word. For the present I only ask what message Dante has for the nations and men of to-day. One great Italian of last century, speaking in a time of Continental unrest, said “The secret of Dante is the secret of our own epoch.” If 'so. it is not unreasonable to believe that he has some message for us.

To this end let us look at some of Dante’s political principles. Dante set out his views in a forma! fashion in hiwork De Monarchia. He saw that the times were times of war and contu-ir. Rivalries, dyna-tic. municipal, re-

ligious. were complicating the problem of how to live. He felt that the hour needed some strong wise and honorable man who might restore harmonv and establish upon some permanent basis a better order of things. . In the chaos of the times unity of Government seemed to be the most pressing necessity, and so with great earnestness, with the use of the verbal logic which was fashionable, with delightful dexterity and simple-minded sincerity. allied with a simplicity which is astonishing. he pleaded that a great State Ruler was needful for civil affairs, just as a great Ecclesiastical Ruler was recognized as necessary in religious matters. The world needed a monarch for things of the State and a Pope for things of the Church, both deriving their authority from Heaven. Now when we read his earnest pleadings for unity of •'Government. his reiterated arguments leading to the monotonous conclusion that a single ruler is needed for the peace of the world, we may btempted to think that Dante must be counted among those who would welcome the establishment of an Empire which would nut int” the hands of one sovereign the destinies of Europe. In this case we may ask whether his ideas are not more in harmony with the programme of Germany to-day than with those of ourselves and of our Allies?

What is the root and ground of this Imperial majesty? It arises. Dante says, from man's social state, “which is ordained for a single end—namely, a life of happiness.” It is because man cannot teach happiness alone, hut onlv with comradeship, because he is a companionable animal, that this central ruler is needed Man needs help in social, in political affairs, and in the long run his happiness cannot be secured unless there is some final authority to determine disputes and do justice. Thus it is not empire for the sake of empire which Dante advocates, but empire for the sake of human happiness. The form of his remedy from existing evils is onlyadopted because he desDes the end human happiness. To him the method is le*s than the end: the form les* than the purpose His deepest interest is not with the form of central government, but; with happiness of the

What Dante desires is a consensus in regard to fundamental principles of rieht and freedom in practical life. He could \only see security for such a consensus in some supreme ruler. “Not only is this possible to one. but it must of necessity flow from one that all confusion concerning universal principles maybe removed.” But in the application of principles freedom was tb be allowed. Dante, advocates a supreme ruler, because be wishes to secure to all men freedom and peace; these were the great objects which he had in view He only valued his theory as it promoted or seemed to promote these objects. His theory was subordinate to his purpose, and not his purpose to his theory. He would have been the first to refuse power which did not secure to man the happiness in peace and freedom which man bad a right to claim.

This freedom is the greatest gift conferred by God on human nature; for through it we have our felicityhere as men. through it we have our felicity elsewhere as deities. He tells us clearly that the value of rulers is that they can promote happiness by preserving freedom.

Citizens, he says. are. not there for the sake of Consuls, nor the nation for the sake of the King, but conversely, the Consuls for the sake of the citizens, find the King for the sake of the nation. For just as the bodypolitic is not established for the benefit of the laws, but the laws for the benefit of the bodypolitic, so too they who live under the law are not ordained for the benefit of the legislator. but rather he for theirs. . hence it is clear that, albeit the Consul or King be masters of the rest as regards the way, yet as regards the end they are servants; the monarch most of all for he must assuredly be regarded as the servant of all.

If Dante then has a message for .us in the

present conflict, it is not a mesage to en-

courage the northern barbarians on their errand of vindictive and ambitious conquest. It is a message of hope to the gallant little nations fighting for their right to live according to their own judgmen^ of what is

fitting: it is the message of faith'that nations

.r. by the order of Providence, to be allowed *,. dt-veiop to their fullest the special gifts and ualities which nature has bestowed upon ••»m The duty of the strong is to secure to •hr weak the opportunity and liberty for such út ’ elopment. Such a' message is not a message for the Central Powers but for the Al-

*. who seek to restore to Serbia, Montenegro. snd Belgium national life, social wellbeing. and political peace.

Such i* Dante’s message to the nations of to-day

But Dante's message goes deeper than this. He what political theorists fail to realize that the secret of human happiness ]íe* in man himself. The key which was needed to liberate Christian from the Castle of Despair was in his own bosom. All true t hinkers are at one. in this, that the root of evil lies not in things external hut ir man • himself. “Happiness.” said a modern Dalian, “is not in things; it lies in moral healthful-

“\'o created being.” Dante writes, “is a i final goal in the intention of the Creator;

¡ but is rather the proper function for the j achieving that goal.” We are made not as I ends in ourselves, but ‘as powers to accomplish j some end. We are not here for self but for I service.

I But how to fit ourselves for service?

; Dante’s answer would be, 1 think, by achiev1 ing freedom. Freedorp is our when our capacities and powers are made available under i our own direction for the fulfilment of our function, duty or destiny.

The first principle of freedom is freedom of choice. But Dante is not so foolish as to ¡ include the idea that every man’s freedom : consists in choosing what he likes. I can.

imagine Dante’s scornful denunciations of the , man who was led by his likes or dislikes. Men. i he says, get as far as saying that free choice : is free judgment, and herein he admits that ! they say truth; hut he urges that they should I go further and understand the significance i and value of what they say and what he adJ mits is true.

For if freedom of choice is free judgment.

I we need to understand w hiit we mean by judg1 ment. Judgment clearly means a decision : between two litigants or competitors Th. r^ is no judgment where there is no weighing of rival claims. In human experience we are I often called to exercise our judgmer.* betmee*. the counsels of mind or thought and the plead ings of desire. Hence Dante call* the link (ought we not to say the ’udg** or i umpire?) between appr.-hen-ion and

“If the judgment sets th« appe'ite -r. motion, then it is free; but if the juúer. «-r , moved by the appetite, it cannot lee f'.ee. f *

! it does not move of itself, but •* úrawn c»i *¡v.

by another.” In other words, if we aír j swayed by desire, our judgment ha* reaiiy ! not acted in the case: it is only when our j judgment, having weighed and considered the i question, after having understood or appreI hended it in all its bearings has come to » d« -1 cisión, thrt we can be said to be .-.efng s* free i men. Briefly, we may be slaves of appetite or j desire or likes or dislikes; and it is the part of wise men to realize that in the order of gt;od we are called to develop harmoniously j all our powers, and. therefore, to give its j fitting place to thought and its true throne to I judgment. “Brutes.” Dante says, “cannot ¡ have free judgment because their judgments i are always anticipated by their appetites." Your little dog takes greedily whatever dainty is given to it. You miay talk to it and give it • the sagest and soundest advice; you may point out with vivid exactness the evil effects of greediness indulged; but its little eyes are fixed with determined desire on the dainty morsel in your hand: he will ignore your wise , counsels and swallow the morsel with avidity i and turn innocent and expectant eyes to you, waiting for more. Truly. Dante is right: appetite anticipates judgment in such a case. Your freedom as a human being is only true freedom when desire is subordinate to judgment.

j This power of judgment to set passion or I appetite in its proper place must inevitably contribute to the building up of character in its true proportion. In this true proportion freedom is found; for then only we are at liberty when all our members, powers, and passions are contributing in harmonious co-

operation their share to the main end and work of life. Freedom is ability to UMpower as need or duty may require. In this happy proportion of duly subordinated and cooperating powers there will be found what Dante would call nobility.

Nobility is,a fine word if we understand its full significance. Nobility, according to Dante, is perfection!according to nature: it is a perfection \vjiic$ is reached in the full and free development, of all our powers and qualities within the lifnits of our nature. His illustration is simple: the circle is a noble circle if it is a perfectj circle: but the circle which is egg-shaped loses the quality of its nature: it is not a trap circle.: it is not “noble" of its kind, but a perfect circle possesses a kind of “nobility” because it is true to itself: it is complete and also true: there is no deviation from its type or pattern form.

This nobility is a greater thing—larger in thought—than virtue. Nobility is like the heavens in : which virtues like stars may shine. "For truly it is a heaven wherein many stars 'do shine; there shine the intellectual and moral virtues: there shine the good dispositions bestowed by nature -that is, piety and religion and the laudable passions, such as shame and compassion and many others: there shine the good gifts of the body —that is. beauty, strength, and almost per-, petual health.” Nobility is thus a perfection of nature and according to nature. It is not a quality inherent in a race. A man may he proud of his race, but this pride of race "does not make him noble: the inheritance of a noble name does not confer of itself true nobility. “Let not the I’berti of Florence or the Visconti of Milan say: ‘Because I am of such a family I am noble' for the divine seed does not'fall upon a family, that is a race. but upon individuals, and (as shall he proved hereafter) the race does not ennoble the individual but the individuals ennoble the race. Dante would subscribe to the verdict of the late Duke of Argyll, when in his poem of Cuido and Lita he said:

V Noble names, if nobly worn.

Liv# within a nation's heart."

The trut1! is that in the great heroic souls ;n Drake hnd Nelson in Wellington, and I ; .** retire und Out ram. and in the lonely, unne* ded Prophet Warrior of our own day. I«ord R.o'wrls »re read the fine features of character. vrage. self-restraint and self-sacrifice " I ich ar * possible to all of us; we all feel • ?!' a-u Vfted a higher level of aspira-

: «.n srd 3i*;. h> llioir: we are ennobled in !v :n Names ! k*t*>e»e g*ve the patent of t oh'ïity o the : ce *hai bore them. They call ••n* in us t'i.c Jntig’T.g foi qualities in which ■at*may resen hl> them: their nobility con-qste;J m the fulness with which they used and actua ire«! the powers of nature. Their ¡«•es m a perpetual challenge to us.

But m liante’» view it is more than such a htin-ac challenge He. after his fashion, sees «od in all hing«. and realizes that every good and petTeej g;f* is from above: in the gift of this good ánd admirable seed to men he sees man. though lower than the angels, crowned with glory! and honor, yes. in the possession of these powers he sees man touching ranges of life ami ¡being which are not open to angels. And then [with that practical wisdom which meets us ?ó often in Dante’s works, he presses home the qonclusion of the matter, and urges the duty of cultivating the habits which may serve to «establish and invigorate the yearnings and capacities from which the noble perfection o-' life may spring. God the giver sows the seed of good; it rests with man to prepare t ae ground and to cultivate the seed.

Therefore St. Augustine holds (and also Aristotle in the Second Book of the Fthics) that man should accustom himself to do good, and to control his passions, in order that the shoot may be produced by good habit and strengthened in its uprightness, so that it may bear fruit, and from its fruit may issue the sweetness of human happiness.

Thus, according t6 Dante. God Himself is. as it were, challenging men to rise to the full power and dignity of their nature. The Golden Age will not dawn upon men who are living by their passions, tyrannized over by their pride or ambitions, still less upon those insolent members who scoff at morality and set at •nought the laws of righteousness. Man is

here to grow up to true perfection of body, mind, and spirit : nothing exists in this world except for some purpose, and it is man’s high duty to make himself tit for the fulfilment of the high purpose of righteousness; but the highest fulfilment of the Divine purpose is that which can he achieved not by any individual, nor even by any small group of men. but only by the human race as a whole, working together with co-operative zeal towards one great end. and animated by one ennobling spirit.

ft is the intention of God that every created thing should present the divine likeness in so far as its proper nature is capable of receiving it. Wherefore it is said, “Let us make man after our image and likeness. . . .”

But the full dixfine resemblance is to be found rather on the race than in the individual.

The human race Is the Son of Heaven . .

and best disposed when it follows the track of heaven in so far as its proper nature allows.

Dante dreamed that an earthly prince, the garden of whose government should be Italy and not Germany, land the centre of whose rule should be Rome and certainly not Berlin, might be found under whose rule high ideals might prevail, and df which lox*e might be the animating spirit; but neither in this mountain nor in any earthly city will such a spotless and successful government be found. The unity of the race in happy co-operative service will never come by external pressure nor by any organization, whether political or ecclesiastical : the unity must be one of the spirit, springing up within and enabling mankind to find those secret, sweet and strong bonds of union which are independent of outward form.

Great Britain has come nearer the realization of Dante’s dream than any Roman or Continental Europe ever reached; for she. without external pressure, by modest claims, by the promotion of common interests and. above all. by the inspiration of a common lox’e. has welded together an Empire greater and more complex than any Cæsar ruled. And in the great contest which is now going forward there will be put to the test the rival methods of stern discipline and of ready and willing patriotism, of institutions governed by authority and of those free institutions which have grown from the heart of the people. It is a conflict between authority from without and loyalty from within. Law makes nothing perfect, but love fulfils the law. I have no doubt that the strength which comes from love will outlast the strength which comes from disciplinary laws; and I think that Dante, whose mind lôoked for the outworking of hidden principles, who saw that “will" was God’s greatest gift to man. and liberty his his prerogative, would see hope for the world not in the hard imperialism of Germany, but in the freedom-loving imperialism of the British Empire; and would rejoice to see his Italy fighting in the cause of freedom against the barbarian tyranny of Berlin.