The other solution
Publish date 22-10-2022
There was a game we played when we were children. We asked one of us to repeat ten times: "Float". Then point blank: "What does a stone do in water?". And the answer was almost always: "Float!" A little joke to show how obsessive repetition conditions our conscience.
It has happened several times in history as well. The outbreak of the First World War itself seems to be the fatal outcome of a European society which, by dint of repeating itself that there were no alternative instruments to war, had not elaborated proposals other than those of the armed conflict for the resolution of disputes
In the decades immediately preceding the Great War, Europe had experienced an exponential development of industrial production and world trade with the consequent growth of the proletariat; it dominated the oceans and had conquered much of Africa; it experienced unprecedented technical and scientific progress, such as to convince Western society of its power and its superiority; it had progressively democratized the institutions through the participation of the popular classes. All this took place in a climate of widespread and profound conflict that in the mental universe of the time could only be resolved through a violent struggle. Socialism in fact promoted the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat with the ultimate goal of revolution; nationalism, in its extreme and integral vision, supported the bloody struggle between nations. In the economic sphere, capitalism supported the unbridled competition that had to eliminate the weakest subjects. In foreign policy, colonialism required military power as a guarantee of its domination. In the culture there was an atmosphere of the sunset of the West, of universal conflagration ready to change the fate of the planet.
In a context like this, war, understood as "the only hygiene of the world", seemed to assume a fundamental role for social regeneration.
The fundamental point is that in 1914 the ideological approach prevented us from following other paths than that of war. The mental categories of late 19th and early 20th century society were profoundly limited and considered war as the only solution to disputes.
For this reason, when we read about the First World War, it is easy to fall into the deception of inevitability.
As if events could not have happened otherwise. In reality, things could have gone differently if alternative perspectives for conflict resolution prevailed in the mental universe.
After seventy years of substantial European peace, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has put our consciences in crisis and makes us run the risk of falling back into the profound conviction that only war can solve problems, that there are no other ways, other solutions. The example of the First World War helps us to understand that each society faces the situation of its time with mental categories linked to its specific historical context. But they are not the only ones.
The real challenge is never to give up on the horizon of peace, both in the short and long term. Even if an armed response were necessary to combat an authoritarian aggressor, it should remain an immediate reaction, purely defensive and limited to this purpose, as the social doctrine of the Church also reminds us.
But this immediate armed response cannot coincide with the reference horizon, it must not be confused with the long-term objective.
The re-construction of a new mentality of peace is just beginning.
NP June / July 2022