Democracity Vs. Theocracity
On April 30, 1939 the New York World’s Fair opened to what had been a black and white world, a world balancing between the Great Depression and the Second World War. There were those who believed it was possible to rebuild the fallen system based on informed democratic assent to central planning and a willingness to shake off the past. The dream was to build a “Democracity”. The Fair was the greatest peacetime project ever undertaken at a cost of $155 million, and was referred to by some as the 8th Wonder of the World.
In his opening address, President Roosevelt commented that the eyes of the U.S. were still fixed on tomorrow, still fixed to a star—he named it the star of good will and peace, open to the gaze of all mankind. Albert Einstein then appeared and said he wanted science to enter into the consciousness of the people, not to remain superficial. He turned on the lights of the Fair, and the world was no longer dark, the world was no longer black and white. Fire spewed out of water, and color enraptured the spirit and mind of a barren and sometimes despairing people.
The world was changing, however, and other events were proceeding in Europe. Germany invaded Poland, France fell and the battle of Britain began. By the summer of 1940, the Fair was no longer meeting the needs of the people, attendance waned, and a change was in order. The dream of the planners, building a “Democracity”, was no longer effective. The social and educational purpose of the Fair was dropped and the entertainment center was expanded and renamed “The Great White Way”. The Fair went on, but it seemed as if it’s heart and soul had died.
In narrating a special film about the 1939 World’s Fair, Jason Robards tells us that he hears echoes of the Fair in the writings of several poets, some of whom died long before the Fair attempted to lift the spirit of the multitudes. He mentions Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach“, and it is interesting to reflect on the conclusion of this poem:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Matthew Arnold revolted against the materialism of his age but did not seek inspiration from the spiritual values of the Middle Ages. Morals and ethics had lost their theological basis because of science and Arnold believed that something must be advanced to take religion’s place. Strangely enough, he proposed the dignity of the human character and the goal he set was the pursuit of human perfection. Unable to find a solution to the problems of his times, his poetry is overcast with a feeling of melancholy and frustration. He stated in poetic terms the dilemma of many like him who took no pleasure in the achievements of the age and found no help in the religion and dogmas being sponsored on all sides. His poem “Dover Beach” speaks of the decline of faith and the struggle between science and religion. He died in 1888.
On May 15, 1891 Pope Leo XIII issued “Rerum Novarum”, the first great social Encyclical. It was a step in Church history and the history of the Western world which finally brought both into the 20th Century, able to deal realistically with problems. It was an important step in recognizing democracy as a form of government not necessarily out of harmony with Church.
I propose that Arnold would have welcomed that Encyclical, and also the later masterpiece of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church–given to a world which no longer sees a serious conflict between science and religion, and is based on the dignity of each human being, pilgrims on the road to perfection and to the dawning of a new world. He might choose CCC #1049, based on Gadium et Spec and other social teachings, as the one which speaks most clearly to him:
“Yet the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather encourage our resolve to
cultivate this earth, where the body of the new human family is growing and even now
heralds the new age. Though earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the
spread of Christ’s kingdom, its ability to further a better order of human society makes it
highly significant to God’s kingdom” (GS 39 §2).
I also think Matthew Arnold would welcome the new Papacy of Pope Francis. Under his leadership, we must be willing to see things in a new way, and allow informed consent to shake off the past. However, we must first drop the word “democratic” assent, as the leaders of the Fair proposed. We must first build a “theoracity” based on our faith—a faith which requires a proper understanding of the virtue of obedience to Holy Mother Church and her teachings (CCC #1949-2051)
Hopefully, Arnold would also embrace Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter, “Lume Fidei, agreeing that faith affirms the findings of science. Order and meaning is found in truth and love.
Finally, I think Arnold would embrace the message of the apostolic exhortation, “Joy of the Gospel” issued by Pope Francis in 2013. His melancholy and frustration would be replaced by the joy he apparently never knew.
Until we embrace Pope Francis’ vision of a “democracity” based on a “theocracity”, we will continue to be what Matthew Arnold saw as “ignorant armies who clash by night”.
Harriet Lee Sporn, O.F.S. 3/3/14
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