You can say, “Well, we don’t want peasants; we don’t want the door open to peasants into the church. It’s better to have people like St Anselm, Saint Thomas Aquinas, who were small property owners and so they could have lived on their property. They weren’t desperate. You don’t want great landowners in the church because they’ll simply look after their interests, but you want people just from the middle who if they go into the church will go in with conviction. Not the peasants.” But one of the greatest Christians who ever lived – and our teacher was a great admirer of him – was Pope Sylvester the Second. He was of peasant stock.
So as the Chinese say, the arguments for and against what is good and what is bad are endless, like the river turning and twisting. And by one’s reason you can find the cases for and against. Now the Shri Dada Sanghita says so many of them started off well and became murderers and tyrants. Our teacher recommended studying history. He said seek for examples of these things in history. Don’t just read them.
Italy in 1923 was absolutely plagued by lock-outs, strikes and the trains were invariably late and nothing worked, and the people were getting absolutely exasperated. Mussolini, a former socialist, led his march on Rome and he was successful. Now he got the trains punctual. People had said, what our teacher used to call, insincere excuses trying to cover up that. They said, “Oh well, the Italians – it’s the nature of the people, you see.” Then others would say, “Would you rather be in a train where the driver has admittedly over-slept an hour, but has rested; or would you rather a man who has been got out of bed by the alarm, and his eyes are glaring, fixed on the clock. Well, he’s not going to be a good driver. And then if all the trains arrived on time then the station wouldn’t be able to cope with them, you see. There’d be an absolute flood.” You see – insincere arguments, as our teacher said. Well, Mussolini changed that.
When they said Italians are easy-going, artistic, he said “No, no. Italians invented science. Galileo invented time with the pendulum clock. Volta invented electricity, volts. Galvani galvanised. Now we’re going to have those trains on time, as your ancestors got things on time.” And then, yes, they were on time and he succeeded in many good social things in Italy. For instance I knew an Englishman whose Italian was good enough to pass as an Italian and he told me that under Mussolini the army recruits after two weeks of indoctrination were taken on a six week or two month tour of Italy. Most of them had never been outside the village. They knew nothing except the next village, who they hated. But he said they were shown and they had good guides to guide them round the Colosseum and the wonders of what their ancestors had done and their art treasures. And he said Mussolini’s policies converted them into Italians. They were proud for the first time of their ancestry as Italians.
Our teacher said of the Upanishadic Shvetaketu, that he was a very naughty boy and the father said to him, “Now Shvetaketu it’s time you went and studied under a teacher, because in our family there’s never been a Brahmin by courtesy who didn’t know the holy texts.” Our teacher said this is the right use of family pride. Not hostile to others but to get the young ones to emulate their great ancestors.
Mussolini wrote plays, he was a good writer. Our teacher read one of his plays, “The Hundred Days” He speaks of it. The Duce, the leader – and all over Italy there were plastered on the hoardings, “El Duce is always right”. This Englishmen I knew, he told me – and I haven’t seen it referred to elsewhere – that when the troops were marching in the country, not in front of foreigners, they marched du-ce, du-ce, du-ce. Mussolini produced the Encyclopaedia Italiana which is regarded very highly by encyclopaedists. He backed Tucci, probably the greatest oriental scholar of the Far East, who is still alive – he backed him when he was a young man and he did an enormous amount of good.
Mussolini made a famous boast which Shaw preserved in the play, Geneva. He was tackled by a League of Nations man with some reporters, who said, “Yes, Italy has some made great progress, but it’s not a democracy is it?” Mussolini said, “The Italian people like me and want me, and accept me as the Duce, the leader.” And he said, “But yes, it’s not a democracy is it?” And then Mussolini made this famous challenge, he said, “Hold elections”. And a horrible sneer came over them. Mussolini said, “No. I’ll give you the money and facilities. Hold your own elections in Italy. Hold your own, with an entirely free hand. I shall be elected by 98% of the people. If that’s not democracy, what is?” And some experts were asked and said, “It’s true. The Italians accept him as the man of destiny. They say, “We don’t like some of the harshness but we need it.””
Well then after ten years he began living a life of luxury, and you get a deterioration of the intelligence. He began dreaming of conquests in Africa and he was impressed by the rise of Hitler in the north. Then quite soon the degeneration took place. People didn’t know what was happening in Italy. They knew something had gone wrong. Nobody liked to say anything. If they said anything then force began to be very strongly used against them. And so the thing began to collapse, and then after that it became a ruthless dictatorship. This is an example of what our teacher was saying – that they can begin extremely well, and do what they see to be good, and they do a certain amount of good. But because there’s no purity of being, there’s no purity or, he says, a limited amount of purity and it becomes corrupt, then there begins to be a degeneration. And then they become bewildered, they don’t know what to do.
© Trevor Leggett
Talks in this series are:
Part 1: Tradition and Inspiration
Part 3: Seeking for something to worship
Part 5: What is good and what is bad