Daniel De Leon editorial : The "Index"


by Daniel De Leon
from The Daily People, December 25, 1913

In its issue of December 17, the New York Normal College Bulletin contains a report of a recent meeting of the college's Barat Club, at which the Rev. J. F. X. O'Connor delivered an "informal talk." The report of the "informal talk" contains this passage:

"He began by telling us that it is far better not to read at all than to read certain books, which, as a caution, the Catholic Church had placed on the Index. The Index, Father O'Connor told us, may be compared to certain laws of the State. There are laws, for instance, restricting auto speed. They restrict the liberty of the chauffeur, that is true, but they protect human life. There are laws restricting smoking, etc., in city conveyances. They hamper the liberty of the individual, but they preserve the health of the public at large."

Among the books that have at one time or other been enrolled in the Index, and the reading of which must, according to Father O'Connor's analogy, have been prohibited in order to "preserve the health of the public at large" was the Bible. That happened in 1551 (Index prohibitory of Valencia, Valladolid and Toledo). Sixty and odd years later, 1616, under the papal will of Paul V, Galileo, and thereby Copernicus and Kepler, "all the works maintaining the mobility of the earth and immobility of the sun," landed on the Index, and remained there until 1757. Finally, coming down-to our own immediate days, we find in the latest Index of the late Leo XIII, published in 1900:

Among prohibited works of philosophy, Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason"; Montaigne; Descartes; Grotius, the founder of international law; Locke's "Essay on the Human Understanding"; Spinoza, whose works Goethe said he ever took up as a tonic for human abnegation; etc., etc.

Among prohibited works of history, Gibbons's monumental work, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"; Oliver Goldsmith's charming "History of England"; Hallam's profound work on the "Constitutional History of England"; D'Aubigne's painstaking work on the "History of the Reformation" ; etc.,. etc.

Among prohibited works on the natural sciences, Darwin; Giordano Bruno; etc., etc.

Among prohibited books on social science, John Stuart Mill; Auguste Comte; John Milton; Montesquieu; etc., etc.

Among prohibited works of literature, Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables"; Taine's "History of English Literature"; Eugene Sue's historic novels; etc., etc.

In the introductory chapter to his recent work. "The Censorship of the Church of Rome," George Haven Putnam says:

"A very large proportion, one may say by far the largest proportion, of the world's literature that stood for intellectual activity and insight, literature which expressed the conclusions of the greatest minds of their several generations, and which stood for the development and the civilization of the community itself, had been placed by the Church in the Index of condemned and prohibited books."

And the pious and enlightened Modernist Catholic, who in October, 1897, condemned in the Contemporary Review the Index issued by Leo XIII, tersely put the case in this sentence:

"As St. Paul strenuously opposed himself to the circumcision of the flesh, so would the Liberal Catholics oppose themselves to the circumcision of the intellect."

Accordingly, an examination of the contents of the Index, down to our own days, arouses grave doubts concerning the soundness of Father O'Connor's analogy between the books placed on the Index and auto speeding, or smoking and the like forbidden things in city conveyances; and it arouses the suspicion that not "the health of the public at large" but the "health" of political rulers, whose rule demands public ignorance, is served by the hampered liberty that the Index imposes or seeks to impose. A closer scrutiny of Father O'Connor's analogy ripens the suspicion into certainty.

Father O'Connor compared the Index to certain State laws. The comparison is inadmissible. There is not one of our State laws but is enacted by individuals elected by the people and removable by the people. The enactments of the Index are enacted by members of a close and self-perpetuating corporation, superimposed from above and unremovable from below -- unless they are physically yanked down and out, as has been repeatedly done in New Jersey, in Pennsylvania, in Colorado and surely in other states besides, by Polish, Italian and other irate Catholics who found no other way for removing some particularly obnoxious political oppressor in clerical clothes.

From whatever angle one views Father O'Connor's analogy, dished out to Normal College girls, between the Index and State laws, the analogy is incorrect; so incorrect as to be false; so false as to be misleading; so misleading as to be insidiously deceptive; so insidiously deceptive as to be immoral -- guilty of that immorality which consists in the attempt to impose upon and trepan the human intellect.

To quote once more from the distinguished Modernist Catholic quoted before, it is a fundamental principle "not only that the God of truth can never be served by a lie, but that the cause of religion can never be promoted by clever dodges, by studiously ambiguous utterances, by hushing up unpleasant truths, or (when such can no longer be hidden) by misrepresenting or minimizing their significance -- trying by a series of clever devices to disguise the consequences which logically follow from them." All of which points to the fact that the title of "Father," prefixed to J. F. X. O'Connor, is not the title of a religious office, but is the title of a politician intent upon promoting the interests of a political machine that is ambushed behind religion -- the Ultramontane political machine, the aim of which is to subvert the American polity of individuality, personal responsibility and organized democracy, and substitute for it the dead grip of Dark Ages theocratic autocracy.