some books by Hilaire Belloc and the demise of post-Christian Europe

We will blog even in the current sub-Arctic conditions that we are enduring.

Greetings!

Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953) was a Catholic historian.  His father was French and his mother was English.  He lived most of his adult life in England.

Having recently read a few of his more noteworthy books, I can say that he is an under-appreciated modern writer and historian.  His many worthwhile and thought provoking writings are often neglected by students of today.  Belloc’s main thrust appears to be that religion (specifically Catholic Christianity) and challenges to that religion have been a principal, if not the main, driver of history and social change in Europe since the time of the ancient pagan Roman Empire’s conversion to Christianity in the 4th century A.D. (the century of Constantine, the Council of Nicea, Theodosius the Great, etc.).

Before continuing we must insert this relevant observation.  Many Christians of the Protestant variety will often immediately come to a negative conclusion when the Catholic Church is mentioned.  This is unfortunate.   There is undeniably a strongly held negative prejudicial state of mind shared by many Protestants against the Catholic Church.  (We observe that this anti-Catholic bias appears to be most virulent among the English.)  Let me simply say that one needs to strive to be objective and aware of one’s biases. Objectivity can help us to arrive at, or at least approach the truth on many issues and questions, especially ones of a historical character.  Also, be aware that many who find various positions taken by the institutional Catholic Church to be problematic, do not know much, if anything, about the Catholic faith.  (They have never taken the time to try to learn about it.)  Sadly, ignorance and prejudice can lead to hate.  As well, it has always baffled me when considering the hate that people who claim to be Christian will harbor towards other Christians and other Christian churches.  We condemn hate.  Please, if you are claiming to be Christian, do not harbor hatred in your heart.  Hate is antithetical to the teachings of Christ.

Back to Belloc now.  The 3 books that I recently read are:  The Crisis of Civilization, (originally published in 1937); The Great Heresies, (originally published in 1938); and The Crusades (originally published in 1937).  We have copies of 2 more works by Belloc, How The Reformation Happened (1928), and Characters of The Reformation (1936) that we have not yet read.  Belloc does not deny that there were legitimate grievances about various abuses of the Catholic Church in the decades leading up to the start (in 1517) of the Reformation.  He decries both the loss of Christian unity in Europe that resulted from the Reformation, and the adverse consequences of that loss of unity.

In The Crisis of Civilization, Belloc, writing in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, contrasts unfettered industrial capitalism (with its proletariat class that lacks property) against the “remedy” of communism.  He recommends a third alternative, one which would restore widespread small property ownership and prevent the formation of monopolies or the concentration of property ownership in too few hands.  (The proletariat are politically free, but not economically free and are thus alienated, frustrated and increasingly angry.)  He recommends bringing back some of the institutions that worked well in the later Middle Ages such as guilds for craftsmen.  He condemns usury which essentially makes us all slaves to the banking interests.

In The Great Heresies, Belloc gives the history of 5 major heresies that not only threatened the survival of the Catholic faith, but also threatened European culture as we know it.  The heresies he covers are:  the Arian heresy; the heresy of Mohammed (Belloc takes the position that Mohammed did not start a new religion so much as he succeeded in giving a heretical version of Christianity a powerful life of its own); the Albigensian attack (of the 12th and 13th centuries); the Reformation (not as an individual heresy or heresies, but rather as a movement that denied Christian unity); and lastly, the Modern Attack (what we have with us today which we discuss below from our own point of view).

All the above books were reprinted by Tan Books and Publishers (Rockford, Illinois) in the early 1990s.  TAN Books has in the past few years been acquired by Saint Benedict’s Press (North Carolina).  These paperbacks can still be found in used copies on Amazon or Alibris.com and from other online sources or in used bookstores.  Here is the link to buy them direct from the current publisher:

https://tanbooks.benedictpress.com/index.php?keyword=Belloc&PHPSESSID=6dee71056a7d604ac4cd6871f3a56fb1&page=shop%2Fsearch&user_id=&x=-1090&y=-137

Look at the current cultural battleground in Europe.  (And, by “culture”, we also include the pressing economic and social issues.)  3 non-Christian – in fact, anti-Christian – groups are competing for supremacy, are fighting for the heart and soul of Europe today: 1. violent, intolerant Muslim immigrants (and converts) who believe themselves morally superior to the native, Christian Europeans; 2. atheistic communists and their sometime allies, the anarchists; and 3. morally nihilistic hedonists including some neo-pagans (largely obsessed with a debauched sexual lifestyle, and the use of various recreational drugs). Groups 2 and 3 are violent as well at times and in different forms.

Can Europe, or at least the European culture we know, or have known, survive these assaults?  Can an effectively post-Christian Europe defeat these groups intent on forever destroying the age-old Christian culture of Europe?  Europe having lost touch with its Christian roots and values in this age of excessive materialist skepticism and cynicism, does seem to be losing the war for the survival of its historic cultural identity.  Belloc expressed his view that European culture would not, could not, survive this modern attack unless it returned to its authentic Christian roots and Christian values.  For him, Europe was not the product of the “white race”, but was the product of the original Christian religion that formed the culture.  (It is worth noting here that white Europeans, by consciously choosing to have only one child per couple (the current average in most European countries today), are committing demographic suicide.)

We now share a few thought provoking quotes from Belloc’s writings.

” . . . . political change invariably comes prior to economic change; economic change could not take place but for the acceptation of laws and a machinery of government which allows the new economic conditions to function.  First comes, in every great revolution of European affairs, a spiritual change; next, bred by this, a change in social philosophy and therefore in political arrangement; lastly, the economic change which political rearrangement has rendered possible.”  (p. 102, The Crisis of Civilization)

 We, as human beings, are often behind the curve when it comes to momentous change.

“It is very difficult to say when the tide turns in the great processes of history.  But one rule may be wisely applied; the turn of the tide comes earlier than men judging by surface phenomena conceive.”  (p. 135, The Great Heresies)

Talking about Napoleon and projecting an ultimately different European culture had Napoleon not been defeated, Belloc makes this comment:

” . . . . Nor, for all his genius, did he clearly perceive that difference of religion is at the root of differences in culture, for the generation to which he belonged had no conception of that profound and universal judgment.”  (p. 132, The Great Heresies)

This last quote is very telling indeed and prescient.  Belloc wrote this in 1938 – 75 years ago.  It does seem to correctly critique, or envisage, the current situation in the US (and other countries).  We have had a welfare state mentality since at least the “Great Society” of the mid 1960s and President Lyndon Johnson, if not the New Deal of FDR in the 1930s.

” . . . . When the mass of families in a State are without property, then those who were once citizens become virtually slaves.  The more the State steps in to enforce conditions of security and sufficiency; the more it regulates wages, provides compulsory insurance, doctoring, education, and in general takes over the lives of the wage-earners, for the benefit of the companies and men employing the wage-earners, the more is this condition of semi-slavery accentuated.  And if it be continued for, say, three generations, it will become so thoroughly established as a social habit and frame of mind that there may be no escape from it in the countries where State Socialism of this kind has been forged and riveted on the body politic.”  (p. 150,  The Great Heresies)

Thanks for reading.