Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Mohammedan pressure from the East"

"THE fall of Constantinople at the end of the Middle Ages (1453) was only the beginning of further Mohammedan advances. Islam swept all over the Balkans; it took all the Eastern Mediterranean islands, Crete and Rhodes and the rest; it completely occupied Greece; it began pushing up the Danube valley and northwards into the great plains; it destroyed the ancient kingdom of Hungary in the fatal battle of Mohacs and at last, in the first third of the sixteenth century, just at the moment when the storm of the Reformation had broken out Islam threatened Europe close at hand, bringing pressure upon the heart of the Empire, at Vienna.

"It is not generally appreciated how the success of Luther's religious revolution against Catholicism in Germany was due to the way in which Mohammedan pressure from the East was paralysing the central authority of the German Emperors. They had to compromise with the leaders of the religious revolution and try to patch up a sort of awkward peace between the irreconcilable claims of Catholic authority and Protestant religious theory in order to meet the enemy at their gates; the enemy which had already overthrown Hungary and might well overthrow all of Southern Germany and perhaps reach the Rhine. If Islam had succeeded in doing this during the chaos of violent civil dissension among the Germans, due to the launching of the Reformation, our civilization would have been as effectively destroyed as it would have been if the first rush of the Mohammedans through Spain had not been checked and beaten back eight centuries earlier in the middle of France."

~Hilaire Belloc: The Great Heresies, Chap. III.

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"Islam has not suffered this spiritual decline"

"The West has returned, and one might say that the work of Saladin was plainly undone.

"Now the future is as hidden from us as it was from those fathers of ours who, barely three lifetimes ago, still feared the further advance of the East. But when we consider the major forces at work before our eyes, though we cannot conclude upon their results we can at least estimate their immediate proportion and value. The comparatively recent domination of western Europeans, English and French, over Mohammedean lands, is due to causes mainly material and therefore ephemeral. One must always look to moral (or, more accurately, to spiritual) causes for the understanding of human movements and political change. Of these causes, by far the most important is the philosophy adopted by the community, whether that philosophy can be fully expressed as a religion, or [be] taken for granted without overt definition.

"Now, it is true that on the spiritual side Islam had declined in one factor wherein we of the West had not declined, and that was the factor of energy allied to and productive of, tenacity and continuity of conduct. But on the other hand, in the major thing of all, Religion, we have fallen back and Islam has in the main preserved its soul. Modern Europe and particularly western Europe has progressively lost its religion, and especially that united religious doctrine permeating the whole community, which unity gives spiritual strength to that community.

"There is with us a complete chaos in religious doctrine, where religious doctrine is still held, and even in that part of the European population where the united doctrine and definition of Catholicism survives, it survives as something to which the individual is attached rather than the community. As nations we worship ourselves, we worship the nation; or we worship (some few of us) a particular economic arrangement believed by us to be the satisfaction of social justice. Those who direct us, and from whom the tone of our policy is taken, have no major spiritual interest. Their major personal interest is private gain, and this mood is reflected in the outer forms of government, by the establishment of plutocracy.

"Islam has not suffered this spiritual decline; and in the contrast between [our religious chaos and] the religious certitudes still strong throughout the Mohommadean world ─ as lively in India as in Morocco, active throughout North Africa and Egypt, even inflamed through contrast and the feeling of repression in Syria (more particularly in Palestine) ─ lies our peril.

"We have returned to the Levant, we have returned apparently more as masters than ever we were during the struggle of the Crusades ─ but we have returned bankrupt in that spiritual wealth which was the glory of the Crusades. The Holy Sepulchre has become a petty adjunct, its very site doubtful in the eyes of the uninstructed mass of Christians. Bethlehem and Nazareth are held, but they are not held because they were each the cradle of Divinity. Damascus is held, but it is not held as the key of a Christian dominion, nor is the Levant held as one whole, but divided between separate nations to whom the unity of Europe has ceased to be sacred. We are divided in the face of a Mohommadean world, divided in every way ─ divided by separate independent national rivalries, by the warring interests of possessors and dispossessed ─ and that division cannot be remedied because the cement which once held our civilization together, the Christian cement, has crumbled.

"These lines are written in the month of January, 1937; perhaps before they appear in print the rapidly developing situation in the Near East will have marked some notable change. Perhaps that change will be deferred, but change there will be, continuous and great. Nor does it seem probable that at the end of such a change, especially if the process be prolonged, Islam will be the loser." 

~Hilaire Belloc: The Crusades: The World's Debate.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pearce: The Liberal Environmentalist Nobody Knew Was Catholic

E. F. Schumacher

Article by Joseph Pearce:

FEW realized when Small is Beautiful was published that E.F. Schumacher’s economic theories were underpinned by solid religious and philosophical foundations, the fruits of a lifetime of searching. In 1971, two years before the book’s publication, Schumacher had become a Roman Catholic, the final destination of his philosophical journey.

“It’s all very well to live simply and grow things and practice crafts… but what about the hundreds of thousands who can’t hope to be self-sufficient in property and craft?” This summarizes the complaint by modern critics against “Distributism”—the economic philosophy inspired by Catholic social teaching and developed, early last century, by Catholic thinkers such as G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. According to Distributism, property should be spread widely, so that people can earn a living without having to rely on the state (socialism) or a small number of individuals (capitalism). According to the pessimistic view of critics, small-scale economies are fine in principle, but are no longer practical.

Such questions were central to the philosophical grappling of Dr. E.F Schumacher, who came to the conclusion that pessimism was self-fulfillingly prophetic. If one believes the worst one will probably get the worst. Negation begets negation. The antidote to such despair, Dr. E.F. Schumacher believed, was hope. It was in this spirit that he wrote Small is Beautiful in 1973, a book which, for a time at least, made Distributism the most fashionable economic and political creed in the world. Schumacher’s trained economic mind had resolved many of Distributism’s alleged problems so that its principles became applicable even to ‘the hundreds of thousands who can’t hope to be self-sufficient in property or craft.’ Schumacher had succeeded where Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton had failed.
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Saturday, August 23, 2014


“MEN do not live long without gods; but when the gods of the New Paganism come they will not be merely insufficient, as were the gods of Greece, nor merely false; they will be evil. One might put it in a sentence, and say that the New Paganism, foolishly expecting satisfaction, will fall, before it knows where it is, into Satanism”

~Hilaire Belloc: Essays of a Catholic.


"The general spirit of Catholicism”

“THEREFORE does it remain true that we shall only recover a moral society, secure small property, the control of monopoly, and the Guild if we recover the general spirit of Catholicism.”

~Hilaire Belloc: The Crisis of Civilization.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Neither Capitalism Nor Socialism

DISTRIBUTISM is a long clumsy word which is coming into use for a very simple and normal thing: the system of society in which the average citizen possesses enough property to give him and his family economic freedom. There was a time when everyone took it for granted, especially in the United States, that the typical free citizen would be an owner—generally an owner of land and if not the owner of land then the owner of a business or the master of a craft. But today, wherever industrial capitalism rules—and it rules in our main industries, including our transport system—a perilous and unnatural state of things has come to pass. The b bulk of men are still called free citizens, for they are still politically free; but they are no longer economically free. They no longer possess the wherewithal to live. They live only at the mercy of employers who possess the means of life—the reserves of food and clothing and house-room and instruments of production—or by support from the community doled out by the officers thereof.

In the presence of this unprecedented arrangement of society, a new word had to be found for the old thing, which had been nameless mainly because it had been taken for granted and was universal. For myself I should have preferred the word Proprietary, though this is rather long and pedantic. But on the existing models of Socialism and Collectivism, it was agreed to take the word Distributism. As the Socialist desires or accepts an arrangement of society wherein the means of production are vested in the community (society itself, the collectivity), so the Distributist desires a society in which the means of production are distributed as property among the several units of the State—the families and the individuals which compose it.

Now to begin with, let me emphasize certain negative points with regard to this creed of ours, which was, within living memory, a matter of course, and yet now sounds so odd in the ears of many contemporaries. Distributism does not propose the equal distribution of the means of production among the several individuals or families of the State. That is a mechanical, inhuman conception opposed to, and even contradictory of, the spirit which has moved men to attempt a return (if it be possible) to a good distribution of private property. A man is not unhappy or degraded because another man is richer than he; his suffering only becomes inhuman and abnormal when he has not the wherewithal to live as a free man. One can be free without being rich, but one cannot be free without the means of livelihood.

Again, Distributism does not mean the possession of sufficient land or capital by all families or all individuals of the State. That might be the ideal, but it is not the practical goal which we aim at, which we think possible. There will always in practice be among men, even where property is well distributed and guaranteed a certain minority who cannot handle it, a certain exceptional number, large or small, who are incorrigible spendthrifts. What is more, there will always be a certain exceptional number, large or small, who not only have no appetite for economic freedom but positively dislike it, and prefer to shift onto other shoulders the responsibility of keeping them alive.

No, the goal of the Distributist in a society wherein so many of the citizens are economically free that they give their tone to the whole community. We all know the difference between a countryside where farmers live securely upon their own land, and industrial urban quarters where great herds of men turn to their ineluctable labor at the sound of the factory siren. In the one place there may be considerable numbers who possess nothing, who are working for hire under the farmers, or who are in domestic service with the wealthy of the neighborhood. But the tone of the place is a tone of ownership, of economic freedom. In the second instance you may have many a small shopkeeper possessing some economic independence, you may have many a man owning his own home, and not a few possessed if industrial shares or city or national bonds on a small scale, but the tone of the whole place is proletarianism, just as the tone of the first place is distributist.

Lastly, Distributism is not, most emphatically not, the ownership of the means of production in small units of simple instruments. It does not mean the return to the carpenter’s bench, the local blacksmith, the hand-weaver, and the hand printing press; nor does it mean, in transport, a return to the carrier’s horse and cart. A simple society, based upon small craftsmanship, may be preferred to the highly complex society based upon concentrated machinery; it may even be held that the small craft and the small industry alone are permanent and that our great modern concentrations must inevitably crash sooner or later; but all that has nothing to do with the definition of Distributism. A railway between two great cities involves high concentrations of capital, but it does not of itself involve the possession of capital by one or a few men. The capital may be possessed in shares, and those shares widely distributed. The management of a national loan involves high concentration of capital, but there is no necessity for the bonds being held by a few; they could just as well be held by individuals and families composing the mass of the community.

It is important to insist upon this last point because there is great confusion upon it. Not only do the enemies of well-divided private property and the Distributist program ridicule and belittle it as impossible in modern large industry, because modern large industry involves concentration of capital, but many friends of Distributism become muddled on the same point. They would like to see the resurrection of the small craftsman. They deplore the damage done to society by large industry, they forget that while small craftsmanship may be subjected to economic servitude, large industry might be held co-operatively by a guild or a great number of shareholders. There have not been wanting states of society in the past where the small craftsman was a slave. There have not been wanting states of society in the past and the present also where the small craftsman and the small farmer was a wretched dependant upon usurers and tax collectors. The two ideas of small craftsmanship, small husbandry, etc., and the distribution of ownership must not be confused. They have a common spiritual appeal, but they are not identical.

From this list of what Distributism is not, let us turn to consider what the social philosophy of Distributism is.

We desire a better distribution of private property in a least a sufficient amount to secure freedom of action to the average man. It is natural to man to own, and to use his possessions under the action of his own will. To have one’s life ordered by other men with no authority other than their possession of the means of production is not the norm, consonant to human instinct. There are conditions where life must be controlled: for instance, for the ordering of an army or a religious group, or the saving of imperiled people such as shipwrecked men on a raft at sea. Among these you may and sometimes must suppress the action of individual will, and in some cases even such action of the will over material objects as we call ownership. The soldier acts under, the monk and member of a ship wrecked crew own nothing; the one because he has abandoned the natural human right of property for a particular purpose, the other because under highly abnormal circumstances he was compelled to do so. The shipwrecked crew can only save itself as a communist body; the monk can only fulfil his vocation as the member if a communist body. But in either case the whole point of such membership is that it is an exception to the common run; in the one case voluntarily, in the other (for the moment) inevitably.

When men are at once politically free and economically unfree (because they do not own the means of production and so cannot live save by leave of a master) they are called proletarian, and their general body is called the proletariat.

One might quarrel with that term also. It comes from an old Roman term which meant something very different. But here again things must have names and this is the accepted name for that very inhuman human condition. When a proletariat has come into being, that is, when there are so large a number of citizens dispossessed of any useful amount of property as to impose their spirit upon the mass of society, we talk of that society as Capitalist.

Here again is a bad term; there can be no production of wealth anywhere or anyhow without the use of capital; every society is capitalist in that sense. When a man talks of abolishing capital in industry he might as well talk of abolishing air in breathing. The discussion turns not on whether there should be capital but on who should control it. The term Capitalist, however, has come to be used as a sort of shorthand for a society in which a minority, control the means of production, and the rest, the proletariat, live at the will of such controllers. Capitalist in that sense the industrial areas of the world have become—and we know the result. The attempted combination of political freedom with a lack of economic freedom is not permanently workable, and meanwhile there is constant confusion, loss, and a direct opposition of interests between those citizens who actually produce the wealth by which they live and those who control the production of that wealth—and control the producers at the same time.

Of the innumerable evils proceeding from so unnatural and abnormal a state of affairs, the worst are, as always, spiritual evils. 


This ephemeral but acute phase of social history which we call Capitalism and for which Proletarianism would be a better word, subjects free men arbitrarily to the will of other citizens, their political equals, and compels them to this subjection through the mere power of many. There is no bond of duty such as co-exists with Status; there is no obligation of loyalty, not any mutuality of service. The man who has nothing must work for the man who has the goods, and as both are completely free, the man, who has nothing can legally be deprived of his livelihood at any moment at the caprice of the man who has the goods. The material evils accompanying this spiritual evil of degrading subjection with no moral sanction to enforce it, are insecurity of livelihood for nearly all, and a permanent measure of insufficiency for a great part of society.

It should have been clear that such a state of affairs could not endure one it had become widespread. So long as it was confined to a comparatively small proportion of the people, it would hobble along though with great friction; when it becomes the rule, when the mass of men are wage-earners at the mercy of a minority of capitalists, it is certain that the wage-earners if they remain politically free will rebel. We know the for that rebellion has taken with free labor—interference by conspiracy and combination: strikes on the one hand and lock-outs on the other—all the elements of a simmering civil war. To restore peace and achieve a stable society there are only three policies possible. Either we must abolish capitalism by putting the means of production into the hands of State officials, in which case all citizens will lose their freedom and becomes slaves of a Communist State. The half-free proletariat will lose such freedom as they have, and the wholly free possessor of capital will lose his entire freedom.

Or, as a second policy, we can enslave the proletariat; compel them by force to work for the profit of owners. In other words, we can re-establish private slavery. That is a very stable arrangement of society and a permanent one; we all came out of it and it would be natural that we should return to it. Indeed, anyone with a long vision may think to foresee our return to it and perceive already the beginnings of the Servile State.

If we reject these two solutions—the Communist solution and the Servile State—there remains the Proprietary solution, the setting up of a social system in which ownership is the general rule and universal popular freedom is accompanied by widespread economic freedom; a state of society in which the normal citizen owns land or housing or both and has a share of profits from commercial enterprise, from State bonds or in general revenue from investment, as well as revenue earned by his own labor. We know well that such a state of society can be for we belonged to it in the immediate past; the United States within living memory was a Distributist society, and Denmark almost wholly so. The government of Italy today is aiming at Distributism; the independent Irish have made it the main part of their political program.

Inevitably the obstacles to its achievement are very great. Many would pronounce them insurmountable. First, as always, come the spiritual factors. Men have grown used to capitalism and have come to think in terms of wage-earner and employer. It is difficult to go back to another mood. Next, our existing laws are nearly all in favor of large accumulations through the action of competition. Increasing rapidity in the transmission of information and orders, work in the same way; so does the increasing efficiency of the machine.

But all these factors making for the putting of control into a few hands can be counteracted. You may preserve the expensive centralized machinery in transport and manufacture, but you may divide its shareholding individually. You may aid the division of accumulation by differential taxation weighing heavily upon great accumulations of wealth, but we do not use it for the furtherance of better division. Were we to do so, better division could be achieved. It is not enough to super-tax the rich man; you must use the proceeds to build up property of the small man, both by subsidy and by giving a premium upon purchase of capital and law by the small man with a penalty for purchase by the big man. Your differential tax can gradually extinguish the chain store and the department store; and in the very important department of public investment you can see to it that the small subscriber is favored when State or municipal bonds are issued, and the large one handicapped.

With s sufficient will to create small property, well distributed throughout the community, the thing could certainly be done: the difficulty would be when once it was done to keep it stable. The two forms of slavery, Communism and personal slavery, remain stable of themselves; but, just as political freedom requires for its maintenance a permanent attitude of alert defense, so does economic freedom—and a permanent attitude of alert defense is difficult to maintain. Moreover, if it is left to competing individuals, un-co-ordinated, it is impossible to maintain.

Therefore in order to make the Proprietary State stable, you must have laws (or customs with the force of laws) which make it difficult for the small man to alienate himself and yet safeguard him in his share of the means of production. Laws of hereditary succession will do this, so will the natural play of differential taxation, which profits the small purchaser at the expense of the large purchaser whenever there is a transfer of capital or land. But the best instrument of all for maintaining the stability of small property is the Guild.

If we can re-establish the Guild we shall have done the trick. With men incorporated in chartered guilds having the power of the State behind them, small property, once achieved, will be secure. The Guild regulates its own affairs, it sets limits to competition within its boundaries, it provides for a succession of new free guildsmen by apprenticeship (which is a form of initiation), it sets the price of the goods produced (another check on competition), it regulates the method of production also, it has every advantage and every power for dealing with property after a fashion that shall maintain it in spite of the threat of competition. If we are to build the Distributist State, the Guild must be the keystone of that arch, and until men are trained in the idea of the Guild, until the Guild is set up and begins working before their eyes, the attempt to restore a Distributist State will be in vain.

And there is the last proviso, the Distributist State to be secure must include large fields of State action, not only political but economic. Whatever is of its nature a monopoly must be under State control, more or less developed. You cannot have a Distributist State without a strong executive to safeguard the small man permanently against the aggression of the great. In most communities of the Middle Ages, this function was performed by an official called a King; the name does not matter, but the office is all-important. A society without a strong, centralized executive is a society inevitably doomed to plutocracy.

~Hilaire Belloc: in The American Mercury (July 1937 issue).

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ballade to Our Lady of Częstochowa

Lady and Queen and Mystery manifold
And very Regent of the untroubled sky,
Whom in a dream St Hilda did behold
And heard a woodland music passing by:
You shall receive me when the clouds are high
With evening and the sheep attain the fold.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

Steep are the seas and savaging and cold
In broken waters terrible to try;
And vast against the winter night the wold,
And harbourless for any sail to lie.
But you shall lead me to the lights, and I
Shall hymn you in a harbour story told.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

Help of the half-defeated, House of Gold,
Shrine of the Sword, and Tower of Ivory;
Splendour apart, supreme and aureoled,
The Battler’s vision and the World’s reply.
You shall restore me, O my last Ally,
To vengeance and the glories of the bold.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

Prince of the degradations, bought and sold,
These verses, written in your crumbling sty,
Proclaim the faith that I have held and hold
And publish that in which I mean to die.

~Hilaire Belloc

Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Poland

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On Knowing the Past

AN apprehension of the past demands two kinds of information.

First, the mind must grasp the nature of historic change and must be made acquainted with the conditions of human thought in each successive period, as also with the general aspect of revolutions and progressions.

Second, the actions of men, the times, that is the dates and hours of such actions must be strictly and accurately acquired.

Neither of these two foundations, upon which repose both the teaching and the learning of history, is more important than the other. Each is essential. But a neglect of the due emphasis which each one or the other demands, though both be present, warps the judgment of the scholar and forbids him to apply this science to its end, which is the establishment of truth.

History may be called the test of true philosophy, or it may be called in a very modern and not very dignified metaphor the object-lesson of political science; or it may be called the great story whose interest is upon another plane from all other stories because its irony, its tragedy and its moral are real, were acted by real men, and were the manifestation of God.

But whatever brief and epigrammatic summary we make to explain the value of history to men, that formula still remains an imperative formula for them all, and I repeat it; the end of history is the establishment of truth.

A man may be ever so accurately informed as to the dates, the hours, the weather, the gestures, the type of speech, the very words, the soil, the colour, that between them all would seem to build up a particular event. But if he is not seized of the mind which lay behind all that was human in the business, then no synthesis of his detailed knowledge is possible. He cannot give to the various actions which he knows their due sequence and proportion; he knows not what to omit, nor what to enlarge upon, among so many, or rather a potentially infinite number of facts, and his picture will not be (as some would put it) distorted: it will be false. He will not be able to use history for its end, which is the establishment of truth. All that he establishes by his action, all that he confirms and makes stronger, is untruth. And so far as truth is concerned, it would be far better that a man should be possessed of no history than that he should be possessed of history ill stated as to the factor of human motive.

A living man has to aid his judgment and to guide him in the establishment of truth, contemporary experience. Other men are his daily companions. The consequence and the living principles of their acts and of his own are fully within his grasp.

If a man is rightly informed of all the past motive and determining mind from which the present has sprung, his information will illumine and expand and confirm his use of that present experience. If he know nothing of the past his personal observation and the testimony of his senses are, so far as they go, an unshakable foundation. But if he brings in aid of contemporary experience an appreciation of the  past which is false because it gives to the past a mind which was not its own, then he will not only be wrong upon that past but he will tend to be wrong also in his conclusion upon the present. He will for ever read into the plain facts before him origins and predetermining forces which do not explain them and which are not connected with them in the way that he imagines. And he will easily come to regard his own society, which as a wholly uninstructed man he might fairly though insufficiently have grasped, through a veil of illusion and of a false philosophy, until at last he cannot even see the things before his eyes. In a word, it is better to have no history at all than to have history which misconceives the general direction and the large lines of thought in the immediate and the remote past.

This being evidently the case one is tempted to say that a just estimate of the revolution and the progression of human motive in the past is everything to history, and in that an accurate scholarship in the details of the chronicle, in dates especially, is of wholly inferior importance. Such a statement would be quite false. Scholarship in history, that is an acquaintance with the largest possible number of facts, and an accurate retention of them in memory, is as essential to this study as of that other background of motive which has just been examined.

The thing is self-evident if we put an extreme case. For if a man were wholly ignorant of the facts of history and of their sequence, he could not possibly know what might lie behind the actions of the past, for we only obtain communion with that which is within and that which is foundational in human action by an observation of its external effect.

A man’s history for instance, is sound and on the right lines if he have but a vague and general sentiment of the old Pagan civilization of the Mediterranean, so long as that sentiment corresponds to the very large outline and is in sympathy with the main spirit of the affair. But he cannot possess so much as an impression of the truth if he has not heard the names of certain if the great actors, if he is wholly unacquainted with the conception of a City State, and if the names of Rome, of Athens, of Antioch, of Alexandria, and of Jerusalem have never been mentioned to him.

Nor will his knowledge of facts, however slight, be valuable; contrariwise it will be detrimental and of negative value to his judgment if accuracy in his knowledge be lacking. If he were invariably inaccurate, thing that which was blue, inverting the order of any two events and putting without fail in the summer what happened in winter, or in the Germanies what took place in Gaul, his facts would never correspond with the human motive of them, and his errors upon externals would at once close his avenues of access towards internal motive and suggest other and non-existent motive in its place.

It is, of course, a childish error to imagine that the knowledge of a time grows out of a mere accumulation of observation. External things do not produce ideas, they only reveal them. And to imagine that mere scholarship is sufficient to history is to put oneself on a level with those who, in the sphere of politics, for instance, ignore the necessity of political theory and talk muddily of the “working” of institutions—as though it were possible to judge whether an institution were working ill or not when one had no ideal that institutions might be designed to attain. But though scholarship is not the source of judgment in history, it is the invariable and the necessary accompaniment to it. Facts, which (to repeat) do not produce ideas but only reveal or suggest them, and form the only instrument of such suggestion and revelation.

Scholarship, accurate and widespread, has this further function: that it lends stuff to general apprehension of the past, which, however just, is the firmer, the larger and the more intense as the range of knowledge and its fixity increase. And scholarship has one more function, which is that it connects, and it connects with more and more precision in proportion as it is more and more detailed, the tendency of the mind to develop a general and perhaps justly apprehended idea into imaginary regions: for the mind is creative; it will still make and spin, and if you do not feed it with material it will spin dreams out of emptiness.

Thus a man will have a just appreciation of the thirteenth century in England; he will perhaps admire or will perhaps be repelled by its whole spirit according to his temperament or his acquired philosophy; but in either case, though his general impression was just, he will tend to add to it excrescences of judgment which, as the process continued, would at last destroy the true image were not scholarship there to come perpetually and check him in his conclusions. He admires it, he will tend to make it more national than it was, to forget its cruelties because what is good in our own age is not accompanied by cruelty. He will tend to lend it a science it did not possess because physical science is in our own time an accompaniment of greatness. But if he reads and reads continually, these vagaries will not oppress or warp his vision. More and more body will be added to that spirit, which he does justly but only vaguely know. And he will at last have with the English thirteenth century something of that acquaintance which one has with human face and voice: these also are external things, and these also are the product of a soul.

Indeed—though metaphors are dangerous in such matter—a metaphor may with reservation be used to describe the effect of the chronicle, of research and of accurate scholarship in the science of history. A man ill provided with such material is like one who sees a friend at a distance; a man well provided with it is like a man who sees a friend close at hand. Both are certain of the identity of the person seen, both are well founded in that certitude; but there are errors possible to the first which are not possible to the second, and close and intimate acquaintance lends to every part of judgment a surety which distant and general acquaintance wholly lacks. The one can say something true and say it briefly: there is no more to say. The other can fill in and fill in the picture, until though perhaps never complete, it is a symptotic to completion.

To increase one’s knowledge by research, to train oneself to an accurate memory of it, does not mean that one’s view of the past is continually changing. Only a fool can think, for instance, that some document somewhere will be discovered to show that the mass of people of London had for James II an ardent veneration, or that the national defence organized by the Committee if public Safety during the French Revolution was due to the unpopular tyranny if a secret society. But research in either of these cases, and a minute and increasing acquaintance with detail, does show one London largely apathetic in the first place, and does show one large sections of rebellious feelings in the armies of the Terror. It permits one to appreciate what energy and what initiative were needed to overthrow the Stuarts, and to see from how small a body of wealthy and determined men that policy proceeded. It permits one to understand how the battles of ’93 could never have been fought upon the basis of popular enthusiasm alone; it permits one to assert without exaggeration that the autocratic power of the Committee of Public Safety and the secrecy of its action was a necessary condition of the National defence during the French Revolution.

One might conclude by saying what might seem too good to be true: namely, that minute and accurate information upon details (the characteristic of our time in the science of history) must of its own nature so corroborate just and general judgments of the past, that through it, when the modern phase of willful distortion is over, mere blind scholarship will restore tradition.

I say it sounds too good to be true. But three or four examples of such action are already before us. Consider the Gospel of St, John, for instance, or what is called “the Higher Criticism” of the old Hebrew literature, and ask yourselves whether modern scholarship has not tended to restore the long and sane judgment of men, which, when that scholarship was still imperfect, seemed to imperil.

~Hilaire Belloc: This and That and the Other

Friday, August 8, 2014

"The family"

“THE family is the true unit of the state, and is more important than the state. The state exists for the family, not the family for the state. Property is necessary for its normal and healthy being.”

~Hilaire Belloc: The Way Out.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Poem: Lines to a Don

Remote and ineffectual Don
That dared attack my Chesterton,
With that poor weapon, half-impelled,
Unlearnt, unsteady, hardly held,
Unworthy for a tilt with men─
Your quavering and corroded pen;
Don poor at Bed and worse at Table,
Don pinched, Don starved, Don miserable;
Don stuttering, Don with roving eyes,
Don nervous, Don of crudities;
Don clerical, Don ordinary,
Don self-absorbed and solitary;
Don here-and-there, Don epileptic;
Don puffed and empty, Don dyspeptic;
Don middle-class, Don sycophantic,
Don dull, Don brutish, Don pedantic;
Don hypocritical, Don bad,
Don furtive, Don three-quarters mad;
Don (since a man must make and end),
Don that shall never be my friend.

Don different from those regal Dons!
With hearts of gold and lungs of bronze,
Who shout and bang and roar and bawl
The Absolute across the hall,
Or sail in amply bellying gown
Enormous through the Sacred Town,
Bearing from College to their homes
Deep cargoes of gigantic tomes;
Dons admirable! Dons of Might!
Uprising on my inward sight
Compact of ancient tales, and port
And sleep─and learning of a sort.
Dons English, worthy of the land;
Dons rooted; Dons that understand.
Good Dons perpetual that remain
A landmark, walling in the plain─
The horizon of my memories─
Like large and comfortable trees.

Don very much apart from these,
Thou scapegoat Don, thou Don devoted,
Don to thine own damnation quoted,
Perplexed to find thy trivial name
Reared in my verse to lasting shame.
Don dreadful, rasping Don and wearing,
Repulsive Don─Don past all bearing.
Don of the cold and doubtful breath,
Don despicable, Don of death;
Don nasty, skimpy, silent, level;
Don evil, Don that serves the devil.
Don ugly─that makes fifty lines.
There is a Canon which confines
A Rhymed Octosyllabic Curse
If written in Iambic Verse
To fifty lines. I never cut;
I far prefer to end it─but
Believe me I shall soon return.
My fires are banked, but still they burn
To write some more about the Don
That dared attack my Chesterton.

~Hilaire Belloc

"The Defection of Britain"

“THE capital event, the critical moment, in the great struggle of the Faith against the Reformation, was the defection of Britain.

“It is a point which the modern historian, who is still normally anti-Catholic, does not and cannot make. Yet the defection of Britain from the Faith of Europe three hundred years ago is certainly the most important historical event in the last thousand years: between the saving of Europe from the barbarians and these our own times. It is perhaps the most important historical event since the triumph of the Catholic Church under Constantine.”

~Hilaire Belloc: Europe and the Faith, Chap. IX. The Defection of Britain.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Poem: The Frog

Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As "Slimy skin," or "Polly-wog,"
Or likewise "Ugly James,"
Or "Gap-a-grin," or "Toad-gone-wrong,"
Or "Bill Bandy-knees":
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.

No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).
Oh! My!

~Hilaire Belloc: The Bad Child's Book of Beasts.

Poem: The Early Morning

The moon on the one hand, the dawn on the other:
The moon is my sister, the dawn is my brother.
The moon on my left and the dawn on my right.
My brother, good morning: my sister, good night.

~Hilaire Belloc

Poem: Jim

Who ran away from his Nurse and was eaten by a Lion

There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
His Friends were very good to him.
They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
And slices of delicious Ham,
And Chocolate with pink inside
And little Tricycles to ride,
And read him Stories through and through,
And even took him to the Zoo─
But there it was the dreadful Fate
Befell him, which I now relate.

You know─or at least you ought to know,
For I have often told you so─
That Children never are allowed
To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
Now this was Jim's especial Foible,
He ran away when he was able,
And on this inauspicious day
He slipped his hand and ran away!

He hadn't gone a yard when─Bang!
With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.
Now, just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted "Hi!"

The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
Though very fat he almost ran
To help the little gentleman.
"Ponto!" he ordered as he came
(For Ponto was the Lion's name),
"Ponto!" he cried, with angry Frown,
"Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!"
The Lion made a sudden stop,
He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
But when he bent him over Jim,
The Honest Keeper's Eyes were dim.
The Lion having reached his Head,
The Miserable Boy was dead!

When Nurse informed his Parents, they
Were more Concerned than I can say:─
His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
Said, "Well─it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!"
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James's miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.

~Hilaire Belloc

Friday, August 1, 2014

Poem: August

The soldier month, the bulwark of the year, 
That never more shall hear such victories told; 
He stands apparent with his heaven-high spear, 
And helmeted of grand Etruscan gold. 
Our harvest is the bounty he has won, 
The loot his fiery temper takes by strength. 
Oh! Paladin of the Imperial sun! 
Oh! crown of all the seasons come at length! 

This is sheer manhood; this is Charlemagne, 
When he with his wide host came conquering home 
From vengeance under Roncesvalles ta'en. 
Or when his bramble beard flaked red with foam 
Of bivouac wine-cups on the Lombard plain, 
What time he swept to grasp the world at Rome.

~Hilaire Belloc

Emperor Charlemagne, by Albrecht Dϋrer.
Oil on lindenwood, c. 1512; Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

"The Church needed Reformation"

“A man who thinks that, because the Church needed “Reformation” in the early sixteenth century, therefore the disruptive movement also known as “the Reformation” was necessary and good, is less intelligent than a man who does not confuse these totally distinct terms, though they happen to be expressed by the same set of syllables.”

~Hilaire Belloc: Essays of a Catholic.

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