Monarchy – A Study of Louis XIV by Hilaire Belloc (Review)

 

hilaire-belloc-catholic-restoration

Hilaire Belloc

 

Here is a rich (and alas out-of-print) book about many things – certainly, the life story of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’ of France, amongst them.

Yet perhaps even more, it is also a book about the contrast and conflict between Catholic France and Protestant England and Holland, with whom Louis XIV struggled.

And, as we shall see, it is a book about capitalism and the emerging capitalist plutocracy in England and Holland, with which Louis XIV also struggled.

And, most obviously of course, it is a book about monarchy.

Now, many people coming to Hilaire Belloc today may imagine him as always a monarchist. It is an easy assumption to make: Belloc owes so very much to that late Nineteenth Century French Catholic culture he was born into.

And that French Catholic culture was not only staunchly traditional – it was also counter-revolutionary and monarchical. It resisted to the teeth the legacy of the French Revolution, which had overthrown the French monarchy.

But no, it is not true Belloc was always a monarchist.

For it is part of Belloc’s brilliance that he did not simply and unconsciously absorb the Catholic milieu he inhabited – but rather thought for himself in a profoundly original way.

And so, strange as it may seem, the young Belloc – although devoutly Catholic – began his writing career as an apologist for the French Revolution!

Enamoured of Rousseau’s Social Contract, Belloc loved human freedom and distinctly set himself apart from Catholic criticism of the 1789 Revolution.

Yet later, all this changed. The older Belloc renounced his youthful politics in favour of monarchism.

What happened? Did Belloc lose his early love of human liberty?

Arguably, the truth is quite, quite the opposite.

For Belloc never lost his love for liberty. Rather, he became convinced that the politics of his youth did not deliver freedom.

Particularly, he became convinced parliamentary democracy did not deliver freedom – it was a sham.

Rather, Belloc was persuaded that monarchy – of some kind – was more likely to preserve human freedom than parliamentary democracy.

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Belloc-Traditionalist

In our culture today, this sounds absurd to many ears. We automatically and axiomatically assume that our modern forms of democracy are more representative of the will of the people than monarchy!

But let us neither be automatic nor axiomatic. Let us instead consider Belloc …

For this, dear Reader, is my real purpose for writing this review. And I must warn you what follows is not simply a book review, but something more – it is an enquiry into issues such as the evils of modern capitalism and the destruction of freedom, religion and tradition (themes which are very important to us at this website).

Given this is not a conventional book review, I will also warn you we will not be proceeding in a conventional fashion. Expect some odd digressions, even curve-balls then …

Belloc: From Revolution to Counter-Revolution

Hilaire Belloc

Hilaire Belloc

Belloc moved, as we have indicated, from being an advocate of Revolution to Counter-Revolution.

And such a move, we say, is not easy to comprehend – at least for those possessed by modern axioms regarding democracy.

Yet, unlike most of us, Belloc knew parliamentary democracy firsthand – he was twice elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons.

He was even what was then known as a radical Liberal – in other words, one of the most left-wing members of Parliament at that time.

But Parliament disillusioned him. It was above all his disillusioning experience of being a ‘representative’ of the people that convinced Belloc that parliaments – or Senates, Houses of Congress etc. – did not so much represent the will of the people – as they did the will of the banks and a capitalist plutocracy of business magnates and tycoons.

In short, Belloc became convinced that British democracy was a (bad) joke – the strings were really being pulled by hidden financial elites.

Thus, he began a crusade for decades against the power of finance – arguing that usury, the very verve of the banks, was a dreadful evil out of which only slavery could come.

The ‘Money-power’, as Belloc called it, was not only devouring human freedom – but also religion, culture and tradition.

Civilisational decay was therefore the manifest result for Belloc – a new materialistic culture with ever-decreasing standards in the ethical and intellectual arenas.

Belloc became a prophet, then, of both contemporary moral decay – and what we would now call ‘dumbing-down’.

And herein we find the reasons, he eventually embraced the Counter-Revolution …


The Life and Times of Louis XIV and the Rise of Capitalism

Louis XIV

Louis XIV – as a child on the Throne of France.

Now, Belloc’s book on monarchy and King Louis XIV has all to do with Belloc’s life-long battle with the banking system and the capitalist plutocracy.

For he writes – very purposefully – about how this situation arose, both before and during the reign of the Sun king.

Belloc’s Monarchy, then, is greatly concerned with the origins of Capitalism in England and Holland, above all – and about how France resisted the new Money power.

To appreciate all this, the reader needs to know a little of the times in which Louis XIV reigned – from 1643 (when he ascended the French throne as a young boy) to his death in 1715.

Historically, this was the longest reign by a monarch of a major country in European history.

And it was a reign in which the ‘Sun King’ consolidated French power and the monarchy ascended …

Whilst, at the same time, across the channel in England, the monarchy was descending. It was increasingly threatened and eventually neutered.

For the English Charles I was beheaded in 1649 and then his son James II became an unexpected convert to Catholicism – something unacceptable to the Protestant ruling classes in England – and was thus deposed in favour of the Dutch Protestant William III or as Belloc calls him:

The first of the puppet kings called in by the Money-power.

For Belloc, these latter things testify to the self-evident tragedy of the Reformation. It is the tragedy of dreadful division, of which he writes:

The original effort of the Reformation to change the whole of our civilisation, to remove it from its ancient Catholic basis and to re-erect a new Europe in which the Catholic tradition should be destroyed, had failed.

But the Catholic reaction against that revolution had also failed.

Western Europe had fallen into two camps, the one based upon the Catholic culture … the other inspired with various forms of Protestantism, but having some sort of loose unity from a common detestation of the whole Catholic tradition.

Now, England and Holland were amongst the second (armed) camp in this tragic division.

They were amongst the new Protestant lands where, as Belloc writes, the banks and a new wealthy bourgeoisie gained power at the expense of the monarchy and earlier tradition.

For this new wealthy class owed much indeed to the Reformation.

In the English Reformation, for example, Henry VIII had razed the monasteries to the ground – with the purpose of looting them.

But the monastic booty did not stop with Henry VIII – it enriched a new wealthy class which acquired the lands – and which became ever more averse to Catholicism. (For Catholicism still claimed the right to those lands, whilst Protestants denied all rights to monks and nuns.)

Belloc describes how this process continued in England, during the reign of Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth. For, at least according to Belloc, Elizabeth was often little more than the instrument of the nouveau riche represented by the Cecils:

The great William Cecil, first Lord Burghley, who stands at the origin of the modern English Protestant State, followed this prime formula:

To destroy a religion it is not enough to persecute its adherents for their creed or for the practice of their liturgy. It is essential to ruin them in their fortunes.

This Burghley and his successors most thoroughly did, in confiscation after confiscation, fine after fine and capture after capture.

The financial basis of English Catholicism being sapped, the whole thing was undermined, until at last it came tottering down.

The landed interest passed by direct grant to the enemies of Catholicism, whenever supporters of that religion failed in some overt effort to restore themselves.

The estates of Catholics were subject to perpetual reduction by enormous fines: then, in the next generation, Catholic wealth was looted wholesale by the promoters of the great rebellion after their victory [Italics are Belloc’s own].

Two Opposed Cultural Spirits

Louis-xiv-lebrunl

Louis XIV in 1661

Here Belloc sets his stage for the central struggle in this book: the opposition of the old Catholic monarchy which persisted in France and the new ‘Money-Power’ as he calls it – above all in Protestant England and Holland.

But even more essentially than that, it is the opposition of two very different cultural spirits – that of Catholicism and a new spirit emerging in London and Amsterdam.

In a revealing passage, Belloc tells us:

It has often been remarked that the change in the fortunes of Louis came with the final victory in England of the Money-power over the national Monarchy, with the triumph of that wealthy oligarchy of great landowners, great merchants and the new banking system behind them …

The cause of this is not obscure. All that side of European culture of which Louis was the chief figure was opposed to the newer culture produced by the Reformation.

Louis stood, in the main, for the peasant, the traditional bonds of society inherited from times before the great religious revolution.

Opposed and rapidly increasing in power was that other spiritual force which was to make Capitalism.

Now London, rapidly expanding in numbers, wealth and consequence was, with Amsterdam, the pole or focus of that new force.

When English Government was captured by that rich class which became the leaders of the nation, when the English yeoman began to disappear and the townsman to replace him, above all when the ruined English monarchy at last collapsed, in 1688, the balance of Europe was changed: the scales were tipped against what Louis represented and towards plutocratic oligarchy [Italics mine]

What is Banking?

The great Hilaire Belloc

Hilaire Belloc

Now, Belloc only writes that the balance of Europe was changed. But it is arguably, much, much more than that.

What we have to do with is not simply Europe, but Western Civilisation as a whole. And indeed not simply Western Civilisation – but now most of the world. For today Japan, China and all manner of nations have followed the capitalist trail blazed by Seventeenth Century Protestant England and Holland.

And New York, where Wall Street resides, was once New Amsterdam …

Whilst my last remark might appear somewhat enigmatic, it is, alas, all-too-germane to Belloc’s crusade against Capitalism.

For throughout long years, Belloc spent his lifeblood arguing that we are not so much living in a true democracy, but a culture increasingly controlled by ‘Wall Street’ – a Wall Street which certainly had its roots in the emerging capitalist London and Amsterdam of the 1600s …

All this, dear Reader, forms the disturbing subtext of a book at least ostensibly about Louis XIV …

Belloc is trying to tell us how things we all take for granted today – e.g. Usury – were once downright odious to cultures like Catholic France.

Now, I talk of a subtext for  ‘a book at least ostensibly about Louis XIV’.

But what else can I say – when Belloc interrupts his narrative of Louis XIV for a long, five page section called: What is Banking?

And just as Belloc digresses from his ostensible main concern, Louis XVI – we will likewise now digress mid- review, to pause to listen as he answers the question: What is banking?

For Belloc supplies an answer in very clear language, which all-too-amply illustrates the very dubious ethical foundations of banking, as well as why it has such pronouncedly evil effects on culture.

Let us take some time, then, to consider Belloc’s lucid outline:

It is as well, at this point, to make quite clear the political menace (and advantage) of the new banking, whereof Amsterdam was the pioneer in modern times.

I have called it in general ‘the Money-power’, and it is true that in general the eternal duel between Monarchy and Money-power includes the special form of Money-power called Modern Banking, and lest a point not often defined should be misunderstood I will proceed to define it.

The power of a banking system lies in three things, first that it is able to create currency uncontrolled by the State, and in amounts not limited save by the bankers’ own interest and convenience. It makes money ‘out of air’ as it were.

Secondly, this “money” is not real wealth as is land or crops or cattle, and can therefore be transferred, expanded or concealed without offering any hold to the sovereign Authority which should properly govern all society. In other words a banking system is a state within the State.

Thirdly, the bank-currency thus created out of nothing is what is called “liquid.” The whole of it can be used for whatever purposes the bank proposes.


It comes to check industry at will, to bribe or subsidise whom it will or to penalise whom it will, to control as a moneylender the activities of the community and to drain the wealth of that community by the usury it demands.

Since the whole of this power depends upon the capacity of a banking monopoly for creating currency, let us understand the trick by which it acquires this essential facility.

In the beginning, a man having coin which he desired to secure from danger would leave it with a goldsmith or anyone who had a strong box and a counter for paying in and out. He left it, of course, under the condition that he might withdraw the whole of it or any part of it whenever he chose.

Suppose eleven men thus leave each of them one hundred gold pieces with the man who has the strong box; he is henceforward their banker. They come to him from time to time, withdrawing each of them some portion of their money to use, or paying in some new money to be kept for them.

It was soon found that in practice the amount withdrawn in any given unit of time, say a month, would be replaced by depositors at a certain average pace: that is, while there was a certain volume or pace of withdrawal there was also a corresponding pace of deposits.

But between inflow and outflow there was always a certain large reserve on hand: there was always a certain large sum of gold and silver which the man who held the coins in trust had by him.

In practice, it was found that this permanently unused balance came to about ten times the amount required to be kept ready for meeting withdrawal demands.

The eleven men having left in trust, on the honour of the banker £1,100, a whole thousand of that eleven hundred regularly lay idle at any given time.

It was enough for the banker to keep one hundred by him to meet current demands for withdrawal, for he found he could count upon new deposits coming in as freely as withdrawals were made.

Jones would draw ten pounds out of his hundred to pay a bill on New Year’s Day, but at Candlemas, a month later, he would pay in ten pounds which he had received and wanted to be kept safe. One-tenth of the total amount, then, was all that the banker had to keep by him to meet his obligations.

He proceeded to embezzle the rest – at least, it is embezzlement when a private individual uses for his own purpose money deposited with him on trust.

But custom ultimately winked at this embezzlement, so, at last, the banker felt quite secure if he had really only got one-tenth of the money which, in law and morals, he was bound to pay on demand. The other nine-tenths he could do what he liked with-and especially lend it out at usury.

But that is only the beginning of the story. It was again soon found that a banker’s promise to pay would be accepted by his clients as though it were actual payment. His bit of paper would circulate from hand to hand in the sure and certain hope that when it was presented it would be cashed.

So these bits of paper became currency.

The banker had created money out of nothing, greatly to his advantage, as it would be to the advantage of any of us who should be lucky enough to bring off the same trick. You and I with eleven hundred pounds can pay eleven men to build a house for us in six months.

But a banker with eleven hundred pounds can build ten houses where we build one. You and I can lend our eleven hundred out at five per cent. and get fifty-five pounds a year; but a banker can get five hundred and fifty pounds a year on the same basis.

But that, as Belloc tells us, was not the end of the story. There was a further development. And that development was credit:

The bank allowed a customer to draw out as much of this currency as it thought safe over and above the sum of money which he was registered as having deposited with him.

It gave John Jones an instrument of credit – at usury, of course – and then another of the same sort to those who did business with John Jones.

Thus a farmer with a thousand pounds’ worth of stock who wanted a thousand pounds’ worth of timber, but had no ready money, and the man with a thousand pounds’ worth of timber who wanted a thousand pounds’ worth of stock, but had no ready money, could not do a deal unless they knew each other and were in touch. They needed currency to effect the exchange.

Before the trick of banking arose, they would each have had to pay in coin, each receiving a thousand gold pieces and each paying out a thousand gold pieces. With banking, exchange took place unhampered by such clumsy methods.

Banking therefore vastly increased facilities of exchange, that is, of trade.

But the new advantage was gained at the cost of two things :

(1) Interest by the timber man and the sheep owner on the security of their own wealth had to be paid on the sham currency. [Belloc adds in a footnote: ‘A modern American humanist has put the case neatly. ‘The Bank builds a house with your money and then charges you rent.’]

(2) A trader could not get hold of that sham currency save by leave of the banks.

When a great central bank was established, such as was that of Amsterdam, and its credit firmly rooted, it could, up to a certain limit, create currency at will.

It could also get into its power all those over whom its credit system extended.

It could, moreover, subsidise governments, make possible vast expenditure otherwise not possible, and by withholding or extending its credit, could decide the main issues of society.

‘Could decide the main issues of society’: Here in seven simple words, Belloc reveals the core of his book, Monarchy.

Moreover, he alludes to his own conviction, as a disillusioned former member of Parliament, that ‘Wall Street’ was ruling Britain – and not the people.


Belloc on the Destruction of Tradition – and Christendom

And it is for these reasons that Belloc continues writing of a time long before Wall Street arose – but to which Wall Street, in fact, owes everything:

When such an institution as the Bank of Amsterdam had arisen, it was stronger than any king, or government of any kind.

It conferred great benefits on the community wherein it stood, permitting a rapid expansion of all economic activity and especially of foreign trade.

It could foster domestic manufacture and stimulate every other material function of society.

It paid for wars in a fashion that kings could not do and repaid itself by creating what we call today a national debt, that is, by levying usury through the government’s power of taxation.

After the Dutch invasion of England in 1688 [Belloc refers again to the deposition of the Catholic king James II for the Protestant ‘puppet’ William III] the way to national indebtedness was clear and the Bank of England, under the new system of bank credit, brought the same benefits and the same evils to England, as Holland had enjoyed.

London and Amsterdam acquired a strength which the national monarchs had not possessed.

The old traditional social morals of Europe were faced by a growing and vigorous force of usury.

By all this, we can see why the great typical monarchy of France was at issue with the Money-power, why the Money-power everywhere worked to destroy monarchy – that alone which could control it.

Here, then, is how Belloc digresses from his ostensible biography of the Sun King to tell us the terrible problem Louis was up against.

And, of course, he no doubt means to tell us the terrible problem we are still up against today.

However, ‘the old traditional social morals of Europe’, as Belloc puts it, no longer exist. They have been destroyed.

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Belloc-Traditionalist

Belloc on the View from Catholic France

Grand Royal Coat of Arms of France & Navarre

Royal Coat of Arms of France – By Sodacan [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) via Wikimedia Commons


So it is that Belloc calls us to recognise a ‘road less travelled’.

He tells a tale of a Catholic culture that took a different route to that which became the world-dominant Protestant culture – headquartered in New York and London.

That different road has everything to do with Catholic France and why Belloc writes this book about Catholic France. (Incidentally, it also has everything to do with why this website draws so much inspiration from Catholic France.)

Now, it is difficult for we moderns, particularly we who hail from the Anglosphere, to understand this old French Catholic world.

And this is much of Belloc’s purpose here – to help us understand that lost world of French Catholicism, before the French Revolution.

But if it is difficult for we modern Anglophones to comprehend all this, Belloc makes clear that it was once also very difficult for the Catholic French to understand our brave new Protestant world:

It was getting more and more difficult for a man of French training to understand the new England which Protestantism had made.

As England abandoned the last spiritual supporters of her ancient national monarchy, and adopted aristocratic class government; as she undertook the destruction of her own peasantry and the erection of an urban proletariat upon their ruins, and, in the place of her old yeomanry, wage earners; as her capital city, her great port and mart swelled out of all measure and became more and more the only effective centre of England’s strength; as the Money-power in London allied with the great landowners rose to supremacy and eliminated English kingship; as trade and banking began to form the foundations of English society – as all this great change proceeded, England became increasingly incomprehensible to the French and therefore to Louis the typical figure of his nation [Italics mine].

Yes, so much of Belloc’s writing aims at precisely this: helping Anglophones understand that our English-speaking world is not the entire universe.

And even if the Anglo-American conception of things has become the driving power of world culture today, it remains possible to stand back from it.

And it is only by this – by freeing ourselves somewhat from our Anglo-American concepts – that we can begin to understand what perhaps initially seems the very strange view from Catholic France that Belloc states as the core of his book:

The matter which I think is central to this study and which I have particularly emphasised is the natural conflict between Monarchy and the Money-power.

That is the political core of the whole story, from  …  the struggle with the Dutch merchants (that is, with the bank of Amsterdam), and on to the struggle with the City of London, its newly-established banking system, its brethren and allies, the big English landowners.

This essential, this inevitable duel to the death between Monarchy and Money-power, must run through any appreciation of the time …

We shall see how Louis wrestled with the Money-power, however incomplete was his victory over it, and how, from first to last, over more then fifty years, it fills all the business of the reign.

And that reign is but one chapter in the endless struggle between Monarchy representing and defending the mass of men, their needs, their freedom, and Money-power working for the exploitation of mankind [Italics mine].

Belloc wrote then of the ‘endless struggle’. But one wonders what he would say today?

It seems to me he might say: The struggle is over – Catholic tradition has now been destroyed; the Money Power working through Wall Street and its main adjunct in London has won the day.

But we will not dwell on these foreboding things, at least not now …

Oh Yes, Lest We Forget: Louis XIV

 

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles, hall of mirrors. Photo by By Myrabella (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

For you, the reader, may well be wondering: What of Louis XIV? You might even be asking: Does the personal life of the famed Sun King enter into Belloc’s narrative at all?

Oh, yes, we hasten to add. Whilst the main purpose of Belloc’s tale is clearly this ‘duel to the death between Monarchy and Money-power’, Belloc does indeed invoke far more than simply this.

He speaks of Louis XIV, I think, in a very balanced way. There is much in the book whereby Belloc analyses the failures of his reign – including the great moral failures and indeed evils.

And Belloc is always quick to note that the moral evils of Louis XIV amply indicate the problems of monarchism.

Yet, whilst as Belloc dwells on Louis’ failures and disasters, he also speaks of his moral regeneration later in life. Influenced by his wife’s profound Catholic devotion, he became ever more morally committed himself.

The following passage reveals something of Belloc’s attempt to balance the two sides of Louis’ nature – as well as the nature of monarchy.

The monarch in Louis half-consumed his private virtue … [Yet later on] Louis did penance. He was granted the opportunity for recovery. He grasped that opportunity and was grateful for it. All the last half of his life – thirty years and more – he gradually made his soul: remade it.

But Monarchy wounded [his soul] very deeply. Did the wound wholly heal?

Louis is a picture of Monarchy there also, in such a fate both of good and evil within.

No, Hilaire Belloc was no starry-eyed idealist and he is not upholding monarchy as some, perfect, shining ideal solution.

Rather, it is part of Belloc’s greatness that he repeatedly acknowledges the problems in his position – but concludes that whatever problems admittedly beset monarchy, the plutocratic capitalism which masks itself as democracy is still worse.

At this juncture, it is also worth noting that whilst Belloc’s concern here is the hereditary monarchy of France, numerous other kinds of monarchy certainly exist.

The Papacy, for example, was obviously never hereditary – but even today the Pope remains the monarch of the tiny state of the Vatican city.

What Belloc means by monarchy, then, is not necessarily hereditary, but is characterised by a strong, central form of government, focussed in one man (or woman). Only this he considered strong enough to deal with the Money-power.

For example, whilst Belloc never lived to see Charles de Gaulle’s creation of a powerful seven-year presidency, he would certainly have seen de Gaulle’s presidency as that of a democratically-elected monarch of whom he would have certainly approved. (For de Gaulle partially withdrew from NATO and opposed Britain’s entry into the emerging European Economic Community – and all this would seem only a continuation of the ongoing French struggle with the Anglo-American world …)

We digress, however. And so much more might be said – for the book covers many things besides the central struggle of Louis XIV with emerging Anglo capitalism.

There is, then, for example, naturally coverage of Spain and the War of the Spanish Succession – and indeed other wars.

And naturally there is also material about the cultural and artistic flourishing of Seventeenth Century France, which Louis fostered – a flourishing expressed in the literary masterpieces of Moliere and Bousset, as well as architectural masterworks, such as the famed palace of Versailles.

Yet another profound thread is a sustained meditation – recurring repeatedly throughout the book – on the nature of monarchy as a sacred mystery of identity between a people and a monarch.

For example, Belloc speaks of the intense loyalty Louis XIV evoked, implying that a Frenchman’s devotion to the King was the same as devotion to a nation:

For we must always remember in talking of this reign that the Crown and France were one  – that ideal figure of the nation, which is everywhere an idol for modern men, was under Louis XIV alive and present in him. France was indistinguishable from the actual human being who was crowned and anointed, the incarnation of his people.

In Conclusion

Hilaire Belloc by Eric Gill

Hilaire Belloc as drawn by Eric Gill

Yes, so very much is contained within this long book. It is an extremely rich volume. We have admittedly omitted much that we might otherwise feature.

And why have we done this?

Some sort of answer to that question can be found in what I said earlier – that I was aiming not so much at a book review, but:

An enquiry into issues such as the evil of modern capitalism and the destruction of freedom, religion and tradition (themes which are very important to us at this website.)

Yes, dear Reader, here is what concerns us greatly at Cor Jesu Sacratissimum.

And the more I continue to write for this site, the more I see how the great Belloc blazed the trail for so very, very much that concerns us here.

I see how I am only fumbling and bumbling in his footsteps.

Now I wrote about Hilaire Belloc’s footsteps before, in the summer of 2012 (some years after this site began in 2009):

Discovering Belloc has been a profoundly joyous, yet also eerie experience for me …

It is joyous, inasmuch as I have discovered a very dear friend, a life-long friend I think, even if my new dear friend died in 1953.

It is eerie, inasmuch as I see parallels, which are somewhat unsettling to me.

They are parallels between my own writing and what Belloc said many years before me.

For I see now that what I am trying to say  here … Belloc has often already said, albeit it far better than I could do myself.

Or to put it another way: It is like finding out that, in my own fumbling way, I have been walking in the footsteps of a giant who preceded me …

And yet a giant whose footsteps I never really recognised before – although I had read and acknowledged Belloc a little …

For example, Belloc evidently felt … the burning need to illustrate how imprisoned we are by the ‘Modern Mind’ (as he called it).

I cannot help but feel that same burning need and have been trying to say, how very provincial that modern mind is … provincial … in terms of both space and time.

[Hence, recently] I spoke of … the very significant divide between our contemporary ‘Americanised’ world and that of Catholic France over a century ago [and my] sense of limitation, not only in space but also in time.

In space, I am referring of course to a certain cultural geography – one of Anglophone, secular and Protestant heritage.

But what of provincialism in time?

Here I confess a known friend of mine rises in my awareness.

Known friend: How you strike me as acutely reflective and moral! You were born in 1970, friend and forgive me, if I should offend.

But how profoundly it seems to me that your assumptions can be shaped by four decades of mainstream British culture bracketed: 1970 – 2010.

Like so many others, your harried, hectic life will not easily permit the reading of history and your media does little or nothing to compensate.

Friends seen and unseen, I see your horror of the world, your sincere longing to find solutions, and I see your despair.

How I want to cry out loud: do not allow yourself to bracketed by a narrow slice of culture in time and space!

Do not let yourself be limited to Anglophone assumptions, circa 1970-2010. For otherwise there may be nothing left to do, but despair indeed …

Yes this was something from my own pen which aimed precisely at what Belloc – I see now – was doing far better than me, decades ago. And so I also wrote:

Belloc was not only very concerned by provincialism in time, but also by the provincialism of ‘Little England’.

Belloc had been raised in England, but he was of French birth and had a French father.

Continuously his mind saw beyond ‘Little England’ to France, and indeed to Europe and Christendom as a whole.

Indeed, his writing features a powerful vision invoking the Soul of Europe, the Soul of Christendom (sundered).

Fumbling, I grope my way towards that very same vision.

For, although I am in no way French (save for just a little French blood), my life has been changed forever by the short time … I lived … in France.

This website owes a tremendous debt to not only France, but also Spain and Ireland – three countries of once-Catholic Europe.

Through living in these lands of Catholic heritage – by the Grace of God! – many of my own Anglo-American prejudices were burst wide-open.

Anglo-American, I say, because as I have said before, I am an Englishman from California. (I was born in Los Angeles – but my parents were British.)

And as a teenager, I came to live in my ancestral land.

Thus I came to see, first-hand, both cultures which have dominated the modern world and the modern mind: what was once the British Empire and the present American Empire …

And I see now how trapped I was, for years, in the assumptions of those cultures, steeped as they are in Protestant and Secular conjectures.

Belloc had a great deal to say, a very great deal about the Protestant and Secular assumptions of the ‘Little England’ in which he lived.

It earned him many enemies.

And, we might add, this was because Belloc’s writing was controversial, inasmuch as it challenged our very provincial Zeitgeist, for it is, in so many ways, an Anglo-American Zeitgeist …

For as English increasingly dominates our world, it inevitably carries with it contemporary Anglo-American concepts, Anglo-American literature, Anglo-American attitudes along with it …

All this can create a terrible provincialism – again in both space and time – which locks the modern English-speaker into the Anglo-American mindset of recent decades.


In his great book on monarchy and Louis XIV, Belloc tried to liberate us from this provincialism.

Here and elsewhere, he helps us see that history, particularly the history of Catholic France, offers cultural alternatives to the malaise of secular soullessness that – in so many ways – emerged from the new Protestant-capitalist powers of England, Holland and America.

And here is why he shows us how English and Dutch banking eventually found their global centre in Wall Street, in what was once New Amsterdam …

So, so much more might be said.

But we shall leave it to future posts at this website, not only about the great Hilaire Belloc, but also about Catholic Europe (particularly Catholic Ireland and Catholic France) and the ongoing decay of secular-capitalist culture.

For these things haunt my soul, dear Reader, just as they once haunted that great soul, Hilaire Belloc …

Belloc, of course, said it all far, far better than I could ever hope to.

But however fumbling, indeed however feeble, I am by comparison, Belloc’s torch must be carried forward by those of us who still care about the things he stood for.

More and more, I see his vision as central to what we are doing at this website.

Therefore, I shall attempt to honour it in upcoming posts – which will certainly include further reviews of Belloc’s work.

(Meanwhile, you may look here for an archive of previous posts devoted to Hilaire Belloc and his legacy.)

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6 Comments

  1. Mary Rose
    Posted 25 February 2014 at 11:56 | Permalink

    This post is very enlightening and it does whet my appetite for Belloc. I think we are now at the end game when the money power is about to completely enslave men.

    The moral decay in Ireland since the 1970’s has been astonishing and I believe we now have a puppet government that dances to the tune of someone other than the people who voted for them. Prayer and The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart is our only hope.

    • Posted 27 February 2014 at 11:55 | Permalink

      Thank you – very much indeed – for this, Mary Rose.

      Alas, I find all-too-much agreement with you when you write:”I think we are now at the end game when the money power is about to completely enslave men.”

      And yes, Ireland demonstrates, again alas, how very, very prophetic Belloc was.

      He saw these problems so vividly back in the 1920s and earlier – when they were still invisible to many people – almost tender shoots compared to what they are today.

      I may sound very despairing here. But, by the Grace of God, I don’t feel despairing. You are so right to invoke Our Lady and prayer …

      Ireland I believe does show real signs of resilience. My prayer also involves the Church finding unity again, instead of the vitiating warfare between her divisions.

      Prayer, Our Lady’s Heart, the Sacred Heart … and recapturing the felt presence of the Holy Mystery of the Mass, all of these are critical I think …

      Again, my thanks. I feel particularly grateful to you for invoking Ireland here … Ireland which so vividly demonstrates the situation: the power of the Faith contested by the power of the banking-system.

      • Mary Rose
        Posted 27 February 2014 at 15:16 | Permalink

        Roger,
        Something I heard on the radio yesterday demonstrates how this government has abandoned the people. There are now about 4.000 people homeless in Dublin. Some of them are families who lost their rented accommodation because of rent increases. In the meantime the government congratulates itself daily for getting out of the bailout. They are earning a lot of money and havent really suffered because of all the cutbacks. If I didnt believe in prayer I would despair. On the plus side I visited Clonfert yesterday and its heartening to see so many people taking time out to pray. We have to keep hoping.
        Mary

        • Posted 2 March 2014 at 09:46 | Permalink

          Mary Rose, thank you for this. This is disturbing indeed.

          And yet as an American in Ireland I can tell you – alas – that what makes you “despair” would not be so disturbing – again alas! – in my own country.

          Sadly, for an American, 4000 homeless in a city the size of Dublin is not so shocking or disturbing…

          But I am GLAD it still disturbs you …

          And I am glad for your little testimony here to Irish culture where it still disturbs … I find myself hoping my fellow Americans might register your words.

          Somehow you put me in mind of a comment I once read on boards.ie, which I hope it will be all right if I reproduce here …

          The poster there was evidently hostile to Catholicism and yet he recognised that Ireland was very special:

          “Catholicism in my opinion will go the way of the dodo …
          [But he says we are dominated today by] selfish excess in my opinion. This was unheard of in the past where self sacrifice to benefit future generations was common, most of our parents and grandparents would have walked over coals to ensure a better life for us.

          As an Irishman who has lived outside Ireland for decades I am surprised to hear of so many despairing at life in Ireland and wishing for a more fair or just society.

          I can honestly say from having been outside the country for a long period, but visiting often, and having travelled the globe extensively there is nowhere like Ireland. The spirit of community and willingness to help others in need is a remarkably Irish thing and trust me not something that you typically find outside Ireland. Be careful what you ask for, before you know it you will be like the rest of Western society where people walk past those less fortunate than them and wish they didn’t have to endure looking at them.”

          I find myself in both agreement and disagreement. Agreeing first that there is “nowhere like Ireland” …

          And yet at the time, the specialness is certainly connected to the remarkable faith of the people which persists here …

          And without that faith, Ireland would eventually go like the rest of the world.

          So while that person cannot understand despair about Ireland, I very much appreciate your awakeness and aliveness to these very legitimate concerns – and your sharing this here.

  2. Jerry
    Posted 18 December 2016 at 03:59 | Permalink

    Excellent read! Thank you for posting this. I have been looking for more info on monarchies that was less bias than that of what I have been taught in school and out of school.

  3. Young Ireland
    Posted 7 January 2017 at 00:18 | Permalink

    Hi Roger,

    I certainly agree with your point about Anglophones needing to broaden their horizons a bit, but I’m not sure if divine-right monarchism is the best way to preserve Catholicism for want of a better word. One need only look at Henry VIII and the way in which overnight the Church’s situation went from privilege to persecution. France could have very easily gone down the same path given the right circumstances. I also think that Belloc overstates the extent to which Catholicism was Protestant: in fact it has its roots in Renaissance Italy and pre-dates the Reformation. Neither were the English or Dutch the first states to embrace it: the Catholic Portuguese actually had a fifty to a hundred year headstart on them.

    I’m not suggesting that Louis XIV’s legacy was all bad, but ultimately the model proposed by Belloc will leave the Church subservient to the State and very vulnerable to some strongman who thinks himself better than the Pope.

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