That Lost 1929 World of Hilaire Belloc

Hilaire Belloc - young
Hilaire Belloc

Recently, I have reviewed a book that has penetrated me like few others have done.

That book is Hilaire Belloc’s Survivals and New Arrivals from 1929.

And as I said in my review, truly I am reeling …

Time is needed to collect myself – and read Belloc more intensively.

But without saying much more yet, I suspect Hilaire Belloc‘s legacy could become a major feature at this website.

For now, there is a perhaps cryptic note I wish to say regarding Belloc and his world.

Belloc wrote at a time of great horror. Fascism was rising in central Europe, communism was exterminating millions in the east of Europe.

The Great Depression in the wake of the Stock Market crash would bring lesser, but still terrible, suffering with it.

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And yet as I read Belloc describe his world of 1929 – a world still not nearly as deeply in the cold, steely grip of materialism; a world nowhere near as ‘dumbed down’ as today; a world where a certain wholesomeness, morality and artistry still prevail in culture; a world where faith and piety still animate vast sections of Western society; a world where the Catholic Church had not yet succumbed to dissolution – there is something I cannot help but feel.

That something is this: that world of 1929 was a better world than ours.

Perhaps dear Reader, you will find me illogical – perhaps even monstrous! – to prefer that 1929 world of communism and growing fascism, that world that would soon give birth to World War II and the unspeakable horror of the Shoah …

Perhaps you will remind me that even minus those unspeakable evils, the Western world still suffered very significant racisms and narrow prejudices, as well as highly intolerant attitudes: for example anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant, anti-Jewish, anti-Irish etc, anti-this, anti-that.

Perhaps you will even protest that, sad as it is, our world of today is preferable by far to Belloc’s world.

What can I say?

First, I am not at all convinced the Western world is truly more tolerant today, but rather so often espouses a fake tolerance: a sham ‘political correctness’ that drowns the (often ugly) frankness of an earlier time.

Today, people are scared of sounding intolerant; thus, they easily repress expressing what they nonetheless still feel.

Meanwhile new forms of ugliness have emerged to replace the old ones.

In any event, the world is fallen in any era. And the West was already very sick in 1929.

Yet the sickness that Belloc diagnosed so acutely is advancing ever more.

And even if we have a respite from wholesale slaughter and genocide in the West, it may simply be just that: a respite.

Meanwhile, although people in the West are not presently being slaughtered as they would be in the terrible processes which followed 1929, their souls are in very grave danger.

An ever-more robotic, mechanised, chemicalised, drugged society emerges that murders the soul.

Belloc wrote as if to say: your souls are being murdered by these terrible processes of materialism: both philosophical materialism and commercial-capitalist materialism …

Belloc wrote to say: this is why a robust, uncompromising faith is as necessary as it ever has been.

Belloc wrote with heart-breaking gravitas, brilliance and passion.

But we have not listened.

And honestly, as sick as that world of 1929 undoubtedly was – no happy, glorious ‘golden age’ so beloved of certain Catholic Traditionalists – still the sickness of the West was not nearly so advanced then, as it is today …

Hilaire Belloc helps me to see that ever more clearly.

And he is changing my life as a result.

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