Hilaire Belloc bought King's Land (in Shipley, Sussex), 5 acres and a working windmill for £1000 in 1907 and it was his home for the rest of his life. Belloc loved Sussex as few other writers have loved her: he lived there for most of his 83 years, he tramped the length and breadth of the county, slept under her hedgerows, drank in her inns, sailed her coast and her rivers and wrote several incomparable books about her. "He does not die that can bequeath Some influence to the land he knows, Or dares, persistent, interwreath Love permanent with the wild hedgerows; He does not die, but still remains Substantiate with his darling plains."

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Sunday, 28 September 2014

Prussia - Belloc's favourite Kingdom!




It will be apparent that what is called the " Frederician Tradition," which is the soul of Prussia in her international relations, is not an unprincipled thing. It has a principle, and that principle is a patriotic desire to strengthen Prussia, which particular appetite overweighs all general human morals and far outweighs all special Christian or European morals. 

This doctrine of the " Frederician Tradition " does not mean that the Prussian statesmen wantonly do wrong, whether in acts of cruelty or in acts of treason and bad faith. What it means is that, wherever they are met by the dilemma, " Shall I do this, which is to the advantage of my country but opposed to European and common morals, or that, which is consonant with those morals but to the dis- advantage of my country } " they choose the former and not the latter course. 

Prussia, endowed with this doctrine and possessed of a most excellent military organization and tradition, stood out as the first military power in Europe until the French Revolution. The wars of the French Revolution and of Napoleon upset this prestige, and in the battle of Jena (1806) seemed to have destroyed it. But it was too strong to be destroyed. The Prussian Government was the first of Napoleon's allies to betray Napoleon after the Russians had broken his power (1812). They took part with the other Allies in finishing off Napoleon after the Russian campaign (1813-14) ; they were present with decisive effect upon the final field of Waterloo (1815) , and remained for fifty years afterwards the great military power they had always been. They had further added to their dominions such great areas in Northern Germany, beyond the original areas inhabited by the true Prussian stock, that they were something like half of the whole Northern German people when, in 1864, they entered into the last phase of their dominion. They began by asking Austria to help them in taking from Denmark, a small and weak country, not only those provinces of hers which spoke German, but certain districts which were Danish as well. France and England were inclined to interfere, but they did not yet understand the menace Prussia might be in the future, and they neglected to act. Two years later Prussia suddenly turned upon Austria, her ally, defeated her in a very short campaign, and insisted upon Austria's relinquishing for the future all claims over any part of the German-speaking peoples, save some ten millions in the valley of the Middle Danube and of the Upper Elbe. Four years later again, in 1870, Prussia having arranged, after various political experiments which need not be here de- tailed, for the support of all the German States except Austria, fought a war with France, in which she was immediately and entirely successful, and in the course of  which the rulers of the other German States consented to give the Hohenzollern-Prussian dynasty supreme military power for the future over them, under the hereditary title of German Emperors ; to form a united nation under the more or less despotic power of these emperors. This latter point, the national unity, though really highly centralized at Berlin, especially on the military side, was softened in its rigour by a number of very wise provisions. A great measure of autonomy was left to the more important of the lesser States, particularly Catholic Bavaria ; local customs were respected ; and, above all, local dynasties were flattered, and maintained in all the trappings of sovereign rank.

From that date that is, for the last forty-four years there has been a complete Northern Germany, one strong, centralized, and thoroughly co-ordinated nation, in which the original Prussian domination is not only numerically far the greatest element, but morally overshadows all the rest. The spiritual influence ruling this state issues from Berlin and from the Prussian soul, although a large minority consist of contented but respectful Catholics, who, in all national matters, wholly sympathize with and take their cue from the Protestant North. 

So far one may clearly see what kind of power it is that has initiated the German theory of supremacy which we have described above, is prepared to lead it to battle, and is quite certain of leading it to victory. 

But we note the fatal mark in all German history that the unity is not complete. The ten millions of Austrian Germans were, when Prussia achieved this her highest ambition, deliberately left out- side the new German Empire. And this was done because, in Prussian eyes, a so- called " German unity" was but a means to an end, and that end the aggrandizement of the Hohenzollern dynasty. To include so many southern and Catholic Germans would have endangered the mastery of Berlin. The fact that Austria ruled a number of non-German subjects far larger than her Austrian population would further have endangered the Hohenzollern position had Austria been admitted to the new German Empire, and had the consolidation of all Germans into one true state been really and loyally attempted. Lastly, it would have been impossible to destroy the historic claims to leadership of the Imperial Hapsburgs, and that, more than anything else, was the rivalry the Hohenzollerns dreaded. Once more had the Germans proved themselves incapable of, and unwilling to submit to, the discipline of unity. What part, then, was Austria, thus left out, to play in the international activity of Prussia in the future? What part especially was she to play when Prussia, at the head of Northern Germany, should go out to impose the will of that Germany and of herself upon the rest of the world? That is the next question we must answer before we can hope to understand the causes of the present war in their entirety.


From A General Sketch of the European War (Part 1 The General Causes of the War, Prussia). 1915.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

THE GENERAL CAUSES OF THE WAR - The German Object...



War is the attempt of two human groups each to impose its will upon the other by force of arms. This definition holds of the most righteous war fought in self-defence as much as it does of the most iniquitous war of mere aggression. The aggressor, for instance, proposes to take the goods of his victim without the pretence of a claim. He is attempting to impose his will upon that victim. The victim, in resisting by force of arms, is no less attempting to impose his will upon the aggressor; and if he is victorious does effectually impose that will: for it is his will to prevent the robbery. 

Every war, then, arises from some conflict of wills between two human groups, each intent upon some political or civic purpose, conflicting with that of his opponent. 

War and all military action is but a means to a non-military end, to be achieved and realized in peace. 

Although arguable differences invariably exist as to the right or wrong of either party in any war, yet the conflicting wills of the two parties, the irreconcilable political objects which each has put before itself and the opposition between which has led to conflict,can easily be defined. 

They fall into two classes:

1. The general objects at which the combatants have long been aiming. 

2. The particular objects apparent just before, and actually provoking, the conflict.

In the case of the present enormous series of campaigns, which occupy the energies of nearly all Europe, the general causes can be easily defined, and that without serious fear of contradiction by the partisans of either side.

On the one hand, the Germanic peoples, especially that great majority of them now organized as the German Empire under the hegemony of Prussia, had for fully a lifetime and more been possessed of a certain conception of themselves which may be not unjustly put into the form of the following declaration. It is a declaration consonant with most that has been written from the German standpoint during more than a generation, and many of its phrases are taken directly from the principal exponents of the German idea.

The German Object: 

"We the Germans are in spirit one nation. But we are a nation the unity of which has been constantly forbidden for centuries by a number of accidents. None the less that unity has always been an ideal underlying our lives. Once or twice in the remote past it has been nearly achieved, especially under the great German emperors of the Middle Ages. Whenever it has thus been nearly achieved, we Germans have easily proved ourselves the masters of other societies around us. Most unfortunately our very strength has proved our ruin time and again by leading us into adventures, particularly adventures in Italy, which took the place of our national ideal for unity and disturbed and swamped it. The reason we have been thus supreme whenever we were united or even nearly united lay in the fact, which must be patent to every observer, that our mental, moral, and physical characteristics render us superior to all rivals. The German or Teutonic race can everywhere achieve, other things being equal, more than can any other race. Witness the conquest of the Roman Empire by German tribes; the political genius, commercial success, and final colonial expansion of the English, a Teutonic people; and the peculiar strength of the German races resident within their old homes on the Rhine, the Danube, the Weser, and the Elbe, whenever they were not fatally disunited by domestic quarrel or unwise foreign ideals. It was we who revivified the declining society of Roman Gaul, and made it into the vigorous mediæval France that was ruled from the North. It was we who made and conquered the heathen Slavs threatening Europe from the East, and who civilized them so far as they could be civilized. We are, in a word, and that patently not only to ourselves but to all others, the superior and leading race of mankind; and you have but to contrast us with the unstable Celt--who has never produced a State--the corrupt and now hopelessly mongrel Mediterranean or 'Latin' stock, the barbarous and disorderly Slav, to perceive at once the truth of all we say''...


Hilaire Belloc - The General Causes of the War, Part 1 from A General Sketch of the European War (The First Phase). June 1915.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

"Land and Water" By ROBERT SPEAIGHT




On September 9, 1914, Belloc was visited at King's Land by a rich Australian, Murray (commonly known as "Jim") Allison, who had the main control of Land and Water. Allison was advertisement manager on The Times and later on the Daily Telegraph. He became a close friend and neighbour of Belloc, at Rodmell near Lewes, until his early death between the wars. Land and Water was a new weekly journal, as yet only projected, to deal exclusively with the war, and planned to appear on August 22 (1914). After a discussion lasting three hours Belloc signed a contract to write a weekly article on the military situation. These were completed on a Wednesday evening, corrected or amplified up to noon on Thursday, and were in the hands of the public by Friday morning. Later, the paper went to press earlier and the copy had to be in by Monday. In January 1915, Belloc was elected President of the Royal Geographical Society, and he would use the offices of the Society in St. James's Square to make his maps. The naval articles were contributed by Fred Jane and afterwards by Arthur Pollen. Belloc's articles brought him a wider fame than any earned by his previous writings. Land and Water reached a circulation of 100,000 and the articles were discussed by men in every street, club, railway train or mess. People read Belloc on the war who had never read him on anything else. Yet there is no aspect of his public life on which it is more difficult to get an objective valuation. The articles were at once a tonic and a corrective to the layman, who still hoped that the Allies would be in Berlin by Christmas but who could not help observing that the Germans were making it unexpectedly difficult for them to get there. They were richly informative for the same layman who had not the slightest idea what Continental war was really like, and they were based on an exact knowledge of the terrain over which the western campaign was being fought.

Belloc had a personal acquaintance with the methods, and also with the men, of the French Army, not only through his service as a conscript but through his following of the annual manoeuvres. Of course he was occasionally wrong, but this generally happened when he was ignorant of the lie of the land ; the wadis of the Egyptian desert were less familiar to him than the valleys of Champagne. He was accused, later, of lending himself to ludicrous prophecies. But if you study the articles, you will find that his prophecies are nearly always conditional. He never states categorically that this or that will happen ; he only says •that if this or that happens, a certain result will follow. His chief mistake was in underestimating the man-power of the Central Alliance. It was surely rash to say in October 1914 that 'the Germanic powers have put their last recruits and their last reserves into the field '; but when he freely declared, in April 1917, that the Allies would be fighting on German soil before the year was out, he was not alone in failing to see the completeness, or the consequences, of the Russian collapse. However, the day came when the readers of Land and Water were disconcerted to realize that Belloc was not infallible. The soldiers fighting the battles made a ribald play upon his name : a mysterious note-book, What I Know about the War, by Blare Hilloc, was circulated by a business house and was found to contain nothing but blank pages ; and some people wondered why the war was still going on if as many Germans were being killed as he pretended. On September 6, 1915, posters appeared in the streets bearing the words Belloc's Fables.' These advertised an article in Northcliffe's Daily Mail, which convicted Belloc of various errors. Belloc, replying in Land and Water, not only admitted the mistakes but added, for the benefit of his readers, a number 4 other points on which he had been proved wrong.
The point about these admissions was not the degree to which Belloc had been misled, but the fact that under the conditions of war such errors were unavoidable. Every writer on military affairs was calculating in the twilight, and for much of the time in the dark.
Now a distinction must be drawn between military journalism and military history. The man writing from day to day, or from week to week, is at a disadvantage compared with the man who can see the campaign in retrospect, check the rumours and distortions of the moment, rely upon assembled documents and collated evidence, and discuss the part in relation to the whole. Belloc, in these first few critical weeks of August-September 1914, had nothing to go on but the official communiqués and his own military commonsense. The science of public relations was still at a rudimentary stage, and there was the further difficulty of translating the communiqués of the respective combatants. The French announced, for example, that the British line had been nowhere " reellement entamee," and when this was translated as really pierced,' justifiable alarm was excited. Belloc was able to point out that 'entamee' does not mean 'pierced,' or anything like it. Again, the Press Bureau announced that in their advance over the Marne the French had captured the whole of a 'corps artillery' and estimated this at 160 guns. Belloc, as an artilleryman himself, was able to remind his readers that a 'corps artillery' did not mean all the artillery belonging to a corps, but only those guns not allocated to a particular division. The numbers captured, therefore, were more likely to be thirty-six than 160.
Only very occasionally did Belloc betray his deeper feelings. The French army was "engaged in this war upon the stupendous task of saving the culture of Christendom from dissolution" and "historic France from final disaster"; the sacrifice of Belgium promised the redemption of Europe since it had imposed a delay of ten days upon the German advance. Belloc knew in his bones, as well as in his heart and mind, what was at stake when the German pressure at Vitry-le-Francois threatened to break the French line before the mass of manoeuvre from behind Paris could threaten von Kluck and force a general retirement. It was along these river valleys---the Marne, the Meuse, the Grand and Petit Morin—and across the bare plateau of Champagne-Pouilleuse and looking eastward to the wooded ridge of the Argonne, that he himself had driven the guns in the summer manoeuvres of '92, a conscript in the same army that was now battling for survival. He could imagine it all, as clearly as if he had been there ; the trees untouched by autumn, the harvest gathered. And as he imagined it, history took hold upon him.
. . . Even as I write these lines upon the Wednesday of the week I do not know, for there is no immediate news in England, whether this effort of the invader upon the French centre at Vitry has succeeded. But I know that he is marching over sacred ground where there rise against him the influences 'of the dead. Not so far away, a day's march behind the defending line, ig the house that nourished Danton. If that line is pierced the invader may burn the house, still standing, where Joan of Arc was born.
The effort, as we know, failed and a week later Belloc imagined himself on a certain hill, called 'Mont Airne,' which formed part of the escarpment bounding the Champagne-Pouilleuse on the west:
On this height I could wish to have stood last Friday in the south-westerly gale watching the long lines threading northward across the flats and knowing that these were the columns of the invaders in retreat.
But such passages were rare. For the most part Belloc's articles were pure analysis, and only descriptive when description was necessary to aid an understanding of the campaign. They were clear by dint of bard repetition and numerous maps and diagrams. They were also exceedingly long, often running to eight thousand words in a single number. Belloc maintained a close contact throughout with people who were vaguely, or precisely, 'in the know.' He often stayed with Sir Herbert and Lady Jekyll, near Godalming, where Reginald and Pamela McKenna, their son-in-law and daughter, were constant guests. 'The politicians,' he remarks in his diary, 'say that England is all right and everyone else is in the soup.' He noted a particular dislike of the French and a conviction that the war would not 'cost so much as to burden the finance of the country." But McKenna showed him confidential documents which explained the strength of the German forces in Poland, and gave him the details about Verdun just,after they had been given to the Cabinet. On other visits to the same house he would discuss politics with Haldane, whom he found 'comfortable and cynical ' ; or walk through the woods with Harold Baker, listening to his views on Hesiod. His chief friend among the military was General Sir David Henderson, who was in command of British Aviation H.Q. in France. Belloc paid several visits to these H.Q., to which Maurice Baring was attached ; and on one of them he lectured to the officers. Jekyll was frequently in Paris where he would dine with Berthelot, head of the Quai d'Orsay, and obtain information from the Press Bureau. In February 1916 he had an interview with Joffre at French G.H.Q. at Chantilly and was given secret documents by the Deuxieme Bureau. He saw the Arsenal at Le Creusot and was lent a staff car to visit the battlefields of the Marne. Two further visits followed in December 1916 and in June 1917. On the second of these he went to Compiegne, where the French had moved their H.Q., and saw Main at some length. He again had the fullest information from the Deuxieme Bureau, and dined at Moricourt with General de Castelnau, whose son was a gunner in Belloc's old regiment. In Paris he met Foch at the Invalides:
A really delightful man, full of genius and movement. He confirmed me in what I had said of the Marne and drew a little rough plan for me, which will be the most precious possession when I have it framed in my house.
The sketch was hung in Belloc's study, and remained there until the end of his life. It bore the following inscription :
This sketch was drawn for me in the Invalides by General Foch on Saturday the 23rd June 1917 to illustrate his manoeuvre when he brought the 42nd Division down and broke the German centre at 5 p.m. Wednesday 9th September 1914.
The sketch shows in rapid and simple diagram, the Prussian Guard advancing in rectangular formation, and Foch moving to meet it from behind the marshes of St. Gond.
Belloc made two journeys further afield in his efforts to know what was going on and to give his news to those who only knew a particular sector of the War fronts. The first of these was to Lyons, where he lectured to the University at the request of the Foreign Office ; and the second was to the Italian front in June 1916. Then he went on to Rome. There had been general discontent in Allied circles over the lack of sympathy shown for their cause by the Vatican, and neither the efforts of Sir Henry Howard, head of the British mission to the Holy See, nor those of Cardinal Gasquet, the only English-speaking Cardinal in Curia, had modified this hostility. Little as it liked the Hohenzollerns, the Vatican had some reason for bolding to the Austrian connection. Neither the Masonic governments of France and Italy, nor the Liberal government presided over by Mr. Lloyd George, gave much ground for hoping that the rights of Catholic populations would be respected in the post-war settlement, should the Allied Powers prove victorious. Quite early in the War, a Catholic friend in the Foreign Office, J. D. Gregory, had mooted the idea that Belloc should go out and see the Pope. He was at all times ready to do what could, and the visit to the Italian front gave him an easy opportunity. He arrived in Rome on June 3, and two days later he was writing to Miss Hamilton from a room in the Vatican, on Vatican notepaper, with the complaint that he had just had fifty three pounds stolen in a Post Office. As he was finishing this letter, Mgr. Pacelli came into the room ; and the man whom he was later to see crowned as Pius XII informed him that Benedict XV would receive him in private audience. He gave his impressions of this in a letter to Charlotte Balfour, written from Paris on July 11:
I had a long, long talk with him. He is a thoroughly good man, which is not what I had been led to expect ! 1 had thought to see one of those rather subtle and very boring Italian officials—bureaucrates. Instead of that he has something like Holiness in his expression and an intense anxious sincerity. He spoke of individual conversion as opposed to political Catholicism in a way which—with my temperament all for the Collective Church—profoundly impressed me. I was exceedingly glad to have seen him and to have got his blessing. . . I spoke to him at great length on Poland ; that is the key after the war. Only, as all plain wisdom demands clear action and the re-erection of Poland, it will be too much to expect of the modern world. But such as men are they may do something towards that end. Such conditions make me long for momentary power.
All this talk about Poland presupposed that the Allies would win. 'But do you think they will, Mr Belloc?' the Pope asked With kindly scepticism. It was proposed that Belloc should pay him a second visit in 1917:
I shook him badly and took many thousands of prisoners and guns from him a year ago, and some think I might, by repeating the attack under the much more favourable conditions of this moment, compel a general retreat.
But this idea came to nothing.

From The Tablet 27th October 1956.

Monday, 4 August 2014

A calamitous moment in European history...




''Germany must, in fulfilment of a duty to herself, obtain colonial possessions at the expense of France, obtain both colonial possessions and sea-power at the expense of England, and put an end, by campaigns perhaps defensive, but at any rate vigorous, to the menace of Slav barbarism upon the East. She was potentially, by her strength and her culture, the mistress of the modern world, the chief influence in it, and the rightful determinant of its destinies. She must by war pass from a potential position of this kind to an actual position of domination." Such was the German mood, such was the fatuous illusion which produced this war. It had at its service, as we shall see later, numbers and, backed by this superiority of numbers, it counted on victory.

Hilaire Belloc - 'The German Object' - A General Sketch of the European War (The First Phase).


Monday, 28 July 2014

Belloc and the War...


On the 28th of July 1914 His Imperial and Apostolic Majesty Kaiser Franz Joseph (the real German Kaiser, as opposed to the Prussian upstart in Berlin) declared war on the Serbian Nation. The rest is history. This came after the famous ultimatum delivered to the Serbs by the Austrians. Belloc's view, as expressed in The Cruise of the Nona, was that the document was formulated in Berlin as it possessed (as he saw it) the bellicose hallmarks of Prussian arrogance.

Belloc had a lot to say about the First World War, primarily through his own weekly journal Land and Water. It was a rather slanted view of the War and, I suspect, it was State funded. I further suspect that Winston Churchill had a hand in it. He was instrumental in whipping up anti-German hysteria in the run up to the War: notably with reference to the alleged German spy rings which were supposed to be operating in England at the time. Belloc and Churchill got on, for a while, and even bottled wine together! In fact, Churchill was about to put him on his personal staff at the Admiralty (early 1917) when he was dismissed from office.

Aside from that, Land and Water is a bloody good read. I hope to focus on his War writings, in more detail, over the coming weeks.





Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Follow the Stagers as they follow the Path to Rome...


Two hardy young men are currently following The Path to Rome. Their journey can be followed on their Blog: Hoofprints of the Stag.

The last time I checked they were in Italy heading towards Lucca. I envy them. Belloc wrote of Lucca: 'everything...is good'. It's probably Tuscany's best kept secret, although it was a little bit faded the last time I was there. The walled city has a Roman and Medieval heart with lots of cobbled lanes and cultural treats. In the words of Henry James: "overflowing with everything that makes for ease, for plenty, for beauty, for interest and good example".

Bon voyage!




Sunday, 22 June 2014

On Usury...


Usury does not mean high interest. It means any interest, however low, demanded for an unproductive loan. It is not only immoral [on which account it has been condemned by every moral code-----Pagan-----Mohammedan-----or Catholic] but it is ultimately destructive of society. It has only been the rule of our commerce to take usury since the breakup of Europe following on the Reformation. Usury will destroy our society, but meanwhile there is no escape from it. We are coming near the end of its maleficent action, not through awaking to its evils but because it is reaching the end of its resources. The Great War loans, which are almost entirely usurious, have powerfully accelerated this process.

The modern world is organized on the principle that money of its nature breeds money. A sum of money lent has, according to our present scheme, a natural right to interest. That principle is false in economics as in morals. It ruined Rome, and it is bringing us to our end.

Supposing a man comes to you and says: "There is a field next to mine which is a very good building site; if I put up a good little house on it I shall be able to let that house at a net profit-----all rates, taxes and repairs paid-of
£100 a year. But I have no capital with which to build this house. The field will cost £50 and the house £950. Will you lend me £1,000, so that I can buy the field, put up the house, and enjoy this nice little income?" You would presumably answer, "Where do I come in? You get your £100 a year all right; but you only get it by my aid, and therefore I ought to share in the profits. Let us go fifty-fifty. You take £50 every year as your share for your knowledge of the opportunity and for your trouble, and hand me over the other £50. That will be five percent on my money, and I shall be content."

This answer, granted that property is a moral right, is a perfectly moral proposition. The borrower accepting that proposition certainly has no grievance. For a long time [theoretically, forever] you could go on drawing five percent on the money you lent, with a conscience at ease.

Now let us suppose that man comes to you and says: "I know the case of a man in middle age who has been suddenly stricken with a terrible ailment. Medical aid costing £1,000 will save his life, but he will never be able to do any more work. He has an annuity of £100 a year to keep him alive after the operation and subsequent treatment. Will you lend the £I,000? It will be paid back to you on his death, for his life has been insured in a lump payment for the amount of £I,000." You answer: "I will lend £1,000 to save his life, but I shall require of him half his annuity, that is £50 a year, for every year he may live henceforward; and he must scrape along as best he can on the remaining £50 of his annuity." That answer would make you feel a cad if you have any susceptibilities left, and if you have not-----having already become a cad through the action of what the poet has called "the soul's long dues of hardening and decay"-----it would be a caddish action all the same, though you might not be disturbed by it.

It seems therefore that there are conditions under which you may legitimately and morally lend £1,000 at five percent in perfect security of conscience, and others in which you cannot.

Now look at the matter from another angle.

When the American city of Boston was founded, three hundred years ago, a man in London proposing to emigrate thither left gold to the value of £1,000 with a London goldsmith, under a bond that the goldsmith might use the money until he or his heirs should demand it, but with the proviso that five percent on the capital should accrue at compound interest until it was withdrawn. The emigrant did not reappear. The goldsmith's business developed, as so many of them did, into a sort of bank as the seventeenth century wore on. By the beginning of the eighteenth it was a bank in due form, and its successor today is part of one of the great banking concerns of our time. The original deposit has gone on "fructifying," as the phrase goes, with the liability piling up, but no one claiming it.

At last, in this year 1931, an heir turns up and proves his title. The capital sum into which this modest investment of a thousand pounds at five percent has grown is to be paid over to him under an order of the court. Do you know how much it will come to?-----More than twice the annual revenue of the United States today.

Let us take a less fantastic example, and perhaps it will be more convincing. Supposing a man to have lent £10,000 on mortgage at six percent upon an English gentleman's estate at the beginning of the American War of Independence, in 1776: the said estate to pay £600 a year to the lender. The debt is not pressed. The embarrassed gentleman is allowed to add to the principal the annual payments due, so that the whole sums up at the rate of six percent compound interest.

That is not at all an impossible supposition. Do you know what the mortgage-holder could demand of that estate today? Nearly five million pounds a year!

Neither of these examples could arise in practice because the law forbids such prolonged accumulation, but the very fact that the law has been compelled to do so, is proof that there is something wrong with the current notion everywhere acted upon, that money "earns" a certain rate of interest and has a moral right to it without regard to the way in which the capital is employed.

For what is common to all these illustrations is the patent fact that interest on a loan may, under some circumstances of time or extent, be a demand for an impossible tribute. It may under some circumstances be a tribute which is not morally due, because it does not represent an extra production of wealth due to the original investment. It is under some circumstances a demand for wealth which is not connected with the produce of the original investment, and the payment of which is therefore not a payment of part profit, but a payment to be made, if possible, out of whatever other wealth the debtor can obtain; and a tribute which, beyond a certain point, cannot even be paid at all, because the wherewithal to pay it is not present in society.

What are those circumstances? What are the conditions distinguishing a demand for payment of interest which is legitimate in morals from a demand which is illegitimate?

The distinction lies between a demand for part of the product of a productive loan, which is moral, and the immoral demand for either (1) interest on an unproductive loan, or (2) interest greater than the annual increment in real wealth which a productive loan creates. Such a demand "wears down"-----"eats up"-----"drains dry" the wealth of the borrower, and that is why it is called Usury. A derivation inaccurate in philology, but sound in morals, rightly connects "usura" "usury," with the idea of destroying, "using up," rather than with the original idea of "usus," "a use."

Usury, then, is a claiming of interest upon an unproductive loan, or of interest greater than the real increment produced by a productive loan. It is the claiming of something to which the lender has no right, as though I should say: "Pay me ten sacks of wheat a year for the rent of these fields" after the fields had been swallowed up by the sea, or after they had fallen to producing annually much less than ten sacks of wheat.

I must here reluctantly introduce a colloquial meaning of the word "Usury" which confuses thought. People talk of "usurious interest" meaning very high interest. It is obvious how the confusion arose. Very high interest is commonly greater than the real wealth produced even by a productive loan, and to demand it is, in effect, to demand more than the produce of the original loan; but there is nothing in the rate of interest per se which renders such interest usurious. You may demand one hundred percent on a loan and be well within your moral rights.

For instance, a small claim which was producing 500 ounces of gold a year has a sudden opportunity for producing 200 times as much, 100,000 ounces, if capital the equivalent of only 1,000 ounces can be obtained for development. The lender of that new capital is under no moral obligation to give all the vastly increased profits as a present to the borrower. He can legitimately claim his portion; he might well ask for half the new produce, that is 50,000 ounces per annum, 500 percent on his loan, for that very high interest would only come to half the new wealth produced. To ask for that 500 percent would not be an exaction of tribute from wealth that was not present, nor for wealth that was not created by the capital invested.

Strictly speaking, then, usury has nothing to do with the amount of interest demanded, but with the point whether there is or is not produced by the capital invested an increment at least equal to the tribute demanded.

If authority is asked for so obvious a position in morals it may be found in every great moral system sanctioned by the religious and permanent social philosophies adopted by men. Aristotle 1 forbids it, St. Thomas forbids it. The Mohammedan system of ethics condemns it [and in practice condemns it unintelligently because it forbids many loans that are useful]. 2 In particular we have the luminous decision of the Fourth Lateran Council [1215].

So far, so good. Next let us note the very interesting development of modern times since the break-up of our common European moral and religious system at the Reformation. After that disaster usury gradually became admitted. It grew to be a general practice sanctioned by the laws, and the payment of it enforced by the civil magistrate. In England it was under the reign of Cecil, in the year 1571, that interest, though limited to ten percent, became legal without regard to the use made of the loan. The birth year of what may be called "Indiscriminate Usury" is 1609, when, under Calvinism, the Bank of Amsterdam started on its great career of stimulating fortunate capacity and ruining the unfortunate. In general the governments which broke away from the unity of Christendom one after the other introduced legalized usury, and thus got a start over the conservative nations which struggled to maintain the old moral code. To the new moral, or rather immoral, ideas thus introduced we owe the rapid development of banking in the "reformed" nations, the financial hold they acquired and maintained for three centuries. Everyone at last fell into line, and today Usury works side by side with legitimate profit, and, confused with it, has become universal throughout what used to be Christian civilization. It is taken for granted that every loan shall bear interest, without inquiring whether it be productive or unproductive. The whole financial side of our civilization is still based on that false conception. [emphasis added]

A very interesting essay might be written upon the ultimate fruits of such a conception in our own time. Were it ever written a good title for it would be, "The End of the Reign of Usury." For it is becoming pretty clear that the inherent vice of the system under which long ago the Roman Imperial social scheme broke down is beginning to break down our own international financial affairs. With this difference, however: that they broke down from private usury, we from public.

But that is by the way; to return to our muttons. Usury being a demand for money that is not there [a tribute levied, not upon the produce of capital, but upon a margin beyond that produce, or even upon no produce at all], Usury being therefore, when once it is universally admitted, at first a machine for ultimate draining of all wealth into the hands of lenders and for reducing the rest of the community to economic servitude at last; Usury being at last a system which must break down of its own weight-----when the demand made is greater than all productivity can meet-----why, it may be asked, has it been practiced with success for so long? Why does it seem to be at the root of so vast a progress in production throughout the world?

That it has been in use successfully for all these generations, ever since it was solidly established in general practice during the seventeenth century, no one can deny. Nor can anyone deny that it has accompanied [and, I think, been largely the cause of] the great modern expansion in production. And here arises one of those apparent contradictions between a plain mathematical truth and the results of its negation in practice, of which experience is full. Persuaded by such appearances [for they are appearances only, and deceptive], most men abandon the abstract consideration and are content with the practical result. It is on this account that even so late in the day as this the mere mention of the word "Usury" and a discussion of its ethics has about it the savor of something ridiculous.

Not so long ago everyone would have told you that to adopt the attitude I am adopting here was to write oneself down a crank. The conclusions to which every clear mind must come in the matter were not even considered, but brushed aside as imperfect notions proper to early and uncritical ages when men had not thought out economics or any other science.

The increasing, though still small number of educated men who are growing suspicious of such contempt for the immemorial past and for the moral traditions of Christendom will give these objections less weight than they were given a generation ago; but they still have overwhelming weight with the general. If you say today, "Usury is wrong," or even, "Usury is dangerous," or even no more than, "Usury must in the long run break down," all but a very few will, even today, refuse to follow this discussion of the matter. Most of the careless and all the foolish will put you into the company of those who think the earth is flat.

The error is theirs, not ours; yet their error has, as I have said, solid practical backing; for Usury has worked successfully. Productivity has been vastly increased since Usury took root. The last three hundred years have been centuries of immense expansion, and the leaders of it have been precisely those who first threw Christian morals overboard.

What is the explanation? The explanation lies in three considerations:
First, when Usury is universally permitted and enforced, it becomes only part of a general activity for the accumulation of capital with the object of investment. In the days when Usury was illegal and punished, the accumulation of capital for investment was hampered. Incidentally, those days were also days in which the production of wealth upon an increasing scale was not regarded as the end of man. But at any rate, from the purely economic point of view, the ceasing to inquire how capital would be used, the laying it down as a rule that all capital had a right to interest, no matter how it was invested, obviously tended to make accumulation more rapid, and incidentally, to make men keener to ferret out opportunities for productive as well as for unproductive lending.

With that, of course, though from other causes, went the increase of men's powers over nature, the curve of which rose more and more steeply, and perhaps is still rising-----though there are signs of fatigue and of interference with that process from causes other than economic, in spite of the rapid accumulation of further scientific knowledge and of its economic application.
This increase in our powers over nature is the second reason why the false action of Usury has been masked for so long. The economic evil of Usury stimulated and accompanied great economic advantage of accumulation for Production, and this legitimate use of money had its opportunity given it by a flood of geographical discovery and new achievements in Physical Science.
The third reason why Usury has not yet worked out its full ill effect is that it has long been automatically checked by repeated breakdowns which wiped out usurious claims. Capital unproductively lent failed to receive its tribute and had to be written off. It is true that Usury on such capital is commonly the last thing to be written off; 3 but written off it is continually, and this intermittent pruning of the unearned tribute has prevented the real character of that tribute from appearing in its full force.

The nineteenth century in particular, and still more the beginning of the twentieth century, is crowded with examples of these breakdowns-----myriads of them. Money is invested in a particular enterprise. The enterprise does not fulfil expectations. Though the money no longer earns legitimate interest, debentures are raised, the guaranteed interest on which is strictly Usury. For some time this interest is paid, but over and over again you find that at last even the debenture interest cannot be paid. The whole concern lapses, and the usurious tribute can no longer be exacted. You may see the process at work today in many departments of the textile industry. The mill gets into difficulties; a loan is raised from the bank; interest is promised on the loan, though there is no surplus wealth over and above the cost of production. The interest is met from outside sources; but the process cannot go on forever, and there comes a time when the bank has to write the loan off as a bad debt. As the bank is making money out of other successful and profitable investments it continues to flourish, it continues to make money, its total income increases, and that part which it has lost through the breakdown of Usury is hidden in the general productive scheme; the usurious character of certain receipts is not distinguished from the legitimate character of the majority. But whenever a society shows signs of economic decay, the real nature of Usury, thus submerged and hidden in prosperous times, necessarily appears above the surface.

Mr. Orage many years ago, writing in his paper, The New Age, gave in this connection one of the numerous vivid illustrations of the affair, with that genius of his for exposition which ought to have made him famous. He took the example of an oasis of date-palms in the desert, the water-supply of which is got at by very primitive means. There comes a financier who lends money for development. The capital is productively used; artesian wells are sunk; the water-supply is largely increased; a better organization of the date-cultivation is begun; the produce of the oasis rapidly grows from year to year; the profits legitimately demanded by the financier are a part of the total extra annual wealth, the presence of which has been due to his enterprise. All are well-to-do; everything flourishes.

Then, whether through fatigue, or through war or pestilence, or variations in the external market, or some calamity of climate, things begin to go wrong. The annual wealth produced by the oasis declines. But the interest on the money lent must still be paid. As the cultivators get more and more embarrassed they borrow in order to pay that interest, and there comes a time of "overlap," during which, paradoxically enough, the banker appears to be more and more prosperous, though the community which supplies him is getting less and less so. But it is mere arithmetic that the process must come to an end. There will arrive a moment after which the cultivator can no longer find the money to pay the interest, which has long since ceased to be morally due. Mere coercion under an all-powerful police system has got the last penny out of him. The "overlap" between real prosperity and apparent-----merely financial or paper-----prosperity ceases; and the temporary wealth enjoyed by the lender comes to an end, as had previously come to an end the real prosperity of the borrower.

In other words, great banking prosperity in any particular period may be, and commonly is, the proof of all-round prosperity in that period; but it is not necessarily nor always so. The one is not an inevitable adjunct of the other.
To these general conclusions there is another objection which anyone reasonably well acquainted with history will at once make:

"You tell us" [says the objector] "that in other times when the Faith was universally held-----times which you perhaps think healthier, but which were certainly much less wealthy and had to deal with, not only a simpler, but a much smaller population-----Usury was forbidden. That is quite true. But when you go on to argue that there is therefore an essential difference between that time and our time, or rather the recent past which you call 'the reign of Usury,' a different ethic prevailing now from what prevailed then, you are wrong. You are confusing that which is forbidden with that which is not done. It is true that the moral code of Christendom in Catholic times forbade Usury and punished it; even as late as the Provinciales of Pascal men felt moral indignation against Usury, and right on to the end of the eighteenth century the punishment for Usury continued to play a part in the courts of justice and appeared in the codes of law wherever the Church had power. But in point of fact Usury has always existed, because it always must. It is impossible to draw the line between the productive and the unproductive loan. The money which I lend a sick man may so put him to rights as to make him productive again, and may therefore be regarded as indirectly a productive loan, though unproductive in original intention. The money borrowed by a spendthrift for his pleasures may, on his death, immediately after, before he has had time to waste it, pass to a thrifty heir who invests it productively. Such considerations have always worked strongly upon men's minds. That is why you find Usury plentifully existing in times and societies where it was morally condemned.

"Further, even were it possible [which surely as a rule it is not] to draw an exact line between the productive and the unproductive loan, there are all sorts of ways of evading the prohibition to take interest upon an unproductive one: to evade the duty of discovering whether the loan be productive or no. For instance, the Catholic governments, quite as much as the Protestant, issued what the French called 'Rentes'-----promises made by government to pay annual incomes. Henry IV of France, after his conversion, was especially active in this form of borrowing. Philip II of Spain, the very champion of Catholicism, sank up to his neck in embarrassment due to borrowing at high interest-----borrowing, by a pretty irony, from the very people who were destroying his revenue. A government going to war-----that is, about to spend money in an activity commonly unproductive-----begged financiers to buy of it annual claims upon the revenue; and there is no difference at all between that and the modern habit of issuing a government loan. Then there was the obvious method of signing a bond for money and receiving less than the sum mentioned in the bond. Thomas Cromwell, of pious memory, was a zealot in this practice, at a time when the full Catholic morals about Usury were still taken for granted. Much earlier, in the true Middle Ages, princes were perpetually borrowing for their wars-----principally from the newly arisen Italian banking system; and earlier still, when Usury was the exceptional, but chartered and legal privilege of the Jews and a source of immense revenue to the Christian princes under whom they lived, the practice was openly admitted. Usury therefore has always gone on in human society. It always will go on; discussions upon it are academic and futile."

To this I answer that plain reasoning upon practical matters is never futile. If I say that an over-consumption of alcohol is bad for the human frame, especially in age, it is no answer to give me examples of topers who have to ninety. The evil effect of over-drinking is there, demonstrable and, to any honest mind, unquestioned. It is a mere question of experiment and experience and the use of reason applied to the same. Where true conclusions are apparently contradicted by experience they are so contradicted by other forces which do not make the truth any the less true. [emphasis added]

So with this truth about Usury. As long as its impoverishing effects are masked or counter-balanced by stronger forces at work, they are neglected. But they are in existence all the same, and always active. To know that a truth is there, even when it is hidden, is of great practical use; such knowledge is a thing to be kept in reserve for action when the critical hour comes in which it must be applied.

Next it should be pointed out that there is all the difference in the world between a system in which an immoral principle is admitted and one in which, though the immorality is practiced, the principle is denied. There is, and presumably always will be, plenty of adultery, murder, swindling, and the rest, present in society; but the society in which the rights of property are admitted, in which marriage is sacred and to which the taking of human life is abhorrent, is very different from one where the sexes are promiscuous, or where Communism prevails, or where killing for private revenge or whim is an accepted pastime. To murder a bore, to run off with your neighbour's wife, even to pick a man's pocket, are still in our society abnormalities: abnormalities which we old-fashioned people ascribe to the Fall of Man, but which the most exuberant Pelagian will at least not deny to take place. There is all the difference in the world between a society in which such lapses continue, or are even tolerated, and one in which they are called good. [emphasis added]

Man stands on two legs; but he can lean on one or on the other. Thus [to take an example I develop in another essay] society in the department of law must insist both upon justice and upon order; and undoubtedly in any civilized society justice tends to be sacrificed to order. But there is all the difference in the world between the atmosphere and character of a society in which injustice is held more abominable than disorder and one in which disorder is held more abominable than injustice. Two parts of one chemical element to four parts of another will give you a certain product. Change the proportions, and quite a different product appears. A society in which Usury, though practiced, is held immoral [not wholly, I admit, to the advantage of economic development] is quite a different thing from a society where Usury is held to be moral. A society in which the lender assumes it to be his moral duty to examine the object of a loan before he considers its profit to himself is different from a society in which he is not expected to do so. A world in which interest upon the unprofitable loan is detested and the Usurer is a villain is quite another society from one in which men have ceased to ask whether a loan be profitable or unprofitable; and this again is a different society from one such as ours, where interest on any loan is demanded as a sort of sacred moral right with which the productivity or lack of productivity of the loan has nothing to do.

Well, then, since to every evil there should be a remedy, what should we say about Usury today? Since I am boasting that this discussion is practical, what about practice?

Let us suppose our opponent convinced; let him make reply: "I agree that Usury is an evil. What is more, I am inclined to agree that we are beginning to feel its evil effects throughout the world today at long last-----principally through the enormous example of the great war loans. What then are we to do about it all?"

To this I answer in my turn that nothing immediate can be done. You cannot pull out a vital part of any existing social structure. The whole world today reposes upon banking, the whole system of investment renders inquiry about the productive or unproductive quality of an investment normally impossible.

There are especial private cases where you can judge the distinction clearly, and in those cases good men tend to act upon it [as in the case of loans to individuals of our private acquaintance], for the human conscience is at work all the time, even in the most corrupt and complex of societies. But in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of a thousand the distinction is impossible. A man is at pains to save. He must use his savings under a system where interest without examination is normal and all the infinite details of a world-wide system of production, distribution, and exchange have so long been based on the acceptation of Usury-----as well as on the much larger calculation of legitimate profit-----that the two can no more be divided in practice today than can the mixed colours in a dyer's vat. If I go off for six months and leave money on deposit at my bank I can hardly ask what the bank is going to do with the money; and if I did they could not tell me. No one could say how much of it goes to feeding beasts on a fur farm in Canada; how much to a young man who is getting an overdraft on his securities and spending it in riotous living; how much to the development of a useful mine in the Andes. What sane man would hesitate to put his regular little self-denials into savings certificates, or his modest £1000 into a War Loan-----that crying instance of Usury? The system must go on till we break, and even the word "break" is inaccurate. If history is any guide, the true word should rather be "decay." Pleasing thought.

I did well to call this book Essays of a Catholic and not Catholic Essays. For if it became a matter of Catholic discipline that men should not today touch that unclean thing, the interest-bearing unproductive loan, discipline would stand self- condemned. The ecclesiastical order could not be obeyed. If by such an analysis as I am here engaged in I were to involve any of my fellow Catholics in the peculiar conclusions reached, I should be doing a very bad turn, not only to the common sense of my fellows, but to their sense of humour as well.

Nevertheless, as the scent manufacturer has it, "Un jour viendra,"-----"A day will come."

[Mr. Belloc closed with the same phrase in Greek, but most browsers do not have an ancient Greek font installed, so I deleted the last line of this essay to avoid the appearance of gibberish.]

1. When I was first stammering out my elements as a boy at Oxford, a learned professor assured us in his lecture that the text of Aristotle must have become corrupt, because he could never have said so silly a thing as to call usury wrong. What St. Thomas called it I will wager he never knew.
2. I found in Tunis three years ago that the Mohammedan olive planter wanting to raise a loan for the development of his estate could not get the money from his fellow Mohammedans, but had to borrow from Europeans.
3. Witness the continued interest still paid on bank overdrafts by our failing industries. Another excellent example of the writing off of usurious interest is the scaling down of the French and Italian debts to America.


On Usury, 1931.