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 April 2013

The House of Commons and Monarchy...

The State Opening of Parliament. The Queen commands that the MPs attend  her  in the Chamber of the House of Lords. The Commons have just slammed the door in Black Rod's face. 
“And You Cannot Build Upon a Lie” (H. Belloc)—
When the Humbug Has Broken Down and the Sham Exposed.

“But the answer to all this [“sort of hopeless feeling”] is that these growing evils (and they have almost reached that limit after which the State breaks down) are not inevitable and are not necessary—save [i.e., except, unless] under an anonymous system” (Hilaire Belloc, The House of Commons and Monarchy, p. 181—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).


“It is [in this context] far more important for us to see and admit what has happened than to discuss why it has happened. It is much more important to find out that your rudder has dropped off in the deep sea than to discover how it dropped off. Yet it may be of service to mention causes briefly before we proceed to the chances of the future” (Hilaire Belloc, The House of Commons and Monarchy, p. 115—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

In 1920, ten years after Hilaire Belloc had stepped down from his four maturing years of  publicly elected service in the House of Commons, he published a lucid book-length essay, entitled The House of Commons and Monarchy.[1] It is a forthright and equitably proportioned work with a clearly stated thesis; and the development of Belloc's presented evidence and argumentation will help us still  better understand—even in the United States—many timely and timeless things of political and moral moment. For example, the reality of power, especially the formation, sustained moral authority, and gradual decay of a “new governing class” (39): indeed, a wealthy Oligarchy that had indispensably become a well-rooted Aristocracy, “after a sufficient tradition has confirmed them,” (47) even so as to become “a sacramental thing.”(39) Regrettably then, but truly, Belloc says, “one of the causes of the decline of Aristocracy” (179) is “the accumulation of...corruptions.” (179) Thus, Trust is broken; the earlier “general respect” (47) and “ reverence upon which Aristocracy reposed,” vanish.

For it is so, he says, that:

 ''The characters [the enduring qualities] which keep an Aristocratic body in the saddle are easily recognized, though difficult to define. The first, undoubtedly, is dignity. The second, closely related to dignity, is a readiness in the individual to sacrifice himself for the good of the whole. The Aristocratic spirit demands in those who govern a readiness to suffer personal injury and loss for the sake not only of the State...but [for the sake] of the Aristocratic quality of the State, and in particular of the special Aristocratic organism [i.e., the House of Commons] to which the individual belongs'' (85-86—my emphasis added).

However, when then later speaking of the growing “ineptitude” (88) of a governing class, and its selfish, even “ardent passion” to serve “personal safety” (89) rather than the larger Common Good (Bonum Commune), Belloc, by way of sharp contrast, also says:

''When a governing clique ceases to be Aristocratic you feel it not only in specific indignities and particular buffooneries, or petty thefts; you feel it in a sort of insecurity [as well as an insufficiency]. The frantic efforts to conceal, the silly blushing denials, the haste to get away with the swag—all of these are the symptoms: and worst of all is the incapacity for sacrifice'' (88-89—my emphasis added).

Furthermore, in Belloc's words:

Lastly, from two most powerful sources, the Aristocratic State tends to suffer from Illusion, especially in its old age—and illusion is the most dangerous of all things. The two sources whence Illusion insinuates itself into the mood [or “atmosphere” (82)] of an Aristocratic State are, first, its internal security; and second, the legendary nature of the moral authority which the governing class exercises'' (55—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

Belloc also came to believe that, in the House of Commons, there is “a lack of machinery for recuperation” (57) and, so, “They nourish Illusion to protect their decay” (58—emphasis added). However, although it is so that “Parliaments must be Oligarchies;” (63) likewise “it is universally true of oligarchies that they cannot govern unless they are Aristocratic.” (64) Moreover, an “Aristocratic State demands Aristocratic Action and Temper both in those who govern and in those who are governed” (63—my emphasis added). Such must be, in good times, the reciprocally nourishing culture.

Belloc's main thesis, in the light of earlier English history (especially since the Regicide of 1649) is, as follows:

“The House of Commons was formed by, and is essentially part of, an Aristocratic State. England having ceased to be an Aristocratic State the House of Commons is ceasing to function” (this clear formulation is repeated three times at the outset of his argument, i.e., on pages 4, 7, and 9).

For, “the central institution of that Aristocratic England which the Reformation had made was [and still is] the House of Commons.” (63—my emphasis added) Speaking of the mid-seventeenth century in England and the contention between the newly strengthened vested interests and the Stuart King,  he says:

''The rising quarrel (confused in its eddies  but clear in its main stream) produced the Civil Wars and the destruction of English kingship. The new Oligarchy [with the help of the martial Calvinist, Oliver Cromwell] put to death the last true Monarch in 1649 [Charles I]. His son [Charles II] came back eleven years later, but only as a salaried official.... But why was all this? Why should the supplanting after civil war of one form of government by another, of Monarchy by Oligarchy, have produced so large an effect and one of such advantage to national greatness and glory?....The masses grew more dependent, the rich more powerful and even immune; but of the external growth and wealth and dominion, and all that of which patriotic men are proud, there can be no doubt'' (37-38—my emphasis added).

Belloc considers his own terse answer to the question (“And why?”) to be so important to his overarching argument that he puts his brevity in emphatic italics:

''Essentially because the Oligarchy, which had thus seated itself firmly in the saddle after the destruction of the Monarchy, was growing (through the national sentiment and through the new religion on which that sentiment was based) into an Aristocracy. That is the point. That is the whole understanding of modern English history. As an ultimate result of the Reformation the Kings were broken and replaced by a Governing Class, of which the House of Commons was the [“sovereign”] organ. But that new governing class was not a mere clique, not a small minority merely seizing power. Men have never tolerated such usurpation. They have never allowed an irresponsible few to rule without moral sanction. It would be an insupportable rule....What had come, in the place of kingship, was an Aristocratic State, a State governed by an Oligarchy indeed, but by an Oligarchy which received the permanent  and carefully preserved respect of its fellow-citizens''(38-39—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

Throughout the later parts of his book, Belloc shows how and why that indispensable and cherished respect gradually (and very consequentially) decayed—while emphasizing the stark fact that it had indeed happened!
In the remainder of this essay, I propose to give special accent to Hilaire Belloc's articulate insights about general moral matters, to include the importance of virtuous, as well as vicious (or subtly degraded), moral character in members of a ruling Elite. For moral character also has social consequences, and, as Belloc has incisively written “The statement that Parliaments are, or can be, democratic is a lie; and you cannot build build upon a lie” (177—my emphasis added). Reform of a long-traditional Governing Class must come from deeper sources, from within and from without. In any case, it must be based on reality, on truth presented fully and in its proper proportions—even though, as Belloc knows well, there are always “critics of too much truth-telling,” (82) in spite of a “known internal breakdown” (82) of an “existing organ of government,” (82) such as the House of Commons. For, he had said: “It is always so when an institution breaks down. The crust survives by a few years the rotten interior.” (81)

Despite its special strengths, an Aristocratic State—in Belloc's view—has its own special vulnerabilities:

''An Aristocratic State is less able to reform itself than any other, and if its essential principle [deserved mutual respect, and even reverence] grows weak, it has the utmost difficulty in finding a remedy for its disease.... An Aristocratic State attacked in its vital principle has no medicinal rules, no formulae upon which to fall back for its healing. Its diseases [in the face of “civil dissension” and distrustful disrespect] are profoundly organic, never mechanical; for the whole action [and “temper”] of an Aristocracy is less conscious and less defined than that of a Democracy or Monarchy.'' (55)

There is “another element” in this matter of the “old age” of an Aristocratic State: the factor of “weariness” (97):

''The weakening of contempt [for moral baseness, and for coarse and cunning “adventurers and rapscallions” (97)], this new intimate companionship with financial powers, not only ephemeral but base, comes in part from fatigue. And this we see in a process everywhere observable: which is the admixture of apology and impudence.... [For example,] to find a man or woman of the governing type (they no longer possess the governing power) apologizing for their frequentation of such and such a [plutocrat's] house, for their acceptation of such and such an insult, and accompanying the apology with a phrase which admits their incapacity to stand firm. It is an attitude of drift and of lassitude in luxury: of a tired need for money. It is the very contrary of that atmosphere of discipline which all governing organs, Monarchic, Democratic, or Aristocratic, must maintain under peril of extinction. Next to this abandonment of principle, this loss of a stiffening standard round which the governing body could rally, and to which it could conform, we note [now, indeed, as of 1920] the disintegration of the governing body. That process has not yet gone very far, but it is going very fast'' (97-98—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

As to another important quality of Elites, Belloc piquantly observed that, “at the time when the Aristocratic spirit was most vigorous,” (99) “we have seen, not only in our own, but in every other country” that a “ 'Representative' Assembly” itself “does only work” (98-99) when it is

 ''A body slowly renewed, and renewed largely by its own volition; that is largely co-opting [selecting and recruiting] its own membership as elder members  drop out through age, glut of loot, fatigue, tedium, disgrace, or pension. But an organism of this kind, an instrument of government of this kind, a body comparatively small, in the main permanent, and continuous in action, is an Oligarchy by every definition of that term'' (68—my bold emphasis added, italics in the original).

As such an Oligarchy itself develops slowly into a more “rooted” Aristocracy, “there is an aristocratic way of doing it and an unaristocratic way of doing it” (87), thus without “undignified mountebank tricks” (85):

''For instance, it is in the Aristocratic spirit that a member of the Government caught taking a bribe, or telling a public lie, should resign: and until quite lately such resignations were the rule. Another subtle character, and one very little recognized because it is so difficult to seize (yet its presence is powerfully felt), is the representative character of the Aristocrat properly so called.... A living Aristocracy is always very careful to be in communion with, actually mixed with, the mass of which it is itself the chief. It has an unfailing flair for national tradition, national custom, and the real national will. It has, therefore, as a correlative, an active suspicion of mere numerical  and mechanical tests [and even mere financial tests?!] for arriving at that will. To take a practical example: an English governing class, which in the middle of the nineteenth century had given up riding horses or playing cricket, would have ceased to govern; but the extent of the franchise was indifferent to it'' (86-87—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

On the premise that contrast clarifies the mind, we may see how our Belloc will first have us appreciate the earlier composite of Aristocratic qualities and dispositions, so as to enhance his insights about the drab  or monochromatic sequels:

''Under the old order the governing class maintained a certain hierarchy, and had a regular process of digestion and support [i.e., of incorporating recruitment and as patrons of a richer artistic culture]. The best example of this function in the old Aristocratic organism, the gentry, is its old attitude toward intelligence and creative power (intelligence and creative power are between them the mark of the arts).... In an Aristocracy, while it still has its vigour, the Aristocratic organism recognizes and selects (though itself is not for the most part creative) true creative power around it. It recognizes above all proportion and order in creative power. It has an instinct against chaos in the arts. When what remains of a governing class seeks only novelty and even absurdity, or, what is worse still, a mere label, in its appraisal of creative power, it is a proof that the Aristocratic spirit has declined. The disintegration of the class that should govern is to be seen in another fashion: the substitution of simple, crude, obvious, and few passions for a subtle congeries of appetites'' (98-99, 101-102—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

Acutely aware as he is of the seductively specious, but deeply corrupt, Vitality of Mammon in the Decline of a State—as some of his richly differentiated essays also confirm, Belloc exemplifies in this 1920 book what these crude and coarse passions, or isolated and inordinate desires, actually mean:

Consider the passion for money. The necessity for wealth, position through wealth, the digestion of new wealth, all these are indeed native to the governing class of an Aristocracy. But they are native only as part of a much larger whole. Wealth thus sought in a strong governing class is subject to many qualifications, the desire is balanced against many other desires. When the attitude towards wealth becomes at once a principal thing and an isolated thing it is a proof, and a cause, of disintegration in a governing class; for instance, when wealth is divorced from manners, or is accepted or sought for at the expense of a grave loss of dignity. And what is true of the appetite for wealth is true of many other things, the appetite for physical enjoyment, the appetite for change, the appetite for new sensation (an appetite born of fatigue and accompanying not strength, but weakness)'' (102-103—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

 Among “the Governed,” (107) there has also been “a portentous change” (118), as a result of the Industrial and French Revolutions:

''These masses [of the Governed] have been born and have lived their lives utterly divorced from the remnants and even the tradition of the old Aristocratic organism....The new wealthy classes which might have imitated the [landed] squires of an older time, and which at first were  largely assimilated into the governing class, do not live with their workmen. They fled the towns. They established colonies, as it were,...of luxurious houses [not yet “gated communities”] standing miles away from the workshops...., and the proletariat lived, grew, formed (or half formed) its political desires, nourished its bitterness, apart. No social condition more directly contrary to that of aristocracy can be imagined. And this is the immediate as well as the major cause of the phenomenon we are studying. This it is, the substitution of the new great towns for the old country sides as the determining body of society which has transformed the political of England and of the Lowlands of Scotland'' (118-119—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

Belloc, very importantly, then says that it was “not, indeed, anything material,” but “it was a spirit; the religion and philosophy of Industrial Capitalism” and “the outward effects of that religion acted as I have said.” (119) One stark result was that:

''The great mass of the populace was left with no bands [no bonds] attaching it any longer to the form of the Aristocratic State....There you have the final condemnation to death of Aristocracy as a principle in this country, and with it a corresponding condemnation to death of the House of Commons. Side by side with the loss of the Aristocratic spirit in those who should have governed there has gone the loss of any desire for, and even the mere knowledge of, Aristocratic government in the mass who are governed'' (119—my emphasis added).

Another result of this “binary” combination is that it “has left the House [of Commons] to-day bereft of moral authority.” For it is fundamentally true, as  the Catholic Church well knows (and as Belloc himself often elsewhere quotes) that “without authority there is no life” (“sine auctoritate nulla vita”). Furthermore, says Belloc with a sense of irreversibility and even a sort of tragic finality:

''Even though the House of Commons were to become as clean as it is now corrupt, as nice as it is now nasty, as noble as it is now mean and petty, or as dignified as it is now vulgar and contemptible, this factor alone, the loss of the popular desire to be ruled by a few, would be fatal to its continued power. (120)
 Even if the House of Commons “might (in part) revive its moral authority,” (132) “who on earth believes that such things will ever be done by the authority of the culprits themselves?” (132) For, though miracles certainly happen, yet the rarest of all miracles is a moral miracle of this kind. A rotten institution reforming itself, and not only reforming itself but being aided in its reformation by all its own corrupt members, servants, parasites, and masters [or “paymasters”], is a thing that history has never seen. History has seen plenty of men raised into the air, many walking on the water, and a few raised from the dead. But it has never seen an institution in the last stages of decay and still possessing nominal power, using that power to chastise and to reform itself'' (132-133—my emphasis added).

Without having any utopian expectations, and knowing well the problems with historic or actual kingship, Belloc does nevertheless believe that a substantive improvement could be attained amidst this cumulatively grim state of affairs if a strong, virtuous, and intimately personal Monarchy were to be restored and again to control the Money Power, inasmuch as:

''The leading function of the Monarch is to protect the weak man against the strong, and therefore to prevent the accumulation of wealth in a few hands, the corruption of the Courts of Justice and  [the corruption] of the sources of public opinion [ thus, the full range of “the Media”]'' (178—my emphasis added).

As a counterpoint to this monarchical preference, Belloc admits that:

''A Democracy also, where it is active and real, can do all these things.[2] You may see every one of these functions at work in a Swiss Canton, for instance. There you may see [legal] tribunals which dread public opinion, judges who are afraid of giving false judgments, laws which forbid too great an inequality of wealth, and the absence of any vast or sudden profits acquired through the cunning of one against the simplicity of many. But where very great numbers are concerned [as in a “numerous democracy”] all theses functions are atrophied if you attempt to make them Democratic in their working; and in the absence of an Aristocratic spirit there is nothing but a Monarch to exercise them [the essential “functions” of just and equitable Governance]....He [the Monarch] knows that he is responsible. He cannot shift the burden to some anonymous or intangible culprit'' (179-180—my emphasis added).

Earlier in the book, Belloc had especially noted, as one of the potential weaknesses of an Aristocratic country (even in its commendable vigour) is to see “how strangely deep in such a country is the worship of powerful men, and how rooted is the distaste in the masses for the responsibilities of government” (79—my emphasis). He later adds a complementary reinforcement to his earlier wise insight:

''Out of citizens who have always been passive of their nature [especially about the burdensome responsibilities of governance], and whose passivity was the very cause of Aristocracy among them, you will never get the Democratic spirit of corporate initiative, and of what is essential to Democratic institutions, a permanent, individual interest in public affairs'' (176—my emphasis added).

After then returning to the matter of monarchy and briefly considering some of the prominent Kings (or Emperors) of history, our Belloc then tries to imagine any of these men in action today, if they were to be “placed at the head of the modern State,” (182)—and yet “not through their [virtuous] character, but [only] through the powers  granted  them by the constitutions of their times” (181-182). Asking and happily (or impishly) answering his own question, he says:

''What do you think would happen to the corrupt judges, to the politicians who take bribes, to the great trusts that destroy a man's livelihood, to the secret financiers boasting that they control the State [“Le pouvoir sur le pouvoir”—in the oft-quoted words of Jacques Attali]? Their blood would turn to water'' (182—my emphasis added).

Belloc often accents the danger of unaccountable finance and its corrupting Oligarchical power, especially to mislead “the remaining inheritors of the old Aristocratic position” (103) in “their now irretrievable mixture with international finance and consequent degradation of blood” (104—my emphasis added). A few pages later, Belloc even says that, for the governed populace, as of 1920, “the [old] gentry no longer means anything to them,” (112) and even the idea of “one governing class is no longer within the vision of the governed” (112)—and “What may be left of such a class they merge in a general vision of excessive, unjust, and indeed malignant wealth” (112—my emphasis added). That is to say, they are seen as if they were all merely detached and frigid Plutocrats or selfishly Squalid Oligarchs—inaccessible and  also still immune from any just accountability in this world.

Hilaire Belloc always combated “an anonymous system,” and its evasive diffusion of personal responsibility and accountability, and he argued, instead, for the return of a Popular Monarchy as was known in historic Christendom, but now, as is just, in prudent view of unique modern conditions and technologies.

The House of Commons and Monarchy, by way of summary, began by showing how Kingship in England was first weakened by the monarchs themselves, to include Henry VII's sly usurpation of the throne, and then especially the spiritual and temporal actions of Henry VIII, who more or less unwittingly helped create a new and powerful Oligarchy which materially profited from the general loot of the monasteries and monastery lands. That new landed Oligarchy gradually incorporated the merchant and professional elements—the lawyers and the financiers, for instance—and that Oligarchical power increasingly worked to weaken (and have leverage over) the Sovereign King, culminating in the Regicide of 1649: the execution of the Stuart King, Charles I. As the new Oligarchy—or somewhat differentiated, and rival, oligarchies—grew in power and influence, they also became more rooted and stable and continuous, until the Oligarchy became an Aristocracy and the Parliament effectively became the Sovereign, Aristocratic  House of Commons. The gradual decay of that House of Commons showed once again the coarser qualities of an Oligarchy, now also containing various alien elements from the outside, as it were—to include the leverage and power of “the Money Power” (as Belloc elsewhere calls it): the Elements and Organs of Finance, to include International Finance—and the Power of the Public Media of Communications (the Press, as it was then known). Then came the further (often anonymous) Oligarchic Manipulations of what was increasingly (but misleadingly) called Democracy—a coarsening and deceptive and drifting development, for sure, which thereby called out, once again, for a restoration in principle, and establishment in actuality, of a sound and strong Personal Monarchy which was attentive to, and finally responsible for, the whole Bonum Commune—as a good Father would care and sacrifice for the common good of his whole family, for which he will finally be held strictly accountable, coram Deo. Before God, in the Final Verdict of Truth—at least in the Faith of a Catholic. And not only Belloc's. “To whom much has been given, much will be required; to whom much has been entrusted, more [even more!] will be required.” (Luke 12:48)

In any case, Belloc saw the humbug and sham of so much of Modern Democracy, as did the honest French intellectual historian, François Furet, who also (like Belloc) wrote books on the French Revolution, one of which contained an important chapter, near the end of his text, on Augustin Cochin (1876-1916), the young French Catholic historian of the French Revolution who was killed on the battlefield of World War I. In that chapter, Furet said with unexpected candor: “Modern Democracy is based on [depends upon] a hidden oligarchy [“oligarchie cachée”], which is contrary to its principles, but indispensable to its functioning.”[3] That is to say, though in even more trenchant words: “Modern Democracy is based upon a Deception.”

Moreover, since there are always “civil wars within the Revolution itself,” as the French Catholic scholar, Leon de Poncins, often noted, François Furet's insight would be rendered even more perfectly if we put his singular “oligarchie cachée” into  the plural, “oligarchies cachées.”  For, there are, indeed, rivalries among the variously manifold and active oligarchies in their quests for advantage and power (as was so, historically, between the Girondins and the Jacobins and their respective Financiers), especially when it is for “Power without Grace” (an acute phrase said more than once by Saint Helena in her candid, cautionary guidance to her own beset and perplexed - and as yet unbaptised - son, Emperor Constantine, amidst the deficiencies and delusions of his burdensome Rule, as so eloquently presented by Evelyn Waugh in his highly differentiated historical novel, Helena (1950). 

When we also recall the title of this essay, we may now appreciate a further nuance of meaning. To the extent that Modern Democracy itself is based upon a Deception—indeed a deliberate deception of rival and often-anonymous oligarchies—it is based upon a Lie (and the greatest social effect of a Lie is that it breaks Trust, even the deepest Trust—as in an intimate Perfidy—and that deeply shattered trust is so hard to rebuild. Even with mercy and grace and “forgiveness from the heart,” wholehearted forgiveness).

When the Humbug has broken down and the Sham exposed—whether about Democracy or Oligarchy or Ecclesiastical Sophistry—we must still  remember, in our sustained and faithful efforts at reconstruction, Hilaire Belloc's own essential words: “And you cannot build upon a lie.” (177)

“The Moral is, it is forsooth: You mustn't monkey with the Truth.”[4]


© 2013 Robert D. Hickson

[1]    Hilaire Belloc, The House of Commons and Monarchy (London: George Allen & Unwin LTD.,1920), 188 pages. References to this text will henceforth be in parentheses in the main body of this essay.
[2]    In an earlier footnote, on page 113, Belloc himself says: “The test of the Democratic temper is a popular craving to possess  public initiative, and the test of Democratic government is the exercise of that initiative. Chance consultation by vote has nothing to do with Democracy.” The American Founding Fathers, in The Federalist Papers, also disapprovingly spoke  of the instability and irresponsibility of mere “numerous democracy.” A rule by mere number and quantity, that is.
[3]    François Furet, Penser la Révolution française  (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), Part II, Chapter 3 (Augustin Cochin: la théorie du jacobinisme), p. 241.  Another rendition of the French original is: “There is in all democratic power, a fortiori in all pure democratic power, a hidden oligarchy, which is at the same time contrary to its principles and yet indispensable to its functioning.” Augustin Cochin himself especially, and famously, studied those active leavens of the Revolution: the  so-called associations or societies of thought (Sociétés de Pensée). These intellectually and operationally active groupings would also be properly considered as networks of little, though disproportionately influential, “oligarchies.”
[4]    This is a close paraphrase of the two concluding lines from one of  Hilaire Belloc's own buoyant verses, entitled “The Example.” See, for example, Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Verses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941), pp. 402-407. The last two lines of that sprightly, cautionary verse are: “The Moral is (it is indeed!)/ You mustn't monkey with the Creed.”

Monday, 22 April 2013

Religion and politics in Bellocian biographies...

Cardinal Richelieu at the Siege of La Rochelle

In any brief discussion of Hilaire Belloc, the subject matter must be restricted rather severely. This essay will examine just one type of writing, his political works, and a specific genre at that, namely, his biographies. But even this narrowing leaves a large number of actual works. Because of Belloc's ability to present timeless material in a timely manner we will consider a subject of perennial importance, namely, Belloc's views on religion and politics, and, specifically, his opinion of priests in political office.

Belloc wrote three major book-length essays about priests who were of political importance. Two of these men, Thomas Cardinal Wolsey and Armand-Jean Cardinal Richelieu held explicitly governmental posts; indeed, both men were for some time second only to their respective kings in national authority. The third, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, while not a political office-holder, nevertheless had a great political impact in his day. Before turning directly to these three works, we must keep in mind four strong views which animated much, perhaps most, of Belloc's political thought, views concerning the Catholic Church, European unity, democracy, and the monarchy. While one might well disagree with what Belloc has to say on these matters, one cannot understand him without an appreciation of the role that his views on these four subjects played in his work.

The Catholic Church was for Belloc what it is for any Catholic, the divinely founded means to Eternal Salvation. All other things pale in comparison to it, to its health, and to its mission. From this basis, Belloc did not, contrary to some critics, argue the unimportance of the secular order or of profane institutions. He was, in fact, frequently a staunch supporter of these things. But he did argue their relative unimportance when compared to that of the Church. For this reason that which was dearest to Belloc's heart was European unity, that trans-ethnic unity which pre-dated Charlemagne and survived fairly intact until the time of Luther. For Belloc, this unity was not just a good in itself, but it was also an able means of protecting the Church and of facilitating her work. In considering Belloc's views on democracy and the monarchy, however, we note some incongruity, for Belloc was at once a democrat and a monarchist. A little reflection, though, will clear the confusion.

Belloc was a democrat in that he firmly supported the right of each man to own property and to manage his own affairs as much as possible. His love of local tradition only enhanced his democratic inclination. It goes without saying, of course, that Belloc was a militant anti-socialist, no doubt because socialists are militantly anti­democratic. In light of this pronounced democracy, it might come as some surprise that Belloc wrote with such respect for the monarchy, even while he criticized many individual monarchs. Why this love of the monarchy, and how do we reconcile it with Belloc's concern for democracy?

The monarchy, according to Belloc, presented many advantages. It could provide single and effective leadership in matters concerning the public practice of religion both through official legislation and by personal example. More importantly, for Belloc, the monarchy, was the traditional bulwark protecting the common man—the democrat—against the greed and domination of the rapidly rising wealthy classes. Although the monarchy could, and did, abuse the people, it was more frequently the only power that checked the well-armed and wealthy baron from moving against the individual farmer and peasant. Thus the monarchy could be seen as the guarantor of democracy. When we combine these views about the Church, European unity, democracy, and the monarchy, we find that the single unifying thread of Belloc's political thought seems to be the search for that political system in which men could best save their souls.

In light of this principle it is clear that Catholic priests, espe­cially priests in political life, would play a great role. How they behaved and how they conducted affairs of Church and State could not but be a matter of great interest to Belloc. In his books on Wolsey (1930), Cranmer (1931), and Richelieu (1930), Belloc explicitly disclaimed to be writing histories of these men, or even biographies in the strictest sense. Rather he sought to examine why these men acted as they did and to discern their characters and motivations. All three men were responsible for acts with which Belloc strongly disagreed. His disappointment in each man was profound. Wolsey's gross mismanagement and abuse of authority as Chancellor under King Henry VIII provided the crucial backdrop for the English schism. As Belloc repeatedly laments, Wolsey watched uncomprehendingly as England was lost to the Church. Cranmer, in turn, through his admittedly magnificent use of the English language, provided Protestant preachers with an invaluable tool, the Book of Common Prayer. Without it, suggests Belloc, the English schism would never have caught on with the same depth or rapidity. Richelieu, finally, had and lost the last clear chance to restore a united Europe before the religious division there became, for all human intents, permanent. His efforts to advance France at the expense of her Catholic neighbours closed off any reasonable hope of healing the religious wounds of western Europe.

Yet in his historical essays, Belloc genuinely respected and wrote charitably and truthfully about Wolsey, Cranmer, and Richelieu. Belloc's reputation as a bitterly anti-Protestant writer or as caustic critic of weak Catholics is not borne out here. The point is clearest in Wolsey. Belloc is careful to note, for example, that, as nearly as a human being can judge these things, Wolsey reconciled himself to the Church prior to his death. Despite the immeasurable damage that Wolsey did to the Church in England, Belloc credits him with repairing his own relationship with God. That, after all, is what is most important. Belloc, more over, is objective enough to note that Cranmer did not seek any position of influence for love of money--no mean praise for men of power of that age. While Belloc does have a rather critical tone for Cranmer in some of his other histories, that tone is greatly reduced in his full-length study of the man. The main difference, of course, and the one that likely explains Belloc's differing evaluations is in the death of each man. Wolsey sought and likely achieved reconciliation with the Church; Cranmer abjured it. Of the three. Richelieu wins as much praise as one could possibly expect from Belloc, considering his fundamental disagreement with Richelieu's programme. He cannot resist at nearly every turn the desire to praise Richelieu's intelligence, his foresight, his love for France, and his deferment--in more cases than not--to the immediate needs of the Church. Belloc, then, has clearly demonstrated his ability to write in measured, charitable terms about men with whom he strongly disagrees. It is a lesson from which all may learn.

The second observation we should make on Belloc's works is also one that might strike us as odd coming from Belloc, the Catholic political thinker, namely, that priests have no special skill at politics by reason of their priesthood. This point is especially well made in Wolsey and in Cranmer. While Wolsey is praised for having a mind capable of dealing with fantastic detail, he still lacked, in Belloc's analysis, that crucial ability to discern men's motivations. Wolsey failed, of course, in nearly every major attempt at foreign affairs. Only his successes at home—successes that were, by and large, administrative, not political—kept him in power. And Cranmer exhibited little interest in politics, except in so far as it facilitated his efforts to make the English Church autonomous. Cardinal Richelieu, on the other hand, was by any measure a genius at politics. There is nothing in Belloc's account, however, to suggest that Richelieu owed this ability to his priesthood.

What Belloc does say, especially concerning Wolsey and Cranmer, and arguably concerning Richelieu, is that the Church and the priesthood gave these men extensive political opportunity. Wolsey and Cranmer were middle-aged clerics possessed of little more than minor benefices when they were noted by political leaders and advanced along the political ladder. Richelieu, while making this advance at a much earlier age, also owes it to his priesthood that he was noticed and trusted with political matters. Consequently, because these men received their political opportunity from the Church, Belloc judges all three men more strictly than he otherwise might have judged them. All three were failures in Belloc's eyes.

The third lesson that we may draw from Belloc's essays is that commitment to the religious life tends to decline in the face of partisan politics. The crush and pace of the political world is incompatible with the thoughtful reflection needed to nourish a life in the Lord. For Wolsey, this principle was startlingly true. He gave himself most completely to the worldly and to the profane. Richelieu did practically the same thing, though he seemed somewhat more attracted to abstract notions of power and influence than to material goods. Only Cranmer maintained a substantial degree of religious commitment; indeed, Belloc suggests that this commitment was the guiding force in Cranmer's life. But if Cranmer resisted rather well the allurements or worldly power, he was also the least directly involved in political affairs. About the best thing that Belloc can say about these priests in politics is that, almost without exception, their lay peers were worse. Perhaps the priesthood introduced some moderating influence after all.

A question now presents itself: is the incompatibility of priesthood and politics (an incompatibility which Wolsey, Cranmer, and Richelieu betray so forcefully) something that is unavoidable in the combination, or was it merely peculiar to these three men? To answer this question, we can only speculate for nowhere in his studies of these men does Belloc directly address the matter. (The only reason for this apparent lacuna is that, when Belloc was writing, priests in political office posed no serious problem. Certainly none presented the complex problems that priests involved in the politics of North and Central America present today.) The answer to the question lies in the nature of the religious vocation itself.

Overlooked though it may be, the essence of every religious vocation is contemplation. While different apostolates call for greater or lesser time devoted to contemplation and meditation, every priest and religious must practice some meditative prayer and usually a fairly large amount of it. Here, Belloc would insist upon the final incompatibility of the priesthood and politics. The political world does not give itself to detached reflection about ultimate things; it does not even give itself to any reasonably necessary contemplation about religious matters. Of course, politics can be a moral, noble undertaking in itself, and religious belief should guide political decision-making. But it is not proper to the religious vocation to cut it off from its contemplative roots and to immerse it in profane matters, and frequently, in personal personal political preferences. Yet such is the inevitable result of absorption in political affairs. Religion is indispensable to public policy; but, as Belloc's three extended essays have shown, priests are out of place in political office.

 Edward Peters, "Religion and politics in Bellocian biographies", Chesterton Review 12 (1986) 195-199.

Cardinal Wolsey

Monday, 15 April 2013

On Irony as the 'Avenger of Truth' - James V. Schall S.J.

Irony is a flourishing topic of study today in many academic circles. Indeed, academia itself is one of the prime subjects for irony -- no one today, for instance, would simply accept without amusement the notion that the academy is where you find unvarnished truth in our society. Almost everyone has heard of the rigid closure to truth that is found throughout the universities. The very title of Allan Bloom's now famous, but hardly attended to, book, The Closing of the American Mind, is ironical, as befits a good student of Plato. It is simply amusing and bitter-sweet that a book on the status of the open university would portray its mind as precisely "closed."

In the Selected Essays of Belloc (Penguin), we find an essay, "On Irony." It is a remarkable essay. Indeed it is the justification of irony as a legitimate but dangerous tool in the pursuit of truth itself. We sometimes have to speak the truth over the heads of someone who will not listen, but it is not irony unless there is some third party, even if it is God, who does listen to the implied, hence ironical, truth.

Take for instance that passage from the Declaration of Independence about self-evident truths among which is that all men have a right to life. Our judges, politicians, and reporters may well cite this passage with great solemnity as if this obvious principle is one quite widely accepted in our society. The very reciting of the passage is ironical in a society where millions are legally killed and the lives of many others constantly in jeopardy. A Pope will say, on the contrary, that we live in a culture of death. He speaks no irony.

"It is the intention of irony," Belloc tells us, "that it should do good, because it is of the nature of irony that it should avenge the truth." How does it do this avenging? Irony intends to inflict a wound. It points out to someone, anyone, the breach not only between what we say and what we do, but between what we do and what is right. Irony cannot be used with any "propriety except in God's service." Thus Belloc thinks that if we are morally compromised, we will not see ourselves as we are. We will have no criterion against which to see our depths. "The history of Letters is full of men who, tempted by this or that, by money or by ease, or by random friendship, or by some appetite lower than the hunger and thirst after justice, have found their old strong irony grow limp and fruitless after they had sold their souls." What a remarkably powerful sentence that is -- limp and fruitless men who have sold their souls!

Irony seems to be for men of the world. It is a strange virtue, if virtue it is. "To the young, the pure, and the ingenuous, irony must always appear to have in it a quality of something evil, and so it has, for ... it is a sword to wound. It is so directly the product or reflex of evil that, though it can never be used -- nay, can hardly exist -- save in the chastisement of evil, yet irony always carries with it some reflections of the bad spirit against which it was directed." The "ironical man" -- Socrates was said to be such -- was often seen by his listeners to be mean-spirited or merely jesting with them. They did not grasp the truth he was indicating.

Belloc understands irony to be a primary weapon to "defend right against wrong." Indeed, the "bad spirit" that irony seems to take over from the evil it attacks would suggest that we should not use it. Yet, Belloc says, "how false it is to say that vengeance and the hatred of the evil men are in themselves evil, all human history can prove." This sentence needs sorted out. Vengeance, the requiting of an evil in the name of justice, the hatred of evil men, that is, the hatred of what they do, is not itself evil. Belloc appeals to the common sense and practice of mankind as witness. A society or people that bear absolutely no anger at evil done to the good or innocent, that has nothing but praise for the evil that men do, is itself a corrupt society that can feel nothing of the divine wrath, nothing of the divine criterion of right and good.

This is heady doctrine, Belloc knows. "A happy world, such as the world of children, or any society of men who have still preserved the general health of the soul -- such a society may be found in many mountain valleys -- needs none of this salt for the curing and the preservation of morals." But most societies are filled with the evil that occasions irony, from the poets and the old men who have known some wisdom.

But, perhaps too close to home, what about a generally corrupt society, one that enacts the violations of the commandments as its good deeds, as its rights? "There is a last use for irony, or rather a last aspect of it, which this general irony of nature and nature's God suggests: I mean that irony which can only appeal in the letters of a country where corruption has gone so far that the mere truth is vivid with ironical power." We can live in a society in which even the statement of the Commandments is ironical, since their very statement speaks against what is going on everywhere.

Belloc concludes with a penetrating sentence: "No man possessed of irony and using it has lived happily; nor has any man possessing and using it died without having done great good to his fellows and secured a singular advantage to his own soul." No doubt there is something autobiographical in these powerful lines of Belloc. He did not suffer fools lightly, but he did enjoy them. But he hated evil and was not afraid to call it such, even when he had to speak ironically about it, even when, even today, when we read him, we see that he speaks to God when he refuses to call evil anything other than it is.

Belloc did not live a happy life in many ways. But he did great good to his fellows and secured a "singular advantage to his own soul" because the evil in things was not allowed to pass unspoken. "How false it is to say that vengeance and the hatred of evil men are in themselves evil." What Belloc added to the normal wounds that irony is intended to inflict on evil doings is wit and laughter, the two things the mind in moral and intellectual error can least stand to hear directed to itself.

From Schall on Belloc, Unpublished, 1997.

James V. Schall S.J.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Walk - Saturday the 18th of May.

This is advance notice of a walk in, and around, Gumber Corner on Saturday the 18th of May. We will be meeting at the George Inn, in Eartham, at 11. From there we will be walking to Gumber Corner. Gumber was Belloc's favourite walk and he mentions it in Sonnets and Verse (1923):

Lift up your hearts in Gumber, laugh the Weald
And you most ancient Valley of Arun sing.
Here am I homeward from my wandering,
Here am I homeward and my heart is healed.
If I was thirsty, I have heard a spring.
If I was dusty, I have found a field.

There will be picnic at Gumber Corner and the walk will resume down the old Roman Road of Stane Street. In the evening, from about 8, there will be a folk music session in the George which is a splendid establishment.

For those of you who would like to attend, and will be travelling down from London, there will be a mini-bus leaving from Clapham at 9 on Saturday morning. If you would like to book a space, on the bus, please e-mail me at:


We would also request that people e-mail us, if you intend to participate, so that we can make you aware of any last minute alterations. Please do, also, advise if you intend to eat at the pub later. If you are dining, please feel free to bring an instrument and, or, a voice for the folk session. 

For those of you who would prefer to travel by public transport the nearest station is Chichester where you could get the number 99 from Chichester Cathedral (15 minutes). 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

"When that I was but a little tiny boy.......", wrote the Bard, but this little tale really happened!

It just so happens that I was out walking in the countryside with some hounds, a few weeks ago, and I got chatting to George Judd. The conversation turned to Sussex and, inevitably, Belloc. This was a most fortuitous encounter, but I will allow George to explain further:

"When that I was but a little tiny boy.......", wrote the Bard, but this little tale really happened! 

I was born in 1948 at a farmhouse a mile away from Kingsland. My parents were good friends of HB, whose former secretary before the war, incidentally, was my Mother's elder sister, and we all kept up the friendship with Rex and Eleanor Jebb, his daughter and son-in-law. We moved away on my arrival, (being the third child the house became too small!) and acquired an early Georgian manor house near Salisbury, in the area where my Father's family lived as far back as the early C15th to the present day.

When I was about 2 or 3, my Mother and I went to re-visit Shipley. I recall almost nothing of the visit. But I was permitted to wander about the house alone, and found myself at one end of a very long passage. My sojourn there lasted about 5 seconds, because I soon saw an apparition at the far end of the passage in the shape of a very old man with a large white beard. But that was no apparition, but HB in the flesh. Needless to say, I was terrified, and fled immediately into my Mother's arms. My fears were assuaged, of course, but the memory has never left me. Those of you who read this, (anyone?), if you know Kingsland, will probably realise that the very long passage in question is in fact only about 2 yards long! Such are child-hood memories distorted!

The word "celebrity" in recent years, has been grossly devalued. The only real celebrity I have been in contact with professionally is a Nobel prize winner! I think HB ranks at that level, far far above those who can kick a ball with great accuracy or sing a popular song. I regularly quote his Cautionary Verses to my clients and others, and HB's inscribed copy to my parents is a great treasure.

George Judd

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Paying homage to Hilaire Belloc's brief essay, “A Few Kind Words to Mammon"...

The Vitality of Mammon in the Decline of a State

Dr. Robert D. Hickson 

The historic Christian Faith and the historic reality of Christian culture – Christendom – from the outset rebuked with severity, and aptly punished, those who “trafficked in spiritual things.” The hucksters of Simony and Usury were condemned and often shunned, because the things of the spirit were understood to be qualitative matters, and quantitative judgments did not apply.
The essential principle is that “there is an inherent incommensurability between Spirit and Mammon.” There is no common measure – no fungibility – between Spirit and Money, or the Inordinate Rule and Love of Money. This distinction is still somewhat preserved in the Academic differentiation of the Liberal Arts (Artes Liberales) from the Practical or Servile Arts (Artes Serviles); and also in the incommensurate differentiation between an Honorarium (as a gracious recompense for an intrinsically unrepayable debt of gratitude) and a Wage (due in justice).
Mammon itself – not just “the Mammon of Iniquity” – was therefore seen to be a disordered desire (libido) or destructive (and self-destructive) concupiscence. Mammon was, also, often personified as an idol, or a false god, in various admonitory Parables and even in lighter Satires and forms of playful Humor.
The exuberances and consequences of Mammon – both in individuals and in the ethos of their larger societies or dominant plutocracies – have often been deftly presented through Moral Comedy. Those who have read Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, for example, will know this well. Or, we may consider the impishness of Cervantes' Picaresque Tales and “Sharpsters”, as well as his Don Quixote. Other such works include: Ben Jonson's Volpone; Molière's Tartuffe and The Misanthrope; John Dryden's mock-heroic satires like Absalom and Achitophel; Alexander Pope's The Dunciad; and, in the twentieth century, Hilaire Belloc's ironic tale, The Mercy of Allah (1922).
This last tale concerns the Ninth-Century A.D. adventures (and misadventures) of Mahmoud the Merchant, the wealthiest man in the Baghdad Caliphate, and his corrupting instructions to his impecunious brother's seven children, telling them, with serene pride, how he made all of his Money, often through swindling and the other arts of lying! (Mahmoud the Merchant was, it should be noted, the ninth-century contemporary of those other Missionary Brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, who are, along with Saint Benedict, the Patrons of Europe!)
When such literature of Moral Comedy is forgivingly generous and truly good, then a Moral “Course Correction” is thereby effected in its audience through its artistic “Comic Catharsis” (as distinct from a darker Tragic one). For we come to see and shun some of our own baser inclinations or temptations. Such a purification often comes by way of laughter and the condignly embarrassing or self-sabotaging actions of the fictional characters involved. The cathartic effect of comedy is especially enhanced by the exquisite irony of its language.
Hilaire Belloc's brief essay, “A Few Kind Words to Mammon,”1 will exemplify and support such a view, and perhaps also chasten the spreading Mammonite Ethos to be seen today, for example, in the current and growing Privatization and Outsourcing of American National Security. This includes the Privatization of the Military and the New “Security Services,” and the growing formation of a Neo-Feudal Order of Merchant-Banker-Paramilitary Companies, analogous to the British East India Company, which was an effective (though shady) instrument of the historic British Empire once upon a time.
Today's Mercenaries are often called “Corporate Warriors” or “Private Military Companies” and they also have a “trans-national reach” with their new technologies, as well as a fearsome capacity for very disturbing “global effects.” Indeed, the increasing steps now being made towards a “North American Union,” to include a new currency, “the Amero,” recall to us the grand-strategic operations of the British East India Company and its own Private Militias and Financial Schemes, even in the trafficking of drugs (not only to China!).
In his multi-volume work, A Military History of the Western World, Major General G.F.C. Fuller wrote about the British East India Company, and about its prosperous merchant-bankers and paramilitary (mercenary) forces. He also showed how, especially in the Nineteenth Century, “Mammon now strode into supremacy to become the unchallenged god of the Western world” and, for almost 200 years, had brought about “the economic serfdom of the Oriental world.”2
Further commenting on this strategic system of “merchant princes and adventurers” and the “complex system of credit” and manipulated debt-bondage that “sprang up,” General Fuller says:
Thus a system [especially in England from 1693-1694 onwards] was devised whereby the prosperity of the future was underwritten in order to ease the poverty of the present, and war was henceforth founded on unrepayable debt. The banker merchants of London steadily gained in political power over the landed interests, and, therefore, increasingly into their hands went the destinies of the nation and the Empire, whose frontiers had become the oceans and the seas.3
So, too, is it the case today with the operation of Mammon and the system of Unrepayable Debt, as it is increasingly to be seen in the “Emerging American Imperium” with its own new strategic system (and Arcana Imperii) of Private Military Companies and “Security Services.” Some of these “Special Operations Forces” are explicitly in contact with foreign groups of “Narco-Guerrillas” and their “Overlords;” and some of them are in the service of High Finance and their associated Energy- and -Strategic Minerals Cartels, or other Managerial Elites and Guiding Oligarchies.4 (The mere salary – without perquisites – of a current Vice-President of one such Private Military Company, someone personally known to me, is $ 750,000.00 per year – a very good portion, some would say, of discretionary and useful Mammon! As such companies have often explicitly said, “War for us is good business.”)
As we may better come to see, Belloc's self-irony and irony of language are instructive and high-spirited and suffused with charm and surprise. He will approach his great enemy, Mammon, and the servants of Mammon with the deft weapon of Irony.
H.W. Fowler's general definition of Irony is still the best one known to me:
Irony is a form of utterance that postulates a double audience, consisting of one party that hearing shall hear and shall not understand, and another party that, when more is meant than meets the ear, is aware of that more and of the outsiders' incomprehension.5
And this essential “double audience” applies also to the “special senses” of irony, such as “Socratic irony,” “dramatic irony,” and “the irony of Fate.”6 Through Belloc's deft use of his Ironical Narrator, he will try to obscure the comprehension of his audience, in order to surprise them at the end and to give insight by way of indirection.
Belloc's good friend, G.K. Chesterton, once wrote, with characteristic modesty, that “we are not generous enough to write great satire.”7 But Belloc was – and so was Chesterton himself! And Chesterton then adds, for our reflection, an insight more:
To write great satire, to attack a man so that he feels the attack and half acknowledges its justice, it is necessary to have a certain intellectual magnanimity which realises the merits of the opponent as well as his defects. This is, indeed, only another way of putting the simple truth that in order to attack an army we must know not only its weak points, but also its strong points.8
In Belloc's own essay we shall see, in the words of Chesterton, “how a great satirist approaches a great enemy”9: namely the great Mammon, who has a formidable power of seduction and corruption.
We who are sometimes ourselves the target of good satire, Chesterton says, are profoundly affected, and in a special way: “We might be angry at a libel because it is false, but at a satire because it is true.”10
What will we come to say of Belloc's own ironic treatment of Mammon and of the servants of Mammon? Or, is his artful indirection and cautionary charm to be ignored or condescendingly dismissed for its “lack of seriousness”?
At the outset, Belloc introduces us to a companion of his, and a man of purported discernment:
A friend of mine once wrote a parable .... But in its verbal form it was something like this .... A number of candidates were offered what they would choose. But they could choose only one thing each. The first chose health. And the second, beauty. And the third, virtue. And the fourth, form. And the fifth, ticklishness, which means an active sense. And the sixth, forgetfulness. And the seventh, honesty. And the eighth, immunity from justice. And the ninth, courage. And the tenth, experience. And the eleventh, the love of others for him. And the twelfth, his love for others. But, the thirteenth (they were thirteen, including Judas) chose money. And he chose wisely, for in choosing this, all the others were added to him.11
As in the case of Jonathan Swift's ironical (and often irrational and increasingly unravelling) “Narrative Personas” (in Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, and others), Belloc's own narrative persona gives us further dubious hints about his suspect Peremptory Unwisdom:
If ever I complete that book which I began in the year 1898 called “Advice to a Young Man” (I was twenty-eight years of age at the moment I undertook it) it will there be apparent by example, closely reasoned argument, and (which is more convincing than all) rhetoric, that Money is the true source of every delight, satisfaction and repose.12
Not at all, however, does he “advise the young to seek money in amounts perpetually extending.”13 Rather, he says: “I advise the young (in this my uncompleted book) to regulate their thirst for money most severely.”14
For, he said – and does yet still – that “Great sums of money ... are only to be obtained by risking ruin, and of a hundred men that run the risk ninety-nine get the ruin and only one the money.”15 Such was – is yet still – his Adamantine Cautionary Advice!
Nevertheless, he immediately adds – lest we be distracted and confused – his apt and emphatic (not to say hyperbolic) reassurance:
But money as a solid object; money, pursued, accumulated, possessed, enjoyed, bearing fruit: that is the captain good of human life.16
When people say that money is only worth what it will purchase, and that it will purchase only certain things, they invariably make a category of certain material things which it will purchase .... and then its power is exhausted. These fools leave out two enormous chapters – the biggest chapters of the lot. They leave out the services of other men [like Mercenary Soldiers], always purchasable. And they leave out the souls of other men often purchasable. With money in a sufficient amount you can purchase any service, and with money you can purchase many individual souls. Now, that is important.17
First, we must consider the especially advantageous owning of a newspaper, for example, and then consider “the purchasing of services with money,” inasmuch as the Narrator now reveals his personal knowledge and wide experience of such things:
I have known very many extremely rich men whose writing was insignificant – never persuasive or enduring in effect. The greater part of them cannot write for more than a few minutes without breaking down. Just as an elderly man cannot play Rugby football for more than a few minutes or so without breaking down. But they can hire men to write. And they do .... Often enough have I had a pleasant talk with one of these serfs in private when his daily task was done ... concerning the vices of his master [or Neo-Feudal Media Overlord] and the follies which he (the serf) had had to defend with his pen. But to be able to purchase the services of men thus ... is a category ridiculously neglected by those who pretend that money brings nothing but material enjoyment. It brings, for instance, immunity from the criminal law. At least it does to-day.18
For, how many men, says he, do you know who “have been sent to prison during your own lifetime while possessed (not after having possessed) of” Great Wealth?19
Our Narrator then cheerfully moves on to the second neglected category where Money is of great advantage, namely in the purchasing of souls:
But if money can purchase services it can also, with less certitude, but on a very large scale, purchase those other little things we noted – the souls of men. Here there is a distinction.20
For, he adds:
You only purchase a soul when, by the action of your money, you corrupt an individual. I do not say “corrupt him beyond all salvation,” but, at any rate, beyond any remaining desire for salvation .... When by the action of money you make a man fall into certain habits [especially by way of subjection to his overmastering vices] which at last become his character, you are purchasing a soul.21
Further distinctions are now required to establish the Narrator's desired meaning:
I say that money, acting thus [to promote their corruption and men's moral vices], purchases souls. It purchases souls not only in regardant, but in gross. In regardant, I may explain, means “as regards the particular relation between one soul and its purchaser,” while in gross means [the purchase of souls] “of the world in general.” Thus a man may be a serf regardant when he is a serf to a particular lord [e. g., to a Media Lord, or a Lord of High Finance, or of a Private Military Company], but not a serf in his general status. Or he may be a serf in gross, that is, a serf to anybody who comes across him .... And still more is there a coward regardant and a coward in gross. For instance, a man may be a general coward, and that is being a coward in gross, or he may be a particular coward in the matter of riding a particular horse, and then he is only a coward regardant. I say, then, that the power of your money to purchase souls may be in gross or regardant. It may purchase a particular soul, in which case, God help you!22
If, however, your money would only have “a general effect upon ... the generality of mankind, for whom I postulate souls,” then, “in this case you are not perhaps very much to blame. It is rather their fault than yours.”23 Nonetheless, in a certain way, our Narrator adds, “you are worshipped for your money,” not unlike “the worship men give to their country,” and we cannot justly or validly “shuffle out of this valuable truth” merely by pointing out a few exceptions.24
For, in support of this point, we will observe that
The ruck of men with large fortunes are respected for all those things which money is supposed to bring – justice, kindliness, humour, temperance, courage and judgment. And even the very few rich men who are not respected are still admired for some mystical quality. “There must have been something in that man for him to have made half a million [English Pounds] before he was forty.”25
The Narrator – suddenly slipping a little, and admitting that “I am here deliberately the devil's advocate, and I know that I have not a leg to stand on” – shows himself to be a coward, too, and dares not to say the truth about this very same Disrespected Millionaire, namely that “there must have been something lacking in other men for this guttersnipe [our Millionaire] to have got so much of them,” i.e., by way of cunning exploitation or extortion.26 Belloc thereby subtly discloses his Narrator to be in fact, the Devil's Advocate in Defense of Mammon! It is a deliberate slip that points to Belloc's deeper purpose and prepares us for his unexpected ending.
However, were our Narrator to have made such a frank and open-hearted accusation against “Dives” (as, for example, against the biblical “Rich Man”), he himself concedes that he would thereby have had “no leg to stand on”; no valid ground of support for his moral position. For, he emphasizes:
If you are possessed of great wealth, I say you are, in a plutocracy, a great man. You are both loved and feared; everywhere respected and also admired. Your good qualities are as enduring as stone; your evil qualities are either transformed into something slight and humorous or sublimated till they disappear.27
What is important, once again, is “great wealth,” and he then reminds us, parenthetically:
(Digression: Little wealth is disgusting, like mediocrity in verse. If you are going in for being wealthy you must be very wealthy or not wealthy at all.)28
But, as a man of Great Wealth, you have also other advantages, especially a solid self-admiration and other improved feelings about yourself!
Something goes on within yourself. Because you are respected and admired you become more solid. You envisage your faults sanely. You are far from morbid. If you have the manhood to correct your failings, you correct them temperately. You have poise and grasp. If, more wisely, you indulge your foibles – why, that is a pardonable recreation. Your judgments are well-founded. You are tempted to nothing rash or perilous. You may be led, for the relief of tedium, into some slight eccentricity or other, but that will give you more initiative and a strong personality: not exactly genius, for genius is a zigzag thing, burning and darting, unsuited to the true greatness of wealth. It has not enough ballast and repose.29
(In this pleasant context, we might recall C.S. Lewis' later, witty Screwtape Letters (1942) and the advice that Uncle Screwtape gives to the Minor Devil, his cousin Wormwood, for the temptation of man and for his benumbing self-satisfied “consolation,” so as to remain slothfully stuck in his own state of sin.)
Even now, however, our wise Narrator had not completely conveyed what is most important for a man of the “true greatness of wealth” and of his active patronage or corrupting power. For, indeed, he says:
What is most important of all, those whose permanent affection you ardently desire, those whose good you crave, those whose respect you hunger for like food, will all of them at once respond to your desire if money backs it.30
Belloc's now more obviously ironical (and increasingly self-revealing) Narrator clearly shows that he, at least, believes in the Commensurability or Fungibility of Money (Mammon) and Spirit. He himself does not appear to see that they are, however, intrinsically incommensurate.
What is going on here? What's Belloc up to?
Concerning such persons who have been condescendingly patronized by the rich and are thereby beholden to them, the Narrator then continues, as follows:
You [Mr. Mammon] can give them what they really need, and you can give it them unexpectedly when they really need it [the Money]. Thus do they associate you with happiness. You, meanwhile, can behave with the leisure that produces their respect. Gratitude will do the rest, or, at any rate, security, and the habit of knowing that from you proceeds so much good.31
And what is the kind of good which really proceeds from Mammon and from his beguiling Patronage? It would appear to be, indeed, of a rather great and momentous kind!
Thus does dear Mammon give us half a Paradise on earth and a fine security within [which is sometimes also mistaken for complacency, sloth, and presumption!]. Mammon is an Immediate Salvation. And the price you pay for that Salvation is not so very heavy after all: only a creeping gloom; a despair, turning iron and threatening to last forever.32
With his devilishness, the Narrator finally reveals himself more fully, and with a surprise and trenchant parody, to include his own especially emphatic italics!
So the whole thing may be summed up in a sentence that runs in my head more or less like this: “Make unto you friends of the Mammon of iniquity that they may receive you into their everlasting habitations.” My italics.33
The lure of Mammon, as he suggests, likely leads to Hell!
What seems, therefore, to be the vitality and expansiveness of Mammon really implies a constriction and a decline, if not immediately a fall. Moreover, a Mammonite State also implies the Decline of a State. This is another topic on which Belloc wrote an incisive essay, in 1911, but without any playful irony! He seemed then to be writing especially about the British Aristocracy (Oligarchy) which he already saw to be quite corrupted, even before World War I.
In this 1911 essay, “The Decline of a State,”34 Hilaire Belloc had noted, among other things, a plutocracy's – or oligarchy's – “capacity or appetite for illusion” and the consequent and complementary spread of a “lack of civic aptitude,” and also the cumulative, dissolving effects of general “avarice” and of a general “fear” throughout society.35 For example, he says:
An oligarchic State, or aristocracy, as it is called, will decline principally through two agencies which are, first, illusion, and secondly, lack of civic aptitude. For an oligarchic state tends very readily to illusion, being conducted by men who live at leisure [often with Mammon], satisfy their passions, are immune from the laws, and prefer to shield themselves from reality. Their capacity or appetite for illusion will rapidly pervade those below them, for in an aristocracy [or plutocratic oligarchy] the rulers are subjected to a kind of worship from the rest of the community, and thus it comes about that aristocracies in their decline accept fantastic histories of their own past, conceive victory possible without armies, wealth to be an indication of ability, and national security to be a gift rather than a product of the will [i.e., the truthfully and adequately informed will].36
Concurrent with this kind of decline among the elites, there is the apathy or incapacity of the citizenry (who are sometimes, regrettably, merely serfs and numb subjects):
Such communities further fail from the lack of civic aptitude, as was said above, which means that they [the oligarchs] deliberately elect to leave the mass of citizens incompetent and irresponsible for generations, so that, when any more strain is upon them, they look at once [as Dostoievsky said] for some men [some Providers] other than themselves to relieve them, and are incapable to corporate action upon their own account.37
For, they have been “infantilized,” as it were, and underexercized; their faculties have atrophied and their will and trust for combined actions have been broken or even paralyzed.
Such perils as “indifference” and “ignorance” in “a great State” come to permeate the citizenry, as well as the elites, he says, whereas in “a small one” [i.e., in a small State] the perils of “faction” and “private spite” more easily prevail.38
With the help of a French scholar, we can apply Belloc's insights about the decline of oligarchies also to the case of modern democracies – and hence to the current and expanding United States, or to the new North American Union. This application will be clear, especially when we consider the candid analysis of François Furet, the distinguished French Academician and leftist intellectual historian, as presented in his book on the French Revolution and on the related historiography of Augustin Cochin (1876-1916). Furet forthrightly writes:
Modern democracy depends upon a hidden oligarchy [oligarchie cachée], which is contrary to its principles but indispensable to its functioning.39
That is to say, Modern Democracy is based upon a deception.
I consider François Furet's illuminating insight to be almost perfect, except that I would change the word “oligarchy” from the singular to the plural number, hence “hidden oligarchies” (oligarchies cachées). For, it is true, that there are acute – and often very destructive – rivalries among the oligarchs themselves and their own differentiated and ambitious “managerial elites.”
To return to Belloc. We must also consider the operation of other permeating vices in a time of decline, namely during the decline of a particular State, says Belloc:
In the decline of a State, two vices will immediately appear and grow: those are Avarice [hence Mammon] and Fear; and men will more readily accept the imputation of Avarice than of Fear [which often implies Poltroonery or Cowardice], for Avarice is the less despicable of the two – yet in fact Fear will be by far the strongest passion of the time.40
By Avarice, Belloc does not mean “a mere greed of gain,” but rather “a sort of taking for granted and permeation of the mere love of money” – or, once again, the denial of the intrinsic incommensurability of Spirit and Mammon: an incommensurability which is, we must remember, at the very heart of true, unattenuated Christianity, and is the foundation of historic Christendom, or the Culture of the Faith.
By way of clarifying contrast, the corrupting orientation towards Avarice and Money, says Belloc, results in the situation where even history itself
will be explained by it [i.e., by Money], wars judged by their booty or begun in order to enrich a few, love between men and women wholly subordinated to it, especially among the rich: wealth made a test for responsibility and great salaries invented and paid to those who serve the State [e.g., the Upper Servers or the Praetorians]. This vice will also be apparent in the easy acquaintance of all who are possessed of wealth and their segregation from the less fortunate, for avarice cleaves society flatways, keeping the scum of it quite clear of the middle [the middle classes], the middle of it quite clear of the dregs [like Marx's “Lumpenproletariat”], and so forth.41
It is a sort of segmented or three-tiered “system,” like “the Brain Lords, the Upper Servers, and the Lost” (which are the dubious words of Michael Vlahos in his analysis of “the Information Age”); or like the old Gnostic Hierarchy itself of “Pneumatikoi, Psychoi, and Hyloi,” the last of which are essentially the “Untermenschen” or “the Lost.”
Moreover, Belloc's analysis continues:
It is a further mark of avarice in its last stages that the rich are surrounded with lies in which they themselves believe.42
More important, however, is the matter of the permeation of Fear:
Of Fear in the decline of a State it may be said that it is so much the master passion of such decline [to include the further vice of cowardice or poltroonery] as to eat up all others. Coming by travel from a healthy State to one diseased, Fear is the first point you take. Men dare not print or say what they feel of the judges [as well as certain powerful “minority groups” and elites], the public governors, the action of the police [or counter-terrorist SWAT Teams], the controllers of fortunes [High Finance] and of news. This Fear will have about it something comic, and modifying with laughter the lament of the patriot.43
Indeed, says Belloc, concerning a certain corrupt but “powerful minister” of the State, it is always somewhat intimidating to criticize him,
But under the influence of Fear, to tell the least little truth about him will put a whole assembly into a sort of blankness. This vice has for its most laughable effect the raising of a whole host of phantoms [including phanton warriors and a variety of terrorists], and when a State is so far gone that civic Fear is quite normal to the citizens, then you will find them blenching with terror at a piece of print, a whispered accusation [e.g., “homophobic,” “anti-Semite,” “pre-Conciliar”].44
This description of the new, perverse “normality” reminds one of G.K. Chesterton's keen insight from his 1920 book, The Superstition of Divorce, where he proposes the distinguishing mark of Modernity. He says that we now “suffer from the modern and morbid weakness of always sacrificing the normal to the abnormal.”45
Recalling Belloc's ironical argumentation in “A Few Kind Words to Mammon,” and the everlasting destiny of Mammon's own friends which our Belloc presents – especially those corrupt and dependent “friends of the Mammon of Iniquity” – we may better appreciate, also, the end of his essay “The Decline of the State”:
Moneylenders under this influence [i.e., “the influence of Fear” and the widespread “civic Fear”] have the greatest power, next after them, blackmailers of all kinds, and next after these [are] eccentrics who may blurt or break out [i.e., blurt out the truth or break out of the bondage, so spontaneously and so unexpectedly!]. Those who have least power in the decline of a State, are priests, soldiers, the mothers of many children, the lovers of one woman, and saints.46
Léon Bloy's novel, The Woman Who Was Poor (La Femme Pauvre – 1897), begins with the shocking words: “This place stinks of God.” (These are the words of one of the novel's minor characters, a very base character, indeed.) But, the novel's final words are also trenchant and unexpected: “The only sadness is not to be a Saint.”
“But genius and sanctity do not survive except by suffering.” (So wrote Evelyn Waugh in his 1959 biography of Monsignor Ronald Knox, the Catholic priest who was himself one of Hilaire Belloc's literary executors.47 )
What is our choice?
What are our standards? (The standard of Mammon? The standard of Marcion (the Gnostic)? The standard of Mohammed? The standard of Messianic Democracy? The standard of Christ?)
In 1961, two years later, after his book on the saintly and learned Monsignor Knox, Evelyn Waugh published Unconditional Surrender, the final volume of his Sword of Honor Trilogy, his three poignant novels about World War II, in which Waugh himself had been a Commando Officer and Parachutist, after first having been in the Royal Marines.48
Near the beginning of Unconditional Surrender, the protagonist's father, Gervase Crouchback, wrote a letter to his son, Guy, dated 20 September 1943. This serene and saintly father had known many sorrows himself, including the loss of his wife and two sons, one of them killed in World War I, the other dying of starvation and madness.
In his letter to his son, shortly after Guy's recent visit to him on the seacoast, Mr. Crouchback commented further upon Captain Guy Crouchback's inordinately critical remarks concerning the Papal Concordat which had been made with the Italian State of Benito Mussolini (the Lateran Treaty), which Guy had thought excessively compromising of the Church and defectively resistant to the State, and even unprincipled.
Gervase Crouchback wrote:
My Dear Guy,
I haven't been happy about our conversation on your last evening [of your visit]. I said too much or too little. Now I must say more ....
Most of the Romans we know kept it up, sulking [i.e., kept up their hate for the invading Piedmontese and other interlopers]. But that isn't the Church. The Mystical Body doesn't strike atttitudes and stand on its dignity. It accepts suffering and injustice. It is ready to forgive at the first hint of compunction.
When you spoke of the Lateran Treaty did you consider how many souls may have been reconciled and have died at peace as a result of it? How many children may have been brought up in the faith who might have lived in ignorance? Quantitative judgements don't apply. If only one soul was saved, that is full compensation for any amount of “loss of face.”49
Throughout the final volume, again and again, Guy Crouchback remembers these words, especially his father's final words “Quantitative judgements don't apply.” And these words from the heart of his father later led Guy Crouchback himself to save and sustain the life of a child who would have been otherwise “born unwanted.” (That is to say, “born unwanted in 1944”50, amidst the devastation of war.)
At his father's funeral, moreover,
As the nuns sang the Dies Irae with all its its ancient deprecations of divine wrath, Guy knew that his father was joining his voice with theirs:
Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus
Supplicanti parce, Deus...
That would be his prayer [the prayer of humility of his beloved father], who saw, and had always seen, quite clearly the difference in kind between the goodness of the most innocent of humans and the blinding, ineffable goodness of God. “Quantitative judgements don't apply.” As a reasoning man, Mr. Crouchback had known that he was honourable, charitable and faithful; a man who by all the formularies of his faith should be confident of salvation; as a man of prayer he saw himself as totally unworthy of divine notice. To Guy his father was the best man, the only entirely good man, he had ever known. 51
Mr. Crouchback had his own very special qualities of resistance in those times of disorder during the protracted and devastating war; and he possessed, as well, many charming and enduring eccentricities!
What will be our resistance? Our moral and strategic resistance to huckstering Mammon and its intrusive culture today?
And what will be our serene (yet daring) eccentricity? Our resilient spirit amidst the Decline of a State in America and our pluck amidst its decomposition even unto the Tumescence (or Tumor) of Empire.
For in times of disorder and circumambient decline, as Belloc noted, certain kinds of spontaneous eccentrics are not so much paralyzed with fear, nor terrorized as others are; and they somehow often just blurt out the candid truth and, with winsome robustness, break out from the bondage and asphyxiation of untruth.
For Mammon is an idol, a false god.
And the Human Spirit and Mammon (Money) are incommensurate.


© 2007 Robert D. Hickson

Robert Hickson graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, in June 1964, and was assigned to Southeast Asia. After one year, he became a U.S. Army Special Forces Officer and earned his “3-prefix” as a “Green Beret,” after having already completed Parachute School and Ranger School and certain forms of Naval Commando Training.

After tours in Viet Nam and elsewhere in Asia, he taught at the J.F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center as the Head of the East Asian Seminar and Instructor in Military History and Irregular Warfare.

He acquired his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Classics (Greco-Roman) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with an emphasis on Ancient Philosophy and Medieval Literature (to include Theological Literature).

For seven years, he was Professor and Chairman of the Literature and Latin Department at Christendom College, leaving shortly thereafter to return to Military and Strategic-Cultural Studies.

He was a Professor at the Joint Military Intelligence College (former Defense Intelligence College), a graduate school in the U.S. Intelligence Community at the Defense Intelligence Agency (D.I.A.) in Washington, D.C. Among other things, he taught Foreign Area and National Security Studies, Military History and Strategy, as well as Moral Philosophy.

He was then invited to the Air Force Academy for four years as a Professor in the William Simon Chair of Strategy and Culture, teaching in several academic departments.

He concluded his Federal Service as a Professor of Strategic and Cultural Studies, as well as Military History and National Security Studies, at the Joint Special Operations University in Florida, a part of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Comparative cultural and strategic-historical studies constituted a unifying theme in these various forms of teaching over the years.

1 Hilaire Belloc, “A Few Kind Words to Mammon,” from his essay-collection entitled On (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1923), pp. 52-59.
2 G.F.C. Fuller, A Military History of the Western World – Volume II (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1955), p. 242.
3 Ibid., pp. 241 and 155 – my emphasis added.
4 The author has written on this topic elsewhere, in detail.
5 H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (second edition) (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 305.
6 Ibid., pp. 305-306.
7 G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1905), p. 48.
8 Ibid. – my emphasis added.
9 Ibid., p. 53
10 Ibid.
11 H. Belloc, “A Few Kind Words to Mammon,” p. 52 – my emphasis added. The italicized “money” is in the original text.
12 Ibid., pp. 52-53. Belloc's hero, the rumbustious and indefatigable William Cobbett (1763-1835) also wrote a feisty book, entitled Advice to Young Men (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1887).
13 Ibid., p. 53.
14 Ibid. This Narrator later says, however: “Little wealth is disgusting, like mediocrity in verse. If you are going in for being wealthy you must be very wealthy or not wealthy at all” (p. 58).
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid. – my emphasis added.
17 Ibid., pp. 53-54 – my emphasis added.
18 Ibid., pp. 54-55 – my emphasis added.
19 Ibid., p. 55.
20 Ibid. – my emphasis added.
21 Ibid. – my emphasis added. “Character,” be it noted, is usually considered to be a specific (if not unique) combination of one's virtues and vices, not the vices alone! The Narrator, it would seem, misses this point!
22 Ibid., pp. 56-57 – my emphasis added.
23 Ibid., p. 57.
24 Ibid.
25 Ibid., pp. 57-58 – my emphasis added.
26 Ibid., p. 58 – my emphasis added.
27 Ibid.
28 Ibid.
29 Ibid., pp. 55-59 – my emphasis added.
30 Ibid., p. 59 – my emphasis added.
31 Ibid. – my emphasis added. The italicized word, “you,” is to be found in the original text.
32 Ibid. – my emphasis added.
33 Ibid – my emphasis added.
34 Hilaire Belloc, “The Decline of a State,” from his anthology, First and Last (London: Methuen and Company, Ltd., 1912 – second edition), pp. 237-242.
35 Ibid., p. 238.
36 Ibid., pp. 237-238 – my emphasis added.
37 Ibid., pp. 237-238 – my emphasis added.
38 Ibid., p. 238.
39 François Furet, Penser la Révolution française (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), Part II, chapter 3 – “Augustin Cochin: la théorie du jacobinisme, p. 241. An alternative fuller translation is: “There is in all democratic power a fortiori in all pure democratic power, a hidden oligarchy, at the same time contrary to its principles and indispensable to its functioning.”
40 H. Belloc, “The Decline of the State,” p. 240.
41 Ibid., pp. 240-241 – my emphasis added.
42 Ibid., p. 241 – my emphasis added.
43 Ibid. – my emphasis added. The acronym, “SWAT Teams,” means “Special Weapons and Tactics” Teams.
44 Ibid., p. 242 – my emphasis added.
45 G.K. Chesterton, The Superstition of Divorce (London: Chatto and Windus, 1920), p. 43 – my emphasis added.
46 “The Decline of a State,” p. 242 – my emphasis added. (My friend, Dr. John Haas, kindly reminded me of these piercing words, in a recent personal note, and thereby inspired many additional reflections.)
47 Evelyn Waugh, Monsignor Ronald Knox (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1959), p. 14.
48 This third volume of the novels was, in its American edition, given an alternative title, The End of the Battle.
49 Evelyn Waugh, Unconditional Surrender: the Conclusion of Men at Arms and Officers and Gentlemen (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1967 - first edition, 1961), pp. 16-17 – my emphasis added.
50 Ibid., p. 151 – my emphasis added.
51 Ibid., pp. 64-65 – my emphasis added.