Belloc, blood, and Britain
I read a chapter from Hilaire Belloc’s Europe and the Faith (1920) and found myself angry. The problem with Belloc is that he was a believer and I cannot stand believers—Belloc believed in Catholicism, but he could as well have believed in Marxism, progressivism, Hitlerism, or Protestantism. It was his belief that annoyed me, not the belief itself—of course, he would himself have been proud to be a believer.
The problem was that it was quite clear that Belloc started the book with a definite notion in mind. There was no pretence that he would let his observations and discoveries guide him—no, rather, he would go to reality and impose his beliefs upon it; and if reality contradicted his views, so much the worse for reality.
In the chapter I read, Belloc wants to demonstrate that the “true England” is a continuity with the Roman Empire; and to do so he has to deny, pretty much, that the English (Anglo-Saxons) exist as a race—and deny that the Roman settlements in Britain were ever abandoned. His foils are “Germanists”, being synonymous with both Protestants and, I suppose, Wagner-type intellectuals in the 1920s. Belloc has to defend this idea because his thesis in the book is “Europe is the faith, the faith is Europe”—and so he has to demonstrate an unbroken link in Britain with the Roman Empire as continued in the form of the Catholic Church.
Now, I don’t know if this is so but I doubt it simply on the basis of probability (it seems likely the Roman settlements were abandoned) and also because Belloc is so tendentious about it—he is so unopen to genuine enquiry on the subject that I tend towards the view that the opposite was the case. He also raised my suspicions because I caught him in a sophistical argument used by progressives today to deny that race exists—namely, the assertion that there is so much individual variation within a group it is senseless to call it “a group” (in this case, the Anglo-Saxons).
Further, ironically, Belloc deploys an argument that progressives on Wikipedia have used to deny the Reconquista took place (namely that Muslim mercenaries sometimes fought for Christian kings and vice versa; ergo, there was no “Muslim-Christian” conflict that could be called “the Reconquista”). Belloc uses the same argumentation to contend that there were no quarrels between “Britons” and “Anglo-Saxons”—and that the languages were all mixed together anyway, and no “racial question” was involved whatsoever. This is also ironic because it is the same argument used by contemporary progressives to deny “the English” exist—although, as we shall see, it is not so strange (for Belloc, if you think him a reactionary, was not; even though he happily spoke about “England”).
Further, I caught him out with an error in the introduction; he claims in the introduction that “everything European” came from the Roman Empire—architecture, cookery, laws, and so on. Aside from the fact that this position curiously lops Greece off, I know it not to be true—for example, the Romans did not have “0” (that came from India) and “0” has been very important for European civilisation’s development and is integral to it. Hence I felt I had refuted Belloc’s thesis on the first page.
I am willing to agree with the formulation “Europe is the faith, the faith is Europe” in the sense that the Catholic Church is a continuation of the Roman Empire and that it represents the only organised cultural artefact that is Europe qua Europe—the EU is an “anti-Europe”, there is little “European” about it. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say “everything European originated in the Roman Empire”, nor would I say that “Europe” can be reduced to a cultural category—it has racial and geographical components as well.
Belloc’s “golden age” was, as it must be for all Catholics, the Middle Ages (when the Church had absolute power)—and, rather preposterously, Belloc speaks about it as a time when there was unparalleled prosperity and welfare and learning (save the Black Death and the absolute prohibition on intellectual enquiry).
Belloc’s attitude really exemplifies for me the way that Christianity and Islam will never, never accept that race really exists. Belloc does talk about “race” but I think for him it is some vague cultural category, it’s not “in the blood”. In the final analysis, Christianity and Islam are “democratic” universal faiths—they are for everyone and, in the ideal Christian world, “the last will be first”. Yet reality is not like that.
Now you can say these are spiritual ideals and we make do in the interim in a fallen world, but the basic fact is that these faiths, when taken seriously, distort reality—as when Belloc must axiomatically hove in on the “Germanists” and deny the English exist. Belloc chose the Latin epigram “Without authority there is no life” to head Europe and the Faith—yet that Papal authority is ultimately derived from a Roman aristocratic authority built on blood.
Christianity and Islam, even in their residual forms, are problems because they deny reality—Buddhism is the same, it is also a universal democratic faith; its saving grace is that it does not proselytise—so it at least it doesn’t impose its distortions on reality. This is what makes Islam and Christianity so tiresome and rebarbative to most people—they are Semitic religions based on absolute either/or propositions (right/wrong, saved/damned); and they’re garnished with a sensual relation to sex that simultaneously condemns sexuality but also is really into it (in a Sultan’s harem or a Catholic priest eyeing up a choirboy’s silky mouth sort of way).
Christians and Muslims are pains in the ass because it’s their way or the high way—they have “the one truth” and you either accept it and become some glossy-eyed tru-believer for whom everything is “wonderful” (all lies, believers are liars) or you need to be damned (possibly killed). I say Semitic in the broadest sense—it refers to the Arab followers of Muhammad as much as to the Jewish milieu that spawned Jesus.
This attitude is a real problem when said beliefs contradict reality, since, if you’re Belloc, you will self-righteously steamroller other views and feel smug about it. Neither Christianity nor Islam are remotely tolerant—they squash all people who contradict them (and so fight viciously with each other). Similar Semitic beliefs—such as Marxism, progressivism, and feminism (the latter two descended from Christianity)—suffer from the same tendency (even though they delude themselves that they have transcended it because they are non-metaphysical). At heart, every Christian denomination thinks it has “the one truth”—even if their fanaticism is much diminished and they are “ecumenical” and politic with other denominations today—and this “one truth” comes at the expense of reality; and Belloc’s work exemplifies the trend.
It’s an interesting thought that religions are not necessarily against lying. You might think that is so, but it isn’t. Islam allows its believers to lie defensively against its enemies—and Christianity is about “faith, hope, and charity” (nothing about not lying in there; indeed, it might be considered charitable to lie—to spare someone from the harshness). True, Christians must not “bear false witness” but that formulation could easily be taken to be against swearing false testimony in court.
Hence I am not convinced that it is central to Christianity to be honest—even if Satan is the “father of lies” (ambiguity arises because Satan is counterposed to “the truth”—so you may well accept “the truth” and abandon “truthfulness”; i.e. “I have accepted Jesus, Jesus is the truth; therefore, I have renounced the lies”). Indeed, the Jesuits developed the notion of “mental reservation” so that it was permissible to lie in the cause of justice—and Augustine of Hippo noted that some doctors of the Church held it was acceptable to lie to save another man’s life. As with all such activities, what might start out as a lie with a good reason could in the end turn into just “lies”.
I think Belloc exemplifies the whole situation. His work is worthless because it starts from an unquestionable assumption and that assumption will trump anything—even that which directly contradicts it. Hence Belloc is, to me, a “dead man talking”—his deadness comes from his beliefs.
As an aside, you may believe that Belloc and his contemporary GK Chesterton (they were bracketed together as Chester-Belloc) represent “arch-reactionaries”. This is not necessarily so. England had a Catholic revival in the mid-1850s, led by Cardinal Newman, but this was not what it appears to be to moderns (a reactionary movement)—England was already entering decadence then, when young Englishmen from the upper classes signed up to Catholicism they were the same as a Berkeley student in the 1960s who joined the Sri Pali Pali cult and only wore orange robes.
The Catholics had only been emancipated in England in 1830—and they were only allowed to attend elite universities in the early 1870s. To become a Catholic in the 1850s was a daring and transgressive act for a member of the English upper classes—Catholicism was risqué, associated with backward Ireland and superstition; just as Hinduism and Buddhism were, for a mid-20th century Anglo Protestant, associated with “backward and superstitious Asia” until the 1960s. In the 1850s, as recorded by Froude and Schopenhauer, Europe was already in a “Buddhism boom”—and Theosophy would arrive later in the century as a syncretic European popularisation. Europeans have been experimenting with “exotic eastern religions” for a long time—and, for the English, Catholicism was an exotic religion in the 1850s.
Indeed, Chesterton and Belloc were not arch-reactionaries in their fundamentals. Belloc’s mother was an early suffragette and his family were involved in radicalism for decades—Belloc himself was a Liberal who called for land reform and for the break up of the English landed classes. Chesterton’s family had the same background—he converted into Catholicism. Their Catholicism is considered “arch-reactionary” or “fascistic” but both men, in the blood, were progressives. They were experimenters who loved novelty—Catholicism was a novelty for them (it was against the establishment).
It just so happened that the novel religion both men liked had a strong hierarchical aspect, but their instincts, in the blood, were to break up the established order—just as with all liberals they loved cosmopolitan novelty, and in 19th-century England Roman Catholicism was a cosmopolitan novelty. If Belloc and Chesterton were alive today, I can almost guarantee that they would be “refugees welcome here” hipsters and they would have many cute “paradoxical” justifications for their very curious positions. I particularly loathe Chesterton because he was such an obvious fraud; he went on and on about religion but was a complete glutton himself—if he actually took it seriously, he would have restrained himself. He never did because it was all a narcissistic exhibition for him—a chance to countersignal the English establishment with Catholicism when Catholicism was deeply unfashionable.
This explains why Belloc seems to deploy progressive arguments to suggest race does not exist—he was a progressive (in his blood for generations). It doesn’t matter if you put an authoritarian complexion on it—the Catholic Church has had nil influence on England for centuries. Men like Chesterton and Belloc could attack the English establishment—effectively private property—to their absolute satisfaction and still claim to be “for authority” because they deferred to Rome, but in practice Rome’s writ did not run to Britain. It was a larp—a contemporary Communist was more bound by orders from Moscow than Chesterton or Belloc were bound to Rome’s instructions. Meanwhile, what they said in practice amounted to an overthrow of the social order guised as “a defence of authority”. This is why belief is an elusive chimera—blood will out; it’s about what people are, not what they say. Belloc was a big sayer.