Hilaire Belloc’s Elizabethan Commentary

I spoke in a recent post about foundational myths. Intriguingly the foundational myth of Protestant England is centred not on Henry VIII but on his daughter. Elizabeth I, or Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, is Protestant England’s Joan of Arc.

Hilaire Belloc’s Elizabethan Commentary, published in 1942 (and issued in the US as Elizabeth, Creature of Circumstance), is an entertaining hatchet job on this myth. Belloc believed, absolutely correctly, that the Reformation was the key event in European history and he retuned to it again and again. As a result some of the ground covered in this book is also covered in his other books on the subject.
Belloc approaches his task with his usual combative zeal and it follows his usual idiosyncratic approach to history. He has no interest in a connected narrative, or in any narrative at all. That does not mean this is social history in the generally understood sense of the term although there are elements of this. When writing about the past Belloc’s main aim is to capture the spirit of the age with which he is dealing and he does so far more successfully than most modern historians.
As in his other books he stresses the importance of the rising power of the moneyed class and the greed of that class. The Reformation saw the seizure of the abbey lands in England and this despoiling of the Church was on a breath-taking scale. As much as a third of the wealth of the country was involved. Had this wealth remained in the hands of the Crown the English Crown could have been the richest in Europe and subsequent disasters like the Civil War would have been averted. England might have remained a monarchy until the present day. Unfortunately the hapless Tudors allowed all of this wealth to slip through their fingers to enrich the already wealthy. More importantly this represented a fatal shift of power from the Crown to the moneyed class.
In some ways the highlights of the book are Belloc’s many digressions. He has some interesting things to say on the nature of monarchy. 
There’s also a fascinating chapter on torture. This was a fairly uncommon practice prior to the 16th century, became extremely common during that century and then fairly quickly disappeared from the English scene. Belloc stresses that the purpose of torture was not punishment but to extract information. It was widely used in the 16th century because there were so many plots and the government therefore had a very strong incentive to extract information from suspects possibly involved in such plots. In other words governments are inclined to use torture when their own power is threatened. The history of the past hundred years would appear to confirm this, with governments being very willing to use extreme methods to protect their own power.
He makes the further point, often overlooked, that to the 16th century mind it was almost unthinkable to execute a man unless he confessed. Without modern forensic science, and (another very intriguing point) without modern legal cross-examination procedures, it was difficult to establish guilt. The most effective way was to torture a man until he confessed. Torture was considered to be morally preferable to running the risk of executing an innocent man. It’s another example of Belloc’s thesis that you can’t hope to understand history unless you accept that the past really is a foreign country and they really do do things differently there.
Belloc makes no apologies for presenting a Catholic view of English history, as a counter-balance to hundreds of years of anti-Catholic propaganda. In this instance there’s also the need to present some kind of alternative to the myth of Elizabeth I as the great queen, a myth that remained unchallenged in England for centuries. It’s a task that he approaches with relish.

Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World.

My current reading is Julius Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World. It’s heavy going, especially if you limited tolerance for the wilder shores of mysticism, esotericism, magic and the occult. If you persist with it though there are plenty of profound and important insights into the sorry state in which our civilisation has landed itself. The second half of the book in particular is filled with key insights.

Evola’s idea of a revolt against the modern world is breathtakingly radical. In his view things started to go wrong a very very long time ago, and they went wrong in very fundamental ways. And his ideas on tradition are not exactly conventional.
There’s a lot of material to plough through in this book and I remain sceptical of much of it. I really wouldn’t feel in the least bit qualified even to attempt to review this book. There are however a few things that happened to catch my interest as they connect to other things I’ve been reading recently.
The first is his spirited championing of caste systems. Given that egalitarianism has proven to be a dangerous chimaera and that hierarchies are almost certainly both inevitable and necessary in a healthy society, and given that class divisions produce endless futile conflict, a caste system does seem to have its attractions.
The second point that struck me in this book is Evola’s enthusiasm for the ideal of chivalry. This is a little surprising at first in view of Evola’s disdain for Christianity. He argues however that the medieval ideal of chivalry was not entirely Christian in inspiration and that it avoids many of what he sees as the flaws and decadent features of Christianity. Of course it could be objected that chivalry was an ideal that was in all probability seldom practised, at least in a pure form. That doesn’t really matter. The fact that the idea of chivalry existed and that it struck such a powerful chord in the medieval imagination is what’s important.
My own reservations about Christianity are centred on its passive and excessively feminised nature and its unfortunate tendency to encourage the cult of victimology. These regrettable tendencies seemed to be much less evident in medieval Christianity, and the ideal of chivalry did seem to be a way of minimising those negative factors.
Medieval Christianity was a masculine religion that respected women. Such a thing is possible.
There seems to be no question that Christianity has lost its way and that this has been a gradual process that has taken centuries. The Middle Ages was the high water mark for the Christian faith. It’s been all downhill since then.

nationalism, internationalism and globalism

If you’ve ever spent more than five minutes in the dissident right corner of the internet you’ve heard the phrase, “The real political divide today is not between left and right but between nationalism and globalism.” I’ve said it myself.
Are things quite as simple as that? Is nationalism really more organic, more traditional, more healthy, than globalism?
Nationalism is a fairly recent phenomenon. It did not exist in the ancient world, nor in the medieval world. In fact it did not really exist until the mid-17th century. The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 which ended the Thirty Years War marked the formal recognition that nation states were now the effective political units of Europe. And nationalism did not take deep root in the European psyche until the end of the 18th century.
Prior to that there were of course strong local sentiments based on shared language, culture and religion but these had little bearing on the actual political arrangements of Europe. The political unit was the dynastic unit. Insofar as people had political loyalties those loyalties were owed to the local lord and ultimately to the king, or in central Europe they were owed to the local lord, to the prince and ultimately to the emperor. A kingdom could comprise a variety of ethnic groups and cultures and languages and even religions. The boundaries of kingdoms shifted constantly as dynastic marriages split existing political units or caused larger units to coalesce.
You might not speak the same language as your king, you might not belong to the same ethnic group, you might not share his culture or his religion but that did not affect your loyalty.
Prior to the Reformation most (but by no means all) of Europe belonged to a single entity known as Christendom but this was not a political unit. The head of Christendom was the Pope. His spiritual authority existed side by side with the political authority of kings.
Europe functioned perfectly well without nationalism. Multi-ethnic multi-faith multi-cultural political entities such as the empire of the Habsburgs were extremely successful. No modern nation state has lasted as long as the empire of the Habsburgs.
The Europe of the dynastic system and of Christendom had nothing in common with modern nationalism, but at the same time it also had nothing in common with modern globalism. It represents a third option and it is an option that is usually ignored, partly because it most people don’t understand it and partly because it didn’t suit modern political agendas.
It’s also worth pointing out that internationalism as such is by no means identical with globalism. Take for example the European Union. The EU is evil not because it’s internationalist. The idea of European political unity is not inherently evil. The idea of Europe has much to recommend it. The Second World War demonstrated with brutal clarity that European nation states were defenceless against the power and wealth of the United States. If Europe was going to avoid becoming an American colony then some degree of political and economic unity was essential. 
The problem with the EU is not that it’s corrupt and undemocratic (although it is corrupt and undemocratic). The problem is that it’s run by people who hate Europeans, hate European culture and are ashamed of themselves for being European. It is run by people who are fundamentally hostile to European civilisation. It is run by people whose loyalty is to bankers.
This is the problem with almost all internationalist organisations today. They are run by bankers for bankers.
It is extremely unlikely that organisations like the EU can be reformed. The EU will never serve the interests of Europeans. The idea of Europe on the other hand still has some validity. The question is whether it will ever be possible to bring about a European unity that will serve the interests of Europeans.
The idea of regional internationalism is also not inherently evil. Countries like Australia cannot exist in the modern world as viable independent nation states. They simply do not have the economic, military and political muscle to be anything other than satellites of great powers. Countries like Australia (and Canada and Britain) are, in political terms, merely American vassal states. In the long term their only hope of avoiding such vassalage is by being part of regional power groupings.
It is also clear that, in the absence of such regional power groupings, the entire world is going to end up being divided into two gigantic spheres of influence, one dominated by the United States and one dominated by China. This is why the idea of resurrecting the caliphate is so attractive to many Muslims. Independent Islamic nations are merely pawns in the game of power politics played by great powers. A caliphate uniting a large part of the Islamic world would have some chance of political independence. It is their only chance of preserving their culture and their religion and it ids therefore going to be increasingly seen as not only desirable but essential.
Nationalism is certainly preferable to globalism. It is however doubtful whether in the modern world nationalism can defeat globalism. While I’ve been quite sceptical of ideas like white nationalism I can understand why such ideas seem attractive. If nationalism is a spent force then perhaps other options for fighting globalism need to be considered.