the succession of western civilisations

When we talk about the problems facing the world today we find ourselves talking about the fate of western civilisation. I do it myself frequently. In actual fact there is no such thing as western civilisation. There have been a series of western civilisations, differing from each other very markedly indeed.

Even if we accept that there has ever been at any time a single European civilisation we still have to accept that the history of European civilisation is the history one civilisation succeeding another.

There was Bronze Age European civilisation (the Myceneans, the Minoans etc). They left some impressive ruins but we have little direct knowledge of them. The Minoans for example were literate but their written language has never been deciphered.

These civilisations were followed by the Classical Civilisation of the Greeks and Romans. In western Europe that collapsed entirely in the middle of the first millennium AD. 

Eventually a new civilisation took its place, the Medieval Civilisation. For at least two hundred years we have been taught to worship the Classical Civilisation and despise Medieval Civilisation. Quite wrongly. Medieval Civilisation was in many ways more advanced and more dynamic than Classical Civilisation.

Then came the catastrophe of the Reformation, followed by the even greater catastrophe of the Enlightenment. There was no sharp break, as there had been when the Western Roman Empire collapsed, but there is no question that the European civilisation of the ancien régime on the eve of the French Revolution was an entirely different civilisation compared to the Medieval Civilisation that had produced Dante and Chartres Cathedral. Despite cataclysms like the French Revolution that version of modern European Civilisation was still more or less intact in 1914. It has now gone forever. We now have what might be called postmodern European Civilisation.

Of course all civilisations change over time. The point I am making is that in the case of European civilisation the changes have been so profound and so far-reaching as to represent the replacement of one civilisation by another.

Whilst all civilisations do change most are based on the principle that while change can be beneficial stability is also very desirable. The Medieval Civilisation is the only European Civilisation that really valued stability. It was not in reality a stable civilisation but there was at least an appreciation of the notion that change was often a very bad thing indeed. The European Civilisations that followed the Medieval have not valued stability at all. In fact you could say of Postmodern European Civilisation (and of Modern European Civilisation as well) that it is a process rather than a thing. It is a process whereby everything that has been proven to work and to produce good results is trashed in favour of something new that may or may not work. European civilisation is a constant search for novelty. It’s the sort of civilisation that might be produced by a society of precocious infants, constantly hurling their old toys out of the pram whilst crying for new ones.

So the problem with wanting to save European Civilisation is that any European Civilisation worth saving no longer exists. A civilisation that bases itself upon crude materialism, even cruder hedonism, a celebration of sexual degeneracy, the joyful trampling into the dust of the family, naked greed and the embrace of a variety of scientific, pseudoscientific and totally non-scientific superstitions is not a civilisation that I would consider to be worth saving.

Which means that the kind of conservatism that is based on the belief that we need to apply the brakes is worse than useless. If we are to have a civilisation that is worth saving we will first have to create one. That might mean hoping that what currently goes by the name of European Civilisation does not survive.

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the future of religion, part 2 – Islamised Europe or a European Islam

On the subject of the future of religion another post at A Political Refugee From the Global Village asks Will the future see an Islamised Europe or a European Islam?

Personally I’m not convinced that either is inevitable because I’m not convinced that even Islam can stop the steamroller progress of the death cult of secular liberalism.

I also fear that a European Islam might be a bit like modern Christianity – in other words basically secular liberalism with a few quasi-religious trappings. Of course Islam does lack some of Christianity’s worst weaknesses, such as the masochistic turn the other cheek stuff and the cult of hugs and feelings. Islam might be better able to resist the feminising tendencies.

What it comes down to is a religion’s ability to fight off the poison of feminism, and it’s an insidious and deadly poison indeed.

A European Islam, or even an Islamised Europe, would certainly be preferable to the sewer that liberalism has in store for us.

I should make the point (and this applies to my previous post as well) that these speculations about the religious future of society do not represent the future I would like to see. The future I would like to see is a return to something very like the pre-Reformation unity of Christendom, and something very like pre-Reformation Christianity. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Of the futures that are actually likely to happen, or are at least possible, most are rather unpalatable. The religious fascism I speculated about in my previous post and a Europeanised Islam are not the futures one would have hoped for. It’s a matter of choosing the least worst option. Secular liberalism offers a never-ending descent into degeneracy and decadence and despair. Any alternative would be better than that.

Hilaire Belloc on Oliver Cromwell

Hilaire Belloc’s brief biography of Oliver Cromwell appeared in 1927. It would be more accurate to describe his Oliver Cromwell as a biographical sketch, or a biographical impression.

Belloc stresses Cromwell’s position as a member of the wealthy classes who had enriched themselves at the expense of the Church in the wake of the Reformation. That class certainly had a very powerful reason for fearing a restoration of Catholicism – they wished to hold on to their ill-gotten gains. Which may be a partial explanation for Cromwell’s fanatical and rabid hatred for Catholicism. Belloc makes the important point that a Catholic restoration was by no means an impossibility in mid-17th century England so the anti-Catholic paranoia of men like Cromwell was not entirely ridiculous.

The Cromwell that emerges in Belloc’s sketch was a man who stumbled into absolute power and proved to be entirely unfitted for it, having no coherent plan or vision. He gradually accumulated power and his own interests and his own survival meant that he could never relinquish such power. He was a kind of prisoner of his own success in the art of political intrigue.

Belloc notes that Cromwell had been regarded as a great villain for many years after the Civil War and in the 19th century was seen as a great hero but in reality he was neither, lacking the stature to be either a true villain or a true hero. He was on the whole a mediocrity who happened to be an outstanding cavalry commander and to be a remarkably adept intriguer and manipulator. His narrowness was the crucial factor. He may have been the greatest cavalry commander of all time but in the military sphere that’s all he was – he was too limited to be a genuinely great general. As a politician he was cunning and extraordinarily skilful but he was no more than an opportunist. His political career was ultimately an exercise in futility.

Cromwell was a disaster but you don’t need to be actively evil to be a political disaster, and Belloc does not see Cromwell as evil.

The book is what you expect from Belloc – eccentric, opinionated, provocative and fascinating.

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.