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Hilaire Belloc.

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) was one of the most influential intellectuals of the twentieth century. As a writer, poet, and journalist he left behind a huge literary legacy with over 150 published books and a plethora of articles and essays. He was respected by his constituents who elected him to the British Parliament, by the British troops to whom he lectured during the Great War, as well as in the Vatican where he met with popes. He bottled and drank wine with Winston Churchill and rubbed shoulders with many influential people.

Belloc was born in France the same year the Prussian army, commanded by the brilliant von Moltke, crushed France, just as in 1866 it had humiliated Austria at Sadova (near Hradec Kralove or Koniggratz). The flight of Belloc's family before the advancing Prussians and the subsequent return to their vandalized home left a deep life-long antipathy to all things Prussian in his heart. His father died when Belloc was only two and his mother took the family back to England. But the Gallic pride remained a strong influence, forming the basis of Belloc's philosophy of history best summarized by his famous maxim, "Faith is Europe." The ancient Roman culture and the Catholic Faith which shaped and defined Europe were threatened by the rising barbaric Prussian giant who desired to conquer Europe and to dominate the world.

His mother's Irish ancestry, her acquaintance with Cardinal Manning, and her eventual conversion to Catholicism, resulted in Belloc's Catholic upbringing under Cardinal Newman at the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. Belloc later studied at a French naval college, but his youthful restlessness, which never left him, culminated in various adventures. Determined to ask his sweetheart to marry him, he walked across the United States to California, and when she refused him he joined the French Artillery. At twenty-two he enlisted at the prestigious Balliol college where he studied history. In 1896, Elodie Hogan finally consented to marry him and Belloc settled down to raise a family and earn his living by writing and lecturing.

Belloc was one of the rare "walking" historians who desired to see and experience places, and his works possess an unsurpassed visual quality of vividness. He called his 1908 collection of essays The Eye-Witness and in 1911 launched a hard-hitting weekly by the same name. He visited most of the battlefields he wrote about. Belloc understood that "All men have an instinct for conflict: at least, all healthy men." Nationalism had long lost its original idea of peaceful nations living under one Christendom in the Holy Roman Empire, which tried to curtail this natural human instinct. Christianity, ridiculed by the rising scientific materialism and the humanistic ideas of freemasonic lodges and governments, still represented culture and civility--"Every major question in history is a religious question. It has more effect in molding life than nationalism or a common language"

Chesterton was at first influenced by Belloc's ideas, but the mutual admiration eventually developed into a friendship and life-long intellectual cooperation which George Bernard Shaw saw as a "most dangerous conspiracy," a quadrupedal chimera he named "Chester-Belloc" This fire-breathing monster with a lion's head attacked many fads and misconceptions, including Shaw's progressive Fabian socialism and evolutionism as well as H. G. Wells' utopian scientific messianism. Belloc was especially outraged by The Outline of History, and he furiously attacked Wells' Darwinian notion of natural selection which replaced God as Creator in modern science and philosophy. But the most brilliant and lasting result of the Chester-Belloc cooperation was an important idea called Distributism.

To a large degree, history is formed by dynamic economic forces and it was Belloc's genius that uncovered the key principles. His "Economics for Helen" is an excellent primer which outlines the three major systems--Slavery or Servile state, Capitalism, and Distributive state, where property and the means or production are widely distributed among individual families. Men are happiest and most productive when they are free and own their means of production, allowing them to become economically stable and thus able to marry and settle down to raise a family. Men are the least happy when they are enslaved physically or economically as wage-slaves. The Distributist ideas are in harmony with the ideals of Christianity as they have been expressed in several papal encyclicals since the famous Rerum novarum.

Passion sometimes carried Belloc's verbal expression too far. He described Canada as a country made of mud, tattered trees and houses of planks that stand anyhow. However, there is some truth even in such blunt outspokenness.

In 1934, Pope Pius XI decorated Belloc with the Order of St. Gregory the Great. He was honoured by his Oxford alma mater and by the British government when his portrait was hung in the National Portrait Gallery while still alive, a rare distinction which he shared only with Winston Churchill. In the end, Belloc was assertive because he was right--but he was not proud, for he wrote, "When I am dead, I hope it is said, 'His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.'"
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Author:Hala, Peter
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 1, 2013
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