The Crisis of Civilization



The Crisis of Civilization was a curious read. Belloc loathes the Protestant Reformation, naming it a disaster, an explosion, a catastrophe, a manifold evil.  Belloc blames the Reformation for the rise in Capitalism, the root, he believes, of our present disastrous economic situation.  

This was a smackdown to a girl who spent every New Year’s Eve of her childhood watching the 1953 film Martin Luther and, consequently, has the “Here I Stand” speech memorized.  Why would I read this? I had no idea of Belloc’s premise when I got the book from Paperbackswap. Also, I respect Belloc because of his close friendship with G.K. Chesterton.  In addition, I am not opposed to reading opposing viewpoints.

A few disclaimers: I am totally out of my depth, reading and responding to Hilaire Belloc. Reading this book was the intellectual equivalent to me doing advanced yoga. Further, I have dear friends who are Catholic with whom I have no wish to quarrel.

Belloc’s argument with Capitalism is that the super-majority of people possess political freedom but are dispossessed of economic freedom.  He is equally vehement against Communism and believes the injustices inherent in Industrial Capitalism bred Communism. His solution is better distribution of property, the public control of monopolies, and a return of the guild. Ultimately, he calls for a wholesale conversion, by individuals and by society to the Catholic Church. 

Belloc wrote this book in 1937. He saw the rise of communism and shuddered at its ramifications. As I read this I wondered 1) how he would write this book after WWII and 2) how he would assess the current economy. It was a fascinating read in context of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Much of what he predicted has, in fact, come true. Big business has preempted the small guy. Belloc’s example of grocers resonated with me. The chain store kills the small shopkeeper. Where our small town used to have a dozen neighborhood groceries, it now has three chain stores.  Belloc wrote about Wal-Mart before Wal-Mart existed. For me this brings up the perennial Wal-Mart question.  Evil empire or not?  I haven’t fully examined or engaged with this. 

Belloc’s ultimate goal of a unified, sanctified church is my goal too. While he was decidedly Roman Catholic, I remain a Protesting Catholic, grateful for the Reformation.



19 thoughts on “The Crisis of Civilization

  1. Kudos for pressing through this one!  I’m not sure that I would have, since I’m decidedly against distributism.Nevertheless, a fine review ~BTW – Have you read or seen My Family and Other Animals?  If so, what do you think of it?  I’m thinking of giving it as a gift, but know I should read it myself first OR read a review by someone like you  

  2. @hiddenart – Dana, I have not read that title. I’m not familiar with it.Do you have any recommendations of responses made to distributism?  I can probably find something at von Mises Institute? Economics always seems just beyond my grasp. I want to know more, but not enough to put the hard work in. Sigh. I struggled with this one, because while I disagreed with both the premise and conclusion, he made some points that made sense.  We can’t go back to the best parts of the Middle Ages. But I do like the idea of the guild, of small craftsmen doing good work. It’s in reading a book like this that I feel lonely. How many people are interested in talking economics and philosophy and culture? They exist, but usually I find them through the internet. It makes me thankful for my friendship with you and with Cindy Rollins. 

  3. I have trouble getting through books when I strongly disagree with the author, but as you say, there is merit in hearing the opposing view and in sifting out what may be truthful and helpful.  Nice review.

  4. After the fall Rome the Catholic Church, the only great institution still standing, stepped in to fill the breach. That was a great move because it led to the rise of Western Civilization, but it was bad move for the Church because it forced the Church to become intimately involved in secular activities.The Catholic Church does not understand itself as a secular institution which manages money and economies. It’s purpose is to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and administer the sacraments.So clearly, Belloc doesn’t understand a thing about capitalism, the Reformation or the Catholic Church. It amazes me how people like Belloc can be 100% wrong, 100% of time and still have a shred of credibility. 

  5. I love Belloc’s Economics for Helen — it’s the best introductory level book on economics I’ve ever read — and I agree with what I’ve read by him and Chesterton, and some modern proponents like John Medaille, of distributism.  I’ve never seen any workable description of how to implement it, but this book is on my to-be-read list as it seems like it does have a practical plan.

  6. Let me highly recommend “My Family and Other Animals”  It is a very amusing account of Gerald Durrell’s boyhood, which he spent (partly) growing up with his eccentric family and friends in Corfu.  Not sure if I can copy this to hiddenart but will try 🙂 @magistramater – 

  7. As Magistramater has not read it, please let me highly recommend “My Family and Other Animals”  It is a very amusing account of Gerald Durrell’s boyhood, which he spent (partly) growing up with his eccentric family and friends in Corfu.@hiddenart – 

  8. I will have to look for this one, Carol. Luke and his friends spend quite a bit of time discussing economics, philosophy, and culture. He’s challenged me to reconsider several things I thought I knew. 🙂 No final answers for me yet but like you, I am not opposed to hearing opposing viewpoints. Have you come across Pope John Paul II’s encyclical titled “Laborem Exercens” or Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum” (1891). Not that you should have, but I wondered if Belloc mentions them. These two encyclicals deal with the conflict/balance between capital and labor. I’ve only scratched the surface but it has challenged me.Happy Thanksgiving!Sandy

  9. @secros60 – Happy Thanksgiving to you! I don’t think Belloc mentioned any encyclicals. I’d be interested in reading them. Belloc does write quite a bit on economics. I guess Chesterton did too. I’m first in line to get Belloc’s Economics for Helen on Paperbackswap. Let’s add this to the list of things to discuss when we finally get together, eh?!

  10. @magistramater – yes on adding this to the discussion list! it will have to be a long visit. :)I’ve enjoyed subbing for Latin classes this week and a couple of weeks ago and testing my rusty Latin. I’m actually considering studying for the Illinois Latin teacher’s exam! If I can pass it, I can be certified without any Latin college coursework. Teaching high school Latin would be a dream come true!

  11. Funny, I was going to comment on what a bad deal Wal-mart was for most everybody. Then in today’s WSJ there is a letter from an economist at Ball State Univ. in response to a Joe Belz article on “How Calvinists Spread Thanksgiving Cheer”. This economist, also a PCA presbyterian, said that Wal-mart does far more in service to the poor than any churches. He says that having a Wal-mart in a neighborhood reduces food prices 10-15%, the equivalent “to shoppers receiving an additional 5.2 to 7.8 weeks of ‘free’ food shopping. Not my take on a company I see as a town-killer, but a lot of food for thought. 

  12. @DCHammers – Okay. Add Wal-Mart to the conversation agenda when our families next meet up. Would the same arguments apply to McDonalds? Some of the cheapest calories available. But at what cost? I haven’t read any of the anti-Wal-Mart screeds yet. I remember when Wal-Mart came to La Grande. I was glad, because there was no local store to buy athletic shoes for less than $100/pair. With growing boys that was a material factor. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. I saw that L is home from college. Have a great weekend!

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