BrothersJudd.com
Loading

Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at audible.com!
Download and Listen to any Audiobook for only $7.49. Save 50% for 3 months on over 100,000 Titles.

We've been reviewing books at BrothersJudd for about 15 years now and I've a confession to make. Over the years we've received a number of submissions from friends, family, and acquaintances, as well as subsequent submissions from folks we've previously reviewed favorably. I dread them. These are not professional reviews, so we've no obligation, other than moral, to being truthful in our assessments. But I'd rather not lie to protect someone's feelings just because I know them. I'd like to be honest. And the possibility that someone I like will hand me a clunker haunts me.

On the flip side of this, there are folks we really like who hand us texts so wonderful that I'm afraid my review won't do them justice. It took me forever to review Peter Augustine Lawler for just that reason, and I still can't bring myself to write my long overdue first review of Mark Steyn. Likewise, it's taken me several years to finally address this magnificent book by James Lothian

Now Jim and I aren't friends in the classical sense, but in that archetypal 21st century sense, which is to say that we bicker on the Internet. He has the triune misfortune of being a Catholic, a Yankee fan and Manchester United rooter, so there's ample grist for the mill. But our arguments have always been cordial and I'd consider him a friend. Thus I approached his book with trepidation. Then I read it and was so stunned by its quality that I kept putting off reviewing it because I can't give all of it the consideration it warrants. But I realize that's silly and selfish and I really want to encourage people to read it, so let me give it a late and inadequate, but loving, treatment.

As the title suggests, the book represents a perhaps unique attempt to assess English Catholic thought of the, mainly, inter and intra war years as a coherent whole. To this end, it posits Hilaire Belloc as the founder of a distinct intellectual tradition that included such specific ideas as Distributism, but might best be thought of as resistance to the prevailing ideas of the Anglosphere: democracy, capitalism and protestantism. Belloc, joined especially by G. K. Chesterton in the early years, and by other leading figures such as Eric Gill, Vincent McNabb, Frank Sheed, Maisie Ward and Christopher Dawson sustained a Catholic counter-culture for a period of decades, but one that came a cropper immediately after the Second World War. In religion they were, of course, defenders of the Church, and critics of Anglo-American Protestantism, In economics they were opponents of capitalism, in favor of the property-based agrarian ideals of Distributism. And in politics they were Monarchist, nostalgic for the time when kings were reliably Catholic, and even willing to flirt with fascism, more comfortable with a righteous despotism than with the vicissitudes of mass democracy.

Mr. Lothian provides both mini-biographies of the various figures in this community and sophisticated reading of their philosophies, making it an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the writers or their thought. In the process, he may also impose more discipline and coherence upon a wide cast of thinkers than other analysts would. A judgment on that possibility is beyond my knowledge of their work. But in grouping them so closely and pulling together these unifying threads in their thought he makes it easy for us to understand why the intellectual community failed so quickly after WWII. In essence, we could consider them to have been a natural but doomed rearguard action against the End of History. Natural, because they were Catholics at the heart of the Anglosphere. Doomed because, as WWI and WWII demonstrated, the various ways of organizing human affairs in ways that were not democratic/capitalist/protestant simply couldn't compete with the Anglo-American system, neither on the battlefield, nor in elevating the quality of life (economic and spiritual) of the average citizen. The USSR made it impossible to embrace socialism, even of the most mildly redistributionist sort, as Hitler and company made it impossible to keep advocating for the idea of benign despotism. The post-war affluence of America, in particular, made it difficult to sustain the critique of capitalism. And the very fact that Catholicism and Catholic thought were so successful in the English-speaking world--were they were by now the protestant party--demonstrated the value of religious tolerance. In coming years the Church would accept democracy and capitalism, even if uneasily, under Pope John Paul II and the current Pope has consistently written and spoken favorably about the American separation of Church and State. There's just not much room for a Catholic counter-culture within the English-speaking world when the Pope himself is a Tocquevillian. Catholics are part and parcel of the culture. In the long run, Orestes Brownson was right and Belloc was wrong.

Friend Lothian does not present his argument precisely as I've presented it here. I'm sure we'll argue many of my points. But I can not encourage you forcefully enough to get the book and read it for yourself. It is one of the best and most thought-provoking books I've read in the past several years.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)

  

Comments: