restricted access A review of Essays of a Catholic Layman in England, by Hilaire Belloc
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320 ] A review of Essays of a Catholic Layman in England, by Hilaire Belloc London: Sheed & Ward, 1931. Pp. 320. The English Review, 53 (July 1931) 245-461 Perhaps the most painful criticism one has to make of Mr. Belloc’s polemical essays is that he has suffered through devoting much labour to combating very stupid people.2 He could reasonably reply that he found the stupidity there; and that when it is the stupidity of such intelligent, ignorant , and extremely active men as Mr. Wells and Mr. Shaw, it is a very serious matter, and must be met on its own ground, with its own weapons, and before its own audience.3 And looking at the situation from another point of view, the spectacle of Mr. Belloc now whirling his long-sword, and thundering his denunciations, over an almost deserted battlefield, is quite agreeable to watch. Yet the two weakest among this collection of essays are those in which he goes direct at Mr. Haldane and the Dean of St. Paul’s.4 The trouble is perhaps that one ought to take infinite pains in attacking even the meanest antagonist; and if Mr. Haldane and Dean Inge are worth so much attention – which need not be assumed – they are worth a little more.5 When Mr. Belloc attached himself tenaciously to Mr. Wells’s Outline, he provided good sport and did good service; but here his hand is a bit heavy, and his weapon rather blunt.6 But if few of Mr. Belloc’s individual enemies are as powerful as they seemed thirty years ago, the issues with which he is concerned are as perilous as ever. His peculiar function is to attack, not arguments, but prejudices ; and prejudices are attacked, not with arguments, but with convictions. Those readers who are in sympathy with him – at least, on what seem to them the vital issues – will not be wholly satisfied. For instance, one of the most important subjects in the book, at the present time, is the secularization of the school system of England, and this essay on The Schools is to be commended.7 Those who already share Mr. Bell’s apprehensions are prepared for a more advanced discussion.8 But such an essay, and most of the essays, are for the direction of those readers, an important number, who have an open mind, but have not yet begun to think. [ 321 A review of Essays of a Catholic Layman in England It would be pleasant to the reviewer if the convictions which he shared with Mr. Belloc were so generally accepted that he could afford to devote his time to those points where he finds himself in disagreement; it is unhappily not so. Among the good points which Mr. Belloc makes, which will have to be made again and again, are particularly two. One is that religious differences are at least as important as racial, linguistic or geographical .9 It is a misfortune that Britain and some of the most important parts of Europe have been governed largely by men without strong religious convictions ; because it is precisely such men who are most likely to make errors in foreign and colonial policy by underrating, or by being unable to sympathize with, the religious convictions of others. And the other point is that the accepted antithesis between Capitalism and Socialism is no more the ultimate division of political philosophies than the superannuate antithesis between Conservatism and Liberalism.10 It is the Fabians who have apotheosized “Capitalism.”11 Mr. Belloc cannot remind us too often that there are older, as well as newer political philosophies; or that there is a science more fundamental than the sciences of psychology and economics, and without which they are vain: the science of ethics. T. S. Eliot Notes 1. This is the second of three reviews TSE wrote for Douglas Jerrold’s English Review during 1931. 2. Belloc makes frequent recourse to the “stupidity” of contemporary critics, defined as follows: “One test of intelligence being, the power to separate distinct categories, the corresponding test of stupidity is inability to do so” (154). 3. In 1926, Belloc was involved in a public controversy with H. G. Wells over what he considered to be the anti-Catholic bias of Wells’s bestseller The Outline of History (1920). Belloc stated his strong objections in A Companion to Mr. Wells’s “Outline of History” (1926) and, following Wells’s rejoinder Mr. Belloc Objects to “The Outline of History...


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