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02/27/2012

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Well, since the Reformation ripped the beating heart out of English culture and replced it with "the lore of Bloody Mary and Guy Fawkes and sinister Jesuits", to say that this runs very deep in the culture is something of an understatement, and also explains why Chesterton may have had a point in his historical views.

I'm looking forward to reading this after Lent: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0674045637/

I had always wondered, when you said positive things about Hitchens, if you knew anything about the book he wrote about Mother Teresa. I hesitate to mention it, because I haven't read it, but I know it wasn't very nice.

AMDG

No, I don't know anything about it, other than that it's nasty. And really, that sort of thing is just too much to overlook. It's not just minor faults and occasional lapses, it's a real...well, the first word that comes to mind is disease.

That looks like an excellent book, Paul. I don't by any means think GKC and Belloc had no point, but I do think they tended to stretch it, and very much romanticize pre-HVIII England. And of course Hitchens searches out some dodgy bits, like "The racial pride of Hitlerism is of the Reformation by twenty tests". An overstatement at best. I mean, you can certainly make a strong argument that "Hitlerism" wouldn't have happened in a society where the Church was predominant, which in a sense puts some responsibility on the Reformation, but it's indirect. I mean, there's a difference between introducing the conditions and being more or less part of it as Chesterton suggests.

Hmm, I managed to write that whole thing without including the link to the Hitchens article itself, although Craig has it. It's here.

Um, well, there is always https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Jews_and_Their_Lies

Oh yeah, but there was all manner of anti-semitism in the Church, too. Hitlerism (to use Chesterton's term) happened in Germany, but nothing like it ever got very far in thoroughly Reformed England, so clearly there were other things at work.

But to say that something is "of the Reformation" isn't to say that it is under all circumstances a necessary consequence of the Reformation, only that in actual fact it goes back to the Reformation. There isn't much doubt that the Reformation in Germany fed German anti-semitism, or that German anti-semitism was the most deadly in history (surpassing even that of Russia).

The notion of an "elect nation" that some people have traced in Foxe's historiography would seem to be the Anglo-American variant of the Reformation's feeding of "racial pride".

Well, the paragraph Hitchens quotes is somewhat vague--"of the Reformation" is a little vague--but taken as a whole it seems to be saying that Hitlerism wouldn't have happened if the Reformation hadn't happened. That's what seems pretty shaky to me (aside from being only conjectural). That's different from saying you can see elements of Reformation ideas and their influence in it. There were more Catholic-compatible variations of fascism (Spain and Italy), which you could argue were, for that very reason, less lethal than the German variety. Or you could argue that the difference was partly a matter of national temperament. Agreed about the "elect nation" idea, but that didn't produce anything like Nazism in the Anglo-American world.

In general Chesterton and Belloc seem to me a little fanciful in their view of what a Catholic, an un-Reformed, northern Europe would have been like. What's that Belloc verse?..."Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine /There is always laughter and good red wine." I mean, come on...the northeastern USA is full of the descendants of Italians who were desperate to get away from the poverty they suffered under the Catholic sun.

GKC/HB sometimes seem to be the inverse of those in the north who blame the Church for the poverty of the south.

I've ordered Gregory's book -- thanks for the tip! I've long believed that nominalism is the prime culprit w/r/t modernity's anti-Christian swing, and that Reformation thought was at very least the delivery system for that nominalism. If Weaver's right about nominalism as described in Ideas Have Consequences and Bouyer's right about Protestantism as described in Spirit and Forms... then I think one must at least consider the notion that Reformation thought bears a certain amount of responsibility for secularism.

For a long time I've wondered if anyone had fleshed this out in book form. It appears that Gregory's work might do exactly that. I've not read Charles Taylor's Secular Age yet, but he apparently gets into this question as well, as does Michael Gillespie in The Theological Origins of Modernity. I've read in the latter here and there but not in its entirety; haven't read the former yet.

"...one must at least consider the notion that Reformation thought bears a certain amount of responsibility for secularism."

Oh yeah, I don't have any doubt about that whatsoever. Both secularists and Catholics agree about it, really. It's clearly implied in the Hitchens piece, and also in his review a while back of a novel set in Reformation England. That's not what I'm disputing. And again, it's not that I think GKC is just wrong, but that I think he sometimes romanticizes and exaggerates.

Oh, sorry -- my post wasn't in response to your GKC comments. It was just a general observation.

"Neuhaus was intelligent enough that he should have been able to see through the sentimentality to the core of truth"

Yeah, that's my beef with a lot of the critics of agrarianism and distributism. Louis Rubin went to great pains on numerous occasions to encourage folks to do exactly that w/r/t to the Southern Agrarians -- to get beyond the apparent "idyllic" surface of the thing and see the solidity of the critique underneath.

It's true that the "elect nation" mentality didn't feed antisemitism (or not to any great and deadly extent), but it did feed other forms of racial pride and racial hatred.

It does seem to be the case that Catholic countries didn't fall into rigid legal racial classification and separation, the way the U.S. and South Africa did. I can't think of any other examples... I recall opponents of racial integration in the '60s here pointing to Brazil as an example of the bad results of "race mixing".

I do think Hitchens touches on something important here:

But [Chesterton] and his fellow Distributists and other stray reactionaries did get themselves on the wrong side of the debate about Nazism. And they did so, furthermore, because of self-imposed blinders in their own view of matters ethnic and ideological and confessional. For instance, in search of a good taunt, Chesterton decided that the Protestant Reformation was originally Jewish!

That getting “themselves on the wrong side of the debate about Nazism” is, I think, so huge that it will forever haunt Chesterton’s reputation.

About anti-Semitism, yes, but about Nazism? Is that accurate? I don't really know but I thought GKC at least had denounced Nazism itself pretty strongly.

At least Hitchens absolves Chesterton of not being "exterminationist or eliminationist" in his anti-Semitism. It's a little annoying that Hitchens doesn't give sources for anything. He says "Chesterton decided that the Protestant Reformation was originally Jewish!". Did he really? Is that a fair summary of what he said? Can't tell from the article.

Unfortunately, one still runs across anti-Semitism along with admiration for Chesterbelloc in some Catholic traditionalist circles. I've seen web sites that featured their work alongside books that had eyebrow-raising titles about exposing Jewish influence and that sort of thing.

Wow; you gave up coffee. That is some kind of asceticism. I am not being facetious at all. I am fine with no meat or dairy, but I don't think I could give up coffee. No way.

"get themselves on the wrong side of the debate about Nazism"?

Since Chesterton always crticized Nazism and all it stood for (Eugenics and Othe Evils might be one place to start), and in the mid-1930s predicted that Hitler's rise would lead to another war of German aggression that would have to be prepared for and waged vigorously, what exactly is the *right* side?

I tried Lent last year to give up coffee. Didn't last a week (didn't even last a day once teaching started).

I wasn't sure I could, either, because it has a really powerful hold on me. But it's been easier than I thought. I have a love-hate relationship with it--love to drink it, hate some of its side effects, to which I seem to be hyper-sensitive. So I keep reminding myself that I feel better overall.

I've also given up meat, mostly, although just as a matter of convenience I haven't been totally strict about that, e.g. one night I ate some leftover pizza that had meat on it. But to give up meat *and* dairy--I have trouble fathoming that, because I think I would start feeling sick. Unless of course I were having seafood every other day or so. And what would I take to work for lunch, if meat, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, milk were off the menu?!?

I gave up meat one Lent, but it really wasn't much of a sacrifice since for the most part I prefer cheese and beans to meat. I must say though, that I immediately conceived a great lust for meat.

AMDG

If I gave up coffee, it would be hard for me, but I'm afraid it might be harder for everyone around me; so I won't.

AMDG

I shouldn't be talking about how I haven't had such a hard time giving up this or that, when we're not even at the second Sunday of Lent yet.

"Since Chesterton always criticized Nazism and all it stood for..."

That's what I thought, although I couldn't really point to anything specific. I think Hitchens is conflating Nazism and anti-semitism. Nazism would have been just about as monstrous without a-s, and a-s is certainly not the province only of Nazis.

I have an idea that GKC did say some complimentary or hopeful things about Italian fascism in its early days. But the significance of that is not that he was a monster but that Italian fascism did not at the time appear monstrous.

"I have an idea that GKC did say some complimentary or hopeful things about Italian fascism in its early days. But the significance of that is not that he was a monster but that Italian fascism did not at the time appear monstrous."

I think this is true of quite a few Americans and Brits. It took a while for Fascism to show its true colors, but when it did most of these early supporters bolted pretty quickly.

If what A. N. Wilson says in a review of Ian Ker’s biography of Chesterton is true, then I’d say he was not thinking clearly about Mussolini. Here’s Wilson (from https://www.spectator.co.uk/books/6880848/the-man-mountain-of-fleet-street.thtml):

When he [Chesterton] went to see Mussolini, the Duce amazingly and amusingly wanted to quiz Chesterton about the revision of the Prayer Book in the Church of England. By now, alas, we feel that something rather sinister has happened to the Edwardian lefty GK we all loved. When that kindly minded distributist Maurice Ricketts resigned from the editorial board of GK’s Weekly because it did not sufficiently condemn the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, Ker thinks it is sufficient to remind readers that the staff and readers of the magazine were ‘even more divided over the Abyssinian crisis than over distributism itself’. Damn it, the Italians were bombing Ethiopian villages with poison gas! GK himself thought Fascism ‘no worse than a corrupt parliamentary system’. By then, surely, he has left all decent people behind.

As for Chesterton’s anti-Semitism, I think it was much more than the garden variety of his day. I’ve just read a bit of his New Jerusalem (it’s available online here https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/13468/pg13468.html) and, well, wow. A sample:

It is really irrational for anybody to pretend that the Jews are only a curious sect of Englishmen, like the Plymouth Brothers or the Seventh Day Baptists, in the face of such a simple fact as the family of Rothschild. Nobody can pretend that such an English sect can establish five brothers, or even cousins, in the five great capitals of Europe. Nobody can pretend that the Seventh Day Baptists are the seven grandchildren of one grandfather, scattered systematically among the warring nations of the earth. Nobody thinks the Plymouth Brothers are literally brothers, or that they are likely to be quite as powerful in Paris or in Petrograd as in Plymouth.

The Jewish problem can be stated very simply after all. It is normal for the nation to contain the family. With the Jews the family is generally divided among the nations. This may not appear to matter to those who do not believe in nations, those who really think there ought not to be any nations. But I literally fail to understand anybody who does believe in patriotism thinking that this state of affairs can be consistent with it. It is in its nature intolerable, from a national standpoint, that a man admittedly powerful in one nation should be bound to a man equally powerful in another nation, by ties more private and personal even than nationality. Even when the purpose is not any sort of treachery, the very position is a sort of treason. Given the passionately patriotic peoples of the west of Europe especially, the state of things cannot conceivably be satisfactory to a patriot.

There’s much more here, like his suggestion that English Jews who don’t want to migrate to Palestine but to stay in England should wear distinctive clothing to set them apart as the aliens they were.

The book was written in 1920. Wonder if Hitler read it in the German translation?


I loved this piece Maclin. Thank you.

Actually, there is a lot to eat; you just have to think differently: I eat a lot of hummus, sprouts, soups, beans, tortillas, falafel, peanut butter, vegetables, fruits, etc...

t is in its nature intolerable, from a national standpoint, that a man admittedly powerful in one nation should be bound to a man equally powerful in another nation, by ties more private and personal even than nationality. This seems so strange. The crowned heads of England were all related.

AMDG

More about Chesterton later, but on the subject of food: yeah, those are all good, and in fact I have tasty hummus in my lunchbox today, along with bread and an orange. But it's supplemented with a half-pint or so of milk, not for the taste but for the protein, of which I seem to need a lot. I don't know, I suppose I would adjust...I should try it some time.

I've been meaning all week to leave a note expressing my thanks for this post -- and, now, for the interesting comments. I hadn't read The New Jerusalem, and hadn't seen that passage before. Chesterton did believe strongly in patriotism -- not just his own for England, but every man's for his own nation. This is one reason why he was a "Zionist": he wanted Jews to have their own nation too. The stuff about a Jewish cabal infiltrating powerful circles and what not -- yes, pretty awful.

Anyway, I agree with you that Hitchens entirely missed the spiritual vision of Chesterton. His portrait is really quite bizarre, from my point of view.

I didn't give up coffee, exactly -- I cannot abide the wretched stuff -- but I did give up caffeine. I'm doing okay, all things considered. The hard thing for me is giving up salty treats: chips, nachos, etc. I was at the grocery today and had to consciously avoid that aisle.

Marianne, I'm not saying that Chesterton was blameless in any of his weird views, I'm saying he was not pro-Nazi. That's my complaint about Hitchens's treatment of the question. Hitchens uses that "wrong side" attack twice, both in a slippery way: "he confines his chosen people [the English] inside the enclave that had been fashioned for them by some rather strict Catholic intellectuals: intellectuals who were later to get themselves on the wrong side of Europe’s most important quarrel by being shady on the question of Fascism". This is pretty much just guilt by association.

And "But he and his fellow Distributists and other stray reactionaries did get themselves on the wrong side of the debate about Nazism." That appears to be just plain false as applied to GKC, who is not responsible for "other stray reactionaries," and at most only partly so for "his fellow Distributists."

I think his anti-Semitism actually is not too far from garden-variety, though it's elaborated with an intellectual's foolishness. It's basically the standard complaint that the first loyalty of Jews is other than to the nation. Which is pretty funny coming from a Catholic, since that's also the standard complaint about us, or used to be.

"The book was written in 1920. Wonder if Hitler read it in the German translation?"

See, that's what I mean about the different way such things look post-Holocaust. If Nazism and the Holocaust had never happened, we would read things like the special clothing (!) and think "what nasty rot." But because those things did happen, we see it as phase 1 of the Holocaust, and with good reason. But we know that Chesterton did not stay on that path, and that he did see and protest the evil when it became manifest.

I agree that all this is a black mark against Chesterton. What I dispute is that it should define him, and pretty much ruin his reputation, and justify writing him off completely, in the way that Hitchens seems to think it should. It's similar to the case of left-wing intellectuals who fell for communism. That's considered youthful naivete or something now, although many of them never repudiated it, and for the most part results in no stigma. I doubt Chesterton was as sympathetic to Mussolini as they were to Stalin, and he doesn't seem to have been sympathetic to Hitler at all.

Thanks, Craig, and Dave, too--I missed your comment earlier.

Well, since the Reformation ripped the beating heart out of English culture and replced it with "the lore of Bloody Mary and Guy Fawkes and sinister Jesuits", to say that this runs very deep in the culture is something of an understatement, and also explains why Chesterton may have had a point in his historical views.

I am loving this, Paul!

Maclin, my internet connection has been down a lot lately (with probably more benefits than inconvenience, if I'm honest) so I've only just now read this. I think it's good for me to respect someone like you, who does not share my degree of enthusiasm for Chesterton, but who has read a fair amount of his writing etc. I think it's a very good thing for me to have my various opinions and enthusiasms challenged somewhat by people who are both intelligent and sensible. It means I can't get away with too much mental laziness.

"Neuhaus was intelligent enough that he should have been able to see through the sentimentality to the core of truth"

Yeah, that's my beef with a lot of the critics of agrarianism and distributism. Louis Rubin went to great pains on numerous occasions to encourage folks to do exactly that w/r/t to the Southern Agrarians -- to get beyond the apparent "idyllic" surface of the thing and see the solidity of the critique underneath.

I'd like - philosophically speaking - to live on a farm and try out the "self-sufficient" lifestyle, b/c I can see the importance of such a life. But I am pretty unromantic about it. I'm not much into physical labour etc. No doubt some people are more romantic about it, but I think that's completely irrelevant when considering what an economy ought to be like. I can't see why the opponents of agrarianism/distributism should constantly carp on about this as though it's some kind of argument.

About anti-Semitism, yes, but about Nazism? Is that accurate? I don't really know but I thought GKC at least had denounced Nazism itself pretty strongly.

I haven't read even one tenth of GKC's writings, yet from what I have read I don't see how anyone could think GKC was ever wrong about Nazism. Seems to me he was against Hitler from the start.

Unfortunately, one still runs across anti-Semitism along with admiration for Chesterbelloc in some Catholic traditionalist circles.

Very sad. They're the ones who go on and on about the JOOOOOOOOOOOOOS!!!!

That bit from GKC about the Jews was indeed pretty interesting. I did wonder how a Catholic (or a Catholic sympathiser) could criticise the Jews for their feeling of brotherhood over their nationalism. OTOH, while the Church is indeed universal, the Churches are also local and we owe our allegiance first of all to our local Bishop, don't we? And he is a citizen of our own nation. Just typing out loud, here.

But nationalism is condemned by the Church where it gets too big for its boots.

Or maybe I'm confusing patriotism (which I think the Church upholds) and nationalism (which I think it condemns).

Help!

Just to be clear, Louise (and welcome back, btw--thought maybe you had sworn off the net for Lent)--I do consider myself a Chesterton fan, just not as enthusiastic as many. I don't know that I've read any more of him than you have. I think he's great at his best, and even the tossed-off journalism pieces sometimes have brilliant moments.

I was surprised that Hitchens likes his poetry. Also that he seemed to like The Man Who Was Thursday. I've read it twice, and it never made that much of an impression on me. I'll try it again sometime--the first reading was 30 years ago, the second probably 10.

I don't think nationalism and patriotism have precise enough definitions for the Church to formally condemn or approve them, but certainly in a general way what you say is true.

You can only go so far in comparing Jewish loyalty to the Jewish people at large to Catholic loyalty to the universal church, because the latter has a formal structure that the former doesn't. At any rate, my impression is that in this country at any rate the relationship of most Jews to the nation is somewhat like what Catholics are supposed to hold in principle--loyal to the nation but not regarding it as the ultimate object of loyalty.

If anyone is interested, a review of the book linked at the top of this comment thread ("The Unintended Reformation") is at Books & Culture. Haven't read it yet.

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