The October 26 issue of Commonweal arrived. It contains a Peter Steinfels article about Belloc.
"A Catholic in the Room - Second Thoughts on Hilaire Belloc" has some pointed things to say about Belloc. What occasioned the piece was Steinfels reading of Belloc's The Crisis of Civilization earlier this year - 70 years after the Fordham University lectures by Belloc that became that book.
Steinfels says he was a fan of Belloc when younger. But he is critical of the book and Belloc's ideas contained in it, and in some of his more insensitive comments concerning Jews and African Americans.
I need to read the piece more closely. And I admit that I have not read Crisis, so I don't know if the picture is accurate. But it is damning - and it gets in some digs at modern "conservatives."
Just to quote a couple of passages (out of order):
"There is little mention of Christian impulses like charity, kindness, humility, and forgiveness. At least in these lecture, Belloc's celebration of Roman Catholicism is far more Roman than Catholic."
"So should Belloc's myopic and skewed views be quietly left to gather dust on the Fordham library bookshelves? That might be the case were it not for the current temptation to shore up a sagging sense of Catholic identity with the bellicose, pseudo-swashbuckling, in-your-face style that was Belloc's signature and that, alas, only looks pitiful and self-deceiving in today's imitators."
"The greatest gap in Belloc's history is the story of political liberty. Early and repeatedly he stresses the movement in Christian Europe from slavery to serfdom to freedom and suggests its religious origins. But of modern civil and political rights - freedom of speech and religion, constitutional accountability, independent judiciaries, democratic suffrage, and so on - he says nothing. In part, he takes them for granted. In part, he considers them illusory. It would take a tale that he could not have told without shining a different, more favorable light on Protestantism, the nineteenth century, and the great absentee from his account, liberalism."
The concluding paragraph is:
"Belloc is a major figure in the remarkable Catholic literary and intellectual revivals of the century past. Those revivals continue to hold out a hope and a model for resurgent Catholic presence in the twenty-first century. But Catholics, including myself, are tempted to look only at the finest moments of these revivals, loyally and nostalgically veiling their less happy aspects. Pragmatically, we need to ask why, in the long run, these revivals petered out. Morally, we need to ask, with unblinking eyes, whether they responded adequately to the brewing crisis of civilization and if not, why not."
Anyone else read the article? If so, observations?
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