What book, first published in 1929, predicted the rise of Hitler, the imminent closing of the American mind, multiculturalism, and resurgent Islam? The answer is Hilaire Belloc's Survivals and New Arrivals. This year marks the tenth anniversary of its republication for an American audience by TAN Books and Publishers. It remains a polemical gem, and as relevant as it ever was.
Its thesis is certainly provocative: The foundation stone of Western Civilization is, says Belloc, the Catholic Church, no educated person doubts this; it is the source of truth, beauty, and freedom; and the best measure of the health of Western Civilization is, therefore, the strength of the various anti-Catholic movements within it.
These movements he sees passing across the stage of Western history. Some are mere "Survivals," slowly heading offstage to expire; others now dominate the center stage as the "Main Opposition"; and looming at the curtain are the "New Arrivals."
The Survivals from Belloc's time – including the "Biblical Attack," materialism, and "Scientific Negation" – are still breathing. Of the three strands that made up the Main Opposition of his time – nationalism, anti-clericalism, and "the modern mind" (a compound of "pride, ignorance, and intellectual sloth" among the half-educated) – the last has developed into full manhood, while anti-clericalism has faded away with the secular power of the Church, and nationalism is badly damaged by the two world wars of the twentieth century.
Belloc's analysis of these movements is riveting. But of course, for the impatient reader, the future is the thing.
Here Belloc sees a Neo-Paganism that is not a return to the paganism of the classical world, but a development from its decadent slime, sucking up within it the decadence of other past anti-Catholic movements. Where some of these had their own sense of integrity, Neo-Paganism is so debased as to have none. And he sees how in its assault on Catholicism it will readily join forces with Eastern paganism (he limns the fascination with Eastern religion that is familiar to us today) and even with Islam, (though Muslims will despise the Neo-Pagans, they will use them expediently against their common enemy in the Church; it is the alliance that exists, in our time, between Western multiculturalists and radical Islam).
In this rise of Neo-Paganism lies "both the peril and the acute interest of our moment." The old attacks on Catholicism "were and are part of that general European civilization which was the creation of the Catholic Church. But the New Arrivals are, in greater and lesser degree, shedding so much of this heritage that they are of a novel kind: they speak in a new language…. Hitherto it has been Civil War: it is soon to be invasion."
How far has Neo-Paganism advanced? "When it is mature," Belloc writes, "we shall have, not the present isolated, self-conscious insults to beauty and right living, but a positive coordination of the repulsive and vile." He sees it taking shape in architecture, in the ziggurats of dehumanizing concrete tower blocks. He sees it in the rise of immorality in books, and the breaking down of the visual arts and music into anti-European and increasingly degraded forms. He sees it in a litany of laws that restrict freedom and impose an anti-Catholic conformity, in state-sponsored eugenics, and in "the compulsory limitation of progeny."
He sees it also in the conscious removal of the underpinnings of basic Christian society. Though necessity will force the Neo-Pagans to accept "some simulacrum of marriage… we may truly say that the facility and frequency of divorce is the test of how far any society once Christian has proceeded towards Paganism."
Against the Neo-Pagan assault, Belloc is no defeatist. He is a fighter. He trusts that there is still enough Christianity remaining within Western Civilization that people will turn in disgust from Neo-Paganism. There have been fits and starts of this – certainly the defeat of the National Socialists temporarily set back the Neo-Pagan cause of eugenics. Yet today's reader will have to note that the general trend seems to be a growing public acceptance of what was only yesterday considered immoral, degraded, and evil.
But Belloc offers another strategy to defeat Neo-Paganism. It has failed to construct a system or doctrine. It cannot answer the fundamental questions that confront every man. It conquers in large part through the "pride, ignorance, and intellectual sloth" of "the modern mind." But this, Belloc believes, cannot last, because "in spite of the time in which we live, I cannot believe that the Human Reason will permanently lose its power. Now the Faith is based upon Reason, and everywhere outside the Faith the decline of Reason is apparent."
It still is. And Hilaire Belloc's Survivals and New Arrivals is a prime weapon in Reason's support, for it reveals to us our enemy. The last paragraph of the book is stunning. Buy a copy and rush to read it. Do.
May 3, 2002
H. W. Crocker III is the author of the newly published Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, A 2,000-Year History (Random House). His prize-winning novel, The Old Limey, will be reissued in paperback this March.