Review of *Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc*

This really isn’t that great a book–and it’s largely Pearce’s fault.   I am saying that because Pearce is actually a good biographer.  His biography of Solzhenitsyn is a masterpiece.   To be fair, most of Belloc’s life is quite boring.  But so is C.S. Lewis’s life.   Yet, biographies on Lewis are interesting.  What gives?  To make an author’s life interesting, while presenting it in historical and chronological context, one must develop his major themes systematically within that chronological account.   Pearce did not do this.

Geopolitical Schizophrenia
It’s hard to say whether Belloc had a good eye for international political analysis.  On one hand, his blind Francophilia kept him from having a decent analysis on World War I.   To be fair to Belloc, though, there really wasn’t a “good” guy in WWI, making moral analysis impossible.   Belloc was aware of the following on other issues, but failed to make the obvious connections on the home front.  Belloc rightly notes that the British banks funded the Nazis prior to WWII (261).  And since the British banks control both Crown and Parliament, then maybe Britian isn’t such a “good guy” after all.  That’s the only rational conclusion and yet Belloc misses it.  Still, Belloc gets a few points for noting that the Anglo-American banking elite formed something like an international cartel.

While I disagree with Belloc’s analysis of Poland, I do commend him for presenting it along the proper lines.   Poland’s location in Europe and her Catholic history meant her geopolitical position was of supreme importance.   Unfortunately, neither Britian nor France could protect her.  Yet, if Poland fell then Europe was lost.   Both happened.

Belloc was absolutely correct on Franco’s Spain.   Today’s conservatives have this weird moral aversion to Franco’s “fascism.”  Franco kept the Communists from overrunning Spain (one speculates on how a Communist Spain would have changed the balance of power in Cold War Europe.

Belloc also had an interesting and ultimately sane take on the Jews.  Belloc decried the barbarism often committed against Jews in the past, yet he pointed out the very obvious fact that the Jews were rarely totally innocent in these pogroms.  Jews were overrepresented in every major socialist and nihilist movement in Europe in the 19th Century.  Jews were overrepresented in Catholic Poland where they financially enslaved Slavic Christians (Belloc for obvious reasons doesn’t mention this).  Does this justify Christian violence against Jews?  Absolutely not, but one must immediately ask Jewis interlocutors, “Is there not a consistent variable?”

Is Europe the faith?  Belloc’s infamous statement implied that Europe and the Faith are one and the same.  Belloc is wrong, of course, but he is more right than some believe.  He is at least approaching the relationship between faith and culture correctly.   Belloc’s main point was that Europe was founded on Christianity and if Christianity dies in Europe, then Europe will soon follow.  He was right, but not for the right reasons.   Faith and society are interconnected, yet the Europe Belloc expounds doesn’t have the neat history he makes it to have.  The Europe in the pre-schism era (1054 A.D.) isn’t exactly the same thing as the Europe Belloc sees.  To be fair, Belloc isn’t a historian of philosophy and doesn’t take note of the major changes in the faith brought on by the High Medieval period’s incorporation of Greek philosophy (nor is he aware of the changes that Augustine’s project entailed).

Is the book worth buying?  No.  It is worth reading though, but one shouldn’t read it too closely.  Much of it is random name-dropping, but there are good points hither and yon.