Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Belloc had it right

Now my reading has taken me onward to The Great Heresies by the Anglo-French convert Hilaire Belloc. What an astonishingly clear writer! And not afraid to call things by their right names and characters. Here's a sample from the last chapter, in which he considers what he calls "The Modern Attack", of which Social Darwinist capitalism, Communism, Fascism, and our current bane, pseudo-scientific materialism, are the chief exemplars:

The last category of fruits by which we may judge the character of
the Modern Attack consists in the fruit it bears in the field of the
intelligence -- what it does to human reason.

When the Modern Attack was gathering, a couple of lifetimes ago,
while it was still confined to a small number of academic men, the first
assault upon reason began. It seemed to make but little progress outside a
restricted circle. The plain man and his common-sense (which are the
strongholds of reason) were not affected. Today they are.

But reason today is everywhere decried. The ancient process of
conviction by argument and proof is replaced by reiterated affirmation;
and almost all the terms which were the glory of reason carry with them
now an atmosphere of contempt.

See what has happened for instance to the word "logic," to the
word "controversy"; note such popular phrases as "No one yet was ever
convinced by argument," or again, "Anything may be proved," or "That may
be all right in logic, but in practice it is very different." The speech
of men is becoming saturated with expressions which everywhere connote
contempt for the use of the intelligence.

Belloc was writing in 1938, seventy years ago, but he has our present world nailed. If you'd like to read it online, EWTN has an electronic version linked here.