God and the Knowledge of Reality (1973) by Thomas Molnar: A Young Scholar’s 1975 Book Review

Dr. Robert Hickson

God and the Knowledge of Reality (1973) by Dr. Thomas Molnar:

An Inchoate Young Scholar’s Brief 1975 Review of the Book’s Trenchant Substance

Author’s Note on 3 June 2021: After unexpectedly recently discovering my June 1975, 4-page book review of Dr. Molnar’s profound little study—my review being written while I was still a callow young man then just returning from travels and from study in Spain (shortly before the consequencial death of General Francisco Franco on 20 November 1975)I have now come much further to see the timeliness of Thomas Molnar’s 1973 book, as well as its enduring timelessness. For, in part, he speaks of new revolutionary forms of dynamic gnosticism and the allure of converging monisms and tempting hermeticism; as well as the consequential distortions of German Philosophical Idealism, especially the occult dialectics of Hegel. Dr. Molnar, by contrast, clearly and pursuasively favors a moderate philosophical Realism and its fuller ongoing restoration, as is to be seen in Saint Thomas Aquinas and Josef Pieper.

A Tale of Two Cities1

GOD AND THE KNOWLEDGE OF REALITY2

Why are real things, all real things, incapable of being finally grasped?… Why is a finite spirit unable to acquire, in the last resort, such a comprehensive knowledge? The answer is: because the knowability of Being, which we are attempting to transform into knowledge, consists in its being creatively thought by the Creator. —Josef Pieper

St. Augustine once wrote a book he might have called A Tale of Two Cities. His title actually spoke of only one city, The City of God, but his contents spoke of two cities, two orders of society, one divine and one human, apart until human history ends. Between these two cities are connections, yet key separations and distinctions, with no merger in substance, with no reduction to only one city. Between these two cities, therefore, there must also be tensions, indeed furious tensions.

The particular genius of G. K. Chesterton was in his depiction of orthodoxy’s heady adventure, its special romance, its many mysteries of paradox whose sacred tensions must remain for man unresolved. Romano Guardini always spoke of preserving in its entirety the mystery of Revelation, the holy profundity. The essence of most forms of unorthodoxy is simplification, reduction of orthodoxy’s furious tensions. Guardini said that “every dogmatic error is basically directed against mystery. It always tries, in one way or another, from one viewpoint or another, to dissolve the mystery of Revelation.”

In the tradition of Chesterton and Guardini comes this fecund book, little and patient and modest, ostensibly about restoring man’s philosophical enterprise, but constantly pointing to the difficult adventure “at the fount of their premises,” into several non-orthodox formulations which attempted to achieve a treacherous simplification, which tried to resolve mysteries of paradox into some false union or absolute. Thomas Molnar’s God and the Knowledge of Reality (1973) shows how a genuine philosophy is the handmaiden of theology. Reading it will be a refreshing, sobering and challenging experience for anyone who has reflected on the relation between a personal, transcendent God and the philosophical tradition of realism; on the implications and consequences to philosophy of God’s lovingly and freely willed act of Creation, His design of several special and finite natures whose essences come from the generosity of His Being.

Molnar’s central insight, which is certainly demanding, is also essential for modern man. Wishing to combat monism, a simplifying worldview that has always especially tempted and threatened men of thought—and has particularly deformed much of modern philosophy—Molnar conceives of his task thus: “the restoration of the philosophical enterprise,” attempted “through a return to reason and hence to the possibility of knowledge.” He seeks a return to a position he calls “moderate realism.” Like Jacques Maritain, he has an interest in the degrees of human knowledge because human knowledge can only exist in degrees. Moreover, the notion of degrees itself implies an inherent limit, whereas a complete comprehension is only possible through an identity in substance with the object of knowledge. This latter striving for fusion comes from the temptation to monism.

With his gradated understanding of knowledge, Molnar probes deeper premises involving the very possibility and limits of human knowledge. His probing descends to fundamental questions: questions about being, created nature, human history, temporality and especially about God.

Molnar argues that all conceptions of God except that of the personal, transcendent, Creator-God must finally warp man’s efforts to know reality (and to know what he cannot know of reality). If there is a personal and transcendent Creator-God, He guarantees man access to knowledge of reality; but because created reality is finite, that access is necessarily limited. Given any other understanding of God, or a denial of God, man resorts to desperate expedients and drifts into deadly, simplifying paths; man’s self-deceptive anfractuosity of mind and sentiment diminishes God and the extra-mental creation. Concurrently, man assumes more centrality: he attempts to contain, systematically, a fuller and more direct knowledge; he presumes to set his own limits from within; he naturally gathers a larger presumed sense of autonomy. It is paradox at work: insofar as the subjective self increases and the non-self lessens, man himself is attenuated. He grows inattentive to the personally mediating, yet finally limiting abyss of light, which is God. There is left only an abyss of darkness, or a cold abstraction of deity, or the silence of otherness.

Molnar argues that the “God-problem” in philosophy is ever recurrent, though it be denied, though it be secularized into some other reductive Absolute such as history or the disquietude and incompleteness of Being. His thesis links the postulates of the God-problem to consequent speculation on the knowledge-problem and, finally, to the problem of the good society, or the political problem.

Molnar sees two “limit formulations” in categorizing the problems of God’s existence: His role in the creation of the world, and His relationship to man. One is the completely transcendent God, the other is the completely immanent God. Each of these two initially separate positions has been widely held throughout history. Molnar provides an intriguing historical exegesis of both of them, of their influence, and, most importantly, of their ultimate reducibility to one another.

Briefly, he sees that the wholly transcendent God is reduced to an immanentist conception of God, and that the latter rests on monist doctrine. The key images or conceptual words of the monist include: fusion, coalescence, merger, unmediated and substantial union.

Opposed to these monist ideals are the ideals of orthodoxy and philosophical realism and, thus, of St. Thomas: distinction, articulation, mediation through finite forms, and, at the most, an analogical union of natures separately created. The paradox and tension inherent in orthodoxy’s understanding of a personal-transcendent God are reflected in His acts—the creation of the world, the Incarnation—and in the mediational forms of Catholicism—the sacraments, the institutional Church itself. Monist doctrine, by contrast, is always tempted, because of its premises of consubstantiality, to burst through boundaries or forms of mediation in order to make the direct connection of the complete transformation.

Since Molnar is convinced that we live still today inside of the Hegelian, dialectical worldview, he focuses on the speculation of this subtle, monistic genius. He hopes to awaken us from dogmatic slumber amongst the illusions of the Hegelian “Cave.” He elucidates the multiple monistic antecedents of Hegel—the traditions of esoterism (Hermeticism), gnosticism, archaic religions, and monistic (as distinguished from “theistic”) mysticism.

In addition to Hegel, much of German philosophical idealism is treated, including Kant, Schelling and Fichte, as well as the inadequate oppositions this idealism provoked, such as Bergson, Husserl, Barth, Heidegger and Sartre.

What happens when a more or less religious spirit is lost from monism? What happens when it is even more secularized than in Hegel? Then we witness how much more treacherous and dynamic and collective the monistic temptation becomes. Society as a whole becomes the unit of analysis. Unique, created personhood becomes an obstacle to collective fulfillment within the historical process itself. A diversely constituted and unchanging human nature is seen to be an illusion. The impulse of monism to collapse distinctions, to facilitate mergers, to reabsorb “fragments” gathers momentum. The signs of this demiurgic monism can be seen in the leveling process, in the uniformity of centralization, in mathematical models of society.

The reader of Thomas Molnar’s book will see with startling lucidity some of the deepest roots of the contemporary anti-institutional, anti-sacramental, anti-sacerdotal impulse. He will see that these positions are not merely emotional preferences or strictly political egalitarian and democratic notions. Often there is a deeper doctrine and a longer tradition underlying such urges.

“Man is nothing but . . .; nature is nothing but . . . ; history is nothing but . . .; God is nothing but. . . .” Reductive thinking flourishes. The monistic transposition means that mental processes are not only seen as identical with historical processes and extra-mental reality, but are actually seen as able to transform history and society. A special kind of knowledge is presumed to have a power which can transmute the “constitution of being” into something better and more complete. A gnosis, such as presuming to recognize the whole blueprint of history, becomes the necessary plan for revolution. “True freedom” comes only in recognizing this necessity. (And here we cannot forget Marx, though he is not usually considered a philosophic idealist.)

At this point we see the apotheosis of monism: Man the Creator: man daring to make being less imperfect than Creation by erasing the distinctions between nature and artifact, between natural thing and artificial thing.

It is therefore at this point that we can see the fundamental opposition between the monistic and immanent mentality and Catholic orthodoxy. Thomas Molnar’s book, like the works of St. Augustine and Chesterton and Guardini, will lead the thinking Catholic to see the adventure to which orthodoxy calls him—which, on the intellectual level, is the challenge to Faith to draw on Reason for aid in restoring the philosophical enterprise.

–FINIS–

© 1975 Robert D. Hickson

1This Review-Essay was first published in Triumph Magazine, in the Issue of June 1975, pp. 26-28.

2Thomas Molnar, God and the Knowledge of Reality (New York: Basic Books, 1973)

Remembering John Vennari

An Author’s Note, on 21 May 2021: After John Vennari (the editor-in-chief of Catholic Family News) had died on 4 April 2017, my wife Maike and I wrote a six-page tribute to him and to his family that is now to be found below. Our tribute was first published, in an abbreviated form and as excerpts of our original words, by Catholic Family News in its May 2017 edition. The fuller presentation of our tribute was then graciously published on 21 May 2017 (exactly four years ago) by the editor of the AKA Catholic website. The tribute below will show that Maike, my wife, also cherished John Vennari, although she never met him in person.

Robert and Maike Hickson

21 April 2017

Saint Anselm (d.1109)

It was only in late August of 2007 in Brazil that I came more intimately to know John Vennari—and thus to perceive his varied high qualities and warmth of heart—especially because the two of us then had a few concentrated days together there in Brazil immediately after Father Gruner’s fine Fatima Conference (20-24 August)—to which I had been unexpectedly invited as a speaker. (Along with Father Gruner, John had invited me to speak selectively on two related, but contrastive, topics: (1) on Catholic Sacramental Literature and the Higher Chivalry a Catholic Centurion Needs Today; and (2) on Perception Management and Strategic Deception in the Growing Forms of Total War We Face.)

In spite of John’s warm invitation, I had not at first thought of accepting this special opportunity, for my wife Maike and I had just been married sacramentally on 11 July in Europe, in Alpine Austria, near Switzerland. And we were understandably somewhat fatigued from the travel and also from our recent talks at another Catholic Conference. Nonetheless, my dear wife earnestly encouraged me to accept John’s invitation and to go promptly to Brazil! I did and I am manifoldly grateful for it.

John Vennari was then forty-nine years of age and robustly exercising the full range of his own manifold faculties and high spirits (and humor) along lines of excellence: intellectual and moral virtue. John was then soon to turn fifty years of age, on 24 February 2008, the Feast of Saint Matthias, the Apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot who had mysteriously committed such intimate perfidy and dark deception.

(After our return to the United States in late August, and with his vivacious and smiling encouragement, I sent John a special gift for his upcoming 50th Birthday. The gift brought out in him some fine sparkles and coruscations, I have heard. For, it was something that a man—a strong and cultured man—could and would receive and drink! And would proceed to do so even promptly!)

Since my wife, Maike, never met John in person—but only had telephone exchanges with him as well as a reciprocity of e-mail messages about their own writings and publications and varied interviews—I shall now first try to convey what John shared with me personally during those days in Brazil.

During our time rooming together in Brazil that late August, John excitedly introduced me to what he called a graduate-level—indeed, a doctoral level—of Political Science education, supplemented by some enriching Strategic Studies. For, John had with him on his accompanying computer a complete set of the 1980s British Situation Comedy and Political Satires known as “Yes, Minister” (1980-1984) and “Yes, Prime Minister”(1986-1987)—especially with “Sir Humphrey Appleby,” the “Permanent Secretary” and Sly Counsellor to “the Minister” and then to “the Prime Minister.” One of John’s favorite (and so characteristic) set of words uttered and recommended by Counsellor Sir Humphrey to Minister Jim Hacker himself was: “Let us not bring the truth in at this stage.”

John proceeded to show me, over some three days together, five or six half-hour episodes of this brilliant series of comedy and political satire. For example, the episode on how the Prime Minister would have to choose a new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and whether or not the candidate at least had to believe in God! And have certain other qualifications.

When hearing John laugh and deftly comment on these depictions—also in light of the current Catholic Church—I then knew that I was close there to John’s genuine heart. Over the years—having first met him in 1997—I never saw him utter anything sardonic or harshly sarcastic. His humor and irony were always generous and magnanimous. No bitterness, no constrictedness, no sneer—despite the provocations. He might help the situation by giving a vignette from P.G. Wodehouse, whom he cherished, or one from a short story by Evelyn Waugh, such as “Mr. Loveday’s Little Outing”!

When John had made up lyrics to his then vividly sung song on advancing in “The Chancery,” he was smiling and radiant with tears of laughter. In the late 1990s when I introduced John to the musical Dr. E. Michael Jones in South Bend, Indiana and heard them sing together with their fiddles or guitars, it was a rare festive and antic combination. Mike Jones gratefully told me afterwards—and Jones is no effusive praiser of persons—that “John Vennari is a brilliant lyricist.”

In Brazil, John told me much about his life growing up around Philadelphia (E.M. Jones’ home town, as well.) For, he knew I grew up nearby in South Jersey, less than 60 miles away, in Margate, on an ocean seacoast island (Absecon Island) which is some 6 miles south from Atlantic City—and John had often visited the coast and beaches there as a boy and as a young man—maybe even with one of his “rock bands.”

Later on he attempted to be a monk (along with the Diamond brothers and their lame, but robust, superior) at The Most Holy Family Monastery, a more traditionalist monastery just outside of Berlin, New Jersey, a little to the east of Philadelphia. (That former monastery is now Mater Ecclesiae diocesan Church which celebrates only the Traditional Liturgy.)

While John and I were discussing his time and difficulties there at the monastery, when he was searching for a confirmation of a true and sound religious vocation, he told me a charming story of how he first met his future wife, Susan.

Susan was at that same time, apparently, a Graduate Assistant to a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania—he was a professor of Arabic and of Middle East Studies, as I recall–and somehow Susan was sent by her professor with a large quantity of papers or texts to be copied on the excellent (and fast) copy machines at the Berlin monastery. While recollecting his time as an Aspiring Novice Monk, John then stopped in his longer narration and charmingly said to me with a smile: “Robert, When I first saw her [Susan] I knew I had no religious vocation.”

I am not sure in what year it was that Susan had first visited that Berlin monastery with her learned papers to be copied, but I believe it was after I had first met her in Germany in the early 1990s. It was at Dr. John Haas’ Seminar and three-week summer school in lower Bavaria, in Eichstaett, Germany at which I had also given some invited talks on Catholic Literature. When I later met Susan in the late 1990s at the South Bend Conference (conducted by Mike Chabot) after she and John had married and had at least one child, she was so vividly grateful for her time in Germany and for her dear family, too!

In Brazil, John also told me: “Robert, you are a soldier, and you have probably had a lot of fights growing up, at least at West Point, but likely also so much more later on. But, do you know that I was never even in a fight growing up?! Also, in my marriage with Susan, we have never had a fight! We just fit together so well. Even our temperaments.” The way he recounted all these things was so warm and innocent and affectionate. The beautiful picture of John’s face–as it was posted on the Catholic Family News Website after John’s death on 4 April—reminded me of John’s face in Brazil as he told me of Susan and such matters. His countenance is (and was) so pure and clear and big-hearted. Just look at his eyes! (We now have a copy of that picture of John in the kitchen of our Old Farmhouse near the hearth and our active fireplace.)

John often shared with me short films of his three children’s musical or dramatic performances—to include their rides in home-made wheeled buggies or with sleds in the snow. Often there were the joyful antics of the young children, including young Benedict, his last child and only son.

Over the almost twenty years of our association and friendship (1997-early 2017), we exchanged some deep thoughts and opinions about some challenging subjects: the brilliant and polite pre-Vatican II learned exchanges in the American Ecclesiastical Review itself between Father John Courtney Murray, S.J. (d. 1967) and Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton (d. 1969); the reasons (in addition to weak health) for Msgr. Fenton’s own sad departure from the Vatican Council after the First Session; the extent to which John’s hero Msgr. Fenton ever met or wrote or spoke to Father Leonard Feeney; and the subtle shift made by some SSPX Traditionalists from “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” to the vaguer and much more ambiguous formulation “Sine Ecclesia Nulla Salus”; what Our Lady of Fatima specifically meant by “the Errors of Russia”?—Name five!; what did Msgr. Fenton mean by his distinction in his own, often magnificent pre-Vatican II 1958 book, The Catholic Church and Salvation: In the Light of Recent Pronouncements by the Holy See, namely the distinction De Ecclesia about someone’s somehow being “in” the Church, but “not a memberof the Church?; And what are the implications of this claim—without thereby sliding into Karl Rahner’s notion of the putatively “anonymous Christian”?

John was always gracious and thoughtful in our discussions, even when he was unable to find and render a satisfactory answer—satisfactory also to him and to his winsome integrity.

It meant very much to me later—when my wife Maike in 2012 was secretly and so strategically forming up a one-day Academic Conference and a subsequent Festschrift for my upcoming 70th Birthday on 29 December 2012—that John Vennari deftly chose to write something for the book which explicitly looked back, once again, to our time together in Brazil five years earlier, and even to one of the talks on literature I had presented there. The memorable title of John Vennari’s Festschrift contribution was “These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins” (65-68). John remembered the proposed motto of a Catholic Centurion and Soldier—“Blessed be he who has saved a child’s heart from despair”—recalling Georges Bernanos’ own haunting words in The Diary of a Country Priest.

John Vennari’s own “spiritual childhood” always touched me deeply—his docility, humility, and trust. “Sinite parvulos ad Me venire,” said Our Lord. May John now rest truly in peace; and may he now or soon know, at least inchoately, the Life More Abundant promised by the Lord to those of Loyal Love ad Finem. Requiescat in Pace. Abundantius!

A small and hopefuly apt word of gratitude may be fittingly added now by Maike Hickson :

One of the first articles I wrote as a Catholic—on G.K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong With the World—was published by John Vennari, in 2009. It was an honor for me, since, still in Germany, his name had resonance among traditional Catholics. I remember having seen reprints of his writing about the Alta Vendita document, in German. Down the years, I have gotten to know John for his charity, clarity, and cheerfulness. Our own little children still remember watching, many a time, a little film John once sent to us from a local little pig race which he had attended with his own children. He so clearly was such a loving father and husband.

Unforgettable to me (and my husband) are his and Chris Ferrara’s running filmed commentaries from Rome on the Synod of Bishops on the Family. John and Chris together both made such a contribution in resisting the evil flowing out from those heterodox debates in discussing the events of the day, dissecting the lies then being spread, and then themselves returning, again and again, to the clarity of the Catholic Church’s traditional teaching. For many of us, these video clips were strengthening and uplifting. Certainly my husband and I cherished them.

I always have a sense that these two Synods on the Family must have damaged John’s health. They were life-taking. They were so upsetting and so shaking. We are still shaken to our inner roots. John gave so much in these last years of intensified battle, from articles on the life and work of Cardinal Carlo Martini to the equivocal writings of Cardinal Walter Kasper. John gave his best, and, as it now seems, his last. He exhausted himself, as it seems now, for the greater good of the Church. He gave his all in the defense of the Catholic Faith. I often have compassion for him and his comrades—and I may include my husband in it—because they have had to fight this battle for so long, and often in such a lonely fashion. For us younger Catholic writers, it is only a shorter time that we try to do battle for Jesus Christ. But now, at least the tide is changing a bit, and, though still much disdain we feel, people’s hearts are more open to tradition. People like John Vennari, Arnaud de Lassus, Anthony S. Fraser, and also my husband, had to carry the cross for a very long stretch— even since 1962—without seeing any light. I wish to honor them and to thank them.

John wrote in his contribution to the Festschrift in honor of my husband the following piercing words when speaking about those who try to preserve “Catholic fragments”: “Lone individuals who keep alive forgotten truths are a mark of our time. What was considered normal in Christian Civilization are now oddities extolled by the few who recognize the value of these discarded fragments.” This he wrote in 2012. That was before the papacy of Pope Francis. How much further have we come ourselves into becoming these “lone individuals who keep alive forgotten truths”? It is with a sense of sadness and longing that we will miss John —we miss him as a comrade here on earth, and we long to be with him in Heaven, relieved from this Valley of Tears that seems to become a sadder place by the day. May John Vennari now intercede for us who—to include his dear family—are still Christian soldiers here on earth. May his intercession be now even more powerful than it was while he still walked and wrote among us. May Our Lord have welcomed him with a warm embrace and tears of joy, and with His Mother standing by Him, with a very special smile. You have fought your fight well, John.

“And You Cannot Build Upon a Lie” (H. Belloc) – When the Humbug Has Broken Down and the Sham Exposed (Learning from English History)

Author’s Note on 18 May 2021: Hilaire Belloc’s 1920 book, while enduring the aftermath of World War I, will be a helpful political education for us as we study the instructive British history and apply it to our own situation in the United States. Belloc’s book on Kingship and Oligarchies and Aristocracy will include the 1649 English Regicide and the gradually corrupting consequences of that act upon an oligarchic, sometimes aristocratic institution, such as (and especially) the English House of Commons of which Belloc was once himself a member. This current essay was originally completed on 16 April 2013.

“And You Cannot Build Upon a Lie” (H. Belloc)—

When the Humbug Has Broken Down and the Sham Exposed

Dr. Robert Hickson

16 April 2013

Saint Bernadette Soubirous

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre

Epigraphs:

“But the answer to all this [“sort of hopeless feeling”] is that these growing evils (and they have almost reached that limit after which the State breaks down) are not inevitable and are not necessary—save [i.e., except, unless] under an anonymous system.” (Hilaire Belloc, The House of Commons and Monarchy, p. 181—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

***

“It is [in this context] far more important for us to see and admit what has happened than to discuss why it has happened. It is much more important to find out that your rudder has dropped off in the deep sea than to discover how it dropped off. Yet it may be of service to mention causes briefly before we proceed to the chances of the future.” (Hilaire Belloc, The House of Commons and Monarchy, p. 115—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

***

In 1920, ten years after Hilaire Belloc had stepped down from his four maturing years of publicly elected service in the House of Commons, he published a lucid book-length essay, entitled The House of Commons and Monarchy.1 It is a forthright and equitably proportioned work with a clearly stated thesis; and the development of Belloc’s presented evidence and argumentation will help us still better understand—even in the United States—many timely and timeless things of political and moral moment. For example, the reality of power, especially the formation, sustained moral authority, and gradual decay of a “new governing class” (39): indeed, a wealthy Oligarchy that had indispensably become a well-rooted Aristocracy, “after a sufficient tradition has confirmed them,” (47) even so as to become “a sacramental thing.”(39) Regrettably then, but truly, Belloc says, “one of the causes of the decline of Aristocracy” (179) is “the accumulation of…corruptions.” (179) Thus, Trust is broken; the earlier “general respect” (47) and the “ reverence upon which Aristocracy reposed,” vanish.

For it is so, he says, that

The characters [those enduring qualities] which keep an Aristocratic body in the saddle are easily recognized, though difficult to define. The first, undoubtedly, is dignity. The second, closely related to dignity, is a readiness in the individual to sacrifice himself for the good of the whole. The Aristocratic spirit demands in those who govern a readiness to suffer personal injury and loss for the sake not only of the State…but [for the sake] of the Aristocratic quality of the State, and in particular of the special Aristocratic organism [i.e., the House of Commons] to which the individual belongs. (85-86—my emphasis added)

However, when then later speaking of the growing “ineptitude” (88) of a governing class, and its selfish, even “ardent passion” to serve “personal safety” (89) rather than the larger Common Good (Bonum Commune), Belloc, by way of sharp contrast, also says:

When a governing clique ceases to be Aristocratic you feel it not only in specific indignities and particular buffooneries, or petty thefts; you feel it in a sort of insecurity [as well as an insufficiency]. The frantic efforts to conceal, the silly blushing denials, the haste to get away with the swag—all of these are the symptoms: and worst of all is the incapacity for sacrifice. (88-89—my emphasis added)

Furthermore, in Belloc’s words:

Lastly, from two most powerful sources, the Aristocratic State tends to suffer from Illusion, especially in its old age—and illusion is the most dangerous of all things. The two sources whence Illusion insinuates itself into the mood [or “atmosphere” (82)] of an Aristocratic State are, first, its internal security; and second, the legendary nature of the moral authority which the governing class exercises. (55—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

Belloc also came to believe that, in the House of Commons, there is “a lack of machinery for recuperation” (57) and, so: “They nourish Illusion to protect their decay.” (58—emphasis added) However, although it is so that “Parliaments must be Oligarchies;” (63) likewise “it is universally true of oligarchies that they cannot govern unless they are Aristocratic.” (64) Moreover, an “Aristocratic State demands Aristocratic Action and Temper both in those who govern and in those who are governed.” (63—my emphasis added) Such must be, in good times, the reciprocally nourishing political culture.

Belloc’s main thesis, in the light of earlier English history (especially since the Regicide of 1649) is, as follows: “The House of Commons was formed by, and is essentially part of, an Aristocratic State. England having ceased to be an Aristocratic State the House of Commons is ceasing to function.” (This clear formulation is repeated three times at the outset of his argument, i.e., on pages 4, 7, and 9.)

For, “the central institution of that Aristocratic England which the Reformation had made was [and still is] the House of Commons.” (63—my emphasis added) Speaking of the mid-seventeenth century in England and the contention between the newly strengthened vested interests and the Stuart King, he says:

The rising quarrel (confused in its eddies but clear in its main stream) produced the Civil Wars and the destruction of English kingship. The new Oligarchy [with the help of the martial Calvinist, Oliver Cromwell] put to death the last true Monarch in 1649 [Charles I]. His son [Charles II] came back eleven years later, but only as a salaried official…. But why was all this? Why should the supplanting after civil war of one form of government by another, of Monarchy by Oligarchy, have produced so large an effect and one of such advantage to national greatness and glory?….The masses grew more dependent, the rich more powerful and even immune; but of the external growth and wealth and dominion, and all that of which patriotic men are proud, there can be no doubt. (37-38—my emphasis added)

Belloc considers his own terse answer to the question (“And why?”) to be so important to his overarching argument that he puts his brevity in emphatic italics:

Essentially because the Oligarchy, which had thus seated itself firmly in the saddle after the destruction of the Monarchy, was growing (through the national sentiment and through the new religion on which that sentiment was based) into an Aristocracy. That is the point. That is the whole understanding of modern English history. As an ultimate result of the Reformation the Kings were broken and replaced by a Governing Class, of which the House of Commons was the [“sovereign”] organ. But that new governing class was not a mere clique, not a small minority merely seizing power. Men have never tolerated such usurpation. They have never allowed an irresponsible few to rule without moral sanction. It would be an insupportable rule….What had come, in the place of kingship, was an Aristocratic State, a State governed by an Oligarchy indeed, but by an Oligarchy which received the permanent and carefully preserved respect of its fellow-citizens. (38-39—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

Throughout the later parts of his book, Belloc shows how and why that indispensable and cherished respect gradually (and very consequentially) decayed—while emphasizing the stark fact that it had indeed happened!

In the remainder of this essay, I propose to give special accent to Hilaire Belloc’s articulate insights about general moral matters, to include the importance of virtuous, as well as vicious (or subtly degraded), moral character in members of a ruling Elite. For moral character also has social consequences, and, as Belloc has incisively written: “The statement that Parliaments are, or can be, democratic is a lie; and you cannot build build upon a lie.” (177—my emphasis added) Reform of a long-traditional Governing Class must come from deeper sources, from within and from without. In any case, it must be based on reality, on truth presented fully and in its proper proportions—even though, as Belloc knows well, there are always “critics of too much truth-telling,” (82) in spite of a “known internal breakdown” (82) of an “existing organ of government,” (82) such as the House of Commons. For, he had said: “It is always so when an institution breaks down. The crust survives by a few years the rotten interior.” (81)

Despite its special strengths, an Aristocratic State—in Belloc’s view—has its own special vulnerabilities:

An Aristocratic State is less able to reform itself than any other, and if its essential principle [deserved mutual respect, and even reverence] grows weak, it has the utmost difficulty in finding a remedy for its disease…. An Aristocratic State attacked in its vital principle has no medicinal rules, no formulae upon which to fall back for its healing. Its diseases [in the face of “civil dissension” and distrustful disrespect] are profoundly organic, never mechanical; for the whole action [and “temper”] of an Aristocracy is less conscious and less defined than that of a Democracy or Monarchy. (55)

There is “another element” in this matter of the “old age” of an Aristocratic State: the factor of “weariness” (97):

The weakening of contempt [for moral baseness, and for coarse and cunning “adventurers and rapscallions” (97)], this new intimate companionship with financial powers, not only ephemeral but base, comes in part from fatigue. And this we see in a process everywhere observable: which is the admixture of apology and impudence…. [For example,] to find a man or woman of the governing type (they no longer possess the governing power) apologizing for their frequentation of such and such a [plutocrat’s] house, for their acceptation of such and such an insult, and accompanying the apology with a phrase which admits their incapacity to stand firm. It is an attitude of drift and of lassitude in luxury: of a tired need for money. It is the very contrary of that atmosphere of discipline which all governing organs, Monarchic, Democratic, or Aristocratic, must maintain under peril of extinction. Next to this abandonment of principle, this loss of a stiffening standard round which the governing body could rally, and to which it could conform, we note [now, indeed, as of 1920] the disintegration of the governing body. That process has not yet gone very far, but it is going very fast. (97-98—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

As to another important quality of Elites, Belloc piquantly observed that, “at the time when the Aristocratic spirit was most vigorous,” (99) “we have seen, not only in our own, but in every other country,” that a “ ‘Representative’ Assembly” itself “does only work” (98-99) when it is

A body slowly renewed, and renewed largely by its own volition; that is largely co-opting [selecting and recruiting] its own membership as elder members drop out through age, glut of loot, fatigue, tedium, disgrace, or pension. But an organism of this kind, an instrument of government of this kind, a body comparatively small, in the main permanent, and continuous in action, is an Oligarchy by every definition of that term. (68—my bold emphasis added, italics in the original)

As such an Oligarchy itself develops slowly into a more “rooted” Aristocracy, “there is an aristocratic way of doing it and an unaristocratic way of doing it” (87), thus properly without any “undignified mountebank tricks” (85):

For instance, it is in the Aristocratic spirit that a member of the Government caught taking a bribe, or telling a public lie, should resign: and until quite lately such resignations were the rule. Another subtle character, and one very little recognized because it is so difficult to seize (yet its presence is powerfully felt), is the representative character of the Aristocrat properly so called…. A living Aristocracy is always very careful to be in communion with, actually mixed with, the mass of which it is itself the chief. It has an unfailing flair for national tradition, national custom, and the real national will. It has, therefore, as a correlative, an active suspicion of mere numerical and mechanical tests [and even mere financial tests?!] for arriving at that will. To take a practical example: an English governing class, which in the middle of the nineteenth century had given up riding horses or playing cricket, would have ceased to govern; but the extent of the franchise was indifferent to it. (86-87—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

On the premise that contrast clarifies the mind, we may see how our Belloc will first have us appreciate the earlier composite of Aristocratic qualities and dispositions, so as to enhance his insights about the drab or monochromatic sequels:

Under the old order the governing class maintained a certain hierarchy, and had a regular process of digestion and support [i.e., of incorporating recruitment and as patrons of a richer artistic culture]. The best example of this function in the old Aristocratic organism, the gentry, is its old attitude toward intelligence and creative power (intelligence and creative power are between them the mark of the arts)…. In an Aristocracy, while it still has its vigour, the Aristocratic organism recognizes and selects (though itself is not for the most part creative) true creative power around it. It recognizes above all proportion and order in creative power. It has an instinct against chaos in the arts. When what remains of a governing class seeks only novelty and even absurdity, or, what is worse still, a mere label, in its appraisal of creative power, it is a proof that the Aristocratic spirit has declined. The disintegration of the class that should govern is to be seen in another fashion: the substitution of simple, crude, obvious, and few passions for a subtle congeries of appetites. (98-99, 101-102—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

Acutely aware as he is of the (seductively specious, but deeply corrupt) Vitality of Mammon in the Decline of a State—as some of his richly differentiated essays also confirm—Belloc exemplifies in this 1920 book what these crude and coarse passions, or isolated and inordinate desires, actually mean:

Consider the passion for money. The necessity for wealth, position through wealth, the digestion of new wealth, all these are indeed native to the governing class of an Aristocracy. But they are native only as part of a much larger whole. Wealth thus sought in a strong governing class is subject to many qualifications, the desire is balanced against many other desires. When the attitude towards wealth becomes at once a principal thing and an isolated thing it is a proof, and a cause, of disintegration in a governing class; for instance, when wealth is divorced from manners, or is accepted or sought for at the expense of a grave loss of dignity. And what is true of the appetite for wealth is true of many other things, the appetite for physical enjoyment, the appetite for change, the appetite for new sensation (an appetite born of fatigue and accompanying not strength, but weakness). (102-103—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

Among “the Governed,” (107) there has also been “a portentous change” (118), as a result of the Industrial and French Revolutions:

These masses [of the Governed] have been born and have lived their lives utterly divorced from the remnants and even the tradition of the old Aristocratic organism….The new wealthy classes which might have imitated the [landed] squires of an older time, and which at first were largely assimilated into the governing class, do not live with their workmen. They fled the towns. They established colonies, as it were,…of luxurious houses [not yet “gated communities”] standing miles away from the workshops…., and the proletariat lived, grew, formed (or half formed) its political desires, nourished its bitterness, apart. No social condition more directly contrary to that of aristocracy can be imagined. And this is the immediate as well as the major cause of the phenomenon we are studying. This it is, the substitution of the new great towns for the old country sides as the determining body of society which has transformed the political [form] of England and of the Lowlands of Scotland. (118-119—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

Belloc, very importantly, then says that it was “not, indeed, anything material,” but “it was a spirit; the religion and philosophy of Industrial Capitalism” and “the outward effects of that religion acted as I have said.” (119) One stark result was that:

The great mass of the populace was left with no bands [no bonds] attaching it any longer to the form of the Aristocratic State….There you have the final condemnation to death of Aristocracy as a principle in this country, and with it a corresponding condemnation to death of the House of Commons. Side by side with the loss of the Aristocratic spirit in those who should have governed there has gone the loss of any desire for, and even the mere knowledge of, Aristocratic government in the mass who are governed. (119—my emphasis added)

Another result of this “binary” combination is that it “has left the House [of Commons] to-day bereft of moral authority.” For it is fundamentally true, as the Catholic Church well knows (and as Belloc himself often elsewhere quotes) that “without authority there is no life” (“sine auctoritate nulla vita”). Furthermore, says Belloc with a sense of irreversibility and even of a sort of tragic finality:

Even though the House of Commons were to become as clean as it is now corrupt, as nice as it is now nasty, as noble as it is now mean and petty, or as dignified as it is now vulgar and contemptible, this factor alone, the loss of the popular desire to be ruled by a few, would be fatal to its continued power. (120)

Even if the House of Commons “might (in part) revive its moral authority,” (132) “who on earth believes that such things will ever be done by the authority of the culprits themselves?” (132) For,

Though miracles certainly happen, yet the rarest of all miracles is a moral miracle of this kind. A rotten institution reforming itself, and not only reforming itself but being aided in its reformation by all its own corrupt members, servants, parasites, and masters [or “paymasters”], is a thing that history has never seen. History has seen plenty of men raised into the air, many walking on the water, and a few raised from the dead. But it has never seen an institution in the last stages of decay and still possessing nominal power, using that power to chastise and to reform itself. (132-133—my emphasis added)

Without having any utopian expectations, and knowing well the problems with historic or actual kingship, Belloc does nevertheless believe that a substantive improvement could be attained amidst this cumulatively grim state of affairs if a strong, virtuous, and intimately personal Monarchy were to be restored and again to control the Money Power, inasmuch as

The leading function of the Monarch is to protect the weak man against the strong, and therefore to prevent the accumulation of wealth in a few hands, the corruption of the Courts of Justice and [the corruption] of the sources of public opinion [ thus, the full range of “the Media”]. (178—my emphasis added)

As a counterpoint to this monarchical preference, Belloc admits that

A Democracy also, where it is active and real, can do all these things.2 You may see every one of these functions at work in a Swiss Canton, for instance. There you may see [legal] tribunals which dread public opinion, judges who are afraid of giving false judgments, laws which forbid too great an inequality of wealth, and the absence of any vast or sudden profits acquired through the cunning of one against the simplicity of many. But where very great numbers are concerned [as in a “numerous democracy”] all these functions are atrophied if you attempt to make them Democratic in their working; and in the absence of an Aristocratic spirit there is nothing but a Monarch to exercise them [the essential “functions” of just and equitable Governance]….He [the Monarch] knows that he is responsible. He cannot shift the burden to some anonymous or intangible culprit. (179-180—my emphasis added)

Earlier in the book, Belloc had especially noted, as one of the potential weaknesses of an Aristocratic country (even in its commendable vigor) is to see “how strangely deep in such a country is the worship of powerful men, and how rooted is the distaste in the masses for the responsibilities of government.” (79—my emphasis) He later adds a complementary reinforcement to his earlier wise insight:

Out of citizens who have always been passive of their nature [especially about the burdensome responsibilities of governance], and whose passivity was the very cause of Aristocracy among them, you will never get the Democratic spirit of corporate initiative, and of what is essential to Democratic institutions, a permanent, individual interest in public affairs. (176—my emphasis added)

After then returning to the matter of monarchy and briefly considering some of the prominent Kings (or Emperors) of history, our Belloc then tries to imagine any of these men in action today, if they were to be “placed at the head of the modern State,” (182)—and yet “not through their [virtuous] character, but [only] through the powers granted them by the constitutions of their times.” (181-182) Asking and happily (or impishly) answering his own question, he says:

What do you think would happen to the corrupt judges, to the politicians who take bribes, to the great trusts that destroy a man’s livelihood, to the secret financiers boasting that they control the State [“Le pouvoir sur le pouvoir”—in the oft-quoted words of Jacques Attali]? Their blood would turn to water. (182—my emphasis added)

Belloc often accents the danger of unaccountable finance and its corrupting Oligarchical power, especially to mislead “the remaining inheritors of the old Aristocratic position” (103) in “their now irretrievable mixture with international finance and consequent degradation of blood.” (104—my emphasis added) A few pages later, Belloc even says that, for the governed populace, as of 1920, “the [old] gentry no longer means anything to them,” (112) and even the idea of “one governing class is no longer within the vision of the governed” (112)—and “What may be left of such a class they merge in a general vision of excessive, unjust, and indeed malignant wealth.” (112—my emphasis added) That is to say, they are seen as if they were all merely detached and frigid Plutocrats or selfishly Squalid Oligarchs—inaccessible and also still immune from any just accountability in this world.

Hilaire Belloc always combated “an anonymous system,” and its evasive diffusion of personal responsibility and accountability, and he argued, instead, for the return of a Popular Monarchy as was known in historic Christendom, but now, as is just, in prudent view of unique modern conditions and technologies.

The House of Commons and Monarchy, by way of summary, began by showing how Kingship in England was first weakened by the monarchs themselves, to include Henry VII’s sly usurpation of the throne, and then especially the spiritual and temporal actions of Henry VIII, who more or less unwittingly helped create a new and powerful Oligarchy which materially profited from the general loot of the monasteries and monastery lands. That new landed Oligarchy gradually incorporated the merchant and professional elements—the lawyers and the financiers, for instance—and that Oligarchical power increasingly worked to weaken (and have leverage over) the Sovereign King, culminating in the Regicide of 1649: the execution of the Stuart King, Charles I. As the new Oligarchy—or somewhat differentiated, and rival, oligarchies—grew in power and influence, they also became more rooted and stable and continuous, until the Oligarchy became an Aristocracy and the Parliament effectively became the Sovereign, Aristocratic House of Commons. The gradual decay of that House of Commons showed once again the coarser qualities of an Oligarchy, now also containing various alien elements from the outside, as it were—to include the leverage and power of “the Money Power” (as Belloc elsewhere calls it): the Elements and Organs of Finance, to include International Finance—and the Power of the Public Media of Communications (the Press, as it was then known). Then came the further (often anonymous) Oligarchic Manipulations of what was increasingly (but misleadingly) called Democracy—a coarsening and deceptive and drifting development, for sure, which thereby called out, once again, for a restoration in principle, and establishment in actuality, of a sound and strong Personal Monarchy which was attentive to, and finally responsible for, the whole Bonum Commune—as a good Father would care and sacrifice for the common good of his whole family, for which he will finally be held strictly accountable, coram Deo. Before God, in the Final Verdict of Truth—at least in the Faith of a Catholic. And not only Belloc’s. “To whom much has been given, much will be required; to whom much has been entrusted, more [even more!] will be required.” (Luke 12:48)

In any case, Belloc saw the humbug and sham of so much of Modern Democracy, as did the honest French intellectual historian, François Furet, who also (like Belloc) wrote books on the French Revolution, one of which contained an important chapter, near the end of his text, on Augustin Cochin (1876-1916), the young French Catholic historian of the French Revolution who was killed on the battlefield of World War I. In that chapter, Furet said with unexpected candor: “Modern Democracy is based on [depends upon] a hidden oligarchy [“oligarchie cachée”], which is contrary to its principles, but indispensable to its functioning.”3 That is to say, though in even more trenchant words: “Modern Democracy is based upon a Deception.”

Moreover, since there are always “civil wars within the Revolution itself,” as the French Catholic scholar, Léon de Poncins, often noted, François Furet’s insight would be rendered even more perfectly if we put his singular “oligarchie cachée” into the plural, “oligarchies cachées.” For, there are, indeed, rivalries among the variously manifold and active oligarchies in their quests for advantage and power (as was so, historically, between the Girondins and the Jacobins and their respective Financiers), especially when it is for “Power without Grace.” (An acute phrase said more than once by Saint Helena in her candid, cautionary guidance to her own beset and perplexed (and as yet unbaptized) son, Emperor Constantine, amidst the deficiencies and delusions of his burdensome Rule, as so eloquently presented by Evelyn Waugh in his highly differentiated historical novel, Helena (1950). )

When we also recall the title of this essay, we may now appreciate a further nuance of meaning. To the extent that Modern Democracy itself is based upon Deception—indeed a deliberate deception of rival and often anonymous oligarchies—it is based upon a Lie. (And the greatest social effect of a Lie is that it breaks Trust, even the deepest Trust—as in an intimate Perfidy—and that deeply shattered trust is so hard to rebuild. Even with mercy and grace and “forgiveness from the heart,” wholehearted forgiveness.)

When the Humbug has broken down and the Sham exposed—whether about Democracy or Oligarchy or an Ecclesiastical Sophistry—we must still remember, in our sustained and faithful efforts at reconstruction, Hilaire Belloc’s own recurrent words: “And you cannot build upon a lie.” (177)

“The Moral is, it is forsooth: You mustn’t monkey with the Truth.”4

Finis

© 2013 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, The House of Commons and Monarchy (London: George Allen & Unwin LTD.,1920), 188 pages. References to this text will henceforth be in parentheses in the main body of this essay. See also H. Belloc’s “The Decline of a State”( in First and Last, 1912); and “A Few Kind Words to Mammon”( in On, 1923).

2In an earlier footnote, on page 113, Belloc himself says: “The test of the Democratic temper is a popular craving to possess public initiative, and the test of Democratic government is the exercise of that initiative. Chance consultation by vote has nothing to do with Democracy.” The American Founding Fathers, in The Federalist Papers, also disapprovingly spoke of the instability and irresponsibility of mere “numerous democracy.” A rule by mere number and quantity, that is.

3François Furet, Penser la Révolution française (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), Part II, Chapter 3 (Augustin Cochin: la théorie du jacobinisme), p. 241. Another rendition of the French original is: “There is in all democratic power, a fortiori in all pure democratic power, a hidden oligarchy, which is at the same time contrary to its principles and yet indispensable to its functioning.” Augustin Cochin himself especially, and famously, studied those active leavens of the Revolution: the so-called associations or societies of thought (Sociétés de Pensée). These intellectually and operationally active groupings would also be properly considered as networks of little, though disproportionately influential, “oligarchies.”

4This is a close paraphrase of the two concluding lines from one of Hilaire Belloc’s own buoyant verses, entitled “The Example.” See, for example, Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Verses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941), pp. 402-407. The last two lines of that sprightly, cautionary verse are: “The Moral is (it is indeed!)/ You mustn’t monkey with the Creed.”

Complacent Sentries and the Sloth of Roaming Unrest

Author’s Note, on 12 May 2021: This essay was completed on 19 January 2013, which was less than a month before the unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was announced (on 11 February 2013), and almost two months before Pope Francis’ election to replace Benedict XVI as the new pope (on 13 March 2013). Moreover, this essay discusses the strategic insights of two non-Catholics about many matters of moment which should be of interest to Catholics, as well: James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers.

Dr. Robert Hickson

19 January 2013

Saint Canute of Denmark (d.1086)

General Robert E. Lee’s Birthday (d.1870)

Complacent Sentries and the Sloth of Roaming Unrest:

The Ambience of Vaticanum II in its Historical-Military Context

Epigraphs:

“Given time, we hear the argument, we can gradually work our way out of the mess….Conferences of foreign [and hence ecclesiastical] ministers will step by step build up confidence and solve the problems and bring us peace and prosperity. But we are not given time, and there is now loose in the world a mighty force dedicated to the proposition that we shall not have peace and prosperity.” (James Burnham, The Coming Defeat of Communism, 1949, 1950, p. 12.)

“If I am wrong in my assumed point of view, if the crisis is an illusion and the catastrophe an anxiety complex, then there can be no justification for either the analysis or the plan [“that I propose”]. But I do not believe that I am wrong.” (James Burnham, The Coming Defeat of Communism, p. 12.)

“Neuroticism, insanity, and the comic are, however, largely a matter of context. Behavior and ideas that would have proved insanity under Queen Anne [in the years 1702-1714] may have a very different meaning in the 20th century. Putting money each week in the savings bank is not sensible behavior during an unrestrained inflation; bringing suit for libel is not a mark of sanity in a revolution. What is historical madness depends upon what historical reality is….But what then of the …[F.D.R.] Roosevelts…, many of whose actions can be explained only by the hypothesis that they imagined themselves to be living in another century than their own?” (James Burnham, The Coming Defeat of Communism, pp. 10-11.)

This essay is an act of thanksgiving, not only a deeply humbling acknowledgment, to two non-Catholics, James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers—both of them long-suffering, wholehearted men—who saw more clear-sightedly and more deeply into the historical reality of the 1950s and early 1960s than many professed Catholics of the time, to include many of the leading Ecclesiastics of the day. And they tried to warn us.

On 3 June 1961, two years to the day before the death of the affectionately expressive and publicly buoyant Pope John XXIII (on 3 June 1963), James Burnham wrote a highly cultured, prescient, and far-sighted strategic article during his visit in Vienna, Austria, where he was alertly present—specifically in order to report on the euphoric and widely publicized Summit Meeting between the Soviet Chief Nikita Khrushchev and the youthful President John F. Kennedy. It may be still helpful to our grasp of historical reality, if we consider Burnham’s subtle and sobering article, which was tersely and resonantly entitled “Sleeping Sentries.”1 It may also be a timely, cleansing Parable for us.

Full of liberal hope in that early summer of 1961, as well as (after “the Bay of Pigs”) with some admitted embarrassment and ambiguous guilt, President Kennedy had gladly consented to this high-level Vienna meeting. It was taking place just some four months after his own inauguration as President on 20 January 1961. It was also but six weeks after the humiliation (and arguable betrayal) of the failed, though U.S.-supported, Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba (17-19 April 1961), which had been very covertly prepared for, and then largely mounted out of Central America, namely Guatemala. More shockingly, however, soon after that 3 June Summit meeting—i.e., on 13 August 1961—the Communist construction of the Berlin Wall chillingly began.

Moreover, only a year-and-a half after this (as Burnham saw it indeed) “provocatively weak” Summit Meeting in Vienna, where Khrushchev also once again saw young John Kennedy as a callow vacillator, there came another test of power and will: the very dangerous Cuban Missile Crisis of 16-28 October 1962 (even months before that in the tense covert world), which so precariously transpired, publicly, only a week after the optimistic and effervescent opening in Rome of the Catholic Church’s new Ecumenical Council (on 11 October), usually called the Second Vatican Council or Vaticanum II. The secular and religious Mass Media of Social Communications and Propaganda were also fervently energized and set for High Drama—as some had feared, such as Pope Pius XII himself in 1950.

Slightly more than a year after the commencement of the Council— on 22 November 1963—the liberal-progressive, professedly Catholic, President Kennedy himself was assassinated. Some of the hopeful idealism, which Kennedy and his New Frontiersmen had hoped to inspire and to infuse, started then to turn dark, even cynical, especially among some of the young, and not only because of the United States’ equivocal and increasingly disillusioned involvement in the Vietnam War.

Yet, how does one account for the mood, as well as the deeper, utopian-progressive atmosphere in Rome and Vatican City and in Western Europe itself, only sixteen years after the formal conclusion of World War II? This question is certainly a challenging one, and not so easy to answer in a differentiated and adequate way. A loyal and faithful Catholic might well ask: How do we understand God’s Providence here?

For it was in 1955, after all, that the Soviets had suddenly (and even somewhat perplexingly) pulled out of eastern Austria, which had been under Soviet occupation for ten years. Was this not a good sign? To some this withdrawal even seemed to be a sort of moral miracle, and even an answer to prayer and sacrifice—even though, with their own strategic alertness, the Soviets immediately thereafter then created the martial Warsaw Pact, which soon led to disorder: to the chafing East German and Polish restiveness, and finally to the bloody Hungarian Uprising in October-November 1956, which was crushed by communist power, under Khrushchev himself, with his intentional utilization of merciless Asiatic-Mongol troops against the Hungarians (when, shamefully, the West did very little to help). Nonetheless, there still seemed to be a growing attitude, not just in the Vatican, that “we can have fruitful dialogue with the Soviets” and even an open-handed “Ostpolitik.” That is to say, to help the aggressors to become more democratic and hence prosperous and non-revolutionary.

James Burnham, however, had some keenly contrasting considerations and a different understanding as to whether or not there was a momentous crisis, or even a potential catastrophe, at least in the strategic and secular political realm—the realm of Power without Grace. In any case, and for our edification, Burnham’s analysis looked maturely at the Facts, as distinct from other men’s Beliefs. As he had said in his somewhat influential 1949 book (in certain circles)—notably after the Chinese Communist conquest of China—which was entitled The Coming Defeat of Communism:2

In a measure that has been reached only twice before in Western history [“that of the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.” and that of “the first half of the 16th century”], we are being told that we live in an age of crisis, that we face the possibility of catastrophe. But the question of whether men today [1949-1950] have a sense of crisis, believe themselves to be in the midst of crisis, is after all secondary. The more central question is not of belief but of fact. Whatever most men believe, is it in fact true that our age is in crisis? Is the catastrophic point of view, as we might call it, justified? Two world wars within a generation, with a destruction of from 50 to 100 million human lives and several trillion dollars’ worth of human products, would seem, alone, to be enough evidence for a positive answer.3

(But would the majority of the Council fathers, or the pope, of Vaticanum II, have sincerely agreed with that assessment and conclusion, much less have acted accordingly, hence proportionately? At the beginning of the Council, how many knew of the Cardinal Tisserant’s and Father Yves Congar’s earlier, secret diplomatic meetings in Metz, Nancy, and Strasbourg, France with both Communist and Hebraic Groups who themselves desired, pre-emptively, to shape—or “bracket out”?—certain topics and the strategic-doctrinal discourse of that forthcoming, professedly Pastoral, not Dogmatic, Ecumenical Council? If most of the council fathers were kept in the dark, and not even later informed of these non-public “agreements” or “deals,” why not? And where was the Honor in this course of action?)

Furthermore, to these two world wars—which were also, in effect, a new Thirty Years War in Europe (1914-1945)—Burnham then adds some items to a “long list” of other devastations and unmistakable desolations, such as:

….The 15, 20, 30 million persons thrown into slave camps; millions of peasants killed because they loved their land; crowds of tens of millions, refugees and displaced persons and exiles, wandering across Eurasia in swarms that make the barbarian hordes of the 3rd and 4th centuries seem as minor as neighborhood gangs. An economic depression that shakes the structure of the entire world, wild inflations that wipe out the money and savings of a dozen nations, trials and purges that liquidate hundreds of thousands of men of every variety, are not phenomena of normality. The great wave of revolution that broke in 1917 [the Bolshevik revolution] has waxed and ebbed, but has never since then subsided. It pounds at every shore, from the islands of East Asia to the borders of the Panama Canal.4

Making a further contrast which will later help our understanding of the roots and fruits of Vaticanum II—and maybe even its initial buoyancy—Burnham also says:

The totalitarians believe that we live in what Lenin defined as “an era of wars and revolutions,” in an age of crisis. They count on crises, and make these the fulcrum of their policies. Lenin was sure there would be a world war [circa 1914], and his energies were directed at seizing power in the breakdown which he was sure would come during the course of the war [i.e., in World War I, as Stalin also later foresaw and implemented his own strategic plans, even during “the war of rival capitalisms” in World War II, as he saw it].5

However, in delusionary contrast to these realistic and stern-minded revolutionary insights and actions, Burnham saw the softer or evasive approach, namely:

The democratic leaders have regarded the crises as abnormal exceptions to the flow of history, as errors that can be avoided by doing each day its daily short-term task. They have failed either to utilize these crises or even to prepare for them. They find themselves in the paradoxical position of having suffered the greatest social defeats from the two world wars in which they have won the greatest military victories of all time [though, admittedly, with the then-indispensable aid of the brutal Soviet Army].6

For, adds Burnham, “we are dealing now not with kings and emperors and czars, but with totalitarian mass revolutionists.”7 To what extent, however, did the Vaticanum II popes and council fathers hold Burnham’s deep understanding of at least one portion of “the war we are in,” as he called it, not only in the interval from 1944-1950, but even still in 1961? For, as Burnham argued:

The totalitarian political movements of our century, particularly the communist, have accepted a catastrophic point of view. In 1916, totalitarianism, limited at that date to a few thousand outlaw associates and followers of Lenin, was so negligible a force as to be unknown to the politically literate public. Today [in 1950], 34 years later, it dominates a quarter of the world, and closely threatens the rest. The contribution of the [Bolshevik] catastrophic point of view to this rise, which is quite without precedent, has been much more than minor. It has been so because the catastrophic point of view, as a perspective of our age, has been correct.8

(It is not clear, and we shall likely never know, whether Pope John XXIII himself would have included Burnham as one of those “prophets of doom” whom he depreciated in his opening address to Vaticanum II on 11 October 1962.)

Therefore, a further, and more specific examination of James Burnham’s lucid and admonitory 3 June 1961 article, “Sleeping Sentries,” might awaken us, even now, to some of the deeper historical realities and to the consequently important (even urgent) need, sub Gratia, for a deep “course correction.” For, during the past year of 2012, we have been volubly presented with many and varied, indeed often incommensurate, official and non-official interpretations of the Roots and Fruits of Vaticanum II. Is that not so? Do we agree?

At the time of his 3 June 1961 article, however, Burnham himself was not a believing Catholic, and had not been a professed Catholic for almost forty years. (He was to come home again to his Faith only near the end of his life in July of 1987.) But, this fact may enhance for us his own testimony, his own witness—as Whittaker Chambers had also earlier done, in his own special language as a sincere Protestant Christian, and after his own much grimmer experience and break with Communism: not only to be seen in his 1952 book, Witness, but also in his posthumously published 1964 book, Cold Friday.

But, regrettably, on 9 July 1961, very soon after Burnham’s own words from Vienna, Whittaker Chambers was to die at his Westminster, Maryland farm shortly after his last heart attack. It was, thus, only a month after Burnham’s article was written from Vienna, “Sleeping Sentries,” in which compact article as we may now come to see, Burnham conveyed the irony and the nuances of his own sobering and complementary, strategic perspicacity concerning “the war we are in.” (Would that we could also know the extent to which, if at all, at least the American bishops at Vaticanum II and their theological advisors—the “periti”—knew of the writings of Burnham and Chambers, both their savor of goodness and their salt of reality.) In any case, where were the comparable Catholic writers?

James Burnham opens his 1961 article surprisingly with a “cosmopolitan” consideration of the great art galleries and museums of Europe, as well as of New York and Washington. After visiting such artistic concentrations, he says:

It can begin to seem that all of the masterpieces of Western painting [though not of Piero della Francesca] have been funneled, along with the swarming masses, the money and luxury and power, into the colossal world-cities that characterize our epoch as they have a number of other epochs buried under the storms of time. As you walk through the scores of rooms of the Prado, the Louvre, of London’s or our own National Gallery, it seems incredible that mankind should have been able to produce so many hundreds of works of almost absolute genius as hang, one after another, along the walls of these central banks of aesthetic deposit.9

Then, he considers what one may also more negatively experience, even a certain sterilizing artificiality, amidst these colossal concentrations:

The joy and wonder at the multitudinous beauties which these walls offer the passer-by, can become cloyed, in certain moods, not only from a sense of surfeit at so rich a perceptual diet, but by a tenuous feeling that the feast as served up from these gleaming kitchens lacks an essential vitamin. That faint uneasiness does not deceive. Prime ingredients are indeed missing: in particular, except as reconstructed in the mind of the beholder [except as a sort of abstract “ens rationis”], Place and Time. These paintings…were not [originally or usually] meant to hang together on one set of walls…. But we pay the cost in the abstraction of the works from the fullness of existence [“diverse…moments over two thousand years of time and thousand of miles of space”].10

With some discouragement, he adds: “Not only have the museums ransacked so many of the Places. Mass tourism has turned most of the authentic Places into museums.”11

Speaking then of his recent experience at Assisi and of Giotto’s frescoes there, he says:

But looking at them a week ago [in late May of 1961], it was impossible to keep the eyes as well as mind from blurring from the effects of the Flemish priest-guide shouting all about them (I suppose that was what he was shouting) to his busloads of compatriots, the Germans checking every item off in their guidebooks and pulling strings of photographic equipment out of large leather cases, the few middle-aged Americans [present] dutifully but unhappily submitting to the local leeches who had fastened on them.12

There is, amidst such visual noise, as well as auditory noise, such a difficulty of “learning to see again” (in the words of Josef Pieper). Therefore, says Burnham,

That is why there is a special kind of excitement, and in the end the reward of a special kind of seeing, when we follow the spoor of a great work of art [like “Piero’s fresco of the Resurrection”] to its own Place [“in San Sepolcro”, which was also “Piero’s birthplace”—and where he also died, on 12 October 1492].13

After having arrived in San Sepolcho, “thirty miles east of Perugia,” Burnham and his wife had lunch, and:

When we had finished there was still an hour to go before the lunch-and-siesta-shut doors of an Italian town would be open, but a cheerful man in some sort of uniform appeared in the little piazza. He had a key to the small, old city hall, much battered by the last as by so many earlier wars. He let us into a high, arched-ceiling, well-lighted room, whitewashed, in mid-repair….But on the wall that faced us as the door opened was Piero’s [Piero della Francesca’s] fresco of the Resurrection, which we had so often seen in reproductions, surely one of the very greatest of the world’s paintings. The dazzling geometry of its structure is like a theorem in Riemann made visible, or Plato’s Form of the Good, seen by the physical eye as well as by the soul.14

Moreover,

In front of the tomb [“the heavy stone sepulchre”], leaning on it, on their weapons and each other and their own limbs, are the four Roman guards, richly uniformed, well-armed, sleeping, as if drugged or bemused, at their eternally critical post.15

What also impressed Burnham greatly was that portion of the fresco “behind the stone coffin,” where, “with one firm foot on its forward edge, stands the risen Christ” and, furthermore,

A Christ that has none of the physical weakness or effeminacy with which He is so often painted. Piero’s risen Christ has thrown his shroud, like a cloak, over His shoulder, to reveal a spear-slashed breast that, though gaunt, is strong and hard-muscled; in His right hand He holds a standard of an unfurled white banner, quartered by a red cross; His glance, directed straight out, is majestic, terrible, almost—through the effect of those eyes that seem to stare to infinity without particular focus—obsessive.16

Now Burnham—a very rare, historically and culturally informed, philosophical strategist—will lead us to his own special interpretation, after being unaccountably moved to deep reflection:

A great work of art has an inexhaustible variety of meanings. Piero’s fresco is first of all a painting, integrally organized and unified in terms of line and color and shape and texture. And it is a religious vision too, of course, of staggering profundity. Its dramatic and human meanings, specified or suggested, will never be fully numbered. As I reflected afterward on what I had seen, I found myself adding to these an allegorical perspective that seemed inescapable, though it becomes banal when put into words instead of color and space. What we are looking at in Piero’s picture, among so many other things, is the power and wealth and luxury of Rome gone soft and sluggish, asleep instead of alert and on guard. The closed eyes of the sentries in their handsome dress cannot see, do not even try to see, the fierce Phoenix rising from the gathering ashes of their world.17

As he saw it in burstingly prosperous Modena the very next day—with its celebrated Communist mayor (and a sprouting, miscellaneous assortment of other Leftist Political Parties, to boot) —it was clear, on the one hand, that

The sentries, the citizens of Italy—or Europe, or of all the Western world—are not physically sleeping, of course: very much the contrary, indeed; for never has there been so much rushing about [and yet, maybe, with so much prosperous luxury and its “dynamic materialism,” there is much “restlessness” and “interior uprootedness,” as well]; increased mobility [but with few children?] seems to be the most valued potential of all won by the jump above a subsistence standard of living that so much of the Western world has made in the postwar years. It is the spirit that sleepeth, in the coarse sleep of the glutton.18

We shall later see the words of Whittaker Chambers about the growing materialism in the West and the likely “dialectical” consequences, as expressed in his own posthumous book, Cold Friday, in the memorable chapter entitled “The Direct Glance.”19

Immediately after his presented image of the spiritually sleeping glutton, or lout, in his noisy coarseness, Burnham becomes more ironical as he prepares to take us with him to seductive Vienna:

What if trade with Russia [in 1961] gives her the machines her armies need and the profits which, skillfully funneled, nourish her Italian agents? From that trade we Italians get cheaper gasoline for our new cars and Vespas, and some of us get, in addition, pretty piles of lire. Hasn’t England always lived as a nation of successful shopkeepers? What is the objection, then, to the $6 million British Trade Fair in Moscow, and the sales of plant and equipment that we English drummers [energetic and enterprising “traveling salesmen”] have booked?20

After this larger and pointedly ironical framing of the larger West European situation, Burnham chooses to conclude his article with an a fortiori agument, namely it is in Vienna now, even moreso than in 1961 Italy, that we see the spiritual slackness amidst the quite charming abundance. The following words could even be called a deft description of “elegant, but insidious, decadence”:

Nowhere is the [spiritual] sleep more delicious, the dreams more ravishing, than in this enchanted, enchanting city. The scars of the war and the occupation [1945-1955] in Vienna are healed or forgotten. The hotels are the most luxurious (and among the most expensive) in the world. The rich coffee topped with whipped cream, the seraphic pastries and chocolate, are back in the cafés. The gypsies play in the restaurants, while still more bottles of wine and beer are opened, as long as customers wish to linger. And this [June] is the month of the Music Festival, with every morning and afternoon and evening crowded with opera and symphony and operetta, quartets and singers and pianists playing always the best and loveliest music.21

Then comes the counterpoint of political reality:

Not a note of the Spring Concerto wavered as the K’s moved [Khrushchev and Kennedy both] toward their Summit. The [Americans’] smiling sleep was immunized by the further dream of eternal neutrality. The selection of Vienna for their encounter meant, so the dreamers dreamed, that the wished-for condition was now recognized and affirmed by the great contestants [both of them]. The sleepers snuggled back into the visions of the fabled Congress [of Vienna] of a century and nearly a half ago [from 1 November 1814—8 June 1815], when the night-long dancing, champagne, music, and love filled the hours between the elegant formalities of the diplomatic sessions.22

Now comes the designed Burnham shock amidst these perceptibly lovely illusions:

So the first [JFK himself] among the sleepwalkers, lids fallen, drugged into paralyzed and impotent sloth by the sentimental syrups of [Kennedy’s own] ideological courtiers, wafts in, like a dreaming bride sailing through a [Russian artist, florid Marc] Chagall sky, from the West. The analogy from Piero’s picture is not to be pressed too closely. This time the terrible, staring form that rises above the sleeping sentries and opened tomb—if it is a tomb—is the Anti-Christ, not the Savior. The banner he unfurls proclaims the message, not of hope springing from the dark, of redemption, freedom, and eternal life, but of slavery and death, and a degradation much worse than death.23

To what extent were the Prelates of Vaticanum II and their own “ideological courtiers”—all of whom had taken the Anti-Modernist Oath—also such dreamers and sleepwalkers, sleepwalking into servitude: a servitude unfaithful, and even perjuring, and most degrading, as well as dishonorable? With more and more trustworthy evidence and knowledge of this larger 20th-century historical-military-political warfare context, it is even harder to understand the allure of their optimistic, indeed euphoric, ecumenical (or syncretist) illusions, much less to embrace the shabby results of these “hybrid beliefs,” as if the very principle of non-contradiction no longer applied, or anyway did not matter.

Chamber’s warnings in his chapter on “The Direct Glance,” however, will teach us more, and be an additional warning for our instruction. Though not a Catholic, but a sympathetic Protestant (who greatly honored Saint Benedict and his monastic foundations), Whittaker Chambers knew the Allure of Communism and deeply grasped the long-fostered and indulged, “dynamic materialist” weaknesses and consequent vulnerabilities, even futilities, of the West, both of which developments he rejected—but he also feared that he was likely, in human and secular terms, to be “on the losing side.” Writing his chapter some time in the late 1950s or very early 1960s, his first words capture our docile attentiveness:

I speak with a certain urgency both because I believe that history is closing in on this people with a speed which, in general, they do not realize or prefer not to realize, and because I have a sense that time is closing in on me so that, at this point, I do not know whether or not I shall be given time to complete what I seek to say.24

With characteristic modesty, and once again “making himself small,” he continues:

I may not claim for the larger meanings of what I shall say: This is the truth. I say only: This is my vision of the truth; to be checked and rechecked (as I [like James Burnham, too] continually check and recheck it) against the data of experience….I write as a man who made his way back from a special experience of our time—the experience of Communism. I believe the experience to be the central one, for whichever side prevails will be shaped by what Communism is and meant to be, and by the conditions that made it possible and made possible the great conflict…. [For,] the problem of man in this [20th] century—[is] the problem of the terms on which man can wrest some semblance of his human dignity (some would say: save his soul) in a mechanizing world, which is….a revolutionary world.25

Speaking of the French author of a dark and chilling book, Man’s Fate (La Condition Humaine, “to use its French title, which fixes its meaning more clearly”), Chamber’s poignantly adds:

After he had read Witness [1952], André Malraux, the author of Man’s Fate, wrote me: “You are one of those who did not return from Hell with empty hands.” I did not answer him. How is one man to say to another: “Great healing spirit”? For it is not sympathy that the mind craves, but understanding of its purposes.26

Chambers then tries to make more explicit and more compellingly complete what he had written in his earlier 1952 book:

In Witness I sought to make two points which seemed to me more important than the narrative of unhappy events [my personal struggle] which…chiefly interested most readers. The first point had to do with the nature of Communism and the struggle against it. The crux of this matter is the question whether God exists. If God exists, a man cannot be a Communist, which begins with the rejection of God [and rejection of the supernatural order of grace]. But if God does not exist, it follows that Communism, or some suitable [collectivist-socialist] variant of it, is right. More follows. A man is obligated, if he seeks to give any effect to his brief life, to tear away all mystery that darkens or distorts, to snap all ties that bind him in the name of an untruth, to push back all limiting frontiers to the end [the purpose] that man’s intelligence may be free to realize to the fullest of its untrammeled powers a better life in a better world.27

Later returning to this theme, Chambers begins by quoting a line from the American author, Sherwood Anderson:

I want to know why,” one of the most native of our voices asked in a line that rises out of all else he did and said because it sums up all the rest. I want to know why. It is for this that we seek a little height, and because of this we do not feel it too high a price [of sacrifice] to pay if we cannot reach it crawling through a lifetime on our hands and knees, as a wounded man sometimes crawls from a battlefield, if only so as not to die as one more corpse among so many corpses. Happy is he who finds any height, however lowly. That craving for the infinitely great [as Dostoievsky said about God, in The Possessed, through and with his novel’s character, Stefan Trofimovitch] starts with the simplest necessity. It is the necessity to know reality in order, by acting on it directly [through the attentive and docilely guileless “Direct Glance”], to find the measure of man’s meaning and stature in that single chance [or grace?] of some seven decades that is allotted them to find it out in….It is anything that blocks their freedom to enact it [i.e., their possibly tragic, but inescapably suffering, life] meaningfully that kills men with despair. And if the old paths no longer lead to a reality that enables men to act with meaning, if the paths no longer seem to lead anywhere—have become a footworn, trackless maze, or, like Russian roads, end after a few miles of ambitious pavement, leading nowhere but into bottomless mud and swallowing distance—men will break new paths, though they must break their hearts. They will burst out somewhere, even if such bursting-out takes the form of aberration. For to act in aberration is at least more like living than to die of futility, or even to live in that complacency which is futility’s idiot twin.28

These piercing words help us to understand the appeal of Communism to the broken of the world, to those who might have been even slowly dying of despair—or of a sense of futility or of “that complacency which is futility’s idiot twin.” Such complacency may also be, as in the Catholic Church today, not only a lack of vigilance or even a dishonorably tepid negligence, but also a more dangerous sign of both Complicity with evil and sinful Presumption—and perhaps that combination has gradually and self-deceptively happened, as if by titration—drop by drop—over these past fifty years since the buoyant and tolerant commencement of Vaticanum II in the autumn of 1962. In any case, the words of Whittaker Chamber about the deep needs of the human spirit, show us, as with Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, his own deep heart. For, as Chambers also says: “Suffering is at the heart of every living faith.”29

Then Chambers reminds us of the second thing he implicitly said in his earlier book, Witness:

From this proposition—that the heart problem of Communism is the problem of atheism—followed the second problem I set up in Witness, also without developing its conclusions. This proposition implied that the struggle with Communism included its own solution. That is to say, in the course of its struggle with Communism, the West would develop or recover those resources (in the main spiritual and moral) which it held to constitute its superiority to Communism, or in the struggle it would go under. Going under might…take one of two forms. The West might simply lose the war in political or physical terms. But I also allowed for the fact that the West might win the war [Burnham’s “Third World War”] in such terms [“political or physical”] and still lose it, if the taxing necessities of the conflict brought the West to resemble what it was struggling against, i.e., Communism [i.e., Historical and “Dialectical Materialism (DIAMAT)” or, in less technical language, “dynamic, or electronically energetic, materialism,” for example]. A turn in this direction [i.e., toward more and more forms of materialism] has been perfectly visible in the West for several decades [i.e., not only in Burnham’s own convincing perceptions of comfortable and “energetically complacent” Italy and Vienna in 1961!].30

Throughout his chapter on “The Direct Glance,” Chambers manifoldly shows just how deeply—even before 1961—Materialism and its Spirit had taken over in the West, and had thereby constituted, not only a grave vulnerability in the true struggle, but actually became an asset and accomplice to Communism itself—the de-Christianized (now Post-Christian) West coming more and more to resemble what we were purportedly fighting against. Chambers’ eloquent words and detailed insights should be read closely in their entirety, and truly savored. His Witness here, too, will not be forgotten—and “we may run, but cannot hide.”

Chambers also saw the growing flight from suffering and sacrifice—also a flight from the Cross into a sort of “Christianity without the Cross” and thus without the indispensable need for Divine Grace. But, he repeated:

Suffering is at the heart of every living faith. That is why man can scarcely call himself a Christian for whom the Crucifixion is not a daily suffering. For it is by the hope that surmounts suffering that true tragedy surmounts pain and has always had the power [with Grace] to sweep men out of the common ugliness of ordeal to the exaltation in which the spirit rises superior to the agony which alone matures it [the human spirit] by the act of transcending it. This is what we loosely call greatness. And it is the genius of Christianity to recognize that this capacity for greatness inheres [sic] in the nature of his immortal soul [which is truly “Capax Gratiae”—capable of receiving Grace—by virtue of his personal Creation by God]….For it is by the soul that, at the price of suffering, we can break, if we choose, the shackles that an impersonal and rigid Fate otherwise locks upon us. It was the genius of Christianity to whisper to the lowliest man that by action of his own soul he could burst the iron bonds of Fate with which merely being alive seemed to encase him. Only, it could never be done except at a price, which was suffering.”31

Before Chambers contrasts this deeper insight and its fruition with the growing permeation of another ethos, he says:

It was because Christianity gave meaning to a suffering endured in all ages, and otherwise senseless, that it swept the minds of men. It still holds them, though the meaning has been blurred as Christianity [and Vaticanum II, as well?], in common with the voices of the new age, seeks new escapes from the problem of suffering. But the problem remains and the new escapes circle back on the old one. For in suffering, man motivated by hope and faith affirms that dignity which is lit by charity and truth. This is the meaning of the eternal phrases: lest one grain perish, and unless a man die [to himself and sin], he shall not live—phrases…[still now] as fresh as the moment in which they rose upon the astonishment of the saints.32

Speaking of the “new age” which now “seeks new escapes” from suffering—to include, perhaps, the danger—the risk—of final suffering in eternity, Chambers focuses emphatically on the hedonistic and self-indulgent world which James Burnham also saw and so vividly depicted, and thus he says:

Nothing is more characteristic of this age than its obsession with the avoidance of suffering. Nothing dooms it more certainly to that condition which is not childlike but an infantilism which is an incapacity for growth that implies an end [a twofold “Finis”—both a purpose and an ultimate finality]. The mind which has rejected the soul, and marched alone, has brought the age to the brink of disaster. Let us say it flatly: What the age needs is less minds than martyrs—less knowledge (knowledge was never so cheap) but that wisdom which begins with the necessity to die, if necessary, for one’s faith and thereby liberates that hope which is the virtue of the spirit.33

As The Penny Catechism would now fittingly remind us: the two sins against Hope are Presumption and Despair. Thus, there are two fundamental forms of Hopelessness: not only the dark Despair that kills a man; but also Presumption (a premature and facile anticipation of one’s final fulfillment).

For example, Burnham’s “Sleeping Sentries” can also imply Complacent Sentries. And Complacency itself is not only a kind of nonchalant Negligence, but it can also insidiously become a form of insouciant (and sinful) Presumption. Sentries—as well as Guardians of the Faith—who are spiritually asleep and complacent may also be guilty of both the lassitude and the interiorly uprooted restlessness of Spiritual Sloth (Acedia, Accidia). When Saint Thomas himself spoke of the sin of Sloth, he noted that it was marked by an ungrateful and inordinate “worldly sadness concerning a spiritual good” (“Tristitia de bono spirtuali”)—even unto a certain tedium and disgust with the whole supernatural apparatus of salvation. Saint Thomas also discerned that Spiritual Sloth was not so much characterized by mental dullness (“Hebetudo Mentis”) nor by listless sluggishness, but, rather, by a deeply formed (yet gnawing) interior uprootedness and actual itch of restlessness (or “curiositas” for “novelty”). He even called this grave incapacity “a roaming unrest of spirit” (an “Evagatio Mentis”), an unrest which also could not attentively have (much less preserve) “a repose of the mind in God” (a “Quies Mentis in Deo”).

Do not these compact and incisive formulations also illuminate for us a good portion of that vulnerable Modern Materialist Age that Burnham and Chambers saw and criticized, and that world that the Pastoral Second Vatican Council was also to have addressed, in light of the timeless and timely, missionary Catholic Faith? (And without “that itch for innovation,” in Dr. Johnson’s words, which is so indefinitely restless, just like those “itching ears” (“aures prurientes”) of which Saint Paul also spoke.)

We may now, therefore, have further just reasons to wonder what the Council Popes and Fathers truly thought they were to have done, as well as what, in fact, they often so ambiguously did—the many ill fruits of which actions and omissions we may now better see. If we ourselves are not dreaming, or spiritually asleep.

Having examined rather closely the observations and reasons of two non-Catholic thinkers—James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers—both of them men of heart and of high philosophical and strategic intelligence—we now may fittingly ask who saw more of the historical reality and the political-martial context of the times—and, thus, the true pastoral issues to be faced—just before and just after 11 October 1962 the formal opening of Vaticanum II?

In any case, I have not yet found any Catholic author writing of those times to have seen as much of the wider (mostly temporal-secular) reality as Burnham and Chambers; and I gratefully render tribute to these two long-suffering Witnesses to truth.

Admittedly, I have grown more ashamed of what our delusional Vatican II Prelates and Advisors imprudently and unfaithfully set in motion during that 11 October1962—8 December 1965 interval. For I have also been a “Fruit Inspector,” as it were, reflecting upon its cumulative 50-year Aftermath, as I likewise have long considered the deeper truths, the roots and fruits, of World War II, also so delusively and dangerously still called “the good war.” The “good war” and the “good council” should be, perhaps, cross-examined together?

The opening, buoyant but almost dismissive, words of Pope John XXIII at Vaticanum II, still using “the Papal ‘We’” said, in part (but as a representative instance of his whole, somewhat parodic and sentimental, even “naturalistic” tone), the following accented and syntactically separated sentence: “We feel we must disagree with those prophets of doom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.” Would that he, like Burnham and Chambers, had used more differentiated language and made more substantive and differentiated comments, so that they be not an occasion of travesty or hyperbole, but may, rather, reveal and not conceal reality: “the truth of things,” i.e., “reality manifesting itself to a knowing mind” (the “Veritas Rerum”), to include supernatural reality and its purposes and vivid indispensabilities, to include “Sanctifying Grace” and our continuous attentiveness to “The Four Last Things” (“Ta Eschata”), hence even to the Adventure and the Risks of the “Dies Irae.” May the Gift of Fear (the Donum Timoris)—as a Faithful Sentry—at least Guard us from Presumption. And, please God, also keep us from Spiritually Sleeping and Slothfully Complacent Sentries.

If John XXIII were now also a “Fruit Inspector,” what would he, as well as Paul VI, now honestly say after all these years? Might they not both also now gratefully honor the warning Witness of James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers, much less the merciful warnings of Our Lady of Fatima?

As Whittaker Chambers himself said somewhere in his writings, although I can no longer find nor even reliably cite the text: “The great test of humility is the pain of not receiving love for love.” Our Dear Lord knew that too—and so has Our Lady.

FINIS

© 2013 Robert D. Hickson

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1James Burnham, The War We Are In (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1967), pp. 306-311. This article, longer than usual, was originally published in National Review in his regular Column, called “The Third World War.”

2James Burnham, The Coming Defeat of Communism (New York: The John Day Company, Inc., 1949, 1950). In the U.S. Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Pentagon, Burnham was gratefully and formatively read, especially by the advocates of “liberation,” and even by the more influential Paul Nitze and George F. Kennan, those “containment” advocates who soon helped craft and implement NSC-68—“United States Objectives and Programs for National Security” (secretly issued on 14 April 1950, shortly before the outbreak of the Korean War).

3 Ibid., pp. 5, 6, and 7—my emphasis added.

4 Ibid., pp. 7-8—my emphasis added. Burnham, because of his methods, does not consider the 1917 warning-appearances of Our Lady of Fatima, nor her own fortifying and purifying admonitions. But we might fittingly do so now, especially in this sobering context of historical reality.

5 Ibid., p. 11—my emphasis added.

6Ibid.—my emphasis added.

7Ibid., p. 12—my emphasis added.

8Ibid., p. 10—my emphasis added.

9James Burnham, The War We Are In (1967), p. 306—my emphasis added.

10Ibid., pp. 306-307—my emphasis added.

11Ibid., p. 307.

12Ibid., pp. 307-308—my emphasis added.

13Ibid., pp. 307 and 309.

14Ibid., pp. 308 and 309—my emphasis added.

15Ibid. p. 309—my emphasis added.

16Ibid.—my emphasis added.

17Ibid., pp. 309-310—my emphasis added.

18Ibid., p. 310—my emphasis added.

19Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday (New York: Random House, 1964), “The Direct Glance” (Chapter 3), pp. 67-88.

20James Burnham, The War We Are In, p. 310—my emphasis added.

21Ibid., p. 311.

22Ibid.—my emphasis added.

23Ibid.—my emphasis added.

24Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday, p. 67. We may remember that he suddenly died on 9 July 1961; and, as it should also be mentioned, the writer of this essay is ashamed to say that he himself did not then even know of Whittaker Chamber’s name, much less did he know of his writings and profound witness. For, then at 18 years of age in July of 1961, he was but a callow, new West Point yearling-cadet out at our Camp Buckner’s Recondo-and-Summer-Combat Training, although inspired nonetheless to seek martial excellence and manifold competence within our fitting limits.

25Ibid., pp. 67-68—my emphasis added. It is also, more and more, a world of stifling “bureaucratic collectivism,” as well as of “mutable electronics” and abstract “protean change,” or so it seems.

26Ibid., p. 68—my emphasis added.

27Ibid., pp. 68-69—my emphasis added.

28Ibid., pp. 85-86—my emphasis added.

29Ibid., p. 86—my emphasis added.

30Ibid., p. 70—my emphasis added

31Ibid., pp. 86-87—my emphasis added.

32Ibid., pp. 86-87—my emphasis added.

33Ibid., p. 87—my emphasis added.

On Hilaire Belloc and a Great Wind

Author’s Note, 5 May 2021 (Feast of Pope Pius V (d. 1572)): This reflection on Hilaire Belloc’s 1911 essay about sailing and the wind, and about how they become a special symbol for his life, and for the life of others, was first written some 8 years ago, in 2013. This Belloc essay captures so much of his abiding spirit and his hopes, and this not long before he would have the shock of suddenly losing both his wife Elodie (on 2 February, 1914) and his eldest son Louis, who was an aviator and who died in World War I with his body never to have been found.

Dr. Robert Hickson

11 February 2013

Our Lady of Lourdes

When Hilaire Belloc was a vigorous forty years of age, and three years before his life was shaken and shattered by the death of his wife Elodie on Candlemas 1914, he wrote an intimately evocative essay, entitled “On a Great Wind.” This brief and vivid piece—characteristically combining concrete intimacy and sacred mystery in his inimitably poetic “sacramental prose”—leads us also to the contemplation of God’s Natural Creation and to man’s resourceful uses and appreciations of the wind, especially with his manifest sense of beauty in the use of the sail upon the seas.

“On a Great Wind” was first published in 1911 in his collection of essays entitled, First and Last.1 For those who have read Belloc’s comparably beautiful essays, “The Missioner” and “The Mowing of a Field,”2 will also respond with grateful wonder at his resonant versatility in the presentation of fundamental components of human life, and the things of moment to man.

Belloc makes us at once receptive and attentive by how he begins his reflection on the Wind:

It is an old dispute among men, or rather a dispute as old as mankind, whether Will be a cause of things or no….The intelligent process whereby I know that Will not seems but is, and can alone be truly and ultimately a cause, is fed with stuff and strengthens sacramentally as it were, whenever I meet, and am made a companion, of a great wind. (285)

Belloc’s companion and beloved friend, G.K. Chesterton, also touches upon this profound matter, and shows his uniquely “reverential memory” and pietas when he later wrote: “Will made the world; Will wounded the world; the same divine Will gave to the world for the second time its chance; the same human Will can for the last time make its choice.”3

Cheerfully guarding himself against the imputation of Pantheism, Belloc goes on to say:

It is not that this lively creature of God [namely, the Wind] is indeed perfected with a soul; this it would be superstition to believe….but in its vagary of way, in the largeness of its apparent freedom, in its rush of purpose, it seems to mirror the action of a mighty spirit. (285)

Then our Belloc gets more specific and illustrative, as he did later in his great book, The Cruise of the Nona (1925). (We also see him sailing as a boy in his little sailboat!)

When a great wind comes roaring over the eastern flats towards the North Sea, driving over the Fens and the Wringland, it is like something of this island that must go out and wrestle with the water, or play with it in a game or battle; and when upon the western shores [e.g., of Cornwall], the clouds come bowling up from the horizon, messengers, outriders, or comrades of a gale, it is something of the sea determined to possess the land. The rising and falling of such power, such hesitations, its renewed violence, its fatigue and final repose—all these are symbols of a mind; but more than all the rest, its exultation! It is the shouting and hurrahing of the wind that suits a man. (285-286)

Then with a poignant note about friendship as well as companionship, Belloc takes us to consider deeper analogies and proportions:

Note you, we have not many friends. The older we grow and the better we can sift mankind, the fewer friends we count, though man lives by friendship. But a great wind is every man’s friend, and its strength is the strength of good-fellowship; and even doing battle with it is something worthy and well chosen. (286)

With some conditional sentences and sharp contrasts, Belloc leads us to the threshold of enlargement and maybe also of fear:

If there is cruelty in the sea, and terror in high places, and malice lurking in profound darkness, there is no one of these qualities in the wind, but only power. Here is strength too full for such negations as cruelty, as malice, or as fear; and that strength in a solemn manner proves and tests health in our souls. (286—my emphasis added)

Then, he will try to explain himself a little:

For with terror (of the sort I mean—terror of the abyss or panic at remembered pain, and in general, a losing grip of the succours of the mind), and with malice, and with cruelty, and with all the forms of that Evil which lies in wait for men, there is the savour of disease…..We were not made for them, but rather for influences large and soundly poised; we are not subject to them but to other powers that can always enliven and relieve. It is health in us, I say, to be full of heartiness and of the joy of the world, and of whether we have such health our comfort in a great wind is a good test indeed. (286-287—my emphasis added)

As is to be expected, he supports his contention with vivid specificities:

No man spends his days upon the mountains when the wind is out, riding against it [on horseback] or pushing forward on foot through the gale, but at the end of his day feels that he has had a great host about him. It is as though he had experienced armies. The days of high winds are days of innumerable sounds, innumerable in variation of tone and intensity, playing upon and awakening innumerable powers in man. And the days of high wind are days in which a physical compulsion has been about us and we have met pressures and blows, resisted and turned them; it enlivens us with the simulacrum of war by which [in manly self-defense] nations live, and in the just pursuit of which men in companionship are at their noblest. (287—my emphasis added)

In his consideration of traditional and rooted things, Belloc considers the objections and pretensions of progressive innovators, especially in the new technologies:

It is pretended…that certain pursuits congenial to man will be lost to him under the new necessities; thus men sometimes talk foolishly of horses being no longer ridden, houses no longer built of wholesome wood and stone, but of metal; meat no longer roasted, but only baked; and even stomachs grown too weak for wine. There is a fashion [as of 1911] of saying these things, and much other nastiness. Such talk is (thank God!) mere folly. For man will always at last tend to his end, which is happiness [or “beatitude,” as he also often added], and he will remember to do all those things which serve that end, and especially the using of the wind with sails. (287-288—my emphasis added)

For the remainder of his essay, he will take us to the sea and to the sails in the wind, and his words are instinct and resonant with reality, as all of those who have sailed will immediately and gratefully recognize. Here is the salt of reality with the savor of goodness:

No man has known the wind by any of its names who has not sailed his own boat and felt life in the tiller. Then it is that a man has most to do with the wind, plays with it, coaxes or refuses it, is wary of it all along; yields when he must yield, but comes up and pits himself against its violence, trains it, harnesses it, calls it if it fails him, denounces it if it tries to be too strong, and in every manner conceivable handles this glorious playmate. (288)

Can we not see young Hilaire Belloc sailing his little “cranky” dinghy off the Sussex coast, and hear him singing, too, his festive sea chanties? Then he becomes more sternly protective of the true art and plenitude of sailing:

As for those who say men did but use the wind as an instrument for crossing the sea, and that sails were mere machines to them, either they have never sailed or they were quite unworthy of sailing. It is not an accident that the tall ships [like the Eagle, the U.S. Coast Guard barque and current training vessel for the cadets] of every age of varying fashions so arrested human sight and seemed so splendid. The whole of man went into their creation, and they expressed him very well; his cunning, and his mastery, and his adventurous heart. For the wind is in nothing more capitally our friend than in this, that it has been, since men were men, their ally in the seeking of the unknown and in their divine thirst for travel which, in its several aspects—pilgrimage, conquest, discovery, and, in general, enlargement—is one prime way whereby man fills himself with being. (288-289—my emphasis added)

Once again, our beloved Belloc takes us back in history, and imagines what it was like in the early Spring for those whom he has often, less affectionately, called “the Scandinavian pirates”:

I love to think of those Norwegian men who set out eagerly before the north-east wind when it came down from their mountains in the month of March like a god of great stature to impel them to the West.4 They pushed their Long Keels out upon the rollers [i.e., rolling logs], grinding the shingle of the beach at the fjord-head. They ran down the calm shallows, they breasted and they met the open sea. Then for days they drove under this master of theirs and high friend [“the wind called Eager”], having the wind for a sort of captain, and looking always out to the sea line to find what they could find. It was the springtime; and men feel the spring upon the sea even more surely than they feel it upon the land. They were men whose eyes, pale with the foam, watched for a landfall, and that unmistakable good sight which the wind brings us to, the cloud that does not change and that comes after the long emptiness of sea days like a vision after the sameness of our common lives. To them the land they discovered was wholly new. (289-290—my emphasis added)

We can feel the empathetic Belloc indentifying with these Nordic sailors, and with their quickening and their enlargement. Then he surprises us with a concluding reflection and an evocation of his own childhood, as he invites us to an enticing and accessible adventure still:

We have no cause to regret the youth of the world, if indeed the world were ever young. When we imagine in our cities that the wind no longer calls us to such things, it is only our reading that blinds us, and the picture of satiety [or comfortable complacency] which our reading breeds is wholly false. Any man today may go out and take his pleasure with the wind upon the high seas. He also will make his [enlarging] landfalls to-day, or in a thousand years; and the sight is always the same, and the appetite for such discoveries is wholly satisfied even though he be only sailing, as I have sailed, over seas that he has known from childhood, and come upon an island far away, mapped and well known, and visited for the hundredth time. (290—my emphasis added).

Once, during a deep theological discussion with Father John A. Hardon, S.J. about “the Analogy of Being” and “Analogical Predication,” he memorably and succinctly suddenly said to me: “The highest function of Nature is to provide Analogies for the Supernatural Mysteries,” so as to lead us to “the Beatific Vision” where “Beatitude” means that “we shall be made happy by God.” Similarly, but now in Josef Pieper’s own earlier-related words, Hilaire Belloc’s vividly presented sense of refreshment and adventure and enlargement will thus help us en route in “learning how to see again.” And perhaps recognizing what we then see, as if for the first time, and yet more deeply.

O how much, even in this brief essay, the great-souled Belloc can teach us, and especially the young. To include those who, like Belloc himself, aspire, sub Gratia, to Spiritual Childhood.

CODA

Near the end of his deeply meditative and very great maritime narrative of adventure, The Cruise of the Nona (1925), Hilaire Belloc will modestly reveal to us even a little more of his heart:

We slept under such benedictions, and in the morning woke to find a little air coming up from the south like a gift, an introduction to the last harbour. We gave the flood [flood tide] full time (for they do not open the gates, and cannot, until high water); then, setting only mainsail and jib, we heaved our anchor up for the last time, and moved at our pleasure majestically between the piers, and turned the loyal and wearied Nona toward the place of her repose. ‘And now good-by to thee, /Thou well-beloved sea,’ as John Phillimore [his friend, a Classics Professor] very excellently translates the Greek of other landed sailors dead.

The sea is the consolation of this our day, as it has been the consolation of the centuries. It is the companion and the receiver of men. It has moods for them to fill the storehouse of the mind, perils for trial, or even for an ending, and calms for the good emblem of death [a “bona mors”]. There, on the sea, is a man nearest to his own making, and in communion with that from which he came, and to which he will return. For the wise men of very long ago have said, and it is true, that out of the salt water all things came. The sea is the matrix of creation, and we have the memory of it in our blood. But far more than this is there in the sea. It presents, uponthe greatest scale we mortals can bear, those not mortal powers which brought us into being. It is not only the symbol or the mirror, but especially is the messenger of the Divine.

There, sailing the sea, we play every part of life: control, direction, effort, fate; and there we can test ourselves and know our state. All that which concerns the sea is profound and final. The sea provides visions, darknesses, revelations. The sea puts ever before us the twin faces of reality: greatness and certitude; greatness stretched almost to the edge of infinity (greatness in extent, greatness in changes not to be numbered), and the certitude of a level remaining forever and standing upon the deeps. The sea has taken me to herself whenever I sought it and has given me relief from men. It has rendered remote the cares and wastes of the land; for [as Homer once also said in The Iliad, and cherished by Belloc] of all the creatures that move and breathe upon the earth, we of mankind are the fullest of sorrow. But the sea shall comfort us, and perpetually show us new things and assure us. It is the common sacrament of this world. [And its consoling, restorative waters, as with the waters of Our Lady of Lourdes, also make Sacramental Baptism in Grace now even more accessible for the receptive and the resolute.] May it [this Sacramental Mystery, a vivid Mysterium] be to others what it has been to me.5

May Hilaire Belloc also be for others—especially for the young—what, for so many years, he has been to me.

–Finis–

© 2013 Robert D. Hickson

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, First and Last (London: Methuen & Co. LTD., 1912—the second edition; first published in 1911), pp. 285-290.

2These essays are to be found, respectively, in On Everything (1909) and in Hills and the Sea (1906), “The Missioner” in the former collection, and “The Mowing of a Field” in the latter collection of Belloc’s varied essays.

3G.K. Chesterton, The Common Man (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1950), p. 236—in his essay, entitled “The Outline of Liberty,” pp. 233-237. The ironic “apologetic” sentence immediately following the above quotation is also characteristic of our Chesterton: “That [i.e., that world-view or conviction] is the real outstanding peculiarity, or eccentricity, of the peculiar sect called Roman Catholicism.” (p. 236)

4In his essay, “The Missioner,” Belloc even gives the Norse name for the wind, which was actually called “Eager”! About that gifted Christian missioner to Norway who is also called “the Flute Player,” Belloc wrote: “In this way the oath was done [i.e., the promise to return the Missioner to his Homeland unmolested]. So they took the Flute Player for three days over the sea before the wind called Eager, which is the north-east wind, and blows from the beginning of the open season; they took him at the beginning of his fourth year since his coming among them, and they landed him in a little boat in a seaport of the Franks [and, once again,“in the vineyard lands”], on Roman land [in Normandy]….The Faith went over the world as a very light seed goes upon the wind, and no one knows the drift on which it blew; it came to one place and to another, and to each in a different way. It came, not to many men, but always to one heart, till all men had hold of it.” See the last page of “The Missioner, pp. 261-269, in Hilaire Belloc, On Everything (London: Methuen & Company, 1909), p. 269—my emphasis added.

5Hilaire Belloc, The Cruise of the Nona (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925), pp. 328-329—the last two pages of the book, which was dedicated to his beloved friend, Maurice Baring—my emphasis added. Belloc also shows again his deep-hearted friendship and “reverential memory” when he composes an additional inscription to his long-time sailing companion, and places it at the very beginning of his adventurous narrative: “To the Memory of Philip Kershaw My Brave and Constant Companion upon the Sea: But Now He Will Sail No More.”

Historic Privatizations of Warfare, Covert Finance, and the Security-Services

Author’s Note, 26 April 2021: This essay of 20 pages was originally written three years after the open invasion of Iraq in March of 2003. Various privatizations of warfare and security-services were already showing themselves, under new conditions of technology and finance. This essay is a sequel to an earlier essay by the author, entitled: “Setting Just Limits to New Forms of Warfare.”

Dr. Robert Hickson

29 October 2006

Festum Christi Regis

The Crescent Phenomenon of the Privatization of Warfare and Security-Services:

New Oligarchic Feudalities, Special-Operations Networks, and Ambiguous Mercenaries in a Time of Borderless Economies and Finance

This essay on the arguably grand-strategic – but unmistakably permeating – privatization of “military and security services” constitutes a short sequel to an earlier strategic essay, entitled “Setting Just Limits to New Methods of Warfare.”1 This aggressive sequel might also be entitled “Setting Just Limits to Old Methods of Warfare under New Conditions of Technology and Mammon.”

It proposes to be especially attentive to the Corporate Governing Class and their “Managerial Elites” (in the discerning wise words of the late James Burnham). Indeed, these new luring conditions of technology and wealth are to be found, as it is herein tenaciously affirmed, conducing especially to the monetary advantage and added perquisites of the Corporate, often Trans-National, Nomenklatura and their mobile, often unaccountable, Managerial Elites. This lure of new advantages and influence (with little accountability) will also likely attract the closer inextricable involvement of the tax-exempt, strategic-cultural Foundations and their own Governing Elites, not only in the United States, but also in other areas of “Mandarin” or “Democratic Centralism.” To what extent, we may well ask, are we witnessing the formation of New Feudalities with their own special Patronage System – and with new possibilities of collaboration between the “Overworld” (or the “Overlords”) and the “Underworld”?

Surprisingly, even a cautious professor from Duke University, Peter Feaver, who now serves on the staff of the National Security Council in Washington D.C., candidly admitted at an October 2004 Conference on “The Privatization of American National Security”:

In fact what we’re seing is a return to neo-feudalism. If you think about how the [British] East India Company played a role in the rise of the British Empire, there are similar parallels to the rise of the American Quasi-Empire.2

This grand-strategic (not just “military-strategic”) matter of the “military-merchant banker” apparatus of the East India Company was not only important historically. It will also likely be very important strategically in the near future, especially in its new embodiments under the current conditions of finance and technology. Scientific and technological elites – also the Managerial and Higher Elites in the financial world – are prepared to help “the Military-Industrial Complex” in new ways, and maybe also for the sake of our seemingly advancing American-Anglo-Israeli Empire, proposing, as well, the advance of a “New Mercantile Order” (in the approving words of Jacques Attali, the French Socialist, in his admiring biography of the “super-capitalist,” Sigmund G. Warburg).

In President Eisenhower’s once-famous Farewell Address (January 1961), he warned his audience of two special and growing dangers: not only what he called “the Military-Industrial Complex,” but also what he designated as “the Scientific and Technological Elite.” Although the former formulation, known also as “the M.I.C.,” became more widely used and better understood in later years (and not just in Left-Wing Circles), President Eisenhower himself never elaborated upon what he really had in mind concerning this more specific danger of the Scientific and Technological Elite. Given the modern propensity for “social (and psychological) engineering,” it certainly included the then-growing fields of Mass-Media Studies, Cybernetics and the Information Sciences; and their applications in human psychology, commercial-political advertisements, semiotics, and finance, to include the growth of encryption systems and the consequent scope they gave for secrecy, deceptive manipulation, and “money-laundering.”

The phenomenon of Mercenaries or Soldiers of Fortune is an immemorial practice to be seen in various cultures down the course of history, whether as individual soldiers “for hire” or as larger “free companies” and even as “secret armies.” Carthaginian mercenaries from Spain and Sardinia, or Greek mercenaries in Persia, for example – and as they were also later used by the conquering Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great – are well known to students of Greco-Roman history.

Mindful of the recent book, America’s Inadvertent Empire (2004),3 we may comparably recall the Carthaginians and their inattentive (and inordinately complacent) resort to mercenary forces:

Meanwhile Carthage grew pre-eminent, and as she grew, manifested to the full the spirit which had made her …. And everywhere they [i.e., these questing Carthaginians under sail] sought eagerly and obtained the two objects of their desire: metals and negotiation. In this quest, in spite of themselves, these merchants, who could see nothing glorious in either the plough or the sword, stumbled upon an empire. Their constitution and their religion are enough to explain the fate which befell it. They were governed, as all such states have been, by the wealthiest of their citizens. It was an oligarchy which its enemies might have thought a mere plutocracy …. To such a people the furious valour of the Roman and Greek disturbance must have seemed a vulgar anarchy …. It was characteristic of the Carthaginians that they depended upon a profound sense of security and that they based it upon a complete command of the sea …. The whole Maghreb, and, later, Spain as well; the islands, notably the Balearics and Sardinia, were for them mere sources of wealth and of those mercenary troops which, in the moment of her fall, betrayed the town …. The army which Hannibal [i.e., “Baal’s Grace”] led recognised the voice of a Carthaginian genius, but it was not Carthaginian …. The policy which directed the whole from the centre in Africa [i.e., from Carthage] was a trading policy. Rome “interfered with business” …. The very Gauls in Hannibal’s army, for all their barbaric anger against Rome, were [justly] suspected by their Carthaginian employers.4

This Mammonite Maritime-Merchant Empire truly paid for its mercenaries – who were contumaciously troublous and finally perfidious, multicultural mercenaries, indeed.

But, we may also recall the famous Swiss mercenaries, at least until the 1513 Battle of Marignano; the Irish “Wild Geese” in seventeenth-century Spain and elsewhere; the English and American “privateers” and Italian “maritime mercenaries” (or “mercenaries of the sea”); the “condottieri” of Italy; the Hessians; the French Foreign Legion; the British use of the Gurkhas from Nepal; various military secret societies of China and Japan (to include the Chinese “Triads” – or “Tongs,” like the 1900-era “Boxers” – and the current Japanese and Korean “Yakusa”); all the way up to Private Military Companies of more recent times, like Executive Outcomes, Sandline International, Blackwater, Triple Canopy, Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI), and Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton.5

To quote the summary, introductory words of Michael Lee Lanning’s recent book on the concept and reality of “mercenaries”:

They go by many names – mercenaries, soldiers of fortune, wild geese, hired guns, legionnaires, contract killers, hirelings, condottieri, contractors, and corporate warriors – these men who have fought for money and plunder [or other perquisites] rather than for cause or patriotism. Soldiers of fortune have always played significant roles in warfare, they are present on the battlefields of today, and they certainly will be a part of whatever combat occurs in the future.6

The sophisticated incorporation of mercenaries into what has been called “the Military-Industrial Complex” is – and morally should be for us – a troubling development, especially with their new access to and elusive application of “Special Technical Operations” (“STO”), which often involve the unique and sometimes unrepeatable use of a particular nation’s “Technological Crown Jewels”. However, in the rather cynical, but thoroughly “progressivist,” view of Michael Lee Lanning:

From huge, publicly owned firms to small independent companies [i.e., “military companies”], the corporate world has learned that war is indeed good business, and business is good and getting better.7

Nonetheless, this is a phenomenon which often must be strongly, but yet discerningly, resisted – and not fatalistically or lethargically accepted as irresistible and as already overwhelming and “beyond control.” Moreover, it is often the case that “organized crime is protected crime,” that is, protected by certain political and financial elites.

Furthermore, to what extent does a well-paid “all-voluntary force” itself represent and promote (or at least conduce to) the broader “mercenary phenomenon” of which we speak?

For, the concept of the “all-volunteer” military – which was first re-established in the U.S. during the final years of the Vietnam War, in 1973, and just after the United States had itself ended the military draft – inherently promotes, it would seem, a structure of incentives which often enough suggests an elite “mercenary force” to be used “on call,” in readiness for many rapid “expeditionary missions” or other worldwide “special operations.” Such a volunteer force easily becomes more separated from the common citizenry and their own proper sense of duties and those selflessly sacrificial commitments which are so necessary for the true common defense of the nation: i.e., an integrated strategic “defense-in-depth” of the Homeland – i.e., of the home “base” and of its manifold essential “communications,” to include our “sea lines of communication” and important “undersea cables and nodes.”

Moreover, it is all too easy to employ an all-volunteer force without the deeper moral engagement of the whole nation. Thus, the citizens – given the propensities of our human selfishness – may all to easily say: “Well, they volunteered for these hazardous duties; it’s not really our special concern.” Such an insouciant attitude certainly does not appear to be an adequate, or even a responsibly attentive, orientation to meet the Constitution’s specific requirement: “to provide for the common defense,” and unto the greater common good. Such an indifferent orientation tends towards a fragmentation or segmentation of the larger society, and even into the tripartite “Neo-Gnostic” division (in the “Information Age” words of Michael Vlahos), a division between “the Brain Lords,” “the Upper Servers” (or the new Praetorians), and “the Lost” (or “the Masses”). What, for example, is the concept of citizenship in such an “over-specialized” and “compartmented” society? What is the likely sacrifice for and common participation in the common good, and not just in defense of the Elites or of the elusive “public interest,” which is already vague enough?

Lanning himself makes a pertinent observation in this context of an all-voluntary military, and considers further its long-range implications, especially in the matter of the financial bonuses currently given to both citizens and non-citizens, both men and women, who are now active members of the U.S. Armed Forces and serve “in units rotating in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq”:

It would be unfair to the many brave men and women [who were, already in early 2002, 15% of the overall Army!], both citizen and noncitizen, who accept the [larger military] bonuses [for “volunteering to extend their tours” overseas] to question their patriotism or their commitment to their country. However, it would not be unfair to note that increased pay, citizenship [granted to non-citizens in the military, after a certain period of “service”], and other benefits in exchange for enlistment [or voluntary extensions of duty] are not all that different from the reasons [the motives, the incentives for which] soldiers of fortune have fought since the beginnings of time.”8

The all-volunteer military was itself, it would seem, also an effective psychological and cultural preparation – “a psychological preparation of the battlefield” – for the further strategic and tactical recourse to military privatization and to those commercial and financial incentives which this now more organized, new, corporate phenomenon has so generously and profitably provided! And which seems especially remunerative and risk-free for the corporate elites themselves, and not so much for the short-term, high-paid “young adventurers abroad.”

When most people recall the discussion over the last ten or fifteen years about “privatization” in the military, they probably think of the phenomenon of “outsourcing,” sometimes called “farming out.” This proposed and soon expanding “outsourcing” first meant the “contracting out” to civilian contractors of certain traditional military functions such as “recruiting,” “food preparation,” “clean up,” “personnel services,” and certain kinds of logistical functions of “supply, maintenance, and transport.” It was thought (or euphemistically “propagandized”) to be an enhancement of “cost effectiveness” and “efficiency,” so that the military could purportedly concentrate on its more essential missions of “training, readiness, operations, and combat.”

Initially these new “managerial” proposals seemed plausible and even attractive, though some people, more historically informed and far-sighted, wisely saw that the long-standing and much-tested tradition of a “self-policing military” capable of operating as an independent and self-reliant and coherent entity abroad, especially in “denied areas,” was being subtly undermined. And, from the outset, certain perspicacious questions were raised.

For example, would such civilian contractors, after “releasing a soldier for combat,” also still deploy with the military into combat zones? Would they also easily and willingly go to various remote and dangerous areas overseas, and then persevere, even after combat and in the graver times of instability and uncertainty and insufficiency? And then, what would be their status, according to the laws and conventions of land warfare, especially if they were to be captured? Would the U.S. Military also, for reasons of purported “expedience,” come to hire “foreign nationals” to help their military operations and support missions overseas? Moreover, would our covert (“black” or “gray”) Special Operations Forces, for example, have foreign “food providers” even in their Forward Operating Bases – such as (hypothetically) cooks at a covert base in Qatar? And what about the consequent security problems, to include the matters of both Operational Security and Communications Security? Or would we preferably ship American civilian-contractors to these overseas locations – such as “vehicle mechanics,” “construction engineers,” “mess hall” cooks and stewards, and even female barbers and nurses, especially from our domestic U.S. military bases, who were, as is commonly known, already being sent overseas in 2002 to Uzbekistan and other nearby areas?

However, these discerning questions constitute only a beginning to a fittingly deeper examination; for, these initial concerns were even still somewhat “on the surface,” especially when we consider, in the longer light of history, the special dangers and “lessons that are to be learned” from those earlier “strategic, para-military, merchant-banker joint stock companies,” such as the British East India Company, as well as their Dutch and French counterparts.

For, when we even briefly examine how some earlier Empires all too promiscuously (but quite seductively) resorted to such military-commercial-naval instrumentalities to enhance their wealth and power – namely, their overseas colonization, their access to raw materials (including gold), and their prosperous trade in special commodities, and even their inherently corrupt and nation-destroying criminal involvement in the “drug trade” (as in the corrupting British Opium shipments from India into China, which caused the protracted “Opium Wars,” which the Chinese have never forgotten, nor seemingly forgiven) – we should have great pause, indeed, at our own incipiently analogous developments.

By such an historical-strategic inquiry we may thereby come to understand how and why these earlier and also current “Arcana Imperii” worked (i.e., their more secret doctrines and methods of imperium or exploitative hegemonic rule), so that we may then intelligently and persistently resist them today and all of their metastasizing corruptions and treacheries. The military has always been an instrumental subsidiary of these larger schemes of dominance, and they are still so utilized today, though now under newer forms of “privatization” and aided by some new kinds of special weapons that are rooted in very advanced, new technologies, thereby enabling them to conduct “special technical operations” with great subtlety and secrecy and “plausible deniability” – and even with long-range environmental and genetic effects.

The newer forms of military “privatization” imply much more than just the traditional phenomenon of “soldiers of fortune,” “mercenaries,” or “privateers” with “letters of marque” – something also more pejoratively and bluntly known as “pirates” or “buccaneers”! The scientific and technological elite may now more easily make and sustain “strategic combinations” with the sophisticated corporations of “the Military-Industrial Complex,” in order more deftly to employ “private military companies” over a wide spectrum of overt – and also covert – operations.

By way of further preparation for our deeper grasp of these new “combinations,” some considerations of that earlier military history will first help us better to understand – especially in order to differentiate and then to resist – these troubling developments: not only what is still continuous from these well-established historical origins, but also what is new in the current analogous privatization of warfare and its related “security services.” For, police and military realms are now increasingly intermingled, and there is also a growing “seam” between war and criminality – part of the growth of unlimited irregular warfare, or what the Chinese have called “unrestricted warfare.” It is also part of the competition and strategic initiative “to set the rules” – to set and control the new and operative “conceptual terms and legal rules of engagement” in the wider spectrum of “future forms of warfare.”

The “Emerging American Imperium” seems more and more prone, it would appear, under current conditions of technology and encrypted information, to resort to methods and organizations which were once analogously used by the Emerging British Imperium, such as the British East India Company, especially under the eighteenth-century colonial military leadership of Robert Clive, and as aided by its long-standing, resourceful association with the Bank of England itself (which was founded only in 1694).

Two finely connected sets of insights from General J.F.C. Fuller will, in this important context, help illuminate the current developments in military privatization and its likely formation of new loyalties, new feudalities, and a new ethos and culture: namely a “monetary” and “mercantile ethos” of “the cash connection,” in increasing subordination to the new Lords of Mammon, the New Grand-Strategic Overlords. The public good of a particular historical nation, for example, may come thereby to be subordinated more and more to the service of new Masters of Trade, or to the Global and Quasi-Feudal Lords of High Finance. This new Mercantile Order, which includes the influential continuity of certain well-connected families and financial Dynasties, will themselves likely require more and more military protection, both in defense and for the offense; as well as variously versatile, investigative and secret “security services.”

In the strategic conclusion of his chapter on the Battle of Blenheim (1704) and its momentous consequences, General Fuller says the following, concerning the War of the Spanish Succession, and from his own Military History of the Western World:

It decided the fate of Europe, and as Mr. Churchill writes, “it changed the political axis of the world….” For England, Blenheim was the greatest battle won on foreign soil since Agincourt [1415]. It broke the prestige of the French armies and plunged them into disgrace and ridicule …. and at Utrecht a series of peace treaties was signed on April 11, 1713…. Further, he [Louis XIV] recognized the Protestant succession in England [against the political legitimacy of the Catholic Stuart kings] …. Of all the booty hunters, England obtained what was the lion’s share: … and [hence] from Spain, Gibraltar and Minorca, which guaranteed her naval power in the Western Mediterranean. Further, an advantageous commercial treaty was signed between England and Spain, in which the most profitable clause was the grant to the former [i.e., England] of the sole right to import negro-slaves into Spanish America for 30 years.9

General Fuller, before moving on to even more consequential matters, adds an important footnote about this corrupt network of manifold smuggling, which included the inhuman slave trade:

The Asiento or “Contract” for supplying Spanish America with African slaves, … permitted the slave traders to carry on the smuggling of other goods. “This Asiento contract was one of the most coveted things that England won for herself and pocketed at the Peace of Utrecht.” (Blenheim, G.M. Trevelyan, p. 139)10

Moreover, says General Fuller:

With the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, England was left supreme at sea and in the markets of the world, and as Admiral Mahan says, “not only in fact, but also in her own consciousness [an unmistakably prideful imperial consciousness!].” “This great but noiseless revolution in sea-power,” writes Professor Trevelyan, “was accomplished by the victories of Marlborough’s arms and diplomacy on land [i.e., by John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722), victor at Blenheim] … it was because Marlborough regarded the naval war as an integral part of the whole allied effort against Louis [King Louis XIV of France], that English sea power was fixed between 1702 and 1712 on a basis whence [as of 1955] no enemy has since been able to dislodge it.”11

Later, he adds: “Sea power was, therefore, the key to the colonial problem.”12 For example, “in the struggle for trade supremacy in India,” the “command of the sea” was decisive, for, under the geographical and technological conditions of that age, “whoever commanded the sea could in time control the land.”13

Concluding his important strategic analysis, not only of British sea-power’s “noiseless revolution,” but of something of even greater moment, Fuller says:

But the revolution went deeper still; for it was the machinery of the Bank of England [founded on 27 July 1694] and the National Debt [which significantly began only in January 1693] which enabled England to fight wars with gold as well as iron. William’s war [King William of Orange’s War] had lasted for nine years and had cost over £ 30,000,000, and the War of the Spanish Succession [concluded by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht] dragged on for 12 years and cost about £ 50,000,000. Only half this vast sum of £ 80,000,000 was met out of taxation, the remainder was borrowed [from the High Financiers who had leverage over the Bank of England and thus held the Sovereign at risk] and added to the National Debt. Thus a system was devised [sometimes called “Sovereign Risk” and its accompanying “Fractional-Reserve Banking”] whereby the prosperity of the future was underwritten [or mortgaged!] in order to ease the poverty of the present, and war was henceforth founded on unrepayable debt. The banker merchants of London steadily gained in political power [“le pouvoir sur le pouvoir” – Jacques Attali] over the landed interests, and, therefore, increasingly [as is still the case today] into their hands went the destinies of the nation and the Empire, whose frontiers had become the oceans of the seas.14

Naval power and the power of High Finance and the Manipulation of National and Foreign Debt was a very powerful combination indeed! Military and naval leaders allied themselves with “the Banker Merchants” – perhaps also as it is the case today, more and more.

After 1713 – and especially after Clive’s decisive Battle of Plassey in 1757 – Britain expanded the use of its other strategic instrumentalities, such as the earler-founded “private” military-merchant joint-stock company in India, which was also known as the British East India Company.

General Fuller will again help us consider the long-range implications of the East India Company’s quite momentously decisive battle in 1757, the Battle of Plassey, conducted in northeast India on the “shifting banks” of the Bhagirathi River – only some forty-four years after the Treaty of Utrecht:

What did this small battle, little more than a skirmish accomplish [a battle which was led by Robert Clive (1725-1774)]? A world change in a way unparalleled since on October 31, 331 B.C., Alexander the Great overthrew Darius [the Persian] on the field of Arbela. Colonel Malleson, a sober writer, says: “There never was a battle in which the consequences were so vast, so immediate, and so permanent.” And in his Lord Clive he writes: “The work of Clive [who later took his own life in England at only 50 years of age] was, all things considered, as great as that of Alexander.” This is true; for Clive realized that the path of dominion lay open. “It is scarcely hyperbole to say,” he wrote, “that tomorrow the whole Moghul empire is in our power.”15

Recalling what General Fuller has already said about the Bank of England and the manipulation of the National Debt, we may now further appreciate what he says about the growing claims of Mammon and the progress of a Mammonite Colonial Empire:

Yet this victory [at the 1757 Battle of Plassey], on the shifting banks of the Bhagirathi, produced deeper changes still. From the opening of the eighteenth century, the western world had been big with ideas, and the most world-changing was the use of steam as power [also to enhance British sea-power]. Savery, Papin and Newcomen all struggled with the embryo of this monster, which one day was to breathe power over the entire world [which now has also other advanced technologies to deal with]. All that was lacking was gold to fertilize it [like the old alchemist’s dream and delusion of the “maturing of metals”!], and it was Clive who undammed the yellow stream.16

“Howso?”, we may ask.

Quoting the Liberal-Whig historian, Lord Macaulay, General Fuller says:

“As to Clive,” writes Macaulay, “there was no limit to his acquisition but his own moderation. The treasury of Bengal was thrown open to him…. Clive walked between heaps of gold and silver, crowned with rubies and diamonds, and was at liberty to help himself.” India, that great reservoir and sink of precious metals, was thus opened, and from 1757 enormous fortunes were made in the East, to be brought home to England to finance the rising industrial age [and Whig Aristocracy-Oligarchy], and through it to create a new and Titanic world.17

Such was the swollen and swelling “Globalism” or Cosmopolitanism of the Eighteenth Century.

As was the case with earlier plunderers – Alexander, Roman Proconsuls, and Spanish Conquistadores – the candid Fuller then adds:

So now did the English nabobs, merchant princes and adventurers [and their own “Feudalities” of the time] … unthaw the frozen treasure of Hindustan and pour it into England. “It is not too much to say,” writes Brooks Adams, “that the destiny of Europe [sic] hinged upon the conquest of Bengal.” The effect was immediate and miraculous [sic] …. Suddenly all changed [with the rapid development of “machines”] …. “In themselves inventions are passive … waiting for a sufficient store of force to have accumulated to set them working. That store must always take the shape of money, not hoarded, but, in motion.” Further, after 1760, “a complex system of credit sprang up, based on a metallic treasure [which was largely now “pouring” in from India].”18

As another example how a seeming prosperity, as well as a war, was “henceforth founded on unrepayable debt,” General Fuller goes on to say:

So the story lengthens out, profit heaped upon profit. “Possibly since the world began,” writes Brooks Adams, “no investment has ever yielded the profit reaped from the Indian plunder [as the New Reformation English Oligarchy in the Sixteenth Century and afterwards was based on “the Great Pillage” of the Monasteries, and of the Church in general], because for nearly fifty years [until the Early Nineteenth Century] Great Britain stood without competitor.” Thus it came about that out of the field of Plassey [1757] and the victors’ 18 dead there sprouted forth the power of the nineteenth century. Mammon now strode into supremacy to become the unchallenged god of the western world.19

Such was the idol of the increasingly de-Christianized West. Today the apostasy from historic Christianity has gone, unmistakably, even further.

With a portion of bitter cynicism – or at least hard, cold realism – General Fuller concludes with the following words, which should also provoke our further reflectiveness:

Once in the lands of the rising sun western man had sought the Holy Sepulchre. That sun had long set, and now in those spiritually arid regions he found the almighty sovereign. What the Cross had failed to achieve, in a few blood-red years, the trinity of piston, sword, and coin accomplished: the subjection of the East and for a span of nearly 200 years [as of 1955] the economic serfdom of the Oriental world.20

Will such institutions as Halliburton and its own military subsidiary, Kellog, Brown, and Root, also be able to do such things today in Iraq or Afghanistan? And should this be permitted? Ought they be allowed – with their own private military or security forces – to expand their networks into a comparable system of corruption?

To what extent will they have, and maybe even continue to have, “influence without accountability”? And, if not, where are the effective sanctions: clear and enforceable sanctions?

It is now widely known that, down the years, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States has had its own “contractors,” to include various “front companies” at home and abroad, which are sometimes called “proprietaries” or “asteroids.” Even in their “covert” or “clandestine” activities, however, they had gradually developed a system of regulation and control and accountability. “Black operations” – which deceptively purport to be someone or something other than who or what they truly are – always require even greater supervision and accountability – perhaps, most especially in “black” financial operations! Multiple, insufficiently controlled and disciplined “black” or “false flag” operations can very easily get out of control, and can often be self-sabotaging or mutually destructive.

Standards of moral responsibility and accountability in such matters must therefore remain high, given the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of human nature, and C.I.A. has itself various levels of oversight, to include Congressional Oversight. No one should expect that these forms of moral supervision and control are sufficient, but the culture and traditions of the civilian intelligence community do have ways of honorably “policing” themselves. The self-policing of professionals is one of their distinguishing marks.

However, there is today even less oversight of the “special activities” of the Department of Defense, and, therefore, C.I.A. has been tempted at times to “fold itself under” the more spacious and protecting wings of the Military. And the Military has had its own special temptations to evade certain kinds of accountability concerning the nature and scope of its own “special activities.” But, once again, there is still a traditional military culture of “duty, honor, country” that continues (without romantic sentimentalism) to set just moral limits to warfare.

With the growth of special technologies and “space assets,” however, to include “cyberspace,” and especially so in the undefined and growing “Global War on Terrorism” (“the GWOT”), and in the newly added “War against Tyranny,” the temptation to use “irregular” methods and more “unrestricted warfare” is greater. (And a temptation wouldn’t be a temptation if it weren’t attractive.) Likewise greater is an ingrained inattentiveness and ignorance of consequence – especially the decisive and long-range consequences.

A fortiori is this the case with the even less accountable networks of Private Military Companies, which also create a “command-and-control” nightmare for a uniformed Military Commander in his own assigned Area of Responsibility (AOR), especially in a Combat Zone, where he already has, in addition to “the enemy,” the difficulty of dealing with many dubious Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) – to include groups of Journalists and Lawyers (and other “self-nominating targets”)!

When the United States as a purported and increasingly multicultural nation essentially wants to have – and to sustain – a Global Hegemony and thus a new kind of Imperium, or Quasi-Empire, then these already existing dangers will increase, not only for resistent foreigners, but for U.S. Citizens themselves and their already weakened Constitutional Order. In order to be prudent about the nature and consequences of increasingly incommensurate, cultural waves of non-Western and other kinds of immigration, the United States must not inadvertently – much less deliberately – create a “Surveillance, Counter-Intelligence Police State” in its anxious, sometimes delusive, pursuit of “sufficient security.”

In areas of “ambiguity” – in the “interstices” of law and conflicting jurisdictions – great discipline and self-limitation are required – hence a high standard and an intimate moral culture of honorable accountability. The greater the ambiguity and “gray areas,” the greater the virtue needed!

Such an ethos is against a deceitful “system” of anonymity and impersonality and unaccountability. (And morality is not reducible to legality.)

But, when war and comprehensive “security” are made much more “profitable” and when more and more people develop “vested interests” and “lusts” for such “profits” and for “influence without accountability,” then war and “security services” will become – in the words of Marine General Smedley Butler – even more of a “Racket”! And this must be persistently resisted. Otherwise, there will not just be a growing “seam” between war and criminality; there will grow an increasing “overlap” – indeed, a very ugly “convergence” or “congruence” of war, security, and criminality. And unrestricted war will become unrestricted criminality.

Unable now to deal more extensively, or intensively, with such a large and growing phenomenon of “private military and security services” in this limited essay, I propose, therefore, to conclude with only two further sets of suggestions for our deeper inquiry; and then to consider one revealing example of the manifold missions of one U.S. “private military company,” in the Balkans. This final example is also intended to be a parable, of sorts, for our deeper reflections upon this whole matter of Mercenaries and Finance and the Empire – or Quasi-Empire. These matters must be stripped of all obscuring and deceitful euphemisms and be seen “whole and entire,” as they truly are! No Bullshitsky!

The two suggestions:

1. Look more deeply at the growing “militarization” of both “police forces” and “secret societies,” both at home and abroad – in light of various nations’ own historical practices and cultural traditions of Statecraft and Strategic Intelligence. (China, Great Britain, and Israel are particularly good examples.) Adda Bozeman’s Strategic Intelligence and Statecraft: Selected Essays contains several historical-strategic cultural studies of great worth.21

More specifically, look at NORDEX, the former “KGB Trans-National Corporation” and its current “re-structuring” and evasive mutations and “deployments” in Europe and elsewhere. Look at how the British made strategic use of “Military Masonic Lodges” in their earlier revolution-fomenting penetration of Latin America, especially in and through Brazil (given its strategic location), soon after the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. Look at the Triad Operations and the Yakusa Apparatus in the longer light of Oriental Secret Societies, especially military secret societies.

2. Look at various modern examples of “private military companies” or “networks of multicultural mercenaries” – like Executive Outcomes or Sandline International – and whom they serve (e.g. the oligarchs – or “overlords” – of strategic minerals and key strategic resources); and how they are related to and funded by – even indirectly – various foreign governments, financiers, and intelligence agencies, as well as being involved in the widening covert institutionalization of “Special Operations Forces” (SOF), also in Israel. Look at how official SOF organizations, in Britain and the U.S., for example, allow (without penalty) their “active duty” members to serve for some years with contractors or “mercenaries,” and then return to their former official positions in uniform, along with a fund of “wider experience” and “adventure.”

The case of Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI) in Bosnia is, as follows – and we must remember that MPRI itself helped to write the two main Army Field Manuals concerning “Contractors” and “Contracting Support on the Battlefield”:

In 1997 [after MPRI “successes” in Croatia and Bosnia] the Army determined that it needed guidance on the conduct and regulation of private military companies and directed its Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) to prepare the regulations. So what did TRADOC do? It hired MPRI to develop and write the regulations, of course. The results, approved by TRADOC and the Department of the Army, produced Field Manual (FM) 100-10-2, Contracting Support on the Battlefield, released in April 1999, and FM 100-121, Contractors on the Battlefield, the following September [1999].22

In the further words of Lanning,

Whereas it was said in the nineteenth century that the sun never set on the British Empire, it may be stated that in the twenty-first, the sun never sets on employers of MPRI [established in 1987, in Alexandria, Virginia]. Today, MPRI contractors [also less politely known as “mercenaries”] can be found in every continent of the world with the exception of Antarctica, and that frozen land may very well be a future source of contracts.23

After training “the Croatian National Army” (starting in September 1994), they moved from being “a moderately successful private military firm into a worldwide influence on modern soldiers of fortune.”24

In May 1996, the government of Bosnia hired MPRI “to reorganize, arm, and train its armed forces” and “the contract differed from that with Croatia in that this one [of 1996] specifically contained provisions for MPRI to provide combat training.”25

Now, we shall see how a “private” U.S.-based Military Company helped establish and fortify an Islamic Republic in the heart of Europe:

MPRI and Bosnian officials agreed to a contract amounting to $50 million for the first year with provisions for annual renewals. Another $100 to $300 million was authorized [by whom?] for the purchase of arms and equipment. Although the U.S. State Department had to approve the MPRI portions of the contract and maintain some oversight of the entire operation, the U.S. government did not finance the program. Instead, the money came from a coalition of moderate [sic] Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Brunei, and Malaysia, which hoped that the improved Bosnian army could protect the country’s Muslim majority from its non-Mulsim neighbors …. To introduce the weapons into the Bosnian Army and to train the force, MPRI sent retired U.S. Army Major General William Boice, recently commander of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, and a team of 163 veteran U.S. military personnel.26

U.S. Government-approved, retired U.S. military-mercenaries help establish a better-armed and better-trained, militarized Islamic Republic in the heart of Europe – a Muslim Republic funded by a Coalition of Muslim Countries from afar. What’s wrong with this picture?

How should the Europeans, not only the Americans, respond to such a strategically subversive travesty: a penetration and permeation not only of the strategic threshold of Europe (like the Maghreb), but a further Islamic penetration of the historical heartland of Christendom?

The answer to this question – and our active response – will have great consequence upon the larger flow of migrations – whether from the Maghreb or from Mexico – and also upon the larger cultural and religious struggles we are unmistakably in!

Moreover, with reference to Private Military Companies and their expanding missions:

During the Gulf War in 1991 there was only one contract employee for every hundred uniformed military personnel supporting the conflict. In Operation Iraqi Freedom [which began in March of 2003], the number of contractors has increased to one per every ten soldiers. By mid-2004 the best estimate on the number of private military companies providing direct combat services [sic] to various governments and causes is more than two hundred. There are a dozen or more PMCs [Private Military Companies] in Africa that filled the vacancy left by Executive Outcomes. Several more are based in western European countries. Many more, and some of the most secretive, are based in Russia and other countries once part of the Soviet Union [as well as in Israel and China?]. The vast majority of the private military companies, however, are in the United Kingdom and the United States.27

In the longer light of history, especially the strategic history of the military-merchant-financier British East India Company – with its oligarchic “banker merchants” and “merchant princes and adventurers” and their exercise of increasing “political power” – we may now better understand the likely effects upon the conduct of war of the modern “Private Military Companies,” as a new institution of Mercenaries with a “global reach” and “special technologies” and other “covert assets.” American private military contractors may have even more “reach” (but at what long-range cost?), if they are permitted to have “sub-contractors” from foreign countries like Israel. For, unlike the United States, the Israelis have at their disposal deep knowledge of numerous foreign languages and cultures, and many “linguistic skills,” as well as “interrogation skills.” But, if Israelis are even suspected of being the interrogators of Iraqi Muslims, as at Abu Ghraib prison, for example, the consequences or “blowback” would be very grave for the United States. We must be very attentive to the “farming out” of such matters. We must not be supine or fatalistic, and thus surrender to the view that “the process is irreversible.”

The conduct of war will be greatly affected by the combination of “Special Operations Forces” (SOF) and “Special Technical Operations” (STO) under a variety of new forms of “privatization” or “non-official cover.” These well-financed and “globalized” Private Military Companies will likely have access to advanced and “breakthrough” technologies, and will be more readily disposed than our conventional forces “to exercise them in innovative ways.”

Given the earlier precedents in England – because of the established institutions of the National Debt and the Bank of England and “a complex system of credit” – “war [has been] henceforth founded on unrepayable debt.” The “destinies of nations” and “the frontiers of Empire” are still gravely affected – especially the destinies of dependent “little nations” – by the strategic manipulation of National Debt and of the Debt Bondage of those economically weaker nations or arguably “failing states.”

The combination of modern “banker merchants” and “military adventurer-hucksters” is “a terrible thing to think upon” (in the cheerful words of François Rabelais).

What will be the ultimate loyalties and guiding ethos of such Private Military-Merchant Companies and their foreign “Sub-Contractors” – whether in Iraq or Indonesia or in the restive Southern Hemisphere of Latin America?

In a time of “borderless economies and finance,” how are these new martial-mercantile Feudalities likely to affect the common good of vulnerable societies, who are especially in need of a well-rooted, humane scale of life – not a restless and roaming uprootedness? Whom will these new Overlords serve, and to what extent will these Trans-National Corporate Elites serve the true common good of the United States and provide for the common defense?

And, as always, how does a humane political order regulate and control “the Money Power” and disallow it from being “le pouvoir sur le pouvoir” (“the power above the power”), i.e., from being only superordinate, instead of always subordinate?

The financial and credit question is additionally complicated today by the reality of electronics (“Virtual Money”) and the reality of drugs. Drugs themselves indeed often constitute, not only a currency, but also an access to liquidity – and hence a source of strategic manipulation and “money-laundering,” especially for covert intelligence and military operations.

The spreading phenomenon of the privatization of warfare and “security services” must be understood – and often, not only strictly regulated, but altogether and persistently resisted – especially in light of the lessons that should be learned from earlier Imperial Histories and Economic Colonizations; and also in light of current strategic realities, to include the seemingly reckless, diplomatic and military conduct of the United States. Its foreign “Nation-Breaking” is much more evident than its foreign “Nation-Building,” and not only in Iraq! As distinct from an “Emerging American Imperium,” we may be witnessing, instead, a Submerging American Imperium now making further, even frantic, use of “Private Military Companies” and their “New Feudalities,” both as an imperial “weapon of weakness” and in an act of provocative desperation. For the United States, now often perceived as a “Rogue Superpower,” does increasingly seem to be out of control.

CODA

The Dangerous Moral Aftermath of Promiscuously Applied Irregular Warfare

Almost forty years ago B.H. Liddell Hart, General J.F.C. Fuller’s British colleague, published a second revised edition of his book, Strategy, wherein he had added an entirely new chapter, entitled “Guerrilla War” (Chapter XXIII).28 He sought to understand “particularly the guerrilla and subversive forms of war” and thereby to enhance our “deterrence of subtle forms of aggression,” or “camouflaged war,” which he also called “forms of aggression by erosion.”29

Alluding to Winston Churchill’s short-sighted and promiscuous promotion of irregular warfare behind enemy lines in War War II, and also to “the material damage that the guerrillas produced directly, and indirectly in the course of [enemy] reprisals,” Liddell Hart speaks of how all of this often-provoked (yet always consequential) suffering became, indeed, “a handicap to recovery after liberation.”30 Then, even more profoundly, he adds:

But the heaviest handicap of all, and the most lasting one, was of a moral kind. The armed resistance movement attracted many “bad hats” [i.e., rogues, knaves, dupes, and criminals]. It gave them license to indulge their vices and work off [i.e., avenge] their grudges under the cloak of patriotism…. Worse still was its wider effect on the younger generation as a whole. It taught them to defy authority and break the rules [in their “black operations” or “unrestricted warfare”] of civic morality in the fight against the occupying forces [whether German, Japanese, or, today, Israeli occupation forces]. This left a disrespect for “law and order” that inevitably continued after the invaders had gone. Violence [to include vandalism and terrorism] takes much deeper root in irregular warfare than it does in regular warfare. In the latter it is counteracted by obedience to constituted authority, whereas the former [more lawless, irregular warfare] makes a virtue of defying authority and violating rules [hence “limits”]. It becomes very difficult to rebuild a country, and a stable state, on a foundation undermined by such experience.31

Even moreso is this the case today when “new feudalisms,” mercenary warfare and strategically-organized “private military companies” are promiscuously set loose to fight an increasingly undefined “global war on terrorism.” For, it unmistakably fosters “the privatization of lawlessness” and soon gets further out of control.

Moreover, these new indirect forms of warfare – and the asymmetrical (irregular) cultural and strategic resistance against them – often have, despite the secular appearances, very deep and very tenacious religious roots, to include Hebraic-Islamic roots.

FINIS

© 2006 Robert Hickson

1Robert Hickson, “Setting Just Limits to New Methods of Warfare” in Neo-Conned! – Just War Principles (Vienna, Virginia: IHS Press – Light in the Darkness Publications, 2005), pp. 331-343 (Chapter 18).

2See the transcript of the 9-10 October Conference at Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont (http://www.wws.princeton.edu/ppns/conferences/reports/privtranscript.pdf); the Conference, entitled “The Privatization of American National Security” was held at the Rohatyn Center for International Affairs. Immediately after his above-quoted words, Feaver said: “A number of folks have expressed the concern that this makes military force [as in the case of the East India Company] too usable a tool [of Empire]. That was precisely the issue raised by the rescinding of the draft [in 1973]” (my emphasis added). Correlative with this “rescinding of the draft” was the creation of the “all-volunteer force” in the United States.

3William E. Odom and Robert Dujarric, America’s Inadvertent Empire (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2004). These thoughtful and manifoldly discerning authors also give much weight to the importance of a Constitutional Order – for them a Liberal Order – which always requires a preceding agreement and what the authors call a “Great Compromise” among the given polity’s component Elites, which would otherwise be able to break with relative impunity the prevailing rules of society.

4Hilaire Belloc, Esto Perpetua: Algerian Studies and Impressions (New York: AMS Press, 1969 – first published in London, in 1906), pp. 25-28, and 36-37 – my emphasis added.

5See Michael Lee Lanning, Mercenaries: Soldiers of Fortune, from Ancient Greece to Today’s Private Military Companies (New York: Ballantine Books, 2005). Lanning’s book is a very useful survey of the phenomenon, despite some important gaps in its treatment, especially with respect to foreign strategic cultures (e.g., Russia, Israel, China, Ancient Persia and the Islamic World). He also has a useful Bibliography, pp. 26-272, and some valuable Appendixes.

6Ibid., p. 1.

7Ibid., p. 214 – my emphasis added.

8Ibid., p. 222 – my emphasis added.

9J.F.C. Fuller, A Military History of the Western World – Volume II (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1955), p. 153-154 – my emphasis added.

10Ibid., p. 154 – my emphasis added.

11Ibid., pp. 154-155 – my emphasis added.

12Ibid., p. 217.

13Ibid., p. 218.

14Ibid., p. 155 – my emphasis added.

15Ibid., p. 240 – my emphasis added.

16Ibid. – my emphasis added.

17Ibid., p. 241 – my emphasis added.

18Ibid. – my emphasis added. – Between 1756 and 1815, the National Debt increased from 74.58 Million Pounds to 861 Million Pounds!

19Ibid., p. 242 – my emphasis added.

20Ibid. – my emphasis added.

21(Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, Inc., 1992). See, especially, her essay on “Statecraft and Intelligence in the Non-Western World” (pages 180-212).

22Michael Lee Lanning, Mercenaries, p. 203 – my emphasis added.

23Ibid., p. 198.

24Ibid., pp. 199-200.

25Ibid., p. 200 – my emphasis added.

26Ibid. – my emphasis added.

27Ibid., p. 206 – my emphasis added.

28B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy (New York: Penguin – A Meridian Book, 1967), “Guerrilla War,” pp. 361-370.

29Ibid., pp. 361, 370, 363.

30Ibid., pp. 368-369.

31Ibid., p. 369 – my emphasis added.

Historic Chinese Secret Societies and Some Strategic Implications

Author’s Note: Some twenty-three years ago, the author was asked to write about certain aspects of historic Chinese culture, especially the history of Secret Societies. This study is presented below with the very important footnote no. 1 to be found in the first paragraph about historical culture and Chinese secret societies. The author believes that the current situation with China abroad might convince us of some deeper matters of strategy and policy. The author emphasizes the high value of Dennis Bloodworth’s 1980 revised text The Chinese Looking Glass, first published in 1966 and now alluded to in footnote no. 1.

25 August 1997

Feast of King St. Louis of France

Dr.Robert D. Hickson

Professor of Strategic and Cultural Studies

United States Air Force Academy

Colorado Springs, Colorado

THE CHINESE-TRIAD PHENOMENON IN EUROPE, IN LIGHT OF THE HISTORY AND STRATEGIC CULTURE OF CHINA

Some strategic-minded, highly intelligent and courageous men whom I know in the America Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have told me that they are most gravely troubled by the actual and potential national-security threats presented to the United States by the Chinese Triads (or Tongs). These FBI agents are tough and unsentimental men; deeply honorable and aware of the subversive “solvents” of our culture and our cultural security. And, they know that the Triads are historic and strategic Chinese secret societies, which are also trans-national criminal syndicatesi, and strategic assets of Chinese national power and of international oligarchical power.

These men say that, compared to the Triads, the “Narco-Trafficantes” from Latin America and the Nigerian syndicates from Africa are mere “pifflers” and “poofery.” For, the Chinese Triads are acutely intelligent, very well organized, and, when necessary, unspeakably brutal. Moreover, they are strategic operations with a long and deep history in Chinese culture, and in China’s often troubled relations with other nations and oligarchies, such as the British. The Triads, furthermore, usually speak dialects of Chinese which are unintelligible to those who know only Mandarin, and this sober fact constitutes an additional difficulty. For, how many people in Europe or in the US, even in the intelligence or crime-prevention organizations, understand the Chao Chou, Fukien, Hakka, Hokkien, or Cantonese dialects used by many of the overseas Chinese and their Triad networks? I think that the Chinese themselves already know about the linguistic incapacities of the Americans, although I am probably not allowed to tell you the statistics I reliably know.

Therefore, in light of the recent, new public status of Hong Kong, with its whole Triad apparatus, another important question arises. To what extent have the Triads themselves been strategic assets of Chinese power, both of Chinese Communists and of the old Kuomintang and current Taiwanese, especially as long-range assets of Chinese strategic intelligence and strategic intelligence operations? Given the larger cultural and strategic phenomenon of the Chinese Triads–to include their ideology and occult organization–what should Europeans themselves essentially know and eventually do about the Chinese Triads?

In Chinese culture, if one is not tied to various supportive kin groups, the secret society has always been a special way of mobility, affiliation, prosperity, and security, especially overseas. Chinese secret societies overseas are not unlike a “trans-national corporation” or a Chinese Freemasonry (Freimaurertum). The KGB (whatever “label” it now displays) still has its own trans-national corporations, like NORDEX, which is unmistakably connected to criminal syndicates and mafias, not only in the Baltics, but elsewhere. It would be very illuminating for you also to consider the Triads as a kind of Chinese “NORDEX,” and as a form of Chinese “Special Operations Forces” (SOF), both of which are strategic assets.

Look especially at the Chinese activity now in Austria, to include the use of Chinese restaurants, even in the remotest villages of Austria, perhaps (and at least) for “money-laundering.” They are all over the place, and never filled or crowded. And, yet, they seem to flourish. Is this only a trivial fact?

Likewise, there are indications that the Chinese Triad apparatus has more than accidental contact with the expanding and diversifying NORDEX apparatus in Western Europe, increasingly now in Switzerland, as well as in the Low Countries. It is also to be considered that, increasingly so, national intelligence agencies themselves use “non official” covers of variously euphemistic sorts. How should we look at NORDEX, as well as the Triads? Where does the head of NORDEX, Gregori Luchansky, now reside, and to what extent does he know Markus Wolf, even now, and very intimately? Might not some appropriate agencies fruitfully pursue this line of inquiry, as well as the contacts of George Soros with NORDEX, and in Asia?

But, the Chinese Triads are perhaps the biggest test–on many fronts–just as the strategic culture of China may be the biggest test of the West and of Western democratic culture: not just what we are finally against, but what are we finally for. What do we finally affirm, to live by and to live for? Is it only or predominately for the spread of “democratic capitalism” and its “spirit”? China and the Chinese Triads, by contrast, will be seen to provide an even greater challenge to the older non-materialistic traditions of the West, if we now, perhaps dangerously, consider the extent to which certain Western Oligarchies–or the cosmopolitan mafias–make use of (or are used by) the Triads and their higher strategic leadership or manipulators. To what extent is there a mutual duplicity and complicity with “criminal capitalism”?

When a man I know, who speaks with a “Bronx” New York City accent, recently saw how the Triads were not only moving into Brooklyn, next to where the old KGB apparatus used to reside more exclusively and predominately, but also meeting with the Cali and Medellin and FARC cartels in the offshore Caribbean islands, as well as in Cuba, he said: “Who are deese guys?” Who are “these guys” and “the host of squalid oligarchs” with whom they collaborate, also in Europe? An important strategic question, no?

Therefore, to the extent that we, and our strategic intelligence agencies, can take the true measure of the generic (and specific) Chinese Triads (San-Tien Hui) as “versatile and deftly strategic, deeply historical secret societies that have strategic ‘interior lines’ on the ‘inner front’ of many ‘host nations’,” we shall better come to discern their actual or potential national-security (or cultural-security) threat, and threat of strategic subversion. Every word counts in that long sentence which I have just made. Moreover, by more deeply understanding the Triads, we would then especially come to grasp how and why “organized crime is protected crime.” That is to say, protected by political and financial oligarchies, especially the imperial “cosmopolitan mafias,” and not just recently. Remember the sordid and murky Opium Wars in 19th century China, and consider the strategic “re-export” of those drug wars to the West, especially after the 1949 Communist takeover in China. Mao Tse-Tung was himself associated with the Triads and their traditions of revolt against the “usurping barbarians”; and he cherished Shih Nai-An’s 17th century Ming dynasty, Chinese novel about honorable Sung dynasty bandits, Men of the Marshes (Shui Hu Chuan), “a stronghold village surrounded by a lake of reeds and called Liang Shan Po.”

Indeed, there has often been “a murky alliance” (as Marshall Pétain, among many others, once called it) between financial oligarchies (usually unaccountable to any electorate of “democracy”) and revolutionary movements themselves (to include their own “occult organizations of Revolution” with strategically subversive, and highly useful Secret Societies). The illuminating phrase, “the occult organization of Revolution,” comes from the words of James Billington in his brilliant 1980 book of analysis, Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith. (Fideism, however, instead of Faith, may have been a more fitting word in his subtitle, especially because he emphasizes, against the conventional “rationalist” interpretation of Revolution, the irrational and hermetic and feverish mentation of resentful and destructive revolutionaries).

Although the Chinese Triads (The Heaven and Earth Society) may have even had their proximate historical origins in the 17th century White Lotus Society, which was itself militantly determined to restore the Ming Dynasty after its 1644 AD conquest by the usurping Manchu barbarians out of the north (similar to the earlier Jurchen and Mongol invasions and conquests of the Han Chinese by Kublai Khan), it was only after the British-instigated Opium Wars in the 19th century (starting in 1839-1842) that the Triads became more prominent and powerful, especially in South and South-Central China. Often working with the British oligarchs, especially in and through Hong Kong and other port cities, the Triads could more efficiently help target the somewhat decadent Mandarin elite that was seen as supporting the rule of the hated Manchu (Ch’ing) Dynasty, which fell finally in 1912. One of their long-standing rally cries was: “Overthrow the Ch’ing! Restore the Ming!”

This initially patriotic, nationalist secret society, and the later, variously “diversifying,” rival Triads, became deeply involved in the prominent opium trade and other criminal activities, to include the smuggling of labor and prostitutes overseas.

With respect to the Triads, their organized crime was often protected crime, protected especially by the British and others interested in the drug trade, to include the Japanese Yakusa themselves (after the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, which humiliated the Chinese further, after their military loss to Japan in the Sino-Japanese War, as when later the German colonies in China were given to the Japanese after the Treaty of Versailles!). If such organized crime were not protected, it would not be so sustainably “organized.” Do we agree?

Therefore, with this brief history and the long and vivid memories of the Chinese, what might the Triads be doing now in Europe, with even further protection after the reversion of Hong Kong to the Communist Leninists? (And we must not forget, as in the case of the Shanghai Green Gang, the historic Triad involvement in, and with, Formosa and the Kuomintang, and their current analogous activities in Taiwan and Southeast Asia!)

To what extent do the Chinese still want to export the Opium War back to the West, with all of its attendant corruptions and specious profits? According to several independent sources, including the secret papers of Gamal Abdel Nasser himself, Chou En-lai in the early 1950s, even before the Bandung Conference of 1955, spoke of the strategic plan to weaken and deeply demoralize the West by means of expanded drug trade. In 1974, Gerd Hamburger, an Austrian, wrote a book on this topic, which includes a discussion of the Triads. The book was entitled Die Peking-Bombe: Chinas geheime Superwaffe (The Peking Bomb: China’s Secret Superweapon) (Stuttgart, Germany: Seewald Verlag). The US troops in Vietnam later were also especially to be targeted with the drugs. We should return to this matter, but we shall first need more and very-difficult-to-gather knowledge and even more difficult, real courage–Mut zur Ethik and Mut “to come out from under the rubble” of disinformation and strategic distractions.

Vladimir Bukovsky has written a recent, trenchant book, Abrechnung mit Moskau, as yet unpublished in English, because (says the author himself) of its unflinching and uncomfortable truthfulness–and truth. It is especially uncomfortable to Western elites–or oligarchies–who themselves do not want to see the whole truth about the long-standing, continuous collusion between Western political and financial oligarchies and the “democratic centralist” elites of Communism (or Revolutionary Socialism).

In the inspiring manner of Vladimir Bukovsky’s long-standing courageous ethos, we also need–do we not?–an Abrechnung mit Peking, to include and ongoing reckoning with the human cost of Communism in China: hence, with its own still-standing Gulag System (The “Lao Gai” System) and its own strategic collaboration with Western financial oligarchies (British and others); and its use of the Chinese Triads as multi-faceted strategic assets–in drug-trafficking, money-laundering, blackmail and intimidation, and various intelligence operations. To what extent are the Triads strategic assets of Chinese power and mediating structures to Western oligarchies, as well as close-bonded secret societies with a long-history in Chinese culture? The question deserves repetition, with nuanced incremental variations, until we awaken to its sobering implications.

Before looking at the Triads and some of their current implications for Europe, in the longer light of history and of China’s profoundly sophisticated (and often deceptive) strategic culture, let us re-consider, for a moment, the courageous ethos of Bukovsky, and especially the Mut zur Ethik of a fellow Russian who is also a man of truth and who has also learned, like the Greek tragedian Æschylus, the importance of truth by suffering (pathé mathos): Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Bukovsky, even earlier in his 1978 book, as well as in others later, has stressed the “overwhelming force” of courageous resistance to falsehood. And as, Arnaud de Lassus has said: “What is true for falsehood in general is equally true for the particular form called ‘disinformation’”–as Vladimir Volkoff has also analyzed it in his 1986 book in French, called Disinformation: A Weapon of War (La désinformation, arme de guerre); and as R. Mucchielli had analyzed it also in his book ten years earlier, called Subversion (1976)–a profound study, which will also illuminate our current understanding of Triad operations.

But, two years before Mucchielli’s own book on the strategic and subtle power of subversion, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn himself wrote his “Open Letter to the Rulers of the Soviet Union” (Moscow, 12 February 1974), about an analogously subversive power, but, this time, against evil; namely the subversive power of the “rejection of the lie.” Solzhenitsyn said:

And that refusal [of the lie] makes a breach in the imaginary circle of our inaction…. For when men turn their backs on the lie, the lie ceases to exist, purely and simply. Such a contagious disease can only exist when men co-operate with it [and are in complicity with it]. Our way must be a refusal knowingly to give support to the lie in any way whatsoever. And it is there precisely…that the key to our liberation is to be found: the refusal to participate personally in the lie! What does it matter if the lie overshadows everything, if it becomes master of everything; on one point at least let us reject all compromises; may it [the lie] not owe its victory to any help of mine!

Desiring to give a true memory to his people, Solzhenitsyn urged them–and implicitly also us–not to live the lie; and to take, if necessary, but one step at a time and “come out from under the rubble,” but not to participate in the lie and hence in our own self-deception and consequent inner self-destruction. These are fortifying words, especially for those who are wounded, or full of fear, and cannot yet face or live the fuller truth. Let us, at least, not live the lie–or imbibe the pervasive disinformation–which, for example, denies (or deflects us from) the long-standing collaboration of various national and cosmopolitan oligarchies with “organized crime” and its many resources and “controlled” (or blackmailed) assets. Despite disinformation to the contrary, the “financial capitalists” are not so stupidly greedy as to “sell or give them the rope to hang themselves.” These oligarchs have long calculated their profitable, publicly unaccountable, and power-enhancing complicities with brutal and bloody revolutionaries, as in South Africa today, and as was certainly the case with the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1991 continuously. Arnaud de Lassus makes an important and deeper point in his own 1990 Study of Disinformation, which analogously applies, I think, to the Triad Secret societies today, in Europe and elsewhere.

May I interest you in this matter, and in this eminently testable hypothesis?

What did Arnaud de Lassus lucidly and courageously say, already in 1990, that may still be of value to us, especially as an illuminating criterion of judgment? Quoting the then-recent book by his fellow Frenchman, Jacques Attali, on Sir Siegmund G. Warburg (1902-1982): A Man of Influence (1985), de Lassus says:

Speaking of the influence wielded over men in power by financiers, Attali shows that this can extend to the point of being a ‘power over power’ (p. 13–Payard edition, Paris 1985). We are thus presented with the setting up on a global scale of a ‘Mercantile Order,’ founded by an ‘austere order’ of financiers discreetly exercising their ‘power over the holders of power’ (p. 3).

(See Attali’s book, especially pages 4, 14, 15, and 86, concerning the political role of financiers, especially over the mass media of communications, understood as an “uncontrolled fief”–uncontrolled at least by the State, who must often still finance the State radio and television service in France even when it opposes and subverts State policies.)

In the light of Jacques Attali’s very well-informed and admiring book, says de Lassus,

It would be possible to draw up an organizational chart for French society, showing: (a) at the top, ‘power over power’ of the financial dynasties [hence, the dynastically intermarried families] (and, it may well be, of other hidden forces operating just as discreetly as those); and (b) lower down, the powers of the political establishment and those of the media. [It is, moreover, of great confirmatory (or corroborative) values to note], says de Lassus, that Attali’s 1985 book tells the life of one of the greatest Jewish financiers of our time (he lived from 1902 to 1982), together with the history of his family, and amounts to a vindication of a Jewish super-capitalist by a Jewish socialist.

Furthermore, in Figaro Magazine (13 January 1990), Louis Pawels gives the following summary of Jacques Attali’s “vision of the world that is about to be born,” as expressed in Attali’s 1990 book, Lignes d’horizon (Lines on the Horizon):

Since de-colonization we have seen the end of the great Western empires. We are now witnessing the death through exhaustion of the Soviet empire. We are at the same time witnessing the triumph of democratic capitalism [and its new oligarchic forms of “criminal capitalism” and “democratic centralism”?] Its advantages are obvious; its attractiveness worldwide cannot be denied. What we are seeing is the establishment of a Mercantile Order on a global scale.

How do the Chinese Triads and the Chinese financial oligarchies–to include the Bank of China–and their dynastic families in China and overseas fit into this vision, if at all? To what extent do they constitute a “power over the power of the Chinese State,” as well? And how might they help the formation of a new strategic and cultural Chinese imperium, with the help of trans-national Western elites and other globalists or “cosmopolitan mafias” (to include “trans-national criminal syndicates” who use and despise the nation-state)?

What deals were made between the old rulers of Hong Kong–British, Chinese, and others–and the new political regime? Since drugs are a kind of financial currency, and provide, as it were, an easy access to “liquidity,” under tight (or uncertain) conditions of credit, who is still protecting and using the Triad network, even as they also traffic in the removal and destructive dumping of toxic wastes from nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and also perform economic and financial espionage?

In this context, consider the long-standing and pervasive disinformation over the mutually profitable relations between certain financial oligarchies and the Communists. The massive support of the 1917 Soviet Regime in Russia by American and European financial oligarchies is now, for rational thinkers, an uncontested historic fact, but still dangerous to talk about in detail. These same oligarchies sustained that support continuously from 1917 to 1991, supplying the Soviet regime, says de Lassus:

With practically limitless credit, Western technology, ready-to-use factories, wheat and raw materials. Hence, the “military-industrial complex” of the USSR may be seen as a Western creation.

There has been much disinformation about the facts and about the explanation of the facts–and about the explanation of explanations. What is the analogous situation, now, as well as historically, in relation to Communist China (Leninist, Maoist, Gramscian, or Machiavellian)?

Now, with respect to the rising power of China, what will be the relation of these same oligarchies with the “modernizing” Chinese Communists and their overseas assets, especially the Triads?

Given that Swiss political and financial oligarchies are now under pressure from more cosmopolitan or “Maastrichtean” oligarchies, what will be the pressure on the Swiss to “compromise” or to partake of a larger “duplicity” or “complicity”? How will the Chinese assets themselves exploit this vulnerable situation, given their subtle strategic sense of timeliness and timelessness? How might the Chinese play this in an effort to divide further Europe from America, and thereby certainly to weaken the American presence in the Pacific or on the Pacific Rim? Will the “Euro” be pushed as a necessary and desirable rival currency to the US dollar, as an international reserve currency? Will the Chinese Triads–like NORDEX–be used as fronts for many strategic policies and strategic intelligence operations? I believe this to be the case even now, but it will grow in pervasiveness and importance, in my judgment.

Our intelligence and internal-security communities should become deeply attentive to the Triad phenomenon in the longer light of Chinese history and strategic culture, and should follow the specific Triads closely. But, this will indispensably require knowledge of Chinese (and its key dialects) as an important strategic language. And, it will likewise require a greatly enhanced capacity “to read the culture”: to read the highly sophisticated and subtle Chinese culture, to include the culture of their historic and strategic secret societies, like the Triads. Building this capacity itself constitutes an easily intimidating strategic challenge, let alone where the lines of enquiry more deeply lead. And what will thereby be demanded of us for the protection and sustenance of a rooted, just, and civilized democratic order? For, if such a democratic order is not to be a deception, it must be attentive and dedicated to enhancing the common good (bonum commune), not to enhance the leverage and unaccountable privileges and immunities of selfish oligarchies.

How might all of this be deeply illuminated if we follow up on this concluding question: “To what extent are the Chinese Triads a form of Chinese Special Operations Forces (SOF), which are always elite strategic assets of national power and, maybe also, of international oligarchical power?”

We shall learn many things of strategic importance, if we more attentively and knowingly track the Chinese presence in Europe (hence the Triads’ “SOF” networks), in clarifying contradistinction to the Japanese presence (along with their own Yakusa networks) in Europe, as well as their strategic presence in Peru and Brazil and other parts of Latin America, the Southern strategic front of the United States. The Chinese are also strategically situated in Canada, especially on the northern front in Vancouver, in British Columbia. They are also, of course, on the strategic inner front of the United States and maybe also Europe. Are we now, after these many considerations, in a better position or to discern the nature and implications and “strategic interior lines” of the Triads in the West, and to develop a strategic intelligence agenda and an effective counter-strategy? Or, as James Burnham said in his 1964 book, Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism, will our increasingly deracinated “liberal democracies” “hand over the weapons to its own assassins”? Will our courage and informing faith derive from “the spirit of democratic capitalism” or be able to resist “the spirit of criminal capitalism”? Let us rather form and lead a new and higher chivalry, propter parvulos ad Christum trahendos.

Footnote:

1) Secret societies are very important in Chinese Culture, and with a long history, but scholars have long tended to ignore them. In his 1980 revised and expanded edition of his The Chinese Looking Glass (1966-1st edition), Dennis Bloodworth has some excellent chapters on the history and importance of secret societies in China: from the philosopher Mo Tze (5th century BC); to the “Red Headbands” of the proto-Triad “Red Eyebrows” (30AD); to the 7th century AD “Yellow Turbans”; to the 17th century “White Lotus Society” in North China and the “Hung Society” (Hung Men) in South, West, and Central China, and more. The Triad–implying a restored threefold harmony between Heaven, Earth, and Man–this “Heaven and Earth Society (T’ien- Ti Hui) or “Triple Harmony Society” (San-Tien Hui) has a rich and often obscure history as the “Triad Society” (San-Tien Hui) or, in the USA, the “Chih Kung Tong” (Society to Bring About Justice). Bloodworth says, for example: “Esoteric history that no one dared to put in writing at the time has it that the Triad was founded in the seventeenth century by an abbot of Shao-Lin [Buddhist] monastery [in Fukien Province] who had raised an invincible company of 128 warrior-monks [cf. The Western Templars]… and the [Manchu] Emperor agreed that the monastery should be set on fire and blown up. This was achieved with the help of an unfrocked traitor who was number seven in the Shao-Lin hierarchy, so that even today these secret-society gangsters never use this number in their ritual.” (Bloodworth, The Chinese Looking Glass, p. 146). Bloodworth and others have eloquently described how these historic societies of Triads “secretly organized for Revolution.” The Triads were also involved in the 19th century Taiping Rebellion, as well as in the earlier uprising of 1774. They supported this 1911 revolution under Sun Yat Sen, combated Yuan Shih-K’ai in the 1915 attempt to become a new emperor (after the Manchus fell in 1912), and the Triads fought the Japanese (especially from 1937-1945). Other famous secret societies had such names as: “the Double Sword Society,” “the Dagger Society,” “the Clear Winter Society,” “the Elders Society” (Ko-Lao Hui)–and “the Harmonious Fists Society” (the famous “Boxers” of the North China Rebellion of 1899-1900).

Finis

© 1997 Robert Hickson

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Young Hilaire Belloc’s 1906 Open Letter on the Decay of Faith: His Polite Reply to Some Eloquent Discouragements

Dr. Robert Hickson

5 April 2021

Saint Vincent Ferrer, O.P. (d. 1419)

Blessed Juliana of Mount Cornillon (d. 1258)

Epigraphs

“The enormous evils from which we are suffering, the degradation of our fellow-citizens, the accursed domination of our plutocracy is in the act of [a complacent? or temporarily acquiescent?] settlement. But after that? Will there not remain the chief problem of the human soul? Shall we not still smell what Chesterton so admirably calls ‘the unmistakable smell of the pit,’ shall we not still need salvation with a greater need than the need for water upon a parched day? And will there not remain among us—since we are a civilized people, possessed of printing and careful of our monuments—the record of the faith? Will it not be there to return to?” (Hilaire Belloc, M.P., Open Letter on the Decay of Faith, page 13—my emphasis added)

***

“You [dear C. F. G. Masterman, a fellow M.P.] are acquainted as I am with the Gospels; you have perhaps wondered, as I have, at their astounding power of diction; there is not a book in the world that loses so little by translation.” (Hilaire Belloc, M.P., Open Letter on the Decay of Faith, page 13—my emphasis added)

***

Do not, I beg of you [dear Masterman], be oppressed by forces already dissolved. You have mistaken the hour of the night. It is already morning.” (Hilaire Belloc, M.P., An Open Letter on the Alleged Decay of Faith (March 29, 1906), page 14—my emphasis added)

***

In 1906 when Hilaire Belloc was still thirty-five years of age, he became a British Member of Parliament for almost five years. Early in his membership he wrote his Open Letter on the Decay of Faith (14 pages) which was at first addressed specifically to C.F.G. Masterman, M.P., on 29 March 1906, but it was soon also reprinted and opened to a broader audience, being then published as a compact pamphlet.1 This reprinted pamphlet also has a variant title, by its inserting the word “Alleged”: “An Open Letter on the Alleged Decay of Faith.” In either case, both titles will get us thinking—especially today over a hundred years later, and given the cumulative history of Europe and now also of the alleged United States of America.

Hilaire Belloc begins his Letter with fitting politeness and capturing benevolent simplicity:

My dear Masterman, I have just been reading some words of yours in the Speaker. They have set me thinking. And I am sorry to say they have set me writing, too. I could not but write, and when I had written I desired to make what I had written public. It is on this account that you may see, if you do see, the sentences which I print here. (3)

Belloc then goes straight to the presentation of an articulate perception of Masterman’s candid (but discouraging) claim about the abiding decay of the Christian faith. Moreover, in his initial reply, Belloc also adds some memorable vividness when he evocatively alludes to the Mediaeval Old French Epic, The Song of Roland, which depicts the strategic retreat of Charlemagne’s army from the Pyrenees Mountains of northern Spain and the treacherously effected and tragic loss of the rearguard and loyal knight, Roland:

You say there [in the 1906 issue of Speaker] that (as you conceive it) the Christian religion is in peril: nay, that the immemorial battle is now decided; that the quiet enemy has conquered and that no army will return to oust him; that we shall not hear again the horn of Roland.

Your words are clear. You speak of “the passing of a whole civilization from a Faith in which it was founded.” You speak again of “a Faith that is slipping from the horizon of mankind.” Let me detain you upon these things. (3-4—my emphasis added)

Belloc then presents a series of searching questions to Mr. Masterman, to include his use of certain metaphors or analogies:

Do you, then, really believe that this movement [of de-Christianization] of which you speak is a tide? Do you, then, really think that the things of the mind are subject to such easy, such rhythmical and such servile laws as are the things of the world around us? And do you believe that the Faith is ebbing away? (4—my emphasis added)

After some personal notes about the poetry of Matthew Arnold (“Dover Beach”) and some adventures of his maritime life in 1895 or so, Belloc returns to his earlier set of larger questions and earnestly says:

Well, then, I want to examine this question for myself. I feel, with an extraordinary vividness, the power of what you [Masterman] say: as who does not who has known or even visited this evil modern world [as of 1906]? You are right; all around us there is a sort of air, as though the fundamentals of the mind were changing, and as if the Faith, from a postulate [presupposition, axiom], were tending to be an opinion, and were in danger of becoming from an opinion a fad, from a fad to a memory. I will not deny that what you wrote struck me with a shock of recognition, and that I was disturbed by the recollection of certain mortal phrases….which are the luxury and perhaps the price of our entry into manhood. (5—my emphasis added)

After Belloc’s own honest and humble recall of some “just and rational negations which boys indulge in” (5) and “which you [Masterman] revived in me” by your “careful and significant sentences,” he especially remembers “youth’s divine hope and divine cousinship with the hills and with the morning.” (6) And he poignantly adds:

I do not mean that your mournfulness or your dread revived in me the simple and childlike denials which meant in our generation no more than this—that youth was doing what youth always does, that is, taking gaily the tragic human spirit of its time. No, your prose did much more in me that this. It re-awoke those visions of nothingness which I have suffered in the last five years, even in my own shrines [as a Roman Catholic], and which must undoubtedly haunt the soul of every man to-day who has known other things.

Well, in spite of those visions, and in spite of their poignancy, which you have recalled, I propose to examine the matter with you. (6—my emphasis added)

Belloc then begins to consider some historical analogies and their limits—as well as their capacities to mislead a later scholar inattentive to proper proportion:

As it seems to me…we exaggerate the analogy of history. Our historical knowledge is a small thing, though our tradition is a great one….since little is known by scholars… of the Dark Ages, since the Middle Ages were but a short and unfruitful [sic] dream… since the last four [post-Mediaeval] centuries have crescendoed up to an anarchy and to a tumult, all men of culture necessarily refer to the example of Rome. And surely there must have been in your mind…that parallel of the old Paganism dying, of the deserted temples, of the whining priests of Apollo,…and assaulting its own fables; of the oracles growing dumb—no prophesies, no miracles; of the sophists in the second and third centuries (who so exactly correspond to our famous Germans of to-day—the Hegels and the rest…!)…as Rome had passed through all the stages of decay; its free citizens fallen to be a proletariat; its rich men governing the world; its vices blatant; seeing these things, perhaps you thought that our religion also, the Faith, that is, was bound to fail and to go the determined course as does every limited and human thing. Now I desire to recall to you that the Faith is not of this world. (6-8—my emphasis added)

He speaks then of a certain “mood of the mind” (8)—“it is a good mood and a true [mood], it is that in which the mind [of Faith?] most nearly apprehends the ultimate realities….one can perceive at one glance Matter and Will. In such a mood no man despairs of the Faith.” (8—my emphasis added)

In this context, Belloc introduces the exemplary and heroic case of the Irish (at home and in the diasporas) under the historical conditions of protracted adversity—as of 1906, but in sharp contrast to the all-too-apostate Ireland of today, in 2021, with its growing and alluring (but often specious) prosperity.

After considering the larger case of Ireland and the Faith, Belloc anonymously mentions the current Pope (Pius X), who was still in office in 1906 (having ruled since August of 1903, and then he did continue until August of 1914):

It is said that the Pope keeps laid open before him upon a desk perpetually a page from the writings of De Maistre [Joseph de Maistre, 1753-1821]. They say he keeps this page for a short and repeated daily reading. Here is the passage.

The temples are empty or profaned; the altars are deserted. Mere reason, that powerful governor, not to be despised, which is not only the weapon of the intelligence, but is also our human power of integration, our judgement, and almost our sanity—mere reason has every temporal chance in its favour, that it will sweep the field; and if it wins it will make a carpenter’s bench of the Cross, and Jesus Christ will be partially forgotten and wholly lost, as are mere literary figures. But what if the Faith should rise and lift this Antean thing [such as the weight of mere reason], this human judgement from the earth, the common soil which is its only strength? What if the Faith, like Hercules, should lift humanity up in one of those spasmodic wrestling strains which its own history proves native to it, and should so keep it on the plane of this, that [what if] at last the Faith, and not reason, should conquer? For the Faith is a demigod. Patuit Deus[God has so revealed it].(10-11—my emphasis added)

After this first and likely true story, Belloc, in his own words, has a second and certainly true story about his own experience in the mountains of Spain:

And here is the the second story: Once in the Pyrenees I sat wakeful at night beside a companion who slept. The night was absolutely still; we were on the summits, and its was extremely cold. The pine trees were so motionless that they might have been trees of metal carved in bronze. The fire was dying, and I sat crouched close beside it with my blanket round my knees, believing that some ultimate silence had come upon the hills and me. Then there arose a little wind: the branches barely moved, but that movement was more different from the silence than I had thought one thing could be from another; the wind rose and grew with an awful rapidity; the tall trunks shook before I had heard the moaning grow strong; the sky awoke, clouds drove across the stars, and in the midst of all this noise it dawned. It is in this way that the vast changes come upon the unbounded and incalculable empyrean of the [alert and receptive] human mind. (11-12—my emphasis added)

Having prepared the way, Belloc now bears witness to the reality and uniqueness of Europe, at least as it was once, but may soon no longer be the case, Deo Volente, not even as a missionary initiative of the loyal Catholic Faith:

I desire you [Masterman] to remember that we are Europe; we are a great people. The faith is not an accident among us, nor an imposition, nor a garment: it is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh: it is a philosophy made by, and making, ourselves. We have adorned, explained, enlarged it; we have given it visible form. This is the service we Europeans have done to God. He has made us Christians. [And we adorn what we love!]….Will you [Masterman et al.] not believe that this modern phase of ours [and, perhaps, our disordered modern civilization?] is passing? I do. (12—my emphasis added)

Such are Belloc’s affirmations and encouragements, sub Gratia Divina, in the Catholic Faith.

As a Franciscan Scholar once deftly said to me: “The truth about trouble is a twofold truth. It is as Christ Himself effectively told us, as well. In the world you will have trouble, He said, but I have overcome the World.”

As magnanimous Hilaire Belloc finally said to Masterman—likely recalling not only the tragic Roland and his Horn, but especially the later Dawn in the Pyrenees that surprised and stirred our Hilary so—and we may fittingly apply it still today: “Do not, I beg of you, be oppressed by forces already dissolved. You have mistaken the hour of the night. It is already morning. H. Belloc.” (14—my emphasis added)

–FINIS–

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, M.P., An Open Letter on the Decay of Faith (London: Burns & Oates, LTD.,1906), 14 pages. It contains this note at the outset: “This Letter is reprinted with the Author’s permission from the Tribune of March 29, 1906.” Further references to the fourteen-page Letter and Pamphlet will be placed above in parentheses in the main body of this short essay.

A 1903 French Novel’s Unexpected Insights Concerning the Sorrows of Mary

Dr. Robert Hickson

25 March 2021

Feast of the Annunciation: the Incarnation

A 1903 French Novel’s Unexpected Insights Concerning the Sorrows of Mary: J.K. Huysmans’ The Oblate of St. Benedict

Epigraphs

“What a strange part, great and yet limited, did Sorrow play in the life of the Virgin!” (J. K. Huysmans, The Oblate of St. Benedict (1903, 1996), page 241—my emphasis added)

***

“She [Sorrow] now ruled supreme and, from the fury of he onslaught, it might have been thought that Our Lady had drained the cup to the last dreg. But it was not so.” (J.K. Huysmans, The Oblate of St. Benedict (1903), page 243—my emphasis added)

***

J.K. Huysmans’ 1903 novel The Oblate of St. Benedict begins his Chapter VIII with the following words:

The Feast of the Assumption [15 August] was over….The church, now empty, exhaled the soothing perfume….the scent symbolized the sepulchre whence the Virgin rose to take her place beside Her Son….

All day the heat had been overwhelming. Benediction had been preceded by the solemn Procession which [King] Louis XIII instituted in memory of the consecration of his kingdom to Our Lady, and Durtal [the novel’s protagonist and himself a gradual convert to the Catholic Faith], on reaching home, sat down in the shade of the great cedar tree.

There he [Durtal] meditated upon the Festival which was for him a Festival of Liberation from pain and the chief Festival of Our Blessed Lady. The day prompted him to contemplate the Madonna from a special point of view, for it brought him face to face with with the dreadful problem of Pain and Sorrow.1 (241—my emphasis added)

Huysmans admits his yearning “attempt to understand the reason for the existence of sorrow” (241), and himself going all the way “back to man’s beginning, to Eden, where Sorrow was born, the moment Adam became conscious of sin.” (241)

But for those who remain loyal to irreformable Catholic doctrine, the mystery of the original and abiding Purity (and Sinlessness) of the Blessed Virgin Mary always presents itself, often amidst Sorrow, and then almost always knowingly evokes our special love. Huysmans’ words also come to touch upon this mysterious matter:

Sorrow had held the Son [Jesus] in her grip for some hours. Over the Mother [Virgin Mary], her hold was longer, and in this longer possession lies the strange element.

The Virgin was the one human creature whom, logically, she [Sorrow] had no right to touch. The Immaculate Conception should have put Mary beyond her [Sorrow’s] reach, and [Virgin Mary,] having never sinned during her earthly life, she [Mary] should should have been unassailable, and exempt from the evil onslaughts of Sorrow.

To dare to approach her [Mary], Sorrow required a special leave from God and the consent of the Mother herself, who, to be the more like unto her Son and to co-operate as far as she [Mary] could in our Redemption, agreed to suffer at the foot of the Cross the terrors of the final catastrophe. (243—my emphasis added)

Now we shall go with the Narrator—and with the fresh perceptions of Durtal—into some other deeper matters of moment:

But in dealing with the Mother [Mary], Sorrow at the outset does not have full scope.

She [Sorrow] indeed set her mark on Mary from the moment of the Annunciation when Our Lady in a Divine light perceived the Tree of Golgotha. But after that, Sorrow had to retire into the background. She [Sorrow] saw the Nativity from afar, but could not make her way into the cave of Bethlehem. Only at the Presentation in the Temple, at Simeon’s prophecy, did she [Sorrow] leap from her ambush and planted herself in the Virgin’s [Mother Mary’s] breast. From that moment she took up her abode there, yet she [Sorrow] was not an unchallenged mistress, for another lodger, Joy, also dwelt there, the presence of Jesus bringing cheerfulness to His Mother’s soul. But after the treachery of Judas Iscariot, Sorrow had her revenge. She now ruled supreme and, from the fury of her onset, it might have been thought that Our Lady had drained the cup [chalice!] to the last dreg. But it was not so.

Mary’s excruciating grief at the Crucifixion had been preceded by the long-drawn anguish of the Trial; it again was followed by another period of suspense, [a period] of sorrowful longing for the day when she should rejoin Her Son in Heaven, far removed from a world that had covered them with shame. (243-244—my emphasis added)

In such words, we may see and cherish another heartful presentation of how the Blessed Mother uniquely co-operated with—and mediated for—the Humility of God in the Hypostatic Union: i.e., for Her own beloved and nourished Son, Christ Jesus. (But there are still those who say that, despite her perfections, Mary is No Co-Redemptrix, Nor a Mediatrix of All Graces.)

CODA

Because it came only from a small, incomplete fragment of a footnote, it may be of some interest to the reader to know how I recently, and so unexpectedly, discovered (and but partly read) the writings of Joris-Karl Huysmans (1847-1907), especially his novel, The Oblate of St. Benedict (1903).

Reading the Epilogue of D.B. Wyndham Lewis’ 1959 book, A Florentine Portrait: Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285), I came in contact (at the bottom of page 133) with an abbreviated and rather arcane footnote: “L’Oblat, 1903.” Deciding then to locate, if I could, who it was who wrote these stirring words (and where), I went on an adventure and search. Here, without any original French pagination, are the later English words on the Blessed Mother that I found—as translated by D.B. Wyndham Lewis, himself a Catholic scholar, and written from his heart on page 133 in his own 1959 Epilogue about the Servites of Our Lady’s Sorrows:

It needed God’s special permission and the consent of the Mother, who, to make herself more like her Son and to co-operate, according to her capacity, in our redemption, accepted at length, under the Cross itself, the frightful agonies of the Consummation.

FINIS

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1J. K. Huysmans, The Oblate of St. Benedict (Cambridge, UK: Dedalus European Classics, 1996—first published in in French in 1903; first English edition was in 1924.) The current edition, moreover, contains XVI chapters, ending on page 303. All further references will be to this Dedalus edition. For convenience, the page references will be placed above in parentheses in the main body of this short essay and commentary.

St. Philip Benizi (1233-1285) and the Servite Order of the Sorrows of Mary

Dr. Robert Hickson

7 March 2021

Saint Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274)

Epigraphs

Chewing in exile his bitter cud of memories, Dante had plenty to say in The Divine Comedy about his native city of Florence. Even amid the splendours and alleluias of Paradise, he [Dante] permits the ex-troubadour Falco to flame suddenly into denunciation [from Heaven!] of the City of the Flower [Florence, Italy], the devil’s own weed, ‘planted by him [Satan] who first turned his back upon his Creator‘….

“Fined and banished [from Florence] under the pain of death in 1302,….the sombre poet [Dante, d.1321] neither forgave his city nor forgot. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he never deigns to mention, in the Commedia or elsewhere, a very noble and saintly contemporary with whom he probably brushed shoulders in the streets [of Florence] more than once. Born [in 1265] thirty-two years after Fra Filippo Benizi, who became the fifth General of the Servite Order and was canonised at length in 1671, Dante must, like any other Florentine of his day, have known the eminent friar [Philip Benizi] at least by sight and repute for some time [d. 1285].” (D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait: Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285) (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1959), page 1—my bold emphasis added.)

***

There are saints in the calendar of many kinds, some born in sanctity in every century and some achieving it, in some cases after half a lifetime of storm and stress. The huge, rough, tough, violent-tempered soldier who became St. Camillus de Lellis, and has been called the father of the Red Cross and the field-ambulance, is an outstanding example at one end of the scale; examples of the ‘cradle-saint’ at the other end [of the scale] are plentiful enough. Saint Philip Benizi is one of these latter, clad through life in that invisible armour which the Enemy is powerless to penetrate. Prayer came naturally to him from the beginning. Hold Writ was his normal reading, and a special devotion to the Mater Dolorosa drew him inevitably into a new order inspired by it [i.e., the religious order of the Servites].” (D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait: Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285) (1959), page 24—my emphasis added.)

***

“Many of them [these psychological and cultural theories] omit the point that Servite devotion to the Sorrows of Mary—which are the Prophecy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt, the Loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem, the Meeting on the Way to Calvary, the Witnessing of the Crucifixion, the Taking-Down of Christ from the Cross, and the Burial [i.e., with the Feast of the Seven Dolours, now celebrated on 15 September]—is neither morbid nor morose. There will be few men of his age [the 13th Century] radiating a serener joy all his life than Fra Filippo Benizi.” (D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait: Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285), page 25—my emphasis added.)

***

In 1959 a book was published in English on the Thirteenth Century in Europe, and especially on a lesser known saint in the Marian Servite Order—which is also called the Servants of the Sorrows of Mary. That modest saint was Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285).1

My brief essay now proposes to accentuate Saint Philip’s good influence upon a wide variety of men and women, despite the abiding inattentiveness of one often bitter exile, namely his famous fellow Florentine: the poet Dante (1265-1321).

By way of contrast, our learned and sympathetic author, D. B. Wyndham Lewis, recurrently presents for us “that pre-eminently [Philip] Benizian blend of serene simplicity and holy obstinacy which foils the world.” (134-135—my emphasis added) We, too, shall now try to be more attentive and grateful, as well.

It is now fitting for me to select and present a few representative passages from the book which vivify the principles and character of Saint Philip Benizi, often with his older mendicant companions:

It is not difficult to picture them trudging very slowly along the dusty highroad in their black woollen habits shouldering their sacks. An hour or so after leaving Bologna they reached the site of a considerable portent, to which there is sufficient testimony.

At a point of the road near Castroleone, about five miles out of Bologna, a large solitary tree standing in the baking fields [in August of 1269] a little distance off the highroad offered the only shade for miles. A knot of figures could be seen already under its branches. In compassion for his two elders [of his Servite Order], now lagging and weary, Fra Filippo [the elected General of the Marian Order, as of 1267] turned of the road for a rest. As they approached the tree they were welcomed by raucous laughter and rude japes, and perceived that the group was composed of soldiers and women of the lowest type, possibly drunk. The roughest company was unlikely to daunt a medieval friar, who was well used to it, but this collection proved even worse than the tavern-company which waylays Glutton in Piers Plowman [William Langland’s fine and rhythmical 14th-Century long-line poem] on his way to confession….

Under a fusillade of obscenities and blasphemous raillery Fra Filippo spoke up, rebuking the offenders, firmly but without heat, in the name of Christ and His mother, and bidding them amend their language for their souls’ sake. They received the reproof with viler insults and louder and uglier blasphemies, the women doubtless being far more fluent than the men. As they bellowed and screamed and laughed a premonition came to St. Philip. “My dear brethren,” he said, facing them during a pause with tears in his eyes, “there are some of you here who, unless they repent, are due to die this very day. Almighty God is very kind and pitiful. Turn you to Him and He will have mercy on you—He has sent me even now to call on you for this. Be certain that if you turn to Him He will forgive, but if you refuse you may well tremble. His bow is bent, His arrows are sharp, the weapons of death are ready. Give up this vicious life and trust in His mercy who does not desire the death of a sinner, but that he may turn from his wickedness and live.

The words in their quiet earnestness had some effect. The majority sobered down in shame, as the typical medieval ruffian was always liable to do when so addressed; but a blackguard minority turned angry, belching horrid blasphemy and menacing the friar with consequences if he did not shut his mouth and go. Fra Filippo continued unmoved to plead with them. (63-65—my emphasis added)

The reader may now better appreciate further the provocations and responsive warnings that took place before “the Judgment of Castroleone” (65) condignly and fearfully soon took place (65-66).

Another set of revealing incidents occurred in Florence, and then in Pistoia, while Philip was still the revered General of the Servite Order, and it all started after the death of the Bishop of Florence and the resultant acclamations on behalf of Philip spontaneously:

Since the death of…[the] Bishop of Florence, in December 1274, the see had been vacant [and it would remain so “till 1286, the year after St. Philip’s death” (83)], and violent-faction quarrels even over the question of a successor were frequent. Preaching daily at the Annunziata Fra Flippo harangued his fellow-citizens, noble, bourgeois, and proletarian, with eloquence and point. If they were incapable of making peace for themselves, he cried one evening, they might at least unite in praying the Holy See to give Florence a bishop capable of settling their foolish and murderous quarrels.

This seems to have penetrated. As the preacher [Philip] continued, a buzz went around the crowd. The Annals preserve the gist of it. Vivacious Tuscan gestures and flashing dark eyes may be easily supplied in imagination. (82—my emphasis added)

As Philip Benizi heard the gathering acclamations to have him as their bishop, he slipped hastily out “and quitted Florence then and there for some refuge unknown, and probably Monte Senario, to emerge a week or two later at Pistoia.” (83)

He was to encounter further disorders at Pistoia too:

In Pistoia the citizens were brawling politically and socially as elsewhere—Guelf against Ghibelline….In Pistoia likewise the generosity of the municipality and private citizens towards religious orders, and the mendicants [such as the Servites] in particular, in the matter of alms for building and endowment, demonstrates that typically medieval blend of ungovernable passions and unstinted charity which is so baffling to the modern world. Guelf and Ghibelline, having listened to the same Mass and sermon and given alms in the same dish, would whip our their swords again outside the church door and resume the fight. In his exhortations from the pulpit Fra Filippo minced no words….The city [of Pistoia], like Florence and others, is an accursed and wretched Babylon and its citizens are men of blood, creatures with neither sense nor reason, sacrificing human lives and souls to the Evil One their idol; calling on the Lord only in blasphemy, inviting His terrible judgment. Yet if they will but seek peace, the God of Peace will forgive and be with them all. ‘Meanwhile we, servants of the Most Blessed Virgin, implore her to obtain for you from Almighty God the blessings of peace, unity, and concord….’ (83-84—my emphasis added; and Philip’s own words are, at the end, partly quoted.)

Once again we may see how Saint Philip’s own words have also touched the sincere hearts of some men, even bravos and ruffians:

His [Philip’s] words had considerable effect. Many conversions are spoken of by the early chronicles; many scenes of reconciliation between enemies, many returns to religion, not a few recruits to the Servants of Mary. Among these in Pistoia was a leading Ghibelline bravo named Vanni Buonaccurso, noted for impiety, ferocity, and bloodlust. Having heard a sermon by St. Philip, he followed him afterwards into the priory and fell on his knees, saying that God’s word had pierced his heart and begging to be heard in confession. Soon afterwards he was admitted into the novitiate of the Servants of Mary. He turned out as passionate in good work as he had been [passionate] in evil doing. The cultus [public veneration] of Blessed Bonaventure of Pistoia was approved in 1828.(84—my emphasis added.)

Now we may consider Saint Philip’s influence on a prominent Guelf in Florence:

A more gratifying reward than anything the Republic could offer had come to Fra Filippo. Among the chief disturbers of Florentine peace was a member of the leading Guelf clan of the Adimari, a huge, quarrelsome swashbuckler of immense strength named Ubaldo, now in his late thirties. Brought up from childhood in an atmosphere of flaming pride and vengeance, twice exiled with his fellow-Guelfs, he had long since become a formidable duellist and a portent in Florentine affrays. Equipping him instinctively with an eagle beak and fierce hawk-like eyes, one may very well see Messer Uboldo degli Adimari stepping with his lackeys across a piazza in his steel hauberk and bassinet and particoloured hose, had on sword-hilt, ready to spring as a tiger. He too was powerless against the arrow of grace. Accidental (as the world would say) contact with Fra Filippo Benizi during the late peace-negotiations changed Ubaldo’s life. Not long afterwards, having made all possible reparation to his enemies, Ghibelline and other, he took the Servite habit and, after many penances and vigils, Holy Orders. A few months after his elevation to the priesthood Fra Filippo took Fra Ubaldo for his confessor, which speaks sufficiently for his new character, and he remained one of the best beloved of disciples until the General’s [Philip Benizi’s own] death [in the Autumn of 1285]. After thirty-five years of religious life Fra Ubaldo died in the odor of sanctity. His impressive remains rest in the [Servite] chapel on Monte Senario, not far from the [seven holy] founders’ shrine. (88-89—my emphasis added)

All of the seven original 1233 Holy Servite Founders—Servants of the Seven Sorrows of Mary—were canonized together by Pope Leo XIII, in 1888.

The last portion of A Florentine Portrait memorably presents Saint Philip’s preparation for death, as well as his gradual farewell to his Servite brothers. One representative aspect of this depiction is worthy of our consideration now, with the hope that the reader might slowly read and savor the last thirty pages or so of the book.

Here begins, as follows, that one aspect of his life and farewell, as above proposed:

So Fra Filippo returned to Florence [after seeing, in May 1285, the Pope in Rome], to work and wait in prayer and patience as before…. It was while he was thus engaged that Fra Filippo was informed by an interior voice, one day or night during prayer, that he had not very much longer to live.

Thanksgivings for this good news offered, Fra Filippo [as the Superior General] at once set about winding up affairs in hand with the assistance of Fra Lottaringo, whom he had long since designated as his successor. This concluded, he retired for a space to the Monte Senario cave of former years [8 miles north of Florence] to equip his soul for the final journey….

Fra Filippo [then] had no other ties with Florence outside the Annunziata. He had, moreover, decided already where to live his last days. The smallest and poorest of all the Servite houses of Italy was the priory of San Marco at Todi of Umbria. Where could a General of the Servants of Mary, after a lifetime of evangelical poverty and humility, more fitly die? ….

Fra Filippo, with his two friars in attendance, took the road to Umbria, sighting the red-tiled roofs of Todi in the late afternoon of August 9, 1285. (109-112—my emphasis added)

Now we go with Philip in approach to Todi and San Marco:

There was a great bustle towards sunset in the streets of Todi. An exuberant populace was streaming down to the southern gate, carrying flowers and flourishing leafy branches…. Some horsemen passing St. Philip and his brethren on the road had announced their approach, and a spontaneous mass-reception was afoot….Having perceived, to his dismay and horror, that the crowd ahead was already strewing the road with leaves and flowers, as if he had been some person worthy of honour, Fra Filippo hoped to escape round the walls and take refuge in San Marco undetected. As he and his companion-friars made their way round to the Orvieto gate two women stepped out of the shadows at a lonely part of the way and accosted them. These were prostitutes, it appeared; but, they sobbed as St. Philip questioned them with compassion, unwilling ones, driven to this shame by hunger and despair. One of the friars carried a little unexpended alms in the common purse, just enough for three days’ bare subsistence. Handing it to the women, Fra Filippo implored them to leave off their trade for the next three days at least, and meanwhile to pray hard and commit themselves to God’s pity and providence. On their own accord they promised, weeping, to go to confession, and turned away. “What punishment, do you think, my brothers,” asked Fra Filippo indignantly as the friars went on, “has Almighty God in store for those of the heartless and hypocritical rich who drive the poor into slavery like this?”

As he spoke they reached the Orvieto gate, to be met by a considerable crowd surging out with cries of “Ecco Flilippo! Evviva il santo!” ….

The two penitent prostitutes encountered by Fra Filippo and his companions near the Orvieto gate [came again]. According to…an eye witness, these women came to San Marco next day to make their confession to St. Philip in person. At their second visit Fra Filippo recommended total withdrawal from the world…. and the women, destined to figure on the Servite rolls as Blessed Helena and Blessed Flora, took him at his word. (115-117—my emphasis added)

Such is another abiding presentation of the character and manner and sanctity of Saint Philip Benizi. Moreover, “the essence of St. Philip’s message for the Atomic Age [as of 1959], as for any other, [is expressed by]: love, humility, patience, compassion, self-sacrifice, self-effacement, the sharing of the sufferings of the Mother of Sorrows with the seven swords in her heart.” (133—my emphasis added)

FINIS

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1 D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1959), 137 pages. All further references to this brief essay will be to this 1959 text, and placed above in parentheses in the main body of our comments for convenience.