Hilaire Belloc’s “The Barbarians” (1912) and the Analogy of a Self-Sabotaging Cultural Immune System

(Author’s note: this essay was first published in 2017, and we hereby reprint it in light of current events.)

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                8 August 2017

Saint John Marie Vianney (d. 1859)


“The Barbarian….will consume what civilisation [hence sacred tradition] has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort but he will not be at…pains to replace such goods nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them [such goods] into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is for ever marvelling that civilisation [especially Christian civilisation, Christendom] should have offended him with priests and soldiers….In a word, the Barbarian is discoverable everywhere [even as a Caudillo Churchman] in this that he cannot make; that he can befog or destroy, but he cannot sustain; and of every Barbarian in the decline or peril of every civilisation [to include, even now, what remains of “the great and ancient body of Christendom”] exactly that has been true.” (Hilaire Belloc, “The Barbarians,” pp. 281, 282-283—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)


“Upon the model of this conception men, watching the dissolution of our own civilisation to-day [before World War I, in 1912], or at least its corruption, have asked themselves whence those Barbarians would come that should complete its final ruin [as was once the case in North Africa and in Asia Minor, also with the Faith].” (Hilaire Belloc, “The Barbarians,” pp. 273-274—my emphasis added)


“But the truth is that no such [mere] mechanical explanation will suffice to set forth the causes [not just the symptoms] of a civilisation’s decay. Before the barbarian in any form can appear [also inside the Church], it [the civilisation] must already have weakened. If it cannot absorb or reject an alien element [such as a doctrinal heresy] it is because its organism [thus its immune system] has grown enfeebled, and its powers of digestion and excretion are lost or deteriorated; and whoever would restore any society which menaces to fall, must busy himself about the inward nature of that society [to include its composite and intimately religious society] much more than about its external dangers or the merely mechanical and numerical factors of peril to be discovered within it.” (Hilaire Belloc, “The Barbarians,” pp. 274-275—my emphasis added)


After recently re-reading after some years Hilaire Belloc’s 1912 essay, entitled “The Barbarians,” I have thought to apply a few of his keen insights about both ancient and modern civilisation to the current Catholic Church and her own “cultural immune system,” as it were.1 This limited analogy may also thereby allow us to consider the additional phenomenon of “auto-immune diseases,” whereby an immune system comes to sabotage itself—sometimes swiftly, sometimes slowly.

Belloc begins his own searching essay with an aptly cautionary sentence: “The use of analogy, which is so wise and necessary a thing in historical judgment, has a knack of slipping into the falsest forms.” (273) We must therefore be careful with our application of compressed metaphors and likewise preserve a just sense of proportion. For, analogy itself means proportion (analogia).

To help us understand his caution, Belloc gives an illustrative example:

When ancient civilisation broke down its breakdown was accompanied by the infiltration of barbaric auxiliaries into the Roman armies, but the settlement of Barbarians…, upon Roman land, …, in some provinces [was accomplished], by devastatingirruptions of barbaric hordes.

The presence of these foreign elements, coupled with the loss of so many arts, led men to speak of “the Barbarian invasions” as though these were the principal cause of what was in reality no more than the old age and fatigue of an antique society. (273—my emphasis added)

In this context, we might also helpfully recall what the Roman historian, Livy, had earlier (and very trenchantly) written, even back in 19 B.C., and in the general introduction to his own multi-volume history of Rome. Livy had then said that Rome had so degenerated and come down in those times even to such a point where “we can tolerate neither our vices nor their remedies” (“donec ad haec tempora quibus nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus peruentum est”).2 This compact insight about cumulative decadence is certainly “a terrible thing to think upon” (in the words of Father François Rabelais). Into such a weakened culture—to include a fatigued and weakened culture and immune system of the Catholic Church—there will come various parasites and barbarians. They should be expected (and firmly resisted). For, a certain kind of weakness constitutes a “provocative weakness” (in the memorable words of Dr. Fritz Kraemer)—“for it is so weak that it is provocative to others.”

But, in the face of certain threats, there is also a dangerous progression: from denial to indifference to despair. Some have even colloquially referred to the three sequenced tricks often employed by the Prince of this World: “I don’t exist”; “I do exist but it makes no difference”; “I do exist and that’s all that exists, the reality of evil; goodness is an illusion.” We might also call it a slothful mental or spiritual movement from “What’s the difference?” to “What’s the use?”—an expression of the despairing sense of futility. From denial to presumptuous sloth to despair.

Father Enrique Rueda’s 1982 book—The Homosexual Network: Private Lives and Public Policy3—illustrated for me such an enervating psychological pattern unto futility, if not, after all, despair. Father Rueda had told me that three-fifths of the specific evidence and other materials he had assembled he had cautiously “sent to Rome, and confidentially”: inasmuch as he did not want to scandalize the vulnerable faithful.4 His published Homosexual Network already had 680 pages of evidence and argumentation, and that was only two-fifths of the evidence he had produced. Even in 1982—during the reign of Pope John Paul II—there was already a grave problem of homoeroticism in the Catholic Seminaries in the United States, and also in some of the Catholic clergy. Father Rueda himself had, in his careful research, first discovered the meaning of “gay” which was an intentionally used ideological and meliorative word. For, he discovered, “gay” meant that both “being homoerotic” and “also acting out such a yearning disposition” were, in themselves, “good” and, conversely, “being straight was bad.” However, now in 2017—35 years later—Catholics so nonchalantly use the word “gay,” thereby appropriating (perhaps unknowingly) the soiled language of their own enemy or adversary or opponent.

Hilaire Belloc illustrated this same linguistic and essentially moral phenomenon back in 1912. Let us consider this matter now, especially the implications of an attenuated language concerning Marriage:

It is certain that if the fundamental institutions of a polity are no longer regarded as fundamental by its citizens, that polity is about to pass through total change which in a living organism we call death.

Now the modern attack upon property and upon marriage (to take but two fundamental institutions of the European [at least as of 1912]) is precisely of this nature. Our peril is not that certain men attack the one or the other and deny their moral right to exist. Our peril rather is that, quite as much as those who attack, those who defend [marriage and property] seem to take for granted the relativeness, the artificiality, the non-fundamental character of institution which they are apparently concerned to support. (278-279—my emphasis added)

Belloc then considers the purported defence of marriage more specifically:

See how marriage is defended. To those who would destroy it under the plea of its inconveniences and tragedies, the answer [especially in England as of 1912] is no longer made that, good or ill, it is an absolute and is intangible. The answer made is that it [marriage] is convenient, or useful, or necessary, or merely traditional.

Most significant of all, the terminology of the attack [such as “gay” in another “marital” context] is on the lips of the defence, but the contrary is never the case. Those opponents of marriage who abound in modern England will never use the term “a sacrament,” yet how many for whom marriage is still a sacrament [such as Roman Catholics] will forego the pseudo-scientific jargon [e.g., “sustainable developments in and among the gay, single-sex civil partnerships”] of their opponents? (279-280—my emphasis added)

Adopting the categories and undefined equivocal language of one’s opponents is, indeed, a recurrent peril and often a sophistical trap. Much alertness is required to detect and resist sufficiently such ensnaring sentimentalism or subtle humbug based on false premises.

Belloc will now introduce us to one such unprincipled form of the “strutting Barbarian”:

The [presumptuous] Barbarian, when he had graduated to be a “pragmatist,” struts like a nigger in evening clothes [sic—as in Fats Domino’s own singing of “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball”!], and believes himself superior to the gifts of reason [and to “the accuracy of mathematics” (280)], or free to maintain that definition, limit, quantity and [the law of] contradiction are little childish things which he [the strutter as well as the dialectical Hegelian] has outgrown….

The Barbarian hopes—and that is the very mark of himthat he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilisation [or our sacred tradition] has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort [as in the cultivated vineyards!] but he will not be at… pains to replace such goods nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that brought them [such goods] into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is for ever marvelling that civilisation should have offended him with priests and soldiers.

The Barbarian wonders what strange meaning may lurk in that ancient and solemn truth, “Sine Auctoritate nulla vita” [“Without Authority there is no life”]. (281-282—my emphasis added)

Belloc concludes with some candor that should make us more attentive and more wholeheartedly resistant now to the ongoing subtle, and also the crude, subversion of our Catholic Faith:

The real interest in watching [and then resisting] the Barbarian [within the gates and even within the walls] is not the amusement derivable from his [often perverse] antics, but the prime doubt [i.e., “dubium”] whether he [perhaps even as a crude lout or Caudillo leader] will succeed or no, whether he will flourish. He is, I repeat, not an agent, but merely a symptom, yet he should be watched as a symptom. It is not he in his [unmanly] impotence that can discover the power to disintegrate the great and ancient body of Christendom [and the Faith], but if we come to see him [that same Barbarian] triumphant we may be certain [“sine dubio”] that that [corrupted] body, from causes must vaster than such as he could control, is furnishing him with substance and forming for him a congenial soil—and that is as much as to say that we [and thus our sustaining culture of the Faith] are dying. (282-283—my emphasis added)


Hilaire Belloc’s fresh insights about the Barbarian and about his recurrent qualitative conduct throughout history will now also prepare us, I hope, to ask with integrity certain candid questions about our own “fundamental convictions” and, thus, about some “fundamental institutions,” especially the sacred and enduring institution of the Mystical Body of Christ (the Corpus Christi Mysticum), also known as the Catholic Church—to include the threefold interdependence and interrelationship of the Church Militant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Triumphant. My observations and questions propose to cover the interval of time beginning mainly in October of 1962 (or a little before) and continuing until today. When the Second Vatican Council formally began on 11 October 1962, I was still nineteen years of age, and very young.

By slightly introducing some autobiographical evidence as a witness, beginning with my time as a West Point cadet (5 July 1960-3 June 1964), I hope thereby to make more pertinent, even more trenchant, some of my own searching and specific questions as a Catholic layman down the years, and amidst many intellectual, spiritual, and moral challenges. For, some of the things I first heard or read in my callowness and considerable theological ignorance later became much clearer, and, for me personally, even momentous. However, I early on was reliably led to understand that the deepest ongoing revolution was about the very nature of the Church, de Ecclesia. The subtle revolutionaries, striving to bypass and offset Pope Pius XII’s own doctrinal distinctions, attempted to say that “the Mystical Body of Christ” was larger than the Catholic Church, and thus more “inclusive” and much more “ecumenical.”

Professor Roberto de Mattei has just recently made me understand this larger matter freshly and still more deeply than ever before. His brief 2 August 2017 article on Corrispondenza Romana5 said the following, for example:

On the historical level, however,Vatican II constitutes a non-decomposable block [sic]: It has its own unity, its essence, its nature. Considered in its origins, its implementation and consequences, it can be described as a Revolution in mentality and language, which has profoundly changed the life of the Church, initiating a moral and religious crisis without precedent. If the theological judgment may be vague and comprehensive, the judgment of history is merciless and without appeal. The Second Vatican Council was not only unsuccessful or a failure: it was a catastrophe for the Church….

When Vatican II opened in October 1962, Catholics from all over the world were waiting for the disclosing of the Third Secret [of Fatima] and the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary….What better occasion for John XXIII (died 3rd June 1963), Paul VI and with circa 3000 bishops gathered around them [at the ongoing Second Vatican Council still in Rome], in the very heart of Christendom, to meet Our Lady’s requests in a solemn and unanimous way? On February 3rd 1964, Monsignor Geraldo de Proença Sigaud, personally delivered to Paul VI, a petition signed by 510 prelates from 78 countries, which implored the Pontiff in union with all the bishops, to consecrate the world and, in an explicit manner, Russia, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Pope and most of the Council Fathers ignored the appeal….

The failed consecration allowed Russia to continue spreading its errors throughout the world and these errors conquered the highest ranks of the Church, inviting a terrible chastisement for all humanity. Paul VI and the majority of the Council Fathers assume an historical responsibility for which today we gauge the consequences. (by Roberto de Mattei ) (My bold emphasis added to the text itself.)

It was sometime in early 1963—a year, more or less, before the 4 February 1964 Marian Petition to Pope Paul VI—that our two West Point Catholic Chaplains (Monsignor Moore and Father Mc Cormick) said something unforgettable in a conversation. Speaking of the Vatican Council, they said: “They have now asked the Blessed Mother to leave the Marriage Feast of Cana.” (It was only many years later—in the early 1980s—that I learned of a French priest who seems to be the first one to have written those piercing and sad words, namely L’Abbé Berto, himself a peritus at the Council: Victor-Alain Berto (1900-1968).) Quoting Our Lady, he also poignantly wrote: “Vinum non habent” (“They have no wine.”). Perhaps in her dismissal she still had time to tell them that. About Grace, too.

Some twenty years later, in the 1980s—while he was visiting my home in Front Royal, Virginia for the evening and for some deep historical and theological discourse—the learned Jesuit priest, Father Robert I. Bradley, S. J., unexpectedly told me a related story from back in 1965 and from inside Saint Peter’s, concerning Our Lady’s newly proposed title as the Mother of the Church (Mater Ecclesiae).

Father Bradley’s careful historical recollection of these 1965 events—where he was personally present—had to do with the audible unsettling reaction to Pope Paul VI’s new proposal, which he made in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the end of the Second Vatican Council. (And he actually proposed it after the formal close of the Council itself, as Father Bradley himself said from his first-hand experience there.) It came to pass that Pope Paul’s somewhat weak and shaky voice publicly proposed to the larger Assembly to restore an older title of Our Blessed Lady and Blessed Mother, and thus to address her once again as the “Mater Ecclesiae.”

Immediately after that Papal proposal, as Father Bradley earnestly acknowledged, there came an audible hiss throughout Saint Peter’s—a rudely disapproving and an unmistakably audible and permeating hiss inside the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican.

It was only after this shocking report that I told Father Bradley about Abbé Berto’s own 1963 words about Our Lady’s being asked to leave the Marriage Feast of Cana. In both cases, she seemed to be an unwelcome barrier to Ecumenism, the new coalescent ecumenism or syncretism. Father Bradley and I then considered together whether or not to use, without scandalizing others, an evocative and reality-revealing formulation: “The Theological Journey from Our Lady’s Being Asked to Leave the Marriage Feast of Cana to Her Being Crudely Hissed At in Saint Peter’s.” It was, moreover, a weakening and self-sabotaging Journey of only two years: from 1963 to 1965. The Church’s immune system was thereby further weakened. There are also signs of auto-immune reactions and disorders, or self-sabotaging actions (or evasions), whereby one actually subverts one’s own protective immune system.

We may now incorporate these events and implications into what we have already considered concerning Our Lady of Fatima and her entire Message of Mercy and Warning—to include the already mentioned (and ignored) 3 February 1964 Petition to Pope Paul VI from 510 Prelates during the Vatican Council who were asking for the special and specific consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Not consecrating Russia then also may have weakened the Church’s immune system.

In this context, we should ask a few other questions. For example:

To what extent were all—or selectively only some—of the Council Fathers informed about the the content and resolutions of the secret meetings held in Strasbourg, France and in Metz, France prior to, or slightly after, the October 1962 opening of the Council—those meetings being respectively held with Moscow and with certain representatives of the modern Jews? (The great Catholic scholar and French layman, Jean Madiran (1920-2013), wrote extensively and reliably about these matters.6)

To what extent did Cardinal Tisserant (after Metz) and Father Yves Congar, O.P. (after Strasbourg) make known the existence of their own individual private meetings and, especially, the content of their binding “ecumenical” decisions and agreements, to include any “secret accords” and hence their promised “self-censorship” henceforth about certain strategic and contested topics at the Ecumenical Council? Were most of the Council Fathers intentionally kept in the dark about such matters of secret diplomacy, and was this thought to be a sign of integrity and pastoral and ecumenical forthrightness? Were the leaders of the Council “playing with a full deck of cards”?

And how many of the more progressive (or purportedly “liberal”) Council Fathers and their own Periti may very well have gravely perjured themselves at the Council? For, they had all by then taken themselves the solemn Anti-Modernist Oath, which was only later withdrawn—after the Council–and then made non-binding and was even effectively, but quite quietly, revoked by Pope Paul VI himself, in July of 1967.

We wonder how such things affected the larger deliberations at the Council—especially their deliberations about the unique doctrines of the Catholic Faith, such as the matter of Supernatural (and Sanctifying) Grace and the specific Seven Sacraments and the Two Deadly Sins against the Virtue of Hope (Presumption and Despair), i.e., against the Infused Virtue of Hope.

Does it not seem that even the proposed Gospel of Life—as in Evangelium Vitae—is essentially (if not entirely) about Natural Life, not Supernatural Life?

Moreover, how are we to understand that a Pastoral Ecumenical Council would not want to know more fully—and with a provision of Strategic Intelligence—at least two major adversarial groups (or combatant ideologies): Communism; and both the Range and the Substantive Content of Modern Judaism?

That is to say, what do we need to know about the Political Action of Communist Forces? What do we need to know about the Cultural Action of Communist Forces?

Likewise, what do we need to know about the Political Action of Jewish Forces, and also especially about the Cultural Action of Jewish Forces?

A wise French mentor [Arnaud de Lassus], recently deceased, said to me years ago (in the 1980s) two especially memorable and reality-illuminating things:

“As I look back at the Council and the cumulative Aftermath, I see, on several fronts, the Attenuation of Sacrificium, Sacramentum, and Sacerdotium—and of Grace!

Secondly, he said:

“Our great challenge in this situation today is ‘How do we properly resist the Corruptions of Authority without thereby subverting the Principle of Authority?’”

My beloved mentor saw and sensed so well the ongoing weakening of the Church’s cultural immune system and its sometimes inattentively careless (and delusional) resort to self-sabotaging actions, to “auto-immune disorders and diseases,” as it were. He also knew that such enervating conduct would more and more provoke the barbarians unto further-sapping, or conquering, actions.

Like Hilaire Belloc and Jean Madiran, Arnaud de Lassus (R.I.P.) was a very great man of integrity, and graciously modest, as well. He was invariably charitable, but always after the truth.


© 2017 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, “The Barbarians,” to be found in his own Anthology of Essays, entitled This and That and The Other (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press—Essay Index Reprint Series, 1968—an exact reprint of the original 1912 edition), pp. 273-283. Further page references to this reprinted text will be placed above, in parentheses, in the main body of this essay.

2See Titus Livy, Titi Livi Ab Urbe Condita—Oxford Classical Texts (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press—Oxford University Press, 1974, reprinted in 1979), p. 2—Praefatio (Preface)—my emphasis added.

3(Reverend Father) Enrique Rueda, The Homosexual Network: Private Lives and Public Policy (Old Greenwich, Connecticut: Devin-Adair Company, 1982), 680 pages.

4Father Rueda also told me that, in his confidential report to Rome, he earnestly, and even insistently, recommended that the problems with homoeroticism should be dealt with on a “one-to-one basis, individually,” and “not at all with group dynamics” or with more collective “consciousness-raising sessions,” both of which would only exacerbate the situation and the disordered (or worse) affliction. He later told me that his recommendation was ignored and effectively rejected “because the problem is also in Rome.” These words were spoken to me by Father Rueda in 1982, while I was on the Faculty of Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.

5See the 2-page English translation of Professor de Mattei’s own article,“The Second Vatican Council and the Message of Fatima,” which is now to be found conveniently on the website of Professor de Mattei himself: http://www.robertodemattei.it/en/2017/08/03/the-second-vatican-council-and-the-message-of-fatima/. Professor de Mattei’s original article was in Italian.

6See Jean Madiran, “Rome’s Secret Accord with Jewish Leaders,” (10 pages), first published in French in Itinéraires in 1986—and it was translated into English for Apropos, in Issue 9 (1990). The journal is printed in Scotland. This earlier article (with four others) is still to be seen on the Apropos website on 29 July 2013. Until his sudden death on 28 August 2014 the Editor was Anthony S. Fraser (R.I.P.). See www.apropos.org.uk (Archives), also Approaches: issues 84, 85, 86, 88, and 93-94 for additional writings by Jean Madiran. Approaches was Hamish Fraser’s earlier magazine, later re-titled.

“Easter” and “Spring”: Two Poems by Isabella Maria Hickson

Note: During this time of lockdown, our 12-year-old daughter Isabella has had the inspiration to write two lovely poems, inspired by the joy of Easter and of Spring. We thought they might delight the hearts of our readers and inspire them with the love of Christ and of God’s Creation. Still in this Easter Season, we hope you enjoy them.



Easter is a joy-full tide

When Christ Himself to Heaven He rides

On that happy morn

Our Lord was not born

But rose from the dead

To give us His Eternal Bread

With His Death He opened the Gates of Heaven

So that we also may reach Heaven

And drink Eternal Life

So we may no longer have strife

And our souls not to soil

Also no longer to toil

So on this happy morn

All our sorrow is gone

Let us be joyful

And make us for Him delightful

Also to Him our love to bring

And His glory to sing


The mild spring, the season most beautiful

Is a season who feels dutiful

To come every year

Or the world could not bear

Not to witness that season

For so many a reason

The mild weather

With the animals eating grass from their tether

The fresh blossoming trees

And the busy bees

The fresh young grass

That let the animals pass

I love the spring

And all the joys it brings

This is my favorite season

For many a reason

An Inchoate and Growing Genetics-Based Revolution in Military Affairs: Some Implications for a Predominant Culture of Scientific Materialism and Uncertain Strategic Culture

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                       11 January 2000

(An 11 May 2020 note from the author: This essay was first prepared for the JSCOPE January 2000 Conference on Military Ethics, while the author was a professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In light of the current situation with the corona virus and its societal implications, we thought to re-post these reflections here after some 20 years.)


We must prepare ourselves, I think, for the fact that there exists an inchoate and growing scientific revolution in molecular biology which will be very subtly and fearsomely applied to the conduct of war. In combinationor consilienceiwith advances in neuroscience, psycho-neuro-immunologyii, nano-technologiesiii, micro-encapsulation, information science, and the like, gravely consequential bio-technologies will, almost irresistibly and quite seductively, be employed in future forms of warfare, to include what two Chinese colonels have recently and emphatically called “non-military forms of warfare”iv and also what General Peter Schoomaker of the Special Operations Command has called the equivocal and ambiguous “seam between war and criminality.”v

Moreover, these bio-technologies will be used under the euphemistic covers of “non-lethal weapons” and of “artificial intelligence,” or under the new Orwellian “Newspeak” of the “cyborganization of warfare,” which will emphasize the progressive “interface” between cybernetics and biological organisms, including man (to include, that is, having implanted computer chips in his brain to enhance “real-time intelligence”vi). This is, indeed, a terrible thing to think upon. We may run, but we can’t hide. Such developments, often in the name of medical progress, will take us, I believe, to the foundations of our humanity and of what it means to be a man.vii What is man? And, what is man for? These two questions will not seem so abstract or etherealized when we are forcefully faced with concrete manipulations of the human genome (the entire human genetic map) and variegated genetic engineering.

If you knew that someone could manipulate nanogram doses of neuropeptides and permanently affect your immune system or your endocrine system, how would you respond, strategically, as well as personally? To what extent might you consider its subtle methods as a potential (or actual) new form of “command and control warfare,” rather than as a “weapon of mass destruction”? And then what? If we momentarily do not mention the even more intractable biological realm, but remain only within the blurred boundaries of cyberspace and cyberculture, we see that it is even now very difficult for us to know just what is a justifiable military target in “strategic (not just tactical) information warfare,” much less to form and enforce the fully proper and specific information-warfare “rules of engagement.” What are the fitting rules of engagement in “the biological realm,” and how is that defined? How would you set just limits to such subtle and intimately intrusive forms of subversive “total warfare,” especially in the psycho-biological realm? For sure, there are no merely technical solutions to spiritual and moral problems. And, this does pose a spiritual and moral problem. Do we agree? But, to what extent will the predominant culture and intellectual premises of scientific materialism, or naturalism, help us in discerning and sustaining moral proportion and just limits? To what extent are these materialist (naturalist) premises self-refuting and self-sabotaging? And, if so, then what?

The Future Forms of Warfare

General J.F.C. Fuller, hardly a sentimentalist, will help us, I believe, to explore these trenchant and effectively ineluctable questions and deeper moral and spiritual issues.viii This British leader and deep thinker was both a combatant field commander (in World War I) and a strategic-minded military historian of great candor and acuity. It is noteworthy that the recent, altogether unsettling book by the already cited two PLA Air Force Senior Colonels, Unrestricted Warfare, itself quite frequently cited a few of General Fuller’s brilliant works, somewhat surprisingly and even ironically, given Fuller’s intense, long-standing, and indefatigable opposition to “mass,” neo-tribal, “no-limit,” and “total warfare” in all of its frenzied insanity, fevered evil, and intimately destructive aftermath, especially upon the life of humane civilization and its spiritually nourishing culture. On these matters, Fuller is always fiery and eloquentand convincing, like his friend, B.H Liddell Hart.ix General Fuller, were he alive today, would certainly oppose the new forms of potential (or actual) biological warfare, especially against seeds, crops, and other agricultural targets, and subtler forms of economic warfare against civilians and their children.x

My own reflections may be fittingly understood, in part, as an extension, therefore, of one of General Fuller’s last books, and some say his best, entitled The Conduct of War, 1789-1961: A Study of the Impact of the French, Industrial, and Russian Revolutions on War and Its Conduct (1961).

In light of Fuller’s cumulative sub-title, we may further ask, in our present context, what will be the combined impact of the new molecular-biology and “bio-tech” revolutions upon the conduct of future forms of warfare, to include psychological warfare and the subtle or deceptive use of psychotropic, neurotropic, psycho-pharmacological methods, and other “behavior-control” weapons?xi That is to say, the chronic (latent and long-range), as well as immediate traumatic, use of “weapon systems without firepower.”xii Some forty years before his 1961 book, The Conduct of War, then-Colonel J.F.C. Fuller himself had foreseen the probable resort to such insidious “weapon systems without firepower,” and he saw far beyond the mere primitive use of chemical agents on the battlefields of World War I.

Almost as if he anticipated a kind of strategic and subversive, indirect psycho-cultural and psycho-linguistic warfare, Colonel Fuller, near the end of his 1920 book, Tanks in the Great War, 1914-1918, farsightedly said:

This [overtly coercive mechanical or chemical] method of imposing the will of one man on another may in its turn be replaced by a purely psychological warfare, wherein weapons are not even used or battlefields sought or loss of life or limb aimed at; but, in place, the corruption of human reason, the dimming of the human intellect, and the disintegration of the moral and spiritual life of one nation by the influence of the will of another is accomplished.xiii

Thus, even before he wrote brilliantly on the strategy, psychology, and psycho-political methods of “Soviet Revolutionary Warfare” (Chapter XI of The Conduct of War, 1789-1961), he grasped the deeper dialectical subversions (and inversion) of language and human reason (logos), and the consequences of such manipulation of human hebetude and the dimming of targeted and “drugged minds” so as to produce a kind of narco-democracy or narco-socialization and “servile state”! Today, subtle psycho-biological manipulations, as well as pharmacological methods, may likewise effectively produce “the disintegration of the moral and spiritual life of [a] nation.” Howso? Or, is my contention chimerical?

In 1961, the same year that General Fuller published his The Conduct of War, 1789-1961, Aldous Huxley somewhat seemed to support, not just to prophesy, what he called the coming “pharmacological revolution,” which is now so obvious in the spreading and deepening “narco-democracies” of the West, and, perhaps, even the West’s incipient “therapeutic collectivisms” and “narco-socialisms,” or Goethe’s feared servile (and putatively therapeutic) “Hospital State.” In a Voice-of-America sponsored lecture at the California School of Medicine in San Francisco, Aldous Huxley, himself the user and promoter of mescaline and other psychedelic drugs, and the revolutionary author of The Doors of Perception, said:

There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak; producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties be taken away from them but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebelby propaganda, or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.xiv

Part of what Aldous Huxley calls “the Final Revolution” will, I think, now likely (or very soon) include the bio-technological methods that derive from the scientific revolution in molecular biology, in consilience with cybernetics and cyberculture, and the growing field of neuroscience, for examplexv. Timothy Leary, fellow psychedelic-drug experimenter and friend of Aldous Huxley, is reported to have said, just before his death: “Drugs are good, but electrons are better.”xvi Leary’s last two books were revealingly entitled Chaos and Cyberculture (1994) and Surfing the Conscious Nets (1995).

More recently, but on the analogous theme of “targeting the human mind,” the former military-intelligence officer, Ralph Peters, also a foreign-area specialist on Central Asia, said the following about forms of future warfare and the “inevitable weapons”:

The greatest opportunity for us and the greatest danger to us, will come from the development of behavior-control weapons by the middle decades of the next [i.e., 21st] century, if not sooner. On the one hand, these will be the weapons most horrible to our civilization, but we will be unable to prevent their development. In their perfected form, they will permanently alter the perceptions and beliefs of men and women. Depending on the technological forms they take [bio-and-neuro-technologies included], defending against them may prove to be the greatest challenge we have ever faced. On the other hand, they offer the first [sic] opportunity to pacify humankind without violence.xvii

But, would not such “tranquilizing” weapons be a further extension of “the drug culture”?

Speaking of these “postmodern weapons” and their “behavior-control mechanisms,” Peters elaborates:

But this discussion is about a more rarefiedand ultimately more frighteninglevel of manipulation. Weor our enemies, should we fail to act [sic]will develop behavior-control weapons that change the mind without invading the body.xviii

Psycho-tropic weapons will be used, in “the battle for the mind.”

He adds:

Imagine another weapon that targets specific nodes, or simply processes, in the brain. The insidious feature of such weapons is that the victim not only doesn’t know what hit him but doesn’t realize he has been hit by anything at all. He simply [for example] loses the desire to fight, suddenly regarding us amiably and cooperatively.xix

And there are other effects, as well, that could be attained by minor manipulations with endothelin, enkephalin, substance P, or other regulatory neuropeptides, which are small, but potent structures of amino acids, and are very diffusively consequential, as we shall soon see, in greater detail.

Although Peters does not go far enough in this investigative direction, he does see that “the dark side is that such weapons could permanently alter the perceptions of individuals and entire cultures [sic]” and that, “in the hands of a dictator or mass marketeer, they would be monstrous.”xx Furthermore, many, he says, will argue that it is “more humane to kill an individual than to interfere with his or her free will,” xxi and he adds:

Were we able to control the future fully, we might decline to develop them [these psycho-tropic weapons]. But these weapons are coming with certainty. If there is any technology that we must first master [sic] and then prohibit [sic], it is the means to alter human thought. Otherwise, Armageddon may arrive not with a rain of fire but with a quiet suggestion [which, for example, “compacts a lifetime’s worth of carefully tailored signals into a microsecond broadcast”].xxii

Ralph Peters then modestly imagines how a future historian will look back on this final chapter of his book on the “inevitable weapons” and “laugh at the naiveté and crudity with which [he has] envisioned them,” especially since he expects “some form of broadcast device,” especially “given the current developments in fields as diverse as neurobiology, anthropology, sonics, communications, digital engineering, marketing, and complexity studies.”xxiii In other words, Peters sees his own “consilience” of applied advanced research, but which is less “genetic” than my own view.

Nevertheless, Ralph Peters emphatically affirms the coming of psycho-tropic and neuro-tropic weapons, as follows:

The only thing of which I am certain is that the [21st] century’s revolution in weaponry will involve forms of behavior control and mental intrusion. Attacking the human body has been a sloppy and inefficient means of making war. Attacking the mind [or neurophysiology of the brain] may prove the culmination of military history.xxiv

Peters’ words are shocking. He often resorts to the “argument by hyperbole”! But, he is well-informed and sobering in what he says, especially in an unclassified context.

Much of the current attention to biological-warfare issues has accentuated, however, the threat of strategic mass agents, either micro-organisms like viral (and very contagious) smallpox, bacterial (but non-contagious) anthrax, and pneumonic plague; or biological toxins (botulinum, neuro-tropic sarafotoxin, tabtoxin, ricin, and the like) which are to be used for large contaminations, incapacitating human seizures, or strategically targeted and panic-producing assassinations.

Nonetheless, the new weaponizations that are derivable from several fields of advanced modern science, and their applications in unexpected combinations, are much more disconcerting and refractory. All too likely is what the socio-biologist (and scientific materialist), E. O. Wilson, calls “consilience,” and a dangerous and irreversible consilience, to be sure, one that has a “multiplier effect,” even exponentially so.

It would be very illuminating of the current state of knowledge and research to read, for example, the 1995 book, Psychopharmacology. The Four Generations of Progressxxv, especially Chapter 43, entitled “General Overview of Neuropeptides.” The chapter deals with such things as: the functional role of peptides; peptides and neuropharmacology; primary sensory neurons (like Substance P); enkephalin (and immunoreactive neurons); neurotensin, neurotensin systems; and mental disorders that occur when neurotensin is inordinately concentrated; endothelin; neuropeptide hormones as neurotropic factors; peptides and the limbic system; neurotransmitters and neuro-modulators (regulatory peptides); dynorphin and dopomine, as well as neurotensin, enkephalin, and endothelin, and the effects of their subtle manipulation. This Chapter updates our understanding of “the development of the neuropeptide field”; and contains an excellent bibliography for further research, especially on “the trophic effects of peptides” and the “new peptides” recently discovered.

Moreover, an article in the 1999 Journal of Applied Toxicology begins, as follows:

New biotechnology will provide the possibility to produce compounds of natural origin in large quantities, including toxins and bioregulators [i.e., biologically active, regulatory neuropeptides, for example]. Many of these compounds exceed the toxic effects of the traditional chemical warfare agents…. The aim of the study was to determine the acute toxicity and the effects on respiration of Substance P, a possible future warfare agent… when the substance was inhaled as an aerosol…. Substance P is a tachykinin and a biologically active neuropeptide…. The peptide is both a neurotransmitter and a neuromodulator, and is active at all levels in the nervous system.xxvi

The article concludes, as follows:

In summary Substance P in combination with thiorphin administered as an aerosol is extremely toxic and highly potent, with detrimental effects on respiration. The acute inhalation toxicity of Substance P was 100-1000 times higher than the traditional nerve agents Sarin, Soman, and VX. The mortality rate was strongly dose dependent. If Substance P is dispersed as a warfare agent it could, at extremely low concentrations, result in incapacitation among humans.xxvii

As another representative development of research into peptides and how they do, or could be made to, cause heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases (hypertension, cerebral vasospasm, and pulmonary hypertension), the interested inquirer should read the essay, “Pathophysiology of Endothelin in the Cardiovascular System.”xxviii Endothelin was identified only in 1988, and is “a 21-amino acid peptide…a potent vasoconstrictor and pressor substance.”xxix

Given that sarafotoxin is similar in effect to the above-mentioned peptide, endothelin, and is among the most toxic substances known, we should also consider the dangers of bio-toxins. Given that toxins are non-replicating (non-contagious) agents of biological origin, but, rather, potent poisons derivative from the micro-organisms themselves, another article, from a valuable research newsletter, would also be very worthwhile examining in detail: namely, Murray G. Hamilton’s article, entitled “Toxins: The Emerging Threat”, which is to be found in the Applied Science and Analysis (ASA) Newsletter of 1998 (26 June, Issue Number 66).xxx This essay is very thorough and very unsettling, partly because he gives a realistic scenario of how easily bio-toxins are inserted, how difficult they are to detect, and how extensive and destructive are their effects. Botulinum toxin and sarafotoxin, he says, constitute “some of the most exquisitely lethal poisons known,” and, “in some cases up to 100,000 times more toxic than nerve agents.”xxxi Dr. Hamilton’s whole essay and analysis deserve a close and reflective reading, to include his charts and analytical tables.

A last reference is to another dangerous and easily made bio-toxin, called tabtoxin, which is a plant toxin, i.e., derived from a plant. Easily bio-engineered, tabtoxin behaves exactly like a poisonous chemical, causing multiple seizures in human beings, but it will not cause any new or exotic disease. The woman who was the former, at least titular, head of the Iraqi biological warfare program surprisingly did her doctoral dissertation in plant pathology, and specifically on tabtoxinxxxii, at the distinguished British agricultural University of East Anglia. Why would she have had such special interests? What is the Iraqi anti-crop (and anti-soil) biological warfare program? What is its “human incapacitation” program?

Furthermore, we may ask, to what extent will our own predominant culture of scientific materialism (and naturalism or secular humanism) be adequate to limit and guide and benignly re-direct any inchoate and growing genetics-based military-technical revolution; or any more strategically inclusive, doctrinal and organizational expansion of this technology into a true “revolution in military affairs” (RMA), both at home, as well as abroad? Let us first resort to some eloquent and highly intelligent British thinkers concerned with this matter of moment to man.

It would seem that, on its own intellectual premises, scientific materialism is gravely inadequate and even self-sabotaging. Whyso? Howso?

As the philosophic scholar and famed British statesman, Sir Arthur Balfour (author of the “Balfour Declaration” about the future of Palestine after World War I) said in his profound book, The Foundations of Belief (1894), concerning the inherent contradictions of Materialism (mechanical and dialectical), and of mere Naturalism (and Atheism):

On the naturalistic hypothesis the whole premises of knowledge are clearly due to the blind operation of material causes, and in the last resort to these alone. On that hypothesis we no more possess free reason than we possess free will. As all our volitions are the inevitable product of forces which are quite alien to morality, so all our conclusions are the inevitable product of forces which are quite alien to reason.xxxiii

Developing Arthur Balfour’s argument, the British scientist, Sir Arthur Eddington, further showed how vain it was to try to escape the skeptical consequences of Materialism by the introduction of “dynamic” Hegelian-Marxist Dialectics. Materialists cannot honestly or validly escape from the skeptical (and self-sabotaging) consequences of their Creedfrom the irrational effects that derive from their beliefs and from their fideistic hypotheses.

In another keen-minded book, The Revolt Against Reason (1951), Sir Arnold Lunn further sharpens the argument against self-sabotaging Materialism and Naturalism:

Naturalism,” which is defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary as “a view of the world which excludes the supernatural or spiritual,” provides the scientian [i.e., the ideologue of reductive scientism] with no justification for the first article in the creed of the true science: “I believe that truth is to be preferred to falsehood.” Theism, on the other hand, far from being in conflict with science, is required as a working hypothesis without which science has no justification. This view had, indeed, been put forward as early as 1894 by Mr. Arthur Balfour, who wrote as follows [in his The Foundations of Belief]: “Theism, then, whether or not it can in the strict meaning be described as proved by science, is a principle, which science, for a double reason, requires for its own completion. The ordered system of phenomena asks for a cause; our knowledge of that system is inexplicable unless we assume [i.e., presuppose] for it a rational author.”xxxiv

Twenty-five years later, Arthur Eddington, as was said above, developed Mr. Balfour’s view that unaided science is impotent to justify its own existence or to vindicate its own criteria, or even to prove that truth should be preferred to falsehood.xxxv And unaided science refuses to consider final causes, teleology, purpose. The question, “what is nature for?” or “what is time for?” is considered “unscientific,” much less the question, “what is man for?”

Arnold Lunn develops the argument even further when he says that Materialism (and Naturalism) are not even any longer really defended,

for the essence of a valid defense is a clear statement of the strongest arguments of our opponent as a preliminary to their refutation. By this test materialism fails, for modern atheists make no attempt to meet the argument which deprives the materialists of any claim to consideration, the argument that if materialism be true, our thoughts are the mere by-product of material processes uninfluenced by reason. Hence, if materialism be right, our thoughts are determined by irrational processes and therefore the thoughts which lead to the conclusions that materialism is right have no relation to reason. The same argument invalidates Freudianism, behaviorism, and logical positivism. All that the prophets of these cults [of irrationality] have achieved is to provide their disciples with reasons [sic] for rejecting all philosophies, including Marxism, behaviorism, Freudianism, and logical positivism. The reluctance of modern materialists to face this basic criticism of all modern forms of materialism explains the revolution in their methods [i.e., to psychoanalyze the arguer when one cannot answer his argument; and to resort to resourcefuland sophisticalequivocation, deception, and “unrestricted warfare”]…. The thesis [that I, Arnold Lunn, propose]…is that the tragic bankruptcy of the modern world is the consequence of the revolt against reason.xxxvi

That is to say, the dialectical dissolution and subversion of Logos (Reason, Speech, Language, the Word, Verbum).

The Foundations of Materialism (or Naturalism): Some Reasonable Inferences

The reasonable, and, I think, the true conclusion from all of this perspicacious reasoning is that, on the basis of our predominant culture of scientific materialism, we shall not be able to have an adequate moral and strategic defense against the likely new forms of psycho-biological warfare. Nor shall we be effective against a deceptive and growing geneticsbased RMA, which will include a “revolution in non-military forms of warfare,” and other consequences of applied molecular biology.

The key question I would raise with you is: how do we prepare for the fact that the scientific revolution in molecular biology and its derivative bio-technologies will be further and fearsomely applied to the conduct of war, and maybe especially to new “non-military forms of warfare” in shocking and mentally dislocating combinations, and which may be very productive of strategic paralysis and deep spiritual despair? What effects will a eugenics culture of genetic engineering have on the young? Moreover, in a potentially hostile strategic culture of science and technology, such as in China, we will find that the Chinese are already very advanced in the bio-sciences and in bio-technologies, and less restrained in their experimentations. How might the deft and deceptive Chinese apply bio-technology against us in the form of grand-strategic or strategic indirect warfare? Or, if we embarrassed them over Taiwan, how might the PLA use what some now call “no-limit” or “unrestricted warfare” for a finite and well-focused end, but with unscrupulous means?

What if someone engineered diseases into seeds? What if the latency appeared in a diseased food supply or in a scarce, but permeating, water supply? Is there such a thing as a binary biological weapon? What if the whole agricultural infrastructure, to include agricultural logistics, were selectively and deftly targeted, or a country’s concentrated animal breedstock? What about economic and financial targets, in general, which are not usually “hardened,” but, rather, “soft targets,” like vaccines and blood supplies and other portions or sectors of the medical and public-health cultures? Could a foreign gene be inserted into crops and food through their seeds, against which implanted gene a designed follow-up virus, for example, would later be targeted, as it were, “like a heat-seeking missile-virus”? Or, is this binary combination unlikely and again chimerical? Finally, in this context, what if certain biological substances produced no traumatic effects, but, rather, gradual and chronic effects of disability, such as a weakened immune system or loss of vision or a personality-altering modification of one’s endocrine system or one’s autonomous nervous system, so that one is no longer intimately recognized by one’s friends or by the beloved?

How are we to discuss such fearsome matters without thereby bringing about what we are trying to ensure against, namely spiritual paralysis, futility, indifference, despair?

Facing the facts of history, many of which are now de-classified, I am convinced that the main strategic research objective of the large Soviet biological warfare system was to find immuno-suppresive or immuno-destructive, psycho-tropic and neuro-tropic methods of impact, manipulation, and control, and not just in their special “FLUTE” and “BONFIRE” programsxxxvii. As with their institutes of penal psychiatry, such as the Lubianka’s Serbienski Institute, the target was, again, the human mindxxxviii.

From Soft, Scientific (and Cybernetic) Materialism to Hard, Genetic Neo-Gnosticism

Mind,” on the premises of Philosophic and Scientific Materialism, is reduced to the neuro-physiology of the brain and “matter-in-motion,” as is also for them the case, finally, in the fact of human “Consciousness.” New forms of materialism, however, are now being more subtly proposed which incorporate evidence from the ongoing scientific advances in molecular biology. For example, new philosophic defenses of materialism are now being based on the concept of “memes,” or “mental genes.” The “soft” environmentalist and psychological forms of materialism are once again making way, or making room, for “hard” genetics and eugenics, both negative eugenics (which removes what is putatively unfit or defective) and positive eugenics (which selects and engineers what is putatively superior). The “taboos” against hard genetics and eugenics are once again being removed in the cultures of progressive liberalism, as was earlier the case, for example, with Margaret Sanger in this country and with H. G. Wells and the Fabian Socialists in Britain.

I believe that there will be two great tests for the United States as a residually humane and virtuous cultural nation, and for our overextended military as an incipient strategic culture, namely, the tests of China and of the biologicalbiotechnical revolutionand probably both of them in active combination. China has a deceptive and deft strategic culture; a unique and unprecedented, longstanding cultural coherence, both at home and abroad among the Overseas Chinese; and a special (even irredentist) sense of Han Chinese racialcultural superiority. Moreover, setting just limits (or intrinsic prohibitions) to the subtle use of biological weapons in warfare, as well as in human fetal experimentation and genetic engineering, will not, I think, be accomplished on the basis of our predominant culture of scientific and philosophic materialism, nor on the purportedly “heroic” foundation of final human despair. We will need a fuller philosophy of nature, a more adequate philosophical cosmology that does not irrationally reject “purpose,” “teleology,” or “final causes.” And we shall need an intimate philosophy (or theology) of hope.

But, Bertrand Russell thought otherwise. As a modern philosophical materialist, and building upon the ancient thought of his vivid-souled poetic mentor, the Roman, Lucretius, and Lucretius’ philosophic poem, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Reality), Russell would remove, and eloquently strives to remove, our sentimental illusions and to awaken us to the reality of final futility, cosmic purposelessness, and heroic hopelessness.

In his famous 1903 essay, “A Free Man’s Worship,” Lord Bertrand Russell begins with Mephistopheles’(Satan’s) narration to Dr. Faustus, in his study, of the history of the Creation. Himself plainly agreeing with this mocking and cruel narration of “Moloch’s” inhumane and malicious universe, Russell then says:

Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end [telos, finis] they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs [i.e., Russell’s, too?], are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve and individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are [impersonally] destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system [cf., entropy versus evolution?]; and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruinsall these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand [sic]. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely [sic] built…. [for] we see, surrounding the narrow raft illumined by the flickering light of human comradeship, the dark ocean on whose rolling waves we toss for a brief hour; from the great night without, a chill blast breaks in upon our refuge; all the loneliness of humanity amid hostile forces is concentrated upon the individual soul, which must struggle alone, with what of courage it can command, against the whole weight of a universe that cares nothing for its hopes and fears.xxxix

Such an eloquent expression of purportedly heroic despair surpasses, I think, the vivid poetic prose of Nietzsche and the vivid force of the later atheistic Existentialists, as well as the earlier (and recurrent) Gnostics. Like the pessimistic Gnostics, who yearned for a release from the burden of matter and from the evil of the “Created” Material Universe, Bertrand Russell, also, despite his contrary protestations, does not see in fact that the world is (nor can it ever be) for man “a home;” but, rather, the world is a “trap” from which he must “escape,” a “servitude” which he must “transcend” and “transfigure,” lest he be consumed by “a spirit of fiery revolt, of fierce hatred” against the “impersonal” malice of “Power” and the imposed cruelties of “the religion of Moloch,” which, he thinks, requires, “in essence, the cringing submission of a slave.”

Like the historical and dualistic recurrent Gnostics (Manichaeans, Albigensians, and the like) and like the recurrent allure of Hermeticism and the Gnostic Temptation to secret knowledge (gnosis) and transformative (or “demiurgic”) Power, Russell’s own philosophy of serene but heroic final despair, and his own abiding and stirring sensibility to beauty and tragedy, are only, however, for a rare and specially cultivated elite. Like Lucretius’ world-view, it is not “democratic.”

I believe, moreover, that both “soft” and “hard” forms of the Gnostic propensity are vigorously reappearing in our own world. The “soft” forms of neo-Gnosticism are still to be found in psychology (as in C. G. Jung) and psycho-pharmacology, in “therapeutic education” and “social engineering.” The “hard” forms of neo-Gnosticism, however, are drawn more to cybernetics, genetics, and eugenics. Thus, an inchoate and growing genetics-based Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) must be understood, I think, in a larger intellectual, spiritual, and cultural context, as a part, at least, of that larger, dualistic, despairing neo-Gnostic world-view, which is such a recurrent temptation to the insurgent human mind, especially in a milieu of perceived “final futility” and “the corrosion of hopelessness.”xl

But, a temptation would not be a temptation if it were not attractive. Resentment or that special form of sentimental despair, called self-pity, is often attractive, but always self-sabotaging and destructive.

Like the world-view of Bertrand Russell, our predominant culture of scientific materialism, philosophical naturalism, and secular humanism (or atheism) are increasingly marked by subjectivism, sentimentalism, and anarchic syncretism, which often mask a deeper final despair and a pessimistic “escapist” Gnosticism, aided by the new technologies of its “demiurgic” cybernetic or genetic engineers. Against such likely “coercive utopians,” whose minds are often like H. G. Wells’ mind at the end of his “technological-utopian” life (which was, he despairingly admitted, “at the end of its tether”), a proper defense of man and human life will be very difficult. It will be very difficult, with human superficiality, to defend against genetics-based cultural and military revolutions, so destructive of the human mind.

Moreover, to the extent that the United States is increasingly perceived as a “rogue superpower” and as an “arrogant and intrusive hegemon” centrifugally impelled to “engagement and enlargement”more like an Empire than a Constitutional Republicwe shall also likely face many irregular and subversive forms of “asymmetrical’ and “unrestricted warfare” against us, to include “non-military forms of warfare” set in motion even on our homeland. It is very likely that subtle biological instrumentalities, in strategic indirect combinations, will be used against us, and our vulnerable “soft targets” will be especially subverted, hit or disrupted. Bio-technologies derived from the growing genetics-based revolutions in cultural, scientific, and military affairs may very well be used to dislocate, deceive, and paralyze our incipient and uncertain strategic culture and psychology, in the long-range “battle for the mind.” Nor will our predominant culture of scientific materialism adequately aid our uncertain strategic culture in its self-defense. Our cultural immune system will be subtly attacked, and maybe intractably subverted.

The Intimate and Ultimate Questions

What is man, finally? And what is man for? What is the purpose of it all?

To what extent will man become an engineered “cyborg” with technological “extensions” attached to him or implanted in him?

What will be the criteria and standards of just war in indirect genetics-based warfare, as well as cybernetic warfare, and other subtly unrestricted “non-military forms of warfare”?

What World-View will adequately guide and sustain us in the face of such deliberately ambiguous developments? What World-View will animate us in the sustained resistance to its unmistakable and subtler evils, lest we despair? Lest we be swamped in “the congealment of lovelessness,” as well as “the corrosion of hopelessness.”

Bertrand Russell’s contemporary, Maurice Baring, was also a classically educated man with a longer view of history and culture, and of the interior life of man. Major Maurice Baring was Air Marshal Trenchard’s special assistant during World War I. Baring, like J. F. C. Fuller, knew the horrors and the sorrows of war. He, too, has an especially poignant sense of the vulnerability of beauty, and of the precariousness of human lifeof its fragilitywhich thus made him, like Lord Russell, so sensitive to tragedy and to its ennobling catharsis. Maurice Baring, having lost many comrades and dear friends in combat, was, moreover, especially gifted in writing elegiac tributes to those who had fallen in war, to the beloved who were lost. In the following portion of one of his verse elegies, we may fittingly conclude this essay with a glimpse of Major Baring’s deeper World-View and sustaining Faith, in contradistinction to Bertrand Russell:

All is the same. But all is not the same;

For he is dead.

The well-known cry: ‘Hurrah! I’ve won the game!’

The curly head,

The laughing eyes, the angry stammering speech,

The heart of gold: 

All that is far away beyond our reach,

Beneath the mould.

He lies not here, but far away beyond

His native land;

Beneath the alien rose, the tropic frond,

The burning sand.

His life was like a February day,

Too warm too soon:

A foretaste of the spring that cannot stay

Beyond the noon.

As the swallows, when September pomps conceal

A frosty spell,

Fly low about the horses’ heads, and wheel,

To say farewell,

So he, at some sure summons in the wind,

Or sky, took wing,

And soared to the gold South. He stayed behind

When came the Spring.

They say we’ll meet again in some transfigured space,

Beyond the sun.

I need you here, in this familiar place

Of tears and fun.

I do not need you changed, dissolved in air,

Nor rarefied; 

I need you all imperfect as you were

Here, at my side.

And yet I cannot think that Death’s cold wind

Has killed the flame

Of you, forever, and has left behind

Only a name,

That mortal life is but a derelict ship,

Without a sail;

The soul no stronger than a farthing dip

matched with a gale.

I ask, I seek, and to the empty air,

In vain I cry;

The God they worship, if He hears my prayer,

Makes no reply.

Lord, give to me the grain of mustard seed

That moves the mount;

Give me a drop of water in my need,

From Thy full fount.

Around me, and above me and beneath,

Yawns the abyss;

Show me the bridge across the gulf of Death,

To banks of bliss.

Cast the dumb devil from my tomb of grief:

Help me to say:

Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.’

Teach me to pray.

But if the fault be mine, then, Lord, forgive,

My heart is dry;

So bitter is the world I cannot live,

I dare not die.”xli

Recapitulation and Conclusion

Just as the French, Industrial, and Bolshevik Revolutions had grave implications on the conduct of war, especially on the qualitative, as well as quantitative, “totality” and the “mechanization of warfare,” so, too, will the scientific revolution in molecular biology and its applied “bio-technologies” conduce to the even more intrusive and fearsomely intimate “cyborganization of warfare,” whereby cybernetics and neural science will be conjoined to, or manipulative of, biological organisms in morally ambiguous or equivocal ways which will require our deeper discernments. Such a challenge will unmistakably take us to the foundations of existence and our sense of finality and of purpose. We must therefore consider how and why there is now developing a genetics-based Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), or, less inclusively, a “military-technical revolution,” both of which could be strategically and indirectly employed as a new form of “asymmetrical warfare”–such as “psycho-biological or psycho-cultural, strategic indirect warfare”–against the economies, psychologies, and cultures of sophisticated (or decadent) interdependent societies, and, especially against perceived “narco-democracies” and “rogue superpowers.” Spontaneous human superficiality will not be sufficient to discern or wisely counter such subtly indirect–chronic as well as traumatic–vulnerabilities, threats, or attacks (and infections) against unprotected “soft targets” such as seeds, vaccines, and the human embryo which could have many disproportionately adverse effects upon a whole culture and its way of life; to include the inordinate effects upon the “special technical operations” of our own “high-tech” Special Operations Forces, who have already themselves been insidiously prompted (or flattered) to become “bionic commandos” on the “cutting edge” of the approaching “Bio-tech Century.” Moreover, the self-sabotaging premises and inner logic of our preponderant culture of scientific materialism will be altogether insufficient to deal with such intimate matters at the heart of human life and its morally virtuous sustainability. A deeper criterion of adequacy is required. We must also adequately combat subtly subversive forms of soft cybernetic and hard genetic neo-Gnosticism and its coercive eugenics.

Therefore, this paper has examined the issue of an inchoate and growing genetics-based revolution in cultural, scientific, and military affairs, especially some of its strategic and moral implications, lest we be unprepared for what could so easily produce the solvents of cynicism and existential despair. For, both neo-Legalist autocratic Chinaxlii and unrestricted, genetics-based forms of non-military warfare–maybe in combination–will be our true tests, our true strategic and spiritual tests. And those who are religious among us might add another and subtler test of our fidelity: the attraction of hard, genetic neo-Gnosticism; the seductive allure of eugenics and cybernetic Hermeticism; the perennial Gnostic temptation to secret knowledge, illlusionary liberations, and despair, which are so Luciferian and anti-Incarnational.


 © Dr. Robert D. Hickson, 2000

i “Consilience” that is to say, an “interlocking of causal explanation across disciplines.” See the Neo-Enlightenment book by biologist (and socio-biologist) Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), p. 325. See also pp. 8-13 (Chapter 2, “The Great Branches of Learning,” on “Consilience” as “the key to unification” and “The Consilience of Inductions.”

ii See Manfred Schedlowski, Psychoneuroimmunologie (Heidelberg/Berlin: Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, 1996). This book contains an excellent bibliography, often containing English-language citations. However, the psychological doctrines which underlie most of this book are the doctrines of materialist behaviorism.

iii See Chinese Views of Future Warfare (ed. Michael Pillsbury)(Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1997), especially, “Nanotechnology Weapons on Future Battlefields” (pp. 413-420), by Major General Sun Bailin; and also “Dialectics of Defeating the Superior with the Inferior” (pp. 213-219), by Colonel Shen Kuigan.

iv See the CIAFBIS 183-page translation of Unrestricted Warfare: Assumptions on War and Tactics in the Age of Globalization (Beijing: PLA Publishing House, 1 February 1999), written by Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. CIA also later translated the title of the book as No-Limits Warfare: Ideas on War and Methods of War in the Globalization Era, which is a better title for that very strategic book.

v General Schoomaker’s phrase includes the especially difficult realm of “bio-terrorism,” as a form of strategic (not just tactical) psychological warfare, which the Special Operations Command is tasked to counter and to interdict, by resourceful pre-emptive initiatives.

vi See Lt. Colonel William B. Osborne, et. al., Information Operations: A New War-Fighting Capability (A Study Presented to Project Air Force 2025) 17 June 1996), especially Chapter 3“Technology Investigation.” Read the sections on “Computer Power,” “Intelligence Software,” “Intelligent Integration of Information,” but, most especially, the sections on “HumanComputer Interaction,” “Command Systems and Biotechnology,” “Charting the Brain,” and Chapter 4 “System Description” in sections entitled “Implanted Microscopic Chips”, “Why the Implanted Microscopic Chip?”, “Ethical and Public Relations Issues” (“We already are evolving [sic] toward technology implanting…. The civilian populace will likely accept implanted microscopic chips that allow military members to defend national interests.”). This entire study should be read, for many reasons, especially for the growing frigid mentality it reveals. At the beginning of Chapter 4, under the section entitled “Cyber Situation Components” (p. 1), one reads the following: “The Cyber Situation is the integration of the entire OODA Loop Cycle under the control of commanders, decision makers, and analysts. Supporting components include all-source information collectors, archival databases, the Information Integration Center (IIC), a microscopic chip implanted in the user’s brain, and a wide range of lethal and non-lethal weapons” (my emphasis added).

vii See John Harris, Wonderwoman and Superman: The Ethics of Human Biotechnology (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

viii He will help us to know what the situation is, why we should know more about it, why we should get out in front of it (by strategic and moral anticipations), and why the premises and culture of “democratic secular humanism” and “scientific materialism” are altogether insufficient to deal with the situation.

ix B. H. Liddell Hart was especially attentive to the long-range effects of the seductive and promiscuous resort to “guerrilla warfare” and the destructive illusion of pursuing “total military victory.” He was most concerned about the “moral handicaps to recovery” in the seeming peace that followed such subversive forms of irregular and total warfare. See the 1967, second edition of his book, Strategy, especially Chapter XXIII on “Guerrilla Warfare” and “Subversive Camouflaged Warfare.”

x See Major General J. F. C. Fuller, War and Western Civilization, 1832-1932: A Study of War as a Political Instrument and the Expression of Mass Democracy (London: Duckworth, 1932), especially pages 228, 230, and 234 (Chapter XII “The Changing Nature of War, 1914-1918”):Thus, referring to World War I and “the changing nature of war,” General Fuller, in 1932, prophetically and compassionately said: “As inundations of men, personnel warfare, had failed beyond hope of redemption, the General Staffs, still obsessed by the quantity complex, turned to matériel, seeing in shell fire a means of blasting a road to Paris or Berlin…. The attack by matériel failed ignominiously…. The enormous demands made for all types of munitions of war, however, revealed clearly to the eyes of the General Staffs the economic foundations of the war. So visible did these economic foundations become that it was not long before these Staffs realized that, if the food supply of the enemy be cutoff, the foundations of the hostile nation would be undermined and, with the loss of will to endure, its military forces would be paralysed…. Thus, in the World War, the matériel attack having failed, it at once gave way to plundering operationsattacks on trade in place of the devastation of crops. To introduce this most barbarous form of war, the first military problem that the Allied Powers had to solve was the circumvallation of the Central Powers; and the secondtheir surrender by starvation: This is an attack on the enemy’s civil stomach, not only on his men but on his women and children, not only on his soldiers, but on his sick and his poor. The economic attack is without question the most brutal of all forms of attack, because it does not only kill but cripple, and cripples more than one generation. Turning men women and children into starving animals, it is a direct blow against what is called civilization…. [Then, referring to “the theory of moral warfare” and “the weapons of the moral attack,” General Fuller resumes.] Throughout the history of war treachery has proved itself a powerful weapon…. In the World War treachery was attempted through propaganda, the contending newspapers raking dirt out of the gutters of their respective Fleet Streets and squirting it at their country’s enemies. All sense of justice was cast aside, the more outrageous the lie the more potent it was supposed to be…. yet no Government appeared to realize that the attack by lies besmirched its own future….” (J.F.C. Fuller, War and Western Civilization (London: Duckworth, 1932), pp. 228, 230, and 234.)

xi Although the author himself barely touches upon specific military topics and new forms of warfare, Jeremy Rifkin’s book, The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World (New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1998), is very illuminating about the unprecedented consequences and far-reaching scope of the biotech revolutions, and their dangerous intractability. Some of my scientist friends think that he exaggerates the dangers of agricultural “genetic” engineering and of “genetically modified food.” (Dr. Norm Schaad, a world-class plant pathologist, is one of them.)

xii In his 1967 book, The War We Are In (and in his other books), the former Trotskyite and keen strategist, James Burnham, very well understood and expressed how Soviet “Political Warfare” and “psycho-political” methods were a very effective (and economical) “weapon system without firepower.” See also his “Sticks, Stones, and Atoms,” or “The War We’re Not Prepared to Fight,” in Modern Guerrilla Warfare (ed. F. M. Osanka)(New York: Free Press, 1962), pp. 417-424.

xiii J.F.C. Fuller, Tanks in the Great War, 1914-1918 (London: John Murray, 1920), p. 320my emphasis is added to the original.

xiv See Jeffrey Steinberg’s article on new “synthetic drugs,” entitled “Pharmacological Revolution Sweeps Europe, America,” Executive Intelligence Review (Vol. 23, No. 30; 26 July 1996), pp. 32-34and their link with “computer-generated techno-music.”

xv See the fine British neuroscientist, Malcolm Dando’s book for the British Medical Association, entitled Biotechnology, Weapons, and Humanity (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1999), especially Chapter 4 on “Genetic Weapons.” See also Malcolm Dando’s 1996 book, A New Form of Warfare: The Rise of Non-Lethal Weapons, especially Chapter 8 “An Assault on the Brain?” and Chapter 5 “Lethal and Non-Lethal Chemical Agents.”

xvi See also David Jordan’s recent book, Drug Politics, Dirty Money, and Democracies (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999), especially Chapter 10 on “Cultural Underpinnings of Modern Drug Consumption.”

xvii Ralph Peters, Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph? (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999), p. 207.

xviii Ibid., p. 208emphasis in the original.

xix Ibid. The manipulation of neuropeptides, as we shall see, will greatly alter the brain, and all of the brain’s extended neurological connections.

xx Ralph Peters, Fighting for the Future, p. 208.

xxi Ibid., pp. 208-209.

xxii Ibid., p. 209 and p. 208.

xxiii Ibid., p. 209.

xxiv Ibid.

xxv Edited by Floyd E. Bloom and David Kupfer (New York: Raven Press, Ltd., 1995). Dr. Malcolm Dando generously shared this chapter and book with me, and so many of his own profound reflections and other valuable writings, when I visited him in England in the Summer (July) of 1999, at Bradford University in Yorkshire. Very much of my knowledge on the advances in neuroscience I owe to him, and much more, besides.

xxvi B.L. Koch, et. al., “Inhalation of Substance P and Thiorphin: Acute Toxicity and Effects on Respiration in Conscious Guinea Pigs,” Journal of Applied Toxicology (Vol. 19, 1999), pp. 19-23, quoting from p. 19.

xxvii Ibid., p. 22my emphasis added. Professor Malcolm Dando generously gave me a copy of this significant article.

xxviii See T. Miyauchi and T. Masaki’s article in The Annual Review of Physiology (Vol. 61, 1999), pp. 391-415.

xxix Ibid., p. 391my emphasis added.

xxx Colonel Richard Price is the editor of this newsletter (ASA, PO Box 17533, Portland, Maine 04112-8533)

xxxi Ibid., p. 20 and p. 21.

xxxii A good technical article on tabtoxin, given to me by my friend and colleague, Dr. Norm Schaad of the US Department of Agriculture (Agricultural Research Service), is the article entitled “Genetics of Toxin Production and Resistance in Phytopathogenic Bacteria” by D. K. Willis and T. M. Barta et.al. in Experientia 47 (1991), pp. 765-771 of the Birkhäuser Verlag, CH-4010 Basel, Switzerland.

xxxiii See Arnold Lunn, The Science of World Revolution [also entitled, in England, Revolutionary Socialism: Its Theory and Practice] (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1938), pp. 335-336my emphasis added. The Chapter on “The Philosophic Basis of Marxist Communism” (Chapter 21) is very brilliant and profoundly discerning.

xxxiv Arnold Lunn, The Revolt from Reason (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1951), p. 85.

xxxv Ibid.

xxxvi Ibid., pp. ix-xiv.

xxxvii See Ken Alibek’s Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the WorldTold From the Inside by the Man Who Ran It (New York: Random House, 1999); but, even more importantly, Ivan V. Domaradskij, Troublemaker (Moscow, 1995), 180 pp., especially his writing about “Plasmids” and his Plasmid Institute, as well as his “Plague Research.” In his Chapter entitled, “My Laboratory and the ‘Plasmid’ Programme,” Domaradskij defines a “plasmid” as follows: “Plasmids are extra-chromosomal genetic elements which play an important part in the physiology of bacteria and are extensively used in studies of genetic engineering” (p. 10, of the original text). It was Yury Ovchinnikov, a member of the Soviet Academy and personal friend of Leonid Brezhnev, who convinced Brezhnev to “de-criminalize” and overcome the false and cramping ideology of “Lysenkoism” (the dialectical-materialist anti-genetic biological theories of Trofim Lysenko), and to promote study of the Western Scientific revolution in molecular biology and genetics, so as to enable and facilitate the development of subtle biological weapons. This set of secret biological programs began shortly after President Nixon, in 1969, formally shut down the U.S. offensive biological warfare program.

xxxviii See also Robert Jay Lifton, “Thought Reform in Western Civilians in Chinese Communist Prisons” (Psychiatry, XIX (1956)), pp. 173 ff. See also, William Sargant, Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brain-Washing, (1957, rev. ed. 1961) and the book by his colleague, Brigadier General John Rawlings Rees, M.D., Psychiatry Goes to War.

xxxix Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship” (1902) on pages 44-54 of his book, Mysticism and Logic (New York: Doubleday, 1957), pp. 45-46, and 52my emphasis added.

xl See the great works of Hans Jonas on Gnosticism and the Gnostic World-View. A good start would be his non-technical book, translated from German into English, entitled The Gnostic Religion (Boston: Beacon Press, 1st edition in 1958; 2nd revised edition in 1963). Jonas, in part sees Gnosticism as an existentialist philosophy of pessimism about the world, with an attempt at self-transcendence, often pantheism. For a more sympathetic view of Gnosticism and of how it was “repressed” by Orthodox Christianity, see Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, (New York: Random House, 1979).

xli See Maurice Baring’s novel, entitled, C (which is the affectionate nickname of the book’s main character, Caryl). Baring’s character, Caryl, upon the death of his younger brother, Harry (Henry), wrote this farewell elegy. (London: William Heinemann, Ltd., 1st ed. 1924; reprinted 1934), pp. 739-741. The poem is entitled I. M. H. [In Memoriam Henrici].

xlii See, especially, two excellent books by Professor Zhengyuan Fu, of the University of California (Irvine): (1) Autocratic Tradition and Chinese Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and (2) China’s Legalists: The Earliest Totalitarians and Their Art of Ruling (London, England: M. E. Sharpe, 1996).

Insights on the Philosophical Mixture of Truth and Error: Louis de Wohl’s 1950 Historical Novel The Quiet Light

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                    1 April 2020

Saint Hugh of Grenoble (d. 1132)

Saint Theodora (120 A.D.)

Blessed Karl of Austria (d. 1922)

Maike’s Nativity in Germany


“The Jews of this period [12th-13th centuries] translated the writings of Aristotle and of the Arabian philosophers into Hebrew, and these, retranslated into Latin, afforded the scholastics an opportunity for becoming acquainted with Greek thought. The most famous of the scholastics, ‘men like Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas, studied the works of Aristotle in Latin versions made from the Hebrew’ [S. Munk]….At a time when the Hohenstaufen defended the cause of science against dogma, and showed themselves the protectors of Epicureanism, the Jews occupied the first place among scholars and rationalist philosophers. At the Court of the Emperor Frederick II, ‘that hotbed of irreligion,’ they were received with favour and respect. It was they, as [Ernest] Renan has shown, that created Averroism [Earnest Renan—and hence at least implicitly the subversive doctrine of ‘the double truth’ of philosophy and religion, or of faith and reason, as in Siger of Brabant]. (Bernard Lazare (1865-1903), Antisemitism: Its History and Causes (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995—originally published in 1894, in French; and later published in London in English, in 1967, of which the 1995 edition of the main text is a reprint), see page 150—Chapter Thirteen—“The Jew as a Factor in the Transformation of Society”)—my emphasis added)


“’Then let me ask you, my son [said the Dominican Albert the Great to his student Thomas Aquinas]: Which is the most important rational faculty of man?

The faculty to discern the truth.’ The answer [of Thomas] came at once.

‘There are those who think man is unable to discern truth….What is it that makes an error so often credible?

The amount of truth its contains in proportion to the untruth.’ ….

Aye,‘ said Albert..’truth and error mixed…that is the danger. That is the danger we are confronted with.‘” (Louis de Wohl, The Quiet Light: A Novel about Saint Thomas Aquinas (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996—originally published in 1950), pages 205-206—my emphasis added)


While recently reading aloud to my family another historical novel by Louis de Wohl—one first published in 1950 and entitled The Quiet Light: A Novel about Saint Thomas Aquinas1—I was especially touched by a timely and timeless conversation in Chapter X between Master Albertus Magnus and his gifted and abidingly modest student, Friar Thomas Aquinas. Therefore I have considered selectively presenting now again for the reader what had been so farsightedly depicted and politely conducted at the Dominican convent in Cologne, Germany during the mid-thirteenth century.

Master Albert (the future Saint Albert the Great), while visiting Thomas’ small cell, started their gradually deepening discourse with a searching question: “Which is the most important rational faculty in man?” (205)

After hearing Thomas’ prompt reply (“The faculty to discern the truth” (206)), Albert continues their ongoing exchange of insights, where they soon come to detect some self-refuting propositions, as it were:

“There are those who think that man is unable to discern the truth.”

“They are to be refuted [said Thomas] by the fact that they cannot make such a postulate without contradicting their own hypothesis. If man cannot discern truth, then they cannot state as true that man is unable to discern the truth.”

“Besides, we would never be able to recognize an error as an error,” said Albert, “though at times it can be difficult to recognize it. What is it that makes an error so often credible?”

“The amount of truth it contains in proportion to untruth.” (206)

While Thomas remained serene, Albert proceeded to surprise him, but only after he had reinforced Thomas’ earlier comment in slightly different words:

“Aye,” said Albert, nodding his heavy head, “truth and untruth mixed…that is the danger. That is the danger we are confronted with. That is what threatens to overcome the world, smash all our new [Gothic] cathedrals, and drive the Faith back into the catacombs. Unless…we liberate the giant.”

“Liberate the giant, my Father?” (206)

We again see Thomas’ sincerity and modesty as he proceeds to learn more about the giant.

Magister Albert, O.P. now further reveals his meaning concerning this formidable giant:

“None of those alive in the flesh…not even [Emperor] Frederick the Second, however powerful he may appear [just before 1250] to those whom he is crushing at the moment. He is roaring up and down Italy like a mad beast, seeking whom he can devour. But he and his little wars will be forgotten soon enough….except by those whose kith and kin have lost their lives through his cruelty. I hope this does not concern you, my son? Your family is still in Italy, as far as I know….

“I did not mean Frederick, the soon forgotten. I did not mean Louis of France either [i.e., the reigning King (Saint) Louis IX], though he will not be forgotten. My giant is not flesh and blood, though he was that, once. And those who lured him out of limbo are not flesh and blood either, though once they were, too.” [He was thinking about both Aristotle and his later Moslem interpreter, Averroes, as well as the derivative and subversive phenomenon of “Averroism.”].

Thomas waited, patiently.

“I’ll tell you a fairy tale, my son,” said Albert grimly. (207—the emphatic italics are in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Albert then gave Thomas a compact history of the rise and progress and gradual strategic encirclement of Islam (207-208), ending his summary introduction with these words:

“But still today [circa 1250] the green banner of the prophet Mohammed is raised over Spain, as it is at the very doors of the city of the great Constantine [Constantinople, to be finally conquered in 1453]. The emblem of the new religion is the crescent…and, shaped like an immense crescent, the Mohammedan lands are encircling Christendom, ready to strike at any moment. And some time ago [first in the 12th century], a new danger arose.”

“Now,” thought Thomas. He knew the story of Islam, of course. And he sensed at least some of what was coming. But he knew also that the Master was not telling him this “fairy tale” without good reason.

“The crude faith of Moors and Saracens,” went on Albert, “could never be a spiritual danger for Christendom. But then came the new danger. First Al Kindi in the ninth, then Al-Farabi in the tenth, and Avicenna in the eleventh century of Our Lord began to invoke the shadow of a giant who had died three centuries before Our Lord walked on earth. There was, at the time, no idea of claiming Aristotle as a forerunner of Islam. Al Kindi, Al-Farabi, and Avicenna wanted to know. Nevertheless, under their magic touch the giant [Aristotle] began to change, to be transformed….Then, just about a hundred years ago [in the 12th century], Averroes made his appearance….With Averroes…the birth of Mohammedan philosophy was completed. It was not an original philosophy. It was, to put it bluntly, a garbled and orientalized Aristotelian philosophy.” (207-208— emphasis added)

Still approaching his special and nuanced meaning and proposal—and his hoped-for mission with Friar Thomas, as well—Albertus Magnus repeats himself, nonetheless, for an important emphasis:

“But…but it was a philosophy. And it contained enough Aristotelian truth to carry oriental errors right into the heart and intellect of Christendom. At last, at long last, Islam [now] had a weapon against the Christian Faith, a weapon of such sharpness that it drove our own [Christian] philosophers [such as Siger of Brabant (see page 313—Chapter XVI)] to the terrible admission that there must be two truths …that of revealed faith and that of philosophy [namely, the claim that there is a truth of reason; and an incommensurate, parallel, and often contradictory truth of faith—along with its purported prior revelation!]. (208-209—my emphasis added)

It will be further helpful to our understanding of these grave claims and their implications (even today in the Catholic Church), if we now allow Albert to present with more detail his own fuller understanding of the enduring issues of moment, and his ardent encouragement to Thomas’ own further and fitting projects:

“And in the souls of intelligent Christians doubts are [thus] being raised for which theology has only the one answer: ‘Leave philosophy alone and stick to the faith.’ In other words: the Trojan horse is within our walls, and its name is the philosophy of Islam. What the vast armies of the camel driver could not do may be accomplished from within by the Trojan horse, by the spirit of the giant Aristotle, led by the spirit of Averroes. They say [Holy Roman Emperor] Frederick the Second is aping oriental customs in many ways, swearing by Mohammed and the Caaba, and making all things oriental [even Hebraic?] a fashion. It is a sorry sight. But it isn’t a tenth as dangerous as oriental [hence also Hebraic?] fogging our best ecclesiastical brains. And why is it that they are captivated by this thing? Because because the Averroist error is Aristotelian truth. Truth and untruth mixed…that is the danger. Unless…we liberate the giant.”

“We…” said Thomas incredulously. “We…?” (209—my emphasis added)

Albert promptly explicates to the modest Thomas the meaning of his “we”:

“You and I. I have cast about; I have been casting about for years to find the man who can do it. My own life is dedicated to it. But one life is not enough. No single man can free Aristotle from his chains. The task is immense. It isn’t simply a translation of [the original Greek, or the often dubious later Arabic, and even Hebrew, translations] of Aristotle into Latin.”

“It couldn’t be,” said Thomas breathlessly. “For even Aristotle was not always right.”

Son,” shouted Albert jubilantly, “that sentence alone proves that you are the man to do it.” (209—my emphasis added)

Somewhat stunned by Thomas’ concise words of simplicity and insight, Albert himself not only concurs but he also replies with a warning admonition:

“Aristotle was not always right,” he repeated. “Do you know that there is probably no man alive who’d dare to say that in public? Of those who have read Aristotle, I mean. For the others, and especially a few theologians I could name, are firmly convinced that the whole of Aristotle is the work of Satan himself. Can you imagine that? Good men crossing themselves when the very name of the Stagirite [Aristotle] is mentioned. But you, son,…oh, I love you for it…you have read him, and neither do you shrink from him, nor do you bow to him without reservations.”

He stopped abruptly. “Here is where we enter the fairy story, son…you and I, with our plan to unchain the giant and bring him back to his senses.”

“The great Jews will be of help [but also with reservations?],” said Thomas eagerly. “And especially Rabbi Moses ben Maimon [Maimonides (1135-1204), himself an anti-Christian]. His Guide of the Perplexed…”

“You have read that?” asked Albert, surprised.

“Oh, back in Naples,” admitted Thomas. “They [at the Frederick II-founded secular university] had a good copy [in a language unnamed, however] at the university. Rabbi Moses was a great man and a good one.”

“And he [Maimonides] also does not regard Aristotle as infallible. Son, do you realize where this leads?”

Thomas nodded. “The Christians will be able to say: ‘By the Grace of God, I believe; I have faith. There is much in my faith that surpasses reason but nothing that contradicts it.’” (209-210—my emphasis added)

Again even though very happy to hear the words of Friar Thomas’ succinct insight, Albert still gravely decides to be more explicit in his admonition:

I warn you of one thing, Thomas: our own people are going to make things difficult for you. The most intelligent Franciscan I ever met, Friar Roger Bacon…not the best, mind you, but the most intelligent…laughed at me when I told him my idea. He said it was impossible. It couldn’t be done.”

“We shall find out,” said Thomas.

“But the worst opposition won’t come from him. It will come from the narrow-minded, the chicken-hearted, the sterile…and some of them are very powerful. They are going to besiege you like the bulls of Bashan [see Psalm 22:12, for example]. And they will speak with formidable authority. They’ll quote the great saints against you, aye, and even the Fathers of the Church themselves. They’ll crush you with [Pope] Saint Gregory, with Saint Bernard, and the greatest of all, Saint Augustine…”

“It doesn’t matter who said it,” interposed Thomas. “What matters is what he said.”

Albert stared hard at him.

“By the love of God,” he said hoarsely, “I believe you mean it.”

Thomas stared back, in blank surprise.

I could not say so, surely, unless I meant it.”

The little man [Magister Albert], before whom they all trembled, said in a muffled voice: “Tell me, son…have you ever been intimidated by anyone?

“Oh, yes,” said Thomas.

I don’t believe it. By whom?”

By Our Lord…on the altar [before, during, and after the Consecration at Mass].”

[Thus cometh the memorable conclusion of this Chapter X.] (210-211—my emphasis added)

We may now, I hope, have better come to see and savor Louis de Wohl’s own accurate and reverent presentation of the life and challenges of Saint Thomas and his sincerity and purity and gifted discernments of truth, especially important truth that is properly unmixed with untruth and error. (With his unmistakable humility, Saint Thomas also knew that, as in the case of Aristotle, his opinions were not to be regarded as infallible.)

In any case, the varied wisdom expressed in Louis de Wohl’s book on Saint Thomas and his mentors, especially in Chapter X, could be well applied against Neo-Modernism today, not just those that were afoot around 1250 or in 1950 (under Pope Pius XII).


Writing about his own life for a scholarly source entitled “CatholicAuthors.com,” Louis de Wohl (b.1903-d. 2 June 1961) said the following:

Then, in May of 1948, I went to Rome, had my first audience with that living saint, the Holy Father [Pius XII], and asked him whom he wanted me to write about next! He said “Saint Thomas Aquinas.” Two years later I gave him the finished book, The Quiet Light, and asked him for his next order. This time he said “Write about the history and mission of the Church in the world.”

Also notably occurring in 1950, Pope Pius XII additionally accomplished three major things in and for the Church and her mission: the 1 November 1950 dogmatic declaration (rooted in Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition) on the Assumption of the Blessed Mother (Munificentissimus Deus); preceded by the 12 August 1950 propagation of the incisive Encyclical, Humani Generis (a brief, polite update, as it were, of Pius IX’s earlier 8 December 1864 Syllabus Errorum (Syllabus of Errors); and, finally, the moving 24 June 1950 canonization of Maria Goretti whom the Pope warmly called a “martyr to purity.”


© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Louis de Wohl, The Quiet Light: A Novel about Thomas Aquinas (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996—a reprint originally published in 1950). All future references will be to the 1996 edition, and the pagination placed above in parentheses in the main body of this brief essay. The excellent Chapter X itself is to be found in its entirety on pages 198-211 of the 1996 edition, and the reader would do well to read and savor the whole chapter, as well.

The Oath Against Modernism (1910-1967) and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller’s Recent Words

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                              7 October 2019

Our Lady of the Rosary (571 A.D.)


“We are only as courageous as we are convinced.” (Father John A. Hardon, S.J.)


In an article recently published on LifeSiteNews, the learned scholar and church historian, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, reported the following fact and has thereby especially arrested my attention, in part because of its momentous implications. For, the proposed fact is also what G.K. Chesterton would have called a “Tremendous Trifle,” a seeming trifle, but momentous if one has the proper criterion.

Cardinal Brandmüller wrote the following:

The philosophy of German idealism [Kant and Hegel et al.]—which is fixed on human consciousness—and its connection with evolutionary thought had led to the result that one regarded religion as a product of the depth of the human soul which develops from one stage to the next higher one in the course of evolution and that religion therefore is subject to change. From today’s perspective [sic], one might consider some of the actions on the part of “Rome” in those years to have been rigid, but one cannot put in doubt the danger of these ideas—which one since then summarizes with the name “Modernism”—which were indeed undermining the foundations of the Faith.

That Pius X here pulled the emergency brake in this situation by demanding from theology teachers [and others] that they make the Oath Against Modernism [1910], one should not demean or ridicule it as an expression of “Roman alarmism.” It can, instead, astonish us that, of all people, the German theology professors were excluded from fulfilling this demand. They feared for their freedom in teaching and research, whose loss would have exposed them to some disdain in the academic world.1 [my emphasis added]

However, the German Cardinal does not then additionally present any more specificity or historical clarifications about this momentous German exemption, indeed this mysterious German dispensation and its consequent exclusion from the standard requirement, under obedience, to affirm the contents of that carefully crafted solemn Oath Against Modernism.

Was the Oath also exempted from the vows of the Austrians and others of the German linguistic groups in Europe or in Foreign Missions or as Germanic citizens in diaspora? Did it apply, as well, to ethnic German Catholic teachers dwelling in other cultures? Was the oath not even required of German theological teachers or broadly religious teachers in Rome? Was the German exclusion ever even written down and officially promulgated? If so, when? Where is the official document to be found? Was it in place even from the outset in 1910—or did it come quietly into the public later?

These are the kinds of questions I wanted to ask Cardinal Brandmüller, and my wife Maike Hickson even proceeded, in fairness, to ask him for some his further clarifications, if feasible, about that presented momentous fact.

I would also have some more questions to ask him about a later event: namely, the quiet 17 July 1967 rescinding of the 1910 Oath Against Modernism—which was done by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the reign of Paul VI and with his approval.2

Was it the case that Modernism or an even more subtle Neo-Modernism was now to be tolerantly accepted and variously institutionalized within the modern Church? How are we to understand this removal of a grave 57-year-old Oath of honor?

But, did not the prelates and other clergy with their advisors (periti) during the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council also face the danger of having perjured themselves especially if they had actually and obediently also earlier taken the solemn Oath Against Modernism—although the German delegates might well have had a mitigating dispensation and had thus been exempted from making the vow, even then and even in 1962-1965 Conciliar Rome?

By way of an analogous contrast, it was back in the 1980s that I first read—with Arnaud de Lassus’s indispensable help—Jean Madiran’s reliable analyses of two admittedly secret meetings in France—in Metz and in Strasbourg —conducted just before the October 1962 opening of the Second Vatican Council.3 The Metz meeting was with representatives of Soviet Communism and with the French Cardinal Eugène Tisserant from Rome. In Strasbourg, France, there was a secret meeting with representatives of modern Judaism and with Rome’s official representative, Father Yves Congar, O.P. (a Dominican who was later in 1994, shortly before his 1995 death, made a Cardinal by John Paul II).

Rather than now considering the troubling substance of these compromising agreements—intended to help guide the impending Pastoral Vatican Council as to the political action of both Communist forces and Jewish forces—we only want to raise a few questions: namely, to what extent were the Council Fathers informed about these important secret meetings and binding promises and subversive arrangements? To the extent that these two secret meetings were not disclosed, to what extent was the Pastoral Council playing with a crooked deck of cards, from the outset—even before the original Schemata were diverted and disposed of?

With so much talk afloat about openness and all that, there are many signs of oligarchic secret assemblies, protective censorship, and frightened self-censorship that gradually becomes a withering and atrophying self-censorship.

The intimately exoteric Catholic spirit of vital candor and robust lucidity thus now tends to become a more “occult organization of revolution.” That is to say, comprising both the fast path and the slow path of revolution. The principle of “solve et coagula” also now has more unimpeded scope for its Hegelian Dialectic and Evolutionary Pantheism. The Geist needs us, as it were, to complete Itself. Such “Process Philosophy” even boldly says that “God needs us to complete Himself.” The Church, we dare say, now still has Her work cut out for Her, sub Gratia Divina.

May we be able to face with courage some of those “Tremendous Trifles,” as well: Installed Neo-Modernism, for example. And still, during this pervasive Occupation, to preserve our font of “Battle Joy”!


© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/dubia-cardinal-warns-church-in-germany-against-synodal-path-that-leads-to-final-decline (The invited commentary and article by Cardinal Brandmüller, with its English translation from the German and with its brief introduction being both presented by Dr. Maike Hickson, is only some seven pages in length, and the public article is entitled “Dubia Cardinal warns Church in Germany against synodal path that leads to ‘final decline.’”)

2AAS-59-1967; see here for the original 1910 Oath Against Modernism: https://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius10/p10moath.htm; and see here for the replacement Profession of Faith: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19670717_formula-professio-fidei_en.html

3Since the electronic archives of Apropos Magazine do not seem anymore to be available, I shall give herewith links to other websites with the two Jean Mardiran articles: https://theeye-witness.blogspot.com/2013/10/jean-madiran-romes-other-secret-accord.html; https://livinginjmj.com/2017/10/10/the-vatican-moscow-agreement/

Hilaire Belloc’s 1938 Return to the Baltic and Poland

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                              28 August 2019

Saint Augustine of Hippo (d. 430)


“With every people of Europe outside the old limits of the Roman Empire [such as the Danes] there is a moment of origin to be discerned, a moment in which it passed out of the formless mist of barbaric paganism into the fixed culture of Christendom: a moment in which there came to it for the first time in sufficient strength the formative institutions of our civilisation, writing and record, the monastic centres, permanent building, and also, and above all, the kernel of the whole affair, the Mass.” (Hilaire Belloc, Return to the Baltic (London: Constable & CO LTD, 1938), page 5—my emphasis added.)


“Yet Cracow [in the southeast Poland, in “Carpathian Poland” and at the upper waters of the Vistula] will always be the real heart of the people, the sacred place. And one feels in Cracow the reality and the presence of the Polish soul as one feels it nowhere else. That is but the judgment of a chance foreign visitor, and as like as not romantically out of perspective, for after all Cracow is a frontier town not central to the Polish realm [like Warsaw on the Vistula, “the political center of Poland”]. Yet never have I trodden the streets of Cracow when I have visited and re-visited the town without a feeling of being in the immediate presence of that holy something which inhabits Poland like a secret flame.

“The Church of Our Lady from within, when you enter from the market place, strikes you suddenly like a vision: something hardly of this world. It is of a supernatural beauty.” (Hilaire Belloc, Return to the Baltic, page 159—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)


“But there is another nucleus, the famous shrine of Czenstohowa [Our Lady’s Shrine, which is located not very far to the north from Cracow itself]. It is characteristic of our ignorance, here, in the west, of all things Polish that the monastery, the spire, the altar of Czenstohowa should be hardly known to us. It was the turning point of the invasions. It was here that the last of the [invasive] Swedish effort turned back.” (Hilaire Belloc, Return to the Baltic, page 161—my emphasis added)


“Oddly enough the one man, the only man then in the public eye, who wrote in English something sufficient about Poland, was Lord d’Abernon. He understood the full significance of the [August 1920] Battle of Warsaw and you would do well to read his book on the sharp turning-point in the history of the world. [See Viscount D’Abernon’s The Eighteenth Decisive Battle of the World: Warsaw, 1920 (1931)]. (Hilaire Belloc, Return to the Baltic (1938), page 147—my emphasis added)


At sixty-eight years of age and only one year before the grave outbreak of the Second World War in Poland in September of 1939, Hilaire Belloc visited with a friend some of the Baltic-Scandinavian countries (Denmark and Sweden) as well as his cherished Poland on the southern shore of the Baltic.1 Belloc was now again traveling to the coasts of the Baltic Sea with his close friend (and exquisite illustrator) Edmond “Bear” Warre with whom he had also earlier visited the Baltic back in 1895, forty-three years earlier and when Belloc was but a youthful twenty-five years of age.

In light of the then impending war in Poland, Belloc’s mature perceptions and vivid historical comments in 1938 will still teach us many things of import, especially when we, from the outset, also candidly acknowledge (and unflinchingly remember) that the Soviet Army itself destructively invaded Poland from the east, in September of 1939.

The Russian invasion began on 17 September 1939, slightly more than two weeks after the German Army had first come into Poland from the west. The Soviet actions might also have been part of the intended vengeance to be inflicted for the Polish having twenty years earlier defeated and effectively humiliated the Russians themselves in the decisive 1920 Battle of Warsaw.2 (It was fought from 12-25 August 1920; the victory is also reverently now called “The Miracle of the Vistula.”)

But who denounced or actively tried to counteract this consequential Soviet invasion of Poland which was soon afterwards also to be imposed on the Baltic Republics and Finland? Did Pope Pius XII himself even say anything, or take other public or covert measures? But what of the Soviet Union’s later alliance with the West against Germany and Finland?

Moreover, says Belloc:

When [General] Pilsudski won the famous [1920] battle he did more than save the city called by its name (the Battle of Warsaw). He saved, as I have said, everything east of the Rhine. [However,] It looks as though the Germans may not have been saved for a better fate. It looks as though another barbarism, almost as bad as the modern barbarism of Moscow, were to take the place of the German culture, for that culture shrieked when Vienna fell [to the German National Socialists on 12 March 1938]. (175—my emphasis added)

Adding some further details (and hints) a few pages later, Belloc returns thereby to the strategic importance of the Baltic and to the reality of power in 1938, to include financial power:

Since it was taken for granted [after 1919 and Versailles] that the new Poland could not live [long], the international banking system, of which the chief exponent was the Bank of England, put all their money on Berlin. The English politicians, but still more the English banking power, restored Prussia, and that is why Prussia is not only leading and organises all the German millions, but unhappily dominates the Baltic to-day [in mid-1838]. (179—my emphasis added)

Leading us back to an earlier time of religious strife, Belloc will now expound some important history for us in light of the realities of Baltic geography:

So far so good. But the interest of Poland to a man who is considering the Baltic of the past, and the story of Scandinavia, is the varying fortunes of the two cultures into which Europe split after the Reformation, their struggle to have the Baltic in their hands: to leave the Baltic a Protestant or a Catholic lake. Poland made its effort towards the close of the Middle Ages. It was on the way to achievement when the storm of the Reformation burst and it was under that storm, and its later effects, that Poland lost the Baltic shore.

All energy polarises. The intense energies of the turmoil which shattered the unity of Christendom polarised as a matter of course, and the Baltic swung between two poles. Anti-Catholicism centered in Sweden, the revival of Catholicism centered in Poland. (147-148—my emphasis added)

In his characteristic light-hearted way, Belloc brings out some important points about the opacity or inaccessibility of a foreign language and how to begin to deal with it in public affairs:

The test of the business is [German] Dantzig [on the northern shore of the Vistula River] ….Meanwhile, the rival [Polish Gdynia] that cannot but kill Dantzig grows apace…..But can Gdynia remain Polish….

Gdynia has one disadvantage [with regard to Germanic Dantzig] however. It is a disadvantage attaching to many another Polish thing—it is the disadvantage of a name which the West cannot pronounce: the old language difficulty again. It would be of service indeed to Polish relations if the Poles would consent to transliterate for the purpose of those relations and to spell their place names and the rest so that we of the West—especially those of us who are the friends of Poland—could read the names and pronounce them. I know that one is here up against a point of honour. There is the same trouble with the Welsh. There is no great harm done to Europe by the bristling difficulties of the Welsh but a great harm is done to Europe by anything which makes Poland the bastion of our civilisation seem outlandish.

Yes, Poland is the bastion. It saved us in the [1920] Battle of Warsaw as it saved us more than 200 years earlier in the [17 July-12 September 1683] Battle of Vienna. It is of high moment to Europe that Poland should be in full communion with the rest of Europe, and the Polish place-names—and personal names for that matter—are the difficulty.

It was with the Poles as with the French. They lay balanced between two forces [Protestant and Catholic] which made a battlefield of all Christendom from 1530 and 1600. (148, 151-152—my emphasis added)

The struggles of the Faith, and the struggle for the Faith, during the early years of the Reformation were intense, but Belloc will reasonably be able to show us now only some of the results:

The recovery of Poland was a chief triumph of the Jesuits. The Society [of Jesus] re-established Poland, though here, as in France, it was the wealthiest men who most inclined to the new doctrines. Happily for Poland and for Europe there had not been so much loot available as in England and Sweden. The lesser gentry were not so much tempted, but perhaps what did most good was that irrational force of a nickname and the mere association of ideas. The Reformation began to be talked of as “that German thing,” and the Poles, like the Danes, though a very different nation, dreaded the power of the empire [as in the oft-misunderstood historic formulation of “the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations”].

Yet remember that Poland, had she received the full effect of the Reformation, might well have benefited on the material side. The breakdown of European civilisation let usury loose and the letting loose of usury created that credit system which had so vastly increased the wealth of the nations which adopted it and which is only now beginning to appear as a poison. Also in Sweden as in England the Reformation depressed the peasantry to the advantage of the wealthy, favoured adventure, and therefore enhanced leadership, judgment in commercial adventure, a readiness to accept novel instruments and new methods.

The Reformation killed the Guild. It gave us in the long run industrial capitalism, but its first fruits were only triumphs among the towns, where it meant new energies, new adaptations. In these [areas] the Poles, like all communities which had preferred the sacred things and the traditions, lagged behind the rest. (154-155—my emphasis added)

These deeply fair-minded and magnanimously refreshing words will continue to give us much to reflect upon and so much to reassess in some portions of our history. Belloc has so many admirable gifts in these areas.

Belloc has also written worthy comments about the elective Polish monarchy and its insufficiency during the rebellious times of the extended Reformation, and how the monarchy’s weakening and eventual loss of position would lead not only to Swedish dominance (especially at sea and along the Baltic coast), but also to the greater benefit and dominance of Prussia, which then led to achieving the humiliating Three Partitions of Poland (enforced by Prussia, Russia, and Austria):

But probably what hurt the strength of Poland most was the loss of monarchy….But [on the premise that “the whole task of government is to govern”] how should kingship govern without continuity? This new Polish crown was elective at the hands of an aristocracy. Permanent kingship there was not. [King] Sigismund the IIIrd [Vasa], the champion of the old Faith, he who made Warsaw the capital, would have done it if any man could, but the forces of rebellion were too strong….He saved the Faith of Poland, he saved the soil of Poland, too, triumphing to the east by land—but he lost the sea.

He [Polish King Sigismund, as mentioned] was a Vasa [i.e., of Swedish lineage and blood], the legitimate heir of Sweden and indeed accepted as king, but his religion was too much for the new millionaires. That [very Catholic] religion endangered their great fortunes based on the loot of the church land and revenues. He was driven out and, though he triumphed in the great flats of the east [toward Lithuania], the sea was not recovered. From his time [1566-1632] onward Sweden is the conquering power, barring Poles from the ways that led to the open seas, and to the ocean. (155-156—my emphasis added)

Moreover, says Belloc, “It was in the second lifetime after the full effect of the Reformation that Catholic Poland, like Ireland, was submerged. In the late seventeenth century the effects of the Reformation were clinched. (156—my emphasis added)

That is to say, more fully, yet somewhat unexpectantly, perhaps even to the learned:

The Polish fortunes were at their lowest [in those late 1600s]. In the eighteenth century Poland [then] fell a prey to the growing power of Protestant Prussia. It is a good example of how the thing that is both prophesied and dreaded does not usually come off. Another unexpected evil takes its place. [For example:] Sweden had barred Poland from the sea. After that the Swedes continued to invade and at the worst moment reached the very heart of the country at Czenstohowa. Yet it was not they [the Swedes] that benefited by the collapse of the restricted, harassed and undermined Polish monarchy. The beneficiary was Prussia.

It was Frederick of Prussia who was the real author of the partition [the three of them!]. His active and willing accomplice was the empress of Russia, but the main responsibility lies with that great soldier, the Hohenzollern….

There was more than one partition of Poland [i.e., three of them: 1772, 1793, and 1795], but throughout the bad business—the launching of our modern moral anarchy in international affairs—it is Prussia that presides over the murder.

England being morally an ally of Prussia for nearly two centuries [as of 1938], the part Prussia played has naturally been under-emphasised in our official histories, the new Oxford and Cambridge historical school of the nineteenth century. (156-157—my emphasis added)

At one point near the end of his richly nuanced and little-known book—Return to the Baltic—Belloc has an important and timely reflection:

I wonder how many of those few Englishmen who go into Poland and feel something of the Polish story have so much as seen Czenstohowa? It remains unspoken of in our letters. It was not even revealed to us when the attempt at framing a new Europe was made—and ruined by London and the Banks—after the victory of 1918. Czenstohowa has not even been subject to the general abuse which has fallen on most things Polish from the enemies of the Christian thing. Czenstohowa is not deliberately ignored. It is simply unknown, unrepeated in the Western tongue. (163—my emphasis added)

On the prior page, Belloc had modestly and more intimately written:

Czenstohowa and the Lady Church in Cracow between them are the spiritual pillars of the State. Czenstohowa has survived the floods of invasion after invasion, the ebb and flow of armies right up to yesterday. It remains as certain of continuance as the unseen forces [and thus Grace] which inspired it from the beginning and raised its walls and towers [in honour of Our Lady and the Holy Mass, “the kernel of the whole affair” (5)]….

So much for Czenstohowa. I could hope that the [Marian] shrine retains the memory of one, even dimly, as strongly as that pilgrim [Belloc himself] retains the scene of Czentsohowa. (162—my emphasis added)

Yet, we now know how much Poland had suffered and will soon have to face again many forms of betrayal between 1938 and 1945, and then once again after the Soviet post-War occupation of Poland, and thus after the broken promises of the British, to include perfidy from other Western Allies.

See the American Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane’s 1948 book, I Saw Poland Betrayed: An American Ambassador Reports to the American People. It is essentially about the betrayal of Poland by the Western Allies at the end of World War II. (What would Belloc also then have said to us?)

Our Lady of Czenstohowa, pray for us—and for the Polish people still.


Soon after the 22 June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, Great Britain was to ally herself firmly with those same Soviets who had invaded Poland first on 17 September 1939.

Moreover, on 6 December 1941—one day before the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack—Britain declared war on heroic little Finland, a long-time enemy of the Russian Bolsheviks.

Ambassador Lane’s 1948 book (just mentioned above3) will also make us consider again the nature of the purported 1945 victory in World War II.

In 1940, two years after Return to the Baltic was published, Hilaire Belloc had to face the sorrowful fact of the death of his beloved son, Peter, his second son to die in war. (His eldest son, Louis—an aviator—died in World War I and his body was never found.) Hilaire Belloc never quite recovered from this death of his son Peter and he even started, at age 70, to have some debilitating strokes.

Return to the Baltic, though regrettably too little known, is one of the last group of Belloc’s lucid and wise and fruitful books about history and strategic geography and culture—and the Faith. May the reader read and savor this fortifying book, which is about many other things, in addition to the increasingly vulnerable Poland, such as the Danes and the Protestant (and a few Catholic) Swedes.

Hilaire Belloc was to die on 16 July 1953, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.


© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, Return to the Baltic (London: Constable & Co, 1938). This hard-back edition’s excellent format also contains a set of twenty exceptionally beautiful illustrations and additional maps which were both made and provided by Belloc’s close friend and travel companion, Edmond L. Warre (affectionately known as “Bear” Warre). These pertinent and enhancing drawings are to be found throughout the book’s 191 pages, to include the vivid maps to be found inside the book cover, front and back.

2For an excellent and much fuller 1931 treatment of this decisive battle against the famous attacking Soviet Marshal Toukhatchevsky, see the original 1931 book by Edgar Vincent,Viscount D’Abernon (d.1941), entitled The Eighteenth Decisive Battle in the World: Warsaw, 1920 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1931; or the later 1977 Reprint of the 1931 Text—Westport, Connecticut: Hyperion Press, INC., 1977).

3Arthur Bliss Lane, I Saw Poland Betrayed (New York and Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948). Lane was the American Ambassador to Poland during the transitional days to Soviet control, from 1944-1947. His report is candid.

Hilaire Belloc on Sailing and the Salt of Reality: The Cruise of the Nona (1925)

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                   31 July 2019

Saint Ignatius of Loyola (d. 1556)


“Now at sea there is no advocacy. We are free from that most noisome form of falsehood, which corrupts the very inward of the soul. Truth is one of the great gifts of the sea. You cannot persuade yourself nor listen to the persuasion of another that the wind is not blowing when it is, or that a cabin with half of foot of water in it is dry, or that a dragging anchor holds. Everywhere the sea is a teacher of truth. I am not sure that the best thing I find in sailing is not this salt of reality. (Hilaire Belloc, The Cruise of the Nona (1925), page 323—my emphasis added.)


“It is with Torbay [on the Devon coast] as with the Fowey coast [in south Cornwall]. I have known it only under such weathers as leave a hint of heaven: never have I opened Torbay in passing Berry Head but it was morning, with the young sea delighting in a leading breeze; and once, a draught to last forever, I came up under such a dawn and with so tender a dying crescent in the sky that I spent an hour in Paradise.

“What are those days of glory? They are not memories: are they premonitions, or, are they visions?

“They are not memories, though perhaps Plato thought them so, and our modern pantheists…called and believed them so.

I will hope that they are premonitions, hints granted beforehand of a state to be attained. At the worst they are visions of such a state lying all about us, the home of the Blessed, which we are permitted to glimpse at for a moment, even those of us sad ones who may never reach that place.” (Hilaire Belloc, The Cruise of the Nona (1925), pages 160-161—my emphasis added.)


After receiving recurrent encouragement to do so, I have also now come to think that it would indeed be a worthy thing to do: namely, to frame and present some vivid and varied and unmistakably profound passages from Hilaire Belloc’s 1925 book The Cruise of the Nona.1 Moreover, it seems to me to be especially desirable to accent Belloc’s multiform passages on sailing and the salt of reality. For, considered together they also show his deep heart, and he himself often said that “it is during the sailing of the lonely sea that men most consider the nature of things.” (55)

Furthermore, his lengthy volume of almost 350 pages also contains a capacious and intimately challenging subtitle: The Story of a Cruise from Holyhead to the Wash, with Reflections and Judgments on Life and Letters, Men and Manners. Yet, surprisingly, this sustained overflowing, truly abundant book—written by an exuberant man in his fifty-fifth year of life—contains no index, nor any specific chapter-designations! Therefore, a keen reader of such a book might all too easily lose himself and not even be easily able to find once again those many inserted and refreshing expressions of wisdom and eloquence, and often of heart-rending poignancy which Belloc presents in passing and with a quiet implicitness. (The two above-quoted Epigraphs may well provide another hint to the reader of what Belloc will be willing to combine and to share with us with such candor and robust magnanimity—and with such unassuming and humbling modesty and with his frequent irony and humor.)

Let us now go directly to one of Belloc’s manifold and resonant passages to be found early in his maritime journey along the coast of Wales:

So we drifted down the narrow entry and out into the open sea [off Wales]; and all that afternoon, under a wind now slightly lifting, now falling again, we crept eastward and a little south, making more way as the sun declined, because the wind was shifting westward on to our quarter; and on that I was glad, for I desired to look into Port Madoc, which I had not seen since I was a child. I had vivid memories of it during a wonderful journey overshadowed by that air wherewith the Creator blesses childhood, lending to everything an active flavour of the divine; which is in three things, Clarity, Magnitude, and Multiplicity of strong emotion.

For the divine reveals itself in a special multiplicity, in an infinite variety. All that there is in colour and in music, and in line and in affection, and those added other raptures innumerable, such as we know not of nor can conceive—that is to be at last our beatitude: that is the fullness of being. In childhood our innocence permits us some little glimpse of such things; but with the passage of the years [if they are found to be without adequate Divine Grace] they are lost altogether. The light in the lantern goes out, and the living thing within us fails, and is stupefied, and dies….

If any man doubts the Fall of Man…let him consider this decay of heaven within ourselves as the maturity of our manhood develops. The more we are of this world and the more we know of it, the further we are drifting from the shores of the Blessed. (27-28—my emphasis added).

Shortly after this passage and his trying experience with the incompetent Welsh pilot (“a local trickster” (37)), we find Belloc now in a different spirit and he shows us other facets of his character and his nautical language:

Nona, cruising and voyaging Nona, wanderer over the seas of Britain, how in the solitude of your companionship my mind does lead me from one thing to another!….

The new day having come, we got the half-ebb [tide] a little before six o’clock, and threaded away down the Channel for the open sea.

I ought, I suppose, to have stopped in Port Madoc, and [to have] renewed the memories of my childhood. But a fig for the memories of my childhood, at six o’clock in the morning: at six o’clock of a May morning, and a nice little leading breeze, all cold a merry! The memories of childhood and the contemplation of the divine are for the evening; they go with candle-light, and with a wine I know, and with friends of twenty years. But, so help me He that made me, when I find the morning wind blowing well for the salt and myself freshly roused from a good sleep, I am full of nothing but the coming of the course and an eagerness for the line of the sea against the sky and the making of a further shore.

It ought to be more dangerous to float down on the ebb [tide] without a local trickster [like that dangerously feckless Welsh channel-and-harbour pilot bungling at night!], than to come up upon the flood [tide]. But fortune served, and the swirl of the ebb plainly marked the channel under that heartening [morning] light, with the glory of a new day shooting over the tops of the great and solemn mountains [of Wales] eastward, by the land.

Therefore, without misadventure, we came to the last marking buoy and took to the sea; running easily with the wind nearly aft, but a little on the port quarter, so that all was well. (37—my emphasis added)

We must not move on without first giving a little attention to Belloc’s reaction and commentary concerning that volunteer Welsh Pilot:

With the last of the light, and a westerly air which was but the suggestion of a breeze, we groped north anxiously for the opening to Port Madoc channel. How I should make it, even upon the flood [high tide], in the darkness, I knew not; for the sands [sand bars] there are miles wide, and this channel…shifts continually. But God sent me a pilot….

Nor was he a pilot, as the event shall show; but at any rate he belonged to that shore, and would have more knowledge that I. So I gave him the helm

The gliding [of the Nona] stopped; there was a slight thrill. She had hit Wales: an under-water, advance guard of Wales. The man at the helm was not apologetic, he was not humble, but he was at least subdued….I forbore to reproach him, not from kindness, but from cowardice….

To be coming thus into a very shoal fairway [the deeper channel], after dark, and to be in the hands of a pilot who was quite clearly one of God’s Three Great Welsh Fools—one of the triad, one of the Three Great Fools of Britain—was a strain to the temper, a strain to breaking point. It was no good my taking the tiller, for I had no idea of the channel, and only saw now and then, straining my eyes forward, a little blob on the darkness that would be a drum-headed buoy slowly drifting past as we lifted [off the sand bar] on the young flood [tide]. (31-32—my emphasis added)

Immediately after his delightfully humorous report and consequential detection of provocative folly, our beloved Belloc proceeds with an even deeper impish reflection, which is also full of irony:

I used to think that the irritation against fools was irrational and purposeless. Where it is written in Holy Writ [but done deftly and ironically so in Saint Paul himself!] that one should tolerate fools even with gladness, I thought that this was a general rule of conduct. But now I know it to be a counsel of perfection and, indeed, like so many things in the Old Testament, a counsel generally to be avoided. (33—my emphasis added)

The sustained artful charm of this rascal man is a fragrant enlivening balm. Do we agree?

Belloc also records with keen perceptions his meetings with two other men, one who seems to have been some kind of an exile, and the other was one who so generously supported all “sailormen” (123), and was especially now supporting the grateful Belloc himself.

After passing across Cardigan Bay, “a run of seventy-odd miles” (55), Belloc was first to meet a man, unnamed, who spoke “the most beautiful English” (55):

We let go the anchor, and, tying up our canvas [sails] in a very slovenly fashion, we hailed the shore and got a boat to come out, seeing that I had lost my own dinghy during the tempest in Bardsey Sound.

The man who came out to us in the boat hailed us as he approached in the most beautiful English….It was a privilege and an honour to be rowed to shore by such a man, for he was free of his conversation and all that he said was interesting, true, and well put….He asked us as we landed an astonishingly small payment for his services and then he promised to meet us again at a fixed hour to take us aboard [the Nona again]. In all things this man was worthy and a friend, for I could see in his eyes that he suffered exile. (55-56—my emphasis added)

Belloc’s second perceptive and very memorable encounter with a virtuous man began like this:

From the Cornish town [to the north] I had the next morning to make my way back to London; and Stephen Reynolds, whom I met, got her [the Nona] round the land safely to the ports upon the southern side [of the Cornwall peninsula, around Lands End, and perhaps beyond unto the likely larger port of Penzance], whence later I resumed this cruise2: Stephen Reynolds, that strongest-souled and most sincere of men, who desired and did good all his life. It is the meeting with such men, and the comparison of their public label with their true function, of their false renown or lack of renown with their certain standing in the eyes of their Maker, which lead all wise men to a perfect contempt for the modern world.

Does anyone remember him now of those who are reading this? Perhaps one or two, perhaps no one. He loved the poor: he understood the sea. He was a brother and a support to sailing-men, and he had charity, humility, and justice in equal poise. But the truth is, I take it, that our world is no longer fitted for governance by, nor even for advice from, its rare great men. It is fitted for governance by those who boast so exact an admixture of folly and of vice as makes them reasonably consonant with the stuff [or the mob] they have to govern. As for those who are too good for us, or too wise for us, why, the sooner they are out of it the better for them. And so it is the better with Reynolds….

But I wish that I could come across him again in this world, somewhere at the meeting of sea and land, and talk with him again about the schools of fishes, and the labours of those who seek them along our shores, and the souls of sailormen. (123 –my emphasis added)

Belloc was especially grateful, but also quite embarrassed by his likely failure after he, once again, had “sickened at the attempt” (124) out on the sea so as to turn “the point of Cornwall.” (124)

Later on, Belloc is given another bitter trial because of the crude and wrathful manners of a slick rich man at sea, and Belloc thus ironically finds some momentary (but quite impolite) relief by uttering himself a vividly imaginative and eloquent malediction (which we shall also aptly forgive):

What is less forgivable in the rich is their contempt for the usage of the sea, and their forgetfulness of its brotherhood….As with this man [“so rich that he must have stolen it…and his face purple with passion” (217)], his monstrous great ship soon steamed away down westward, and I sincerely hope that he struck that honest reef, the reef called Calvados, in a fog, making for Deauville [on the coast of France], and was drowned. (217—my emphasis added)

But Belloc was later to speak of an even greater trial, especially for his little boat:

I take it that there is no trial more trying in the sailing of a little craft than taking her through blinding weather at night inshore—whether that weather be blinding through feather-white slants of snow or through violence of sudden rain. (210—my emphasis added)

While we are absorbing and feeling such a situation ourselves, Belloc also intermittently presents us with another poignancy warmly remembered, and conveyed in his intimate personalizing of an inshore land formation, the Pillars of Old Harry and His Wife:

You are out of this main stream just before the ebb begins, and another, younger flood [tide] takes you up past Old Harry and toward Poole [a large seaport village on the Dorset coast].

Old Harry is an isolated chimney of chalk rock which still stands, expecting doom. He had a wife standing by him for centuries—a lesser (but no doubt nobler) pillar. She crashed some years ago and now he is alone. He cannot wish to remain so much longer, staring out to sea without companionship. I think he longs for his release. (207-208—my emphasis added)

Belloc will also teach us important things about truth, after first linking it to active sailing:

My [sailing] companion had never held a tiller, but he was very expert at all sports, and I thought to myself, “I will see whether so simple a thing as steering a boat [“at the fall of darkness”] cannot be easily accomplished by a man at the first trial. Then shall I be able to get whatever I badly need, which is a little sleep.”….I had given him his course [on the compass], and naturally, he had lifted [discovered] the light [on the horizon, the specific target and nautical marker] in good time. But he, for his part, could not get over it; he thought it a sort of miracle….that so clumsy a thing as a tiller and a rudder, and so coarse an instrument as an old battered binnacle compass, should thread the eye of a needle like that; it was out of all his experience….

That things should turn out so gave him quite a new conception of the sea and the sailing of it, and he talked henceforward as though it were his home.

This corroboration by experience of a truth emphatically told, but at first not believed, has a powerful effect upon the mind.

I suppose that of all the instruments of conviction it is the most powerful. It is an example of the fundamental doctrine that truth confirms truth….On this account, it is always worth while, I think, to hammer at truths which one knows to be important, even those which seem, to others, at their first statement mere nonsense….yet it is worth making, for the sake of the truth, to which we owe a sort of allegiance…because whenever we insist upon a truth we are witnessing to Almighty God. (47-49—my emphasis added)

And, as Hilaire Belloc repeatedly said throughout his writings: we must always loyally remember proper proportion, “that quality vital to truth, the sense of proportion.” (254—my emphasis added)

Here now we have some hearty Rabelaisian glimpses of Belloc’s earlier life of sailing and singing, as was mentioned in passing as he was then aboard the Nona and going south to Cornwall:

For we designed to beat in again after a few miles, and so make our way down Channel towards the Cornishmen. There was certainly quite enough wind: “All the wind there is,” as an old Irish sailor said to me once during an Atlantic gale so abominable that he and I could not walk against its icy, sleeting December fury, but had to crawl forward tugging along the rail by main force, all up the windward side….That was a passage worthy of remembrance….I learnt from a stoker two songs: one called “The Corn Beef Can,” and the other called “The Tom Cat.” They are of the great songs of this world. (107—my emphasis added)

Considering now how we may also fittingly present many other of Belloc’s insights, we shall sometimes shorten the presentations themselves as well as the framing context and background of his substantial thought and varied tonal words. See the following page-references of Belloc’s lengthy book for an elaboration of his own helpful verbal shorthands:

For example, “an hypothesis” is not to have the same standing as “a fact” (77); those like Belloc who are also “much alive to the mystery of things” (81) such as “the mystery of tides” (96); anchoring properly and courageously facing “all the wind there is” (107, 209).

We now more attentively present some additionally memorable sentences of Belloc:

“We met him with gratitude: he was of that very considerable class known as the Good Rich, with whom are the Penitent Thieves, the Reformed Drunkards, the Sane Professors, the Womanly Furies, and all other candidates for heaven.” (92)

“The Nona is like those women who are peevish and intolerable under all conditions of reasonable happiness, but come out magnificently in distress. I lie; for the Nona is never peevish and intolerable.” (109—my emphasis added)

It is no use to argue nor much use to command in the face of imbecility.” (110—emphasis )

“The Faith is an attitude of acceptance towards an external reality: it is not a mood.” (117)

Well, what will come out of that welter, that corruption into which the decomposition of the Christian culture is now dissolving? What I think will spring out of the filth is a new religion.” (122—my emphasis added)

Our only peace is doing God’s will; which includes going to pieces in the fifties, or sixties, or seventies, like an old disreputable, sodden, broken-down hulk [and sailboat] too long adventured upon the sea.” (186-187—my emphasis added)

“Poole harbour has traps within as well as this grinning trap of an entry, and the worst of these traps is the patchiness of the holding-ground [for anchors]. Unless you know where to drop anchor, you may be dragged in Poole, upwards, upon as fierce a tide as I know….But with all that, and although the Nona has caught fire there (the sea brings all adventures), Poole is a harbour that will always have good memories for me; and perhaps the Nona will go there at last to die.” (209—my emphasis added)

“And while they so thought [about the future] in terms of the only thing they knew, there had already arisen [in the 7th Century], in a place remote and utterly insignificant, among tribes of a few hundreds without power, culture, or tradition, under conditions utterly negligible, the flaming spirit of Islam.” (246—my emphasis added)

“It is in the irony of Providence that the more man comes to control the material world about him, the more does he lose control over the effects of his action; and it is when he is remaking the world most speedily that he knows least where he is driving.” (228—my emphasis added)

“For it is one of the glories of sailing that you are under the authority of the heavens, and must submit to the whole world of water and of air, of which you are a part, not making laws to yourself capriciously, but acting as servant or brother of universal things.” (293—my emphasis added)

“Once I spent the whole day drifting with the tide from the two Etaples Lights to the Dune, and very nearly all the way back, but even that did not persuade me to a motor, for, of all things abominable to God and His Saints, I know of nothing more abominable than machinery and petrol and the rest on board a little cruising boat. I would rather die of thirst, ten miles off the headlands in a brazen calm, having lost my dinghy in the previous storm [in Bardsey Sound], than to have on board what is monstrously called to-day an ‘auxiliary.’ The name is worthy of the thing. By auxiliaries the Roman army perished.” (296, 23, 55—my emphasis added)

“What gives me great pleasure in them [the “Channel Pilot” and the “West Coast Pilot”] is that they are also picturesque. The unknown authors let themselves out now and then, and write down charming little descriptive sentences praising the wooded heights above the sea, or sounding great notes of warning which have in them a reminiscence of the Odyssey. One paragraph I have put to memory, and often recite to myself with delight. It runs thus (after praising a particularly difficult passage or short cut behind a great reef of our coasts): ‘But the mariner will do well to avoid this passage at the approach of the turn of the tide; or if the wind be rising, or darkness falling upon the sea.’ I like this. If I could write Greek, I would write hexameters, translating that noble strain into the original of all seafaring language….” (305-306) It recalls Homer himself, whom Belloc cherished.

Turning to statements of any reality after a dose of advocacy [or a “the habit… of propaganda”] is like getting out into the fresh air from an intolerable froust [a stale and cramped and hot stuffiness, or congestion].” (323—my emphasis added)

So, too, is it with the freshness and spaciousness of Hilaire Belloc, a Catholic Homeric Sailor .


Now we shall fittingly see and hear some of sailor Hilaire Belloc’s final preparations for the coming home—with the salt of reality—to the last harbour of his beloved Nona:

A great full moon rose up out of the east, out of the seas of England, and the night was warm. There was a sort of holiness about the air. I was even glad that we had thus to lie outside under such a calm and softly radiant sky, with a few stars paling before their queen.

We slept under such benedictions, and in the morning woke to find a little air coming up from the south like a gift, and introduction to the last harbour. We gave the flood full time (for they do not open the gates, and cannot, till 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 towards the place of her repose. (327-328)


© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, The Cruise of the Nona (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925). All further references to the book will be from this text, and will be placed above in parentheses in the main body of this essay.

2After his exquisite tribute to Reynolds, Belloc later openly said: “I confess to a complete ignorance of going round the land, that is, of turning the point of Cornwall, and of passing from the northern to the southern coast. Three times have I set out from Saint Ives [on the northern coast] with the firm intention of passing the Longships, and putting her round up-Channel. Never have I done so….Had I ever fallen so low as to put a motor into the Nona, she would have gone around like a bus or a taxi; but under sail alone it was forbidden me. Each of the three times I started with a light wind and was becalmed; and at the end of the each of those calms I drifted back so far upon the flood [tide] that I sickened of the attempt….That is why I sent the Nona round the land.” (123-124—my emphasis added) Was the Nona sent by sea, after all, or by a trailer and vehicle, instead? I do not know. The ambiguity has stumped me.

Hilaire Belloc’s Festive Foreword to his Hills and the Sea (1906)

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                 10 June 2019

Saint Margaret of Scotland (d. 1093)

Monday in the Octave of Pentecost


The sea, in all its moods which he knew so well, responded to Belloc’s sense of the insecurity of life. The years continued to take a premature toll of those he loved [after first starting, on 2 February 1914, with the death of his own wife, Elodie, on Candlemas]. His old sailing companion, Phil Kershaw, died in 1924.” (Robert Speaight, The Life of Hilaire Belloc (1957), page 478—my emphasis added.)


Hilaire Belloc’s 1906 vivid and versatile collection of essays, entitled Hills and the Sea1, is but anonymously dedicated to “The Other Man,” his hiking and sailing companion and friend of many years, Philip Kershaw, who died in 1924 and to whom Belloc, with a broken heart, then more personally and elegiacally dedicated his great 1925 book on sailing and wisdom, The Cruise of the Nona.2 That 1925 dedication reads, as follows: “To the Memory of Philip Kershaw My Brave and Constant Companion upon the Sea: But Now He Will Sail No More.”

To help recall the high spirits of Belloc and Kershaw back in 1906– when Belloc was also, in his mid-thirties, and still a Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons—we propose to consider now a little more closely the energetic seven-page foreword to Hills and the Sea. It surprisingly begins thus, with some epic heightening:

There were once two men. They were men of might and breeding. They were young, they were intolerant, the were hale….They were men absolute. (ix)

How many of us would incuriously close the book at this point?

Further counterpointing the qualities and special characteristics of this unusual pair of friends, however, Belloc will gradually draw us on to a deeper adventurous wonder and rumbustious delight:

They loved each other like brothers, yet they quarrelled like Socialists. They loved each other because they had in common the bond of mankind; they quarrelled because they differed upon all other things. The one was of the Faith [i.e., the Catholic Faith], the other most certainly was not. The one sang loudly, the other sweetly. The one was stronger, the other more cunning. The one rode horses with a long stirrup, the other with a short. The one was indifferent to danger, the other forced himself at it. The one could write verse, the other was quite incapable thereof. The one could read and quote [the ancient Greek pastoral poetry of] Theocritus, the other read and quoted himself alone. The high gods had given to one judgment, to the other valour; but to both that measure of misfortune which is their Gift to those whom they cherish. (ix-x—my emphasis added)

Throughout the festive foreword, Belloc—following an old convention– will deftly resort to the metaphorical deities of classical antiquity and their actions and favored associations. Now thus noting some abiding effects of that special “Gift” of “the high gods” (x), Belloc takes us into deeper things:

From this last [Gift of Measured Misfortune] proceeded in them both a great knowledge of truth and a defense of it, to the tedium of their friends: a devotion to the beauty of women and of this [divinely created] world; an outspoken hatred of certain things and men, and, alas! a permanent sadness also. All the things the gods gave them in the day when the decision was taken upon Olympus that these two men should not profit by any great good except Friendship, and that all their lives through Necessity [Greek “Ananke”] should [would] jerk her bit between their teeth, and even at moments goad their honour. (x—my emphasis added)

With antic and ironic tones, Belloc then says that “The high gods, which are names only to the multitude, visited these men,” namely Dionysius, Pallas Athene, the Cytherean [Aphrodite, Venus], Apollo, and even that rascal Pan. Moreover,

Apollo loved them [these two men and friends]. He bestowed upon them under his own hand the power not only of remembering all songs, but even composing light airs of their own; and Pan, who is hairy by nature and a lurking fellow afraid of others, was reconciled to their [Belloc and Kershaw’s] easy comradeship, and would accompany them into the mountains [like the Pyrenees] when they were far from mankind. Upon these occasions he revealed to them the life of trees and the spirits that haunt the cataracts, so that they heard voices calling where no one else had ever heard them, and that they saw stones turned into animals and men [especially in the darkness!]. (x-xi—my emphasis added)

Belloc will introduce us now to adventures they underwent together, and those they knew alone:

Many things came to them in common. [For example,] Once in the Hills [in the Pyrenees], a thousand miles from home, when they had not seen men for a very long time, Dalua touched them with his wing,3 and they went mad for the space of thirty hours. It was by a stream in a profound gorge at evening and under a fretful moon. The next morning they lustrated themselves with water, and immediately they were healed. (xi—my emphasis added)

Belloc will now show us, in brief, some of his most cherished adventures with Philip Kershaw out at sea and in a great wind, and we thereby taste the very risk and danger of their friendship’s intimate experience of the unexpected:

At another time they took a rotten old leaky boat (they were poor and could afford no other)–they took, I say, a rotten old leaky boat whose blocks [pullies, pulley blocks] were jammed and creaking, and whose rigging [for sailing] frayed, and they boldly set out together into the great North Sea [see also the book’s first essay, “The North Sea,” pages 1-9].

It blew a capful, it blew half a gale, it blew a gale, these sons of Ares [Mars], these cousins of the broad daylight! There were no men on earth save these two [except these two] who would not have got her under a trysail [a little storm sail] and a rag of a storm-jib with fifteen reefs [sail-tucks] and another: not so these heroes. Not a stitch [of sail] would they take in. (xi-xii—my emphasis added)

Our robust young Belloc will now give us a taste of Rabelesian epic boasting, along with the salty maritime language:

They [the two companions] carried all her canvas [her full set of sails even in the gusting gale!], and cried out to the north-east wind [called “Eager”]: “We know her better than you! She’ll carry away before she capsizes, and she’ll burst long before she’ll carry away.” So they ran before it [the wind] largely until the bows were pressed right under, and it was no human power that saved the gybe [and swinging boom]. They went tearing and foaming before it [running before the wind], singing a Saga as befitted the place and time. For it was their habit to sing in every place its proper song—in Italy a Ritornella, in Spain a Segeduilla, in Provence a Pastourou, in Sussex a Glee, but on the great North Sea a Saga. (xii)

With a little more (but also charming) hyperbole, Belloc describes the two men’s arrival back in England:

And they rolled at last into Orford Haven on the very tiptop of the highest tide that ever has run since the Noachic Deluge; and even so, as the crossed the bar [sandbar] they heard the grating of the keel. That night they sacrificed oysters to Poseidon. (xii—my emphasis added)

Belloc then fittingly gives us a glimpse of their welcome rest and fortifying Homeric dreams:

And when they slept the Sea Lady [Thetis, the Mother of Achilles], the silver-footed one, came up through the waves and kissed them in their sleep; for she had seen no such men since Achilles. Then she went back through the waves with all her [attendant] Nereids around her to where her throne is, beside her old father in the depths of the sea. (xii-xiii—my emphasis added)

After Belloc assures us of the exemplary conduct of these two wandering companions—saying that “In their errantry they did great good” (xiii)–he further illustrates their adventures and rescues, which are now more complicated (e.g., the rescue of Andromeda by them, not by Perseus! And then there was their successful hunt for the remote and ferocious Bactrian Bear).

And after such briefly presented, purported heroic adventures, Belloc gets even more imaginatively playful and youthfully quixotic:

And here it is [Dear Reader] that you ask me for their names. Their names! Their names? Why, they gave themselves a hundred names: now this, now that, but always names of power. Thus upon that great march from Gascony into Navarre, one, on the crest of the [Pyrenees] mountains, cut himself a huge staff [walking stick] and cried loudly: “My name is URSUS, and this is my staff DREAD-NAUGHT: let the people in the valley be afraid!”

Whereat the other cut himself a huger staff, and cried out in yet a louder voice: “My name is TAURUS, and this is my staff CRACK-SKULL: let them tremble who live in the Dales!”

And when they had said this they strode shouting down the mountain-side and conquered the town of Elizondo [in Navarre on the river], where they are worshipped as gods to this day. Their names? They gave themselves a hundred names! (xiii-xiv—my emphasis added)

In another high-spirited passage (from another book ) about two men’s travels on foot by night in the steep mountains, Belloc speaks (as I more or less faithfully recall it) of their coming down the slope by night into a remote village and thus to “inspire their admiration, and maybe also their fear”!

Belloc now imagines the further persistence of the Reader who still wants to know their true identity and special qualities, and to behold them in person:

“Well, well,” you say to me then, “no matter about the names: what are names? The men themselves concern me!…Tell me,” you go on, “tell me where I am to find them in the flesh, and converse with them. I am in haste to see them with my own eyes.”

It is useless to ask. They are dead. They will never again be heard upon the heaths at morning singing their happy songs: they will never more drink with their peers in the deep ingle-nooks of home. They are perished. They have disappeared. Alas! The valiant fellows! (xiv-xv—my emphasis added)

After hearing this surprising response to his questing search, the reader may well be discouraged and demoralized. But Belloc will, by way of summary and a certain parting detachment, still have a little consolation and invitation for us all:

But [for your good, too] lest some list of their proud deeds and notable excursions should be lost on earth, and turn perhaps into legend, or what is worse, fade away unrecorded, this book has been got together; in which will be found now a sight they saw together, and now a sight one saw by himself, and now a sight seen only by the other. As also certain thoughts and admirations which the second or the first enjoyed, or both together: and indeed many other towns, seas, places, mountains, rivers and men—whatever could be crammed between the [book] covers. (xv—my emphasis added)

Who of us would not now want to read and savor this varied and abundant book?


By way of conclusion and with a further, but implicit, invitation to us all, here is the way Belloc begins one of his essays wherein he alone is returning home to his cherished Sussex along the nearby sea. The essay is simply entitled “The Mowing of a Field,” and it to be found on pages 202-216 of Hills and the Sea (1906). If one will read this essay in its entirety, one will likely yearn to read and savor—again and again and with gratitude– Belloc’s vivid and profound words. (It has certainly been gratefully so with me—since my first reading of “The Mowing of a Field” almost a half century ago, in the late summer of 1971 and on the ocean seacoast island of my home.)

Here, in part, is how Hilaire Belloc begins his essay:

There is a valley in South England remote from ambition and from fear, where the passage of strangers is rare and unperceived, and where the scent of the grass in summer is breathed only by those who are native to that unvisited land….

The wind, when it reaches such fields, is no longer a gale from the salt, but fruitful and soft, an inland breeze; and those whose blood was nourished here feel in that wind the fruitfulness of our orchards and all the life that all things draw from the air.

In this place, when I was a boy, I pushed through the fringe of beeches that made a complete screen between me and the world, and I came to a glade called No Man’s Land. I climbed beyond it, and I was surprised and glad, because from the ridge of that glade I saw the sea. To this place very lately I returned.

The many things I recovered, as I came up the countryside were not less charming than when a distant memory had enshrined them, but much more. Whatever veil is thrown by a longing recollection had not intensified nor even made more mysterious the beauty of that happy ground [hills of home]; not in my very dreams of morning had I, in exile, seen it more beloved or more rare…. And all these things fulfilled and amplified my delight. (202-203—my emphasis added)

May such rooted delight, veiled vision and distant memory, and “its better reality” (204) also become a grateful gift to Hilaire Belloc’s other readers, and not only to the men.


© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, M.P., Hills and the Sea (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906). All future references to this edition’s seven-page foreword, and to the larger main text, will be placed above in the main body of this essay in parentheses.

2Hilaire Belloc, The Cruise of the Nona (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925). There is also a longer, more narrative “Dedication to Maurice Baring” (on pages vii-xiv). For, Baring was also Belloc’s wise and beloved, living friend. The expanded and more explanatory subtitle of The Cruise of the Nona is, as follows: “The Story of a Cruise from Holyhead to the Wash, with Reflections and Judgments on Life and Letters, Men and Manners.”

3See the longer haunting essay in H. Belloc’s book, Hills and the Sea (1906), pages 31-43 (“The Wing of Dalua”).