Chesterton, the Terror, the Empire

Our own Bellomy observes: “Belloc’s love of the French Revolution always strikes you as utterly bizarre whenever you come across it.”

My comment: agreed. All idols have feet of clay, all mortals have flaws.

It is bizarre likewise to hear GK Chesterton mention in passing how glorious it is to attack policemen, or to hear other leftover ideas gathered up in his socialist youth.

But we must recall that the French Revolution was the only alternative to the corrupt plutocratic monarchy, with a weak king and a strong aristocratic class running de facto monopolies at the time in England, with a history of looting Catholic monasteries, and enclosing, that is, stealing, public lands and common greens and converting them to private, that is, aristocratic, ownership.

If a man of letters misliked the lack of liberty found in Imperial Britain of his day, no other vision of how free men should live was easily available, aside from the fatheaded daydreams of the French Revolutionaries. We now can see these writers as gnostic lunatics belonging to the same esoteric antichrist tradition as the communists and feminists, but at the time the snake-camouflage had not been pierced.

It is also not to be underestimated what a profound effect the land reforms of Thomas Jefferson and others in America had and continues to have on the American character. We have no fee entail in our laws, no trace of it. No family is legally barred from selling its land when its fortunes fail. And the depredation s of absentee landlords over lands in Ireland, for example, are rare or unknown here, except, perhaps, on publicly owned lands in the Western States.

But for a man of letters of the dawn of the Twentieth Century, before the Great War, the American example of social virtue had not yet proved itself, our industry was not the world’s best, and our military might was unproven, untested. The example of the ideals of socialism in Russia and the French Revolution was near at hand and not long ago to those men: to them, it was the only other option aside from the British Empire, which, for any lover of liberty, provide ample reason to dislike, or even despise.

Reason, let me say, I do not share. I regard the British Empire as perhaps the greatest blessing for the spread of civilization ever to grace the world, aside, perhaps, from the Roman Empire. I am not blind to the abundant evils and atrocities of these worldly leviathans, but no means, but it is sometimes hard to wax indignant against the evils of these imperial periods when seen against the background of the commonplace and endless atrocities which happened in lands before conquest, or lands nine steps beyond their boundaries. No one can look at the gladiatorial games, pederasty, and death-by-crucifixion practices of the Romans without righteously condemning them, except when compared to the endless raids, rapes, and slave-taking of the Gauls, Germans, Picts and Slavic tribesmen the Romans displaced. Even the civilized peoples of Egypt or India were remarkably cruel and savage, worshipping devils or worshipping Allah (who is worse than any devil) and benefitted by British rule.

The same simply cannot be said for the terror and the Napoleonic empire following the French Revolution. I regard this as an unmitigated disaster for Europe. I cannot cease to see the blood stained guillotine, the public raping of noblewomen, and the sexual molestation of corpses to amuse the shrieking mobs. I love the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as much as I hate the words “liberte, fraternite, egalite.”

The Enlightenment of France was darkness, and its Age of Reason was the madness of hell.