01 February 2009

The Crisis of Civilization

Hilaire Belloc gave a series of lectures at Fordham University in 1937 dealing with what would become a thesis titled, The Crisis of Civilization, which later became the title of his book containing these lectures. He believed that the civilization of Christendom had arrived at a crisis placing it in peril of death and sought to describe how Christian civilization arose, how it developed, the institutions it produced and depended upon, and when it was at its height. Next he attributes its decline with the destruction of the moral tradition by which it had existed and was maintained and unless we return to that principle of life this culture may ultimately dissolve. The last part of the book gives us the outline for restoration of our civilization. Here are a few paragraphs from the book.

"It was the Faith which gradually and indirectly transformed the slave into the serf, and the serf into the free peasant. It was the Faith which took the guild, inherited from the Pagan Empire, and set it up for the foundational thing it was during all the great medieval period: the guarantee of freedom. it was the Faith which by its moral atmosphere checked and curbed usury---that usury whereby Pagan Society, before the triumph of the Church, had been thoroughly sapped and which today is sapping us again. It was the Faith which put competition within its bounds and made its limited practice subservient to general well-divided property, where its excess would have divided Society into very many destitute and few possessors. It was the disruption of Catholic unity in Europe which let in all the evils from the extreme of which we now suffer and are in peril of dissolution."

"We cannot build up a society synthetically, for it is an organic thing; we must see to it first that the vital principle is there from which the characters of the organism will develop. You will not be able to set up in a pagan or an heretical or a wholly indifferent society the institutions characteristic of economic freedom; you will not be able to curb competition which alone would be sufficient to destroy such freedom, nor pursue permanently and consecutively any one part of the program. The thing must be done as a whole, and it can be done as a whole only by the ambient influence of Catholicism."

"There only remains as an alternative to apply the fruits which the Catholic culture had produced when it was in full vigor, the restriction of monopoly, the curbing of the money power, the establishment of cooperative work, and the wide distribution of private property, the main principle of the guild and the jealous restriction of usury and competition, which between them have come so near to destroying us. But these better conditions are themselves the fruit of the Catholic Church, they can neither be created nor maintained in an atmosphere deprived of Catholic philosophy. The conclusion of the series is therefore that in the reconversion of our world to the Catholic standpoint lies the only hope for the future.

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