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Hillaire Belloc & How We Got Here

December 5, 2006

(..and that famous date)

Historian Hillaire Belloc writing in 1936 about the history of Islamic conquest, Christendom’s reaction, and his prediction of an Islamic resurgence:

It very nearly destroyed us. It kept up the battle against Christendom actively for a thousand years, and the story is by no means over; the power of Islam may at any moment re-arise.


Less than 100 years before the American War of Independence a Mohammedan army was threatening to overrun an destroy Christian civilization, and would have done so if the Catholic King of Poland had not destroyed that army outside Vienna.


In spite of the advantage of being fed by continual recruitment, the pressure of Mohammedanism upon Christendom might have failed after all, had one supreme attempt to relieve that pressure upon the Christian West succeeded. That supreme attempt was made in the middle of the whole business (A.D. 1095-1200) and is called in history “The Crusades.” Catholic Christendom succeeded in recapturing Spain; it nearly succeeded in pushing back Mohammedanism from Syria, in saving the Christian civilization of Asia, and in cutting off the Asiatic Mohammedan from the African. Had it done so perhaps Mohammedanism would have died.

But the Crusades failed. Their failure is the major tragedy in the history of our struggle against Islam, that is, against Asia, against the East.


They failed in their own field but they made modern Europe. Yet they made it at the expense of the old idea of Christian unity; with increasing material civilization, modern nations began to form, Christendom still held together, but it held together loosely. At last came the storm of the Reformation; Christendom broke up, the various nations and Princes claimed to be independent of any common control such as the moral position of the Papacy had insured, and we slid down that slope which was to end at last in the wholesale massacre of modern war, which may prove the destruction of our civilization. Napoleon Bonaparte very well said: “Every war in Europe is really a civil war.” It is profoundly true. Christian Europe is and should be by nature one; but it has forgotten its nature in forgetting its religion.


The last effort they made to destroy Christendom was contemporary with the end of the reign of Charles II in England and of his brother James and of the usurper William III. It failed during the last years of the seventeenth century, only just over two hundred years ago. Vienna, as we saw, was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the King of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history – September 11, 1683.


It has always seemed to me possible, and even probable, that there would be a resurrection of Islam and that our sons or our grandsons would see the renewal of that tremendous struggle between the Christian culture and what has been for more than a thousand years its greatest opponent.


But I ask the question in the sense “Will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam return and with it the menace of an armed Mohammedan world which will shake off the domination of Europeans, still nominally Christian, and reappear again as the prime enemy of our civilization?” The future always comes as a surprise but political wisdom consists in attempting at least some partial judgment of what that surprise may be. And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralysed but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable.


I say the suggestion that Islam may re-arise sounds fantastic, but this is only because men are always powerfully affected by the immediate past: one might say that they are blinded by it.

Cultures spring from religions; ultimately the vital force which maintains any culture is its philosophy, its attitude toward the universe; the decay of a religion involves the decay of the culture corresponding to it, we see that most clearly in the breakdown of Christendom today. The bad work begun at the Reformation is bearing its final fruit in the dissolution of our ancestral doctrines, the very structure of our society is dissolving.


Now it is probable enough that on these lines, unity under a leader, the return of Islam may arrive. There is no leader as yet, but enthusiasm might bring one and there are signs enough in the political heavens today of what we may have to expect from the revolt of Islam at some future date, perhaps not far distant.

Taken from Chapter Four of Hillaire Belloc’s book, The Great Heresies.

The entire chapter can be read here.


From → Books

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