Did the Machine Stop?

They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,

Lords without anger or honour, who dare not carry their swords.

They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;

They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.

And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,

Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.

—G.K. Chesterton, “The Secret People”

WHEN I was in High School (1974-78), it was in the midst of the “decade that never should have happened,” in the words of the late music promoter, Dean McGovern. In music, fashions, liturgy, architecture and much else, it was a wasteland. It was also the time when the structural breakdown of the 1960s was being institutionalised in America: shacking up became respectable, as did abortion. Truly, the polyester age of Dazed and Confused had little to recommend it.

But for those of us placed by God in that era, there were compensations. If the Norman Rockwell-Irving Berlin-Mad Men America of my childhood was a rapidly fading memory, it was far from entirely gone, despite the double knits and open-shirts-with-medallions. The Knights of Columbus, American Legion, Elks, Rotary, VFW, Kiwanis, and the Boy Scouts still clung to their original mission (my father being active in the first, and me in the last). There were plenty of World War I veterans around to share their stories — and in Los Angeles, Russian Civil War survivors, happy to share their stories of the Before Time. My parents’ sensibilities were still firmly planted in the 1930s, and I would listen with Dad to Chuck Cecil’s The Swinging Years and Karl Haas’ Adventures in Good Music on the radio. Without their telling me to, I went to my prom in white tie with short hair — as opposed to the powder blue or burgundy tuxedoes with vampire bat black ties favoured by my classmates. When my classmates to-day ask me how I knew those getups would look so embarrassing in later years, I simply say that I inherited my parents’ good taste!

Nevertheless, one of the good things about both my Catholic High Schools was that they had very good libraries from which the pre-Vatican II books had not yet been purged. So it was that I read Donald Attwater’s two volume set, The Christian Churches of the East (in and out of Communion with Rome), G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and Outline of Sanity, and Hilaire Belloc’s The Servile State.

This last was most challenging, because, written in 1912, it asserted that the Capitalist State would inevitably become the Servile State, in which the vast majority of the inhabitants would labour for the very few — serfs without either the protection of the Church or the care of Lords who were tied to them by Faith and obligation.

This book presented me with two problems. The first was that the only critique I had ever heard of Capitalism was from the Communists, and as a true son of the Cold War, I knew who they were, alright. They were the ones who had murdered the Tsar, won the Russian Civil War, and sent the White Russians — some of whom I knew — scattering around the globe. After World War II they occupied the Captive Nations of Eastern Europe, drove Chiang Kai-Shek and the Nationalists out of China, unleashed the Korean War, taken Cuba, and were in the course of conquering South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos when I started High School; later, they would do the same for Nicaragua. They were fighting proxy wars against the Portuguese, Rhodesians, and South Africans at the time — defeating the first named entirely when I was a sophomore. My heroes in those days were Tsar Nicholas, Admiral Kolchak, Chiang, Diem, Franco, Salazar, King Michael of Romania, Vang Po, Ian Smith, Pinochet, Alpha ’66 — and anyone, past or present, who had fought the Godless Reds. In my Scouting career, I had encountered Lithuanian, Russian, Polish, Czech, and Armenian Scouts-in-Exile and their parents, and went to High School with a number of graduates from St. Casimir’s Lithuanian Catholic School. No one kept Captive Nations Week as fervently as I did. Was not Capitalism part and parcel of what we were defending?

The second problem I had with Belloc’s prognosis was that it was wrong. Half the world might be enslaved by the Soviets and the Red Chinese and their respective satellites (as well as Tito) — but not our half. Under American leadership, the Free World was just that — and we had all the Freedom of Religion, of Speech, and from Fear and Want that anyone could desire. Already I was a Monarchist, and while I might not revere Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln as others did — and utterly despised FDR, JFK, and LBJ — I was still very proud of what we had accomplished as nation, for all that I had Tory and Copperhead leanings. Belloc had simply gotten it wrong.

With 20/20 hindsight, I can see now that Belloc was not wrong. Rather, his predictions were premature, having been delayed by a number of factors. The first of these was World War I: with Europe consuming itself, the British Empire and its opponents being bled white, the United States became the financial and political arbitrators of the peace. Woodrow Wilson’s redrawing of the map of Europe was ultimately disastrous; but the damage he did and the rise of Communism meant that the machinery of quiet servitude Belloc had described was halted by more immediate if nastier considerations. Then came the Depression; while in Europe it meant the rise of the dictators and in the United States the New Deal — and although this latter might set the foundations of later tyranny — again, the damage it did to banking and industry prevented Belloc’s Servile State from emerging in the way he had foreseen. World War II continued the delay; while the Axis was being despatched in the name of Freedom, the Oligarchs could not proceed. The Cold War itself continued the long delay: the leaders of the Free World had to ensure that it continued to appear to be just that. By the time I came along, the machine of enslavement that Belloc had discerned appeared to be stopped in its tracks — if it had ever existed at all.

But then came the fall of the Soviet Bloc. The shadow and burden of half a century was lifted from our shoulders. As William Wordsworth put in his tellingly entitled poem, “The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement,” “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!” The Pan-European Picnic, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and at last the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, as country after country overthrew the Red plague — even Mongolia! — well, each new development was a thrill. We raced to see the morning paper, to find out which dictatorship had been overthrown yesterday.

I am still grateful for having lived to see that time — and for the freedom it did indeed bestow on Central Europe and the former Soviet Socialist Republics. It was troubling that the tidal wave left Red China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and even Cuba untouched — but surely they too would fall in time, would they not? In any case, Germany was reunited, the Baltic States regained their independence, and Russia rejoined the family of nations. The bloody wars in what had been Yugoslavia were troubling, of course; most of us missed Mr. Bush senior’s quiet vetoing of Romania’ and Bulgaria’s restoration of their heroic Monarchs, Michael and Simeon II, and a few years later, Clinton’s identical action with regard to backing Serbia’s Alexander II (which in turn foreshadowed Bush, junior’s similar dealing with Zaher Shah of Afghanistan — which had truly disastrous results). Yet the mood really only altered with 9/11, and the establishment of Homeland Security — the very name of which carried totalitarian overtones.

As it happened, however, with end of the Communist competition, the creaky old servility machine that been had stopped in 1914 roared into life — quietly at first, but gathering strength as the years and then decades passed. But the oligarchy it served is quite different from the one which it served on the eve of World War I. In Belloc’s day, most of the oligarchs in Britain and America believed themselves to be Christians of some sort, and retained elements of Christian morality — in their notions of marriage and family, for their peons if not always for themselves, and not as regarded business. Eugenicists though they often were, they also did have some sense of responsibility toward the community, as shown by the Carnegie Libraries, Henry Huntington’s Library and Gardens, Henry Ford’s work with Greenfield Village and the Wayside Inn, John D. Rockefeller’s creation of Colonial Williamsburg, William Randolph Hearst’s creation of San Simeon (intended from the beginning to be donated to the public), and many other such efforts — even late blooming ones, like J. Paul Getty’s Museums.

But that was then, this is now. Their spiritual descendants are very different men. (This is also sometimes true of their physical descendants; the makeup of the Oligarchy itself has changed considerably since 1914, many of its younger members having lost their lives in the ensuing catastrophes, or else partaking in the general degeneration.) Instead of the mere economic servitude Belloc foresaw, unpleasant though it may have been, the new “new unhappy lords” demand a spiritual and moral submission too disgusting to contemplate in its entirety, made up of perversion, suicide, infanticide — in a word, practical Satanism, although most of them probably do not see it that way.

It may well be that it would have been far better for the world if the machine to have run its course back then. Certainly, the Oligarchs would have faced a more able opposition than we can muster, from GKC and Belloc themselves to a fully matured Bl. Emperor Charles and SG Empress Zita to any number of young men who met their deaths gallantly fighting what they saw as the enemy in the World Wars and associated conflicts. In any case, things are as they are, and it is left to us living to-day to fight that hideous strength. May we and ours be sufficiently worthy that Christ our King and Mary our Queen grant us or our children the victory sooner rather than later.