The Long Defeat: Christendom and Its Defenders, 1789 to the Present. Part 1: To Begin with

Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory”
(J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters 255).

THERE is rather a long tale to tell, which undergirds all of our struggles to-day — whether it be in the realms of religion, culture, or politics, and which has had local expressions in every country that has ever called itself Christian — to include our own United States. It is the tale of how a small region between the Atlantic and the Urals expanded over the Earth, and lost its soul in the meantime — though not, to be sure, as a result of that expansion. By loss of soul, I do not mean leaving some paradisiacal state of perfection in all things. Rather, I mean starting out with the truest first principles and highest aspirations that ever a civilisation had, and not merely discarding them but adopting their worst opposites. Various authors have tried to tell that story; but I mean to do something different. I mean to focus not on the evil changes themselves, but on the opposition to them through history. THAT side of the story rarely gets a hearing — and is never treated as a coherent transnational phenomenon.

While the first year mentioned in the title is 1789, the conflict in France that broke out in that year could not have happened without Luther’s revolt in 1518 and the wars that resulted from it. This revolt not only tore Europe’s religious unity to shreds, it also ripped apart the notion of Christendom — of the States that accepted Catholicism and made up most of Europe representing a vague supranational unity, regardless of their quarrels and wars. To be sure, this Holy Empire’s unity was punctuated by disunity with the Christian East — the on-again, off-again schism that first erupted in 1054, was healed and broke out again several times, and was at last sealed in 1462 by a Patriarch of Constantinople appointed by the Sultan nine years after his seizure of the Imperial City (which had resulted in the death of the last Byzantine Emperor, Bl. Constantine XI). Indeed, the ongoing danger from the Turks was a major contributing cause to Emperor Charles V’s inability to make lasting headway against the Protestants; and in addition to those two foes, there were the French under Francois I — who, with Henry VIII — had run against Charles for the Imperial post itself. Here began the two centuries of rivalry that ensured the survival of Protestantism through to the Thirty Years War. The rapprochement between the Habsburgs and France that took place in 1756 was two centuries too late.

Nevertheless, there were local attempts to end the conflict early; three confederations of Catholic German Princes attempted the job — the Leagues of Dessau, Halle, and Nuremberg. But the Northern Princes of the first two were succeeded by Protestant heirs, and the third was defeated with Charles V. A renewed Catholic League would fight alongside his successors, Ferdinand II and Ferdinand III in the Thirty Years War against the Protestant Germans, the Danes, and the Swedes. In Switzerland the Catholics resisted the Protestant revolt in the First and Second Kappel Wars, and later the First and Second Villmergen Wars. In France, a bloody religious civil war broke out, in which the Holy League resisted the Huguenots until at length the leader of the latter converted and began a Catholic rule over the shattered nation. Denmark saw the Count’s Feud, Iceland the Battle of Sauðafell, Sweden the Dalecarlian and Westrogothian Rebellions and the Dacke War, and Norway the Sieges of Hamar and Steinvikholm. Ireland was torn by successive conflicts between the Catholic Irish and native and foreign Protestants: the Desmond Wars and the Nine Years War to mention a few, while Scotland saw Mary Queen of Scots lose her throne and her life for the Faith. Bigod’s rebellion, the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the Western and Northern Risings shook England. All of these tensions were subsumed into the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which saw Charles I, Mary’s grandson, successively lose each of his crowns and then his life to the odious Oliver Cromwell. His older son’s restoration provided a breathing space; his younger son, James II was deposed in 1688 in England, the following year in Scotland, and at last defeated at the Boyne in Ireland. Then followed the three Jacobite Risings of 1715 (in Scotland and England), 1719, and 1745. As close as the latter came to seeing Bonnie Prince Charlie restore his father to the Three Kingdoms, he failed — and with that failure the last Catholic political hopes died, although the last direct Stuart heir, Henry IX, Cardinal York, would not die until 1807.

By that time, much had changed. The first two Hanoverian usurpers spoke little or no English; but George III “gloried in the name of Britain,” and was recognised as King of Great Britain, Ireland, and their colonies by Pope Clement XIII. Initially favouring Catholic Emancipation, he was responsible for the Quebec Act of 1774, which freed his new Canadian subjects from the Penal Laws; he also signed off in 1778 on the first Catholic Relief Act in Britain itself. The first contributed mightily to the rebellion that broke out in the Thirteen colonies the following year and was denounced in the Declaration of Independence. The second caused rioting in Scotland and the Gordon Riots the following year. By that time, because Catholic France and Spain had intervened on the side of his rebellious subjects in America, the King had turned against Catholic Emancipation, feeling betrayed by his brother Sovereigns. Nevertheless, their aid was essential in bringing about American Independence. It also destroyed George’s attempt to defeat the Whig oligarchy at home. As Eric Nelson puts it in The Royalist Revolution, after the War was over and the Constitution duly draughted and adopted in 1789, on one side of the water there would be a Monarchy without a King, and on the other, a King without a Monarchy.

Alas for King Louis XVI, although he won the war against the British, it was a pyrrhic victory. Not only was the country bankrupted a result, but many of the French officers who served in America brought back subversive ideas. When an Icelandic Volcano erupted in 1788, it killed many of the crops in France, causing a famine that has gone down in history as the “Great Hunger.” In normal times, the King would have emptied the Royal granaries or imported foreign grain to feed the affected regions. But the money had been spent in America, and so he felt forced to call an Assembly of Notables to help him decide how to raise the necessary funds. Unable to come to any decision, they recommended that the King call a session of the Estates General — which had not happened since 1614. He did so the following year.

From this would result the French Revolution that would result in the murder of the Royal Family and engulf the country in blood. The revolutionaries would spread their bloodshed to every country in Europe; from their chaos would arise Napoleon, who would continue the wars until 1815. An exhausted Europe would attempt a Restoration, even as the Three Kingdoms had tried in 1660 — and with as little ultimate success. Even so, a great many eloquent counter-revolutionary writers emerged from the ranks of those who had resisted the evil in their own lands. The Restoration settlement was swept out of Latin America in the 1820s, broke down in France and Belgium in 1830, died in civil wars between branches of the Spanish and Portuguese Royal Families, and exploded entirely in the rest of Europe in 1848. Although put back together in Central Europe after the latter convulsion, the Wars of German and Italian unification created two new Liberal Monarchies, while ending that of Napoleon III and the ages-old temporal sovereignty of the Pope (despite the best efforts of the Papal Zouaves and others). All the while, the Industrial Revolution transformed urban society, creating in many cities a miserably poor proletariat, who would prove fertile ground for the new Marxism that promised an earthly paradise by destroying what remained of Altar and Throne, as well as the Liberal Bourgeoisie who had displaced them. In response, and building on the work of the Counter-Revolutionary writers just mentioned, various Catholic and other Conservative social movements emerged, as well as Catholic political parties and labour unions. Crowned as these efforts were with Leo XIII’s encyclicals, they were interrupted by World War I.

The blood and horror of that war destroyed Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Imperial Russia. The power vacuum and economic hardships unleashed on the soil of the former two countries were topped by the emergence of Communist dictatorship in the latter. The interwar period saw an enormous increase in Catholic political action, as did the ensuing Great Depression. But the onset of the Great Dictators and World War II saw Europe’s Catholic and/or Conservative political devotees forced to choose between supporting Hitler’s Brown-Shirted Bolsheviks or ally with Stalin’s minions in the Resistance (to which the Communists only came when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941; before that, the Reds collaborated with the Browns). If they chose the first course, their effectiveness was destroyed in 1945; if the latter, they would become irrelevant after Vatican II and the rebellions of 1968.

Nevertheless, so long as the Soviet Empire remained intact, the elites of the West felt compelled to pay some lip service to “Christian values.” But the fall of the “Evil Empire” from 1989 to 1991 removed any need to do so, and within a generation said elites were pushing fast and furiously to transform their societies into something unrecognisable, over which they would have complete control. At the same time, however, not only did the bicentennial year of 1989 see a re-examination of the supposed triumph of liberty on the part of many, it saw the Imperial State Funeral of S.G. Empress Zita and the re-emergence of Central Europe. With the latter as well came out from the shadows many supporters of the Old Order who had survived the Communist terror.

To-day in 2021, things look rather bleak; the combination of horrific leadership in Church and State in the face of COVID, riots, and much other madness, as well as the increasing realisation that the West is in a post-democratic age leads many to despair. For others, there is a great tendency to throw themselves into prophecy, believing that these must be the Last Days. Now, to be sure, I’d be very happy to see the coming of the Great Emperor; for that matter, it would be a joy to have King Arthur return, or any of the other sleeping heroes that the folklore of the various European nations assure us shall return when their people need them most. Certainly, the Son of Man shall come like a thief in the night, and no man knows the day nor the hour. These may indeed be the last days, and signs and wonders appropriate thereto may be in the offing — even as such as the Eucharistic Miracles remind us that the age of miracles has not ceased.

But it is wisest not to rely on prophecy in advance, but to do our best in the here and now; if we are doing our duty, then we’ll find the right roles to play should our efforts be subsumed into greater struggles. There is much that each of us can do in the time God has given us. The first is what our Faith gives us — to practise the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; to use such devotions as Eucharistic Adoration, the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and the like. We can attend Latin and Anglican Ordinariate Masses and the Liturgies of the various Eastern Rotes — and support the clergy, orders, and parishes that foster them.

On the political front, the recent election in the United States — stolen or not — cannot help but depress. But there are many things we can do on a local level; one of the most important and yet neglected by our sort is the defence of local heritage — and this is a much more important thing than we normally think. The website of the small French town of Sèvres-Anxaumont has a wonderful definition of local heritage in general: “When we talk about heritage, we immediately think of the built heritage, that is to say of the churches, the castles, the beautiful manors of yesteryear. We also generally include what is called the ‘small heritage,’ namely crosses, funerary monuments, wash houses or vine huts if there are any.

“But many other areas are heritage. This is first of all the case with the geographical setting and in particular the relief, but also the watercourses and the climate, because these elements largely condition the landscapes — which are also modified by human intervention.

“The local flora is also part of our heritage. These are both spontaneous flora and plants traditionally cultivated in a particular place. Thus the small local orchids deserve our attention, just as much as the large chestnut trees in process of decline. The local fauna is also part of the heritage, whether it is wild fauna, ranging from large game to the smallest insects of the lawn or domestic animals and their local breeds adapted to the soil.

“The people who came before us should also hold our attention. They can be personalities who have influenced local or national life. It is just as much about the generations of modest people who have left their mark on the territory. Their way of life, their professional activities, their mentality have left lasting traces. This is why we have an interest in looking at local history, in connection with national history. So let’s get to know better all that remains of agricultural, craft and industrial activity, as well as the dialect, often revealing ways of thinking, legends and popular songs, cooking recipes.

“By becoming aware of all these elements, we will better understand where we come from and who we are, we will be able to better respect and protect this heritage and, having added our own contribution, we will be able to pass it on to future generations more easily.”

I would add that this wonderful patrimony to which we are heirs and of which we are perforce custodians ought to be seen not merely as the relics of bygone glory, but as the building blocks of a better future — in our urban ward or rural village; in our county; in our province, state; or region; in our country; in the Christian West, from San Francisco to Vladivostok (hence my interest in the Council of Europe’s Cultural Routes scheme); and indeed, in the world as a whole (which is why I find the World, Intangible, Biosphere, and Agricultural Heritage Programmes of UNESCO and FAO among the few UN efforts worth investigating). Whether it be folklore and dance, the local waterfall, literary societies, or the efforts of noble or hereditary societies to conserve their traditions, deserve whatever support we can give them — and why it is so horrible when wokery sticks its snout into these things. While not as important as our religious efforts, they certainly complement them and are in their way more important than any merely party political effort. Do some exploring, either online or in reality — if nothing else it shall break the COVID tedium!

But beyond this — although oddly connected to it in those countries — in Europe and elsewhere are still adherents of the Altar and Thrones of each of them. We’ll explore each one of them, giving a quick account of the local eruptions of the Hideous Strength which we now all face, and more particularly some of the individuals and groups who opposed it. Then we’ll survey the current situation of such folk. Consider it a travelogue of the Counter-Revolution — who knows? We may end it back in the States!

Click here to see all the articles in the series: “The Long Defeat.”