Sunday, August 31, 2014

Vicars of Christ -- Introduction

The Pope of Rome is the best known and most influential moral and
religious leader in the world. Pick up the paper, turn on the T.V., and
there he is. Every government in the world has to deal with him
somehow. Love him or hate him, there is no denying his importance. It’s
this way today, and it’s been this way since Emperor Constantine
legalized Christianity in the 4th century.

In all that time, there have been wonder-working saints, lecherous
murderers, and many, many, mediocrities on the Papal throne—every
kind of human being imaginable. Most books about the Popes have
either tried to whitewash every sin any Pope has committed, or else to
make them all out to be anti-Christs. On this emotional topic, writers
seem to have left very little middle ground.

But the truth is that there have been obviously good and obviously
evil Popes, controversial Popes and forgotten Popes. In this book, they
will all have their day in court. One by one, each Pope will be profiled,
and their rich history, with all its pageantry, intrigue, holiness, and crime,
will be unveiled. Formosus was so hated by his successor, the corrupt
Stephen VI, that his rotting corpse was disinterred and subjected to a
court trial. St. Leo the Great frightened Attila the Hun into sparing
Rome, while St. Gregory the Great banished the plague from the Eternal
City by holding a procession. St. Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor
by surprise on Christmas Day, but John XII (himself the son of a Pope)
was killed by his mistress’ lover, and died in her arms. John Paul II
raised the popularity of the Papacy to incredible heights, played a huge
role in bringing down Communism—and exorcised the Devil from a girl
during a public audience.

The history of the Popes is the history of Christianity, still the
dominant religion in Europe and the Americas. Understanding the
Papacy in its historical setting is key to understanding the modern world.

Unfortunately, this is a difficult task for the modern English speaker.
A major problem is cultural. In Great Britain, as in much of northern
Europe, the secular authorities threw off Papal control of their churches
during the Protestant revolt of the 16th century. Hatred of the Papacy and
of still-Catholic nations became a part of the British national religion;
from England this hatred was exported to and became part of the
foundation of the United States, Anglo-Canada, Australia, and New
Zealand. In the English-speaking world, Catholicism was worse than an
enemy: it was a defeated enemy. On the one hand, this attitude produced
the much written-of “Black Legend” school of history, wherein anything
the Spanish ever did was evil. On the other, it produced in popular


Vicars of Christ

histories an ingrained view of the Papacy which veered from suspicion
and contempt to pure loathing.

In the United States, this was further aggravated by the perception of
Catholics as “foreigners.” One remembers the elegant quatrain coined
by a Klansman in 1920’s Michigan:

I’d rather be a Klansman, in robes of snowy white,
than be a Roman Catholic, in robes as black as night.
For a Klansman is an American, and America is his home,
But a Catholic owes allegiance to the Dago Pope of Rome.

In a word, Catholicism, since the Reformation, has been, to a greater
or lesser degree, the enemy in English-speaking lands, despite the great
numbers of Catholics who have made their homes in such places since
the 19th century. Thus anti-Catholicism becomes the one form of bigotry
still acceptable in polite society.

In the sphere of history writing, this means that it is often as hard to
find a fair portrayal of things Catholic in American books written today
as it was to find even-handed treatment of Capitalism in Soviet-era
Russian histories. Thus we have the “Popes-can-do-no-good” school of
history.

A second genre of writing about Popes is that of people—priests or
lay—who, although of Catholic origins, echo slavishly the wildest
charges of anti-Catholics. These are able to claim some extra knowledge
of the topic because of their supposed faith.

As erroneous as the first two schools is that of well-intentioned
Catholics who, in their zeal to defend their Church, whitewash the worst
of Popes in the manner mentioned above.

On a purely ideological level, moreover, the Papacy is out of step
with the deepest belief of the past two centuries: the cult of change.
“Change is good,” we repeat as a mantra. But the role of the Popes from
the beginning has been that of conservator or preservationist. The
Coronation Oath of the Popes, administered since the Renaissance,
declares that the new Pontiff vows “[t]o change nothing of the received
tradition, and nothing thereof, I have found before me guarded by my
God-pleasing predecessors, to encroach, to alter, or to permit any
innovation therein; To the contrary: with glowing affection as their truly
faithful student and successor, to reverently safeguard the passed-on
good, with my whole strength and utmost effort….” This shows a
mentality entirely different from that of most of us.

The reason for this mindset is to be found in the very notion of
Catholic tradition. The Church teaches that Divine Revelation, that body
of knowledge necessary to be believed if one is to be saved (such
doctrines as the Trinity, the Incarnation, Transubstantiation, and so
forth), ceased with the death of St. John the Evangelist, about A.D. 104.
These teachings are considered to be factual things, as true of themselves
as the laws of science—or more so. The Pope’s primary mission is to
safeguard this deposit of Faith from change, which would be error; when
doctrinal disputes arise, he must determine what the Church has always
taught on the matter. While many are under the impression that “Papal
Infallibility” and “defining dogma” mean that the Pope can alter or
originate doctrines as he pleases, the reality is just the opposite. These
terms actually mean that, when the Pope speaks at the highest level of his
authority, the Holy Ghost will prevent him from defining untruths. Thus,
before the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
could be defined, the Pope of the day had to be satisfied that, despite
later denials by prominent theologians (including, in the case of the
Immaculate Conception, St. Thomas Aquinas), the teachings had been
held by the earliest Christians.

It is this wildly different concept of truth which has most often led
modern Popes into conflict with the media and governments of our age.
As guardians rather than owners of the Church’s doctrines, the Popes are
simply unable to alter the Church’s stand on such topics as abortion,
contraception, divorce, or women’s ordination. This inability to change
doctrine has not merely brought them conflict in our day; where many
modern women demand the right to abort their children, in times past
certain monarchs and noblemen similarly wished barren wives killed or
put aside in favor of fertile ones. New Queens were easy to obtain—not
so Princes. Many a Pope ran into conflict over this question.

Another important part of the Papal conservatorship is that of
safeguarding the Sacraments—in the Catholic view as necessary to
salvation as right belief—and the various liturgies which embody them.

J.R.R. Tolkien, for one, understood this very clearly. As he informs his
son on p. 339 of his Collected Letters:
I myself am convinced by the Petrine [Papal] claims, nor looking around the
world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True
Church, the temple of the Spirit dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-
reforming and re-arising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is the
acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has
(and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most
honor, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. “Feed my
sheep” was His last charge to St. Peter; and since His words are always first
to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of
Life. It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was
really launched—“the blasphemous fable of the Mass”—and faith/works a
mere red herring.

JRRT’s historical conception of the Papacy was reflected, oddly
enough, in his Lord of the Rings, by the figure of Gandalf, the great
wizard. He belongs to not one of the nations of Middle Earth, and in a
very real sense he is leader of all the free and faithful. This is so because
his power is magical rather than temporal, just as the Pope’s is
sacramental. To one character’s statement “there is no purpose higher in
the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor,” Gandalf replies,
“the rule of no realm is mine, neither Gondor nor any other, great or
small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands,
those are my care...[f]or I also am a steward.” Thus might Boniface VIII
have spoken to French King Philip the Fair, or Gregory VII to Emperor
Henry IV, or Innocent III to King John. Gandalf also reminds one of the
Fisher-King in the Grail legends, who himself is a symbol of Peter-inthe-
Boat, one of the earliest logos of the Papacy.

Of course, this ideal view certainly did not and does not apply to all
Popes, by any means. As stewards or vicars of Christ, they have often
failed. Infallibility does not, in Catholic teaching, protect most Papal
statements, nor any Papal actions (save beatification and canonization of
saints). It will prevent a Pope from defining heresy as dogma. But
beyond that, the Pope is prisoner of his personality, his upbringing, and
his circumstances, as are we all. It is interesting to note that before
Vatican II, each night before retiring the reigning Pontiff went to
confession and signed a renunciation of any liturgical mistakes he might
have made during the day’s numerous ceremonies. This last was
essential if any of his clerical flock were not to seize on such an error as
a precedent for his own Masses.

Since the Pope’s flock lives in the world, and since the most pressing
outside influence on any individual is that of his government, from the
time of Constantine Popes have been concerned with politics. Of course,
before Catholicism became legal there were such questions as whether
the faithful could serve in the Imperial legions. But for the most part,
Papal concern with civil rule was primarily in terms of being martyred
under it.

With legalization, however, came responsibility. In a period when
land meant power, property and then temporal sovereignty were seen as
essential if the Papacy was to pursue an independent course in dealing
with the great ones of this world. But these things had also the effect of
sometimes diverting the Popes from or even blinding them to their
spiritual duties. Yet, at least as often, temporal power has allowed them
to exercise their spiritual interests freely in the face of powerful and
unfriendly potentates.

All of this background is essential for a fair evaluation of the Popes
we are going to meet. It is manifestly unfair to judge any religious leader
by one’s own spiritual views or lack thereof. If the Dalai Lama does not
impose Jewish or Muslim Dietary laws on his flock, we cannot blame
him; for that matter, we ought not to be upset with the Islamic Caliphs
for permitting polygamy, enjoined in the Koran. Indeed, if either had
done differently, we would have to say he was a poor Buddhist or
Muslim. Unless we are willing to claim that our own religion is right
and that of the leader under discussion wrong (as un-modern a view as
one could have), we can only judge him according to how well he
safeguards his own faith, however odd it might appear to us.

So it is with the Popes. If we are to be fair with them, the only
evaluation we can make of each of them is whether they did well by the
Church’s own lights. If, in pursuit of this, many have done things which
outrage our sensibilities, it should be borne in mind that our society
allows many things which would have done the same for them.

It ought to be noted that there is a tremendous paradox at work in the
Papacy. For in it we see flawed human beings attempting to exercise a
position which Catholics believe partakes of and demands spiritual
perfection. This creates an unending internal conflict. As Bela Lugosi
observed of people at large in Glen or Glenda?, “[O]ne does wrong
because he is right, another does right because he is wrong.” Some of
the holiest Popes have made horrible decisions; some of the worst have,
often unwittingly, done wonderful things.

This paradox continues unto our own day. As noted earlier, John
Paul II was an internationally known figure. Due to his trips, his role in
the fall of Communism, and the activities of Vatican delegations, the
Holy See has never, perhaps, loomed so large in foreign affairs since the
end of World War II.

Within the Church, however, the Papacy has probably never wielded
so little control since the French Revolution. As exemplified by former
Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee’s rejection of Roman attempts to
preserve his cathedral from radical interior alteration, and by former
Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles’ discounting of Vatican regulations
limiting the use of lay distributors of communion, many, if not most,
Bishops today are “titularists;” accepting Papal authority in theory, they
deny it in practice—as was seen by the attempts of so many of them to
impede Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum; the Tridentine Mass is still
far from being freely available to all and used as an example for the new
liturgy, as the Pope clearly mandated.

There are, of course, historical reasons for this. One is the auto-
demolition of Vatican control over dioceses initiated by Paul VI and
continued by Benedict XVI—but there is another. Just as in Medieval
Europe, similar situations developed when Bishops who were wealthy
feudal lords—reflecting the civil power structure of the day—had the
power to snap their fingers at the Pope. Today, reflecting the patterns of
control in contemporary society, Bishops of larger dioceses are in effect
CEO’s of major corporations. Some, such as Chicago or Los Angeles,
are, in terms of disposable income, much bigger operations than the
Vatican. Add to these two the widespread unbelief of Catholicism
among the clergy and corresponding ignorance of it among the laity, and
it would be hard to see how things can be other than they are.

Whether this is a good or bad thing depends largely upon one’s point
of view. But it is important to remember, as we shall see in the lives of
the Popes, that the Church has known such times before, and doubtless
will again. By the same token she will doubtless know further periods of
revival and strength. At her heart lies what she considers to be a
mystery: the change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of
Christ. It must surprise no one that her cyclical history, with its themes
of death and resurrection, is likewise a mystery.

The famed 1950s-60s television psychic Criswell, as un-Papal a man
as one is ever likely to meet, was wont to say, “We are all lighted candles
in a darkened room, weary travelers on the road of life.” It is the
contention of the Catholic Church that she and her Popes continue the
work of Christ, that she is the Mystical Body of Christ; through this body
alone, she maintains, can such travelers find the way to Salvation. To
Catholics, she is “the light that shineth in darkness,” although the
darkness does not comprehend it. To her enemies she is the most
successful means of enslaving the mind of humanity that there has ever
been. Whichever the reader believes, we will show the Popes as they
were and are: wielders of great power on the one hand, and weary fellow
travelers of us all on the other.

A NOTE ON ORAL TRADITION AND MIRACLES

Prior to the liberation of the Church by Constantine in 312, Church
records are very sketchy. The reasons for this are not hard to figure out;
the ongoing persecutions by Roman Imperial authorities led both to
intense secrecy on the part of Christians and the destruction of many
written records. Thus, unwritten tradition is an important witness to the
history of the earliest Popes.

Such tradition is often disregarded by modern historians, due in no
small part to their own biases. Take, for example, the case of St.
Dionysius the Areopagite. Traditionally, this Athenian disciple of St.
Paul was regarded both as the author of a number of theological treatises,
such as The Divine Hierarchies, and as first Bishop, successively, of
Athens and Paris. From the time of Martin Luther, however, both his
authorship and his episcopate have been challenged. So universal among
scholars has this challenge become that DH’s author is invariably
referred to as the “Pseudo-Areopagite.” It is taken for granted that the
writings attached to the name “must” have been written in the 2nd
century, because of their “theological complexity.”

The problem with this view is that it presumes a number of “facts not
in evidence,” as Perry Mason was wont to say. The major presumption
here is that Christian doctrine was not in fact taught by Christ and the
Apostles, but rather, as according to H.G. Wells, it was a simple ethical
notion to which a religion later accreted. But we know from the writings
of such as Philo of Alexandria that the Jews of the Roman world held
quite a complex theology indeed, which is to a degree reflected in the
Gospel of St. John. So the argument against St. Dionysius having been
unable to write complex theological tracts purely because he was a
contemporary of Christ is a bit specious. Moreover, when the writings
bearing his name first appear in our records, they are already attributed to
him. The idea that people would accept such an attribution without some
kind of evidence is a tad difficult to swallow. In any case, since the folk
of the second century lived so much closer to the events of the Apostolic
era than we do, we might as well accept their version of the facts, unless
we are provided with substantial evidence to the contrary. At this late
date, such evidence, if it exists, is highly unlikely to surface.

So, in this study, we shall accept the given account at face value.
Not only are there no really compelling arguments to the contrary (save,
perhaps, our own opinions), but succeeding generations took them as
truth, and these in turn affected their own behavior. If we are to get
inside the heads of the various characters we shall examine, we must
follow their example.

So too with accounts of the miraculous. The standard approach is to
look at a saint or a relic’s supposed wonder-working capabilities, and
then declare that “since such things can’t happen, the event must have
been otherwise.” But this sort of reasoning backward is extremely
unhelpful to our understanding. On the one hand, acceptance of the
miraculous and of apparitions of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints
certainly were accepted by the vast majority of Christians, and so
affected the conduct of history. On the other hand, as the work of Joan
Carroll Cruz and others shows, such events have been recorded down to
our own time; many are impossible to disprove. Here too, for both
reasons, we shall take the accepted accounts as given. Hence, there will
be no “traditionally,” “supposedly,” or any of the other adjectives with
which writers on these topics surround them. Accept or reject them if
you will, but on the same basis that you might any historical account—
and always remembering that they have indeed had an objective
measurable effect on generations who followed.

CHRIST AND THE CHURCH


Subjectively speaking, there are many Christs. There is the noble
ethical teacher of H.G. Wells’s imagination, earlier referred to; there is
the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu, beloved of Westernizing
Hindus; there is the blasphemer of Talmudic fable; there is the non-
material Christ Principle of the Christian Scientists; there is the great,
non-sacramentalizing Jesus of the Protestants; and then there is the Christ
of the Catholics.

It is the latter with whom we have to deal in this book. Today, many
Catholic scholars enjoy pitting against each other “the Christ of Faith”
and the “Jesus of history.” Pleasurable for them as this pastime may be,
it does not aid us in our present goal because, as we shall see, it is not the
conception of Christ which has informed the Papacy. Even as one may
not understand the Caliphate without understanding how the Caliphs saw
Mohammed, so too with Christ and the Popes. One may deny the divine
inspiration of the Koran—but such a denial does not help in
comprehending Islam.

The discovery of a fragment of the Gospel of St. Mark amongst the
Dead Sea Scrolls goes far to shoring up the historicity of the Gospel
accounts of Jesus. Since the library at Qumran whence these scrolls
were taken was sealed in A.D. 70, it means that this Gospel at least was
in wide circulation throughout Palestine during the lifetime of Christ’s
contemporaries. (Since the Essenes who ran Qumran as a secluded
monastery were not among the most up-to-date of their contemporaries,
the presence of a Gospel in their midst is worth noting, for all that they
were certainly not Christians). What is important to understand is that
the Gospel of St. Mark was abroad when there were still many folk who
could refute it were its historical accuracy dubious. Amongst other
things, this fact calls into question the conclusions of the whole Biblical
criticism industry which has grown up since the 19th century.

In any case, the significance of the Popes to their followers is that
they are Vicars of Christ, visible heads of the Church on Earth. Now a
vicar is a representative, a viceroy. Just as the Governor-General of
Canada is a stand-in for that country’s Queen, Elizabeth II, so too is the
Pope seen to be merely a stand-in, a steward, for Jesus Christ, held to be
the invisible head of the Church. So who, in the Catholic conception, is
He?

For starters, Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
Obviously, much ink has been spent trying to explain what this means.
But in a nutshell, God is seen as a triune being, made up of three separate
persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Father eternally begets the
Son, and the Holy Ghost eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son.

None is subordinate to the others, and are one God, not three: indivisible
and yet distinct Persons. For God, all things are now, hence Christ’s
comment in the Gospel that “before Abraham was, I am.” This in turn
hearkens back to God’s self-description in the Old Testament that “I am
Who am.” Notice of the triune nature of God is seen as far back as
Genesis, where God says “let Us make man in Our image.”

Catholics believe that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity entered
time (and so, history) by incarnating in the womb of a virgin, which act
was accomplished by said virgin’s being “overshadowed” by the Holy
Ghost. This was done in order to repair the damage done by the Fall of
Adam and Eve. Said Fall darkened human nature, made Man incapable
of entering heaven, weakened his will, and darkened his intellect. In
order to serve as a worthy vessel for the God-Man’s appearance in our
world, Mary, the Virgin chosen for this role by God “from all eternity,”
was conceived without Original Sin, the quality that prevented human
union with God after death. This occurrence is called “the Immaculate
Conception of the Virgin Mary.” It is indicated in the Gospel of St.
Luke, wherein the Archangel Gabriel hails Mary as “full of grace,” a
salutation which could not be given to any other human of the time,
carrying, as they all did, the sin of Adam on their souls.

In His Incarnation, Christ acquired human nature, and became a man
“like us in all things save sin.” The link between His Divine and human
natures is called the “hypostatic union.” While He possessed two Wills
corresponding to each of His natures, He nevertheless was and is one
Person.

After His birth, accompanied by various signs and wonders, His
mother and foster father took Him into Egypt to avoid Herod’s
executioners. Returning with His parents when He was three years old,
His early life was spent in obscurity, save for the incident at the Temple
in Jerusalem, where He demonstrated His perfect knowledge of the
Scriptures and the Law to the Priests, doctors, and scribes. He reappears
at the age of thirty, shortly after the death of St. Joseph, His foster father.

Christ’s ministry over the next three years is the main subject of the
Gospels. In the course of it He gathered about Him a band of Twelve
Apostles, who became the first Bishops, and seventy disciples, who were
the first lay-folk. At the Last Supper He ordained His Apostles, giving
them the power to change wine into His blood, and bread into His flesh.
Ever since, this has been the central rite of His Church, of which He said,
“Unless a man eat My Body and drink My Blood, he shall not have life
in him.”

The next day He was crucified by the Roman Governor, Pontius
Pilate, at the behest of the Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas. On the Cross,
Jesus offered expiation for all the sins of mankind by His own Divine
death, His sacrifice of Himself; this act was united with the changing of
bread and wine into His Flesh and Blood—hence the description of the
Mass as a Sacrifice.

When He died, He descended into the “Limbo of the Just,” wherein
were all those virtuous folk who had died under the Old Law; bringing
Himself directly to them, He liberated them from their intermediate state.
On Easter Sunday He rose again, bringing the Just of the Old Testament
with Him. The following forty days He spent with His disciples,
organizing and counseling the infant Church, and bestowing on her the
seven Sacraments. Having chosen St. Peter to lead the Apostles before
His Crucifixion, He made him the first Pope. The forty days concluded,
He ascended into Heaven, after first commissioning His Apostles to
baptize, to absolve sins, and to “make disciples of all nations.” With
Him went the liberated souls of the Old Law. He promised that He
would be with the Church always, even to the end of time. Not least of
the ways He would do this would be through the Sacraments, particularly
through the Eucharist. Further, the Comforter would be sent to them. A
few days later, in accord with Christ’s promise, the Holy Ghost
descended upon the Apostles and disciples, and gave them the grace and
power they would need to spread the Church, the Mystical Body of
Christ, throughout the world. St. Peter and his successors in the Papacy
would direct the Church’s efforts until the end of time, when Christ
would return and take up the Church’s leadership directly.

Whether one believes all of this or not, the fact remains that this is
the view of Christ held by the Catholic Church; this is the Invisible Head
of the Church Whom the Popes and their subjects have tried to follow
and emulate. Their success or lack thereof is the body of this book.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Romantic Conservatives: The Inklings in Their Political Context



ROMANTIC CONSERVATIVES:
The Inklings in Their Political Context

Charles A. Coulombe


Before we begin our current discussion, I must invite my audience to forget everything they believe they know about such words as “liberal” and conservative.” All of us have been programmed to have immediate reactions to them --- good or bad --- but such will be very unhelpful in dealing with the Inklings and their political views.

It is not too much to say that J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams, were, in descending order, arguably the most influential 20th century writers in English --- certainly in the fantasy genre. As the success of the three Lord of the Rings films and the upcoming release of a movie based upon The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe show, a new, less literate, generation is discovering the Inklings’ magic; lest purists sniff too loudly at this, watching the movies has led many a younger person to the books themselves. Of course, Williams has yet to be translated to celluloid. At a guess, this writer would bet on All Hallows Eve being the first such effort onscreen, if any of his works make it.

But in any case, the Inklings have actually had influence in three areas. Their literary impact is too obvious to comment much upon here. Their religious views have also generated a great deal of both examination and agreement, although their influence here is far from being as great. But perhaps least looked at are their strictly political views. Of course, they would be the last to speak of their own political views as separate from their religious or literary, simply because in all three men these impulses were united. None of the three held to the American myth of separation of Church and State, and would certainly have denounced any attempt to separate literature from either.
Nevertheless, although there will necessarily be some overlap, it is precisely their politics and the tradition from which they sprang that we will examine in this paper. The first thing to remember is that while we tend to see the Inklings as a bloc, a sort of “Chesterbelloc,” they certainly did not see themselves as such. On the literary plane, although JRRT enjoyed Lewis’ Space Trilogy (particularly the first two), he had little use for Narnia, which he considered rather a thrown-together hodgepodge of incongruous myths --- and worse still, allegory. For Williams’ novels, Tolkien had even less use. Religiously, the Catholic-Anglican split was an ever-present source of tension among the company. This carried over into political questions: JRRT was, as were most Catholics aware of Communist atrocities during the Spanish Civil War, a sturdy supporter of Franco and the Nationalists. Lewis, on the other hand, was not. In a letter to his son Christopher on 6 October 1944, Tolkien described the meeting of himself and Lewis with Roy Campbell. The latter was a South African poet, a convert to Catholicism of Ulster Scot descent who had fought for Franco. Therein, JRRT wrote:

C.S.L.’s reactions were odd. Nothing is a greater tribute to Red propaganda than the fact that he (who knows they are in all other respects liars and traducers) believes all that is said against Franco, and nothing that is said for him. Even Churchill’s open speech in Parliament left him unshaken. But hatred of our church is after all the real only final foundation of the C of E --- so deep laid that it remains even when the superstructure seems removed (C.S.L. for instance reveres the Blessed Sacrament, and admires nuns!). Yet if a Lutheran is put in jail he is up in arms; but if Catholic priests are slaughtered --- he disbelieves it (and I daresay really thinks they asked for it).

Even so, despite their internal divisions, in comparison to the most widely-held views of our time, they appear monolithic. As John Wain, a staunch Labour supporter and occasional participant in the Inklings’ evenings has written, “The group had a corporate mind, as all effective groups must; the death of Williams had sadly stunned and impoverished this mind, but it was still powerful and clearly defined. Politically conservative, not to say reactionary; in religion, Anglo- or Roman Catholic; in art, frankly hostile to any manifestation of the ‘modern’ spirit.”[1]
The latter two observations are obvious, but what of the first? Just what did the phrase “conservative” mean, in the Inklings’ context? Certainly, it did not mean a mere adherence to the Conservative Party. None of the trio was a notable advocate of Stanley Baldwin, or Harold MacMillan, either. It is of course anyone’s guess what they would think of today’s Conservatives, transformed by Lady Thatcher, as some wags would have it, into a mere copy of the American Republicans (of course, the same sort would maintain that Mr. Blair has turned Labour into a corresponding imitation of the U.S. Democrats, but that is another matter).
“Conservative” is one of those words that is meaningless without clarification as regards its use in a particular case. Europe and Latin America traditionally defined it quite differently from the United States, in a political sense. What Americans called “Liberals” their cousins to the East and South named Socialists; American “Conservatives” would be “Liberals” in Europe and Latin America; what the latter folk would call “Conservatives” really have not existed in the United States as an organised political force on the national level since the Loyalists were forced into exile or silenced in 1783. In a nutshell, “Conservative” at the very least meant opposition to the French and succeeding revolutions, and adherence to altar and throne, among other things. These other things will require closer examination shortly.
But first let us see precisely what the Inklings did believe, politically. Of J.R.R. Tolkien’s political views, Humphrey Carpenter wrote:

His view of the world, in which each man belonged or ought to belong to a specific “estate,” whether high or low, meant that in one sense he was an old-fashioned conservative. But in another sense it made him highly sympathetic to his fellow-men, for it is those who are unsure of their status on the world, who feel they have to prove themselves and if necessary put down other men to do so, who are the truly ruthless. Tolkien was, in modern jargon, “right-wing” in that he honoured his monarch and his country and did not believe in the rule of the people; but he opposed democracy simply because he believed that in the end his fellow-men would not benefit from it. He once wrote: “I am not a ‘democrat,’ if only because ‘humility’ and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanise and formalise them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Orc gets hold of a ring of power --- and then we get and are getting slavery.” As to the virtues of an old fashioned feudal society, this is what he said once about respect for one’s superiors: “Touching your cap to the Squire may be damn bad for the Squire, but it’s damn good for you.” [2]

This was radical stuff in J.R.RT.’s day, to be sure, but it is revolutionary in ours. Nevertheless, whatever Tolkien’s attitudes toward Charles William’s religious and artistic views and work, in the light of the foregoing it would seem obvious that he found Williams’ politics congenial, as they were set forth by Alice Hadfield:

[Williams] had grown up much aware of political structure. He saw the res publica, the matter of public life, the political community, presented in the experience of love and the family, in Victorian poetry, in eighteenth century thought in France and England, in medieval feeling, as a balance between equality and hierarchy. Though youthfully a very temporary republican, he slowly created for himself over the years a synthesis in which all men were equal and yet different within their hierarchies of excellence and distinction, in which above political equality everyone’s distinctiveness was embodied in the single person of the monarch, as everyone’s personal equality and distinctness was held in Christ. He retained his sense of monarchy, hereditary in that it must have a blood link with the long history of England, visible to high and low, free from fashion, choice or vote, apex of an administration free, equal and yet hierarchical in public distinction. [3]

So too, with C.S. Lewis. On the one hand, unlike Tolkien and Williams, he was quite happy to call himself a “democrat.” But this must be understood in the sense in which he himself meant it:

Being a democrat, I am opposed to all very drastic and sudden changes of society (in whatever direction) because they never in fact take place except by a particular technique.

That technique involves the seizure of power by a small, highly disciplined group of people; the terror and secret police follow, it would seem, automatically. I do not think any group good enough to have such power. They are men of like passions with ourselves. The secrecy and discipline of their organisation will have already inflamed in them that passion for the inner ring which I think at least as corrupting as avarice; and their high ideological pretensions will have lent all their passions the dangerous prestige of the Cause. Hence, in whatever direction the change is made, it is for me damned by its modus operandi. The worst of all public dangers is the committee of public safety. The character in “That hideous strength” whom the Professor never mentions is Miss Hardcastle, the chief of the secret police. She is the common factor in all revolutions; and, as she says, you won't get anyone to do her job well unless they get some kick out of it.[4]

That he shared the basic outlook of his confreres is evidenced by his view of the Monarchy. In That Hideous Strength, arguably Lewis’ most overtly political work of fiction, Ransom responds to Merlin’s urging that the Pendragon and his followers overthrow the powerless King of Great Britain, “I have no wish to overthrow him. He is the king. He was crowned and anointed by the Archbishop. In the order of Logres I may be Pendragon, but in the order of Britain I am the King’s man.”[5] His views here went beyond fiction:

Monarchy can easily be debunked, but watch the faces, mark well the accents of the debunkers. These are the men whose taproot in Eden has been cut: whom no rumour of the polyphony, the dance, can reach -- men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch. Yet even if they desire mere equality, they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served: deny it food and it will gobble poison.[6]

In sum, the political areas of agreement among the trio were greater than their disagreements. All three in actuality had little use for politics as commonly defined in their time (and in ours). This was because the Inklings did not separate reality into little boxes marked “politics,” “religion,” “art,” “science,” or “literature.” Rather, for all three reality is a seamless thing in which all of these areas intertwine and affect the others, for good or ill.

For all their shared adherence to Monarchy, to fully understand the political element in their work one must start with the individual. As believing Christians, they held that each man is on earth “to love, know, and serve God in this World, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” From this simple sentence stemmed their view of his dignity as a child of God, from which reality stems all of his rights, first of which is the right, so long as he obeys the law, to be left alone. Throughout The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, and Williams’ seven novels we are presented with an endless parade of dreadful would-be “organisers” and “rationalisers” of their fellow man, from Lotho Sackville-Baggins to Jadis of Charn to the N.I.C.E. to Sir Giles Tumulty. Much of their villainy in itself derives from their contempt for the humble.

Their love of the common man and hatred of any who would enslave him is mirrored in their shared love of both nature and the built heritage. Whether one looks at Sharkey’s work in the Shire or the plans of the N.I.C.E. for Edgestow and environs, one sees their identification of oppressors of the individual with despoilers of the landscape. What Patrick Curry says of Tolkien in his masterful Defending Middle Earth, can, I think, safely be said of all three of our authors:

…we cannot simply drop the Shire and the Sea, the social and spiritual dimensions; rather, they must be integrated into nature’s centrality. Their final synthesis, I think, is that Tolkien’s work urges a new ethic of human conviviality, respect for life, and ultimate humility. That ethic is to be based on the experience of life on Earth, and therefore the lineaments of life --- good earth, clean water, fresh air, and the like --- as sacred. Finally, for that resacralisation to succeed, it must be deeply rooted in culture, through being celebrated and communicated in local and traditional ways. The result is not simply a negative critique of “positivist, mechanist, urbanised, and rationalist culture” but a positive version of what one reader well described as “sanity and sanctity.”[7]

Lewis’ depiction of the N.I.C.E.’s opposition to the mere existence, for example, of the small village of Cure Hardy (“you can bet it’s insanitary,” observes Cosser) with its “undesirable” population of small rentiers and agricultural labourers is in much the same vein. Studdock finds upon actually meeting these sorts of folk that he likes them better than his colleagues. All three of our authors were great believers in the wide distribution of property amongst country livers --- that is, in the proliferation of small-holders, “brewing their own beer, and baking their own bread.”
As implied in this and in the Carpenter and Hadfield quotes regarding Tolkien’s and Williams’ politics, however, the Inklings, while believing in the innate dignity of the individual and his equality before God and the law, nevertheless also believed in class distinctions and hierarchy. But this hierarchy, to be authentic, must be organic and natural, an earthly reflection of that hierarchy that prevails in heaven. Moreover, like the Kingship of Christ and the authority of the clergy, it must be based upon service to those beneath the office holders: with privilege comes responsibility. Further, it must be a reflection of that legitimacy of order that ought to characterise society and the nation as a whole. A perfect illustration is the speech of the Mayor of Rich in Williams’ Many Dimensions, when that worthy is faced with the healings in his town by the fragment of the Philosopher’s Stone that has come to it: 

“Good people,” he said in a stentorian voice, “you all know me. I will ask you to return to your homes and leave me to discover the truth about this matter. I am the Mayor of Rich, and if the people of Rich have been injured it is my business to remedy it and help them. If, as appears, the Stone of which we have heard is able to heal illness, and if the Government are using it, as swiftly as may be, for that purpose, it is the duty of all good citizens to accept what delay the common good of all demands. But it is equally their right to be assured that the Government is doing its utmost in the matter, day and night, so that not a single moment may be lost in freeing as many as may be from pain and suffering. I shall make it my concern to discover this at once. I know the hindrances which must, and I fear those which may, follow on what has happened. I will myself go to London.” He paused a moment, then he went on. “Some of you may know that my son is dying of cancer. If it is a matter of ensuring swiftness and order he and I will be the last in all the country to claim assistance. But I tell you this that you may be very sure that he shall not suffer an hour longer than need be because of the doubts or fears or stupidities of the servants of the people. Return to your homes and tomorrow at this time you shall know all that I know.” He paused again and ended with a loud cry, “God save the King.”

“God save the King!” yelled Oliver in a thrill of delight, and assisted the Mayor to descend. Who turned on him at once and went on talking before the Chief Constable could interrupt.

“I shall want you,” he said. “I want all the information you can give me, and I may need your personal help. Are you free? But it doesn't matter whether you are or not. I demand your presence in the name of the King and by the authority of my office.”

Their ideal society would no doubt endorse the traditional rhyme:
Oh let us love our occupations,
Bless the Squire and his relations,
Live upon our daily rations,
And always know our proper stations.

Yet by the same token, they held out for the ability of those gifted with superior virtue and ability to rise by pluck and luck, as witnessed by Sam Gamgee --- all the while respecting the integrity of those remaining in the humbler place birth had put them: a birth seen, not as accident, but as deliberate work of the God Who presides over the great tapestry of human society, so far as human Free Will permits Him to.

All three writers had a love of the traditional offices of Great Britain, and in the country’s ceremonial idiosyncrasies. These are reflected in such characters as Tolkien’s Mayor of Michel Delving, Master of Buckland, and Thain of the Shire; as Williams’ aforementioned Mayor of Rich and, in War in Heaven, the Duke of the North Ridings, “Marquis of Craigmullen and Plessing, Earl and Viscount, Count of the Holy Roman Empire, Knight of the Sword and Cape, and several other ridiculous fantasies;” and in Lewis’ obvious hatred of the “Progressive Element’s” dismantling of traditional collegiate ritual at Bracton College. It is not just that these things are pleasant and pleasing in themselves, lending mundane life a touch of colour; it is also that they are seen by the Inklings as remnants or signs of greater things, which may spring back into action as needed. The placing of the Sovereign over this hierarchy is obvious.
Just as obvious is the love of the trio for England herself, and for her towns and shires. But what about the rest of the world? Certainly, Tolkien was notorious for disliking the French (yet another area where this Francophone must dissent from the master --- but of course JRRT never forgave the Norman invasion). Lewis was, thanks to his Ulster background, provincial to the core. Williams seems to have been the most cosmopolitan, culturally. But it would be incorrect to think of any of them as “nationalist,” in the modern sense. For in differing ways, all of them saw their beloved England as a part of a greater whole, even as were their favourite places all essential components of England. 

That greater whole was Europe --- not , however, a sort of sterile mechanism as the EU appears headed for, but as a religious and cultural entity: Christendom, or, as earlier thinkers would have it, the Holy Empire. That is say, a higher unity that did not repress local or national liberties. As Tolkien wrote to his son, Christopher, in a letter dated 31 July 1944, “I should have hated the Roman Empire [that is, the pre-Christian one --- CAC] in its day (as I still do), and remained a patriotic Roman citizen, while preferring a free Gaul and seeing good in Carthaginians.” That he applied that view to current events may be seen by another letter to his son, this time of 9 December 1943: “…I love England (not Great Britain and certainly not the British Commonwealth (grr!))…” Certainly, the Shire is his idealized vision of England --- self-governing, and that government itself extremely limited in day-to-day affairs.

But the Shire-folk are also bound (however tenuously prior to the War of the Ring) to a greater unit --- the Kingdom of Arnor. Where Tolkien hates the grinding power of the Roman Empire prior to Constantine, his Numenorean realms in exile mirror the Christian Empire. Arnor itself is very like the Western Empire; counting progressively less militarily as the decades pass, it nevertheless survives in the minds of its subjects, even after the end of its actual existence. Its revival under Aragorn (or Elessar, as we must call him at that stage) bears a striking resemblance to the Carolingian revival. Gondor, on the other hand, reminds one of the Eastern Roman Empire, an analogy expressly made by JRRT in a letter to Milton Waldman in late 1951, wherein he speaks of Gondor’s initial glory, “almost reflecting Numenor,” and then fading “slowly to decayed Middle Age, a kind of proud, venerable, but increasingly impotent Byzantium.” As opposed to the mere force of arms and weight of government machinery that Tolkien hated in the pagan Roman Empire, the restored Kingdom under Elessar exemplified the “unity-in-diversity,” the preservation of local freedoms under an overarching Monarch, that Medieval theorists ascribed to the Holy Roman Empire. In 1963, he wrote to a fan: “A Numenorean King was a monarch, with the power of unquestioned decision in debate; but he governed the realm with the frame of ancient law, of which he was administrator (and interpreter) but not the maker.” Another Holy Roman Emperor manqué was Ingwe, chief of the Vanyar and High King of all the Elves.

That Tolkien, in reality as in fiction, saw his beloved England as properly a part of such an organic whole may be seen from his 8 February 1967 reply to the first draught of an article about him by Charlotte and Denis Plimmer:

Auden has asserted that for me “the North is a sacred direction.” That is not true. The North-west of Europe, where I (and most of my ancestors) have lived, has my affection, as a man’s home should. I love its atmosphere, and know more of its histories and languages than I do of other parts; but it is not “sacred,” nor does it exhaust my affections. I have, for instance, a particular love of the Latin language, and among its descendants for Spanish. That it is untrue for my story, a mere reading of the synopses would show. The North was the seat of the fortresses of the Devil. The progress of the tale ends in what is far more like the re-establishment of an effective Holy Roman Empire with its seat in Rome than anything that would be devised by a “Nordic.” 

One of the reasons (though by no means, of course, a major one) for his love of the Catholic Church was its universality; this was part of his dislike of abandoning Latin in the liturgy for the vernacular.
With C.S. Lewis, one finds, as might be expected, greater insularity. But despite that, he too had an appreciation of sorts for at least the historic unity of Christendom. One would be hard put to define the role of the Christian Emperor as seen by contemporary writers better than Merlin’s advice to the Pendragon in That Hideous Strength: “Then we must go higher. We must go to him whose office it is to put down tyrants and give life to dying kingdoms. We must call on the Emperor.” For a moment, we almost share the old wizard’s shock when Ransom replied, “there is no Emperor.”
But Lewis appreciated the fact that the ideal England he believed in was, while certainly legitimate in its own sphere, not the end all and be-all. It is a part of a greater whole. Thus, Dr. Dimble expostulates:

“Don’t you feel it? The very quality of England. If we’ve got an ass’s head, it is by walking in a fairy wood. We’ve heard something better than we can do, but we can’t quite forget it…can’t you see it in everything English --- a kind of awkward grace, a humble, humorous incompleteness? How right Mr. Pickwick  was when he called Sam Weller an angel in gaiters! Everything here is either better or worse than---“

“Dimble!” said Ransom. Dimble, whose tone had become a little impassioned, stopped and looked towards him. He hesitated, and (as Jane thought) almost blushed before he began again.

“You’re right, Sir,” he said with a smile. “I was forgetting what you warned me always to remember. This haunting is no peculiarity of ours. Every people has its own haunter. There’s no special privilege for England --- no nonsense about a chosen nation. We speak about Logres because it is our haunting, the one we know about.”

“But this,” said MacPhee, “seems a very round about way of saying that there’s good and bad men everywhere.”

“It’s not a way of saying that at all,” answered Dimble. “You see, MacPhee, if one is thinking simply of goodness in the abstract, one soon reaches the fatal idea of something standardised --- some common kind of life to which all nations ought to progress. Of course, there are universal rules to which all goodness must conform. But that’s only the grammar of virtue. It’s not there that the sap is. He doesn’t make two blades of grass the same: how much less two saints, two nations, two angels. The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every real people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China, why, then it will be spring. But meantime, our concern is with Logres.”

Despite his apologia for the Reformation, and his love-hate relationship with Rome, Lewis was very conscious of (and nostalgic for) the old, pre-Reformation --- I had almost written, pre-political --- unity of Christendom. He was enough of a Latinist to carry on a correspondence in that language with an Italian priest, Don Giovanni Calabria. While they are writing back and forth about the Continent’s future, Lewis observes, “Let us beware lest, while we rack ourselves in vain about the fate of Europe, we neglect either Verona or Oxford.” Here again, in the universal language we see the ongoing juxtaposition of the local and the supra-national.

Williams was of course the author of the Logres/Britain dichotomy Lewis deals with so well in That Hideous Strength. But while so much of his work is as deeply English as those of our other two authors, Williams also sees that what he loves in his own country is found --- in different ways --- elsewhere. In describing the visit of a fictional Zulu King in Shadows of Ecstasy, he writes:

For a few moments royalty -- a dark alien royalty --- had appeared in the room, imposed upon all of them by the mere intensity of the Zulu chieftain's own strength and conviction. By virtue of that wide reading which both she and her husband loved, she had felt a shadow of it at times; in the superb lines of Marlowe or Shakespeare, in the rolling titles heard on ceremonial occasions at Church or in local celebrations: “The King's Most Excellent Majesty,” “His Majesty the King-Emperor,” “The Government of His Britannic Majesty.”

But Kingship is not the only motif to transcend boundaries in Williams’ work. The Mass of the Grail in War in Heaven is perceived by each of its witnesses on precisely their own terms. Williams’ description of the effect it has on the Catholic Duke of the North Ridings is all the more striking given his own Anglicanism: 

In each of them differently the spirit was moved and exalted --- most perhaps in the Duke. He was aware of a sense of the adoration of kings --- the great tradition of his house stirred within him. The memories of proscribed and martyred priests awoke; masses said swiftly and in the midst of the fearful breathing of a small group of the faithful; the ninth duke who had served the Roman Pontiff at his private mass; the Roman Order he himself wore; the fidelity of his family to the Faith under the anger of Henry and the cold suspicion of Elizabeth; the duels fought in Richmond Park in defense of the honour of Our Lady by the 13th duke, when he met and killed three antagonists consecutively --- all these things, not so formulated but certainly there, drew his mind into a vivid consciousness of all the royal and sacerdotal figures of the world adoring before his consecrated shrine. “Jesu, Rex et Sacerdos,” he prayed…

Given the very sympathetic way he had written of the first Protestants in various of his histories and plays, Williams was certainly a man who could see past his own positions.
But it is in his poetry that the figure of the Christian Empire becomes an explicit motif. Agnes Sibley well describes the view of the Empire that Williams conjures up in Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars:

The universe of the poems is sixth-century Europe, where the historical Arthur might have lived.  Logres is a province (“theme”) of the Byzantine Empire, the seat of the Roman Empire after the provincial tribes had captured Rome. Williams chose Byzantium as a symbol of wholeness, a perfect balance of body and soul --- possibly because under Byzantine rule the church and secular society were more unified that at any other period of history.

The Empire, as Williams sees it, is not only a unified community but also a symbol of  the “whole nature of man,” including, of course, his body. For the first edition of Taliessin through Logres, a friend of Williams drew a map of Europe in the form of a woman’s body, the parts of which are frequently mentioned in the poems. Logres is the woman’s head; her buttocks (Caucasia) represent the natural, physical side of the human being, and her hands are at Rome, where the Pope performs with his hands the Eucharist, in which body and soul are of equal importance and are seen as one in Christ.[8]

Logres, and the Empire of which it forms an integral part, is held together, not by force, but by its shared Faith and the resulting “Co-inherence,” in which each part of the Empire is connected to each other, as are the individuals that inhabit the provinces. It is love, in essence that gives the Empire unity --- and that maintains Arthur’s kingdom as a constituent part of it. All of this is maintained by “exchange” accepting one another’s burdens, and by prayer --- most famously, the “Prayers of the Pope,” in the poem of the same name.

In the simultaneous embrace of the local, the national, and the supranational, the Inklings were not proposing the construction of a specific political arrangement – rather they believed that society on all levels ought to reflect a higher reality. As believing Christian Medievalists, each of the three had absorbed a great deal of Neoplatonism; to a great degree through St. Augustine, but also through other Church Fathers and directly from Plato himself.

This influence expresses itself in their political views by holding that the Divine Order is at once concealed and symbolised by the earthly, and that legitimacy in government derives from the governing folk attempting to realise in this world the order that reigns in Heaven. But the Augustinian view opposing the City of God to the City of Man is also present in their thought: the latter city becomes evil to the degree that it deviates from the norm offered by the former, and all good men are required to struggle, one way or another, against that deviance; but at the same time the two Cities are distinct, and that of Man can never replicate exactly that of God --- it can only become somewhat closer. Yet this seemingly endless and unwinnable (in earthly terms) struggle can help the individual attain eternal salvation, and at times, as a bonus, actually improve the situation for a while. Paradoxically, however, attempts to replicate the City of God using illegitimate or evil ends must inevitably bring about worse evils than those being struggled against --- as Galadriel reminds us when refusing the Ring.

This, then, was the common political teaching of the Inklings. But whence did it come? What name can we give it? Was it autogenetic, or were they part of a larger stream? Did any of their contemporaries hold similar views?

The reply to the last question is --- certainly. The Distributists, led by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc are the most obvious seconders of the views of the Inklings; as a rather well known group in England between the Wars, our authors were extremely aware of their views regarding little England, the widespread distribution of property (from whence the title came) and the like. In That Hideous Strength, Curry says of Denniston, “A brilliant man at that time of course, but he seems to have gone quite off the rails with all his Distributivism and what not.” In fact, the Chesterbelloc had a tremendous effect on the three authors, literarily, religiously, and politically.

Mention of them, however, automatically brings into play a host of writers of the period: Maurice Baring, Christopher Hollis, Douglas Woodruff, T.S. Eliot (whose work Lewis initially loathed but came to appreciate) and many, many more, whose complex interaction was so masterfully chronicled by Joseph Pearce.[9] Alongside the host of characters Pearce explores, however, there were other figures such as fantasist and horror writer Arthur Machen, whose similar religious and political opinions were put for in such works as Dr. Stiggins: His Views and Principles and Dog and Duck; naturalist and organic farmer H.J. Massingham, co-founder of the Soil Association who combined defence of the countryside and organic farming with Catholicism and Distributism; and Halliday Sutherland, travel writer, medical doctor, and anti-contraception writer. There were all sorts of political movements like Guild Socialism and Social Credit that aimed on reorganising society and the economy on a non-Marxist and non-Capitalist basis, deriving inspiration from various aspects of the Medieval past and advocating, in addition to their particular mechanical solutions to the problems raised by the Depression, renewed devotion to altar and throne. As with the Inklings, these individuals and groups were extremely disparate among themselves but were similar enough to find common expression in the pages of such publications as Douglas Jerrold’s English Review and Stephen Orage’s New Age. In such a milieu of writers, artists, and thinkers (for very few were practical politicians) the politics of the Inklings were unremarkable, however eccentric they might have appeared to the media and political classes of their time --- to say nothing of our own.
But from whence came this family of views? Well, there actually is a line of descent to be traced. To begin with, all of these ideas might be described, as John Wain did, as “conservative.” But just what did that word mean in this case? As mentioned earlier, it did not necessarily mean adherence to the party of Stanley Baldwin. Certainly the Conservative Party in some sense traditionally encompassed loyalty to both the Crown and the Established Church --- or at least the Once-Established Church. But as early as 1844 in his novel Coningsby, Benjamin Disraeli jibed about “A sound Conservative government, Tory men and Whig measures.” At that time, the fiery anti-slavery, anti-child labour, and anti-poverty Tory reformer Richard Oastler was rousing the factory workers with his battle cry of “altar, throne, and cottage!” We can see, looking at such men as Oastler, William Cobbett, and Sir Francis Burdett why the first Labourites, men such as R. H. Tawney, were accused of being “the new Tories.” It is in this direction we must look, if we are to place the Inklings in context.

It has often been remarked that Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams --- as well as their circle --- were late manifestations of English Romanticism, and this is also true of their non-Inkling contemporaries who held similar ideals. This has been considered to be particularly true as regards their theology. But it applies to their politics as well. As we have seen, Medievalism played a large part in the social worldview of the Inklings and like-minded contemporaries. But it was a Medievalism filtered through the 19th century, and owing its origins to Sir Walter Scott, the foremost practitioner of Romanticism (of which more later) in Great Britain. 

Powerful as was Sir Walter’s influence on the literature of his day, it was just as strong, ultimately, in religious, social, and political matters. For rather than portraying the age of Ivanhoe as the realm of superstition and oppression denounced by the writers of the Enlightenment throughout Europe, Sir Walter presented it as a time when society was an organic whole, when oppressors were --- despite whatever office in either institution they might have held, even the highest --- rebels against the order of Church and State, rather than as their prototypes. He also recast the Jacobites, in the popular mind, as heroic loyalists to a dying, but worthier state of affairs, rather than as the obscurantist traitors they had been seen as. In so doing, he turned the minds of many of the intelligentsia of Britain into an entirely new direction.

One of his disciples, Kenelm Digby, in 1822 produced The Broadstone of Honour: or, Rules for the Gentlemen of England, a book whose influence in its own time is equalled only by its almost complete obscurity in our own. An attempt to show the young men of the time how they might lead the sorts of chivalrous lives themselves that they had read of in Sir Walter’s novels, it took the young Oxbridge intellectuals of the time by storm. It had of course its more ludicrous results: the celebrated Eglinton tournament of 1839, for example, when rain drenched the attempts at jousting by a sort of 19th century English SCA. But it created an atmosphere from whence came rather more lasting results. Converting to Catholicism himself, Digby’s work made the idea of returning to the Old Religion more respectable, showing that the Faith was more than just the tribal belief of Old Catholic gentry and nobility, and poverty-struck Irish immigrants. The Oxford Movement, which transformed the ritual life of Anglicanism and created an important (if never dominant) party in the C of E wedded to Medieval religion, owed much to Digby. The code of the Gentleman, which so dominated much of Victorian social life finds its origin in him as well.

There were also political results. The first and most obvious was Young England, whose leading proponents, George Smythe (later 7th Viscount Strangford), Lord John Manners (later 7th Duke of Rutland), Henry Hope, Alexander Baillie-Cochrane, and, the young Benjamin Disraeli launched their political effort in 1841. Influenced by Digby and by the Oxford Movement, as well as by such as Cobbett, Oastler, and Burdett, Young England strove to restore the class unity of Medieval England and to limit the power of industry over agriculture. In Lord John Manners’ 1841 England's Trust, and Other Poems he “falls into a reverie before St Albans Abbey. Reflecting on episodes from the early days of Christianity in England, he regrets the passing of the ancient Church.. . . and sees rationalism as a spiritual sickness of modern times.”[10] Lord John mourns “the loss of values and disruption of social order that he attributes to the absence of a strong monarch and Church, and he finds hope for England's future in its fictional medieval past when,”

Each knew his place king, peasant, peer, or priest
The greatest owned connexion with the least;
From rank to rank the generous feeling ran,
And linked society as man to man.

As its few members were all in the House of Commons, they backed up their writings with votes, using their influence in favour of various schemes for industrial reform and amelioration of the misery of the poor, toleration for Catholics and Jews, and opposition to weakening of the Established Church and the Monarchy. In the end, the group began to splinter when Disraeli, out of opposition to the Prime Minister, Robert Peel, voted against the Maynooth Grant Bill in 1845. This measure, providing a subsidy to the Irish Catholic seminary of that name, was typical of the things Young England had supported. But Disraeli could not resist a chance to embarrass Peel.
Nevertheless, the end of Young England was not the end of English Romantic Conservatism. For from the influence of the Oxford Movement also emerged Pre-Raphaelitism on the artistic front, and such of its practitioners as Dante Rossetti and William Morris applied their Romanticism first to literature and, in the latter case to politics. Morris’ Arts and Crafts Movement’s social implications were an important part of the rise of Guild and other non-Marxist Socialisms. Here we see the ideological origins of such as R.H. Tawney, whose analysis of Capitalism as a product of the Reformation[11] was shared by the Distributists. Such as F.D. Maurice began a strain of Anglican (and even Anglo-Catholic) Socialism firmly rooted in the Romantic view of the Middle Ages.
But some of Young England’s views continued to be seen in the ranks of the second rung of Tory Party leadership in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. On the one hand, some of the circle called the Souls, especially George Wyndham (not surprisingly, a close friend of Belloc) continued to push for Romantic Conservative ideals --- not just for the political goals of social union under the altar and throne, but also in literature. 

Another result was 19th century Neo-Jacobitism, finding its ultimate roots in Scott’s Waverley novels, but receiving an impetus from the Oxford Movement’s revival of Anglican devotion to Charles I as a saint and martyr and a desire to find a dynasty that would reinvigorate the Monarchy. This led not only to the foundation of the Order of the White Rose (a group that attracted a number of 19th century artists, such as Whistler, and eventually became a co-founder of today’s Royal Stuart Society) but also, alongside the influence of a resurgent Irish Nationalism, to the origins of Cornish, Welsh, and Scots nationalism. Not surprisingly --- although they would take a leftward turn after World War II --- the Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party numbered a great many Catholic Distributist types among their pre-war founders.

At any rate, it is to this historical development that we must look for the origins of the political ideas espoused by the Inklings and their like-minded contemporaries. Yet, if the social notions dominant at the Manor of St. Anne’s, the Citadel of Minas Tirith, and the Rectory at Fardles owe their origin, as it would seem at the moment, to Sir Walter Scott, is Romantic Conservatism a purely British phenomenon, with a purely British relevance? By no means.

As mentioned, Sir Walter Scott was indeed the foremost British literary practitioner of Romanticism. But it must be remembered that Romanticism was a Europe-wide phenomenon, and so one may well speak of it as a European family of ideas. We must now take a look at it in itself, and then take an-all-too-speedy look at some of its parallel developments in the various nations of the West.
To begin with, just what is Romanticism, anyway? There do seem to be as many definitions as there are writers; but it is as accurate a one as any might be to call it Europe’s artistic and philosophical reaction to the arid rationalism of the Enlightenment, the horrors of the French Revolutionary Wars, and the centralising hand of Napoleon Bonaparte. As with any other current of thought, Romanticism did not spring from a vacuum, and scholars trace it origins back before the Revolution to the German Sturm-und-Drang, the cult of Sensibility, and various other interesting phenomena. What is certain is that it began in Germany with such folk as Novalis, Goerres, and the like; France picked it up with Chateaubriand, and then the British Isles gave us Coleridge, Wordsworth, and of course Sir Walter Scott. From there it spread throughout Europe and the Americas.

Opposing the Enlightenment’s emphasis on rational thought and individual freedom (and noting how these contradicted themselves in the Revolutionary bloodshed inspired by them) the Romantics looked to intuition and traditional wisdom (especially religious and folkloric). To the Enlightenment’s love of classical antiquity, the Romantics replied with an exaltation of the “barbarous” Middle Ages, and where the Enlightened, Revolutionaries, and Bonapartists alike attempted to overthrow both hierarchies and local peculiarities, the Romantics revelled in both. Not too strangely, after 1806 they rallied to the fight against Napoleon; from the critiques the Romantics mounted against their foes emerged a sort of Conservatism of which Klaus Epstein has said of the German variety in that year, “The Romantic movement --- appealing to the eternal human craving for miracle, mystery, and authority --- had begun to put the [Enlightenment] on the defensive in German cultural life.”[12]
By 1815, it was the same throughout Europe, and in many ways the Congress of Vienna was the high-water mark of political Romanticism. The Holy Alliance represented the effort of Tsar Alexander I (a Romantic if ever there was one) to unite Europe’s sovereigns on a basis of shared mysticism.  It seemed as though a golden age had arrived.

It had not, however. Many Romantics were eventually disappointed with the regimes that succeeded Napoleon --- hence the transformation of such as Victor Hugo, who had written an ode for Charles X’s coronation, into a republican. Thus was born Romantic Liberalism. For those who remained attached to Conservative Romanticism, the steady march after 1830 of  a decidedly un-Romantic Liberalism (of which the Manchester School was the leading British exponent), with its industrialisation, its governmental centralisation,  its secularism, its republicanism (or least, its limitation of the Monarchy where retained), and its substitution of bankers and industrialists for nobility and gentry, of a proletariat for peasantry, called for their contempt and their resistance. This latter occurred in many different fields --- literary, political, and even military. As in Britain, this contributed to both a Catholic revival and, where Protestant State Churches existed, a “High Church” movement.

So in Germany and Austria, folk like Friedrich Schlegel and Adam Mueller rallied to the House of Austria, in hopes of recalling the glories of the Holy Roman Empire. After 1866, when the Habsburgs were definitively ejected from Germany, these folk looked to a spiritual and literary revival of the Empire --- and hatred of what they saw as the Bismarckian “pseudo-empire,” hence such disparate groups as Richard Kralik’s Gralbund and the Stefan George Circle.
Chateaubriand, De Maistre, de Bonald, and their many disciples acted as the ideologues of the Restoration in France. After the overthrow of Charles X in 1830, their successors, men like Barbey d’Aurevilly, Blanc de St. Bonnet, and Paul Bourget wrote both defences of altar and throne and, in many cases, fantastic literature.

Spain and Portugal saw civil wars that pitted traditionalist proponents of the senior lines of the two royal families, the position of the Church within the State, and traditional local liberties against Liberals. Defeat coming in both cases, they transferred their efforts to the literary field. In Ibero-America, similar folk continued, after independence, to write on behalf of Hispanidad and Lusofonia, closer ties between the former colonies and their motherlands. These folk worked and wrote particularly against the dominating efforts of the United States.
In Italy, the effort to unite the country split into a Romantic or Neo-Guelph wing, which advocated a federation under the Pope, and a Liberal wing that wished to bring all the Italian states under the sway of Savoy. Still other Romantics pressed for continued independence or autonomy for these little entities.

Russian Romanticism resulted in the Slavophile movement, which sought to reject Western European influence in favour of native tradition. But perhaps the greatest later exponent of Russian Romanticism was Vladimir Soloviev, who evolved from Slavophilism to a desire to reconcile Russia with Papacy, and to have the Tsar take the lead in the spiritual regeneration of all of Europe.
In the rest of Eastern Europe, as in Scandinavia, Romanticism led also to movements in favour of reviving native traditions, in the former case to reviving national sentiment among such suppressed minorities as the Serbs and Slovaks. Even the Meiji Restoration in Japan and the abortive similar attempt in China owed a little to Romanticism.

In the United States, as mentioned, political Conservatism of the European type died in 1783. Even so, such Romantics as Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Fitz-Greene Halleck (son of a Loyalist and notorious public defender of both Catholicism and Monarchy) were, in the first three cases, as close to Romantic Conservatives as an American could be. The South, in love with Sir Walter Scott, provided fertile ground for it; defeat in the War Between the States sealed this, resulting in the 1930s in the Southern Agrarians. A coming together between these and the British Distributists was perhaps to be expected. Even in New England, however, such as Ralph Adams Cram --- famous writer and architect, as well American head of the Order of the White Rose --- joined in the chorus.

As with every other current of European thought, Romantic Conservatism received a dreadful shock in World War I. But it nevertheless rebounded after the War, as the survivors tried to make sense out of what had happened to them, and to repair the ills of their respective nations; the need to do so was exacerbated by the Depression, and it was from this ferment that the Inklings as well as many other such groups emerged. But just as the Cataclysm of Robespierre and Napoleon had called Romantic Conservatism into being, that of Hitler effectively destroyed it. This was partly because some of its proponents saw alliance with Fascism as a quick way to score a victory against a Liberal establishment which had previously seemed impregnable; but it was also because the Nazis directly destroyed as much of it as they could. A fitting end-scene, perhaps, of the movement in Germany might be seen in the execution of Count von Stauffenberg, a member of the George Circle, crying “long live Secret Germany!” as the firing squad’s bullets cut him down. As might be guessed from this swift encapsulation, volumes might be written about this history.

The aftermath of the War saw the world divided between American-sponsored Liberal Democracy and Soviet-style Communism, each in their way equally opposed to Romantic Conservative views, albeit in different ways and on different fronts. Even so they managed to survive as a sort of literary mood amongst a number of writers, including, of course, the surviving Inklings and a few of their disciples. The collapse of the Soviet Union did not affect the retreat of Romantic Conservatism into complete political irrelevancy. Indeed, in the years since, the gradual emergence of the Nanny State in the various nations of the West epitomizes everything the Romantic Conservatives loathed. Of course, such events as the United States’ Supreme Court’s ruling that the government may seize any private property to give to developers who might pay larger taxes, and Tony Blair’s outlawing of hunting might well give comfort to any remaining Fascists. Government management of private ownership of property and the means of production was a cardinal dogma of Fascist economic theory, and Hitler’s outlawing hunting with hounds is one of the few bits of Nazi-era legislation to remain on German law books. 

In the face of all of this, is Romantic Conservatism dead? By no means, although it is virtually confined to literary or enthusiast circles --- it might be said to have become entirely Romantic, in the vulgar sense of being purely theoretical and seemingly unattainable. In Great Britain, such groups as the Prag Magazine crowd, the circle inspired by the group at Oxford centring around Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P. (author of the groundbreaking book, Christendom Awake!), and the Royal Stuart Society, to name a very few, keep the ideas of Romantic Conservatism alive. Writing in a publication of the latter, the late Robert F.J. Parsons, O.B.E., wrote: 

Traditional values are constantly under attack. The media are not exactly governed by their supporters. Even those who profess support, as does Mrs. Thatcher with her reference to the merits of ‘Victorian values,’ do little in practice to express that profession of faith. Church, home newspapers, television, police, Parliament, are all permeated with a spirit that is fundamentally hostile to the cornerstones of our civilisation either actively or, more often and in ways more dangerously, passively because either not understanding or not feeling able to summon up the requisite energy against heavy odds.[13]

So too, on the Continent, such groups as Italy’s Identita Europea, the Paneuropa Union, and France’s Alliance Royale deal with such ideas, as do various groups advocating single issues from quality education to traditional Christian liturgy to organic farming to conservation of the built heritage. Groups dedicated to the writings of various such thinkers serve much the same purpose.
All of that being said, being effectively severed from any chance, as things stand, from influence on governance, do the political ideas of the Inklings and their innumerable confreres have any relevance at all to-day? Certainly. The West faces a number of large and seemingly insuperable problems. European Unity, for instance, may be inevitable and perhaps even essential. But what will the shape of that unity be? What about the demographic problem, the “population implosion,” in Europe and North America?  The threat posed by Radical Islam, especially in terms of terrorism at home? What is certain is that the current rulership in the “developed” countries have no long term solutions for any of these problems; it may well be that the Romantic Conservatives do. For example, in response to the first-named issue, Fr. Nichols in his work earlier cited wrote:

Catholicism, as Orthodoxy, has, historically, regarded the monarchical institution in this light: raised up by Providence to safeguard the natural law in its transmission through history as that norm for human co-existence which, founded as it is on the Creator, and renewed by him as the Redeemer, cannot be made subject to the positive law, or administrative fiat, or the dictates of cultural fashion.  Let us dare to exercise a Christian political imagination on an as yet unspecifiable future.  The articulation of the foundational natural and Judaeo-Christian norms of a really united Europe, for instance, would most appropriately be made by such a crown, whose legal and customary relations with the national peoples would be modelled on the best aspects of historic practice in the (Western) Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine "Commonwealth" --- to use the term popularised by Professor Dimtri Obolensky.

Such a crown, as the integrating factor of an international European Christendom, would leave intact the functioning of parliamentary government in the republican or monarchical polities of its constituent nations and analogues in city and village in other representative and participatory forms.  As the Spanish political theorist Alvaro D'Ors defines the concepts, power --- that is, government --- as raised up by the people can and should be distinguished from authority.  Power in this sense puts questions to those in authority as to what ought to be done. It asks whether technically possible acts of government, for co-ordinating the goals of individuals and groups in society, chime, or do not chime, with the foundational norms of society, deemed as these are to rest on the will of God as the ultimate power of the shared human goal.  Authority, itself bereft of such power, answers out of a wisdom which society can recognise. 

Utopian? Perhaps. But it is couched in terms that each of our three authors would in all likelihood recognise and agree with, as would most of their Conservative Romantic colleagues. As things stand, it is doubtful that the powers-that-be would ever permit such things. Still and all, a cataclysm gave birth to Romantic Conservatism, and another eliminated it. It may well be that a third shall will bring it back. For all that I myself agree with the Inklings and Co., it is not an eventuality I look forward to.


[1] Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1978, p. 206.
[2] Humphrey Carpenter, J.R..R. Tolkien: A Biography, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000, p.132
[3] Alice Mary Hadfield, Charles Williams: An Exploration of His Life and Work, London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 21.
[4] W.H. Lewis (ed.), Letters of CS Lewis. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966, p. 83.
[5] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, New York: Scribner, 1945, p. 289.
[6] quoted by Lady Elizabeth Freeman, The Traditionalist's Anthology, Privately Printed, p. 161
[7] Patrick Curry, Defending Middle Earth --- Tolkien: Myth and Modernity, New York: St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1997, p. 154.
[8] Agnes Sibley, Charles Williams, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982, p. 92.
[9] Joseph Pearce, Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999
[10] Louis Cazamian,  The Social Novel in England 1830-1850. Trans. Martin Fido. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973, p. 98.
[11] R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. New Brunswick: Transaction publishers, 1998 (1st ed., 1926).
[12] Klaus Epstein, The Genesis of German Conservatism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966, p. 674.
[13] Robert Parsons, O.B.E., “The Role of Jacobitism in the Modern World,” Royal Stuart Paper XXVIII, Huntingdon: The Royal Stuart Society, 1986, p. 39.