Thursday, 28 July 2016

Inn Catholics talk, 1 December 2015 - Defending the ‘indefensible’ by Dr Gregory Slysz...

Thank you very much for inviting me to address this important issue.

At a time when the Catholic Faith is under attack from external forces and seemingly also from within, I feel that setting the historical record straight whenever one can is crucial given that flawed history has been used as a hammer against Catholicism for hundreds of years summarised so aptly by the American Archbishop, Fulton Sheen who said that  “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

There are many issues which fall into this category, from the Crusades to Galileo, the Inquisition to more recent controversies but today I should like to talk about an issue close to these shores, that of Queen Mary, England’s first Queen regnant.
Before I talk about the issue of the burning of heretics I first should like to briefly address the question: why were Queen Mary and her reign so grossly misrepresented by scholars for hundreds of years? The answer to this question will lead us to an understanding of why the Marian anti-heresy campaign was also so misrepresented.

The answer to this question involves much more than merely searching for flawed methodology and personal prejudices of the writers, though these two aspects feature prominently in any investigation. No, the more we delve, the more we realise that there is something altogether much more sinister at play here. In short, lurking conspicuously behind anti-Marian hyperbole is nothing other than anti-Catholic politics that went on to form one of the key pillars of the British state.   

Indeed, the assault on the Marian legacy fitted in well with the narrative on the Reformation in general commencing with Henry VIII’s curt and prophetic utterance in Parliament on 11 May 1532 when he accused England’s clergy of being ‘but half our subjects, yea, and scarce our subjects’ when many of them opposed their submission to the Crown. It was a narrative that continued to be developed until well after the Second World War and which continues to prevail in many circles to this very day. In short it claimed that the English Reformation was an inevitable popular revolt against a corrupt and detested Church, and Queen Mary as one who attempted to stop this process with extreme cruelty. This imagery became an important component of a political-national ideology that underpinned ‘liberal’ England/Britain until quite recently.
Anyone brought up on the Whig idea that a national ideology was something practised by Continentals may be surprised at the suggestion that politically sober Britain was founded on a prejudicial ideology which viewed the Catholic religious outlook as essentially evil and those who espoused it as traitors.

The mythology surrounding Mary was fostered by centuries of political conditioning, which skewed opinion against her. Notwithstanding Mary’s methods in suppressing Protestantism, which as a reaction to heresy was not atypical for Protestant and Catholic rulers alike at the time, something that I shall later address, her politics and religion were incompatible with those favoured by her successors. The more England, and later Britain, distanced itself from the old religion and political commitments, the more its rulers had to denigrate those who were associated with them. As such, Mary, as a Catholic monarch, whose brief reign was sandwiched between two ‘great’ Protestant rulers, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, was a key target. Britain’s unity and very idea of nationhood was mostly built on Protestantism. In ruling the waves and regularly confronting Catholic foes, Britain would accommodate little goodwill for those whose religion automatically rendered them alien and as such a security hazard for the realm. In time, Mary would acquire the sobriquet ‘Bloody’, her reign and policies would be maligned and her sanity questioned.

The historiography of these themes offers crucial insight into the motives behind the manner in which they have been treated. The dominant trend for most of the four centuries since Henry VIII broke from Rome was of course Protestant triumphalism and most of the literature that was on offer for at least the first two centuries of this time was not history at all, but embittered polemic, highlighted by the sixteenth-century offerings of the austere Scottish Presbyterian John Knox and his English counterpart John Foxe. Here Catholicism and the work of its key devotees were essentially equated with satanic machinations against what was hailed as divinely inspired religious purification. Even when writing on the subject became more ‘reasoned’ with the likes of the eighteenth century Enlightenment writer David Hume and the nineteenth-century Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, its core retained the erstwhile polemic: the Reformation may have been unpleasant, at times driven by greedy and objectionable individuals, but ultimately it brought forth salvation from superstition, and set England on the course to prosperity and modernity. Catholic writers down the centuries like Sanders and Dodd, Lingard and Gasquet sought to counter this polemic but they were largely ignored in a continuing anti-Catholic atmosphere even after Emancipation in 1829.  It was only really when the twin pillars of Britishness – Protestantism and national sovereignty – began to be challenged, the former by secularism, the latter by membership of various international and supra-national bodies, especially the European Union, that the conditions a reappraisal of the Marian legacy was made possible.

Recent scholarship indeed has done much to exonerate Queen Mary I and her reign and to make good on over four centuries of anti-Marian Protestant spin. To dismiss the Marian reign as a failure as was the case by historians for hundreds of years or to claim that had it lasted longer it would have yielded few triumphs is at odds with its key signposts – the achievements of Cardinal Pole’s restoration programme, the successes in trade policy, the financial and military reforms, to name but a few. All this suggested that further progress in these and other areas would undoubtedly have been made had time allowed.

But while the Foxe-Dickens fantasies have been shattered forever, the exoneration of Mary and her reign continues to encounter obstacles. And there are credible reasons why this should be so. Though considerably less of a thorny subject than it once was, the Reformation, or aspects of it, continues to govern important areas of Britain’s public life, not least that of the essentially Protestant Constitutional make-up of the country, which if challenged, could threaten political stability. In fact this threat is deemed too great for the old Reformation narrative to be rejected outright at the political level. The Reformation myth, however, also serves another constituency. The growing secularisation of society which is, in some part, rooted to a profound hostility to traditional religion in general and Catholicism in particular, still makes challenging the fundamental basis  of the Reformation rude in ‘polite company’. For atheists and secularists the existence of ‘rational’ myths is preferable to the legitimisation of a religion that would make life more difficult for them than the relativist religion that Protestantism has become. As such the image of ‘Bloody Mary’, who attempted and failed to put a spanner into the works of religious reform, continues to enjoy much mileage in such circles.

At the popular level one too still occasionally encounters old stereotypes of Mary. For instance film portrayals of Mary have generally stuck to the traditional narrative of her as either the naive though well-meaning simpleton of the 1971 television adaptation of Elizabeth I or the sickly, quivering, vengeful, Mary of Shekhar Kapur's highly acclaimed film of 1998, Elizabeth. Stereotypes were plentiful at an attraction in 2012 at the London Dungeons, an indoor theme park of medieval gore. Any visitor to the ‘Killer Queen’ exhibition who was unfamiliar with the recent scholarly revisions would have been left with a lasting impression of Mary as a bloodsucking, merciless woman determined to inflict the most severe pain on heretics.
However, after all that is said and done the nature of the suppression of recalcitrant Protestants remains the most difficult aspect of the Marian reign to justify or defend and which overshadows the government’s numerous achievements and it is to this issue that I shall now turn.

It is its most maligned and best remembered policy. ‘The madness of a system’, wrote the Protestant historian AG Dickens, ‘which would burn a virtuous human being for his inability to accept a metaphysical theory of the Eucharist must stagger even a generation well accustomed to institutional and doctrinaire crimes.’[1] The image of Mary as ‘that horrible monster Jezebel of England’ was made famous by John Knox in his The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women published in 1559 while the cruelties of her regime were enshrined for posterity by John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, first published in 1563, which according to the historian GR Elton ‘did not (as apologists would have it) create a legend; it commemorated a truth.’[2] But even allowing for partisan hyperbole that for too long passed for scholarship, the burning of nearly 300 men and women, mostly from lower social strata, argues Professor Eamon Duffy, presents the ‘greatest barrier to a positive assessment of the Marian restoration.’[3]

But justification and even defence of what seems indefensible is possible as I shall now argue.

The reality of the burnings was very different from the sensationalist spin put forward by Foxe. And here context is all too important, something which of course Foxe completely omitted from his accounts.  For one, the hearings and executions were not determined by hatred of the condemned.[4]Great moderation was used’, and execution of those charged with heresy was the final part of a meticulous process that offered the accused earthly, as well as spiritual salvation and the chance of last minute conversions. The Marian Church was clear that the role of tribunals was to save souls and as such any burning of heretics was deemed by the authorities to be a failure. The burnings, therefore, were intended as a last resort to serve not only as punishment but also as a source of purification of the condemned as well as a deterrent against those intending to lapse into Doctrinal error. No one in the Marian administration expected to burn so many; they wanted the heretics to be reconciled rather than die, and if burnings were to occur they were to be carried out judiciously and without vindictiveness.’ [5]

This was not the malicious Church and state of Foxian fantasies. Foxe’s own records of the lengthy and meticulous exchanges between the accused and their interrogators indicate that the administration and its ecclesiastical officials sought primarily to redeem rather than condemn the accused, though Foxe’s intention here is to illustrate the anxiety and traumas to which the accused were subjected.

The context goes beyond England’s shores. What crucially needs to be remembered here is that every European state in the Sixteenth century considered heresy to be a grave sin that required purging not only for the sake of the guilty individual but also for the general good of society itself. Heresy was as much associated by the Marian administration with sedition as it would be by Protestant administrations that followed.[6] Mary fundamentally believed, that heresy ‘had ruined her mother’s marriage and her own early life. When it took hold, it destroyed the immortal souls of those whom it afflicted, and the most extreme steps were justified in eliminating it and thus protecting the realm.’[7] As such, it did not matter from which background or social standing heretics came from, whether they were genuine in their heretical beliefs, or opportunist, male or female. What the ‘majority of Christians of all shades of opinion believed was that the death penalty was appropriate for obstinate heretics.’[8] ‘Toleration of all religious opinions, was in sixteenth century eyes’, not a realistic option. No English government had ever practised it and the only European governments that accepted the existence of dissident religious minorities did so out of necessity, because they were too weak to crush them.’[9]
Modern commentators may regard such a situation with indignation, but to inhabitants of the Medieval world such treatment of heretics was not only acceptable but essential.  To have chosen to adhere to a particular variant of Christianity as opposed to another, a heretic had both transgressed against God, and threatened the integrity of society itself. John Fisher’s view that heresy was ‘a perilous weed’ that corrupted hearts, quenched faith and murdered men’s souls was not that of a religious fanatic, but of a bishop concerned about the devastating social and political consequences of men deviating from orthodox teaching for personal gain or from ill-thought out or erroneous interpretation of Scripture. With religion being at the core of political and social life, as well as defining people’s view of personal salvation, the state saw the suppression of a creed, which it perceived to be distorted or alien, to be as necessary as states see the suppression of terrorism today. The fate of dynasties, of social and political order and the welfare of millions, both spiritual and material, could be disturbed by heretical views, which is why such a hard line was taken against them.

By the time of the Reformation, a complex set of laws to deal with heresy prevailed across Europe, notably in Spain with the Inquisition but latterly in Protestant areas as Edward VI’s and Elizabeth I regimes demonstrated. In fact no sooner had Protestants obtained ascendancy that they displayed a persecuting spirit which they had formally condemned; Mary’s view, in this respect, was that of ‘a thoroughly conventional person.’[10]

Gruesome torture, especially public executions, was nothing new in either Medieval England or Europe. Nor was it infrequent, or for that matter, socially disapproved of. Huge bloodthirsty crowds would gather wherever the latest hanging, pressing, boiling, ducking, flogging, burning, decapitation or quartering was being staged. Specifically during the reign of Henry VIII, tens of thousands were executed for a variety of crimes, including every surviving member of the Plantagenet dynasty. The Edwardian regime, continued to burn heretics while Elizabeth, though more lenient than her father, was responsible for around 2500 executions, among which five were by burning. Particularly severe was her persecution of Catholic recusants during the latter half of her reign during which her leniency became exhausted after the discovery of a number of plots to depose her. Between 1577 and 1603, 183 Catholics were executed. These cases, however, have been viewed by historians more as objectionable details than as reign defining events. For pursuing those who refused to accept her laws, Elizabeth has been commended for her shrewdness and competence in the face of adversity. Mary for her part has been demonised as bloodthirsty for doing the same during her reign.

Hundreds of Catholics continued to be executed during the seventeenth century under the treason laws while tens of thousands perished in Ireland during on-going anti-Catholic purges.

So contrary to Dickens’ claim denying Transubstantiation was not merely a religious act but an act of political defiance. To say, therefore that the victims were blameless is to miss a most crucial point. They were to blame in the sense that they chose to engage in a criminal act by the standards of the mid-sixteenth century, and a serious one at that.
By ridding the country of the most radical Protestants the Restoration of Catholicism could continue more or less unhindered.[11] This was only made possible, however, because of the intensity of the campaign against heresy. Indeed, the claims that the Church ‘had come no-where near destroying its heretics’[12] or that the stream ‘of ordinary men and women who were prepared to die for their Faith showed no sign of drying up’[13] are unconvincing. The evidence indicates that the burnings were in fact tailing off by the summer of 1558 not because the authorities and local magistrates were having second thoughts about the effectiveness of the policy, or that the machinery of state was breaking down, but because the ‘protestant hydra’ was being finally decapitated. The reduction in the number of defiant activists to execute would suggest so.[14]

For all the enthusiasm of officials in their pursuit of heretics , there was little to suggest, apart from the pursuit of Cranmer to the stake, that vengeance played any significant part in the proceedings to hunt down heretics. At times, the campaign was intense, but this was not due to vengeance but to strategic necessity when the authorities had discovered that the lenient approach that had been pursued at the start of Mary’s reign proved to have been ineffective. Many of those who had been released after they had recanted relapsed to provoke the government anew. Of the 22 in Essex, for instance, who had been released after they had recanted, seven were burned a few months later and an eighth was awaiting execution.[15] The case of the Munt Family is most illustrative. Having been released after initial investigations, they continued to meet in secret, abstain from Mass and publicly mock the Host. They were rearrested and duly executed, having rejected further opportunities to recant.[16] For this to have gone unpunished would have showed weakness that could well have undermined the entire programme of Restoration.

Yet as horrific as the burnings were of undoubtedly brave men and women, sympathy towards the victims was by no means widespread, universal or necessarily motivated by confessional solidarity. Residents in areas other than London, Canterbury or Colchester, where most of the executions occurred, were unlikely to have witnessed a burning. And even in these areas the burnings would have eluded most people. It is understandable why Protestant historiography should focus so much on the burnings, but what was familiar to people who read it was unfamiliar to the vast majority of people during Mary’s reign. Moreover, the campaign against heretics frequently offered local opportunities to settle scores, in many cases which used religion as a cover. Indeed, the unsettled religious climate offered much scope for denunciation and accusation especially if the prospects of punishment of the accused resulted in some material benefit for the accuser in these economically challenging times. Husbands reported wives because they were tired of them, fathers reported sons over inheritance issues, and neighbour informed on neighbour to avenge some dispute or another. It is important to add, therefore, that thousands of those who had been subjected to investigations were subsequently released, the accusations against them having found to have been spurious.  All this counters the claim that the heresy hunts were were initiated solely from above.

That is not to say, however, that the burnings did not provoke local disturbances, because they did, but never to the point of threatening the general peace of the realm. Empathy expressed at the pyres by onlookers towards the victims may well suggest the persistence of Protestant sympathies, but it does not offer evidence either of widespread national disillusionment with the burnings or of burgeoning Protestant support.[17] In Colchester, for instance, the burnings did provoke some ill-feeling but none of the protests ever came close to threatening the stability of the government itself. Not only were they relatively small, but they were local. Apart from London and Colchester, the response towards the burnings elsewhere does not merit the claim made by AG Dickens that it was ‘both hostile and immediate’.  What also needs to be stressed is that even in Protestant hotspots like London, the burnings were occurring against a backdrop of a revival of Catholic practice and against considerable hostility towards Protestantism, which even Foxe was compelled to acknowledge. There was no universal opprobrium towards the burnings and so it must follow that claims that the burnings severely damaged the standing of the Marian administration are exaggerated.[18]  Moreover it is difficult, to identify the conditions for ‘a religious civil war on the French model’ which Professor David Loades suggests could have potentially occurred had Mary remained Queen for longer.

So did the burnings damage the Marian administration at all? On balance, the answer to this question, despite the nuances of the issue, is not really. Professor Loades noted that the burnings were a ‘catastrophic mistake’[19] and had Mary’s ‘policy of coercive uniformity been more politic and sensitive there would have been less anger, and the cry that England was under judgment for murdering the saints of God would have had no resonance.’[20] This view, however, seems valid only within the context of the myth-making of Protestant propagandists in the aftermath of the Marian reign. Talk of damage, therefore, should be confined to that which was inflicted on the memory of the administration rather than on the administration itself. To recall, the Marian programme of Catholic Restoration was designed for the long haul. Had the administration survived for longer, subsequent generations would have regraded its policy of burning heretics with little amazement, particularly as these generations would have been Catholic and which would not have been subjected to incessant Protestant propaganda which the likes of Foxe purveyed.

The Marian pursuit of heretics was counter-productive for Catholicism only in the context of the short-lived nature of Mary’s administration. In an otherwise different world in which Mary had lived to see the fruits of her actions more fully, the contrast that the administration had highlighted between the seditiousness of the Protestant victims and the virtuousness of Catholic martyrs like More and Fisher would have held good in subsequent histories of the period, as it did at the time among most of the people. The mythology later invented by Protestant propagandists that not only depicted the perpetrators of the burnings as the epitome of evil but also dignified a cause that otherwise would have had little to commemorate, would not have transpired. Foxe’s martyrs would not have existed, so to speak but for Foxe…’,[21] whose book was to reappear several times down the centuries offering successive generations insight into his propaganda. History here was exclusively written by the victors.

There is no denying that a degree of inept management of the process surrounding the burnings made things much easier for Protestant propagandists. For instance, allowing victims to communicate with the public shortly before their death added to the drama, which polemicists like Foxe could later embellish. Similar poor judgment accompanied the government’s failure to make more capital from the recantations of Thomas Cranmer, Henry VIII and Edward VI’s Archbishop of Canterbury. Here, Mary’s judgment was clouded by her desire to avenge her mother’s treatment, for which she held Cranmer responsible to a large extent. The opportunity that Cranmer’s recantations presented for a public relations coup was not taken. So complete was his capitulation to the Faith that he had so recently scorned, that it should have served as the crowning victory over heresy for the Marian administration.[22] At the point of having expressed elation at having been re-joined to the Catholic Faith and asking and receiving sacramental absolution, his life should have been spared under the normal practice of Canon Law.

Doubtless he would have retired as a living symbol of the prodigal son, returning from error to the bosom of the merciful Catholic Church. Instead, spurious reasons were given as to why Cranmer should die a heretic’s death.[23] Cornered and with nothing to lose, he recanted his previously made recantations in dramatic form. ‘Forasmuch as my hand offended writing contrary to my heart’, he declared from the place of his execution as the fire was being stoked, ‘my hand shall first be punished therefore.’[24] Then, in theatrical fashion, he stretched his right hand into the fire and while he still could, uttered the dying words of Stephen, the first martyr, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit … I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.’[25] With this, noted Dermaid MacCulloch, Cranmer’s most recent biographer, the ‘Catholic Church’s publicity coup lay in ruins.’[26] Well, not quite. The authorities did have Cranmer’s recantations, which they duly published and his transgression were subsequently hammered home across the country by preachers. But the campaign to limit the damage caused by Cranmer’s last minute ‘re-conversion’ was not all that convincing. By the time a pamphlet with his recantations was published, the revised version of events was being peddled by Protestant sympathisers, the truth of the drama surrounding his death having already become common knowledge both at home and abroad.[27]

The suffering of those who went to the stake should by no means be demeaned, but once the burnings are placed in proper historical context and stripped of the hyperbole that has been built up around them and which has determined how they have been perceived, they lose much of their ability to shock. ‘While in no way seeking to condone the horrors of the Marian persecution’, wrote the Victorian Catholic historian John Lingard, ‘it is well to remember that those responsible for them should be judged, not by our standards of tolerance, but by the ethics then accepted as guides for man’s conduct.’[28] Appropriate contextualisation in turn contributes to a reappraisal of the Marian administration, which for so long has been primarily associated with cruel persecution.

Given the way that events unfolded since Mary’s death, the ‘burning of Protestants, ‘was a policy that ultimately failed, and in its failure it did enormous damage to English Catholicism.’ But the ‘persecution failed for the same reasons that the restoration of Catholicism failed: the sudden death of Mary and the accession of a Protestant successor.’[29] 

[1]  Dickens, English Reformation, p. 371
[2]  Elton, Reform and Reformation, p. 386.
[3] Duffy, Fires of Faith,  p. 7
[4]  Elton, Reform and Reformation p. 387.
[5] Whitelock, Mary Tudor, England’s first queen, p. 265
[6]  Loades, ‘The English Church during the reign of Mary I’. In: Edwards and Truman, eds., Reforming Catholicism in the England of Mary Tudor, p 36.
[7]  Ibid., 2005, pp. 38-39.
[8]  Loades, ‘The English Church during the reign of Mary I’. In: Edwards and R. Truman, eds., Reforming Catholicism in the England of Mary Tudor, p. 34.
[9] T. S. Freeman, ‘Burning zeal: Mary Tudor and the Marian persecution’. In: Doran and Freeman, eds., Mary Tudor, Old and new perspectives, p. 203.
[10]  Richards, Mary Tudor, p. 193.
[11] Freeman, ‘Inventing bloody Mary’. In: Doran and Freeman, eds., Mary Tudor, p. 203.
[12] Loades, Mary Tudor, pp. 202.
[13] Ibid., p. 263
[14]  Duffy, Fires of Faith, p.7. See also, Freeman, ‘Inventing bloody Mary’. In: Doran and Freeman, eds., Mary Tudor, p. 179.

[15] Ibid., p. 178.  

[16] Queene Mary. The burning of Rose Allins hand by Ed. Tyrrell persecutour. Anno 1557 August A Letter sent to Boner Byshop of London, from Syr Thomas Tye Priest’, Acts, book 12, 1583, p. 2030; ‘Queene Mary. The story apprehension, and examination of George Eagles Martyr’, Acts, book 12, 1583, p. 2033.
[17]  Duffy, Fires of Faith, p. 161
[18] Freeman, ‘Burning zeal: Mary Tudor and the Marian persecution’. In: Doran and Freeman, eds., Mary Tudor, p. 202.
[19] Loades, ‘Introduction: The Personal Religion of Mary I’: In: Duffy and Loades, eds., The Church of Mary Tudor, p. 28.
[20] Loades, ‘The English Church during the reign of Mary I’. In: Edwards and Truman, eds., Reforming Catholicism in the England of Mary Tudor, p. 48.
[21] Ibid., p. 333.
[22]  For details of Cranmer’s hearing and recantations see ibid., chapter 13.
[23]  Ibid., pp. 600-1.
[24]  Ibid., p. 603.
[25]  Ibid., p. 603.
[26]  Ibid., p. 603.
[27]  Ibid., p. 607.
[28] Norbert ed., Lingard’s History of England,  p. 354
[29] Freeman, ‘Burning zeal: Mary Tudor and the Marian persecution’. In: Doran and Freeman, eds., Mary Tudor, p. 204.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

'Reflections on the Spanish Civil War'.

'Reflections on the Spanish Civil War'.

Aidan, who normally chairs our meetings, will be sharing with us his own, largely, unique reflections on a fascinating period in Spanish history. 

Venue: The Greencoat Boy Pub, 2 Greencoat Place, Victoria London. SW1P 1PJ.

Date: 29th October.

Time: 19.30. 

Please note that if you wish to eat ALL orders must be placed by 19.10. No food will be served after 19.30 as it tends to distract the speaker. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Lynette Burrows talk to the 'Inn Catholics' - 2nd April 2014...

Mr Chairman, Sir, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I usually begin my talks by telling an amusing anecdote because it gives people the feeling that they are going to enjoy my talk – even if they are not. On this occasion, however, I cannot think of one that would bring even a faint smile to my normally granite features; let alone yours, so I won’t try.

However, not having a roguish joke to hand does not equate with being depressed - I am very far from depressed about the parlous state that we are in as a country. We are truly degenerate at present but, if one has to make a descent down a rather dirty pipe, I guess it is better to arrive at somewhere near the bottom than to have to face many more years sliding down it. The past twenty years and have been so infuriating and frustrating, when the mammoth edifice of a degenerate society was being painstakingly constructed, largely from left/liberal academic opinion, and pious cant. The predictably crippled hens are now coming in to roost; although what is wrong with them is heavily ‘spun’ as a reason to recruit yet more ideologically blinkered bureaucrats to sort out the problems they have themselves caused.

I make no apology for making reference several times to what GK Chesterton said about it nearly a hundred years ago because he was in at the start of this particular rot and its development has been continuous, and predicted by him, from then. In 1921 he wrote a piece about the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, which had given rise ten years earlier to the Mental Incapacity Act which the govt had passed in 1914 under which ‘panels of experts’ would decide which citizens should be allowed to have children; in his words “to incarcerate as madmen those whom no doctor would consent to call mad. It is enough if some doctor or other may happen to call them weak-minded”. It actually became law in some of the States of America, where people had to present themselves before a panel for permission to marry and, if they were found wanting – not mad, you understand, just ‘wanting’, they could be refused that permission and, unless they consented to be sterilised, they were imprisoned.

Chesterton wrote, “I seek to describe a quite extraordinary atmosphere in which such things have become possible. I call that atmosphere anarchy and insist that it is anarchy at the centre where there should be authority. Government has become ungovernable; that is, it cannot leave off governing. Law has become lawless that it cannot see where law should leave off. The chief feature of the time is the meekness of the mob and the madness of government’.

Now that is an amazingly accurate description of government in our time. Things’ have become possible’ that no-one predicted and no-one asked for. How many things we can think of that come into this category of the madness of government. There is scarcely any wild and immoral legislation that has been passed in the last thirty years that came in response to public demand. Nobody asked for divorce to be made easier; nor for no-fault divorce; nobody wanted children subjected to dirty talk in the classroom; there were no calls for abortion and contraception to be given to under-age girls without their parents’ knowledge and consent. They did not demand that co-habitation should be subsidized by welfare. Nor that respectable parents should not allowed to bring up their children as they see fit – and yet still be used as a jury to pass judgement on the subtleties of guilt or innocence in a court of law.

How did it come about that those who work are obliged to finance those who choose not to work. And the latest, the so-called ‘same-sex marriages’ for those who cannot fulfil the most basic requirements of ‘equality’ in the normal sense of a marriage.

It is no more the business of govt to re-write what marriage is than it is their business to change the Ten Commandments in order to bring them in line with the modern thinking of a handful top people. Again, as before the first WW, when the ruling class gave only perfunctory consideration of who would enforce the law on mental incapacity and on what principle, they just assumed the passivity and acquiescence of the people – as if they had somehow fallen into the habit of thinking of themselves as despots and the people as slaves. In the event, of course, the Great War intervened only months after the Mental Incapacity Act was passed and, when it was over, the Act was gone – never to be referred to again. Britain found itself at war with the home of Superman and nine-tenths of the professors and philosophers who had done so much to advance the ideas of the racially superior. Overnight, even the name of a German became anathema to the general public as they realised where this ‘scientific approach to life’ had led the Prussians.

But after the war against the very people whose ideas they had craved and then rejected, the old preoccupation with the ‘wrong’ people having children returned – but in another form. This time, it was birth controllers who had in their sights, again, the families of the poor. Chesterton confessed himself to be astounded that the intellectual elite was prepared so quickly to return to a scientific approach to life, in view of where it had lead in the previous decade but he nonetheless took out his old notes and articles and entered the fray again. This time the birth controllers were equally mad as the largely male eugenicists had been; but much more unpleasant, and almost all female. They didn’t like families at all – and didn’t want anyone, not even the clever, having children or making families. It is quite clear from their writings that, unlike the eugenicists, they didn’t want the intelligent like themselves to have large families; their main preoccupation was that they did not want to be out-bred by inferior people.

They are with us today and it’s worth noting that there are, in addition, three huge delusions espoused and promoted by what one might call ‘the governing class’, and none of them has any democratic legitimacy and none reflect the beliefs of ordinary people. The first is multi-culturalism and the belief that you can more in millions of strangers to a culture and they will assimilate and be accepted. The second is a belief that we will be better governed, and happier if we are not governed by our own people, but by the EU. The third is ‘global warming’, which is, as far as I can see, only believed by people who look and dress like lefties!

All these policies have been ‘top down’, as they say – which is why they are never changed when they plainly don’t work but, on the contrary, produce insuperable problems with which we all have to live. . They must be intended by those – somewhere – who govern us and they are not telling us why; even though they must be put in place and then defended, by the well meaning minions whom GK referred to as ‘gigantic dupes’.

There is an added dimension to this destruction of the social and moral fabric of England by the governing class that I find extremely fascinating. It must have been germinating in Chesterton’s day because he wrote a book in 1908 called ‘The Flying Inn’ which is, remarkably, about the Islamification of Britain by the governing class. After being out of print for many years, it has now been re-published here and in America and can be obtained from Amazon. I’ll return to it in a minute.

Chesterton, of course, had far more faith in the common sense of ordinary people than he did in the sanity of intellectuals – particularly scientists. However, in ‘The Flying Inn’, an important and prophetic book, he makes the point several times that the breaking of a specifically Christian morality would inevitably make tyranny possible. Once the link with Christian dogma is severed, then all our traditional liberties are in danger since there is no concrete basis for them. This is why governments tend to favour agnosticism, or even better scepticism, in its populace. A sceptic cannot be tolerant because only a person with a fixed moral standpoint can exercise tolerance. The word itself implies that there is something to be tolerated but not accepted. Without a fixed morality, with nothing either right or wrong, one cannot be tolerant, but only permissive. Governments much prefer this because it is easier to manipulate a populace into accepting what they want if morality does not come into it.

The concrete liberties of Western man, Chesterton said, grew out of the Christian dogma that every man's soul was his own and that, consequently, the individual personality has a sanctity, dignity and responsibility beyond anything that politics or economics can demand. Once that link with Christian dogma is severed, then all our traditional liberties are in danger since there is no other basis for them. Once morality becomes simply what the top people of any period want - then our traditional freedoms can no longer be considered safe.

And indeed, it seems to me that this insight of Chesterton's that without a specifically Christian dogma to deploy, people are easily confused and silenced was amply demonstrated in a debate I attended in the Cambridge Union Society a few years ago. The motion concerned whether or not the events of the 20century disproved the existence of a loving and personal God. ‘This House rejects the idea of a personal God’. The ignorance of the undergraduates was quite stunning with one of the first speakers talking about a 'personal god' exactly if he was referring to a personal computer. 'How can we all have a different, personal god, he raved, 'if we all had a god of our own, they'd all be working at different speeds and with different software and no-one would know which one you were talking about!' Unfortunately, his contribution was not a joke; or even ironic.

Then several impressive clerics argued in scholarly terms with the students - but they did not seem to realize that these young people did not have an idea what they were talking about. It was like talking higher maths to people who hadn't been taught to count! They simply didn't know the terms of reference.

Then a rabbi came rushing on as the last speaker against the motion. He was Smuly Boteach, an American and famous for his eloquence. Since several speakers had mentioned Hitler as the chief reason why God could not possibly exist, this Jew demanded of them why they called Hitler immoral. 'Was it just because he lost the war?' he said. No, of course not, came the indignant reply; it was because he killed people.

He killed his enemies, like every country does, the rabbi said; like you do, he just had a different idea about who deserved to die. He then read out two statements about racial inferiority and the importance, in the modern age, of weeding out inferior people and races, for the common good. Who wrote that? He bellowed, and the students dutifully identified Hitler. 'Wrong', said Boteach, the first was your own dear Darwin and the second, milder one, was Hitler. 'You don't like it. Eh? but it was rational and many people believed that people who were born handicapped or became handicapped through accident or illness should be quietly 'put down'.

The President of the National Secular society rose to her feet like a corpse hearing the last trump. 'Quite right, she shrilled. They are a burden to themselves'. The rabbi was pleased. 'You see, he said, it is rational to remove problems.'

Then he told the by now severely bewildered students a little story. They hear a great man is coming to their area to tell them how best to live, so they come in droves to hear him with rapt attention. He tells them. Don't murder; don't steal; don't take other men's wives or tell lies about them. That's all. And they look at each other; ‘We came here to listen to this? We know this already. What's new?’

'You are those morons', Boteach told the students, because you think your opinions are natural and safe and that you'll never be tempted to change them to something you now think is repugnant. Then he quoted a magisterial piece by Francis Crick, Nobel prize-winning, joint- discoverer of DNA who said that we now have to re-define the words 'birth' and 'death' to mean something more rational than hitherto. Birth should begin at an agreed time after parturition and only after society had decided it wanted the child; death too should take place at an age decreed by the economic needs of society.

What did they think about that? Boteach bellowed at his aghast audience. What would they do if Crick's opinions ever suited the government? What if many governments agreed to support the idea, in the interests, of course, of mankind. What arguments, apart from those they had already dismissed as irrational religion, would they be able to advance against them? There were none, he told them and there were no grounds for condemning Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot. Their morality was just different; more rational and less emotional than theirs. More scientific in fact.

The students were lost and you could almost feel them willing him to take this argument to a conclusion they could understand. The rabbi raised his arms in a dramatic gesture. 'The man who came with the morals written on stone, came from God' he said. It is that and that alone, which makes them unchangeable.' And the students believed him. When the vote was taken, only 34 out of several hundred disbelieved him.

As Chesterton said so many times and in so many different ways. The truth is not given to man by reason alone; it has to be taught as it has been revealed by God. It was a beautiful example to me, both clear and alarming, of how disarmed even the best educated young people are by their ignorance of their religion and the effect it has had on their beliefs and their liberties.

Now to look at 'The Flying Inn' ; a fascinating book which has been rather neglected by critics for a number of reasons but particularly because the phenomenon he describes in it, of Islam rising in this country, seemed like a fantasy when it was written in 1908. Until quite recently, few would have seen the means by which it could possibly come about. That is how far Chesterton’s prophetic imagination stretched.

At first sight, it appears to be simply an exploration of what could happen once the Imperial powers were told to pack-up and go home by the colonies they ruled. As an opponent of imperialism, and a believer in the strong impulse of people to live according to their own culture, Chesterton saw this as inevitable. He also knew that the largely commercial interests which were the driving force of imperialism would not abandon the effort to harness cheap labour in the interest of trade simply because they had been thrown out of the colonies. They would take steps to attract those whom it could no longer rule in their own country to come and settle where they might be similarly employed to maintain profit-margins on the world market.

The main protagonist in the Flying Inn, Dalroy, says ‘The destiny of Empire in the eyes of the governing class, is in four acts. Victory over barbarians. Employment of barbarians. Alliance with barbarians. Conquest by barbarians.

The story of the Flying Inn takes place at the point at which the fourth Act is about to be undertaken. The alien force that stands for the barbarian is the Turks, and the religion under whose philosophy conquest is to be achieved, is Islam.

The eponymous Flying Inn of the title is the last pub in England, since alcohol has been outlawed in the interests of the 'higher philosophy' of Islam, disguised as a health measure - much as banning smoking in pubs has caused thousands to close, so accommodating the objections to alcohol of Islam.

The hero is obliged to move about the country, rather like Alfred when the Danes came, rallying people to his pub sign and reminding them of what had been taken away from them without their leave, or any shred of democratic consultation.

Incidentally, the fact that Chesterton was at pains to show how laws were changed at the behest of powerful people, without the slightest consideration of what the mass of people wanted – is as pertinent today as it was in 1913. Ken Livingstone wrote a book in 1987 called ‘If Voting Changed Anything, They’d Abolish It’. It was because they knew it gave people no power that they gave them a vote. Thus they lowered the age at which you could vote even as they were laying furtive plans to absorb us into a federal Europe. As Charles Moore quoted in the Telegraph, the EU’s founding father, Jean Monnet said “Europe’s nations should be guided towards a super state without their people understanding what is happening.”

As a character in the Flying Inn says, ‘and for whom would you cast your vote if you were against the changing of Britain into something entirely different?' It seemed a wild question then; it doesn’t now.

Returning to the main action, of the Flying Inn, as the people begin to stir themselves towards revolt, the hero notes how extremely biddable the British are until a certain point is reached. ‘Politics has never got the people what they want,’ Dalroy muses; it is regarded as an activity for the rich, literally and figuratively. But because it has been done slowly, they have almost not noticed how their traditions have been undermined. They have bishops who don't believe in God and clerics who are rabidly anti-scripture. Laws are enormously increased even as much crime is ignored - and the police wear fezzes to demonstrate admiration for all things foreign.

There is a hint of nameless horrors being planned on the domestic front, of polygamy, selective breeding and secret courts. The workers in model villages – now called housing estates - are treated literally like half-wits and urged to take exercise, and drink milk.

And yet the people involved in all this are still recognizably English. They grumble and complain but are still trying to be fair to the people manipulating and driving them. They apologise for wanting a bit more freedom - or for yearning for the past - but they are a long-suffering people.

The curious thing is how much they resemble the people who have to suffer race and gender indoctrination in order to get or keep a job today. The mixture of resignation and complaint is a familiar one to us.

The inexplicable hatred of the ruling class for all things English is exemplified by Dalroy's enemy, Lord Ivywood. He is an interesting character because he embodies an attitude commented on by George Orwell when he said that the higher you rise is the intellectual scale, the more likely you are to hate your own country. Indeed, David Pryce Jones has written a book on this very subject, ‘Treason of the Heart,’ in which he traces this contempt for English things back many generations. He thinks that it came about because, in espousing foreign, rather than native, allegiance, it conferred a new identity that seemed virtuous and idealistic. So Ivywood was not an original, or even unusual character; he was simply the fruition of many of the attitudes GK encountered in the pre-war debates on how to get rid of, or at least control, the English poor and their habits.

Ivywood espouses the cause of Islam, not through any belief in, or feeling for, the new religion but because he believes it will give him power. If he can destroy every living tradition of Britain, he can replace it with something that he has fashioned, some new movement that he has made. One can see the embodiment of this when Michael Heseltine, in an interview on the European Union in the Spectator in the late nineties, says that one day the names of the nations comprising the United Kingdom will be as lost and forgotten as the names of the 12 ancient kingdoms of Britain. When he adds, approvingly, that this is inevitable, we are aware of someone who does not love his country, at least as it exists. The strange thing is that he said that Great Britain would simply fade away, like the 12 kingdoms, and he seems to have edited out of his consciousness that they did not simply fade away. They were fought over, step by step and town by town until they were conquered or obliterated. Ivywood, at least, knew how to do it.

In the Flying Inn, the outcome is strictly logical. Since people have lost the knowledge or ability to argue for what they want, they revolt and simply fall on their oppressors. If no one can any longer argue the case for liberty, or right and wrong, then they can only fight about it.

The 'pro-choice’ philosophy so beloved of liberals and feminists everywhere, is simply translated to another field and people declare their 'right to choose', to destroy those whom they cannot fight by other means.

I feel sure that is what Mother Theresa meant, when she said that abortion was the greatest threat to world peace. We may feel free now to dispose of our own unborn children at the rate of 500 a day today, but, by accepting this cruel and unnatural solution to a problem, we are culturally grooming an indifference to evil which, tomorrow, when the mood has changed, could be used against a dozen more likely targets of our anger and discontent.

One of the most sober things Chesterton said came late on in his book ‘Eugenics and Other Evils’ and it is only saved from an untypical pessimism by the use of the word ‘If’. “ If the unique spirit of the English be indeed departed, it matters little that it has been driven out by perversions it had itself permitted, by monsters it had idly let loose. Industrialism and capitalism and the rage for physical science were English experiments in the sense that the English lent themselves to their encouragement; .. . . It may be that this delicate and tenacious spirit has at last evaporated. If so it matters little what becomes of the external experiments of our nation in later times. That at which we look will be a dead thing, alive with its own parasites. The English will have destroyed England.”

That he felt it necessary to express this gloomy view shows how much he had come to realize that the triumph of the birth-controllers, whom he detested almost more than any others, was justified; it had, at last, found a way – through sexual liberty - to curb the poor and ignorant with their full acquiescence.

He was realistic about what had been done to the working classes in his own day; how the poverty and uncertainty of their lives had rendered them passive and biddable; apt subjects of the servile state, that he and Belloc warned against. So he was acutely aware of the damage that can be done to a people by bad ideas. But sexual liberation was a bad idea made irresistible by remorseless propaganda. However, it could not be said that he didn’t foresee the next ‘divine boomerang ‘, as he called it. – because he did, and described it in the Flying Inn. The liberals’ confidence in the irresistible attractiveness of their decadent power is well-founded to the extent that many people today cannot see any way to arrest it. It would take something that is the theme of the Flying Inn to dislodge. A thing both natural, and, for that reason, much practiced – that thing is conflict.

The ruling elite made a fatal mistake that, probably alone, will lead to the collapse of all their confident hopes for the future they have planned. They deliberately engineered, as we now know since John Neather revealed it in 2010, that the Labour Govt, deliberately allowed immigration to escalate to unmanageable proportions in order to secure their vote and, in his words, to ‘stuff traditional English culture’. Setting aside the breathtaking cynicism not to say traitorousness of such a plan, it was also fatal to liberal hopes.

They decided to replace the English lost to abortion and contraception, with people from outside our culture or religion, most of whom had no love of what liberals love and a significant proportion of whom had no intention of living under it. They have another version, as in a distorted mirror, of our own ‘culture of death’ and their growing presence destroys any hope of settled communities in a foreseeable future. Though the characters in this scenario are different from anything we see today, the atmosphere in The Flying Inn reflects our own day with eerie accuracy. How well he knew the enemy. It is a story about our own times with only the details left for us to fill in.

Politics never got the people what they wanted, said Dalroy, and he knew whereof he spoke. Our ruling class knows very well how to make any new political Party unelectable by one means or another, however much the majority might wish t o see the things imposed on them turned back. The people know it too which is why they don’t vote for the fringe Parties who do believe what they believe. They know such Parties are doomed.

They therefore become a many-headed movement rather than a political party; which is actually more dangerous because it is under the radar of the ruling class and they can neither see nor gauge its strength; just sense uneasily, its ominous proliferation. In the Flying Inn we don’t hear about what is happening on the popular level, but there is certainly no political Party on the scene to represent them.

We hear only the thoughts of the main protagonists on the subject and we witness the explosion when the people rise up.

Chesterton mourned the horrors of the Great War but he also knew we went to war with something horrible that we ourselves had nurtured the fantasy of the superman. The Mental Incapacity Act was actually passed into law in April 1914, just months before the Great War began and when the war finished, it was gone. At this time, Chesterton wrote: “A new mood came upon the whole people; Men began to talk strangely of old and common things, of the counties of England, of its quiet landscapes, of motherhood and the half-buried religion of the race. Death shone on the land like a new daylight, making all things vivid and visibly clear.” It was not just because we won the war, that we were saved, but that many evil ideas died in it too.

This mood didn’t last, of course; that is in the nature of moods – as Chesterton observed. He did not live to see how the people of England, battered by one war, rallied to another in 1939; but he certainly foresaw it - and he foresaw the battle after that too.

Chesterton would have known that every wicked enterprise, particularly on a national scale, has in it the seeds of its own demise; didn’t Aristotle say so; but, in the battle for sanity, which is to say civilization, everybody suffers. The common man was always his chief love and concern. Consequently all his efforts and energies were bent towards persuading them to see through the empty, Godless liberalism which would inevitably lead to conflict and suffering - and undoubtedly many did see it too - but they had no political voice; not in his day and not in our own.

It is not difficult to see now how only the extremity of having to fight for our lives can break the iron hold of a decadent liberalism that has overwhelmed us all. In the Flying Inn it was the only way to recover sanity and Chesterton specifically says that, in the conflict, good men on both sides, died. But in conflict, many eternal truths are re-discovered; the fragility of human existence, the sacredness and privilege of life, the importance to us of our Christian religion, the necessity of men defending and women nurturing the family, the value of selfless courage, of brotherhood and truth.

By a strange paradox, inherent in human nature, we often learn what we need to know from suffering as we did from the Great War. Chesterton obviously foresaw the trouble that our neglect of these things would lead us to - and he offered a prophetic vision of the way evil can be overcome and a progressive nightmare, going ever downwards, would end with conflict between opposing sides, each with their own culture of death. And how it can, and would be defeated.

Paradoxically, I believe Chesterton would regard it as hopeful – which is why The Flying Inn very often makes you laugh out loud.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen - thank you. 

The Inn Catholics’ 2.4.14.