Frederick Wilhelmsen, Hilaire Belloc: No Alienated Man

New York: Sheed and Ward, 1953.

Here Wilhelmsen explores Hilaire Belloc’s integrated personality and understanding of what it means to be a human person. Belloc’s Grizzlebeard character from The Four Men embodies both Belloc and Wilhelmsen’s conception that identity is found in cleaving to tradition: “ a man’s understanding of himself depends on where he steps into history” (36). Wilhelmsen saw it as particularly important to identify with a tradition, because it is not enough to know the general historical outline behind one’s present circumstances: “To understand what has caused me to be the kind of man I am, I must understand what caused the men who made me to be what they were” (66). We do not enter this world as already educated, isolated individuals. From our birth we are reared in particular ways and told particular stories. How we think and react when we are older is intimately connected to our past; to understand the past, we must get inside the minds of our forefathers, and that means identifying with, empathizing, experiencing their motivations.

However, Wilhelmsen points out that as modern society abandons tradition, the continuity between ancestors and descendents is broken. Identifying with the past, to understand it and reap self-understanding becomes increasingly difficult. Nevertheless, our culture was once integrated, solving man’s “ontological need for complete integration of man’s spiritual and temporal destinies” (94). Part of the frustration Berger outlines stems from the fact that modern man finds himself a member of many disjointed societies, each with conflicting ends. In reality, man has one end. If he is to have one identity, he must have one overarching quest that somehow harmonizes the particular social spheres and ends with the ultimate quest. Man demands an integrated Catholic culture. See “Sign, Faith, and Society.”

Belloc, Wilhelmsen, Dawson, and Newman revere tradition because it enables us to build. Men who want to teach themselves everything and be free from dependence on anyone, cannot do very much. Wilhelmsen quotes Belloc: “The Barbarian is discoverable everywhere in this, that he cannot make, that he can befog and destroy, but that he cannot sustain” (46). Thus, a fever of fruitless experimentation in the 20th century, according to Wilhelmsen and much frustration, according to Berger. The four would also agree that ultimately “man’s personal and social integration exists in order that God might conquer the soul” (91).



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