The Making and Unmaking of the English Catholic Intellectual Community, 1910–1950

James R. Lothian

In The Making and Unmaking of the English Catholic Intellectual Community, 1910–1950, James R. Lothian examines the engagement of interwar Catholic writers and artists both with modernity in general and with the political and economic upheavals of the times in England and continental Europe. The book describes a close-knit community of Catholic intellectuals that coalesced in the aftermath of the Great War and was inspired by Hilaire Belloc’s ideology. Among the more than two dozen figures considered in this volume are G. K. Chesterton, novelist Evelyn Waugh, poet and painter David Jones, sculptor Eric Gill, historian Christopher Dawson, and publishers Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward. For Catholic intellectuals who embraced Bellocianism, the response to contemporary politics was a potent combination of hostility toward parliamentary democracy, capitalism, and so-called “Protestant” Whig history. Belloc and his friends asserted a set of political, economic, and historiographical alternatives—favoring monarchy and Distributism, a social and economic system modeled on what Belloc took to be the ideals of medieval feudalism.

Lothian explores the community’s development in the 1920s and 1930s, and its dissolution in the 1940s, in the aftermath of World War II. Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, joined by Tom Burns and Christopher Dawson, promoted an aesthetic and philosophical vision very much at odds with Belloc’s political one. Weakened by internal disagreement, the community became fragmented and finally dissolved.

James R. Lothian is visiting assistant professor of history at Binghamton University.

“Lothian claims that Chesteron and especially Belloc created the underpinnings of a community of thinkers and writers that shaped the Catholic cultural environment of England in the years after the Great War. Their influence, however, was not only confined to Catholicism, as Lothian shows how this religious cohort also had an impact on the broader national community. This book fills a significant gap in the history of English Catholicism.” — Jay P. Corrin, Boston University

“Written with elegance and clarity, James Lothian has presented in a coherent and even-handed way a vivid picture of the most important English Catholic thinkers of the 20th century. He also deals perceptively with their excesses and defects. Hilaire Belloc is the dominant and shaping figure in this study but others play major roles, such a G.K. Chesterton, Eric Gill, and Evelyn Waugh. These intriguing figures raise questions about modern capitalism, add considerably to our understanding of modern Britain, and bring to mind some intriguing queries about our present economic discontents.” — Peter Stansky, Stanford University

“This wide-ranging study of the flourishing English Catholic community in the first part of the twentieth century is an impressive and substantial contribution to scholarship. Lothian writes with clarity and vigor.” — Ian Ker, University of Oxford

“An astounding number of English intellectuals embraced Catholicism in the first half of the twentieth century. But they did not all share the same understanding of politics or the social order. Lothian’s perceptive analysis of the important groups of thinkers and the trends within their thought sheds much light on their quarrels as well as their common sympathies, with special emphasis on the thought of Belloc, Chesterton, and Dawson. By providing such a careful account of the historical situation, it becomes far more clear why the giants of that generation took the stands they did on the important questions of the day.” — Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., Fordham University

Reviews

“Lothian . . . presents a comprehensive history of English Catholic thinkers such as Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Eric Gill and Evelyn Waugh. These intellectuals and others formed a Catholic counterculture of sorts that produced what is now known as ‘political Catholicism.’ Lothian examines this counterculture, its members’ struggle with Catholicism’s negative attitude towards modernity, and their desire to engage with contemporary society.” — Conscience

“. . . There are many fine biographies of Belloc, Chesterton, Eric Gill, David Jones and Evelyn Waugh . . . James Lothian admirably provides a collective biography of three generations of these leaders, showing how they learned from and influenced each other and, finally, how their collective identity shattered. Lothian charts the rise of new Catholic leaders, including Maisie Ward and Frank Sheed, showing the maturing of Catholic political thought.” — Catholic Library World

“There is much to admire here, with extensive research on unpublished correspondence complementing Lothian’s wide-ranging familiarity with the published writings of his subjects. The book provides valuable accounts of hitherto neglected individuals and enhances understanding of more familiar figures such as Chesterton, Gill, and Belloc himself.” — American Historical Review

“_The Making and Unmaking of the English Catholic Intellectual Community, 1910-1950_ deserves respectful consideration. . . . Lothian makes it harder to ignore Catholicism’s resurgence in the British public mind, a salutary reminder that a sacramental faith encompasses both eschatology and sociology.” — The Catholic Historical Review

“Lothian writes with unobtrusive clarity and has done massive amounts of research. . . ” — Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies

“This book sheds much new light on English Catholic intellectuals in the four decades that encompassed the two world wars. The book builds on but goes well beyond existing scholarship . . . this is a rich and pioneering study that sheds much light on a neglected area of English cultural and intellectual history. The wealth of primary sources on which Lothian has drawn, together with his compelling narrative, critical analysis, and attention to nuance, will ensure that this is a landmark book.” — The Journal of British Studies

“James Lothian’s important new book considers the English Catholic world of the first half of the twentieth century as many English Catholics might have wished it to be considered—small but culturally significant, confident but inveterately quarrelsome, patriotic but with a strangely ambiguous loyalty both to Rome and to home. . . . Lothian’s examination of this rich and complex community is impressively researched, solidly written, engagingly argued, and in sum, full of fascination. He is to be commended on his achievement.” — The Journal of Modern History

“James Lothian sees the impact of Hilaire Belloc on the intellectual formation of English Catholicism in the twentieth century as more than the effect of personal influence upon fellow writers and thinkers, rather as a major catalytic force in the construction of a corporate voice for Catholicism in the face of contemporary secular energizing challenges. . . an excellent study on a difficult theme and one that will rapidly become a seminal work.” — Recusant History

“James Lothian has written an important book on the cultural and political history of the English Catholic community. . . . Lothian’s work is very impressive.” — Political Studies Review

“Lothian’s study fills a much needed gap in English Catholic history and also serves as an excellent example of historical scholarship. Thoroughly documented and very well written—Lothian’s combination of personal annotations and ideological information is a genuine tour de force — this study should stimulate a wide range of dissertation topics which hopefully will continue to shed new light on English Catholicism during the inter-war period.” — Anglican and Episcopal History

“The author offers a series of analytical biographies of the key figures, chief among whom were Belloc and Chesterton. Lothian ably charts the rise of the English Catholic Intellectual community from the political Catholicism of Belloc and its demise after the Second World War when the political and economic themes of Belloc and Chesterton were displaced by the theological and philosophical interests of figures such as the publishers F. Sheed and his wife M. Ward, under the moderating influence of the historian C. Dawson.” — Religious Studies Review