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 Lothian has presented in a coherent and even-handed way a vivid picture of the most important English Catholic thinkers of the twentieth 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 as 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 as well 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
“Lothian claims that Chesterton 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