Monarchy: A Study of Louis XIV
Publication Date: May 23, 2022
Monarchy or Plutocracy? This is the rousing question Hilaire Belloc placed before his readers in this masterly 1938 work. Belloc, grown old, saw the revolutionary dreams of his youth were naive. The great liberal insurrections, which supposedly led to Democracy, had yielded instead to secretive control by shadowy Capitalistic elites. As provocative as this thesis was in 1938, many today harbour similar suspicions of entities as varied as Wall Street, Washington, the European Union and the World Economic Forum. Could the only answer be Catholic Monarchy, which naturally favours Distributism and a true democratic spirit? Pondering these pages, today's readers may well wonder!
While this book tells the story of France's "Sun King," Louis XIV, it is not simply biography. Rather, it is a study of the mysterious nature of Monarchy. Moreover, Belloc stresses what "is central to this study ... is the natural conflict between Monarchy and the Money-power."
For in Seventeenth Century France, Louis XIV combatted the new financial elites with a certain success-unlike his Stuart cousin James II, the last Catholic king of England, who fell before the power of Protestant monied interests. Here is an epic tale, wherein Capitalism triumphed in the emerging Anglosphere, while a flawed, French King chose instead "a road less travelled." Here, too, is a profound Catholic meditation on matters as diverse as French royalty, European tradition, economic justice and the hidden roots of plutocratic Globalism.
This edition features an extensive foreword by Roger Buck, which penetrates Belloc's life and thought, while clarifying French history for the benefit of modern readers.
Monarchy was written in 1938, only a few years before his debilitating stroke and of the same era as his books on the Reformation which, of all his historical works, have proved longest-lasting.
Whether the adulation Belloc shows for Louis is earned is questionable. Belloc was known for placing more hope certain figures than they actually earned, especially among his fellow Gauls. Napoleon, to Belloc, was a man who could have brought moral unity back to Europe lost in the Reformation; Danton was in charge of reestablishing the norm of government in the French state. These are very generous interpretations of the works of these men, and one wonders if Belloc isn't doing the same to King Louis. We get surprisingly little of Louis in the course of this long work, few of his actual statements, little of his actual way of thought. Belloc is quick to speculate about Louis' attachment to Mary Mancini, calling it a love that few mere mortals experience. He constantly refers to Louis as the proponent of the Catholic cause and stalwart against the Protestant money power. Whether Louis actually knew he held these affections and roles is questionable.
The description of the political struggles undertaken in the latter part of Louis' reign is probably the book's greatest aspect. The War of Spanish Succession is made coherent by Belloc, which is something more history textbooks fail at.
Still, while it is not Belloc's greatest work--it is too much Belloc, and too little Louis--it is essential to any real fan of Belloc. I am surprised it slipped under my radar so long. While his military writing, political analysis, and biographical detail is done better elsewhere, Monarchy still feels like a culminating work, and Louis, even if an inapt subject, in idealized form takes on the role of a summum of Belloc's beliefs and hopes. The introduction by Mr. Buck is not incredibly helpful, and not worth the price of admission, if you can find an older edition of the book.