...Belloc’s refusal to lie is what made for him so many ideological enemies; yet the same quality makes him for us a beacon of Truth and Sanity in these troubled times. Many are familiar with his academic successes in defending true history against false interpretations, and know well his vigorous defense of Catholicism in the face of its opponents. Those who are fortunate have come across his social criticism contained in such volumes as The Servile State and the Essay on the Restoration of Property, in which he takes Centralization to task, in both its bureaucratic-socialist and its finance-capitalist forms.
Less familiar is his critique of the Press, what we would call a critique of the Media. Though an analysis of the phenomenon of the Media – its growth, its concentration, its impact on public opinion, its ability to suppress truth and warp thinking – should be central to any complete conception of what’s wrong with the world, we rarely find a coherent analysis and condemnation of the problem from those who attempt to articulate a vision for the restoration of the West. Richard Weaver is a notable exception; his chapter, The Great Stereopticon, in Ideas Have Consequences is a commendable assessment of the media propaganda machine. Thus it is the comprehensiveness of Belloc’s position – from which flows his critique of the Press – that makes The Free Press an essential treatise on the corrosive influence exercised by the contemporary media establishment. It is, however, a subtle treatise, and the truly enlightening and remarkable aspects of his work are easily overlooked.
Belloc begins with the seemingly innocuous statement that Capitalism and Finance grew out of the Reformation. What he says thereafter, however, is of central importance to his entire essay. The Press, he says, began to arise contemporaneously with Capitalism and Finance: it has grown with them and served them. Thus Belloc underlines the key to his thought process in a single phrase, a phrase which implies conclusions both shocking and wholly contrary to modern notions.
These notions tell us the following: That the Press, the Media, comprises the Fourth Estate. It shares responsibility for governing the nation, because of the influence it exercises over the voting populace. It therefore considers itself to be a public trust, responsible for bringing accurate and objective news, as well as varied and educated opinion, to the mass of men.
Nothing could be further from the truth, or from Belloc’s accurate notion that the Press is the spawn of Capitalism. His idea implies that the modern media corporation exists not to perform a service but rather to make a profit. The so-called market forces which govern the workings of the capitalist machine cannot be trusted to ensure that corporations are managed in a way which is beneficial to the average man. Those forces will rather dictate the terms upon which a newspaper (or TV or radio station) succeeds or fails. Those same forces will ultimately cause the independent operation to surrender to the conglomerate or to fold altogether. Thus the only corporations able to sustain an operation for the dissemination of news and opinion – in print or otherwise – will be those with huge amounts of capital. Market forces will finally be quite neutral about what is printed or broadcast, unless of course those in a position to influence regulation that is placed upon the market have a vested interest in what is printed or broadcast.
That Belloc’s further observations, in illustrating these points – which are focused on the late 19th and early 20th centuries – are not only accurate statements of fact but also prescient warnings about the future, is born out by current evidence. Indeed, each of the implications of Belloc’s general thesis corresponds exactly to the current situation...
Belloc’s observations about the connection of Capital with the Press are further developed by his later contention – again, deceptively simple – that the Plutocracy that governs England (and today all modern nations) through the system of professional politics is supported by the modern press organization. At first glance this is a rather obvious statement. But any serious examination of the major media outlets yields the unavoidable conclusion that there is no opposition, at least in the mainstream media, to the modern, materialist worldview which is prevalent in theory and which is enforced in practice by the pseudo-democratic New World Order, and an omnipresent U.S. military machine.
Recently, top media critic, Robert W. McChesney, pointed to the overwhelmingly pro-U.S. government bias in coverage of September 11, 2001, and its aftermath, and identified as the root causes of that bias the very same evils which Belloc identifies. He wrote:
The internet, its own potential for evil notwithstanding, has contributed to the creation of a Free Press in our own time that corresponds strikingly to that which Belloc details. Just as he read Charles Maurras’ monarchist paper without swallowing the notion that a monarchy would remedy every evil, and Drumont’s anti-Jewish paper without conceding that all ill in the world was caused by Jews, so too we can avail ourselves of a number of solid sources without having necessarily to subscribe to their ideological presumptions.
Libertarian journals such as Antiwar.com and the Llewellyn H. Rockwell electronic magazine can be counted upon for convincing arguments and relevant news in opposition to the imperialism of the U.S. and its European allies as they attempt to maintain the liberal democratic and capitalist world; but in their near worship of the Austrian economists and their veneration of the free market as the solution to all economic problems, they are, as Belloc says, talking nonsense.
...The internet has also enabled the lone crusader – the independent journalist, social critic, or polemicist – to make his views known with a greater and greater degree of circulation. Well-known writers like Joe Sobran, Charley Reese, and Robert Fisk, as well as a host of others, such as Mark Bruzonsky with his Middle East Realities and Bob Djurdjevic of Truth in Media fame, who manage websites, e-mail newsletters, and on-line discussions of all ideological stripes and shades, now have an opportunity to make their views known to an unprecedented degree. No wonder that the Establishment is screaming evermore insistently about the need for internet regulation – though this attack on freedom of expression will be done in the name of stopping hate crimes, pornography and criminality. Meanwhile, the internet has facilitated to a large extent the wide dissemination of alternative news and opinion, thus skirting the boycott of editors and advertisers from which the Free Press suffered in Belloc’s day.
...But for all these interesting revelations of fact and valid criticisms of mainstream opinion, the Free Press remains merely a resource to be consulted as an alternative to the mechanical similarity and materialist orthodoxy of the mainstream media. It is a patchwork collection of suppressed facts and politically incorrect opinions, some valid, and some not. It is a patchwork which must be integrated and rectified by a context and a vision which is imposed from above, and which can only be the fruit of the dual influence of Reason and Revelation.
Thus we have Belloc’s warning to appreciate the monarchist, the socialist, the anti-Jewish, and other papers, not for the vision – though internally consistent, if erroneous – which they possess, but for the facts and perspective which they reveal. It is ultimately in Belloc’s Catholic mind, already possessed of a complete and coherent view of the world, that the disparate truths announced by the Free Press are reconciled and interpreted.
So, too, must our appreciation for and use of the modern Free Press be tempered by the recognition that it possesses no inherent guarantee that any and all of its facts and opinions are free from error or worthy of belief. We must test all things; and hold fast that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We live in an age of universal skepticism and militant relativism. The Free Press too, with rare exception, is thus tainted with that intellectual disorder and chaos which is the fruit of the modern world’s conception of freedom, understood not as the ability to do Good, and to believe and speak the Truth, but seen rather as a license to do and say anything in pursuit of power, pleasure, and material satisfaction. It is a license which allegedly permits not only the massive consolidation of corporate media powerhouses in the name of the free market, but also the suppression of fact and the manufacture of ideological orthodoxy in the name of preserving, at all cost, the free world.
The world must rather be made safe not for democracy but for the Truth. A truly Free Press, in the best sense of the term, will be free to speak the truth at all times and on all subjects. Ultimately, media outlets of all kinds must be subjected, as Pope Pius XII wrote in his encyclical on television and radio, to the sweet yoke of the law of Christ, if they are not to become a source of countless evils, which will be all the more serious in that they will enslave not only the powers of nature but also those of the soul.
That enslavement has largely come upon us, and the genius of Belloc’s essay is that he explains the origins and developments of it from the standpoint of his comprehensive view of the world. His analysis is thus uniquely comprehensible. The problem of the Press is the problem of modernity, and its development from the Reformation, Capitalism, and Finance is simply one more symptom of the fundamental modern disease.