Hilaire Belloc, journalist and polemicist, was an extraordinarily prolific writer, who ventured into the most disparate genres. With his inseparable friend G. K. Chesterton he shared the desire to make culture a weapon in support of the truth of Christ and his Church. A lover of facts rather than words, even on the slippery political terrain he spent a long time supporting the rights of the lowest and the oppressed. He was responsible for the first theorization of the so-called “distributism”, a movement that aspired, unfortunately without success, to create an alternative economic model to capitalism and communism.
Oliver Cromwell, more than a classic historical book, with meticulously reported dates and facts, is an insight into the psychology of Cromwell, the rich Puritan who for a few years, from 1653 to 1658, after leading the parliamentary forces to victory during the English Civil War, became the dictator of England. Belloc wants to dispel all those legends that circulate about Cromwell to reveal the most intimate nature of the latter, the man behind the myth. Thus begins a fascinating journey that captures the attention of the reader both for the wit of the intuitions and for the belligerent but cultivated style.
The short pamphlet, first published in 1927, after a quick introduction tracing the changes that took place in Reformation England, focuses, chapter after chapter, on the description of the different aspects of Cromwell’s character, which, taken together, contributed to his rise. The portrait that emerges, different from that proposed by traditional hagiography, is that of a brilliant leader – his “New Model Army”, prototype of the modern army, was a very successful invention – and of a shrewd diplomat, willing to lie in order to gain some personal advantage. For the rest Cromwell was a resolute but very common spirit, perpetually uncertain and singularly cruel; from his upbringing he had in fact inherited a fanatical Puritanism which, more than in devotion and theology found expression in the indiscriminate slaughter of Catholics, especially Irish. Even as a dictator he proved, on balance, profoundly inadequate, unable to take advantage of the favourable situation in which he found himself.
Oliver Cromwell deserves to be read because shows that, well before Eichmann, the “Banality of Evil” already had a face, the dark and menacing one of Cromwell.