If you plan to read only one book on foreign affairs in the next year, you should read Paul Belien’s A Throne in Brussels.  Belien is a lawyer and a journalist, a rare free-market advocate who understands the importance of ethnic identity.  On one level, Belien’s book is a ruthless investigation of the history and misconduct of the ruling class of one small European nation, but the implications for the future of Europe—and North America—are vast.  As Europe becomes more and more like Belgium, a country whose very existence depends on the denial of the idea of the nation, Belgium’s abysmal political morality may well become the international norm.

Much of the book is devoted to the history of the Belgian monarchy, from Leopold of Saxe-Coburg to the reigning Albert II.  The initial chapter, which involves the creation of Belgium, may stand as an allegory of Belgian history.  Leopold I had already enjoyed a long amoral career of lechery and disloyalty—supporting both sides in the Napoleonic wars—before he wooed and wedded Princess Charlotte of Great Britain.  Charlotte’s death destroyed his dream of being prince consort of a reigning queen, and Leopold would have to “rule” Britain by exerting his fascinating influence on his young niece Victoria and indirectly through Albert, his nephew or (since Leopold appears to have bedded his brother’s wife) son.

Like other members of his clan, Leopold spent his early life looking for a crown.  He ultimately rejected the throne of Greece because he did not like the terms connected with it but, through the intervention of his British family connections, accepted the offer to become king of the Belgians.  The name is instructive.  The Belgae had been an ancient Celtic people who were absorbed into the Gallo-Roman population and disappeared long before the fall of the western empire.  The territory that included modern Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands had gone by many names and been ruled by many masters.  When the southern and northern Netherlands were reunited at the end of the Napoleonic wars into a united kingdom under Willem of Orange, the French-speaking Walloons of the south, who resented separation from the French Empire, began plotting to detach the south from Willem’s kingdom and have it annexed to France.  Their revolution, significantly, was the work of veteran Jacobins and their sons.

This plot, however, was unacceptable to the Great Powers, who had laid French territorial expansion to rest.  Ultimately, the solution was to establish the kingdom of the Belgians (a people who did not exist) in the southern Netherlands, which included the French-speaking Walloons, Dutch-speaking Flemings (Flemish is only a dialect of Dutch), and a small but significant population of German speakers, many of them clustered in Luxembourg (which was later detached).  This unsatisfactory shotgun marriage, which failed to satisfy the Walloons and disgusted the Flemish, was the kingdom offered to Uncle Leopold.  As one of the leaders of the “Belgian” revolutionaries observed, “As I was unable to give Belgium to France, I gave it to the devil.”  Belien summarizes the fateful train of events:

In spite of the protestations of King Willem, the Powers accepted the creation of the new kingdom under Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.  Hence a totally new state came into existence.  The revolutionaries who had created it had wanted it to be absorbed as quickly as possible into France.  The majority of the people living in its territory had wanted to remain part of the Netherlands.  Being an artificial construction and not a nation, Belgium never became a fatherland that was loved by its people.  Some loved France, some loved the Netherlands, others loved their local Flemish or Walloon communities, but no one loved Belgium.  Those who defended Belgium did so because it was their gravy train.  One of these was Leopold.

In order to unify his diverse kingdom, Willem of Orange had already established a national fund for building up the industry and commerce of the south, and Leopold quickly turned this Société Générale into a cash cow for himself and his loyal supporters.  With a huge percentage of the national economy under his control, Leopold was able to buy up the political opposition, buy off the hostile press, and silence critics in the Catholic Church—all but Msgr. Joachim Pecci, sent as papal nuncio in 1843.  Pecci was finally summoned back to Italy to become, in turn, bishop of Perugia and Pope Leo XIII, whom Belien is right to call one of the greatest popes of the 19th century (though his praise of the pope for “adopting a conciliatory position to democratic and social movements” is a misleading description of a creative reactionary).

To all his bad qualities, Leopold added one quasivirtue: He was a shrewd, Machiavellian politician who relied on a combination of diplomacy, corruption, and violence to establish the fiction of national unity that would be maintained by his successors down to the present.  Metternich quipped that any state could survive if it had Leopold as its king.  To repress support for the House of Orange, Leopold went beyond corruption and used his army—the largest per capita military establishment in Europe—to launch a brutal attack on the Orangists, whose leaders were harassed, arrested, or exiled.  The rest were intimidated into submission.

Leopold’s reign illustrates three themes of Belgian history: first, an unremitting campaign to eliminate or minimize the Flemish language and identity; second, a political system, dominated by the king, based on coercion and corruption; third, which flows from the combination of the first two, the development of a state without a nation.

Belien, in telling the tale of the Belgian monarchy, offers hair-raising tales of greed, violence, corruption, and perversion, from the brutal and genocidal occupation of the Congo to more recent sex scandals involving the kidnapping, rape, and torture (all caught on film for the viewing pleasure of perverts) of young women and girls.  When investigators began to put together a coherent picture of a prostitution-pornography ring with connections in high places, the investigation was suppressed.

Belgium, Belien concludes, is, in every respect, the model for a new Europe that prates of democracy while establishing a centralized dictatorship, defends ethnic minorities while destroying real nations, and, though professing the highest ideals of humanity, sinks into a sewer of vicious depravity.  Only half joking, he proposes to establish the Belgian Saxe-Coburgs as the constitutional monarchs of the European Union.  He closes, however, on the optimistic note of a man who understands human liberty:

The future of the European continent depends to a large extent on the reader and on decisions he allows his politicians to take.  It is not inevitable that all Europeans will be Belgians, with the British in the position that the Flemings have occupied for the past 175 years.  Perhaps—and what an irony that would be—the people of Flanders, citizens of a nation designed to deny nationality, will become the forerunners of the countermovement, bringing down the Belgian construct and thereby proving that Europe as a federal superstate is a non-starter—the non-starter that Belgium, but for the Saxe-Coburgs on their gravy throne, would have been.

Belien was writing his conclusion about the time that the Flemish national party, the Vlams Blok, whose conservative wing was led by his wife, was being outlawed for advocating restrictions on immigration and abortion.  Since then, the successor party, the Vlams Belang, has jettisoned the moral baggage that made it unique among Europe’s national parties.  Paul Belien, with his perfect grasp of English, should think of coming over to America, which is at least a decade behind Belgium.


[A Throne in Brussels: Britain, the Saxe-Coburgs and the Belgianisation of Europe, by Paul Belien (Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic) 384 pp., $49.90]