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“The Demons are Interchangeable”: Damian Thompson on Anti-Catholic Conspiracy Theories

History is replete with a number of bizarre yet dangerous anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic conspiracy theories, such as the Diana Vaughan hoax, various narratives about the so-called Jewish and/or Masonic “Anti-Christ”, and the infamous ritual murder blood libels. Jews and Freemasons have also been accused of being secretive, manipulative and greedy, and blamed for supposedly controlling the press, stock markets and international finance. Anti-Catholic conspiracy narratives are no less fantastic, dangerous, and venomous. An excellent recent article in the Catholic Herald by Dr Damian Thompson – an expert on apocalyptic beliefs and Antichrist narratives – justifiably noted that we may “laugh at ludicrous anti-Catholic conspiracies. But we underestimate how many minds they poison.” He observes that conspiracy propagandists are “having a field day constructing alternative realities that frighten us and poison our minds.” And whilst those hostile to Jews and Freemasons have the notorious forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to fuel their imagination, anti-Catholics have the Monita Secreta (a forged document purported to be the secret protocols of the Jesuits). Damian Thompson, “No, the Jesuits didn’t start World War I,” Catholic Herald, 22 January 2015.

According to Thompson’s lucid consideration in the Catholic Herald, Catholics are accused, even today – or perhaps especially today in this age of the internet and mass media – of all kinds of bizarre things, such as being responsible for the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Thompson explains that according to the conspiracy theory, the Jesuits (and presumably also their so-called accomplices, the “Rothschild/Morgan/Rockefeller cartel”) came up with a diabolic scheme to build a “death ship” – which they would falsely claim to be unsinkable – in order to lure a number of opponents of their so-called US Federal Reserve cartel to a “watery grave”.

The Sinking of the Titanic, Willy Stöwer, 1912

Other anti-Catholic conspiracy theories blame Catholics for starting the First World War, and instigating the 9/11 terrorist attack. As Thompson rightly notes, in the construction of these ludicrous and yet poisonous conspiracy theories: “The demons are interchangeable: Catholics, Freemasons, the Illuminati and, most persistently, Jews. The structure of the story remains broadly the same. ‘They’ are rich, powerful, secretive and plotting world domination. The righteous must act now to thwart their plans.” It is thus unsurprising that Jews and Freemasons have also been blamed for the First World War, and accused of master-minding the attack on the World Trade Center; and if someone was to tell me that a deranged theory exists, accusing “the Illuminati” or “the Knights Templar” of participating in the 9/11 attack, it would not surprise me – such is the surreal nature of the conspiracy theory.

One of the things that impressed me about Thompson’s article, is that it does not shy away from the fact that Catholics too have been “progenitors” of such theories: “Catholics need to face up to the reality that, over 2,000 years, elements in the Church have been progenitors as well as victims of conspiracy theories. Mostly this should be a source of shame – but we need to bear in mind that paranoid thinking is to some extent part of the DNA of Christianity in general; Protestants and Eastern Orthodox are also vulnerable to it.” As Thompson reports: “Alas, certain Right-wing Catholics have not been able to resist the lure of the Protocols: they were favourite reading material of Bishop Richard Williamson, disgraced bishop of the Society of St Pius X (which expelled him in 2012).” Thompson goes on to explain that: “Williamson, though an Englishman, was immersed in a French Catholic conspiratorial subculture that predates the Protocols. Ultra-clericalist Frenchmen in the Third Republic blamed all their misfortunes on Jews and Freemasons.”

Interestingly, as I discovered during my PhD, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, such narratives were not confined to ultra-clerical French Catholics. At the time of the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s, articles and columns in popular English Catholic newspapers, in particular the Tablet (which was not then the liberal Catholic magazine it is today), also went along with such narratives, accusing Jews of conspiring with Freemasons against the Church. For example, a report in the Tablet in March 1897 noted that: “In criticizing the Anti-Semitic policy of the clerical party on the Continent, it must be remembered that the Ghetto is there the focus and centre of the Liberal warfare against Catholicism, and that Jews and Freemasons form everywhere the vanguard of the forces of infidelity. By their address in capturing and manipulating the political machinery and the power of the press, they have contrived in Catholic countries to organize a systematic persecution of the Catholic Church, and to trample on the faith and practices of Catholicism as though they represented but the belief of a contemptible and impotent minority. The alliance of the Synagogue with the Lodges is in all continental countries the symbol of the triumph of infidelity over Christianity, and the creed of modern, no less than of ancient Judaism, is hostility to the Christian name.” See “Anti-Semitism in the Austrian Elections,” The Tablet, 27 March 1897, 481-482. During the Dreyfus Affair, the Tablet reported in February 1898, that it is suspicious that “in the sudden clamour for the revision of the Dreyfus trial … it is a subsidized movement, financed by the moneyed interest, which has made the cause of the Jewish Captain its own.” The Tablet stated that: “We shall not, we trust, be accused of palliating or condoning the excesses of anti-Semitism, by pointing out that the Jews, in France, Italy, and Austria, the three principal Catholic nations of the continent, exercise a political influence entirely disproportioned to their numbers, and that this influence is always exercised against the religion of the country. In close alliance with the Freemasons, … they form the backbone of the party of aggressive liberalism, with war to the knife against the Church as the sum and aim of its policy.” See “Captain Dreyfus and His Champions”, The Tablet, 12 February 1898, 238. Furthermore, during the late nineteenth century, the Tablet and the Catholic Herald were somewhat credulous (though not quite as credulous as La Croix) when it came to reports of Luciferian Freemasonry (for example, during the Diana Vaughan hoax).

Thompson provides other (more theological) examples of conspiracy-like narratives. He explains that the Book of Revelation in the New Testament is “a conspiracy theory whose authors introduced early Christians to the notion of the Antichrist, littering the text with mathematical codes and lurid allegory.” Thompson correctly notes that in some Protestant anti-Catholic narratives, the Pope has been vilified as this shadowy Antichrist figure. Significantly, he also acknowledges and laments that the Antichrist has not been confined to anti-Catholic narratives, but has also been used by some prominent Catholics to vilify non-Catholics: “Today it seems repugnant to Catholics that Luther should have identified the Pope as Antichrist. We forget that both pontiffs and Catholic monarchs had previously taken great pleasure in identifying their own enemies as this Satanic figure, whom the Bible explicitly tells us will emerge from disguise shortly before Jesus returns.” Significantly, as I discovered during my own PhD research (link for brief summary of PhD), such narratives were not confined to pontiffs, Catholic monarchs, or ultra-clericalist French Catholics in the Third Republic. Prominent English Catholics during the nineteenth- and the early twentieth-centuries, such as Father Henry Manning (who went on to become the second Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster) and Canon Dr William Barry (of the Archdiocese of Birmingham), as well as less prominent figures, repeated narratives about how the so-called “Jewish Antichrist” would arrive (or had already arrived) to lead anti-Christian forces against the Church (link for English Catholic Narratives about the “Jewish Antichrist”).

Thompson humbly concludes that he is “not qualified to say what the Church’s theological response should be to this aspect of its heritage.” Not being a Catholic myself, I am even less qualified to comment on the Church’s theological response to this aspects of its heritage, though like Dr Thompson, I believe the Church has a duty to respond in some way, if “it is to heal the wounds it has created.” Thompson suggests that whilst the Church did not invent the conspiracy theory narrative (for example, shadowy inventions similar to the diabolic Antichrist existed in pre-Christian Jewish and pagan myths), “in practical terms it should be alert to its persistence on the fringes of Catholicism.” Unfortunately, he suggests that Pope Francis may have his work cut out if he wishes to address the persistence of such narratives. According to Thompson: “Pope Francis is perceived – and presents himself – as a new broom in the Vatican. Ironically, this may make it more difficult to sweep away the conspiratorial mindset, since he himself hints that corrupt curial officials have seized control of dicasteries.”

Thompson suggests as a first step that the Vatican needs to learn how to better employ the internet. One can only hope that it not already too late in this age of mass media, when blog posts and tweets can circulate the globe and reach a huge audience very quickly, to dismantle the myriad of prejudiced myths and conspiracy theories (whether the role of diabolical villain is assigned to Jews, Freemasons, Catholics, Ahmadi, Roma, or some other group or combination of groups). Unfortunately, one suspects that such pernicious narratives are now resiliently embedded in the digital discourse (though this should not stop us attempting to dismantle them).



English Methodist Newspapers Reporting on the Dreyfus Affair (1899)

Dreyfus Image

In 1898, the main English Methodist newspapers and magazines (the Bible Christian Magazine, the Free Methodist, the Methodist Recorder, and the Methodist Times) largely ignored the Dreyfus Affair , but by July 1899, they were all publicly defending and sympathising with Captain Dreyfus. In July 1899, the Bible Christian Magazine applauded the French Judges who quashed the original “conviction of Dreyfus,” which, the magazine concluded, had been shown to be “obtained by wholesale perjury and forgery.” The magazine depicted Dreyfus as the victim of a sinister plot. In September, the magazine contended that not just Dreyfus, but the French nation was on trial at Rennes. The magazine suggested that the nation’s statesman, administrators and army stood before the eyes of the world, “a discredited product of the age.” In October, the magazine observed that it was not concerned with Dreyfus as an individual per se, but rather with the French people, who were close neighbours, with a history closely interwoven with that of the English. The Bible Christian Magazine claimed that it desired to avoid anti-French sectarianism, noting that “their downfall cannot profit us; their shame is a menace to us, for as they sink they tend to drag us with them.” The magazine thus wished to avoid condemning France to oblivion, desiring instead to restore “a sane France, a justice-loving France, a pure France.” The paper expressed its hope that France would consider the judgement that has been passed upon her by popular opinion across Europe, overcome the “flood of corruption and perjury,” and free herself from “Jesuitism.” See “Dreyfus,” Bible Christian Magazine, July 1899, 471-472; “Distraught France,” Bible Christian Magazine, September 1899, 609; “Our Next Door Neighbour,” Bible Christian Magazine, October 1899, 676-677.

The Free Methodist only contained a few very short reports on the Dreyfus Affair. In September 1899, the paper stated that the verdict at the retrial of Dreyfus excites “mingled feelings of compassion and indignation. Deep sympathy is felt for Captain Dreyfus and his noble wife. To be condemned again after suffering five years’ torture on Devil’s Isle … is very hard indeed.” The paper attributed the verdict of the judges in favour of the army rather than Dreyfus to “stupidity,” “prejudice,” and “moral cowardice.” The Free Methodist linked the Dreyfus Affair to Catholicism and the Pope, arguing that: “the Dreyfus case makes a startling revelation of the corrupt condition of the Church of Rome. The clerical papers of France, and notably those conducted and influenced by priests, have clamoured for this cruel and unjust verdict. The Pope and the bishops have maintained a criminal silence, and the Church which claims to be the true body of Christ has never one word in favour of mercy towards a man who, like his Divine Lord, is a persecuted Jew”. The Free Methodist attributed the “corruption of France and the unjust condemnation of Dreyfus” to “the clerical education system … and the hypocrisy of French priests.” The paper approved when the French Government pardoned and released Captain Dreyfus, and wished him a quick recovery. The paper noted that Dreyfus and his friends should not content themselves with a mere release, as his good name needs to be restored. The paper stated that it is doubtful however that the reputation of “the Church of Rome” can be restored after its “cruel persecution of Dreyfus.” “The Catholics who rejoiced and praised God for the outrageous judgement of Rennes have dealt their Church an irreparable blow,” the paper concluded. See “Notes and Comments,” Free Methodist:  14 September 1899, 625-626, and 28 September 1899, 657.

The Methodist Recorder similarly defended Dreyfus, and attributed the injustice to so-called “Jesuitry”. On 14 September 1899, the paper reported that “it is no exaggeration to say that the act of the Court Martial at Rennes, or rather the act of the five military Judges who re-condemned Captain Dreyfus, has filled the whole world with horror and amazement.” Only the “Anti-Semites and the Jesuits,” the paper suggested, were likely to be pleased with the result. The paper observed that France as a whole should not be condemned, as a large number of people in France believe in the innocence of Captain Dreyfus, and sympathise with the indignation felt by other nations regarding the verdict. “France is not wholly given over to fanatical Jew-baiters, idolaters of the Army, and Jesuitry,” the paper reported. The Methodist Recorder defended English Catholics and Cardinal Herbert Vaughan (the Archbishop of Westminster), noting that “the English Roman Catholics largely share the indignation of their protestant neighbours,” and that “even Cardinal Vaughan himself is on the same side.” The Methodist Recorder was probably swayed by the more positive articles in English Catholic newspapers (including the Tablet) defending Captain Dreyfus at the end of the affair (i.e. in late 1899). See “Editorial Notes,” Methodist Recorder, 14 September 1899.

Despite the comments in the Methodist Recorder defending Cardinal Vaughan, earlier articles in Cardinal Vaughan’s own newspaper, the Tablet, the semi-official newspaper of the English Catholic hierarchy, were bitterly hostile towards Captain Dreyfus, and portrayed his various defenders as part of an anti-Catholic Jewish-Masonic alliance. For example, when Captain Dreyfus was accused of treason at the end of 1894 and beginning of 1895, and sentenced to exile and imprisonment on Devil’s Island, the Tablet was very quick to believe the accusations. The episode according to the Tablet did not merely demonstrate the guilt of one man, but also revealed the so-called growing power of the Jews and Freemasons. In January 1895, the Tablet contained a report in its Paris news section, stating that “there can be little doubt that the trivial punishment inflicted on Captain Dreyfus for what, in a military country like France, is one of the most heinous of crimes, is owing to the fact that he is both a Freemason and a Jew.” According to the Tablet, “while in England the Jews are a harmless and inoffensive tribe, or at most work unaggressively, in France they are the declared and open enemies of the Christian religion; using their wealth and talents to obtain official positions, and the power with which these latter endow them to strike every blow that chance may afford at the Catholic faith; and they never miss a chance.” “The combination of Judaism with Freemasonry is irresistible,” the reported stated, and “it rules France with an iron-gloved hand, and there is no disguise of velvet-covering to soften the grip.” The report in the Tablet concluded that “had a Christian been found guilty of the treachery of Captain Dreyfus he would have been shot,” whereas he “escapes with a comfortable exile, accompanied by his wife and family, and freedom to live his own life subject to the very slightest supervision.” The Tablet continued to maintain this position in 1898. The Tablet reported that “the sudden clamour for the revision of the Dreyfus trial … is a subsidized movement, financed by the moneyed interest which has made the cause of the Jewish Captain its own.” According to the report, if Dreyfus had “belonged to any other race,” there would be no agitation on his behalf. “It looks,” the paper reported, “almost as if the intangibility of the Hebrew were to be elevated to the place of a new dogma of public right, as the final article of the Jacobin creed of the Revolution.” The paper argued that the Dreyfus case has become the battleground for two opposing factions. On the one side stands “the elements that represent and constitute French nationality – the old aristocracy, the army with its Catholic traditions, and the bulk of the Catholic population.” On the other side stands the “cosmopolitan forces of international journalism, Semitic finance, and infidel letters which seek to move the world by the leverage of two great powers, intellect and money.” The Tablet was again explicit in its declaration of an alliance between Jews and Freemasons, and as it had before, it suggested that in certain circumstances, antisemitism was acceptable if regrettable. It stated that: “We shall not, we trust, be accused of palliating or condoning the excesses of anti-Semitism, by pointing out that the Jews, in France, Italy, and Austria, the three principal Catholic nations of the continent, exercise a political influence entirely disproportioned to their numbers, and that this influence is always exercised against the religion of the country. In close alliance with the Freemasons, … they form the backbone of the party of aggressive liberalism, with war to the knife against the Church as the sum and aim of its policy.” See “Notes from Paris,” Tablet, 12 January 1895, 58; “Antisemitism in the Austrian Election,” Tablet, 27 March 1897, 481-482; “Captain Dreyfus and His Champions,” Tablet, 12 February 1898, 238.

Whilst the Methodist Recorder was relatively conciliatory towards Cardinal Archbishop Vaughan and English Catholics – though on 5 October it was critical about Vaughan’s decision to defend the Catholic newspapers’ handling of the Dreyfus Affair – it did report that “the authorities of the Church in Rome, if only because of their silence, cannot be held blameless in the matter. The Pope and his Cardinals may not have had it in their power to prevent the result, but they might, at least, with their great authority, have imposed silence upon those priests in France, who, though a fanatical Press, have inflamed the popular provincial mind.” It invoked Pilate and the image of the crucifixion as an analogy to condemn those who condemned Dreyfus. It stated that the Pope and his Cardinals have “elected to play the part of Pilate and Caiaphas in another tragedy. Knowing, as they must have done in their secret hearts, that an innocent man was being martyred, they were content to let events take their course.” On 21 September, the paper applauded the pardoning of Dreyfus, noting that “no French Government would dream of pardoning an officer of the General Staff twice condemned if there were even the shadow of a doubt as to his innocence.” It again condemned “the forgers and conspirators and liars” who “go scot free, except that they are execrated not only by the world outside France, but by the best and noblest of their own countrymen.” Significantly, the paper argued against an agitation for the boycotting of the Paris Exhibition that was planned for 1900, which it regarded as unfair and unwise, as “the rotten section of the French army is not France, nor is that blind and mad section of the Roman Catholic Church of France of which ‘La Croix’ is the organ, nor yet those dregs of the French Press which stand for all that is unjust and inhuman.” English people should not hate France in general the paper concluded, but rather “honour the noble minority – if minority it still is – that has pleaded for justice to the falsely-accused.” The paper did however “confess to an intense desire to see justice avenged on the real culprits in this great drama.” See “Editorial Notes,” Methodist Recorder: 14 September 1899, 3; 21 September 1899, 3; 5 October 1899, 3.

Of the Methodist newspapers and magazines in 1899, the Methodist Times contained the most prominent anti-Catholicism in its reporting of the Dreyfus Affair. The Methodist Times argued on 21 September 1899 that the Jesuits were to blame for the Dreyfus Affair. Furthermore, whereas the Methodist Recorder mostly defended or praised English Catholics and Cardinal Archbishop Herbert Vaughan, the Methodist Times excoriated Vaughan for his attempts to deflect just criticism, and, quote, “his silence and the silence of all the English Romanist Hierarchy, when every other Christian Church is protesting against the wicked verdict of Rennes.” According to the Methodist Times, Vaughan was the “docile pupil of the French Jesuit school” (in reality, there was no connection between Cardinal Vaughan and the French Jesuits – but his newspaper the Tablet had excoriated Jews and Captain Dreyfus prior to 1899). “The Dreyfus case and the rotten condition of the French Army,” the Methodist Times argued, was “the direct result of the momentous fact that the Jesuits now dominate the French Roman Catholic Church.” The Methodist Times argued that the “great political and ecclesiastical fact of our time is that the Jesuits, after centuries of strife, have at last captured the whole machinery of the Roman Catholic Church, and are gradually crushing out of that Church all those who do not accept their views and methods.” “The more Liberal and manly American Romanism lies prostrate in the dust under the foot of Spanish Romanism,” the paper concluded. Furthermore, the Methodist Times blamed the Jesuits for events throughout Europe: “the Jesuit organisation has brought France into her present position, keeps the unity of Italy in constant peril, threatens the German Empire, will certainly destroy the unity of Austria, and, mainly through Irish agency, is always secretly seeking to undermine the unity of the British Empire.” The same issue of the Methodist Times also contained a couple of reports of Methodists delivering lectures on the Dreyfus Affair and organising protests. One Methodist minister, the Rev. D. A. De Mouilpied, delivered a lecture on France and the “Dreyfus Tragedy” at a crowded chapel in York – according to the paper, 2000 congregants assembled to hear the lecture – and the Superintendent minister organised a letter to be sent from the large congregation to Madame Dreyfus to express “profound sympathy” and “confidence in Captain Dreyfus’s innocent.” The Rev. De Mouilpied then repeated his lecture at another crowded chapel in Sheffield. According to the Methodist Times, the minister declared that the retrial was not a “miscarriage of justice, for there had been no justice”; it had simply been a “cruel and infamous farce.” See “Americanism,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 657; “York: The Dreyfus Tragedy,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 662; “Sheffield: The Dreyfus Infamy,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 662.

Unlike the Methodist Recorder, the Methodist Times called for a firm boycott of the French Exhibition, and argued that “the French people are responsible” for the Dreyfus Affair. “It is transparent nonsense,” the paper argued, “to say that we must not punish the whole nation for the sins of a handful of men, or even of the General Staff of the Army.” According to the paper, the “notorious fact” is that with the exception of a small minority, the whole nation “savagely endorses the abominable crime perpetrated by the court-martial at Rennes.” It was thus morally unacceptable, the paper argued, to go “laughing and smiling and dancing to the Exhibition,” as to do so would be to make oneself party to the “Dreyfus infamy.” Only if the French people – via their Government and Parliament – repent and repudiate the infamies committed in their name, would it be acceptable to attend the Exhibition, the paper contended. See “Notes of Current Events,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 664.

The Methodist Times also contained other reports that were critical or hostile towards Catholicism in October and November 1899. On 26 October, the paper reported and approved a letter sent by George Mivart to The Times newspaper on 17 October, which accused the Church of silently tolerating French Catholic antisemitism during the Dreyfus Affair. In November 1899, the Methodist Times contained a number of reports that the Pope, the Jesuits, and the Catholic newspapers, hated England, and were gloating over calamities faced by the British Empire. According to the paper, “the Jesuits from their standpoint are logically justified in the hatred with which they regard us. Their sentiments are exemplified in the Dreyfus infamy. The British Empire stands for civil and religious freedom, the rights of conscience and the vindication of truth. … the official hierarchy of the Papacy is, and always has been, the deadliest enemy of human freedom and of the rights of man.” According to the paper, the Catholic Church, the Pope, and the Jesuits, are hoping for or planning the downfall of the British Empire. See “Mr. St. George Mivart and the Pope,” Methodist Times, 26 October 1899, 737; “The Pope and the Jesuits Rejoice,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “The Jesuits’ Position Logical,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “Roman Catholicism Losing Ground,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “The Papal Hatred of England,” Methodist Times, 16 November 1899, 796; “The Jesuit Invasion of England,” Methodist Times, 16 November 1899, 796.

Nineteenth-century English anti-Catholicism probably influenced the reporting in some of these Methodist newspapers as much as any sympathy for Jews and Captain Dreyfus. For those with an anti-Catholic axe to grind, such as the Methodist Times, the Dreyfus Affair was a gift, as many Catholic newspapers, especially the French Catholic newspaper La Croix and the Rome based Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica, but also the English Catholic Tablet, were acerbically anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic during (and before) the Diana Vaughan Hoax (1894-1897) and the Dreyfus Affair (1894-1899). Anti-Catholicism in various forms has been a prominent feature of post-reformation British culture and society. According to Bernard Glassman’s study of “protean prejudice,” during the eighteenth century, “Catholics were, by far, the most despised and feared minority group in England. … If, through the years, they had been guilty of portraying the Jew as the nefarious ‘other’ who proved the superiority of Christianity by his sinister behaviour, they, in turn, were viewed in the same way by the Protestant majority.” Though the early Methodists were sometimes “accused of being ‘Papists in disguise’ or ‘Popishly inclined’”, Methodist publications during the late-eighteenth century, and throughout much of the nineteenth century, were disseminators of anti-Catholic narratives. See Bernard Glassman, Protean Prejudice (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1998), 35-36, 44.

The Myth of the Child-Kidnapping “Gypsy”, Anti-Roma prejudice, and the Baro Porrajmos

This time last year (on 22/10/2013), it was reported that Irish police had seized a blonde-haired girl from a Roma family in Dublin. According to the report in the Times newspaper, “the blonde girl with blue eyes, believed to be aged seven, was taken from her Dublin home after a tip-off to police that she did not look like her parents or siblings, who have dark hair and complexions.” The report in the Times noted similarities with other recent cases. For example, it noted that police arrested a Roma woman in Greece in 2008 and accused her of kidnapping a blonde girl. DNA tests later proved that the Roma woman in Greece was the parent. According to Siobhan Curran, the co-ordinator of a Roma support project, “old stereotypes” are being resurrected that could lead to a “witch-hunt” [1]. According to a BBC news report on the following day (23/10/2013), DNA tests proved that the blond girl was the daughter of the Roma parents. A statement by An Garda Síochána (the Irish Police service) observed that “protecting vulnerable children is of paramount importance”. [2] On the surface the statement seems reasonable enough. However, if tip-offs based on little more than children being blonde-haired are sufficient to lead to them being removed from their Roma parents by police, then Siobhan Curran’s concerns about old stereotypes and a witch-hunt are not without foundation.

As Peter McGuire (lecturer in Irish Folklore at University College Dublin) has observed, the child-kidnapping “Gypsy”, like the ritual murdering Jew, is a character from myth and folktale. For centuries, Jews and Roma have been branded as thieves, parasites, sorcerers, plague-bearers, child-kidnappers and child-murderers. Whilst traditionally Jews have also had the singular dishonour of being branded the murderers of Christ (“the deicides”), the “Gypsies” have been the subject of a similar legend. According to some Christian legends and folktales, a “Gypsy blacksmith” was the only person willing to forge the nails used to crucify Christ. As a parallel to the Wandering Jew myth, there is a legend that whenever the descendants of the “Gypsy blacksmith” find comfort in one place, one of the nails reappears in their tents, causing them to flee in terror [3]. In some cases, deprecating narratives about “the Jews” have been explicitly linked to narratives about “the Gypsies” [4]. McGuire concludes, quite rightly, that it is sad but true that “societies are notoriously resistant to accept or even consider evidence which challenges the ancient prejudices expressed in folklore” [5]. The fact that Roma and Sinti continue to be vilified, and child-kidnapping folktales continue to circulate today in Western Europe, testifies to the resilience and durability of such cultural myths and stereotypes.

The child-kidnapping folktale, a persistent cultural myth, is not the only reason for the persecution of Roma and Sinti. Again like the Jews, the Roma and Sinti have been portrayed as racially inferior, and on this basis persecuted and murdered. During the Second World War, like the Jews, they were subject to a program of extermination. However, according to Simon Wiesenthal, despite the tragedy experienced by Roma and Sinti during the Holocaust, “the tragedy of the gypsies has never really sunk into public awareness” [6]. He was right (as the continued presence of the myth of the child-kidnapping “Gypsy” would seem to demonstrate). Whilst the actual number of Roma and Sinti murdered during the Holocaust (the Shoah – i.e. “the Catastrophe” – for the Jews; the Baro Porrajmos – i.e. “the Great Devouring” – for the Roma) was smaller than that of Jews, a huge proportion of the Roma and Sinti in territories controlled by the Nazis was annihilated. According to Ian Hancock, director of the Program of Romani Studies and the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas at Austin, “of the estimated ca. 20,000 Romanies in Germany in 1939, fully three quarters had been murdered by 1945. Of the 11,200 in Austria, a half were murdered. Of the 50,000 in Poland, 35,000; In Croatia, Estonia, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Luxembourg, almost the entire Romani populations were eradicated.” [7]

Significantly, like the Jews, Roma and Sinti were regarded as biologically tainted according to Nazi racial laws, and sexual intercourse and mixed marriages with “Gypsies” were forbidden on the grounds that they led to racial defilement. According to Holocaust historian Robert Wistrich, “two thirds of the Polish gypsies died under Nazi occupation” and “between 250,000 and half a million gypsies were sent to their deaths between 1939 and 1945.” Wistrich explains that “the Nazis were particularly hostile to the gypsies as an ‘anti-social’ element and as ‘people of different blood’ who fell under the Nuremberg race laws of 1935.” Whilst some scholars have tried to mitigate the genocide of “Gypsies” on the grounds that they were targeted only as a supposedly anti-social element (a stereotype that has been applied to Jews and Roma), as Wistrich observes, “the Nazis regarded ‘the fight against the Gypsy menace’ after 1939 as ‘a matter of race’ and insisted on the need to ‘separate once and for all the gypsy race (Zigeunertum) from the German nation (Volkstum)’, to prevent the danger of miscegenation.” Wistrich goes on to note that for the Nazis, there was a link between the so-called “Jewish Question” and the so-called “Gypsy Question”: “there was an ideological link between the murder of Jews and gypsies, both of them forming part of a composite Nazi vision of radical ethnic cleansing or ‘purification’ of the Volksgemeinschaft.” [8] Ian Hancock has examined the attempts (often successful) to mitigate and dismiss the genocide of the Roma in some detail, observing that “earlier writings on the Holocaust, … failed to [recognize and] understand that the ‘criminality’ associated with our people was attributed by the Nazis to a genetically transmitted and incurable disease, and was therefore ideologically racial; instead, writers focused only on the ‘antisocial’ label resulting from it and failed to acknowledge the genetic connection made by the Nazi race scientists themselves.” Like “the handicapped [and] Jews,” the “Gypsies” could not “escape their fate by changing their behaviour or belief. They were selected because they existed.” [9]


1. “Police seize blonde girl from Roma in Dublin,” The Times, 23 October 2013, p.5. This article was originally posted online late in the evening on 22/10/2013 (link here). Many similar reports were published in the other daily newspapers.

2. “DNA tests prove Dublin Roma girl is part of family,” BBC News Europe, 23 October 2013 (link here).

3. Bernard Glassman, Protean Prejudice: Anti-Semitism in England’s Age of Reason (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1998), 112-113 (see also pp. 111-119).

4. For example, G. K. Chesterton linked the antisemitic stereotype of the greedy Jewish usurer with the myth of the child-kidnapping “Gypsy” (link here).

5. Peter McGuire, “Do Roma ‘Gypsies’ Really Abduct Children?”, The Huffington Post, 24 October 2013 (link here).

6. Simon Wiesenthal, “Jews and Gypsies,” in Justice not Vengeance (London: Mandarin Paperbacks, 1990), 256-261. Simon Wiesenthal rightly concluded that “Auschwitz is branded into their history as it is into ours.”

7. Ian Hancock, “Downplaying the Porrajmos: The Trend to Minimize the Romani Holocaust,” review of The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, by Guenther Lewy (link here). Professor Tony Kushner and professor Donald Bloxham referred to the Porajmos in their examination of scholarship on the Holocaust. They note that the persecution and murder of the Roma during the Holocaust has received minimal attention and recognition. Referring to the uncertain figures for how many Roma were murdered, somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000, they justifiably reason that “the uncertainty about the numbers casts light on how easily Europe gave up these people” and “how little the loss has been addressed.” This is not the only such lacuna in the historiographical scholarship, as other non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, such as the physically and mentally handicapped, homosexuals, Freemasons, and Jehovah’s Witnesseshave also received comparatively minimal attention. See Donald Bloxham and Tony Kushner, The Holocaust: Critical Historical Approaches (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), 30-31, 84-85, 143.

8. Robert S. Wisrtich, Hitler and the Holocaust: How and Why the Holocaust Happened (London: Phoenix Press, 2002), 10-12.

9. Ian Hancock, “Romanies and the Holocaust: A Re-evaluation and Overview,” in Dan Stone, ed., The Historiography of the Holocaust (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2004), 383, 394 (see also pp. 384-396). An online version of this chapter is available (link here).

English Catholic Narratives about the “Jewish Antichrist” (1860 – 1923)

Paul’s second epistle to the community at Thessalonica warned that the second coming of Christ will be preceded by the appearance of “the man of sin,” who will work false miracles and exalt himself over God, setting himself up in God’s Temple, all in accordance with the plans of Satan (2 Thess 2:1-17). The “man of sin” was subsequently linked to the Antichrist mentioned in John’s first and second epistle (1 John 2:18-22, 4:3, 2 John 1:7). Various diabolic figures from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation have also been interpreted as relating to the Antichrist. These allusions to a diabolic character were fleshed out over time. It was perhaps inevitable that the Jews, already key villains in Christian myths, and the Antichrist, would coalesce into a new mythological character, “the Jewish Antichrist,” whose arrival would mark the beginning of an apocalyptic conflict. The anti-Jewish accusation that the Antichrist, a servant of Satan, will be born to Jews, gained popularity during the Middle Ages. According to Norman Cohn, over time it “came to seem that the world was in the grip of demons and that their human allies were everywhere, even in the heart of Christendom itself.” The Antichrist was regarded as an authentic manifestation of evil, who would lead Satan’s forces in a war against the followers of Christ. The Antichrist was intertwined with millenarian expectations of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth. As Joshua Trachtenberg observed in his study of antisemitic myths, in the modern era the Antichrist legend may be “too easily dismissed as pure fantasy, merely another of the fabulous motifs that entertained the Middle Ages, without exerting any momentous influence upon the thought and action of the common people.” Trachtenberg concluded however that the Antichrist myth was considered by many “a terrifying reality.” The arrival of the Antichrist, as Cohn observed, was considered no mere “phantasy about some remote and indefinite future but a prophecy which was infallible and which at almost any given moment was felt to be on the point of fulfilment.” See Norman Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons: The Demonisation of Christians in Medieval Christendom (1975; repr., London, Pimlico, 2005), 23; Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and its Relation to Modern Antisemitism (1943; repr. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1983), 32-43; Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957; repr., London: Pimlico, 1993), 35, passim.

Deads of the antichrist

Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist, by Luca Signorelli, Circa 1500

A prominent construction of “the Jewish Antichrist” narrative was articulated by Father Henry Manning in the early 1860s (a few years prior to his appointment as the Archbishop of Westminster – i.e. the head of the recently re-constituted English Catholic hierarchy). Manning discussed the arrival of the Jewish Antichrist in a series of lectures delivered in 1860 at the church of St. Mary of the Angels, Bayswater. These lectures discussed the then impending threat to the temporal power of the Church. The lectures were published as a booklet in 1861, and republished in a larger volume along with a number of other lectures in 1862. This was a time when the Papal States was being seized and dismantled by the Risorgimento. At this time Father Manning, who had converted to Catholicism in 1851 and was advancing rapidly within the Church, was it seems quite willing to accept the Jew as a scapegoat for the catastrophe. Whilst he later adopted more positive stereotypes of the Jews, he nevertheless republished these lectures verbatim with a new preface in 1880, by which time he had been the Archbishop of Westminster for fifteen years and a Cardinal for five years. See Henry Edward Manning, The Present Crisis of the Holy See Tested by Prophecy (London: Burns & Lambert, 1861), 1-92, and Henry Edward Manning, The Temporal Power of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, (second edition, London, 1862; third edition, London, 1880), Part II, 81-173.


Cardinal Manning (1808-1892)

Manning explained in these lectures that whilst it may “run counter to the popular spirit of these times,” and expose him to “the contempt or compassion of those who believe the world to be governed by the action of the human will alone,” his intention was to examine the present situation of the Church by the “light of a prophecy.” According to Manning, “the theory, that politics and religion have different spheres, is an illusion and a snare.” He referred to a conflict between “two ultimate powers,” two forces arrayed and marshalled against each other, that of “Christ and Antichrist.” Manning argued that “the interpretation universally received by anti-catholic controversialists, whereby, first, Antichrist is held to be a spirit or system, and not a person, and next, to be the Catholic or Roman Church, or the Vicar of the Incarnate Word, is the master-stroke of deceit.” Such a deception, he suggested, was an attempt to allay fears, inspire unwarranted confidence, and misdirect attention from the true Antichrist. The “prophecies of Revelation,” he explained, are explicit about the coming of Antichrist, describing the Antichrist with “the attributes of a person.” According to Manning, “to deny the personality of Antichrist, is therefore to deny the plain testimony of Holy Scripture.” Manning informed his audience that the “[Church] Fathers believed that Antichrist will be of the Jewish race.” He stated that such was the opinion of St. Irenaeus, St. Jerome, the authors of texts ascribed to St. Hippolytus, and St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Great, the Italian Jesuit theologian Robert Bellarmine (canonised in 1930), and many others. He concluded that they were probably correct, considering that “the Antichrist will come to deceive the Jews, according to the prophecy of our Lord.” Manning explained that whilst the Antichrist will at first pretend to believe in the “law of Moses,” he will only do so “in dissimulation, to deceive them, and to obtain supreme power.” Afterwards he will “reject the law of Moses, and will deny the true God who gave it.” According to Manning, the Antichrist will be received by the Jews because they are still awaiting the coming of their “false Messias,” and “they have prepared themselves for delusion by crucifying the true Messias.” It is not “difficult to understand how those who have lost the true and divine idea of the Messias may accept a false,” Manning stated, and that “being dazzled by the greatness of political and military successes, and inflated with the pantheistic and Socinian notions of the dignity of man, may pay to the person of Antichrist the honour which Christians pay to the true Messias.” The Antichrist, Manning argued, will be “a temporal deliverer, the restorer of their temporal power; or, in other words, a political and military prince.” Manning explained that the only thing that will hinder the arrival of the Antichrist is the Church and Christian civilisation, as “the lawless one … has no antagonist on earth more direct than the Vicar of Jesus Christ.” Manning argued that there are two types of society. The first type is the “natural society” in which “the political order … comes from the will of man.” Conversely, the second type, the “supernatural society,” is that which “still being penetrated by the spirit of faith and of the Catholic unity, is true and faithful to the principles upon which Christendom was first constituted.” He argued that many countries in “Christian Europe” have changed from the supernatural type of society to the natural type of society, banishing religion from politics and the State, and declaring that “all sects are equally participators in the political life and political power of the nation.” Manning clarified that he was not arguing that the Jews (“that race who deny the coming of God in the flesh, that is, who deny the Incarnation”) should naturally be denied “admission to political privileges”. “On the contrary,” he stated, “if there be no other order than the order of nature, it would be a political injustice to exclude any one of the race of Israel from a participation of equal privileges.” However, he then stated that: “I maintain equally, that in the day in which you admit those who deny the Incarnation to an equality of privileges, you remove the social life and order in which you live from the Incarnation to the basis of mere nature.” This, he concluded, “is precisely what was foretold of the antichristian period.” He considered this reduction of the supernatural society, imbued with the spirit of faith, to a mere natural society based on the will of man, in which Jews are granted equal political rights, to be a confirmation of the prophecy of the Antichrist. After the lectures, Manning wrote to his friend (and later four-time British Prime Minister), William Gladstone, about the “Italian Question,” explaining that he would “die with the belief that it is what I have endeavoured to sketch in those lectures on the Antichrist.” See Henry Edward Manning, The Present Crisis of the Holy See Tested by Prophecy (London: Burns & Lambert, 1861), 1, 20-21, 22-34, 44-47; Letter from Manning to Gladstone, 26 October 1861, in Peter Erb, ed., The Correspondence of Henry Manning and William Ewart Gladstone, volume III, 1861-1875 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 13-15.

Significantly, Cardinal Manning later expressed admiration for the communal solidarity and organisation of the Jews, and raised his voice in defence of Jews on a number of occasions. In an address delivered at a meeting organised by the Lord Mayor of London in 1882, Manning condemned the persecution of Jews in Russia, and asked, “for uprightness, for refinement, for generosity, for charity, for all the graces and virtues that adorn humanity where will be found examples brighter or more true of human excellence than in this Hebrew race?” Manning defended Jews from the ritual murder accusations, and was presented with an illuminated address of thanks by Herman Adler, the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, and a number of other prominent Anglo-Jews. In response, Manning stated that: “I can therefore bear witness to the charity and generosity of my Jewish fellow-countrymen. I have found them forward in all good works. In the care of your children, of your sick, and of your poor, you give us a noble example of generosity and efficiency. You are inflexible, as we are also, in maintaining that Education is essentially a religious work. Your Schools, as ours, are firmly and fearlessly religious.—I have been witness of your care of the sick in the festivals of the Metropolitan Free Hospital.—Of the watchful care of your poor I have had full evidence. When, driven out by tyranny in Russia, they came over in multitudes to our shores, I was witness of your wise and efficient administration.” Manning also stated, in a letter written to Sir John Simon in December 1890, that the Jews are: “a race with a sacred history of nearly four thousand years, a present without a parallel, dispersed in all lands, with an imperishable personal identity, isolated and changeless, greatly afflicted, without home or fatherland; visibly reserved for a future of signal mercy. … any man who does not believe [in] their future must be a careless reader, not only of the old Jewish Scriptures, but even of our own.” It would seem that Manning still maintained an essentializing construction of “the Jews” as a distinct, unchanging people, singled out for some future purpose, but whereas previously he constructed that image from mythological narratives of the Jewish Antichrist, he now engaged with more positive stereotypes. These positive stereotypes were nevertheless still essentializing constructions drawn from his reading of sacred history and scripture. Whilst any essentializing of a group as “the other” can be dangerous and petrifying, even when couched in such positive, almost sacralising language, it does at least seem clear that Manning’s view about the Jews had changed significantly and for the better. See Transcript of speech by Cardinal Manning, in “Persecution of the Jews in Russia,” Times, 2 February 1882, 4; “The Cardinal Archbishop and the English Jews: Presentation to His Eminence,” Tablet, 1 November 1890, 701; Letter from Cardinal Manning to Sir John Simon, 8 December 1890, printed in “The Cardinal and the Jews,” Tablet, 13 December 1890, 935.

Regrettably, Manning’s earlier theological construction of the Jewish Antichrist, untempered by his later stereotype of the refined, charitable, community-minded Jew, served to influence later English Catholic authors. For example, in the early years of the twentieth century, Colonel James Ratton, a retired army doctor and anti-Jewish/anti-Masonic author, in his strangely named book, X-Rays in Freemasonry, linked Jews and Freemasons in an alleged anti-Church conspiracy, jointly led by “the Jewish Antichrist” and the so-called “Sovereign Pontiff of Freemasonry” (the latter a dark-fantastical character conjured up during the Diana Vaughan hoax). According to Ratton, Freemasonry was Satanic, and the “Bnai-Bérith,” whose goal he suggested was the domination of Freemasonry and the reestablishment of King Solomon’s Temple, was a branch of Freemasonry closed to non-Jews with the exception of visits by the “Inspectors General of the Palladium.” And in a four-part article published in the Catholic Times in 1920, Canon Dr William Barry, a senior priest in the archdiocese of Birmingham, and prolific author and theologian, explicitly cited and intertwined Manning’s narrative about the Jewish Antichrist, which he treated as an almost prophetic forecast, with his own antisemitic myths and stereotypes. According to Barry, “the long-drawn anti-Christian movement, centuries old, quickened by victory after victory … is advancing, it may well appear, to universal dominion.” Barry asked, “was no warning given?” He concluded that it was, in “Dr. Manning’s forecast of 1860.” Repeatedly quoting from Manning’s lectures, Barry asserted that the Antichrist would be of Jewish blood, an arch-medium, a revolutionist, a protector of the Jews who would be hailed by them as their saviour. Barry stated that it is clear from “St. Paul’s doctrine of their destiny, and with what St. John and the Fathers have left us concerning the Antichrist,” that the question of the Jew’s role in the fate of Europe will be the “most vital and most decisive of all.” Again citing Manning’s lectures, Barry argued that “the Catholic spirit and the Hebrew genius” are “deadly and changeless antagonists,” locked in conflict as a result of “Israel’s rejection of the Gospel.” “Israel,” he informed his readers, “did surely fulfil the prophets when it gave birth to Christ.” It is doing so yet again, Barry concluded, but this time “in whatever degree it has paved the way for Antichrist.” Barry returned to this subject in the Catholic Times in April 1923. He stated that the prophecy that Israel would “rise to power in Christendom,” in alliance with “the ‘Man of Sin,’ who will … be himself a Jew, though most likely a renegade from his faith and tribe,” was an amazing “stroke of divination.” According to Barry, Cardinal Manning regarded “the Revolution,” “the evil elements in emancipated Judaism,” and “the assailants of Papal Rome,” to be “associated in a common Unholy Alliance.” In June 1923, an editorial in the Month, the periodical of the British Jesuits, referred to Barry’s “notable article” on the Antichrist, and concluded that “in Soviet Russia Manning’s prophecy has actually been realised.” The editorial stated that “Antichrist, in the person of those apostate Jews, is already in power,” and “Marx, another apostate Jew, is his evangelist, and Christianity, especially the Catholicism of Rome, is the object of his bitterest hatred.” See See James Ratton [A. Cowan, pseud.], X-Rays in Freemasonry (London: Effingham Wilson, 1901); James Ratton [A. Cowan, pseud.], X-Rays in Freemasonry (London: Effingham Wilson, 1904); William Barry, “Sign of the Times,” Catholic Times: 30 October 1920, 7; 6 November 1920, 7; 13 November 1920, 7; 20 November 1920, 7; William Barry, “Against God and his Christ,” Catholic Times, 28 April 1923, 9; “Antichrist in Russia,” Topics of the Month, Month CXLI (June 1923), 552-553.

William Francis Barry (1849–1930).png

Canon William Barry (1849-1930)

For more on representations of “the Antichrist” in English Catholic discourses, please see pages 50-56 of my article in volume 8 of Melilah: “From the Christ-Killer to the Luciferian: The Mythologized Jew and Freemason in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century English Catholic Discourse” (link to Melilah, volume 8).

An Odd Construction of G. K. Chesterton’s “Philosemitism”

In his book on G. K. Chesterton’s so-called “holiness” (an edited collection of essays by various contributors), William Oddie argues that Chesterton was not only a saint but also a “philosemite.” Whilst I have looked at some of Oddie’s arguments elsewhere, I thought it would be a good idea to bring them together and examine them afresh.

One of William Oddie’s arguments is that Chesterton could not have been an antisemite because on a number of occasions he defended Jews from antisemitism. According to Oddie, Chesterton felt protective feelings for Jews from his childhood onwards. He presented a diary entry, dated 5 January 1891, which stated that Chesterton felt so strongly about some vicious acts of cruelty to a Jewish girl in Russia that he was inclined to “knock some-body down”. He also quotes from letters by Chesterton’s alter-ego, Guy Crawford (under which name Chesterton published a series of letters). These were printed in the Debater, the magazine of the “Junior Debating Club,” in 1892. In these letters, Crawford discusses his plans to go to Russia to help “the Hebrews” suffering in pogroms. As William Oddie observed, the series of letters ends with “Guy Crawford” siding with a revolutionary mob in St. Petersburg, and leaping to the defence of a Jewish student. The student, who was killed in this fantastical account, was described by Crawford as “a champion of justice, like thousands who have fallen for it in the dark records of this dark land”. The Guy Crawford letters can be found in G. K. Chesterton [Guy Crawford, pseud.], “The Letters of Three Friends,” Debater III: no.13 (March 1892), 9-11; no.14 (May 1892), 27-29; no.17 (November 1892), 70-71. These examples probably provide a fair reflection of Chesterton’s late teenage attitudes (he was 16 when he wrote the diary entry, and 17-18 when he wrote the “Guy Crawford” letters). However, his childhood and young adult worldview, as with most people, changed as he developed. An example of his developing worldview can be seen in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, published in 1904, when Chesterton was about 30 years of age. William Oddie has himself noted this protean development of views in Chesterton’s life, noting that in this novel, Chesterton expressed “distaste for modernity and progress.” Oddie quite rightly points out that this distaste was “a recent volte-face.” See William Oddie, “The Philosemitism of G.K. Chesterton,” in William Oddie, ed., The Holiness of G.K. Chesterton (Leominster: Gracewing,2010), 124-137 and William Oddie, Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy: The Making of GKC, 1874-1908 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 7-8, 80-81.

This was not however the only volte-face in Chesterton’s worldview and discourse. He also changed his views about the Jews, and his early protective feelings developed into something which at its best was ambiguous and ambivalent, and at its worst hostile, stereotyping and caricaturing. A relatively early, partial, and by his later standards mild manifestation of this volte-face can be found in his novel, Manalive (1912), which reflected his worldview no less than the letters of Guy Crawford. According to the narrator of the story, “wherever there is conflict, crises come in which any soul, personal or racial, unconsciously turns on the world the most hateful of its hundred faces.” In the case of Moses Gould, the Jew in the novel, it was “that smile of the Cynic Triumphant, which has been the tocsin for many a cruel riot in Russian villages or mediaeval towns”. The transition from innocent victim in Russia to cynic-triumphant was only a partial volte-face. The more complete volte-face would come later in the early 1920s, when Chesterton started to claim that the Jews were persecuting Russians. His narratives about the Jewish tyrant were intertwined with stereotypes about the Jewish Bolshevik. For example, in February 1921, Chesterton observed that there was once “a time when English poets and other publicists could always be inspired with instantaneous indignation about the persecuted Jews in Russia. We have heard less about them since we heard more about the persecuting Jews in Russia”. According to Chesterton, it was not necessary for all Jews to support Bolshevism for it to be a Jewish movement. He stated that “it is not necessary to have every man a Jew to make a thing a Jewish movement; it is at least clear that there are quite enough Jews to prevent it from being a Russian movement”. He made a similar point in August 1920: “There has arisen on the ruins of Russia a Jewish servile State, the strongest Jewish power hitherto known in history. We do not say, we should certainly deny, that every Jew is its friend; but we do say that no Jew is in the national sense its enemy”. The “servile State” was an allusion to Hilaire Belloc’s book, The Servile State (1912). According to Belloc, the servile state is a society in which the majority of individuals and families are forced and constrained by “positive law” to labour on behalf of a tight-knit minority of rich capitalist plutocrats or tyrannical Bolsheviks (i.e. the enslavement of “the proletariat”). Chesterton was implying that Russia had been transformed into such a servile State, run for the benefit of the Jews. See G.K. Chesterton, Manalive (London: Thomas Nelson, 1912), 289; G.K. Chesterton, “The Statue and the Irishman,” New Witness, 18 February 1921, 102; G.K. Chesterton, “The Beard of the Bolshevist,” New Witness, 14 January 1921, 22; G.K. Chesterton, “The Feud of the Foreigner,” New Witness, 20 August 1920, 309; Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State (1912).

Oddie also points to Chesterton’s defence of Captain Alfred Dreyfus as further proof of Chesterton’s philosemitism. In 1899, when he was about 25 years of age, Chesterton did (as Oddie rightly notes) write a poem entitled “To a Certain Nation” as a reproach to France for the injustice done to Captain Dreyfus. However, what Oddie neglects to mention is that Chesterton soon reversed his opinion. This volte-face occurred around 1906, when Chesterton was about 32 years of age. In 1906, Chesterton added a note to the second edition of The Wild Knight which reveals that by 1906 he had started to change his position about where the greater injustice lay. The note stated that whilst “there may have been a fog of injustice in the French courts; I know that there was a fog of injustice in the English newspapers.” According to the note, he was unable to reach a “proper verdict on the individual,” which he largely attributed to the “acrid and irrational unanimity of the English Press.” Chesterton maintained this antipathy about Dreyfus and his defenders throughout his life. In letters to The Nation in 1911, Chesterton referred to the Jew “who is a traitor in France and a tyrant in England,” and stated that in “the case of Dreyfus,” he was quite certain that “the British public was systematically and despotically duped by some power – and I naturally wonder what power.” He argued in 1928 that Dreyfus may or may not have been innocent, but that the greater crime was not how he had been treated at trial but how the English newspapers buried the evidence against him. According to Chesterton, “the English newspapers incessantly repeated that there was no evidence against Captain Dreyfus. They then cut out of the reports the evidence that he had been seen in German uniform at the German manoeuvres; or that he had obtained a passport for Italy and then gone to Germany.” Chesterton stated that when he discovered this, “something broke inside my British serenity; and a page of print has never been the same to me again.” In another article (in 1927) Chesterton did defend a Jew, Oscar Slater, from the charge of murder, thereby seemingly showing that Chesterton was not ceaselessly antisemitic. However, seemingly unwilling to defend one Jew without sniping at another, he again repeated as part of this defence of Oscar Slater the accusation that the English newspapers left out “evidence that Dreyfus had appeared in German uniform at the German manoeuvres.” In another article, this time published in 1933, he criticised Hitler and Nazi antisemitism (something he did on a number of occasions as his defenders, including William Oddie, have pointed out), whilst yet again arguing that the English “were never told, for instance, that Dreyfus had got leave to go to Italy and used it to go to Germany; or that he was seen in German uniform at the German manoeuvres.” As Julia Stapleton rightly noted in her book, Christianity, Patriotism, and Nationhood: The England of G. K. Chesterton (2009, 46), it seems that it never occurred to Chesterton to question whether there was any truth in the highly dubious allegations that Dreyfus was seen “in German uniform at the German manoeuvres,” or whether the claims “were suspect and thus beyond the realms of responsible journalism.” See G.K. Chesterton, The Wild Knight, 1st ed. (London: Grant Richards, 1900), 94-96; G.K. Chesterton, The Wild Knight, 2nd ed. (London: Brimley Johnson and Ince, 1906), viii; G.K. Chesterton to the Editor, The Nation: 18 March 1911 and 8 April 1911; G.K. Chesterton, “Dreyfus and Dead Illusions,” G.K.’s Weekly, 25 February 1928, 993; G.K. Chesterton, “In Defence of a Jew,”, G.K.’s Weekly, 27 August 1927, 575; G.K. Chesterton, “The Horse and the Hedge,” G.K.’s Weekly, 30 March 1933, 55.

As previously mentioned, William Oddie also points out (quite rightly) that Chesterton bitterly criticised the Nazis during the 1930s. He was in fact a staunch critic of Hitler and Nazi antisemitism. However, Chesterton considered his critiques of “Hitlerism” and Nazi antisemitism to be entirely consistent with his earlier stereotypes of the Jew and his proposed so-called solutions to the so-called “Jewish Problem”. Chesterton believed that Hitler was right to worry about the so-called Jewish Problem, but wrong in his approach to it. As far as Chesterton was concerned, the rise of Hitlerism clarified the urgency of solving the so-called Jewish Problem. Significantly, he not only continued to maintain his antisemitic stereotypes of the Jew from 1933 onwards, he incorporated them into the very articles in which he condemned and criticised Hitlerism. According to Chesterton in July 1933, “it is perfectly true that the Jews have been very powerful in Germany. It is only just to Hitler to say that they have been too powerful in Germany.” Chesterton argued that it will be very difficult for Hitler to persuade Germans to amputate the Jewish contributions to German culture, such as Heinrich Heine and Felix Mendelssohn. “But again,” he continued, “it is but just to Hitlerism to say that the Jews did infect Germany with a good many things less harmless than the lyrics of Heine or the melodies of Mendelssohn.” Chesterton even seemed to believe in the idea of a Jewish conspiracy, for he went on to state that “it is true that many Jews toiled at that obscure conspiracy against Christendom, which some of them can never abandon; and sometimes it was marked not be obscurity but obscenity. It is true that they were financiers, or in other words usurers; it is true that they fattened on the worst forms of Capitalism; and it is inevitable that, on losing these advantages of Capitalism, they naturally took refuge in its other form, which is Communism”. Chesterton repeated the stereotype of rich greedy Jews in other articles that were critical of Hitler. He condemned “Herr Hitler and his group” for “beat[ing] and bully[ing] poor Jews in concentration camps,” but then he stated that “what is even worse, they do not beat or bully rich Jews who are at the head of big banking houses”. Chesterton repeated the stereotype of the pro-German Jew in his critique of Hitler. He asked, “was Hitler really so ignorant, that he did not know that the Jews were the prop of the Pro-German cause throughout the world?” Chesterton criticised Hitler, and then repeated his claim that there is a Jewish Problem. He explained that “there is a Jewish problem; there is certainly a Jewish culture; and I am inclined to think that it really was too prevalent in Germany. For here we have the Hitlerites themselves, in plain words, saying they are a Chosen Race. Where could they have got that notion? Where could they even have got that phrase, except from the Jews?” See G.K. Chesterton, “The Judaism of Hitler,” G.K.’s Weekly, 20 July 1933, 311; G.K. Chesterton, “On War Books,” G.K.’s Weekly, 10 October 1935, 28; G.K. Chesterton, “A Very Present Help,” G.K.’s Weekly, 4 May 1933, 135; G.K. Chesterton, “A Queer Choice,” G.K.’s Weekly, 29 November 1934, 207.

William Oddie also referred to Michael Coren’s biography of Chesterton which claimed, without any source citation to substantiate the claim, that Chesterton had been defended by the Wiener Library. According to Oddie, “Coren quotes the view of the Wiener Library, the archive of anti-semitism in London, that he was not ‘seriously anti-semitic’, though he ‘played along’ and therefore ‘has the public reputation of anti-semitism.’” However, that defence has subsequently been demolished, with the director of the Wiener Library rejecting the claim in the Wiener Library News. Ben Barkow, the director of the Wiener Library, reported in 2010 that “numerous websites cite a made-up quotation by the Library stating that Chesterton was not antisemitic. Our efforts to have these false attributions removed have largely failed.” The same issue of the Wiener Library News contained a short report (by the present author) on the widely cited “Wiener Library Defence.” Michael Coren has acknowledged that he does not know the name of the librarian that he spoke to. This would suggest that the reported views were the personal sentiments of one of the librarians or volunteers who have worked at the institute, rather than, as Oddie phrases it, “the view of the Wiener Library”. It is of course impossible to verify even this much without a name – and indeed, it may be reasonably asked why the librarian’s name was not collected and cited at the time by Coren if it was supposedly the official view of the Wiener Library. See William Oddie, “The Philosemitism of G.K. Chesterton,” 130; Michael Coren, Gilbert: The Man Who was G. K. Chesterton (London: Jonathan Cape, 1989), 209-210; Ben Barkow, “Director’s Letter,” Wiener Library News, Winter 2010, 2; Simon Mayers, “G. K. Chesterton and the Wiener Library Defence,” Wiener Library News, Winter 2010, 10; Oliver Kamm, “Chesterton defence that doesn’t stand up,” Jewish Chronicle, 10 October 2013. For more on this, see my blog post:The Resilient Myth that the Wiener Library defends G. K. Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism.”

For those interested, my recent book, Chesterton’s Jews, contains a thorough examination of the antisemitic stereotypes and caricatures in the literature and journalism of G. K. Chesterton.

Ian Ker on G. K. Chesterton’s so-called “Semitism”

Ian Ker’s biography of G. K. Chesterton, published in 2011, seems to be widely regarded as the most comprehensive study of Chesterton to date. It is therefore instructive to see how Ian Ker deals with the accusation that Chesterton was antisemitic. Employing Chesterton’s own words, Ker notes that Chesterton and his friends (i.e. Hilaire Belloc and the staff at the New Witness) were often rebuked for “so-called ‘Anti-Semitism’; but it was ‘always much more true to call it Zionism.’” And this would seem to be the main basis for Ker’s defence of Chesterton, the argument that he was not antisemitic because he sympathised with Zionism. Chesterton’s sympathy for Zionism soon waned, and by 1925 his editorials in G.K.’s Weekly were ambivalent if not deprecating towards Zionism (link for more on this). Putting aside the fact that Chesterton’s so-called Zionism largely evaporated in the mid-1920s, the very reasons given for his support of Zionism serve to further demonstrate Chesterton’s distorted views about Jews. Again defending Chesterton and his friends in Chesterton’s own words, Ian Ker argues that the substance of “their ‘heresy’” was “in saying that Jews are Jews; and as a logical consequence that they are not Russian or Roumanians or Italians or Frenchmen or Englishmen.” Ker notes that Chesterton pointed out that his Zionism was based on “the theory that any abnormal qualities in the Jew”, such as being “traders rather than producers” and “cosmopolitans rather than patriots”, are “due to the abnormal position of the Jews.” The claims that “the Jew” has “abnormal qualities” (even if “the Jew” is patronisingly excused rather than blamed for having these abnormal qualities), and that he or she cannot really be English, French, German or Italian, and neither contributes nor feels patriotism for the countries within which he or she lives – views that I am confident Ian Ker does not share with Chesterton – are not just deprecating (so much for the Jews who fought and died for their countries during the First and Second World Wars), but also rooted in pervasive anti-Jewish myths and stereotypes. And yet Ker seems to agree with Chesterton that his “Zionism” was “Semitism” rather than “Anti-Semitism: “if that was ‘Anti-Semitism’, then Chesterton was an ‘Anti-Semite’ – but it would seem more rational to call it Semitism.” I cannot help wondering, if someone was to make similarly unacceptable and bigoted claims about Catholics – and indeed the prejudiced claim was often made in England during the 19th century that Catholics were different, dangerous and disloyal (English Jews and Catholics both having to fight for their emancipation during the 19th century) – and argue that English Catholics should be encouraged to depart England for a Catholic country, and that those who choose to remain should be required to wear distinctive clothing, would Ian Ker regard such prejudiced statements as “Anti-Catholic” or “Catholic”. And if he concluded that they were Anti-Catholic, why is he happy to regard Chesterton’s views as “Semitism” rather than “Anti-Semitism”? In my mind, prejudices, whether anti-Catholic or anti-Jewish (or anti- any other cultural group), are simply unacceptable. See Ian Ker, G. K. Chesterton: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 419-420.

In fairness, Ian Ker does acknowledge that the history of persecutions and pogroms in Europe “should have made Chesterton more cautious in what he said about the Jews.” However, Ker then argues that there were “mitigating” circumstances that should be taken into account. He suggests that Chesterton made these statements after his “beloved brother had died in a patriotic war soon after being found guilty in a libel case brought by a Jewish businessman who had effectively corrupted politicians in the Marconi scandal” and also after “international finance, in which Jews were very prominent, had played a not inconsiderable part in leaving Germany only partially weakened by the Treaty of Versailles.” According to Ker: “When, then, Chesterton demands that any Jew who wishes to occupy a political or social position … ‘must be dressed like an Arab’ to make it clear that he is a foreigner living in a foreign country, we need to bear those factors in mind.” Putting aside the dubious stereotype of the corrupt Jewish plutocrat, there are other flaws in these so-called “mitigating” circumstances. Firstly, Chesterton stated that it was not just particular Jews – or Jews seeking to “occupy a political or social position” as Ker suggests – that should be made to “wear Arab costume”, but rather “every Jew must be dressed like an Arab”. Chesterton explained that: “If my image is quaint my intention is quite serious; and the point of it is not personal to any particular Jew. The point applies to any Jew, and to our own recovery of healthier relations with him. The point is that we should know where we are; and he would know where he is, which is in a foreign land.” Secondly, Chesterton did not, as Ker suggests, wait until his brother’s death (in December 1918) or the Treaty of Versailles (signed in June 1919) to make these dubious claims. For example, exhibiting his prejudice and stereotypes about both Arabs and Jews, he had already argued that “our Jews” should be required to wear “Arab costume” in the pages of the New Witness in 1913. See Ian Ker, G. K. Chesterton: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 422-423. G. K. Chesterton, “What shall we do with our Jews?”, New Witness, 24 July 1913, 370; and G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, 1920), 227.

Referring to Zionism, Chesterton stated that: “For if the advantage of the ideal to the Jews is to gain the promised land, the advantage to the Gentiles is to get rid of the Jewish problem, and I do not see why we should obtain all their advantage and none of our own. Therefore I would leave as few Jews as possible in other established nations”. Jews leaving Europe was, Chesterton suggested, simply the best way to get rid of the so-called “Jewish Problem”. Chesterton’s defenders would seem to believe that this demonstrates Chesterton’s warm friendly sentiments to Jews, but as Owen Dudley Edwards quite rightly concluded in the Chesterton Review: “to say that a man wishes you and all your people to live somewhere else, is not to say that he likes you. It does mean that he doesn’t want to murder you, but if you call someone an anti-Semite you are not necessarily calling him a Hitler, real or potential.” See G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, 1920), 248; and Owen Dudley Edwards, “Chesterton and Tribalism,” Chesterton Review VI, no.1 (1979-1980), 37.

Chesterton’s Jews

G. K. Chesterton was a journalist and prolific author of poems, novels, short stories, travel books and social criticism. Prior to the twentieth century, Chesterton expressed sympathy for Jews and hostility towards antisemitism. He was agitated by Russian pogroms and felt sympathy for Captain Dreyfus. However, early into the twentieth century, he developed an irrational fear about the presence of Jews in Christian society. He started to argue that it was the Jews who oppressed the Russians rather than the Russians who oppressed the Jews, and he suggested that Alfred Dreyfus was not as innocent as the English newspapers claimed (click link for more on Chesterton and the Dreyfus Affair). His caricatures of Jews were often that of grotesque creatures dressed up as English people. His fictional and his non-fictional works repeated antisemitic stereotypes of Jewish greed and usury, bolshevism, cowardice, disloyalty and secrecy.

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Many of Chesterton’s admirers fervently deny the presence of anti-Jewish hostility in his writings. Some of his defenders believe that Chesterton was an important figure within the Church, perhaps even a prophet or a saint. In fact, a growing number of people would like to see Chesterton canonised as a saint, and no doubt some are concerned that the accusation of antisemitism might prove an obstacle to such efforts. Since the publication of Chesterton’s Jews, the Bishop of Northampton, Peter Doyle, has appointed Canon John Udris to conduct an initial fact-finding investigation into the possibility of starting a cause for the canonisation of Chesterton. According to a report in the Catholic Herald on 3 March 2014, one of the reasons that the bishop selected Canon Udris for this investigation was that he has a “personal devotion to Chesterton,” and could thus be expected to put some “energy” into it. According to the report, referring to Chesterton’s argument that the Jews should be made to wear distinctive clothing so that everyone will know that they are “outsiders” (i.e. foreigners), Canon Udris observed that “you can understand why people make the assumption that he is anti-Semitic. But I would want to make the opposite case.” (Link for more on this canonisation investigation).

G. K. Chesterton’s “Daft” Suggestion: “Every Jew must be dressed like an Arab”

According to a report in the Catholic Herald on 3 March 2014, Canon John Udris, who has been appointed to conduct an initial fact-finding investigation into the possibility of starting a Cause for the canonization of G. K. Chesterton, observed that the accusation of antisemitism was the main obstacle to the Cause. According to the report, Canon Udris observed that “Chesterton said some ‘daft things’, including a suggestion that Jewish people should wear distinctive dress to indicate they were outsiders.” He concluded that: “You can understand why people make the assumption that he is anti-Semitic. But I would want to make the opposite case.” Mark Greaves, “G K Chesterton ‘breaks mould of conventional holiness’, says Cause investigator,” Catholic Herald (online), 3 March 2014.

The most notable instance of this “daft” suggestion “quaint” but “quite serious” according to Chesterton – can be found in The New Jerusalem (1920). Chesterton argued that the Jews in England should be allowed to occupy any occupation but with one important stipulation: “But let there be one single-clause bill; one simple and sweeping law about Jews, and no other. Be it enacted, by the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons in Parliament assembled, that every Jew must be dressed like an Arab. Let him sit on the Woolsack, but let him sit there dressed as an Arab. Let him preach in St. Paul’s Cathedral, but let him preach there dressed as an Arab. It is not my point at present to dwell on the pleasing if flippant fancy of how much this would transform the political scene; of the dapper figure of Sir Herbert Samuel swathed as a Bedouin, or Sir Alfred Mond gaining a yet greater grandeur from the gorgeous and trailing robes of the East. If my image is quaint my intention is quite serious; and the point of it is not personal to any particular Jew. The point applies to any Jew, and to our own recovery of healthier relations with him. The point is that we should know where we are; and he would know where he is, which is in a foreign land.” G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, [1920]), 227.

This was not the first time that Chesterton had suggested that Jews should be required to wear distinctive Arab clothing. In fact, Chesterton’s suggestion that all Jews should be legally required to wear distinctive “Arab costume” when in public was a part of his peculiarly Chestertonian construction of the Jew (exhibiting his caricatures and stereotypes about both Arabs and Jews). For example, in 1913, seven years prior to The New Jerusalem, he had already harked back to the Middle Ages for his solution to the so-called Jewish Problem. He observed that in the Middle Ages it was felt that the Jews, “whether they were nice or nasty, whether they were impotent or omnipotent… were different.” He noted that this recognition was expressed by “a physical artistic act, giving them a definite dwelling place and a definite dress.” This was a clear allusion to the ghetto and the Jew hat. Chesterton however had different ideas about appropriate though equally distinctive clothing. The Jews, he argued, should be required by law to “wear Arab costume.” “By all means let [a Jew] be Lord Chief Justice; but let him not sit in wig and gown, but in turban and flowing robes.” He observed that the “modern mood” is such that “I must advance it as a joke,” but he regarded it as a very real issue. He concluded that “if the Jew were dressed differently we should know what he meant; and when we were all quite separate we should begin to understand each other.” Similarly, in 1914, he stated in his regular column in the Illustrated London News, that the Jews may one day come to realize that they risk trading the faith of Moses and Isaiah for that of the Golden Image and the Market Place, and they may “wish they were sitting like an Arab in a clean tent in a decent desert.” G. K. Chesterton, “What shall we do with our Jews?”, New Witness, 24 July 1913, 370; G. K. Chesterton, Our Notebook, Illustrated London News, 28 February 1914, 322.

Zionism and “Privilege” according to G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc

G. K. Chesterton, like his friend Hilaire Belloc, believed that the so-called “Jewish problem” was an intrinsic fact. In What I Saw in America (1922), he observed that if Henry Ford, the American automobile industrialist and antisemitic author of The International Jew, had “discovered that there is a Jewish problem, it is because there is a Jewish problem.” Americans, he observed, have inherited “a prejudice against Anti-Semitism; a prejudice of Anti-Anti-Semitism,” and yet even they “found the Jewish problem exactly as they might have struck oil; because it is there, and not even because they were looking for it.” G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1922), 140-142.

Chesterton’s belief in the “Jewish problem” was manifest in a number of antisemitic stereotypes in his literature and journalism before and long after the Marconi Affair. The earliest example was the cowardly and secretive Jewish shopkeeper in “The Ball and the Cross,” which was first published as a feuilleton in the Commonwealth in 1905 and 1906, and later re-published as a book in 1910. G. K. Chesterton, “The Ball and the Cross,” Commonwealth: vol. 10, no. 3-12 (1905), and vol. 11, no. 1, 2, 4, 6, 11 (1906); G. K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross (London: Wells Gardner, Darton, 1910). The latest examples were a series of articles published in G.K.’s Weekly in the 1920s and 1930s. According to Chesterton, the greedy Jew, the Jewish Bolshevik, the Jewish coward, the unpatriotic Jew and the secretive Jew, were an intolerable irritant in Christian society. Chesterton also believed that Captain Dreyfus had probably been a German spy, arguing that the English press covered up all the evidence against him. He suggested that the heart of the matter was that the Jews living in England only masqueraded as Englishmen, rather than, as he conceived it, living openly as Jews. Chesterton fervently believed that to “recognize the reality of the Jewish problem is very vital for everybody and especially vital for Jews. To pretend that there is no problem is to precipitate the expression of a rational impatience, which unfortunately can only express itself in the rather irrational form of Anti-Semitism.” G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, 1920), 230-231.

Chesterton maintained his belief in the “Jewish problem” until the end of his life. In his Autobiography (1936), he stated that “I am not at all ashamed of having asked Aryans to have more patience with Jews or for having asked Anglo-Saxons to have more patience with Jew-baiters. The whole problem of the two entangled cultures and traditions is much too deep and difficult, on both sides, to be decided impatiently. But I have very little patience with those who will not solve the problem, on the ground that there is no problem to solve.” G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography (London: Hutchinson, 1936), 76.

It is often argued by his supporters that Chesterton could not have been antisemitic because he was a fervent supporter of Zionism. It is certainly true that motivated by his desire to solve the “Jewish Problem” by removing as many Jews from Europe as possible, Chesterton initially supported Zionism. Chesterton stated in The New Jerusalem (1920) that: “For if the advantage of the ideal to the Jews is to gain the promised land, the advantage to the Gentiles is to get rid of the Jewish problem, and I do not see why we should obtain all their advantage and none of our own. Therefore I would leave as few Jews as possible in other established nations.” G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, 1920), 248.

Jews leaving Europe was, Chesterton believed, simply the best way to remove the so-called “Jewish Problem”. Of course, as Owen Dudley Edwards rightly concluded in his essay in the Chesterton Review, “to say that a man wishes you and all your people to live somewhere else, is not to say that he likes you.”  Owen Dudley Edwards, “Chesterton and Tribalism,” Chesterton Review VI, no.1 (1979-1980), 37.

In any case, Chesterton’s sympathy for Zionism did not last long. By 1925, the tone of his editorials in G.K.’s Weekly was ambivalent to Zionism. Zionism, one of his editorials argued, was falling into “the mud of mere commercialism.” The editorial suggested that there was “some good in the idea of Zionism; but Zionism does not include that good.” The purpose of Zionism, it observed, was to “relieve the pressure of the Jewish problem on all the other nations; to drain the Jewish element that lies everywhere in lakes or puddles, or wanders everywhere in streams or sewers, into that central sea of a real spiritual unity; the kingdom of Israel.” The problem, it contended, was that Zionism added a Jewish Problem in Palestine without diminishing it anywhere else. “We have,” it observed, “given him yet another country in which he can be an interloper and a nuisance.” The editorial concluded that the Jew is in Jerusalem as he is in any other part of the world, “but he is not at home there, for he cannot rest.” Another editorial in the paper stated that “the blow that destroyed our own Zionism was the Rutenberg Concession.” Chesterton observed that whilst he still believed in the concept of Zionism, he was now against the implementation of Zionism. He stated that he still believed in the idea of Zionism as a solution to the Jewish Problem, and that he would like to see it tried again. However, he now believed that Zionism should be attempted in some other place or places, such as Africa. Notes of the Week, G.K.’s Weekly, 4 April 1925, 27; G.K.’s Weekly, 2 May 1925, 126; Editor’s reply, The Cockpit, G.K.’s Weekly, 18 July 1925, 399-400.

For Belloc, the encounter between Jews and Christians was both a theological and socio-political conflict between fundamentally opposing factors. This can be seen in The Jews (1922). “The continued presence of the Jewish nation intermixed with other nations alien to it presents a permanent problem of the gravest character,” Belloc stated, and furthermore, he continued, “the wholly different culture, tradition, race and religion of Europe makes Europe a permanent antagonist to Israel.” Belloc drew his “solution” (i.e. a return to segregation) from the history of the Church. He explained that “wherever the Catholic Church is powerful, and in proportion as it is powerful, the traditional principles of the civilization of which it is the soul and guardian will always be upheld. One of these principles is the sharp distinction between the Jew and ourselves.” He stated that the “Catholic Church is the conservator of an age-long European tradition, and that tradition will never compromise with the fiction that a Jew can be other than a Jew. Wherever the Catholic Church has power, and in proportion to its power, the Jewish problem will be recognized to the full.” Belloc suggested that “recognition” was the solution successfully adopted by the Church for hundreds of years. He stated that segregation can be imposed by force or achieved by a mutual and amicable agreement in a way that satisfies both the “alien irritant” and the “organism segregating it.” Belloc hoped that the latter option could be adopted, with the Jews openly recognizing their “wholly separate nationality,” and the non-Jews, recognizing “that separate nationality, treating it without reserve as an alien thing, and respecting it as a province of society outside our own.” He argued that the term “segregation,” which he acknowledged “has a bad connotation,” may then be “replaced by the word recognition.” This he suggested was the most practical and moral solution. Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922), 3-5, 209-210.

Belloc’s initial description of “recognition” implied that segregation would be “voluntary”. It was however a very odd sense of voluntariness. It was voluntary only if the Jews would embrace it; if they did not embrace it, it would be imposed anyway. At the end of his book he argued that if the proposal of recognition is “made on our side, the Jew may refuse any such bargain.” Belloc concluded that if he decides to “dig his heels in,” and continues to insist on full recognition as a Jew and as a member of “our” community, then “the community will be compelled to legislate in spite of him.” Recognition of separate national status would not be an abstract principle. He argued that Jewish institutions already in existence should be extended, such as Jewish schools, Jewish tribunals and the Jewish press, so that Jewish interaction with non-Jews can be minimised. He stated that once an atmosphere is created “wherein the Jews are spoken of openly, and they in their turn admit, define, and accept the consequences of a separate nationality in our midst,” then, finally, “laws and regulations consonant to it will naturally follow.” Belloc’s “solution” was to gradually return the Jews to a Jewish enclave or ghetto. Jews would be legally confined to operating within their own social and legal institutions and excluded from Christian civilisation. Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922), 14, 271-274, 304.

Whilst Belloc employed the term “recognition” for his solution in The Jews in 1922, he had already outlined the core aspects of this solution in the Eye Witness in 1911, and referred to it as “privilege.” This was the exact same euphemism that Chesterton employed in the New Jerusalem in 1920. Whilst Chesterton initially supported Zionism and Belloc opposed it, there were significant similarities between their views. Chesterton stated that ideally “as few Jews as possible” would be left in other nations once they had the option of going to “the promised land,” and those who remain should, he suggested, be given “a special position best described as privilege; some sort of self-governing enclave with special laws.” “Of course,” he observed, “the privileged exile would also lose the rights of a native.” He stated that the Jews who remain in England should be allowed to occupy any occupation but with one important stipulation: they should be required to go about “dressed like an Arab.” He stated that “if my image is quaint my intention is quite serious; and the point of it is not personal to any particular Jew. The point applies to any Jew, and to our own recovery of healthier relations with him. The point is that we should know where we are; and he would know where he is, which is in a foreign land.” This so-called “privileged position,” he believed, should not only be assigned to those Jews who choose to remain in England when they can go to the New Jerusalem; if Zionism fails, he stated, “I would give the same privileged position to all Jews everywhere, as an alternative policy to Zionism.” Hilaire Belloc, “The Jewish Question: VIII. The End – Privilege,” Eye Witness, 26 October 1911, 588-589; G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, 1920), 227, 248.

The antisemitic proposition that Jews should be required to wear distinctive clothing was not a new idea to Chesterton. As early as July 1913, seven years prior to The New Jerusalem, he had already reported that in the Middle Ages, it was “felt about the Jews, whether they were nice or nasty, whether they were impotent or omnipotent, was that they were different.” Chesterton stated that this recognition was expressed by “a physical artistic act, giving them a definite dwelling place and a definite dress.” This was a clear allusion to the ghetto and Judenhut. Chesterton however had different ideas about appropriate though equally distinctive clothing. The Jews should not, he argued, be “excluded from any civic rights when they obey the civic order,” but conversely they should, Chesterton concluded, be required to “wear Arab costume.” He stated that: “By all means let [a Jew] be Lord Chief Justice; but let him not sit in wig and gown, but in turban and flowing robes.” Chesterton concluded that “if the Jew were dressed differently we should know what he meant; and when we were all quite separate we should begin to understand each other.” G. K. Chesterton, “What shall we do with our Jews?”, New Witness, 24 July 1913, 370.

Whilst Chesterton’s suggestion that all Jews should be legally required to wear distinctive “Arab costume” when in public was a part of his peculiarly Chestertonian construction of the Jew (exhibiting his prejudice against both Arabs and Jews), he closely followed Belloc in suggesting so-called “privilege” (i.e. segregation) as the alternative solution for those Jews who remained in England. Whilst they disagreed about Zionism, their solutions and terminology for the so-called “Jewish Problem”, at least for those Jews who remained in England, were very similar. This was summed up in the New Witness (the magazine that G. K. Chesterton owned and edited), according to which the “ideal solution” for getting rid of the Jews was Zionism, whereas the “alternative solution” was so-called “privilege (their euphemism for segregation). “The Case for Oscar Levy,” New Witness, 7 October 1921, 194.

For more on G. K. Chesterton’s antisemitic stereotypes of “the Jew” and his constructions of the so-called “Jewish problem” and its so-called “solution”, please see Chesterton’s Jews: Stereotypes and Caricatures in the Literature and Journalism of G. K. Chesterton (2013).

Cecil Roth, Arthur Day and the Mortara Affair (1928-1930)

In June 1929, Father Arthur Day, an English Jesuit, the Vice-President of the Catholic Guild of Israel, and author of several booklets and articles on converting the Jews, published an article on the Mortara Affair in the The Month (the periodical of the English Jesuits): Arthur F. Day, “The Mortara Case,” Month, CLIII (June 1929): 500-509.

The Mortara Affair was an incident in which a six year old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, was forcibly removed from his family in 1858 by the Carabinieri (the military police of the Papal States), placed in the care of the Church, and later adopted by Pius IX. This was because a Catholic maid (Anna Morisi), afraid that Edgardo was about to die, illicitly baptised him – or at least claimed to have done so. Years later she revealed this to Father Feletti, the inquisitor in Bologna. The matter was referred to the Holy Office, which declared that the baptism was valid, and that according to papal law the boy must thus be removed from his family and brought to the House of the Catechumens in Rome. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and later became a Catholic priest. For a detailed examination of the Mortara Affair as it unfolded in the 1850s, see the following excellent book by Professor David Kertzer: The Kidnapping of Edgardo MortaraFor responses to the abduction in the English Catholic Tablet newspaper at the time, please see my blog post entitled “The Tablet and the Mortara Affair (1858)”.


Edgardo Mortara Painting

Representation of the abduction by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882). See Maya Benton’s article (link)


Father Day wrote his article about the Mortara Affair after a heated altercation on the subject of forced baptisms with the prominent Anglo-Jewish scholar, Cecil Roth, in the pages of the Jewish Guardian. Cecil Roth had presented a lecture at the Jewish Historical Society of England in December 1928 on “the Last Phase in Spain.” According to the Jewish Chronicle, Roth discussed the persecution of Jews in Spain at the end of the fourteenth century, the institution of the Spanish Inquisition, and the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Roth explained that a series of massacres in 1391 sapped the will of the Jews in Spain, and that “the number of those killed in these massacres was as nothing compared with the number of those who submitted to mass conversion in order to save their lives.” “Jewish History in Spain,” Jewish Chronicle, 14 December 1928, 10.

Father Day attended Roth’s lecture and a heated debate apparently ensued between them on the subject of forced baptisms (according to the Jewish Guardian, Day raised objections to Roth’s “historiography”; Day denied this, stating that he was not “conscious of having objected to the lecturer’s ‘historiography,'” but rather simply asked Roth a “few questions” which “resulted in a friendly argument”). “Dr. Cecil Roth and Father Day,” Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12, and Letter from Arthur F. Day to the Editor, dated 31 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4.

JG - Dr Cecil Roth and Father Day - 28 Dec 1928, p.12-page-0JG - Dr Roth and Father Day - 4 Jan 1929-page-0

Jewish Guardian: 28 December 1928, p.12 and 4 January 1929, p.4.

After the lecture, Day wrote a letter to Cecil Roth, dated 13 December 1928. His letter explained that whilst under normal circumstances (“cases less urgent”), the permission of the parents must be obtained before baptising Jewish children, in the exceptional circumstance in which “an unbaptized person is in danger of death, baptism, which we regard as of primary importance for salvation, should, if possible, be conferred.” Day argued that the Mortara family had “broken the law in having a Catholic servant in their household, and so to some extent they brought the trouble on themselves.” He also invoked a traditional anti-Masonic narrative, claiming that the opposition to Mortara’s removal from his parents was “to a great extent of the anti-Popery and Continental freemason type.” Cecil Roth subsequently published Father Day’s letter (without first asking Day’s permission) in the Jewish Guardian. Letter from Arthur F. Day to Cecil Roth, dated 13 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12.

After Roth published Father Day’s letter, Day in turn published the rest of the correspondence between them (two letters from Day, dated 21 December and 26 December 1928, and two letters from Roth, dated 23 December and 28 December 1928) in the next issue of the Jewish Guardian. See “Dr. Roth and Father Day: Further Correspondence on the Mortara Case,” Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4. See also Letter from Arthur F. Day to the Editor, dated 14 January 1929, Jewish Guardian, 18 January 1929, 9.

Roth was not impressed by Day’s arguments. In a letter dated 19 December 1928, he noted that the young Mortara was only two or three years of age at the time he was baptized, and that the “ceremony of baptism was a merest travesty, having been performed with ordinary water and by an uneducated servant girl.” In a letter dated 23 December, he stated that he had “no desire nor intention to protract correspondence upon an episode the facts of which are quite clear. Those who, like myself, respect the noble traditions of the Catholic Church can only look forward to the day when this outrage upon humanity will be buried in oblivion.” Whilst Father Day was eager to keep the conversation alive, Roth correctly observed that Day distorted the facts, and that there was therefore little to be gained in continuing the correspondence. After writing his own short essay on the history of forced baptisms and the Mortara Affair, published on 11 January 1929, Roth concluded with the following statement: “I have no intention to protract the correspondence upon this question between myself and Father Day. But it may be noticed en passant that there are curious discrepancies between the singularly unconvincing facts which he cites in the name of the Jewish Encyclopedia and what is to be found in the ordinary editions of that work.” Letter from Cecil Roth to Arthur Day, dated 19 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 28 December 1928, 12Letter from Cecil Roth to Arthur Day, dated 23 December 1928, Jewish Guardian, 4 January 1929, 4; Cecil Roth, “Forced Baptisms: A Chapter of Persecution,” Jewish Guardian, 11 January 1929, page 7 and page 8.

JG - Forced Baptisms - 11 Jan 1929, p.7-page-0JG - Forced Baptisms - 11 Jan 1929, p.8-page-0

Jewish Guardian, 11 January 1929, pp.7-8.

Day subsequently published his article defending the Mortara abduction in The Month in June 1929, informing his readers that it should not be “impossible for Jews to realize the importance we attach to baptism seeing that they, if at all orthodox, regard circumcision as a religious ordinance of the very first rank.” He rejected Roth’s argument that the baptism was a “ridiculous travesty,” noting that “it should occur to anyone at all experienced in historical research that the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition is a fairly competent body which may be trusted to decide whether a clinical baptism has been correctly performed.” The crux of Day’s argument was that “if an infant is in serious danger of death, theologians teach that it should be baptised even without the consent of the parents.” He clarified that this “apparent overriding of parental rights” was explained and justified by the Catholic belief that “under such circumstances this sacrament is of eternal importance to the child, and to withhold it, when there is the opportunity of bestowing it, would be a violation of the law of charity.” According to Day, it is laid down as a “general rule” that in the instances where this occurs with “Hebrew infants,” with the child having been “validly” even if “illicitly” baptised, then they must be “separated from their relations and educated in the Christian faith. The parents, even though they may make promises, cannot be trusted in such a matter to fulfil them. The injury done to them is not so great as that which would be done to the dying child if the sacrament which opens heaven were withheld.” Father Day observed that “Dr. Cecil Roth persisted in inveighing against the inhumanity of the papal procedure and refused to consider what we might call for the moment, in deference to his view, the extenuating circumstances.” He described his “duel” with Cecil Roth as a “useful object-lesson regarding Jewish mentality when confronted by the Catholic claim.” As he had in his letter dated 13 December 1928, he suggested that the Mortara outcry and agitation was “set on foot” by “Protestants”, “Freemasons” and the “riffraff of the revolutionary parties.” Arthur F. Day, “The Mortara Case,” Month, CLIII (June 1929): 500-509.

On 18 September 1929, Arthur day visited the nearly 80-year old Edgardo Mortara (by then Father Mortara, a member of the Canons Regular of the Lateran) at his “monastic home” just outside Liège. In 1930, he appended an account of this visit to the article he had written for The Month. This was published as a 28-page Catholic Guild of Israel booklet by the Catholic Truth Society.  In this, Arthur Day observed that Father Mortara’s “buoyant and enthusiastic temperament is so prone to exult at the memory of the great deliverance and the many graces and favours that followed it, that it is not easy to get from him the sort of information that is dear to reporters. He is so full of fervour and fire that it is difficult for him to adapt himself to a matter-of-fact enquirer. Nobody could be more obliging: his Prior said to me of him, using a French proverb: ‘If it could give pleasure to anyone he would gladly be cut into four.'” Arthur Day recorded that Father Mortara told him that he became a member of his religious order early in his life because he felt that “God has given me such great graces; I must belong entirely to him.” A. F. Day, The Mortara Mystery (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1930), 17-19. He also wrote to Cecil Roth to present him with a copy of the booklet, and he noted at the end of the booklet that “it is pleasant to record that Dr. Roth … acknowledged the receipt of a copy in a kindly and friendly tone.” Letter from A. F. Day to Dr Roth, “Cecil Roth Letters,” 19 June 1930, held in Special Collections, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, File 26220; A. F. Day, The Mortara Mystery, 28.

In 1936, Cecil Roth published a book presenting a short history of the Jewish people. In this book, he mentioned in passing the Mortara Affair. He stated that in 1858, a “wave of indignation swept through Europe by reason of the kidnapping at Bologna (still under Papal rule) of a six-year-old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, on the pretext that he had been submitted to some sort of baptismal ceremony by a servant-girl four years previous.” In May 1936, Father Day was reported (in the Catholic Herald) as saying that “there is undeniably much anti-Christian and still more anti-Catholic bigotry among the London Jews.” He probably had Cecil Roth’s comments about the Mortara Affair in mind when he added that “in spite of appalling ignorance, they pose as competent critics of Catholic theology. The puerility of it passes comprehension; and yet it is among the intelligentsia that one finds the worst offenders.” A few weeks later, on 2 June 1936, Father Day wrote to Cecil Roth about his short history of the Jewish people, stating that he “found much to admire, but also some portions distinctly less admirable.” Unsurprisingly, the portions that Day found “less admirable” were those relating to the Mortara Affair. Day argued that “‘kidnapping’ is not the right word” because “at that time and in that place it was a legal act.” He also stated that the baptism performed by the young Catholic maid was “a valid clinical baptism” and “not a pretext.” It was, he suggested, not merely a pretext for abduction but a genuine reason. Cecil Roth must have replied to Day (letter not found), because Father Day sent him another letter on 10 June 1936, thanking him for acknowledging his letter. In this second letter, Day suggested that it was not a kidnapping because “the Oxford Dictionary … defines ‘kidnapping’ as ‘carrying off a child by illegal force'” (the emphasis by underlining was Father Day’s). Day concluded that “if a modern incident can be so maltreated, what about the poor old Middle Ages!” See Cecil Roth, A Short History of the Jewish People (London: Macmillan and Company, 1936), 378; “Jews and Christians: A Priest’s Experience,” Catholic Herald, 15 May 1936, 2; Letters from A. F. Day to Dr Roth, “Cecil Roth Letters,” 2 June 1936 (with attached note) and 10 June 1936, held in Special Collections, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, File 26220.

In 1953, Cecil Roth returned to the Mortara Affair. He noted that “Modern apologists endeavoured to justify what occurred by calling attention to the breach of the law committed by the Mortara family in having a Christian servant in their employment at all, and by pointing out that on the capture of Rome twelve years later, after having been sedulously kept away from all Jewish influence during the most impressionable years of his life, Edgardo Mortara neglected the opportunity to return to his ancestral faith.” Roth referred to the controversy with Father Day which began in 1928, observing that Day later wrote to him in response to his A Short History of the Jewish People (i.e. Day’s letter of 2 June 1936), “indignantly protesting against my statement that Edgardo Mortara was ‘kidnapped.'” Roth was understandably surprised and frustrated that Father Day believed it was in any sense a creditable defence of the kidnapping that the six-year-old Edgardo Mortara, as a result of being illicitly baptised as a baby by a servant girl, had been “removed from his parents’ custody by process of the law!” Cecil Roth, Personalities and Events in Jewish History (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1953), 273-274.

As a postscript, according to reports on the internet, Kertzer’s book will soon be adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg [link]..