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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.
Chesterton’s sympathy for Zionism soon waned. 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, rather than in the Holy Land. 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 term 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 and exemptions.” “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): “the ideal solution is Zionism; the alternative solution what has been called Privilege.” “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).
Louis Charles Casartelli, the Bishop of Salford diocese from 1903 to 1925, blamed the Church’s “crisis” in France on the disunity of French Catholics. Embracing anti-Masonic myths and narratives, he also blamed the problems the Church was facing on the so-called machinations of Freemasons. In his monthly Bishop’s message (which was published at the front of each issue of the Catholic Federationist) for March 1913, he stated that “a comparative handful of Freemasons has succeeded in monopolising the political and executive power over nations pre-ponderatingly Catholic.” In August 1914, he concluded that Catholics in France had succumbed to “apathy” and the “sectarian hostility of their enemies,” as despite constituting “the great bulk of the nation,” they lacked effective organisation, were “rent into contending factions,” and thus rendered “easy victims to skilful and united foes.” He was concerned that if the Church was so open to attack in a country like France with a Catholic majority, it could also be vulnerable in England. Casartelli depicted Freemasonry as a malign force, but he also expressed a grudging admiration for it. Casartelli asked, “why should Catholics not take a leaf out their book?” He attributed Freemasonry’s success (in a battle he believed was being waged between the Church and Freemasonry) to the efficacy of a well-organised force, and concluded that it is an adversary whose tactics should be learnt from, even adopted, since they have proven effective. See Louis Charles Casartelli, “The Bishop’s Message,” Catholic Federationist, March 1913, p.1 and Louis Charles Casartelli, “The Bishop’s Message,” Catholic Federationist, August 1914, pp.1-2. See also Letter from Louis Charles Casartelli to Mgr. Brown, 17 November 1911, box 158, book 14, pp.1357-1359, Casartelli’s Copy Letters, Salford Diocesan Archives. For a detailed examination of Bishop Casartelli (and an introduction to the Catholic Federation), see Martin John Broadley, Louis Charles Casartelli: Bishop in Peace and War (Koinonia: Manchester, 2006).
Another concern for Bishop Casartelli was Socialism. His solution to the so-called organised and dangerous threat of Socialism and Freemasonry was for all Catholics to be part of an equally effective and organised movement. The Catholic Federation, inaugurated in 1906 and endorsed by Casartelli, was envisaged as the backbone of an overarching movement to unify and guide the actions of Catholic individuals and organisations. According to the Catholic Federationist, the monthly periodical of the movement, the Catholic Federation was spreading throughout Europe and America to “weld the Catholic forces into one grand phalanx to combat in a practical manner the evils of the world,” and the Federation in England was destined to “marshal the forces of the Catholic Church in the great battles of the future against the rising tides of Freemasonry, Socialism and an anti-Christian democracy.” See “A Word to Believers and Unbelievers in the Catholic Federation,” Catholic Federationist, November 1910, p.2.
In addition to the Catholic Federation, Casartelli also supported the Catenian Association, a Catholic fraternal organisation, as an acceptable “alternative” to Freemasonry. In November 1909, Casartelli informed Francis Bourne, the Archbishop of Westminster, that the Catenian Association had “already succeeded in weaning a number of Catholics from Freemasonry.” He claimed in 1911 that the Catenian Association kept young Catholic men away from Freemasonry and rescued others from “its clutches.” See letter from Louis Charles Casartelli to Lord Archbishop Bourne, 26 November 1909, box 157, book “16-11-9 to 19-13-10,” pp.606-607, Casartelli’s Copy Letters, Salford Diocesan Archives, and letter from Louis Charles Casartelli to Mgr. Brown, 17 November 1911, box 158, book 14, pp.1357-1359, Casartelli’s Copy Letters, Salford Diocesan Archives.
When Casartelli helped to inaugurate the Catholic Federation (and the Catenian Association), his primary concerns were Freemasonry and Socialism. There is little evidence that Casartelli initially had the Jews in mind. The Catholic Federationist did however link Jews and Freemasons in anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic articles appearing in the early days of the organisation. For example, in January 1911, an editorial in the Catholic Federationist described Freemasonry as a malign entity that was “sapping and mining the very foundations of Christianity in the political state, because there has been no corresponding lay movement of sufficient strength to counteract it.” The editorial claimed that another enemy of the Church was “Nathan, the Jewish and infidel Mayor of Rome, and others of a kindred breed.” Organisations like the Catholic Federation, the paper argued, are required to counter such “enemies of the Church.” A month later the paper praised Karl Lueger, the infamous antisemitic mayor of Vienna, as “an ideal Catholic Federationist.” Karl Lueger, the antisemitic leader of the Christian Social Party in Austria, was elected major of Vienna in 1897. He instigated a number of antisemitic and anti-Masonic policies, and denounced Jewish influence in banking and commerce, the newspapers, and medicine. According to Robert Wistrich, Hitler admired Lueger as “the greatest German Bürgermeister of all times.” The Catholic Federationist argued that “the Jew and Freemason had almost annihilated ever vestige of social Catholicity” in Vienna, but that upon taking office, Karl Lueger immediately set himself to restoring the ancient religious customs of the city. See untitled editorial, Catholic Federationist, January 1911, p.2, and “A Great Catholic Federationist,” Catholic Federationist, February 1911, p.2. For more on Karl Lueger, see Robert S. Wistrich, Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred (New York: Pantheon Books, 1991), pp.63-65 and Robert S. Wistrich, “Karl Lueger and the Ambiguities of Viennese Antisemitism,” Jewish Social Studies 45:3/4 (1983), pp.251-262.
Jews became a more significant factor in the Catholic Federation’s narrative construction of so-called anti-Christian forces after Hilaire Belloc, a prominent Catholic author and close friend of G. K. Chesterton, published The Jews in 1922 (Belloc’s antisemitic discourse was also a major influence on G. K. Chesterton). Belloc argued, convincingly as far as Casartelli and the Catholic Federationist were concerned, that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement. On the one hand, Belloc did acknowledge that by no means were all Jews supporters of Bolshevism. As far as Belloc was concerned, the idea that Bolshevism was part of an “age-long plot, culminating in the contemporary Russian affair,” was a “hallucination” as deluded as the idea that the Order of the Templars was behind the French Revolution. Nevertheless, he also contended that there was “a great element of truth” in the assertion that the destruction of Russian society was an act of Jewish “racial revenge.” He asserted that “the perfectly explicable but deplorable exercise of vengeance by the Jews,” was “directed against what we euphemistically term the governing directing classes, who have been massacred whole-sale.” Belloc concluded that whilst not all Jews were Bolsheviks, Bolshevism was at heart a “Jewish movement”. The Catholic Herald, an English Catholic newspaper, later repeated Belloc’s antisemitic idea that the revolution in Russia was an act of Jewish racial revenge. It stated that the “Russian-Jew-Communists” were acting callously out of a “desire for vengeance, for retribution, for the destruction and debasement of the Russian people.” See Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922), pp.167-185 and “Trotsky Wants to Come Here,” Catholic Herald, 29 June 1929, p.8.
Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)
Belloc was also a prominent contributor to the antisemitic and anti-Masonic myth of the Jewish-Masonic conspiracy. Alluding to the Freemasons, Belloc stated in the Eye Witness in September 1911, that “the Jewish element in every European country tended not so much to produce these secret societies as to control them one they arose.” He observed that the more important secret societies could be identified by their “quasi-Hebrew” ritual. Belloc stated that the Jew everywhere flocks into “the organisation of masonry and the bodies affiliated to it.” Belloc concluded that “though the Jewish race and secret organisation were not synonymous,” they were closely connected, and it was notable, he suggested, that the secret societies always “tended to attack exactly that which the Jew had always attacked in Europe.” In a speech at the Catholic Congress in Norwich in 1912, Belloc blamed the Jews and Freemasons for the revolution which had deposed the monarchy in Portugal and established a republic in its place. According to a report in the Catholic Federationist, Belloc had stated that it was not the change of regime per se that bothered him, but the fact that “it had been done by the universal method of modern secret societies, modern Masons, and modern financial Jews through committees, clique, and sham elections.” According to the report, Belloc stated that a “minority acting secretly and in conspiracy through Masonic institutions controlled by cosmopolitan and Jewish financiers” sought to “uproot in Europe the Catholic Church.” This supposed struggle “between the Catholic Church and its enemies was,” Belloc concluded, “the most important event in the world.” He made similar claims about Jews and Freemasons at a meeting of the Irish Catholic Truth Society in 1913 and the English Catholic Truth Society in 1917. By the time he completed The Jews in 1922, Belloc had revised his opinion about the nature of the so-called Jewish-Masonic connection. Freemasonry was no longer merely allied with or infiltrated by the Jews in his opinion, it had been founded by them. Belloc stated that Freemasonry is a “specially Jewish institution” which “the Jews had inaugurated as a sort of bridge between themselves and their hosts in the seventeenth century.” He concluded that as a consequence of the Masonic influence in Britain, the nation has been manipulated into the role of “official protector of the Jews in other countries.” Britain, he surmised, has thus become the ideal location for a “permanent establishment and rooting of Jewish power, and for the organisation of a Jewish base.” See Hilaire Belloc, “The Jewish Question,” The Eye Witness, 21 September 1911, p.428; Summary of Belloc’s speech, in “Notes from Norwich,” Catholic Federationist, September 1912, pp.3-4; “Mr. Hilaire Belloc on the Church and the Modern World,” Catholic Times, 24 October 1913, p.10; “Mr. Hilaire Belloc on Catholic Progress,” Catholic Federationist, June 1917, p.2; Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922), pp.223-224.
According to his diary, Bishop Casartelli “spent much time” reading Belloc’s The Jews. He seemed to find Belloc’s analysis persuasive, as he noted in his diary entry that Belloc “maintains that Bolshevism is essentially a Jewish movement” and that his book on The Jews was “wonderful.” The Catholic Federationist was also persuaded by Belloc’s analysis of the so-called “Jewish problem”. The periodical regretted that so many people have ignored Belloc’s warnings, concluding that they were unprepared to face the “problem” and thus preferred to deny its existence. See Louis Charles Casartelli, diary entry, 28 June 1922, box F163, Casartelli’s Diaries, Salford Diocesan Archives. My thanks to Bill Williams for bringing this diary entry to my attention. See also “Hilaire Belloc and the Jews,” Catholic Federationist, July 1922, p.6.
Some of G. K. Chesterton’s fervent defenders (especially those who would like to see him declared a saint) argue that he could never have been antisemitic because he was a staunch and early critic of Hitler. The argument that he could not have been antisemitic on the grounds that he criticised Hitler is weak and unsound. Interpreted in the very best light, it would only demonstrate that Chesterton, in the final years of his life, eventually overcame his anti-Jewish discourse. However, the evidence does not even support the conclusion that he overcome his antisemitic prejudice, for there is little to suggest that he actually altered or softened his opinions about Jews or the so-called “Jewish Problem” after Hitler rose to power in Germany. If anything, Chesterton considered his critiques of “Hitlerism” and Nazi antisemitism to be entirely consistent with his earlier deprecating stereotypes of the Jew and his proposed solutions to the Jewish Problem. 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. So yes, he did say in an oft-quoted interview in 1933 that he was “quite ready to believe” that he and Belloc would “die defending the last Jew in Europe” (“Mr. G. K. Chesterton on Truculent Prussianism,” Jewish Chronicle, 22 September 1933, 14.) But then he also claimed in G.K.’s Weekly in July 1933 that “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 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” (G. K. Chesterton, “The Judaism of Hitler,” G.K.’s Weekly, 20 July 1933, 311).
G. K. Chesterton, “The Judaism of Hitler,” G.K.’s Weekly, 20 July 1933.
Chesterton repeated the antisemitic stereotype of rich greedy Jews in other articles that were critical of Hitler. For example, in an essay entitled “On War Books,” 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” (G. K. Chesterton, “On War Books,” G.K.’s Weekly, 10 October 1935, 28). Interestingly, a later version of this essay, published posthumously in a volume entitled The End of the Armistice in 1940, omits the entire sentence in which Chesterton lamented that rich banking Jews escaped the beating and bullying (G. K. Chesterton, “On War Books,” in The End of the Armistice, edited by Frank Sheed, London: Sheed & Ward, 1940, 192). Presumably the decision to remove the offensive sentence was made by Frank Sheed, the volume’s editor and publisher.
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?” (G. K. Chesterton, “A Very Present Help,” G.K.’s Weekly, 4 May 1933, 135). Chesterton criticised Hitler, and then repeated his claim that there is a Jewish Problem. He stated 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?” (G. K. Chesterton, “A Queer Choice,” G.K.’s Weekly, 29 November 1934, 207).
Chesterton’s criticisms of Dreyfus and the Dreyfusards, which he often repeated throughout his journalistic career (link for G. K. Chesterton and the Dreyfus affair), were also repeated in his critiques of Hitler. He stated in March 1933 that when England “wanted to abuse France, where there is really very little real Anti-Semitism, we turned the world upside about the condemnation of one isolated individual Jewish officer, who had attained a high position of confidence, and who was charged, rightly or wrongly, with violating that confidence.” Chesterton combined criticising the Germans for persecuting Jews with repeating his earlier assertions that Dreyfus was probably a Germany spy. According to Chesterton, the English were never informed 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.” Chesterton criticised Hitler for persecuting ordinary Jews, and then observed that in the case of Dreyfus, the “particular Jew in France may or may not have been a traitor; but at least he was tried for being a traitor” (G. K. Chesterton, “The Horse and the Hedge,” G.K.’s Weekly, 30 March 1933, 55). As Julia Stapleton has rightly noted, 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” (Julia Stapleton, Christianity, Patriotism, and Nationhood: The England of G. K. Chesterton, Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2009).
Chesterton also sometimes defended Hitler as if he were a mere puppet or “tool”. In September 1934, he stated that “I may possibly cause some surprise, if I conclude the composite portrait by saying that in certain aspects, and under certain limitations, I do not believe that Hitler is altogether a bad fellow; and that he is almost certainly a much better fellow than the men who are going to use him.” Chesterton suggested that in the beginning “he did really intend to do something for the poor, and especially for the peasants.” If he “did not do enough for his better ideas, and later did much more for his worst ones,” Chesterton argued, then “the reason is quite simply that he is not the Dictator.” He concluded that Hitler’s puppeteer or “drill-sergeant” will “soon give him his marching orders again” (G. K. Chesterton, “The Tool,” G.K.’s Weekly, 6 September 1934, 8-9). He repeated this idea in March 1936, when Hitler ordered the occupation of the Rhineland in contravention of the Versailles treaty. Chesterton stated that: “I have always said that there were healthy elements in Hitlerism, and even in Hitler; indeed I rather suspect that Hitler is one of the healthy elements in Hitlerism.” Chesterton argued that Hitler was “a better man than the men around him or behind him” (G. K. Chesterton, “Why did he do it?”, G.K.’s Weekly, 26 March 1936, 18).
As mentioned near the beginning of this short essay, Chesterton did say in an interview in 1933, that he was “quite ready to believe” that he and his close friend Hilaire Belloc would “die defending the last Jew in Europe”. Like Chesterton, Belloc did criticise Nazism. Chesterton and Belloc were also both staunch critics of the eugenics movement – though Chesterton’s book on eugenics included caricatures of Jews (See G. K. Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils, London: Cassell and Company, 1922; “Hilaire Belloc and the Ministry of Health,” Catholic Federationist, September 1920, 6). However, also like Chesterton, Belloc’s defence of Jews was somewhat equivocal. In his third edition of The Jews published in 1937, Belloc framed the problem of the Nazi persecution of Jews as one primarily of efficacy in solving the so-called “Jewish Problem”. Belloc asked what effect Nazi policy would “have upon a solution of the Jewish question?” “Is it,” he asked, “an advance towards a just solution of that question or not?” He observed that “there is no doubt that the Nazi attack was sincere” and that “there is no doubt that in the eyes of its authors it was provoked by a situation which they thought intolerable.” But the “Nazi attack”, he concluded, could be “neither thorough nor final.” Belloc argued that “it is not immoral, to declare a new policy and to say, ‘we will in future regard Jews as citizens of a different class from those around them, their hosts.” However, he concluded that the attack was unjust because “when things of that kind are done, justice demands that the effect shall be gradual, and that the loser by any new regulation shall be compensated.” It seems however that the main point of contention for Belloc was not that the Nazi policy was unjust, but that it was a failed policy. “The Nazi attack upon such of the Jewish race as are subject to Berlin is,” Belloc concluded, “not thorough, not final, but incomplete, and I think soon to prove abortive.” According to Belloc, “the policy has missed its mark, on lower grounds: it has missed its mark, because it has not dared to be thorough and has not had the competence to be well thought out” (Hilaire Belloc, The Jews, third edition, London: Constable, 1937, xxxix- xliii).
At best these essays by G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc reveal an ambivalent sentiment about Jews (which is to say, thinly veiled antipathy towards Jews, combined with equivocal defences of them). They were more an attack on what Chesterton referred to as “truculent Prussianism”, and an equivocal criticism of Hitler, than a defence of Jews. And this was the period in which, according to his defenders, Chesterton’s discourse about Jews was at its most sympathetic.
For more about G. K. Chesterton’s antisemitism, see: Chesterton’s Jews: Stereotypes and Caricatures in the Literature and Journalism of G. K. Chesterton