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The Catholic Federation, Hilaire Belloc, Antisemitism and Anti-Masonry

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.

Stefan Zweig’s Struggle with Nietzsche and the Daimonic Spirit (1881-1942)

Stefan Zweig was a prolific Austrian author of novels, short stories, plays and biographies. He was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna in November 1881 and committed suicide in Petrópolis, Brazil, in February 1942.


Zweig Photo

 Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)


Zweig developed a fascination with Friedrich Nietzsche when he was a student at the Maximilian gymnasium (school) in Vienna. According to Zweig’s autobiography, The World of Yesterday, and his examination of Nietzsche in Der Kampf mit dem Dämon (The Struggle with the Daemon), the gymnasium provided a “treadmill” of learning which was designed to suppress the exuberant spirit of youth. Zweig cast about for solace and found it in Nietzsche’s books. These he discussed at coffee houses and read under the desk as his teacher “delivered his time-worn lecture.” It was the rebellious nature of Nietzsche that attracted Zweig. According to Zweig, Nietzsche chose to “kick over the traces of his official duties and, with a sigh of relief, quit the chair of philology at Basel University.” Having broken the “shackles which bound him to the past” he was ready to become “an outlaw, an amoralist, a sceptic, a poet, a musician.” Ironically the gymnasium’s oppressive regime provided the fertile environment necessary for Nietzsche’s influence to take hold of Zweig, and consequently he developed a “hatred for all authority” and a “passion to be free – vehement to a degree” that was, according to Zweig, “scarcely known to present-day youth.”


 Nietzsche PictureFriedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)


The aspect of Nietzsche that appealed most to Zweig was his so-called “Dionysian” spirit. Zweig’s examination of Nietzsche in The Struggle with the Daemon was, as he acknowledged, not so much a biography as a portrait of a life as “a tragedy of the spirit, as a work of dramatic art.” It was “the fact that his daimonic nature was given free reign,” despite the inherent self destructive risk, that appealed to Zweig. This he felt transformed Nietzsche’s destiny into “legendary wonder.” Zweig repeatedly contrasted Nietzsche with Goethe. He suggested that Goethe also had a daimonic spirit, but that he recognised it and kept it under tight control, so that he could “be the ruler of his own destiny.” According to Zweig, as a rule “the thralls of the daimon were torn to pieces,” but Goethe opposed or subdued the “Dionysian disposition,” and “having subdued the daimon, was self-controlled to the end.” For Zweig this made Goethe a less interesting character than Nietzsche. However, in placing the unrestrained Dionysian spirit on a pedestal, Zweig ignored a critical aspect of Nietzsche’s own philosophy. Nietzsche developed a complex vision of two contrasting human drives. According to Nietzsche, the “Apollonian” exemplified the principle of individuation; the distinct, well ordered, disciplined, coldly logical, restrained and carefully bounded nature of individual existence. Conversely, the “Dionysian” exemplified the collapse of the principle of individuation: passion, intoxication, ecstasy, primal savagery and the dissolution of the boundaries that keep the individual distinct from nature. Whilst Nietzsche regarded neither the Apollonian nor Dionysian drives as healthy in isolation, he did emphasise the Dionysian spirit as the key to cultural regeneration in The Birth of Tragedy. However, Nietzsche later warned that this Dionysian spirit, though crucially important, should be tempered by the Apollonian.

Despite Zweig’s admiration of the Dionysian spirit, his portrait of Nietzsche was not without a measure of equivocation. He suggested in The Struggle with the Daemon that Nietzsche (along with Hölderlin and Kleist) was a thrall, “possessed … by a higher power, the daimonic.” This daimonic nature impelled him “towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction.”  He argued that this spirit enabled his mind to reach new heights but that ultimately it destroyed him. While Zweig admired Nietzsche’s spirit he also recognised the surface reality of his life. Nietzsche worshiped amor fati, happiness and good health. Yet as Zweig showed, the reality was that he was also a lonely man, constantly ill, reliant on tinctures and medicaments, unhappy and timid in his everyday dealings with other people.

Despite this equivocation, Zweig’s life would suggest that he did more than pay lip service to Nietzsche’s Dionysian ideal. He glorified composers, poets and writers, infused his own prolific works with his emotional life, and deployed his art as his primary response to the suffering and catastrophes of his time. Zweig informs us that “Nietzsche wished neither to better the world nor to inform the world.” “His ecstasy was,” Zweig suggested, “an end in itself, a delight sufficient in itself, a personal voluptuousness, wholly egoistical and elementary.” Zweig likewise privileged the artistic spirit as a superior end in itself over active worldly participation. He regarded Erasmus of Rotterdam as an example of the anti-fanatical life par excellence, a man to whom “artistic achievement and inner peace is the most important thing on earth.” He suggested that Jews should refrain from pursuing political goals and solutions which only draw attention and increase antisemitism, and instead follow the example of Erasmus. This, Zweig suggested, was his “own way of life symbolized.”

Zweig had always been a pacifist. During the First World War he felt that his pacifism demanded that he use his pen in solidarity with the innocent victims of the conflict. Consequently he worked with Romain Rolland and other literary figures to develop a peace campaign in Switzerland. However, by the time the Nazis rose to power, his pacifism had warped into a paralyzing passivity. Such was his interpretation of Erasmus’s way of life. This probably explains why Zweig refused requests from his friends during the early 1930s to write anything against fascism and Nazism. Referring to an operatic project he had collaborated on with Richard Strauss (Zweig wrote the libretto for Die schweigsame Frau), he observed in The World of Yesterday that “from all quarters friends urged me to protest publicly against a performance in National Socialist Germany.” He refused to protest, stating that he “fundamentally” loathed “public and pathetic gestures.” According to one of his biographers, Donald Prater, when Zweig was encouraged by his friend Ernst Fischer to write an article against fascism, he felt unable to comply, feeling that it was the author’s duty in such times to publish only things that were “inspiring and satisfying.”

Zweig’s failure to deploy his pen against fascism and antisemitism can be contrasted with Nietzsche’s success. Nietzsche was ambivalent about Judaism and hostile to Christianity as cultural systems (he regarded both as forms of slave morality), but he was full of praise for Jews qua Jews. For example, in Beyond Good and Evil (§251), he described Jews as “the strongest, toughest, and purest race now living in Europe; they know how to prevail even under the worst conditions,” and he envisaged an important role for Jews in the regeneration of European culture. He stated that “to that end it might be useful and fair to expel the anti-Semitic screamers from the country.” Nietzsche expressed similar sentiments in Human, All-Too-Human (§475) and Daybreak (§205). In a letter to his sister around Christmas 1887, Nietzsche stated that he was filled with “ire or melancholy” over her marriage to “an anti-Semitic chief.” He even stated in a letter to Franz Overbeck in January 1889, shortly after the beginning of his psychological breakdown, that he was having all “anti-Semites shot” (see Walter Kaufmann’s The Portable Nietzsche, pp. 456-457, 687).

Zweig’s Dionysian ideal also had a dark side. According to Friderike Zweig (Friderike was Stefan’s first wife and his close friend even after he remarried), he was “interested in mediocre, stupid or luke-warm people only if they were suffering.” She observed that he depicted “illiterates as mental cripples, unable to grasp the breadth of the universe,” and considered “average people as a ‘quantité négligeable’”. According to Friderike, in this respect, he “contradicted his otherwise humane approach” (see Friderike Zweig’s biography: Stefan Zweig). Something of this can be seen in Erasmus, in which Stefan blamed the “broad masses of the people” for preventing his hero’s “lofty and humane ideals of spiritual understanding” from coming to fruition. The “average man,” he concluded, was too far “under the spell of hatred, which demands its rights to the detriment of loving-kindness.”

Zweig’s air of superiority over the “average” or “illiterate” man can also be found in his Schachnovelle (1942; published as The Royal Game in 1944 and subsequently as Chess or Chess Story). In this novella, Czentovic, an almost unbeatable chess playing prodigy, is depicted as the antithesis of Zweig’s Dionysian ideal. Czentovic is portrayed as a “half-illiterate” simpleton, “indolent,” “slow-speaking,” “narrow-minded,” with a “vulgar greed,” ignorant “in every field of culture,” unable “to write a single sentence in any language without misspelling a word,” and completely lacking in “imaginative power.” However, eminent intellectuals who were “his superior in brains, imagination, and audacity” all collapsed before his “tough, cold logic.” This depiction of the one dimensional simpleton, a pure Apollonian with no Dionysian spirit, stands in contrast to the tragic culture loving “Dr B.” Dr B is presented as having suffered a prolonged isolation at the hands of the Nazis resulting in a psychological breakdown. Whether consciously or unconsciously, this was clearly based upon Zweig’s perception of his own experience of isolation in Brazil. Dr B, now free from his isolation in the hotel room, challenges and at first manages to defeat the chess prodigy, but Czentovic adapts to his new opponent. Recognizing Dr B’s psychological fragility, he adopts an infuriating slow pace in order to break him. In the rematch, Dr B is not only defeated but driven to the brink of madness by Czentovic’s relentless but snail paced logic. Dr B’s Dionysian spirit is crushed by the cold Apollonian logic and brutal psychology of his supposedly inferior opponent.

Zweig’s so-called “humane approach,” which privileged those with an artistic spirit over the “illiterate” and “average” person, had more than a passing resemblance to Nietzsche’s portrayal of “noble” benevolence. In On the Genealogy of Morals (bk I, §10-11), Nietzsche expressed admiration for the “nobility” who employ “benevolent nuances” in their dealings with the so-called “lower orders”. According to Nietzsche, these lower orders are driven by the “venomous eye of ressentiment.” Zweig similarly suggested that the “average man” was “under the spell of hatred.” Conversely, they both believed that the so-called noble man, with his Dionysian artistic spirit, is able to consider those unlike him with a benign forbearance, as merely “bad” rather than “evil.” Zweig’s intoxication with freedom, his consistent dissolution of the boundaries between art and life, and his compassionate but disdainfully patronising attitude towards so-called “average” people, does seem to fit with Nietzsche’s Dionysian ideal, though crucially he ignored Nietzsche’s later observation that it was dangerous not to temper it with Apollonian self control.

Jacob Golomb argued in “Stefan Zweig: The Jewish Tragedy of a Nietzschean ‘Free Spirit’” that Zweig’s suicide was the result of “his indefatigable determination to subsist all his life as a ‘pure’ Nietzschean.” Golomb observes that “speaking of Nietzsche’s aversion to pity, Zweig continues to refer to him as to ‘the most brilliant man of the last century.’” However, Zweig in fact developed an ambivalent rather than purist attitude towards Nietzsche. The short extract, “the most brilliant man of the last century,” is found in his novel Beware of Pity (1939). The full passage from this novel reveals an abhorrence to Nietzsche’s aversion to pity rather than, as Golomb implies, a sympathy for it: “But you’ll never get me to utter the word ‘incurable.’ Never! I know that it is to the most brilliant man of the last century, Nietzsche, that we owe the horrible aphorism: a doctor should never try to cure the incurable. But that is about the most fallacious proposition of all the paradoxical and dangerous propositions he propounded. The exact opposite is the truth.” Unlike Dr. Condor, the character in the novel that articulates this sentiment, Zweig did not have the emotional resources to attempt to cure the incurable. This does not demonstrate, as Golomb suggests, the “bankruptcy of the existential stance of a Jewish ‘free spirit’” – but simply that Stefan Zweig lacked, like many other people of his time, the resilience necessary to deal with the catastrophe occurring in Europe. One reason for this weakness was the emotional scars he carried from the First World War. One moment Europe had been in a golden age of progress and the next it was falling apart. Zweig’s previously unflinching faith in a supra-national Europe crumbled as a consequence.

In Schachnovelle, Zweig contrasted Dr B’s isolation, forced by the Nazis to remain in a comfortable but plain hotel room for months at end with only a clandestinely hidden book of chess solutions to entertain him, with that of Jews who suffered physically in concentration camps. This comparison (in which he suggested that Dr B’s fate was worse) would seem to reveal Zweig’s inability to truly confront or understand the horrors that Jews were facing in Europe during the early 1940s. However, when Zweig wrote this novella, he, like Dr B, was on the brink of a psychological break. Shortly thereafter he committed suicide (and the novella was published posthumously). His alter-ego, Dr B, surmised that the Jews in the concentration camps at least “have seen faces, would have had space, a tree, a star, something, anything, to stare at, while here everything stood before one unchangeably the same, always the same, maddeningly the same.” Like Dr B, Zweig was unable to cope with his sense of isolation. Zweig managed to escape the Nazi plague spreading across Europe and ended up in Brazil in August 1940 (two years prior to the publication of Schachnovelle). According to Friderike Zweig (by this point Stefan’s ex-wife), he wrote to her to inform her that “the landscape was indescribably beautiful, the people charming, Europe and the war more remote.” He stated that “with a good library, life here could be very pleasant.” He expressed a similar sentiment in Brazil: A Land of the Future. According to Zweig, “the European arrogance which I had brought with me as so much superfluous luggage vanished with astonishing rapidity. I knew I had looked into the future of our world.” However, the “supposedly fairy-like Petrópolis” provided only a temporary respite. He felt guilt about the fate of the Jews he had left behind. He also felt a crushing sense of isolation. His attempts to overcome these feelings through his usual solution, the creation of uplifting literary works, failed. Like Nietzsche, Zweig was ultimately torn to pieces by his struggle with the Daemon. When he could endure these feelings no longer, he committed suicide.


Golomb, Jacob. ‘Stefan Zweig: The Jewish Tragedy of a Nietzschean “Free Spirit”’, in Jacob Golomb (ed.), Nietzsche and the Austrian Culture (Vienna: WUV, 2004).

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “The Birth of Tragedy,” “Beyond Good and Evil” and “On the Genealogy of Morals,” in Walter Kaufmann, ed., The Basic Writings of Nietzsche (New York: The Modern Library, 2000).

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality (trans. R. J. Hollingdale; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Extracts from “Human, All-Too-Human” and various letters, in Walter Kaufmann, ed., The Portable Nietzsche (London: Penguin Books, 1976).

Prater, Donald A. European of Yesterday: A Biography of Stefan Zweig (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972).

Zweig, Friderike. Stefan Zweig (trans. Erna McArthur; London: W.H. Allen, 1946).

Zweig, Stefan. Beware of Pity (trans. Phyllis Blewitt and Trevor Blewitt; London: Cassell, 1939).

Zweig, Stefan. Brazil: A Land of the Future (trans. Andrew St. James; London: Cassell, 1942).

Zweig, Stefan. Erasmus (trans. Eden Paul and Cedar Paul; London: Cassell, 1934).

Zweig, Stefan. Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche: The Struggle with the Daemon (London: Transaction Publishers, 2010). Originally published as Der Kampf mit dem Dämon in 1939.

Zweig, Stefan. The Royal Game (trans. B. W. Huebsch; London: Cassell, 1944). Originally published as Schachnovelle (Chess Story) in 1942.

Zweig, Stefan. The World of Yesterday (London: University of Nebraska Press, 1964). Originally published in 1943. Zweig started writing this volume in the early 1930s and sent it to his publisher the day before he and his second wife committed suicide.

The Mythicized Jew and Freemason in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century English Catholic Discourses

Conventional wisdom in studies of English antisemitism has tended to suggest that by the nineteenth century religious prejudice had largely been secularised or replaced by modern socio-political and racial forms of hostility. This may have been the case in the general English discourse, but in English Catholic discourses at the turn of the twentieth century, traditional pre-modern myths, with their cast of Jewish and Masonic diabolists, were still a pervasive feature. My recent PhD investigation, funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant, examined a range of sources, including the published works of prominent and obscure authors; the pastoral letters and sermons of cardinals, bishops and priests; articles and editorials in newspapers and periodicals; letters; and a small number of oral testimonies, in order to bring to light English Catholic discourses which have largely gone unexamined. Prominent mythological/imaginary villains in these discourses during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century included “the Pharisee,” “the Christ-Killer,” “the Ritual Murderer,” “the Sorcerer,” “the Antichrist” and “the Luciferian.” Jews and Freemasons were often assigned one or more of these mythological roles. In some cases the language used to describe the Jew and the Freemason drew upon a vocabulary which suggested an apocalyptic war between the forces of good and evil.

For more on this, please see the following article which was published in volume 8 of Melilah (the open access peer-reviewed journal of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester): From the Christ-Killer to the Luciferian: The Mythologized Jew and Freemason in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century English Catholic Discourse

Melilah pic




G. K. Chesterton and the Stereotype of “the Jewish Bolshevik”

In a previous report I looked at the stereotype of the so-called greedy Jew in G. K. Chesterton’s fictional and journalistic discourse. In this report I will look at the stereotype of the “Jewish Bolshevik” in his discourse.

In his essay on G. K. Chesterton’s so-called “philosemitism,” William Oddie argues that Chesterton could not have been an antisemite because on a number of occasions he defended Jews from antisemitism [1]. William Oddie 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” [2]. These examples probably provide a fair reflection of Chesterton’s late teenage attitudes. However, his worldview, as with most people, changed over time. An example of his developing worldview can be seen in The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904). According to William Oddie, in this novel, Chesterton expressed “distaste for modernity and progress.” He quite rightly points out that this distaste was “a recent volte-face” [3]. This was not however the only volte-face in Chesterton’s worldview and discourse. He also changed his views about the Jews.

A relatively early and partial 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” [4]. As Cheyette has observed, the construction of the Jew as “innocent victim” seems to have been replaced in Manalive by the Russian Jew’s so-called “racial failure to go beyond his ‘cynical’ rationality” [5].

The transition from innocent victim in Russia to arch-cynic in Russia was only a partial volte-face. The 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” [6]. He repeated this narrative about how it was once observed that it was the Jews who were persecuted in Russia, and now it is the Jews who persecute Russians, in What I Saw in America (1922). He stated that “we used to lecture the Russians for oppressing the Jews, before we heard the word Bolshevist and began to lecture them for being oppressed by the Jews” [7].

There were of course many Jews who were sympathetic towards Socialism and Bolshevism, just as there were many non-Jews who were sympathetic towards Socialism and Bolshevism. There were also many Jews who were antagonistic towards Bolshevism, and it was in no sense a Jewish movement. Chesterton did at least recognise that not all Jews were Bolsheviks, but he claimed that those who were not Bolsheviks were instead rich capitalists. Capitalism, he believed, was merely the other side of Communism. Despite acknowledging that not all Jews were Bolsheviks, he nevertheless painted a picture of Bolshevism as a specifically Jewish movement. For example, Chesterton stated in January 1921 that a study by H. G. Wells contained a “touch of an unreal relativity” when it came to “the Jewish element in Bolshevism.” Wells had observed that whilst many of the Russian exiles were Jewish, there were some who were not Jews. As he had on many other occasions, Chesterton conversely rejected the idea that Jews could be Russians. He clarified that the exiles were Jewish as there were “next to no real Russian exiles.” More significantly, 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” [8]. He made a similar claim 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” [9].

In June 1922, Chesterton expressed his hope that “some day there may be a little realism in the newspapers dealing with public life, as well as in the novels dealing with private life.” He stated that on that day, “we may hear something of the type that really is Bolshevist and generally is Jewish.” In addition to the type that becomes “an atheist from a vague idea that it is part of being a revolutionist,” there was “another type, less common but more clear-headed, who has really become a revolutionist only as part of being an atheist.” According to Chesterton, it was pointless to question this “special sort of young Jew” who exhorted the poor to attack the priest even though the priest was even poorer than they were, because “it was only in order to attack the priest that he ever troubled about the poor.” Chesterton concluded that this type of Jew “knows his own religion is dead; and he hates ours for being alive” [10].

Referring to Dr Oscar Levy, a prominent Jewish scholar of Nietzsche, Chesterton stated that: “He is a very real example of a persecuted Jew; and he was persecuted, not merely by Gentiles, but rather specially by Jews. He was hounded out of this country in the most heartless and brutal fashion, because he had let the cat out of the bag; a very wild cat out of the very respectable bag of the commercial Jewish bagman. He told the truth about the Jewish basis of Bolshevism, though only to deplore and repudiate it.” However, in response, Oscar Levy promptly wrote to Chesterton, pointing out that he was not driven out of England by Jews at all, and that the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish World had supported him against the decision by the Home Office. Furthermore, Levy argued that Bolshevism was more closely related to Christianity than to Judaism. The idea that the Anglo-Jewish community pulled the strings of the Home Office to arrange for Levy to be removed from Britain was simply a Bellocian and Chestertonian antisemitic invention [11].

Chesterton never abandoned the myth that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement. For example, whilst criticising “Hitlerism” in 1933, he asserted that the Jews “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. For both Capitalism and Communism rest on the same idea: a centralisation of wealth which destroys private property.” And referring to Jews in his autobiography, he stated that “Capitalism and Communism are so very nearly the same thing, in ethical essence, that it would not be strange if they did take leaders from the same ethnological elements” [12].


Notes for G. K. Chesterton and the Stereotype of “the Jewish Bolshevik”

1.    William Oddie, “The Philosemitism of G. K. Chesterton,” in William Oddie, ed., The Holiness of G. K. Chesterton (Leominster: Gracewing, 2010), 124-137.

2.    William Oddie, “The Philosemitism of G. K. Chesterton,” 127-128; William Oddie, Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy: The Making of GKC, 1874-1908 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 80-81. The diary entry for 5 January 1891 can be found on page 24 of notebook (1890-1891), ADD MS 73317A, G. K. Chesterton Papers. The 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. The letters were published in 1892, not 1891 as William Oddie suggests.

3.    William Oddie, Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy: The Making of GKC, 1874-1908,  8.

4.    G. K. Chesterton, Manalive (London: Thomas Nelson, 1912), 289.

5.    See Bryan Cheyette, Constructions of “the Jew” in English Literature and Society: Racial Representations, 1875-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 192.

6.    G. K. Chesterton, “The Statue and the Irishman,” New Witness, 18 February 1921, 102.

7.    G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1922), 142.

8.    G. K. Chesterton, “The Beard of the Bolshevist,” New Witness, 14 January 1921, 22.

9.    G. K. Chesterton, “The Feud of the Foreigner,” New Witness, 20 August 1920, 309. Chesterton shared this idea that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement with his close friend Hilaire Belloc. See Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922), 167-185. See also Simon Mayers: The Catholic Federation, Hilaire Belloc, Antisemitism and Anti-Masonry

10.   G. K. Chesterton, “The Materialist in the Mask,” New Witness, 30 June 1922, 406-407.

11.   See G. K. Chesterton, “The Napoleon of Nonsense City,” G.K.’s Weekly, 14 August 1926, 388-389; Letter from Oscar Levy to the editor of G.K.’s Weekly, “Dr. Oscar Levy and Christianity,” G.K.’s Weekly, 13 November 1926, 126; Letter from Oscar Levy to the editor of G.K.’s Weekly, “Mr. Nietzsche Wags a Leg,” G.K.’s Weekly, 2 October 1926, 44-45. For more on Chesterton and Oscar Levy, see the following blog post, “A look at G. K. Chesterton and Oscar Levy on the ‘169th birthday’ of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche”

12.   G. K. Chesterton, “The Judaism of Hitler,” G.K.’s Weekly, 20 July 1933, 311 and G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography (London: Hutchinson, 1936), 76.



G. K. Chesterton and the Stereotype of “the Greedy Jew”

Prior to the twentieth century, G. K. 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 started to fear 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 Dreyfus was not as innocent as the English newspapers claimed (click link for more on Chesterton and Dreyfus). 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, usury, capitalism, bolshevism, cowardice, disloyalty and secrecy (each of these stereotypes are examined in detail in my recent book, Chesterton’s Jews). In this report, I will briefly examine Chesterton’s stereotype of the greedy usurious Jew.

.Chesterton photo

G. K. Chesterton

It has been argued by a number of Chesterton’s defenders that if Chesterton did harbour ill will towards Jews, then it was only to particular Jews (such as Rufus and Godfrey Isaacs), that it was only subsequent to the notorious Marconi affair, and that it faded after a few years. Chesterton’s stereotyping of the greedy usurious Jew did not in fact revolve around the Marconi Affair and was not confined to particular individuals. His antisemitic stereotype of the greedy Jew can be partly traced to his idealisation of the Middle Ages and his critique of modernity. Chesterton traced many of the problems of modernity back to the Reformation, which he suggested tore Europe apart faster than the Catholic Church could hold it together [1]. He was romantically attracted to the Middle Ages, which he imagined to be a relatively well-ordered period in history, with happy peasants, Christianity as a healthy part of every-day life, and the trades managed equitably and protected by the Church and the guild system. The medieval guilds, he suggested, prevented usury from disrupting the balance of society and destroying the livelihood of the peasantry.

The usurers and plutocrats that Chesterton had in mind were Jewish. In his A Short History of England, published in 1917, Chesterton implied that the Jews were not as badly treated in the Middle Ages as often portrayed, though they were sometimes handed over to “the fury of the poor,” whom they had supposedly ruined with their usury [2]. In order to obtain the vast sums demanded by King John in the early thirteenth century, Jews were arrested, property seized, some Jews were hanged, and one Jew had several teeth removed to persuade him to pay the sums demanded. Even poor Jews had to pay a tax or leave the kingdom [3]. However, according to Chesterton, the idea that Jews were compelled to hand over money to King John or have their teeth pulled was a fabrication: “a story against King John” rather than about him. He suggested that the story was “probably doubtful” and the measure, if it was enacted, was “exceptional.” The Christian and the Jew, he claimed, had “at least equal reason” to view each other as the ruthless oppressor. “The Jews in the Middle Ages,” he asserted, were “powerful,” “unpopular,” “the capitalists of the age” and “the men with wealth banked ready for use” [4].

Chesterton repeated a similar narrative about King John (and Richard Lion-Heart) in his newspaper, the G.K.’s Weekly: “John Lackland, as much as Richard Lion-Heart, would have felt that to be in an inferior and dependent position towards Isaac of York for ever was utterly intolerable. A Christian king can borrow of the Jews; but not settle down to an everlasting compromise, by which the Jews are content to live on his interest and he is content to live on their clemency” [5].

According to Chesterton, “medieval heresy-hunts spared Jews more and not less than Christians” [6]. A reoccurring hero in many of Chesterton’s short stories was Father Brown. Dale Ahlquist (2003), one of Chesterton’s staunch defenders, observes that Father Brown and Chesterton share the same “moral reasoning” [7]. This would seem to be confirmed in “The Curse of the Golden Cross” (1926). In this story, Father Brown, like Chesterton, argued that it was a myth that Jews were persecuted in the Middle Ages: “‘It would be nearer the truth,’ said Father Brown, ‘to say they were the only people who weren’t persecuted in the Middle Ages. If you want to satirize medievalism, you could make a good case by saying that some poor Christian might be burned alive for making a mistake about the Homoousion, while a rich Jew might walk down the street openly sneering at Christ and the Mother of God’” [8].

In The New Jerusalem (1920), Chesterton again argued that Jews were inclined to usurious practices. It was not just the Jews that he caricatured. He also repeated stereotypes about “gypsy” (or sometimes “gipsey” in Chesterton’s parlance [9]) pilfering and kidnapping (link for more on Chesterton and the stereotype of the child-kidnapping “gypsy”). He suggested that a comparison may be made between “Gipsey pilfering” and “Jewish usury.” Both “races,” he observed, “are in different ways landless, and therefore in different ways lawless.” Chesterton referred to the pilfering of chickens by “gypsies”, and the kidnapping of children, which he correlated to Jewish usury and fencing. He outlined his case as follows: “It is unreasonable for a Jew to complain that Shakespeare makes Shylock and not Antonio the ruthless money-lender; or that Dickens makes Fagin and not Sikes the receiver of stolen goods. It is as if a Gipsey were to complain when a novelist describes a child as stolen by the Gipseys, and not by the curate or the mothers’ meeting. It is to complain of facts and probabilities.” He concluded that “there may be good Gipseys” and “good qualities which specially belong to them as Gipseys.” “Students of the strange race,” he observed, have even “praised a certain dignity and self respect among the women of the Romany. But no student ever praised them for an exaggerated respect for private property, and the whole argument about Gipsey theft can be roughly repeated about Hebrew usury” [10].

The problem of the wandering Jewish financier, Chesterton suggested, was not confined to Europe. He argued in G.K.’s Weekly that America was the new pied a terre of the international Jewish financier, and that it was for the sake of such Jews that Britain has “clung to the American skirts” [11]. The stereotype of the greedy plutocratic Jew can also be found in Chesterton’s short stories and novels. For example, at the conclusion of “The Bottomless Well,” Horne Fisher, the detective protagonist of the story, engages in a diatribe against the Jews. “It’s bad enough,” he observed, “that a gang of infernal Jews should plant us here, where there’s no earthly English interest to serve, and all hell beating up against us, simply because Nosey Zimmern has lent money to half the Cabinet.” He went on to state: “But if you think I am going to let the Union Jack go down and down eternally like the Bottomless Well, down into the blackness of the Bottomless Pit, down in defeat and derision amid the jeers of the very Jews who have sucked us dry – no, I won’t, and that’s flat; not if the Chancellor were blackmailed by twenty millionaires with their gutter rags, not if the Prime Minister married twenty Yankee Jewesses” [12]. Another story, “The Five of Swords,” revolves around cowardly Jewish moneylenders who ruin and murder their victims [13].

One question that may be asked is what led Chesterton to embrace this and other antisemitic stereotypes. One possible answer is that his closest friend, Hilaire Belloc, convinced him of their veracity. Chesterton and Belloc met in 1900. By 1904, Chesterton was working with Belloc on his novel Emmanuel Burden (providing Belloc with a number of sketches for the characters in his novel, including the main antagonist, I. Z. Barnett, who is portrayed as a greedy, manipulative and fraudulent German Jew). In this novel, Barnett formulated a project, the “African M’Korio” scheme, which involved the manipulation of the stock market, the exploitation of Africa, and the destruction of Emmanuel Burden, a naïve but honest British merchant. It was not just in his fiction that Belloc constructed his image of exploitive Jews in Africa. In a letter to Chesterton in 1906, Belloc stated that he was “now out against all Vermin: notably South African Jews”. Significantly, it was around this time that Chesterton started to stereotype Jews in his own fiction – the earliest example being the cowardly and secretive Jewish shopkeeper in The Ball and the Cross, which was first published as a feuilleton in the Commonwealth in 1905/6. [14].


Hilaire Belloc

Another stereotype of “the Jew” that was prominent in Chesterton’s discourse (and shared by Belloc) was the Jewish Bolshevik. Chesterton often closely linked this stereotype to that of Jewish bankers, usurers and capitalists. He maintained that the rich Jewish capitalists and poor Jewish Bolsheviks were merely the other side of, if not closely associated and allied with, each other. He argued that “Big Business and Bolshevism are only rivals in the sense of making rival efforts to do the same thing; and they are more and more even doing it in the same way. I am not surprised that the cleverest men doing it in both cases are Jews.” According to Chesterton, the “whole point” of the New Witness was to maintain that “Capitalism and Collectivism are not contrary things. It is clearer every day that they are two forms of the same thing” [15]. The stereotype of the Jewish Bolshevik, which was almost as pervasive in Chesterton’s discourse as that of the greedy usurious Jew, will be examined in my next report on Chesterton (click here for link to G. K. Chesterton and the Stereotype of “the Jewish Bolshevik”).

Notes for G. K. Chesterton and the Stereotype of “the Greedy Jew”

1.   G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1910), 42.

2.   G. K. Chesterton, A Short History of England (London: Chatto & Windus, 1917), 108-109.

3.   Anthony Julius, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 118-119, 643 fn.82-84.

4.   G. K. Chesterton, A Short History of England (London: Chatto & Windus, 1917), 108-109.

5.   G. K. Chesterton, “The Neglect of Nobility,” Straws in the Wind, G.K.’s Weekly, 4 August 1928, 327.

6.   G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography (London: Hutchinson, 1936), 76.

7.   Dale Ahlquist, G. K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 166.

8.   G. K. Chesterton, “The Curse of the Golden Cross,” in G. K. Chesterton, The Complete Father Brown Stories (London: Wordsworth Classics, 2006), 432. This short story was originally published in 1926.

9.   The strange spelling of “gipsey” is Chesterton’s. The spelling has been changed in some later editions of The New Jerusalem.

10.  G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, [1920]), 232. An editorial in G.K.’s Weekly repeated the same stereotypes linking the so-called child-kidnapping “gypsy” with the usurious Jew. See G.K.’s Weekly, 2 May 1925, 126.

11.  G. K. Chesterton, “Exodus from Europe,” Straws in the Wind, G.K.’s Weekly, 28 December 1929, 247.

12.  G. K. Chesterton, “The Bottomless Well,” in G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Other Stories (London: Cassell, 1922), 73.

13.  G. K. Chesterton, “The Five of Swords,” in G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Other Stories (London: Cassell, 1922), 255-282.

14. See Hilaire Belloc, Emmanuel Burden (London: Methuen, 1904); Letter from Hilaire Belloc to G. K. Chesterton, February 1906, ADD MS 73190, fol. 14, G. K. Chesterton Papers, British Library Manuscripts, London; 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).  

15.  G. K. Chesterton, “Rothschild and the Roundabouts,” At the Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 17 November 1922, 309-310.

G. K. Chesterton and the Anglo-Jewish Newspapers (the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish World and Jewish Guardian): 1918-1921

One argument that is often advanced against the claim that G. K. Chesterton was antisemitic is that some Jews have defended him from the charge. This is true. Michael Coren, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, is just one recent example. No doubt there were other Jewish fans of Chesterton then as there are now. Laurence Solomon, one of Chesterton’s friends, no doubt defended him from the charge. It would be interesting to know how he perceived and reacted to Chesterton’s caricatures and stereotypes. As Richard Ingrams recently asked in the Tablet, did Chesterton really believe that his Jewish friends would be okay with being “forced to wear an Arab-style headdress in public” and being forced to “live in a ghetto?” [1] Did these ideas irritate his Jewish friends Did they simply ignore them? Did they find them amusing? In most cases there is no way to know. The author Gladys Bronwyn Stern, another Jewish convert to Catholicism, regarded Chesterton as a saint. As early as the 1950s she wrote that she would “offer no apology for the habit which has gradually stolen in on me, of regarding two close friends whom I have never met, G. K. Chesterton and Baron von Hügel, as undoubtedly saints” [2]. 

However, the fact that some Jews have defended Chesterton as a saint, though true, is a questionable defence. As Joseph Pearce, one of Chesterton’s most fervent defenders, has noted, “it is true that the adage ‘some of my best friends are Jewish’ is not, in itself, an adequate defence against the charge of anti-Semitism” [3]. Whilst some Jews have defended Chesterton, a number of his Anglo-Jewish contemporaries regarded him as an antisemite. The Anglo-Jewish author Israel Zangwill has been cited in Chesterton’s defence on a number of occasions. It is often claimed that they were close friends. It took some digging but I did in fact find a couple of letters that suggest that prior to 1916 some sort of amicable relationship may have existed between the two authors. However, from 1916 onwards, Zangwill argued that Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton were antisemitic on a number of occasions. For more on this, see the claim that Chesterton and the Anglo Jewish author Israel Zangwill were friends.

The three prominent Anglo-Jewish newspapers during Chesterton’s lifetime, the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish World and Jewish Guardian, were all critical of Chesterton’s antisemitic discourse. In June 1918, the Jewish Chronicle criticised G. K. Chesterton for his accusation that the Jews carelessly trampled people underfoot as they rushed to the tube stations during air raids. The paper stated that “we cannot congratulate Mr. G. K. Chesterton on the reply he makes to the Jewish World on the questions that journal addressed to him. Mr. Chesterton’s paper, the New Witness, referring to the last air raid, asserted that while the attack was dealt with in a highly satisfactory way ‘the conduct of Jews of all classes during these raids continues deplorable in the extreme.’” The Jewish Chronicle observed that based on a “hotch-potch” of so-called evidence from “a lady sub-editor [i.e. Ada Chesterton], her maid, and unknown chatterers at Euston, Jews of all classes … are accused of deplorable cowardice and bad conduct in the extreme.” It stated that this was “a cruel and reckless libel upon a Community which has sent its sons by the thousand to the Front, and is every day called upon to suffer new pangs and fresh bereavements.” The Jewish Chronicle reported that Mr. Chesterton argued that it was more important to understand the cause of these Jewish rushes than to deny “so vast a popular impression as that of the different attitude of Jews and Gentiles towards the War.” “The spectacle of Mr. G. K. Chesterton bidding us bow down before a ‘vast popular impression,’” was, the paper concluded, “deliciously funny” [4]. When quizzed by the editor of the Jewish Chronicle as to whether he himself had witnessed Jews cowering in tube stations, Chesterton admitted that he had not personally witnessed this, but he argued that it was a matter of common knowledge. He stated that “the problem of aliens in air-raids is a thing that everybody knows.” He also argued that he could not be expected to go looking “for Jews in the Tubes, instead of going about my business above ground.” He concluded be stating that: “if my London affairs had led me, as well as my colleagues, into the Tubes during an air-raid, I suppose I should have seen what they saw; and the editor [of the Jewish Chronicle] would have refused my testimony as he refused theirs.” [5].

Referring to “Mr. G. K. Chesterton” in an article on 11 October 1918, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle concluded that: “The argument against active self-defence, the surest of which, is counter-attack, is the well-known one – suppose our counter-attack fails? But that is, in essence, cowardice. This way lies disintegration and defeat. This way lies biting the dust of our eternal heritage. It were far better to fail in a counter-attack against the enemies of our people; it were far better to fail in active self-defence than not to try. It were far better to fall than to allow the ruthless, venomous Chestertons and Bellocs et hoc genus to trample upon our prostrate bodies with their brutal, heavy-footed, relentless anti-Semitism. Hit back! Hit back! Hit back! is the lesson for us, to be learnt by us from the ages through which we have lived” [6].

The Jewish World also criticised G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. For example, a series of articles from 23 June through to 22 September 1920, criticised Chesterton for suggesting that the Anglo-Jewish newspapers published the honour rolls of German-Jewish soldiers killed in the war, with the added twist being that Chesterton claimed that this was by no means unreasonable as Jewry constituted a separate and distinct nation [7]. “Mr. Chesterton,” the Jewish World concluded, “now pretends that he does not see why we are so anxious to repudiate his allegation. That is really touching. He starts out to show that English Jews are not loyal to this country though they are its citizens, and then expresses surprise that we desired to repel the insinuation by showing that the proof he relies upon is false” [8].

For more examples from the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish World, I would recommend an article by Dean Rapp, “the Jewish Response to G. K. Chesterton’s Antisemitism, 1911-33,” published in Patterns of Prejudice [9].

Chesterton’s The New Jerusalem, published in 1920, argued that Jews could never be proper Englishmen. Chesterton suggested that Zionism should be supported as a way of getting rid of the Jews in England, and that those Jews who choose to remain in England rather than travel to Palestine once that option has been made available to them should be given a  so-called “special position best described as privilege; some sort of self-governing enclave with special laws.” “Privilege” was one of Chesterton’s and Belloc’s frequent euphemisms for segregation. Exhibiting his prejudice and stereotypes about both Arabs and Jews, Chesterton suggested that Jews by law should be obliged to go about “dressed like an Arab” [10]. The Jewish Guardian responded by stating that Chesterton had contrived to “write a really stupid book.” The paper suggested that Chesterton would probably “account it a sign of inherited financial preoccupation if one poor Jewish bookman remarks that 12s. 6d. is a high price to exact for 300 empty pages” [11]. On 11 November 1921, the Jewish Guardian reported a lecture by Chesterton to a Jewish organisation called the “Ghetto Circle.” The paper suggested that Chesterton proposed to discuss “national traditions in Europe,” whilst the Ghetto Circle “no doubt would discuss whether he was an anti-Semite.” The Jewish Guardian concluded that this “seemed a very fair division of labour” [12].

In conclusion, the fact that some Jews have defended Chesterton as a saint does not prove that he was not an antisemite; and in fairness, the fact that some Jews have argued that he was an antisemite does not by itself prove that he was. The case must be decided on the basis of the evidence (i.e. what he wrote as a journalist and author) and not the claim that some Jews have defended him, or the myth that the Wiener Library defends him.

Notes for G. K. Chesterton and the Anglo-Jewish Newspapers

1.  Richard Ingrams, “More sinner than saint,” Tablet, 12 October 2013, 9.

2.  G. B. Stern, The way it worked out (London: Catholic Book Club, [1956]), 106. See also G. B. Stern, All in Good Time (London: Sheed and Ward, [1954]), 63.

3.  Joseph Pearce, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996), 448.

4.  “A Reckless Charge,” Jewish Chronicle, 14 June 1918, 4.

5.  G. K. Chesterton, At the Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 21 June 1918, 148.

6.  Leopold Greenberg [Mentor, pseud.], “Hit Back! Hit Back! Hit Back!,” In the Communal Armchair, Jewish Chronicle, 11 October 1918, 7.

7.  See Jewish World: “Englishman and Jew” and “An Astounding Statement,” 23 June 1920, 3-4; “Mr. Belloc and the ‘Jewish World,’” 14 July 1920, 2-3; “Now then, Mr. Chesterton!,” 21 July 1920, 3; “Our Challenge to the ‘New Witness,” 28 July 1920, 3; “The Witness,” 18 August 1920, 3; “Mr. Chesterton and the ‘Jewish World,’” 25 August 1920, 2; “Mr. Chesterton and the ‘Jewish World,’” 1 September 1920, 2; “Mr. Chesterton and the ‘Jewish World,’” 8 September 1920, 8-9; “Mr. Chesterton’s ‘Roll,’” 22 September 1920, 2.

8.  “Why?,” Around the World, Jewish World, 22 September 1920, 2.

9.  Dean Rapp, “The Jewish Response to G. K. Chesterton’s Antisemitism, 1911-33,” Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 24, nos. 2-4, 1990.

10.  G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, [1920]), 227, 248.

11.  “‘G.K.C.’ in Jerusalem,” Jewish Guardian, 3 December 1920, 7.

12.  “Mr. G. K. Chesterton at the Ghetto Circle,” Jewish Guardian, 11 November 1921, 4.


A look at G. K. Chesterton and Oscar Levy on the “169th birthday” of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche Picture

Friedrich Nietzsche

As Heather Saul in the Independent observes, today’s “Google Doodle” (15/10/2013) celebrates the “169th birthday” of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. As G. K. Chesterton’s “holiness” and “antisemitism” are currently being discussed and debated in various internet forums, it seems an opportune moment to look at some of his exchanges with Oscar Levy, a prominent German Jewish Nietzsche scholar in the early twentieth century.

Oscar Levy was probably the main advocate of Nietzsche’s ideas in Britain during the early decades of the twentieth century (he settled in Britain in the 1890s and he described himself as “a Nietzschean Jew”). Like Nietzsche, he was also deeply critical of Judaism and Christianity. According to Professor Dan Stone, Levy’s essential position was as follows: “modern European society is degenerating because it is bound to an effete moral value system; these effete values derive from Judaism”. Levy argued that “this Jewish ethic was taken a step further by Christianity, which is a ‘Super-Semitism’” [1]. Following Nietzsche, Levy argued that Christianity was a development of Judaism, and that both were manifestations of a slave mentality. According to Levy, “the Semitic idea has finally conquered and entirely subdued this only apparently irreligious universe of ours.” He stated that “it has conquered it through Christianity, which of course, as Disraeli pointed out long ago, is nothing but ‘Judaism for the people’” [2].

Clearly Levy and Chesterton could not have been more diametrically opposed to each other when it came to their views on Nietzsche (and Christianity). Chesterton dismissed Nietzsche on a number of occasions as a raving madman; Levy celebrated Nietzsche as a clear-sighted diagnostician. However, they shared one thing in common: they both viewed and portrayed Bolshevism with concern if not disdain. Their essays and articles were peppered with disparaging remarks about Bolshevism, and they both suggested that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement. Discussing “the Jewish element in Bolshevism,” Chesterton argued 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” [3]. He stated that “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” [4].

When Levy argued that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement, Chesterton and Belloc at first believed they had found a Jew they could identify with and support. They either ignored or did not notice his criticisms of Christianity. When the British Home Office arranged for Levy to be expelled from Britain, they argued that the Jews had arranged it in revenge for his deprecating remarks about Judaism. Belloc wrote in The Jews in 1922 that “the case of Dr. Levy turned out of this country by his compatriots in the Government for having written unfavourably of the Moscow Jews will be fresh in every one’s memory” [5]. Referring to Dr Oscar Levy, Chesterton stated in 1926 that he had “a great regard for him, which is more than a good many of his countrymen or co-religionists can say.” According to Chesterton: “He is a very real example of a persecuted Jew; and he was persecuted, not merely by Gentiles, but rather specially by Jews. He was hounded out of this country in the most heartless and brutal fashion, because he had let the cat out of the bag; a very wild cat out of the very respectable bag of the commercial Jewish bagman. He told the truth about the Jewish basis of Bolshevism, though only to deplore and repudiate it” [6].

Chesterton photo

G. K. Chesterton

After supposedly defending Levy from the Jews, Chesterton must have felt a little disappointed with Levy’s reply. Oscar Levy wrote to Chesterton, pointing out that he was not driven out of England by Jews at all, that the astonishing thing was that his statements about Jews and Judaism had “created so little stir amongst them,” and that the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish World had supported him against the decision by the Home Office [7]. Levy argued that Bolshevism was more closely related to Christianity than to Judaism. In this he was of course constructing a caricature of Christianity and so-called Christian Bolshevism in much the same way that Chesterton caricatured Jewish culture and so-called Jewish Bolshevism. He denied that “these Russian Jews, who are Jews in race, are also Jews in spirit.” “They are not,” he concluded, “they are really Christians. The Jewish mind has a great affinity to Christianity: the first Christians were one and all Jews, and these latter-day Jews are likewise all imbued with the Christian Spirit (though they themselves are entirely unaware of this). But the Jew on the whole is not a Christian …” According to Levy, “the doctrine of the Bolshevists is then – au fond – a Jewish doctrine, in as much as Christianity is a Jewish creed.” [8].

The idea that the Anglo-Jewish community pulled the strings of the Home Office to arrange for Levy to be removed from Britain was simply a Bellocian and Chestertonian antisemitic invention. In fact it was not only the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish World (the two most prominent Anglo-Jewish newspapers at the time) that argued that Levy should be allowed to stay. The other prominent Anglo-Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Guardian, also defended his right to stay in Britain. The Jewish Guardian expressed relief that the Chief Rabbi added his name to the appeal to allow Oscar Levy to stay. The Jewish Guardian did not admire Oscar Levy’s views or his decision to write a preface for George Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers (an antisemitic conspiracy theorist), but it did not believe that it was right for an Act of Parliament to be administered against Levy on the basis of his philosophical theories [9].

Notes for A look at G. K. Chesterton and Oscar Levy on the “169th birthday” of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche

1. Dan Stone, “Oscar Levy: A Nietzschean Vision,” in Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2002), pp.12-32.

2. Oscar Levy, “Prefatory Letter,” in George Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, The World Significance of the Russian Revolution (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1920), vi.

3. G. K. Chesterton, “The Beard of the Bolshevist,” At the Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 14 January 1921, p.22.

4. G. K. Chesterton, “The Feud of the Foreigner,” At the Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 20 August 1920, p.309.

5. Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922), p.193, footnote 1.

6. G. K. Chesterton, “The Napoleon of Nonsense City,” Straws in the Wind, G.K.’s Weekly, 14 August 1926, pp.388-389.

7. Letter from Oscar Levy to the editor of G.K.’s Weekly, “Dr. Oscar Levy and Christianity,” The Cockpit, 13 November 1926, p.126. For examples of these newspapers defending Oscar Levy’s right to stay in England, see “Dr. Oscar Levy,” Jewish Chronicle, 16 September 1921, p.10; “Dr. Oscar Levy,” Jewish Chronicle, 30 September 1921, p.10; “Dr. Oscar Levy,” Jewish Chronicle, 7 October 1921, p.7; “The Case of Dr. Oscar Levy,” Jewish World, 4 May 1922, p.5.

8. Letter from Oscar Levy to the editor of G.K.’s Weekly, “Mr. Nietzsche Wags a Leg,” The Cockpit, 2 October 1926, 44-45; Letter from Oscar Levy to the editor of G.K.’s Weekly, “Dr. Oscar Levy and Christianity,” The Cockpit, 13 November 1926, p.126.

9. See “The Case of Dr. Levy,” Jewish Guardian, 14 October 1921, pp. 1, 3.

G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc discussing Hitler and the Jews (1933-1937)

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 

“Ludicrous, surreal” defence of G. K. Chesterton

A few days ago, Michael Coren reported a so-called “ludicrous, surreal episode” [1]. The episode in question was a Twitter discussion about a claim made in one of his books that the Wiener Library defends G. K. Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism. From the language employed, one might imagine a particularly bitter exchange, for Coren uses phrases such as the following to describe – and presumably to deter – those who dare to criticise Chesterton: “monomania, wrapped in the last acceptable prejudice of anti-Catholicism,” “the fundamentalism of those so committed to damaging Chesterton’s reputation,” and “the most extreme, bizarre lengths to have their way” [1]. The ad hominem tactic of dismissing out of hand the critics of Chesterton as “anti-Catholic” is regrettable and unfounded (especially as the discussion in question focused on Chesterton and the Wiener Library and not Chesterton’s Catholicism). Speaking for myself, I harbour no hostility for Catholics or Catholicism, and my concerns about Chesterton end with his hostile stereotypes and caricatures (about Jews and other “Others”). If I harbour a prejudice it is – to use a phrase once used by Chesterton to describe the sentiments of Americans – “a prejudice against Anti-Semitism; a prejudice of Anti-Anti-Semitism” [2].

But back to the article. Coren points out that he devoted a chapter to the issue of Chesterton’s discourse about Jews, and that only “one brief passage concerned London’s Wiener Library, a small institution devoted to the study of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.” He stated that: “I spent a morning there in 1985 and discussed my research with a librarian. He told me that Chesterton was never seriously anti-Semitic. ‘He was not an enemy, and when the real testing time came along he showed what side he was on.’” Coren then expresses his indignation that “a self-published writer in Britain” – a reference to my recent examination of Chesterton’s stereotyping in Chesterton’s Jews – “demanded a name, proof, a reference.” “Sorry, mate: no name, no proof, and it was, as I say, a quarter of a century ago,” Coren replies. [1]

If Coren had originally stated merely that he had discussed his research with “a librarian” and that this librarian had defended Chesterton, then this would indeed be a relative non-issue (though a source citation would still have been useful). However, in the New Statesman in 1986 he attributed the defence of Chesterton to “the Wiener Institute” [3]. And in his biography of Chesterton the statement in defence of Chesterton is attributed to “the Wiener Library” [4]. There is of course a world of difference between the personal sentiment of an unnamed librarian and the position of the Wiener Library. Interestingly, he now describes the Wiener Library as “a small institution,” whereas back in 1986 when he was citing the Wiener Library in defence of Chesterton, he described the Wiener Library as “the best monitors of anti-semitism in Britain” [3].

The real issue is not Coren’s book per se – as he acknowledges, there have been plenty of subsequent biographies of Chesterton, and “some of them, frankly, rather better” than his [1]. However, subsequent authors have taken Coren’s earlier claim that the Wiener Library defended Chesterton at face value, and have repeated it in books, articles and web sites. As Ben Barkow, the current director of the Wiener Library states, “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” [5]. As a result, the myth that the Wiener Library defends Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism has acquired currency, when according to Coren’s latest article, he only discussed his research with an unnamed librarian he once met there [1] [6].

Turning to Coren’s other main point, he observes that Chesterton was “an early anti-Nazi” [1]. Here Coren is on safer – which is not to say solid – ground, and many of Chesterton’s defenders make the same point. Chesterton was anti-Nazi and it would be unfair to equate his particular brand of anti-Jewish discourse with Nazi antisemitism. However, if we are going to be fair and balanced, we should also point out that often in the very same articles in which Chesterton criticised Nazi antisemitism, he also repeated the stereotypes and caricatures of Jews that he had maintained before the 1930s. His defence of Jews was therefore not without its equivocation. Let’s look at a few examples. In March 1933, he criticised Hitler’s antisemitism, but then repeated his old claim that the English were never allowed to hear 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” [7]. In July 1933, he criticised “Hitlerism”, but then observed that it was “only just to Hitler” to point out that the Jews “have been too powerful in Germany.” He stated that “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. 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” [8]. In November 1934, he criticised “the Hitlerites”, but then 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?” [9].  (For more on Chesterton’s discourse about Hitler and the Jews, see G. K. Chesterton discussing Hitler and the Jews, 1933-1936).

Coren concludes that he would rather be in the “valley with Gilbert than the peak with his critics,” because according to Chesterton it is possible to see “only small things from the peak” [1]. If viewing Chesterton’s discourse from the valley means missing such “small” details as these, then I am happy to occupy “the peak with his critics.”


Notes for “Ludicrous, surreal” defence of G. K. Chesterton

1. Michael Coren, “‘Ludicrous, surreal episode’ against G. K. Chesterton returns,” The B.C. Catholic, 13 September 2013, http://bcc.rcav.org/opinion-and-editorial/3069-canonization-attempt-resurrects-anti-semitic-claim (downloaded 17 September 2013).

2. G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1922), 140-142.

3. Michael Coren, “Just bad friends,” review of G. K. Chesterton: A Biography, by Michael Ffinch, New Statesman, 8 August 1986, 30.

4. Michael Coren, Gilbert: The Man Who Was G. K. Chesterton (London: Jonathan Cape, 1989), 209-210.

5. Ben Barkow, “Director’s Letter,” Wiener Library News, Winter 2010, 2.

6. For an examination of this resilient myth, see Simon Mayers, “The resilient myth that the Wiener Library defends G. K. Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism,” 1 September 2013, https://simonmayers.com/2013/09/01/the-resilient-myth-that-the-wiener-library-defends-g-k-chesterton-from-the-charge-of-antisemitism/ (downloaded 17 September 2013).

7. G. K. Chesterton, “The Horse and the Hedge,” Straws in the Wind, G.K.’s Weekly, 30 March 1933, 55.

8. G. K. Chesterton, “The Judaism of Hitler,” Straws in the Wind, G.K.’s Weekly, 20 July 1933, 311-312.

9. G. K. Chesterton, “A Queer Choice,” Straws in the Wind, G.K.’s Weekly, 29 November 1934, 207.

Israel Zangwill and G. K. Chesterton: Were they friends?

In a previous report I examined the resilient myth that the Wiener Library defends G. K. Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism. In this posting I raise a more complex question: what was the relationship that existed between the prominent Anglo-Jewish author, Israel Zangwill, and G. K. Chesterton?


Image of Israel Zangwill Israel Zangwill (1864-1926)

Michael Coren stated in 1989 that Israel Zangwill was a friend of Chesterton, describing them as a “noted literary combination of the time.”[1] Joseph Pearce has likewise reported that Israel Zangwill was someone with whom Chesterton had “remained good friends from the early years of the century until Zangwill’s death in 1926.”[2] One of the pieces of evidence of a friendship, circumstantial at best, is a photograph of Chesterton and Zangwill walking side by side after leaving a parliamentary select committee about the censorship of stage plays on 24 September 1909. The photograph was originally used for the front cover of the Daily Mirror on 25 September 1909. As they were both prominent authors, it is hardly shocking that they would both attend and give evidence at such a gathering. The photograph probably demonstrates little beyond that they shared an interest in government censorship and that they left the meeting at the same time (there is simply no way to tell for sure). According to an entire issue of Gilbert Magazine (2008) that was dedicated to defending Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism, Zangwill and Chesterton “had respect and admiration for one another.”[3] The photograph of them leaving the select committee on censorship was used as the front cover of the issue of Gilbert Magazine.[4] It has also been used in a number of other books and periodicals about Chesterton.


Zangwill and Chesterton

Chesterton and Zangwill after a parliamentary select committee about the censorship of stage plays on 24 September 1909


Prior to 1915, Chesterton had on occasion referred to Zangwill in positive terms, describing him as a “great Jew,” “a very earnest thinker,” and the “nobler sort of Jew.”[5] Likewise, Zangwill wrote a letter in 1914 and another in January 1915 which together suggest that an amicable relationship may have existed for a time (possibly until 1916). In 1914, he wrote to apologise for not being able to attend a public debate with Chesterton and several other people about the veracity of miracles. The letter was friendly though somewhat equivocal in its expressed sympathy for Chesterton’s play.[6] On 25 November 1914, Chesterton was overcome by dizziness whilst presenting to students at Oxford. Later that day he collapsed at home. He was critically ill, and it was feared that he might not survive. Whilst he did not fully recover until Easter, his wife reported on 18 January 1915 that he was showing some signs of recovery.[7] On 19 January, Israel Zangwill wrote a letter to Frances Chesterton, in which he expressed his pleasure at hearing that her husband was on the mend.[8]

Whatever the nature of their relationship, it did not prevent Chesterton from accusing Zangwill in 1917 of being “Pro-German; or at any rate very insufficiently Pro-Ally.” He suggested that “Mr. Zangwill, then, is practically Pro-German, though he probably means at most to be Pro-Jew.”[9] Their so-called friendship also did not prevent Zangwill from describing Chesterton as an antisemite. In The War for the World (1916), Zangwill dismissed the New Witness as the magazine of a “band of Jew-baiters,” whose “anti-Semitism” is rooted in “rancour, ignorance, envy, and mediaeval prejudice.” He suggested that G. K. Chesterton provided the “intellectual side” of the movement, which was, he concluded, “not strong except in names.” He stated that “Mr. G. K. Chesterton has tried to give it some rational basis by the allegation that the Jew’s intellect is so disruptive and sceptical. The Jew is even capable, he says, of urging that in some other planet two and two may perhaps make five.” Zangwill stated that the “conductors” of The New Witness would “do better to call it The False Witness.[10] In 1920, Zangwill stated: “Yet in Mr. Chesterton’s own organ, The New Witness – the change of whose name to The False Witness I have already recommended – the most paradoxical accusations against the Jew find Christian hospitality.”[11]

In February 1921, in a letter to the editor of the Spectator, Zangwill described the proposal by Chesterton’s close friend, Hilaire Belloc, that Jews living in Great Britain should be characterised as a separate nationality, with special “disabilities and privileges,” as “ridiculously retrograde.”[12] Zangwill criticised Belloc’s scheme of “re-established Ghettos” in other articles, letters and notes in 1922. [13] Zangwill also observed in his letter to the Spectator, quite correctly, that Belloc’s “fellow-fantast, Mr. Chesterton, would revive the Jewish badge and have English Jews dressed as Arabs.”[12] This was a reference to a proposal by G. K. Chesterton in 1913 and again in 1920 that the Jews of England should be required to wear distinctive dress (he suggested the robes of an Arab).[14] According to Chesterton:

“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.”[15]

Whilst these letters and articles do not disprove the argument that Zangwill and Chesterton had an amicable relationship, at least for a time, they do suggest that Zangwill did not believe that Chesterton was guiltless of antisemitism. If Zangwill considered Chesterton a friend after 1915, let alone a pro-Jewish friend, he had a strange way of showing it. At the very least they problematize the argument that Chesterton could not have been antisemitic on the grounds that Zangwill was his friend, as from 1916 onwards Zangwill clearly came to perceive and describe Chesterton as an antisemite.

I would love to hear from anyone that has found any other evidence of a friendship or enmity between Zangwill and Chesterton (please click here to contact me). 

Notes for the claim that Chesterton and the Anglo Jewish author Israel Zangwill were friends

[1]     Michael Coren, Gilbert: The Man Who was G. K. Chesterton (London: Jonathan Cape, 1989), p.209.

[2]     Joseph Pearce, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996), p.446.

[3]      Sean P. Dailey, “Tremendous Trifles,” Gilbert Magazine 12, no. 2&3 (November/December 2008), p.4. Gilbert Magazine is the periodical of the American Chesterton Society.

[4]      Gilbert Magazine 12, no. 2&3 (November/December 2008), p.1 [front cover].

[5]      See G. K. Chesterton, Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1911), xi; Letter from G. K. Chesterton to the Editor, Jewish Chronicle, 16 June 1911, p.39; G. K. Chesterton, Our Notebook, Illustrated London News, 28 February 1914, p.322.

[6]     According to Zangwill, Chesterton was “putting back the clock of philosophy even while he [was] putting forward the clock of drama. My satisfaction with the success of his play would thus be marred were it not that people enjoy it without understanding what Mr. Chesterton is driving at.” The letter is cited in G. K. Chesterton, Joseph McCabe, Hilaire Belloc, et al., Do Miracles Happen? (London: Christian Commonwealth, [1914]), p.23. The letter is also quoted by Joseph Pearce in Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996), p.205.

[7]      See Joseph Pearce, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996), pp.213-220 and Dudley Barker, G. K. Chesterton: A Biography (London: Constable, 1973), pp.226-230.

[8]     Letter from Israel Zangwill to Frances Chesterton, 19 January 1915, ADD MS 73454, fol. 44, G. K. Chesterton Papers, British Library, London.

[9]      G. K. Chesterton, “Mr. Zangwill on Patriotism,” At the Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 18 October 1917, pp.586-587.

[10]    Israel Zangwill, The War for the World (London: William Heinemann, 1916), p.58.

[11]    Israel Zangwill, “The Jewish Bogey (July 1920),” in Maurice Simon, ed., Speeches, Articles and Letters of Israel Zangwill (London: Soncino Press, 1937), p.103.

[12]    Letter from Israel Zangwill to the Editor, “Problems of Zionism,” Spectator, 26 February 1921, p.263. In this letter, he went on to state that the so-called Jewish problem does “not concern Mr. Belloc, and I would respectfully suggest to him to mind his own business.” See also “Mr. Zangwill and Zionism,” Jewish Guardian, 4 March 1921, p.1.

[13]    In May 1922, Zangwill referred to Belloc on a couple of occasions whilst criticising a non-territorial “spiritual” Zionism. He stated in the Jewish Guardian that “what the victims of anti-Semitism (the unassorted or downtrodden of our race) require is not a spiritual Zion, which ‘is no more a solution of the Jewish problem than Mr. Belloc’s fantastic scheme of re-established ghettos,’ but a ‘solid, surveyable territory.’” See “The Degradation of Zionism,” Jewish Guardian, 12 May 1922, p.8. He made similar remarks in a letter to the editor of the Times newspaper on 8 May 1922. He also wrote twenty-five pages of unpublished notes and criticisms of Belloc’s book, The Jews (1922).

[14]    G. K. Chesterton, “What shall we do with our Jews?”, New Witness, 24 July 1913, p.370 and G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, [1920]),  p.227.

[15]    G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, [1920]),  p.227.