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Chesterton’s Jews: An Update

There have been some interesting developments in the months and years since Chesterton’s Jews was first published (in August 2013). For example, in chapter five of Chesterton’s Jews, I introduced the myth that the Wiener Library defends G. K. Chesterton from the charge of “antisemitism,” noting that the resilience of the myth, which received its genesis in the late 1980s, is demonstrated by the fact that there are still numerous internet pages that refer to it. However, since the book was published, the myth has been at least partially uprooted (link for more information). Michael Coren had originally stated that it was the “Wiener Institute, the best monitors of anti-semitism in Britain,” that defended Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism (Michael Coren, “Just bad friends,” New Statesman, 8 August 1986, 30). Three years later, it was “the Wiener Library, the archives of anti-Semitism and Holocaust history in London,” that regarded Chesterton as “a friend, not an enemy” (Michael Coren, Gilbert: The Man Who Was G. K. Chesterton, 1989, 209-210). The implication was that the institution itself defended and regarded Chesterton as a friend. However, in September 2013, Coren clarified that it was not the institution, but rather just one of the many librarians (whose name he does not remember) that have worked there over the years. According to Oliver Kamm in the Jewish Chronicle (online edition, 10 October 2013; print edition, 11 October 2013), when he asked Coren about this, he quickly replied, “regretting that he could not recall the name of the librarian with whom he spoke and that his records from this pre-digital age had not all travelled with him to his current home in Canada.”

A more significant development relates to the movement for the canonisation of Chesterton. When Chesterton’s Jews was published, it was possible to discuss (in chapter six) how Chesterton had been represented as a saint by a number of his admirers, and how a movement that called for the canonisation of Chesterton was growing. If I had waited one more month before publication, I would have also been able to report that Peter Doyle, the bishop of the diocese of Northampton, had appointed a priest, Canon John Udris, to start an investigation into whether Chesterton’s Cause should be formally opened. If I had waited a few months, I would have been able to discuss how this had played out in various newspapers, such as the Catholic Herald (in which Francis Phillips suggested that Chesterton was a “genius,” a “prophet,” who should be canonised and made the patron saint of journalists), the Tablet (in which Richard Ingrams suggested that Chesterton’s writing evinced an “undeniable anti-Semitism,” and that he “shut his eyes to too many nasty things and a saint cannot do that”), and the Jewish Chronicle (in which Oliver Kamm suggested that Chesterton was a writer unfit to be a saint, and Geoffrey Alderman expressed amazement at the lengths that people will go to excuse the “antisemitism” of public figures such as Chesterton), to mention but a few. Since then, Canon Udris has given talks and interviews on Chesterton, suggesting that Chesterton was innocent of “anti-Semitism,” and should be beatified. For example, in an interview in the Catholic Herald (3 March 2014), it was reported that Canon Udris had stated that Chesterton said some “daft things,” such as that the Jews should wear distinctive dress to indicate they were outsiders. According to Udris, “you can understand why people make the assumption that he is anti-Semitic. But I would want to make the opposite case.” And in a talk delivered at Beaconsfield in 2014 (YouTube link), he stated that “the holiness of Chesterton is something that’s infectious.” It will certainly be interesting to see if the investigation initiated by the bishop of Northampton concludes with the Cause of Chesterton being formerly opened.

Stereotypes of “the Jew” in the Catholic Herald (1894 – 1933)

The Catholic Herald was an English Catholic newspaper which was founded and edited by Charles Diamond. The Catholic Herald was the core of a large group of newspapers. At its centre was the “general edition” of the Catholic Herald, which provided the template for over two dozen regional versions of the Catholic Herald and the Catholic News, including the London Catholic Herald, Preston Catholic News, Tyneside Catholic News, Manchester Catholic Herald, Leeds Catholic Herald, Glasgow Observer, and Irish Catholic Herald. For the most part these and other variants were identical to the general edition of the Catholic Herald except for the local news pages. The self-declared mission of the Catholic Herald was to defend and expound Christian civilisation, the Catholic Church, and Irish nationalism. Charles Diamond (1858-1934) was born in Maghera, Ireland, in 1858. He was M.P. for North Monaghan from 1892-1895. He also contested districts of London for the Labour Party in 1918, 1922 and 1924. Diamond was a political firebrand and maverick who frequently got into trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities. He was repeatedly criticised by the English Catholic bishops because he tended to disrespect and undermine their ecclesiastical authority. A resolution was passed by the bishops in 1910, expressing their distaste with the Catholic Herald, which they complained tended to diminish the respect due from Catholics to ecclesiastical authority. Interestingly, Charles Diamond also got into trouble with the British authorities when one of his editorials (on 27 December 1919) suggested that a failed attempt to assassinate John French, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, should not be considered an attempted murder. He argued that the action was justified since “English government in Ireland is not government. It is simply usurpation, brutality, and oppression.” As a result, he spent several months in Pentonville Prison (from January to August 1920).

Charles Diamond image 2

Charles Diamond (1858-1934)

Charles Diamond saw himself as a champion of Catholicism, Christian civilisation, and Irish nationalism, and he saw the Jews (and Freemasons) as enemies to those concerns. He disliked Jews and Freemasons, not as a consequence of theological concerns per se, but because he believed them to be a foreign and threatening presence within Christian civilisation. He felt that the European nations should have the right to expel the Jews. “His civilisation is not Christian,” the Catholic Herald warned, and “his ethics, his morality, are not Christian. He has a deadly hatred of Christianity”. Whilst he was not concerned with theology per se, Diamond was happy to draw upon aspects of Christian religious narrative in order to make his antisemitic constructions of the Jew more powerful by giving them the semblance of scriptural authority. An editorial in 1914 provides an example. This editorial was written in response to news reports in other newspapers that a rabbi-chaplain had been killed whilst attending a dying Catholic soldier on the battlefield with a crucifix to ease his passing. The editorial stated that this story was improbable. It went on to suggest that there is “ample evidence” to show that most Jews are more than willing to “trample upon the Christian name” and to treat the crucifix with anything but respect. The editorial argued that the Jews had pillaged the Church in France and that their houses are filled with the plunder. The editorial made its construction of the Jew more diabolic by combining traditional religious narratives about the “Pharisees” and “Christ-killers” with more recent stereotypes about Jewish greed. It stated that “the First Christian of all and the Founder of Christianity was put to death, the supreme tragedy of history, by the Jewish people.” The editorial concluded with the following question: “If our Jewish brethren still live under the Old Law, the old dispensation, which permitted ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ and which made it lawful to ‘spoil the Egyptians’ and all others who were not Jews, and if they have in certain specific and proved cases shown themselves ready and willing to act on these principles, are we to take it that the mere mention of the fact is evidence of a bigoted and persecuting spirit?” The paper’s implicit answer was no.

Charles Diamond reinforced his composite construction of the Jew with narratives based on scripture in several other issues of the Catholic Herald. In “The Jew and the World Ferment” (June 1919) and “Jewry” (June 1920), in addition to depicting the Jews as gamblers, usurers, parasites, tyrannical bullies, pathetic sycophants and vulgar materialists, Diamond also stated that “the Scribes and Pharisees, the wealthy Israelites, and most of the selfish and hard hearted multitude, sought only power, and glory and pre-eminence for their nation, and led by their rulers, the high priests and the body of the priesthood, they committed the paramount crime of all time”. Diamond suggested that whilst it is “beyond our province even to speculate” as to “how much of what Christians and non-Christians despise in them and denounce is due to what they have endured during the two thousand years of expiation of their unparalleled crime,” it was apparent that “their sufferings have not improved them.” Other articles and editorials in the Catholic Herald also combined references to “pharisaically dishonest action,” “haters of the Christian name” and “a denial of the Divinity of Christ,” with stereotypes of Jewish greed, cowardice, cunning, secrecy and treachery, and the oft-repeated conspiracy myth of a Jewish-Masonic alliance. The paper later complained that the Jews had used their powerful influence to have a movie, The Kings of Kings, which was released in 1927, modified so that responsibility for the murder of Christ was confined to the Roman authorities and Caiaphas the High Priest, rather than “the Jewish race as a whole.” This was, the Catholic Herald suggested, a gross falsification of the “historical record.”

The Catholic Herald increasingly developed a more malevolent construction of the Jew during and subsequent to the First World War. Diamond claimed that the Jews had looted the Church in France and that “the most sacred Christian objects [are] being bought up by the Jews for a mere song.” This, he suggested, was the result of their (supposed) belief that they still lived under an old dispensation that entitles them to despoil all non-Jewish nations. The claim that Jews feel it is their right to spoil the nations in which they reside and the accusation that they plundered the Church became regular leitmotifs of the Catholic Herald from 1914 onwards. The paper even argued that the First World War was arranged by Jews specifically so they could have another opportunity to pillage. According to the Catholic Herald, “this Hun war was largely the work of the Jews around the Kaiser. It was a huge plan of plunder and pillage, in which the Jew was to get his chance.” The paper continued with this stereotype of Jewish greed and exploitation after the war. In 1919 and 1920, the Catholic Herald acknowledged that Jews have a reputation for being “great philanthropists,” but observed that they nevertheless continue to be despised. The paper concluded that the reason they continue to be hated is that “as a people, taken as a whole, they are given to the worst of vices.” According to the Catholic Herald, the Jews are “gamblers, fond of vulgar display; cruel and domineering when they have power, sycophants and cringers when they are weak or have an end to serve.” According to the paper, the “orthodox Jew” and the “creedless materialistic Jew” were nearly as bad as each other, as the orthodox Jew has a religious creed which encourages “spoiling the stranger,” whilst the secular Jew hovers “like a vampire over the nations.” In the late 1920s, the accusation that Jews plundered the Church in France was transformed into the accusation that they plundered the Christians in Russia; the paper claimed that the Jews were pursuing the identical policy in Russia that they had once pursued in France. According to the Catholic Herald, “the worst characteristics of the human race” find their “highest and fullest expression” in the Jewish people.

Charles Diamond also incorporated the stereotype of Jewish secrecy into his multifaceted construction of the Jew. According to his newspaper in 1916, a group of Jewish money lenders “had dropped their Jew names and taken Irish names in order to disarm suspicion, and the better to swindle others.” The Catholic Herald was also disturbed by reports in other newspapers about “Jewish soldiers who were alleged to have won the highest military decorations in Russia for their bravery.” The paper concluded, with more than a touch of sarcasm, that it is “all right, of course, to praise Jews when they do something meritorious. It appears to be all right even to invent such stories.” In 1919, Diamond maintained that the Jew “is an intrusion, a foreign element in the Christian body politic,” and “he endeavours to get round this by all sorts of dodges and trickery, and tries to hide his Semitic origin and principles by changing his name and pretending to be what he is not.” Throughout the late 1910s and the 1920s, the paper frequently printed its paranoid fears and conspiracy theories about the Jews secretly hiding behind non-Jewish names except when they achieve, or “purchase”, some great honour or distinction; then the Jew has no problem being held up as a credit to his people, the paper complained. The stereotype of Jewish secrecy sometimes coalesced with that of the unpatriotic Jew, resulting in an even more inflammatory stereotype: The Jewish spy. According to the Catholic Herald in 1917, England was “honeycombed with Jew spies and traitors, using, of course, assumed names.” These pro-German Jew spies, the paper argued, “are adapts at treachery, and their co-religionists and friends in the press and elsewhere are ever ready to slander and abuse anyone who calls attention to their proceedings.”

The Catholic Herald also combined its stereotypes and representations of Jews with those of Freemasons; and the paper attacked Jews and Freemasons with equal passion. According to the Catholic Herald, “Freemasonry is a detestable form of secret tyranny as is proved by its implacable hatred of Catholics on the Continent.” The paper argued that Freemasonry is “anti-Christian,” “anti-Catholic,” “anti-nation,” “anti-social” and a “State within the State.” The paper alleged that Freemasons conspire to discredit and attack Catholics, and in particular Catholic priests, as part of its organised campaign against religion. The paper also suggested that Freemasonry has secretly and insidiously infiltrated and “honey-combed” the British army, navy and war office. Its main concern was that as a result these institutions were suffused by a “subtle anti-Catholic spirit.” It also hinted at Masonic naval officers participating in the “most shocking” rites and rituals whilst their vessels were docked in foreign countries. Whilst the Catholic Herald excoriated Jews and Freemasons independently, the paper’s composite construction of the Freemason not only closely mirrored its construction of the secretive, disloyal, anti-social and anti-Christian Jew, it also coalesced with it. For example, the paper stated that “the worst elements of Jewry, as of Atheism and Freemasonry … are the enemies of Christian civilisation as well as of Freedom and Justice.” After the war, one of the articles in the Catholic Herald that accused the Pharisees of murdering Christ and contemporary Jews of failing to improve themselves during their two thousand years of penitence for this “unparalleled crime,” went on to report that whilst the “defeat of Germany” in the war was a “blow to German Jew interests and ambitions, we may rest assured that the Jew trader, the Jew speculator, the Jew financier, the Jew Freemason, the Jew, politically and socially, will emerge from the ordeal the gainer as a whole by the cataclysm.” The paper announced that the “Young Turks” who led the violent revolution in Turkey were predominantly Jews and Freemasons. “Freemasonry in Turkey,” the paper reported,” is “of the atheist Jew brand” and the “Young Turks” who have been put in control of the Ottoman Empire by the Freemasons are “chiefly Salonica Jews, revolutionists, anti-Christians, and atheistical Masons, almost without exception.” The paper blamed the Jews and Freemasons for other revolutions of an anti-clerical nature. For example, in the late 1920s, the paper attributed the persecution of Catholics in Mexico to the “forces of evil represented by Atheists, Freemasons, Communists, Jews and all the other forces of infamy.” In 1931, the paper observed that a tolerance for Christians is not indicated by the fact that Jews do not attempt to proselytise to them. It is, the newspaper indicated, “only too true that the most bitter persecutors of the Catholic Church, in various countries where they have the power, have been, and are Jews.” “The anti-Catholic propaganda for which Jewish Freemasons and others are responsible is a matter of notoriety,” the Catholic Herald concluded.

One focus point for the paper was the Dreyfus Affair. The paper at first began with a comparatively innocuous, albeit ambivalent report, when Captain Dreyfus was initially accused of treason. It suggested in November 1894 that as “the accused has not yet been tried,” he “ought therefore to be presumed innocent until he is found guilty.” It deprecated the French press for its unanimous verdict in condemning Dreyfus before the trial, though it did allude to the power of “the highest Jewish families in France,” who were, the paper claimed, supporting the accused. However, the tone of the paper soon became more hostile. “The traitor Dreyfus,” the Catholic Herald reported in January 1895, “has astounded all France, and even the whole civilized world, by his execrable crime of treason against his country.” His sentence, the paper concluded, “seems far too light for such a detestable crime.” During and subsequent to the First World War, the Catholic Herald repeatedly returned to the Dreyfus Affair and the crisis in France, which had, it suggested, been provoked by the “Masonic-Jewish camarilla.” The paper suggested that the Jews and Freemasons exploited the crisis in France as an opportunity to persecute and exclude Catholics from political positions, to plunder the Church and disestablish the Catholic religion. The paper asked, “has any body of Jews, here or elsewhere, protested against the Jew-freemason-atheist plunder of the French Catholic Church?” The Catholic Herald reasoned that Alfred Dreyfus must have been a Freemason and that the Freemasons supported the Dreyfusard cause because he was a brother of the Lodge. The reality of the case, the paper suggested, was that “a traitorous French Jew was punished for his guilt of treason.” The paper repeatedly argued that when a reporter from the Daily Mail was sent to France to investigate the retrial of Dreyfus and concluded that he seemed to be a little guilty, Dreyfus’ Jewish-Freemason brothers would not accept it. They got their way, the paper concluded, and consequently a second reporter was sent to France with instructions to write “that Dreyfus ‘was innocent’, in face of the evidence and of his own convictions!” The Catholic Herald repeatedly claimed that the Jews and Freemasons had pressured Lord Northcliffe, the owner of the Daily Mail, to declare that Dreyfus was innocent irrespective of his actual guilt.

Charles Diamond’s Catholic Herald continued to repeat anti-Jewish stereotypes and conspiracy theories during the early 1930s. The Catholic Herald did condemn “Hitlerite” Jew-baiting, but the paper simultaneously argued that “the Jews in Germany no doubt played an evil part in pre-war politics.” After describing the attacks upon Jews in Berlin as “outrageous,” the paper went on to argue that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement and that Jewish usury was responsible for much of the then current hatred against Jews. In April 1933, the paper reported that “a leading Jewish representative” had stated in “the press” that “the Catholics of Germany” had stood up against the persecutions of Jews in Germany. According to the Catholic Herald, this Jewish representative also called upon the pope to similarly speak out against Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. The Catholic Herald suggested that the Jewish representative was making an “unwarrantable” claim upon the pope, as “the Holy See does not rush into every conflict, even when challenged by unauthorised persons.” The paper went on to report that “a German Catholic” points out in response that all over the world, in France, in Spain and elsewhere, “it is too true that Jews, especially the Masonic Jews who are so numerous, are the bitter and persistent foes of the Catholic Church.” The paper claimed that the revolution in Spain had the “wholesale” support of Jewry. According to the Catholic Herald, “whenever it can do so, Jewry is the leading and bitter enemy of the Catholic Church.” The paper complained that people protest against the “far lesser wrongs” inflicted upon “a far smaller number of Jews,” whilst ignoring or approving of the horrors inflicted upon millions of Catholics wherever “Protestantism and Atheism and Freemasonry have power.” In October 1933, the editor of the Catholic Herald stated that the “Jewish attitude towards the Catholic Church” is notorious. It is, he asserted, “notorious that the war upon the Church in France which culminated in the robbery of the Church was fiercely helped by Jewish influence, especially the Jewish Masonic Lodges and other atheistic organisations.” According to the paper, most of the £20,000,000 of Church property which was seized by the French Government was bought up by Jews all over France and distributed to Jews all over the world. The editor claimed to have been “in the house of a Jew friend in Paris which was filled in every room with Church property bought at knock-out prices all over France.” The “whole record of the Jewish people is a record of persecution of their neighbours,” the editor argued. According to the paper, “anyone acquainted with the Old Testament knows that fact and anyone acquainted with the first centuries of Christianity knows that the Jews, like St. Paul before his conversion, went about preaching violence and slaughter against Jews who became Christians and against the Christian name everywhere.” In fairness to the Catholic Herald, the paper did go on to state that every Catholic should raise his voice against antisemitism.  And yet, in virtually the same breath, the paper reasoned that the widespread attitude of hostility towards Jews was not caused by “the wickedness of those who attack them,” but rather was provoked by the Jews themselves.


Cecil Chesterton and the Jews

Cecil Chesterton (1879-1918), like his close friend and fellow journalist-author Hilaire Belloc, and his brother G. K. Chesterton, frequently caricatured and stereotyped Jews in his newspaper articles (in particular in the Eye Witness and New Witness newspapers). A number of studies of Jewish stereotypes have shown that over the centuries, “the Jews” have occupied a special place in the Christian imagination. Sometimes they are stereotyped and deprecated as diabolic villains, and sometimes they are stereotyped and praised as virtuous, but they are rarely portrayed simply as normal human beings, with the same failings, virtues and gifts as everyone else. There are “good Jews” and there are “bad Jews”, but in either case, the Jew is different, distinct, “the other”. This observation would seem to apply in particular to Cecil Chesterton. On the one hand Cecil denied that he was antisemitic, rejected any call for Jews to be persecuted, and stated that he liked “many” Jews as individuals. For Cecil, there was something peculiar, quaint and foreign about Jews. He could not help but obsess with them. He stated that “even the less pleasant of them interest me merely because they are Jews” [my emphasis]. He explained that this interest arose because “their peculiarities fascinate me; the curious and often unexpected differences in the attitude of the mind, which mark them off from us, arrest my intelligence and pique my curiosity.” According to Cecil, “Jewish virtues,” “manners” and “morals” are distinct from those of Englishmen, and if that could only be admitted, those virtues could be admired in the same way that “the quaint virtues of the Chinese commend our admiration.” He stated that: “One would readily say to a friend: ‘do come to dinner on Tuesday: I have a Chinese gentleman coming, and he ought to be extraordinarily interesting.’ When people can say that about a Hebrew gentleman, anti-Semitism will be at an end.” Cecil Chesterton, The British Review, May 1913, 161-169.

As others have noted, Cecil was one of the principal anti-Jewish agitators during the prominent Marconi Affair. As far as Cecil was concerned, even though only two Jewish individuals (the Isaacs brothers) were implicated in the scandal, and were not alone in being accused, it was nevertheless a quintessentially Jewish affair. During this episode, in a satirical legal defence in the Eye Witness newspaper, Cecil Chesterton (writing under his nom de plume of Junius) patronisingly “defended” Rufus Isaacs specifically as a Jew, arguing that as a Jew, Rufus Isaacs could not be judged by, or be expected to understand, the morality of a Christian civilisation. He claimed that Rufus hid his Jewishness because he shared the “shyness” and secrecy which was “hereditary” in his “race,” but that it was this very Jewishness that constituted the core of his defence. According to Cecil, Rufus Isaacs should not be tried in an English court by an English jury as he is “not an Englishman” but a Jew. “He is an alien,” Cecil surmised, “a nomad, an Asiatic, the heir of a religious and racial tradition wholly alien from ours. He is amongst us: he is not of us.” He could not, Cecil deduced, be fairly “expected to understand the subtle workings of that queer thing the Christian conscience”. Cecil continued to attack Rufus Isaacs and his brother Godfrey Isaacs in a series of antisemitic articles in the New Witness (the successor to the Eye Witness). According to Cecil, one can locate the roots of the prosperity and political power of the Isaacs, along with other Jewish families, such as the Samuels and Rothschilds, in “usury,” “gambling with the necessities of the people,” and the “systematic bribery of politicians.” In addition to the stereotype of the greedy Jew, he also invoked the image of Jewish secrecy. According to Cecil Chesterton, when “a Jew commits the contemptible act of changing his name into some ludicrous pseudo-European one,” it was his duty to “draw attention to the plain truth about it.” Cecil Chesterton [Junius], “For the Defence: III. In Defence of Sir Rufus Isaacs,” Eye Witness, 4 July 1912, 77-78; Cecil Chesterton [Junius], “An Open Letter to Mr. Israel Zangwill,” New Witness, 19 December 1912, 201.

Cecil Chesterton’s hostility towards Jews was not however confined to, or instigated by, the Marconi scandal. As early as 1905, in a little known book entitled Gladstonian Ghosts, Cecil Chesterton informed his readers that towards the end of the nineteenth century, the “unclean hands of Hebrew finance” had pulled “the wires” of the progressive “Tory revival”. Cecil went on to warn that “one of these days our Hebrew masters will say to us: ‘Very well. You object to conditions; you shall have none. We will import Chinamen freely and without restriction, and they shall supplant white men, not in the mines only, but in every industry throughout South Africa.’” Cecil Chesterton, Gladstonian Ghosts (London: S. C. Brown Langham, [1905]), 17-18, 107.

The image of the Jews as “smart” and “intelligent” has always been something of a double-edged stereotype. On the one hand intelligence is admired, but on the other hand it can be coupled with arrogance and shrewd cunning. Cecil Chesterton’s friend, Hilaire Belloc, provides a clear illustration of this ambivalent stereotype. According to Belloc, one of the marks of “the Jew” is the “lucidity of his thought.” At his best, the Jew may be a devoted scientist or great philosopher. According to Belloc, he is “never muddled” in argument. However, he then goes on to explain that there is “something of the bully” in the Jew’s “exactly constructed process of reasoning.”  A man arguing with a Jew, Belloc contended, may know the Jew to be wrong, but he feels the Jew’s “iron logic offered to him like a pistol presented at the head of his better judgement.” Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922), 81. In 1908, in an anonymously published book entitled G. K. Chesterton: A Criticism, Cecil Chesterton combined the stereotype of the dangerously smart Jew with that of Jewish greed and usury. According to Cecil, Jews had brains, but they lacked all the honourable and chivalrous qualities of a gentleman. He asserted that “our aristocrats were proud of being strong, of being brave, of being handsome, of being chivalrous, of being honourable, of being happy, but never of being clever. The idea that brains were any part of the make-up of a gentleman was never dreamed of in Europe until our rulers fell into the hands of Hebrew moneylenders, who, having brains and not being gentlemen, read into the European idea of aristocracy an intellectualism quite alien to its traditions.” [Cecil Chesterton], G. K. Chesterton: A Criticism (London: Alston Rivers, 1908), 4-5.

Cecil also drew upon the myth of Jewish ritual murder – i.e. the blood libel – as part of his wider construction of Jewish villainy and foreignness. In March 1911, a thirteen year old Christian boy, Andrei Yushchinsky, went missing. His body was found a week later in a cave just outside Kiev. Approximately four months later, Mendel Beilis, a Ukrainian Jew, was accused of the murder. Initially the indictment was simply for murder, but subsequently the prosecution added the charge of ritual murder. This was based on a testimony by a lamplighter, who claimed that he had seen a Jew kidnap the child (the lamplighter apparently later confessed that he had been led into this testimony by the secret police). Beilis was accused of stabbing the child thirteen times, which was supposedly in accordance with a so-called Jewish rite; there was of course no such rite, and it was later revealed that there were over forty stab wounds. Beilis was incarcerated, tortured and interrogated, before finally being brought to trial and found innocent, after a two year wait, in September-October 1913. During this episode, antisemitic leaflets were circulated in Russia, suggesting that the Jews use the blood of Christian children to make Passover matzot, though a great many Russians also leapt to the defence of Beilis. On the international stage, so-called “experts” on the Jews and “ritual murder”, such as Father Pranaitis and authors for the Rome based journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, informed the world in gruesome detail about how Jews supposedly went about ritually murdering Christian children in order to obtain their blood for religious or magical rituals. La Civiltà Cattolica, a periodical constitutionally connected to the Vatican, published two articles which set out to present “medical opinion” to the effect that “death was brought about in three stages: the boy was stabbed in such a manner that all his blood could be collected, he was tortured, and finally his heart was pierced.” This alleged evidence was held by Civiltà Cattolica to indicate “ritual murder, which only Jews could perpetrate, since it required long experience.” “Jewish Trickery and Papal Documents – Apropos of a Recent Trial,” Civiltà Cattolica, April 1914, cited by Charlotte Klein, “Damascus to Kiev: Civiltà Cattolica on Ritual Murder,” in Alan Dundes, ed., The Blood Libel Legend (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), 194-196.

In response to this episode, “the Beilis Affair,” Cecil Chesterton characterised Russian pogroms as something horrible, but also something to be understood as part of an ongoing “bitter historic quarrel” between Israel Zangwill’s people (i.e. “the Jews”) and the people of Russia. The “evidence of the pogroms”, he argued, points to a “savage religious and racial quarrel.” He suggested that it was sometimes “a naturally kindly people like the Russians [who] are led to perpetrate the atrocities,” and sometimes it was the “equally embittered” Jews, who, “when they got a chance of retaliating, would be equally savage.” Referring to the Beilis Affair, Cecil endorsed the blood libel, stating that: “An impartial observer, unconnected with either nation, may reasonably inquire why, if we are asked to believe Russians do abominable things to Jewish children, we should at the same time be asked to regard it as incredible … that Jews do abominable things to Russian children – at Kieff, for instance.” Israel Zangwill, a prominent Anglo-Jewish author and playwright, countered Cecil Chesterton’s accusation, noting that following his logic, we should have to accept that if hooligans throttle Quakers then Quakers must also be throttling hooligans. Zangwill also rightly pointed out that it was implausible that a Jew would murder a Christian child for ritual purposes considering no such ritual exists in Judaism. In response, Cecil Chesterton stated that “as to ‘ritual murder’, Mr. Zangwill, of course, knows that no sane man has ever suggested that it [ritual murder] was a ‘rite’ of the Jewish Church any more than pogroms are rites of the Greek Orthodox Church.” He then proceeded to clarify that what he and others had suggested, is that “there may be ferocious secret societies among the Russian Jews,” and that “as so often happens with persecuted sects, such societies may sanctify very horrible revenges with a religious ritual.” In other words, Cecil Chesterton accepted that responsible Jews did not go around committing ritual murder, but did suggest that a sect of fanatical and vengeful Jews did go around murdering Christian children following a “religious ritual”. Eleven years later, his brother, G. K. Chesterton, similarly suggested as part of his complex multifaceted construction of “the Jew,” that “ritual murder” had occasionally been committed by Jews, not by responsible practitioners of Judaism as such, but by “individual and irresponsible diabolists who did happen to be Jews”. Cecil Chesterton, “Israel and ‘The Melting Pot,’” New Witness, 5 March 1914, 566-567; Cecil Chesterton, “A Letter from Mr. Zangwill,” New Witness, 12 March 1914, 593-594; G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (London: Hodder and Stoughton, [1925]), 136.

Cecil Chesterton also revived the host desecration myth. He stated that “the Jews may or may not have insulted the Host, as was alleged. I do not know.” “But,” he continued, “I do know that they wanted to; because I know what a religion means, and therefore what a religious quarrel means.” This insight into what Cecil Chesterton considered expected conduct in a “religious quarrel” – and his belief that Jews would be involved in the destruction of host wafers, which hold no significance in Judaism – is revealing of his polemical and pugnacious anti-Jewish mindset. Cecil Chesterton, “Israel and ‘The Melting Pot,’” New Witness, 5 March 1914, 566.

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

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

Deads of the antichrist

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

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


Cardinal Manning (1808-1892)

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

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

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

William Francis Barry (1849–1930).png

Canon William Barry (1849-1930)

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

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

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

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

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

Chesterton’s Jews

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

Chesterton's Jews3-page-0 - front

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

G. K. Chesterton and the Stereotype of the Jewish Coward

The stereotype of the cowardly Jew, though less prominent than the greedy Jew and the Jewish Bolshevik stereotypes in his discourse, was another feature in Chesterton’s antisemitic construction of “the Jew.” He argued that bravery and patriotism were foreign to the Jewish makeup. This antisemitic stereotype appeared in particular in 1917 and 1918. For Chesterton, the virtues of bravery, chivalry and patriotism were intertwined. That the Jews did not share these “Christian” qualities was, Chesterton believed, a point that should be understood, even excused, but certainly recognised. In an article on 11 October 1917, he stated that he felt “disposed to gibbet the journalist at least as much as the Jew; for the same journalism that has concealed the Jewish name has copied the Jewish hysteria.” According to Chesterton, “at least the wretched ‘alien’ can claim that if he is scared he is also puzzled; that if he is physically frightened he is really morally mystified. Moving in a crowd of his own kindred from country to country, and even from continent to continent, all equally remote and unreal to his own mind, he may well feel the events of European war as meaningless energies of evil. He must find it as unintelligible as we find Chinese tortures.” Chesterton claimed that he was inclined to “the side of mercy in judging the Jews,” at least in comparison to certain newspaper “millionaires.” He argued that a Jew with a gold watch-chain “grovelling on the floor of the tube” was not as ugly a spectacle as the newspaper millionaires who multiply their “individual timidity in the souls of men as if in millions of mirrors.” Chesterton was willing to accept that there were rare and exceptional Jews who won medals for bravery, but he was not willing to concede this to more than a small number of Jews. Such Jews, he argued, were rare, and so they should be honoured not merely as “exceptionally heroic among the Jews,” but also as “exceptionally heroic even among the heroes.” Chesterton concluded that it “must have been by sheer individual imagination and virtue that they pierced through the pacifist materialism of their tradition, and perceived both the mystery and the meaning of chivalry.” G. K. Chesterton, “The Jew and the Journalist,” At the Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 11 October 1917, pp. 562-563.

When later quizzed by Leopold Greenberg, the proprietor-editor of the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish World, on 14 June 1918, 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. In an article on 21 June 1918, he stated that “the problem of aliens in air-raids is a thing that everybody knows.” He suggested that he could hardly be expected to go looking “for Jews in the Tubes, instead of going about my business above ground.” Chesterton concluded that if his affairs had led him into the Tubes during an air raid, he would probably have seen what others have reported, and the editor of the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish World would no doubt have “refused my testimony as he refused theirs.” Somewhat patronizingly, Chesterton “excused” the Jew of his so-called cowardice during air raids, attributing it to the “psychological effect of a Gotha on a Ghetto”. He explained that he himself had “defended the Jew so situated; comparing him for instance to a Red Indian who might possibly be afraid of fireworks, to which he was not accustomed, and yet not afraid of slow fires, to which he was accustomed.” G. K. Chesterton, At the Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 21 June 1918, pp. 148-149. See also “A Reckless Charge,” Jewish Chronicle, 14 June 1918, 4.

Whilst Chesterton claimed that he was inclined towards mercy in judging cowardice, he was utterly unprepared to tolerate “pacifism”. Articles in 1917 and 1918 suggested that pacifism elevated cowardice to an ideal and denigrated bravery as a vice. It is one thing, he argued, to “feel panic and call it panic,” quite another to “cultivate panic and call it patriotism.” Chesterton regarded “absolute pacifism and the denial of national service simply as morally bad, precisely as wife-beating or slave-owning are morally bad.” He directed some “words of advice” to the Jews. He stated that “in so far as you say that you yourself ought not to be made to serve in European armies, I for one have always thought you had a case; and it may yet be possible to do something for you, … If you say that you ought not to fight, at least we shall understand. If you say that nobody ought to fight, you will make everybody in the world want to fight for the pleasure of fighting you.” Referring to Jews, he stated that “if they talk any more of their tomfool pacifism to raise a storm against the soldiers and their wives and widows, they will find out what is meant by Anti-Semitism for the first time.” G. K. Chesterton, “The Jew and the Journalist,” At the Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 11 October 1917, pp. 562-563 and G. K. Chesterton, “The Grand Turk of Tooting,” Sign of the World’s End, New Witness, 25 October 1917, pp.610-611.

The reality is that during the First and Second World Wars, Anglo-Jews signed up for the armed forces with great enthusiasm. Despite this, Chesterton was not alone in embracing this antisemitic stereotype. As Tony Kushner (1989), Professor of the History of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton (and director of the Parkes Institute), has rightly stated: “On pure statistical grounds there was again no basis for the Jewish war shirker image to come about. To explain its pervasive appeal one has, as usual, to examine the past Jewish stereotype. The most significant aspect in this respect was the combined image of the cowardly and non-physical Jew.” Kushner explains that “the combined image of Jews as weak, cowardly, alien and powerful were all strongly ingrained in the public mind. Indeed the strength of such imagery is highlighted by the experience of Jews in the British Forces during the Second World War. As was the case in the 1914-18 conflict, a disproportionate number of Jews joined the Forces – 15% of Anglo-Jewry or 60,000 men and women compared to 10% of the population as a whole.” Tony Kushner, The Persistence of Prejudice: Antisemitism in British society during the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989), 122-123.

For more on this and other stereotypes and caricatures in Chesterton’s discourse, please see my recent book, Chesterton’s Jews: Stereotypes and Caricatures in the Literature and Journalism of G. K. Chesterton. 



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.

Unexplored Directions in Anglo-Jewish History: The Rainbow Jews Project

Oral testimony can provide history with a more human face by giving neglected voices an important role in the narrative construction. For the greater part histories have been crafted using the types of documentary evidence that were created by the accepted social, cultural and political elites. Oral history projects can provide an essential counter-balance to these existing skewed narratives. The Rainbow Jews Oral History Project – which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, hosted by Liberal Judaism, and managed by Surat Knan – is one such enterprise.




The Rainbow Jews Project is important in a number of key respects. I will focus here on just two that most closely tie in with my personal research interests. One of my key research interests is Anglo-Jewish history. As Geoffrey Alderman, Anglo-Jewish historian and commentator for the Jewish Chronicle, has noted in his introduction to New Directions in Anglo-Jewish History (an excellent volume of essays by new scholars in the field): “The past two decades have witnessed a remarkable renaissance in the academic study of the history of the Jews in Great Britain and of their impact upon British history” [1]. Commenting on New Directions in Anglo-Jewish History, David Cesarani, Research Professor in History at Royal Holloway College, refers to “the advance guard of the second wave of scholarly research into the Jewish experience in Britain.” Also commenting on New Directions, Tony Kushner, Professor of the History of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton (and director of the Parkes Institute), similarly refers to “the coming of age of the study of Anglo-Jewry, a subject matter until recently sadly ignored in British as well as Jewish historiography” [2]. And yet, whilst broadening the field of Anglo-Jewish history beyond the “sanitised narrative” of a not so “homogenous community,” none of the essays in the volume – or in any other academic study that I am aware of – addresses the historiography of British LGBT Jews and their impact upon British and Jewish history [3]. Fortunately, the Rainbow Jews Project will provide a partial remedy to this lacuna. 

My other key research interest is aimed at understanding how stereotypes, caricatures and myths about certain groups of people have been constructed and used to marginalise and vilify. To date I have focused on the history of anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic stereotypes and myths (for example, the myth of the so-called Jewish-Freemason conspiracy). I believe such studies are important. However, whilst there are studies of anti-Jewish, anti-Masonic, anti-Romani and anti-LGBT prejudices, as far as I am aware very little has been written about how LGBT Jews have been portrayed. The oral testimony collected as part of the Rainbow Jews project can help address this lacuna as the interviewees discuss their perceptions, memories and life experiences. Sadly, in some cases the remembered prejudices were from other Jews.

Whilst I am not a part of Liberal Judaism or the LGBT community, I feel privileged to have been given an opportunity to participate in this project by helping, as one of several volunteers, to transcribe and summarise some of the collected interviews (link to RJ life stories). These will be incorporated into the Rainbow Jews Archive which will record all aspects of LGBT Jewish history from the 1950s to the present (including interviews, photographs, letters, digital materials, diaries, memorabilia items, and other forms of material culture). The Rainbow Jews Exhibition will be launched on the 6th February 2014, accompanied by a film premier, at the LSE Atrium Gallery. For more information about the exhibition launch and events, see http://www.rainbowjews.com/rainbow-exhibition-launch/  &  https://www.facebook.com/RainbowJews

As Professor Kushner has rightly observed about Anglo-Jewish LGBT history, “there is still a rich inner history to be discovered and also a wider history of the intersection of sexuality, ‘race’ and religion that would be exposed if such a history was constructed” [4].  For this and other reasons, the Rainbow Jews project is important. For information about getting involved in the Rainbow Jews project, see http://www.rainbowjews.com/get-involved/       


Rainbow Jews Image


Notes for Unexplored Directions in Anglo-Jewish History: The Rainbow Jews Project

[1]  Geoffrey Alderman, “Introduction,” New Directions in Anglo-Jewish History (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2010), vii. For a review of this volume, see Simon Mayers, review of New Directions in Anglo-Jewish History by Geoffrey Alderman (ed.), Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 12, no. 3 (2013) [link].

[2]  Comments on New Directions in Anglo-Jewish History by David Cesarani and Tony Kushner, back cover of Geoffrey Alderman, ed., New Directions in Anglo-Jewish History (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2010).

[3]  Alderman, “Introduction,” New Directions in Anglo-Jewish History, vii.

[4] Tony Kushner, “Towards a Gay Anglo-Jewish History?”, notes for paper delivered at the LGBT History Workshop (University of Southampton, February 2013). My thanks to Professor Kushner for providing me with these notes and giving me permission to cite them.