G. K.'s Weekly - The Chesterbelloc and Anti-Semitic Prejudice - Hilaire Belloc's Views

Hilaire Belloc's Views

Belloc's views from the Edwardian period, when he was in politics, are discussed in Hilaire Belloc: Edwardian Radical by McCarthy. At this period the targets were plutocracy, the Second Boer War seen as economically motivated, and the Jewish part in international finance. Negative fictional characters who are Jewish appear in Belloc's novels from this time.

The evidence from The Path to Rome is that Belloc at that time found anti-Semitism puzzling, if distasteful:

At the foot of the street was an inn where I entered to eat, and finding there another man—I take him to have been a shopkeeper--I determined to talk politics, and began as follows: 'Have you any anti-Semitism in your town?' 'It is not my town,' he said, 'but there is anti-Semitism. It flourishes.' 'Why then?' I asked. 'How many Jews have you in your town?' He said there were seven. 'But,' said I, 'seven families of Jews--' 'There are not seven families,' he interrupted; 'there are seven Jews all told. There are but two families, and I am reckoning in the children. The servants are Christians.' 'Why,' said I, 'that is only just and proper, that the Jewish families from beyond the frontier should have local Christian people to wait on them and do their bidding. But what I was going to say was that so very few Jews seem to me an insufficient fuel to fire the anti-Semites… I then rose from my meal, saluted him, and went musing up the valley road, pondering upon what it could be that the Jews sacrificed in this remote borough, but I could not for the life of me imagine what it was, though I have had a great many Jews among my friends.

Belloc's own book The Jews (1922) sets out his later views in his own words. He identified a cycle of persecution, and coined the phrase the tragic cycle of anti-Semitism. The work has been construed both as supporting the case that Belloc had no animus against Jews, and as a statement of the historical view that Jewish integration 'inevitably' causes friction. Rabbi David Dalin has commented positively on Belloc's contribution in it to understanding of anti-Semitism. Belloc wrote,

"It has been a series of cycles invariably following the same steps. The Jew comes to an alien society, at first in small numbers. He thrives. His presence is not resented. He is rather treated as a friend. Whether from mere contrast in type—what I have called "friction —or from some apparent divergence between his objects and those of his hosts, or through his increasing numbers, he creates (or discovers) a growing animosity. He resents it. He opposes his hosts. They call themselves masters in their own house. The Jew resists their claim. It comes to violence."
"It is always the same miserable sequence. First a welcome; then a growing, half-conscious ill-ease; next a culmination in acute ill-ease; lastly catastrophe and disaster; insult, persecution, even massacre, the exiles flying from the place of persecution into a new district where the Jew is hardly known, where the problem has never existed or has been forgotten. He meets again with the largest hospitality. There follows here also, after a period of amicable interfusion, a growing, half-conscious ill-ease, which next becomes acute and leads to new explosions, and so on, in a fatal round." Hilaire Belloc, The Jews, Butler and Tanner, London, 1937, pp. 11–12.

Belloc also wrote,

"The various nations of Europe have every one of them, in the course of their long histories, passed through successive phases towards the Jew which I have called the tragic cycle. Each has in turn welcomed, tolerated, persecuted, attempted to exile — often actually exiled — welcomed again, and so forth. The two chief examples of extremes in action, are, as I have also pointed out in an earlier part of this book, Spain and England. Spaniards, and in particular the Spaniards of the Kingdom of Castile, went through every phase of this cycle in its fullest form. England passed through even greater extremes, for England was the only country which absolutely got rid of the Jews for hundreds of years, and England is the only country which has, even for a brief period, entered into something like an alliance with them." Hilaire Belloc, The Jews, Butler and Tanner, London, 1937, p. 215.

On the integration of Jews into British society at the higher levels, he wrote, in the same book,

"with the opening of the twentieth century those of the great territorial English families in which there was no Jewish blood were the exception. In nearly all of them was the stain more or less marked, in some of them so strong that though the name was still an English name and the tradition those of a purely English lineage of the long past, the physique and character had become wholly Jewish and the members of the family were taken for Jews whenever they travelled in countries where the gentry had not yet suffered or enjoyed the admixture."

Belloc made the following controversial statement in a conversation with Hugh Kingsmill and Hesketh Pearson:

Belloc: It was the Dreyfus case that opened my eyes to the Jew question. I'm not an anti-Semite. I love 'em, poor dears. Get on very well with them. My best secretary was a Jewess. Poor darlings — it must be terrible to be born with the knowledge that you belong to the enemies of the human race.
Kingsmill: Why do you say the Jews are the enemies of the human race?
Belloc: The Crucifixion.

Robert Speaight however cites a private letter by Belloc to one of his Jewish American friends in the 1920s in which Belloc pilloried conspiracy-theorist Nesta Webster for her accusations against "the Jews". In February 1924, Belloc wrote to an American Jewish friend regarding an anti-Semitic book by Webster. Webster had rejected Christianity, studied Eastern religions, accepted the Hindu concept of the equality of all religions and was fascinated by theories of reincarnation and ancestral memory. Belloc expressed his views on Webster's antisemitism very clearly:

"In my opinion it is a lunatic book. She is one of those people who have got one cause on the brain. It is the good old 'Jewish revolutionary' bogey. But there is a type of unstable mind which cannot rest without morbid imaginings, and the conception of a single cause simplifies thought. With this good woman it is the Jews, with some people it is the Jesuits, with others Freemasons and so on. The world is more complex than that."

Read more about this topic:  G. K.'s Weekly, The Chesterbelloc and Anti-Semitic Prejudice

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