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More Rootless Cosmopolite Blogging: Ross Douthat Shoots Himself in the Culture War

Well, that must be painful!

Ross Douthat says that Adam Gopnik is somewhat unpersuasive in his discussion of G.K. Chesterton's anti-Semitism:

Gopnik on Chesterton (I): [Gopnik is] a classic example of the cosmopolitan as provincial... where something more than cleverness is called for he's often at a loss, or else inappropriately facile.... [I]t makes him a fine guide to G.K. Chesterton.... Where other aspects of Chesterton are concerned, though ... well, not so much. I'll start with his lengthy attack on Chesterton's "Jew-hating."...

[B]y the standards of the '20s and '30s, it was morally impressive for a political writer to reject both fascism and communism, to praise Zionism, and to speak out forcefully against Nazi anti-Semitism.... This does not excuse Chesterton's anti-Semitism by any means, but it makes him an odd target, out of all the writers and thinkers of that period, to single out for particular opprobrium.... It's the Goldhagen approach to assigning culpability, in which even people who opposed Hitler... are to be judged, and harshly, if they failed to live up the standards that Western society only adopted after the Holocaust provided a terrible example of where these thoughts and impulses can lead...

Let's give the microphone to G.K. Chesterton himself, for reading Douthat a reader might think that G.K. Chesterton was opposed to Hitler's depriving German Jews of their German citizenship, and making them wear yellow stars. But that is not the case:

The New Jerusalem: [L]et there be one single-clause bill; one simple and sweeping law about Jews... that every Jew must be dressed like an Arab. Let him sit on the Woolsack, but let him sit there dressed as an Arab. Let him preach in St. Paul's Cathedral, but let him preach there dressed as an Arab. It is not my point at present to dwell on the pleasing if flippant fancy of how much this would transform the political scene; of the dapper figure of Sir Herbert Samuel swathed as a Bedouin, or Sir Alfred Mond gaining a yet greater grandeur from the gorgeous and trailing robes of the East. If my image is quaint my intention is quite serious; and the point of it is not personal to any particular Jew. The point applies to any Jew... we should know where we are; and he would know where he is, which is in a foreign land....

To recognise the reality of the Jewish problem is very vital for everybody and especially vital for Jews.... [I]t is very common to hear the answer that the Jew is no worse than the Armenian.... But this is one of those arguments which really carry their own answer.... Is it seriously suggested that we can substitute the Armenian for the Jew in the study of a world-wide problem like that of the Jews?... Can Armenian usury be a common topic of talk in a camp in California and in a club in Piccadilly?... Is it true... that all sorts of people, from the peasants of Poland to the peasants of Portugal, can agree more or less upon the special subject of Armenia? Obviously it is not in the least true.... But it is the truth about the Jews....

A more practical comparison would be one between the Jews and gipsies.... Both races are in different ways landless, and therefore in different ways lawless.... [T]he drifting and detached condition may be largely the cause of Jewish usury or gipsy pilfering; but it is not common sense to contradict the general experience of gipsy pilfering or Jewish usury.... [I]f the poor vagabonds of the Romany blood are bullied by mayors... knocked about from pillar to post, nobody raises an outcry that they are the victims of religious persecution... nobody threatens anybody else with the organised indignation of the gipsies all over the world.... No gipsies are millionaires....

[T]he Jewish problem differs from... the gipsy problem in two highly practical respects. First, the Jews already exercise colossal cosmopolitan financial power. And second, the modern societies they live in also grant them vital forms of national political power. Here the vagrant is already as rich as a miser and the vagrant is actually made a mayor.... It is really irrational for anybody to pretend that the Jews are only a curious sect of Englishmen, like the Plymouth Brothers or the Seventh Day Baptists, in the face of such a simple fact as the family of Rothschild.... It is in its nature intolerable... that a man admittedly powerful in one nation should be bound to a man equally powerful in another nation, by ties more private and personal even than nationality... the very position is a sort of treason....

Patriotism is not merely dying for the nation. It is dying with the nation.... Even if we can bring ourselves to believe that Disraeli lived for England, we cannot think that he would have died with her. If England had sunk in the Atlantic he would not have sunk with her, but easily floated over to America to stand for the Presidency....

[...]

I would leave as few Jews as possible in other established nations.... A Jew might be treated as respectfully as a foreign ambassador, but a foreign ambassador is a foreigner.... Whatever we do, we shall not return to that insular innocence and comfortable unconsciousness of Christendom, in which the Victorian agnostics could suppose that the Semitic problem was a brief medieval insanity.... We know that there is a Jewish problem; we only hope that there is a Jewish solution [Zionism].... We cannot believe again that the Jew is an Englishman with certain theological theories, any more than we can believe again any other part of the optimistic materialism whose temple is the Albert Memorial.... Zionism may be attempted and may be a failure; but never again can we ourselves be at ease in Zion...

George Orwell had a very different view of G.K. Chesterton:

AntiSemitism In Britain: [L]iterary Jew-baiting... in the hands of Belloc, Chesterton and their followers reached an almost continental level of scurrility.... Chesterton's endless tirades against Jews, which he thrust into stories and essays upon the flimsiest pretexts, never got him into trouble--indeed Chesterton was one of the most generally respected figures in English literary life...

Notes on Nationalism: [Chesterton's] almost mystical belief in the virtues of democracy did not prevent him from admiring Mussolini. Mussolini had destroyed the representative government and the freedom of the press for which Chesterton had struggled so hard at home, but Mussolini was an Italian and had made Italy strong, and that settled the matter. Nor did Chesterton ever find a word to say about imperialism and the conquest of coloured races when they were practised by Italians or Frenchmen. His hold on reality, his literary taste, and even to some extent his moral sense, were dislocated as soon as his nationalistic loyalties were involved...

And here are some selections from Gopnik:

[R]ight around here is where the Jew-hating comes in. A reader with a casual interest in Chesterton's life may have a reassuring sense, from his fans and friendly biographers, that his anti-Semitism really isn't all that bad... that he had flushed it out of his system by the mid-20s and anyway, that it was part of the time he lived in... Unfortunately, a little reading shows that there's a lot of it, that it comes all the time, and that the more Chesterton tries to justify it the worse it gets....

It's a deeply racial, not merely religious, bigotry; it's not the Jews' cupidity or their class role - it's them. In his autobiography, Chesterton tries to defend himself by explaining what it is that makes people naturally mistrust Jews. All schoolboys recognise Jews as Jews, he says, and when they did so 'what they saw was not Semites or schismatics or capitalists or revolutionists, but foreigners, only foreigners who were not called foreigners.'...

The trouble for those of us who love Chesterton's writing is that the anti-Semitism is not incidental: it rises from the logic of his poetic position. The anti-Semitism is easy to excise from his arguments when it's explicit. It's harder to excise the spirit that leads to it - the suspicion of the alien, the extreme localism, the favouring of national instinct over rational argument, the distaste for 'parasitic' middlemen, and the preference for the simple organ-grinding music of the folk.

He dreamed of an anti-capitalist agricultural state overseen by the Catholic Church and governed by a military for whom medieval ideas of honour still resonated, a place where Jews would not be persecuted or killed, certainly, but hived off and always marked as foreigners... his ideal order was ascendant over the whole Iberian Peninsula for half a century. And a bleak place it was, too...

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