July 26th, 2012Chesterton on Jews and Germansby Joseph Pearce
Ahead of next week's Chesterton Conference in Reno, Nevada, I thought I' post my response to three questions related to the great GKC which were sent to me yesterday:
1. Why was GKC suspicious of Prussia?
In some respects, Chesterton seems to have inherited his sometimes somewhat shrill dislike of all things Prussian from his good friend, Hilaire Belloc. After Belloc and Chesterton first met in 1900, GKC became, for a time, a disciple of Belloc. He admits as much with regard to Belloc's political and economic ideas, later to become known as distributism, and it is clear that Chesterton also embraced and accepted Belloc's understanding of European history, which was essentially as Francophile as it was Prussophobe. It would be tempting to see Belloc's historical predilections as a direct result of the fact that his family was forced into exile by the advancing Prussian army during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the year of Belloc's birth. The family home was vandalized by the Prussian troops and it would be understandable were Belloc to harbour a grudge against the enemy of his native land. Such a view of Belloc's motives would not do him justice. He was a trained historian and devout Catholic who understood, quite correctly, the pivotal role that Prussia played in the Protestant Reformation and the persecution of the Church carried out by Bismarck during the secular fundamentalist kulturkampf. Belloc's and Chesterton's suspicions of Prussia were borne out by the German imperialism which was a contributing cause of the First World War and by the rise of the Third Reich.
2. How did GKC plan to take the excellent idea of distributism and put it in motion as a political movement without it becoming corrupted?
Chesterton took practical steps to promote distributism through his editing of G. K.'s Weekly and through the writing of articles and also books such as The Outline of Sanity. He was involved with the Distributist League, the political movement which sought to popularize distributism. He was painfully aware that he was not cut out to be a politician or a magazine editor but worked on the basis that if a thing is worth doing it's worth doing badly! Chesterton would have known that all political movements are subject to corruption but that the political philosophy that inspired such movements stood on its own merits and therefore transcended its abuse by individual distributists.
3. How would GKCs relationship with the Jews be summarized?
Any summary would not do justice to the intricacies and nuances relating to GKC's relationship with the Jews. He was more hostile to Jewish corruption, as he perceived it, in his early years than he appeared to be in later years. The softening of his attitude towards the Jews was prompted by his horror at Nazi anti-semitism. Chesterton is emphatically not an anti-semite in the sense in which that word is genrally understood, a fact to which several leading and prominent Jews have testified. For a fuller discussion of this issue, I refer you to my biographies of Chesterton and Belloc and the essay "Fascism and Chesterton" in my book, Literary Giants, Literary Catholics.