Continuing on from my previous post in defense of Chesterton…
So what about the double-standard of which I spoke earlier? It is well known in our culture that there is a double-standard when it comes to the treatment of minority groups vs. the majority. Thus, in America prejudice against whites and Christians is generally tolerated, while prejudice against minority races (e.g. blacks and Hispanics) and minority religions (e.g. Hinduism and Judaism) is – rightly – cut down with a righteous indignation.
Perhaps, this double-standard is understandable, but that does not make it right. And certainly Chesterton was far too honest and good natured to play along. Dale Ahlquist credits this aspect of misunderstanding Chesterton to people not being able to recognize a joke.
Those who accuse Chesterton of anti-Semitism often overlook his enormous humor. He did not take himself seriously and in his lightness, his playfulness, his charitableness and good nature, he could point out human foibles and the sublime silliness of his fellow man without condemnation. If he stereotyped the Jews in some of his generalizations, it was because he had a great gift for generalization which was not limited to the Jews. He did the same thing with Cockneys, Irish, Germans, Americans, Moslems, Mormons, Puritans, Prohibitionists, Parliamentarians, Vegetarians, Christian Scientists, Quakers, and all the rest of us who march comically along in the grand human parade. He did not single out Jews when he made fun of their noses or their love of money, but neither did he spare them, because he did not spare anyone else, especially himself. What we love we can laugh at with impunity, which is why a husband and wife can laugh at each other, because, as Chesterton said, they both know they are fools. We need to laugh at ourselves when we are silly (instead of being offended) and we need to repent when we are wrong (instead of rationalizing or defending ourselves).
Right on. As Ahlquist said elsewhere in a different essay, “it seems that the only people who are obsessed with Chesterton’s views on the Jews are those who haven’t bothered to read him. This goes to a point I made in Part I of this blog entry. For those who have read Chesterton, even a fair amount, they will know that this charge of anti-Semitism is very out of place with what else we know about him (and what others, those he knew, said about him).
Speaking of those who knew Chesterton, it turns out that Chesterton was a good friend to many Jews. Now, the “I’m not racist, I have ______ (black, Jewish, Latino, etc.) friends” defense seems rather tired and rather lame. But if it is, in fact, true it is a perfectly legitimate defense. It’s hard to imagine a person who is actually racist against blacks being a good friend with a black guy. Try to imagine a skin-head, card carrying member of the KKK being friends with a black person. It just ain’t going to happen. So when someone is accused of such bigoted feelings, but then it turns out they have good friends that represent the object of the supposed bigotry, the accusation is undercut at the knees.
Chesterton is, famously, an alumnus of the renowned St. Paul’s School in London. The school’s famous graduates include John Milton and Edmond Halley. While at St. Paul’s Chesterton was very involved in the Junior Debating Club. It was in this club that Chesterton befriended several members, many of which became life long friends, and several of which happened to be Jewish. Quoting Ahlquist once again,
And it is significant that fully one-third of the dozen members of the Junior Debating Club were Jewish. The two sets of brothers – Maurice and Lawrence Solomon, and Waldo and Digby D’Avigdor – would not have belonged to the club had it not been for the insistence of that raging anti-Semite, G.K. Chesterton…
Lawrence Solomon (1876-1940) became one of Chesterton’s closest friends. He was a professor of history at the University of London, but when Chesterton moved to Beaconsfield, Lawrence left London and bought a home in Beaconsfield so that he could be close to Chesterton.
Waldo D’Avigdor (1877-1947) became an executive at a large life insurance company. Chesterton dedicated The Innocence of Father Brown to Waldo and his wife, Mildred.
Ahlquist goes on to comment on Chesterton’s relationship with Maurice Solomon and Digby D’Avigdor as well, but I don’t need to go on. You get the idea. Chesterton was not the bigot he is portrayed to be – or he was incredibly coy about his true feelings around his Jewish friends. Not to mention these friends would have to have been wholly unaware of the obvious bigotry that was coming from the pen of Chesterton. Something just doesn’t add up. Either those who accuse Chesterton of anti-Semitism have no idea what they are talking about, and never knew Chesterton personally, or the charge is bogus. I think the evidence I’ve outlined above (and gratefully stolen from the ACS) speaks for itself.
In yet another essay by Dale Ahlquist, he gets into more specifics on the three passages that are “almost always used in the case against Chesterton”. Perhaps, if I find some time I will do a Part III and get into the real refutation of what Ahlquist calls, the “mean and wretched lie” that Chesterton was an anti-Semite.
Of course, it goes without saying that I am enjoying my first issue of Gilbert Magazine. I’ve always enjoyed the work of the ACS, and I heartily recommend joining them in their honorable mission. You can do so at their website, http://chesterton.org/. Click the “Join!” tab at the top.