“The Jews” by Hilaire Belloc: The Anti-Semite

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Editor’s note: The following comprises the seventh chapter of The Jews, by Hilaire Belloc (published 1922).

(Continued from Chapter 6: The Cause of Friction Upon Our Side)


To understand any problem one must study not only its real factors as they appear to a reasonable man who sees the whole affair steadily; one must also understand the insanities and distortions the problem has provoked, for they singularly illustrate its character and force.

It is not enough to consider only the actual in any difficulty to be solved, it is necessary also to consider the imaginary; because the legend or illusion is a direct product of the truth and shows how the truth has acted on other minds.

Thus a caricature brings out what we unconsciously know to be present in any personality, emphasizes it, and though false in its exaggeration, forbids us to forget it in the future. Thus any extreme, no matter how false its lack of proportion, is of the highest value to judgment.

In a practical problem of politics there is another most weighty reason for examining extreme and distorted opinion: which is, that in politics we deal not only with real things but with the liking or disliking of these things by living men: their exaggerated or ill-informed affection or repulsion. All statesmanship lies in the apprehension of enthusiasm and indifference.

Now there are in this great political problem presented by the Jewish race in our midst two extremes. One we have already studied: it is the extreme folly of falsehood, of pretending that the problem is not there.

That extreme was an almost universal folly in the immediate past, especially in this country. It is now abandoned by all of our generation save a few people of an official sort, and these will not long maintain an attitude outworn and already ridiculous.

But the other extreme remains to be studied. It is, in our society, quite a recent phenomenon, though it has gained very great strength in recent years and is increasing alarmingly. It is the extreme of hatred. It is the extreme manifested by those who have but one motive in their action towards the Jewish race, and that motive a mere desire for its elimination. It implies that there is no peace possible between the two races; no reasoned political solution. It relies upon nothing but antagonism. It is already very strong, and its adherents believe themselves to be on the eve of a sort of blundering triumph.

Every one who desires to deal with this grave political matter practically, that is, to establish a permanent policy, will be much more concerned with the extreme here examined than with the other extreme, which ignores the problem altogether. For this new extreme of active hatred is flourishing; that other, older extreme no longer functions.

The near future will have to deal, in practical politics, not only with the problem presented by the Jews as an alien power within the State, but (what will probably prove a more difficult matter) with the hater of the Jew, who is claiming, and rapidly achieving, power on his side. The type is as old as the problem; it is two thousand years old. But it waxes and wanes. Its modern name of “Anti-Semite” is as ridiculous in derivation as it is ludicrous in form. It is partly of German academic origin and partly a newspaper name, vulgar as one would expect it to be from such an origin, and also as falsely pedantic as one would expect, but the exasperated mood of which it is a label is very real.

I say the word “Anti-Semite” is vulgar and pedantic: that I think will be universally admitted. It is also nonsensical. The antagonism to the Jews has nothing to do with any supposed “Semitic” race—which probably does not exist any more than do many other modern hypothetical abstractions, and which, anyhow, does not come into the matter. The Anti-Semite is not a man who hates the modern Arabs or the ancient Carthaginians. He is a man who hates Jews.

However, we must accept the word because it has become currency, and go on to the more essential matter of discovering how those to whom it applies are moved, what the result of their action would be if (or when) they could act freely; and, most important of all, of what they are a sign.

The Anti-Semite is a man marked by two main characters. In the first place he hates the Jews in themselves. His motive is not a hatred of their presence in our society. His motive is not the hatred of concealment, falsehood, hypocrisy, corruption and all the other incidental evils of that false position. These things, indeed, irritate him, but they are not his leading motive. His leading motive is a hatred of the Jewish people. He is in intense reaction against this alien thing which he perceives to have acquired so much power in his society. The way in which it has exercised this power especially exasperates him. But he will remain a hater of the Jewish nation when they are despised, insignificant, and neglected, and he will remain a hater of it even if there be then attached to its position no accidents of secrecy, falsehood and financial corruption. The type increases rapidly when Jews have power: it becomes almost universal when they begin to abuse that power. It dwindles as that power declines. But it is always the same and is an index of peril.

The Anti-Semite is a man who wants to get rid of the Jews. He is filled with an instinctive feeling in the matter. He detests the Jew as a Jew, and would detest him wherever he found him. The evidences of such a state of mind are familiar to us all. The Anti-Semite admires, for instance, a work of art; on finding its author to be a Jew it becomes distasteful to him though the work remains exactly what it was before. The Anti-Semite will confuse the action of any particular Jew with his general odium for the race. He will hardly admit high talents in his adversaries, or if he admits them he will always see in their expression something distorted and unsavoury.

When an accusation is made against a Jew he cannot adopt the judicial attitude any more than could that other extremist, the humbug who denies the Jewish problem altogether. Just as that other person, now passing out of our lives, would not admit a Jew to be guilty under the most glaring evidence and was particularly unable to admit guilt in a Jew who might be wealthy; just as he proclaimed the Jews as a whole impeccable, so does the Anti-Semite approach every Jew with a presumption of his probable guilt, so does he exaggerate this prejudice when he has to deal with a wealthy Jew, and so does he consider the whole Jewish race in the lump as probably guilty of pretty well any charge brought against it.

The contrast was very well seen in the Dreyfus case, when the old type of extremist was still strong. He would not look at the evidence against Dreyfus, he would not, if he could help it, mention his race. All he knew was that Dreyfus was and must in the nature of things be innocent and that all the diverse men who testified against him were wicked conspirators. The new type of extremist, then but rising and not yet master, would not listen to the strong evidence in Dreyfus’ favour, refused to re-examine the case after the chief witness had been found guilty of forgery, made up his mind that Dreyfus was necessarily guilty and was convinced that all his supporters were dupes or knaves.

The mere fact that the Jews exist, let alone that they are powerful, poisons life for such a man. He is led by his lop-sided enthusiasm into the most ridiculous errors. In this country every name of German origin at once suggests a Jew to him. Every financial operation, especially if it be of doubtful morality, must certainly have a Jew behind it; wherever a number of partners, Jewish and non-Jewish, are engaged in some bad work (as, for instance, in one of our innumerable Parliamentary scandals), a Jew must always for this sort of person be the prime mover and the evil genius of the whole.

As is the case with every other mania, this mania rapidly obscures the general vision of its victim. His prejudices soon lose proportion altogether. He comes to see the Jew in everything and everywhere, and to accept confidently propositions which he would himself see to be contradictory, could he give a moment’s quiet thought to the matter.

Thus I have heard on all sides in the last few years these strange assertions proceeding from the same source, yet obviously incompatible one with the other: That modern scepticism was Jewish in its origin; that modern superstition, our modern necromancy and crystal gazing and all the rest of it, was Jewish in its origin; that the evils of democracy are all Jewish in their origin; that the evil of tyrannical government, in Prussia, for instance, was Jewish in its origin; that the pagan perversions of bad modern art were Jewish in their origin; that the puerility of bad church furniture was due to Jewish dealers; that the Great War was the product of Jewish armament firms; that the anti-patriotic appeals which weakened the allied armies came from Jewish sources—and so on. It is indeed true that there is a Jewish quality in all these diverse and contradictory things where a Jew mixes in them; just as there is a Scotch, or French, or English quality when a Scot, a Frenchman, or an Englishman is the agent. But to ascribe the whole boiling to the Jew, and to make him the conscious origin of all, is a contradiction in terms.

The Anti-Semite is a man so absorbed in his subject that he at last loses interest in any matter, unless he can give it some association with his delusion, for delusion it is.

In a sense, of course, this state of mind is a sort of compliment to the Jewish nation. If such a preoccupation with them be not amicable it is at least intense, and those against whom it is directed may well regard it as a proof of their importance in the world. But that aspect of the phenomenon is not consoling for the future of either of us—the Jew who now nervously awaits attack, and we who desire to forestall and prevent such attack.

The Anti-Semite is very much more numerous and very much more powerful than might be imagined from the reading of the daily press; for the press is still, for the most part, under the convention of ignoring the Jewish problem and under the terror of the financial results which might follow from a discussion of it. His universal activity is not yet to be read of in the great newspapers; but in conversation and in the practice of daily life we hear of it everywhere.

And here I may digress upon a modern feature which applies to all political problems and therefore to this Jewish problem among others. The great movements of our time have never originated in the press of the great cities. They rise and store up their energies in political cliques, in popular gatherings, and spoken rumours long before they appear in this main instrument for the spreading of news. That is because the press of our great cities is controlled by very few men, whose object is not the discussion of public affairs, still less the giving of full information to their fellow-citizens, but the piling up of private fortune. As these men are not, as a rule, educated men, nor particularly concerned with the fortunes of the State, nor capable of understanding from the past what the future may be, they will never take up a great movement until it is forced upon them. On the contrary, they will waste energy in getting up false excitement upon insignificant matters where they feel safe, and even in using their instruments for the advertisement of their own insignificant lives. In all this, the modern press of our great cities differs very greatly from the press of a lifetime ago. It was not always owned by educated men, but it was conducted by highly educated men, who were given a free hand. It therefore concerned itself with problems of real importance and it debated upon either side real contrasts of opinion upon those matters. This modern press of ours does none of these things; but precisely because it is so reluctant to express real emotion it does, when the emotion is forced upon it, let it out in a flood. Just as it would not tell the truth when a thing was growing, so when it reaches an extreme it will not exercise restraint. On the contrary, if the “stunt” be an exciting one, it will push it (once it has made up its mind to talk of it at all) in the most extreme form and to the last pitch of violence.

We have seen that plainly enough in the monstrous expressions of foreign policy during the last ten years, and we have seen it in the abominable hounding of individuals to which that same press has lent itself.

Now in the matter of Anti-Semitic feeling we shall have, I think, exactly the same phenomenon repeated. That feeling is now ubiquitous. It is spreading with an alarming rapidity, and the increase of its intensity is even more remarkable than the increase in the numbers of its adherents. Sooner or later—and fairly soon, I imagine—the press will give it voice. When it does, it will give it voice, we may be certain, in the most extreme, the most passionate, the most irrational form; and when that happens, in a field where passion is already so wild, God help its victims!

The Anti-Semitic passion, largely based though it is on imaginary things, has adopted one method of action highly practical. It is a method of action closely in touch with reality, and productive of formidable results. I mean its compiling of documents. It has here noted, all over Europe and America, with exactitude, and continues to put upon record, everything which can be said to the detriment of its victims.

It discovered at its origin, presented as a barrier against it, the Jewish weapon of secrecy. The folly of the Jews in using such a weapon was never better shown, for of all defences it is the easiest to break down. The Anti-Semites countered at once by making every inquiry, by collecting their information, by finding out and exposing the true names hidden under the mask of false ones, by detecting and registering the relationships between men who pretended ignorance one of the other; it ferreted all through the ramifications of anonymous finance and invariably caught the Jew who was behind the great industrial insurance schemes, the Jew who was behind such and such a metal monopoly, the Jew who was behind such and such a news agency, the Jew who financed such and such a politician. That formidable library of exposure spreads daily, and when the opportunity for general publication is given there will be no answer to it.

It is the greatest mistake in the world to regard the Anti-Semite in the vast numerical strength he has now attained all over our civilization as wholly unpractical and therefore negligible, as a man who cannot construct a formidable plan of action simply because he has lost his sense of values. While the movement was growing the method of meeting it was always that of ridicule. It was a false method. The strength of Anti-Semitism was and is based not only on intensity of feeling, but also on industry, an industry very accurate in its methods. The Anti-Semitic pamphlets, newspapers and books, which the great daily press is so careful to boycott, form by now a mass of information upon the whole Jewish problem which is already overwhelming and still mounting up: and all of it hostile to the Jews. You will not find in it, of course, any material for the Defendant’s Brief, but as a dossier for the Prosecution it is astonishing in extent and accuracy and correlation.

Now it is to be remembered in this connection that the human mind is influenced by documentation in a special manner. The exact citation of demonstrable things with chapter and verse convinces as can no other method, and the Anti-Semite is ready with such citation on a very large scale indeed, at the first moment when a general publicity, now denied, shall be granted to it.

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Moreover, this reliance of the Jew upon the futility of the Anti-Semitic propaganda omits one very important feature. The Anti-Semitic group is built up of men differing greatly in experience, in judgment and policy. And it is built up of strata differing greatly in the intensity of their hatred. It includes many a man with administrative experience, many a man of great business capacity, of acquired fortune, of talent in affairs. It includes men with a thorough knowledge of European diplomacy; it includes men (in great numbers) with the literary gift of expression for persuading their fellows. Not only is this true, but, as I have said, it includes a large “right wing” which, because they are more restrained in expression than the rest, will exercise a greater weight; men who are not at all blinded by their hatred, though hatred has become their chief motive; men who retain full capacity for organizing a plan of action and for carrying it out. It is true that there is a definite line which divides the Anti-Semite from the rest of those who are attempting to solve the Jewish problem. It is the line dividing those whose motive is peace from those whose motive is antagonism. It is the line dividing those whose object is action, against the Jew, and those whose object is a settlement. But on the Anti-Semitic side of that line—that is, among those whose determination is to suppress and eliminate Jewish influence to the extreme of their power—there are now very many more than the original enthusiasts who created the movement.

The Jews should further remember that today every one outside their own community is potentially an Anti-Semite. Not every one, perhaps not even yet a majority, at least in the directing and wealthier classes, is other than friendly or indifferent to the Jews, but there has grown up in every one not a Jew something of reaction against the Jewish power. It requires but an accident to change this from the latent and slight thing it is in most men to an angry passion. I have noticed that among the most violent of Anti-Semites are those who had passed some considerable portion of their early manhood in ignorance of the whole problem. These come across a Jew unexpectedly in some relation hostile to them—they lose money through some Jewish financial operation, or they connect, for the first time, in middle age, several misfortunes of theirs with a common element of Jewish action, or they find Jews mixed up in some attack on their country: thenceforward they become and remain unrepentant Anti-Semites.

The dupe, when he discovers he has been duped, is dangerous, and there is even a considerable category of those who have suffered nothing, even by accident, at the hand of the Jew, yet who, when they discover what the Jewish power is, feel they have been played with, and grow angry at the trickery.

It has been and will be with Anti-Semitism as with all movements. When they begin they are ridiculed. As they grow they come to be feared and boycotted; but of those that are successful it may be justly said that the moment of success begins when they turn the corner and from a fad become a fashion.

It is still (doubtfully) the fashion to separate oneself from the Anti-Semitic movement. You still hear men, when they write or speak upon the Jewish problem, no matter with what hostility to the Jew, excuse themselves as a rule at the beginning of their remarks by saying, “I am no Anti-Semite.” For some flavour of the old ridicule still attaches to the name. But fashions change rapidly and the new fashion which comes in to support a growing thing, when it does arrive, arrives in a flood.

We can all of us remember the time when the talk of nationalization, the old State Socialist talk, was the talk of a few faddists who were everywhere ridiculed and despised. To-day it is the fashion; and the practice of State control, State support, the universality of State action, is such that it is those who oppose it who are now the faddists and the cranks.

We can all of us remember the day when, in the United States, a prohibitionist was a faddist, and a very unpopular faddist at that. We have seen fashion catch him up with a vengeance.

We can all of us remember the day when the supporters of women’s suffrage in England were a very small group of faddists indeed: we know what has happened there!

The forces driving men towards the Anti-Semitic camp are far stronger than the forces acting upon these old hobbies of women’s suffrage, of prohibition and the rest. They are personal, intimate forces arising from the strongest racial instincts and the most bitter individual memories of financial loss, subjection, national dishonour.

For instance, any German today to whom you may talk of his great disaster will answer by telling you that it is due to the Jews: that the Jews are preying upon the fallen body of the State; that the Jews are “rats in the Reich.” For one man that blames the old military authorities for the misfortunes following the war, twenty blame the Jews, though these were the architects of the former German prosperity, and among them were found a larger proportion of opponents of the war than in any other section of the Emperor’s subjects. That is but one example; you will find it repeated in one form or another in almost every other polity of the modern world.

The Anti-Semite has become a strong political figure. It is a great and dangerous error at this moment to think his policy is futile. It is a policy of action, and a policy which may proceed from plan to execution before we know it.

There used to be quoted years ago—and I have myself quoted it with approval—a famous question put by a close and reasonable observer of public affairs upon the Continent, to the most prominent of Continental Anti-Semites in that day. The question was this: “If you had unlimited power in this matter, what would you do?” The implied answer was that the Anti-Semite could do nothing. He could not make a law which would segregate the Jews for they could escape that law by mixing with those around them. He could not make a law exiling them; for, first, it would be impossible to define them; secondly, even if that were possible, those defined would not be received elsewhere. What could he do? The implication was, I say, that he could do nothing; he was supposed, in the presence of that question, to admit his futility.

Unfortunately we now know that he can do something. The Anti-Semite can persecute, he can attack. With a sufficient force behind him he can destroy. In much of this destruction he would have, in a present state of feeling and in most countries, the mass of public opinion behind him. He could begin with a widespread examination of Jewish wealth and its origins and an equally widespread confiscation. He could use the dread of such confiscation as a weapon for compelling the divulgence of Jewish origins where a man desired to conceal them. He could do this not only in the case of the wealthy men, but, through the terror of wealthy men, over the whole field of the Jewish community. He could introduce registration and with it a segregation of the Jews. Inspired as he would be by no desire for a settlement agreeable to them, but solely for a settlement agreeable to himself, he could aim at that harsh settlement, and even though he might not reach his goal, it is not pleasant to envisage what he might do on his way to it.

But even though the Anti-Semite fail to acquire full power, there remain attached to his great increase in numbers and intensity of feeling the prime questions, “What is the meaning of the thing? Why has it arisen? Why is it spreading? What are the forces nourishing it?”

These are the main questions which those who regret the presence of such a passion in the body politic, which those who are alarmed about it, which those who, like the Jews themselves, must, if they are to avoid a catastrophe, defend themselves against it, would do well to answer. There has not been as yet sufficient time to answer those questions fully or to appreciate this great reaction in its entirety, but we can already judge it in part. The Anti-Semitic movement is essentially a reaction against the abnormal growth in Jewish power, and the new strength of Anti-Semitism is largely due to the Jews themselves.

When this angry enthusiasm re-arose in its modern form, first in Germany, then spreading to France, next appearing, and now rapidly growing, in England, it was novel and confined to small cliques. The truths which it enunciated were then as unfamiliar as the false values on which it also reposed. That universal policy of the Jews against which it is part of my thesis to argue, a policy natural but none the less erroneous, the policy of secrecy, the policy of hiding, at once took advantage of what was absurd in the novelty of Anti-Semitism. The Jew, in spite of his age-long experience of menace and active hostility, in spite of his knowledge of what this sort of spirit had effected in the past, did not come out into the open. He did not act against the new attack with open indignation, still less with open argument, as he should have done. He took advantage of its absurdity, at its beginnings, in the eyes of the general public. He used all his endeavours to make the word “Anti-Semitic” a label for something hopelessly ridiculous, a subject for mere laughter, a matter which no reasonable man should for a moment consider seriously.

For something between a dozen and twenty years this policy was successful. The method though less and less firmly established as time went on, has not yet quite failed. None the less that policy was very ill-advised. It was used not only to ridicule the Anti-Semite, but what was quite illegitimate, quite irrational (and bound in the long run to be fatal), it was used to prevent all discussion of the Jewish question, though that question was increasing every day in practical importance and clamouring to be decided.

It was the instinctive policy with the mass of the Jewish nation, a deliberate policy with most of its leaders, not only to use ridicule against Anti-Semitism but to label as “Anti-Semitic” any discussion of the Jewish problem at all, or, for that matter, any information even on the Jewish problem. It was used to prevent, through ridicule, any statement of any fact with regard to the Jewish race save a few conventional compliments or a few conventional and harmless jests.

If a man alluded to the presence of a Jewish financial power in any region—for instance, in India—he was an Anti-Semite. If he interested himself in the peculiar character of Jewish philosophical discussions, especially in matters concerning religion, he was an Anti-Semite. If the emigrations of the Jewish masses from country to country, the vast modern invasion of the United States, for instance (which has been organized and controlled like an army on the march), interested him as an historian, he could not speak of it under pain of being called an Anti-Semite. If he exposed a financial swindler who happened to be a Jew, he was an Anti-Semite. If he exposed a group of Parliamentarians taking money from the Jews, he was an Anti-Semite. If he did no more than call a Jew a Jew, he was an Anti-Semite. The laughter which the name used to provoke was most foolishly used to support nothing nobler or more definitive than this wretched policy of concealment. Anyone with judgment could have told the Jews, had the Jews cared to consult such an one, that their pusillanimous policy was bound to fail. It was but a postponement of the evil day.

You cannot long confuse interest with hatred, the statement of plain and important truths with mania, the discussion of fundamental questions with silly enthusiasm, for the same reason that you cannot long confuse truth with falsehood. Sooner or later people are bound to remark that the defendant seems curiously anxious to avoid all investigation of his case. The moment that is generally observed, the defence is on the way to failure.

I say it was a fatal policy; but it was deliberately undertaken by the Jews and they are now suffering from its results. As a consequence you have all over Europe a mass of plain men who so far from being scared off from discussing the Jewish problem by this false ridicule are more determined than ever to thrash it out in the open and to get it settled upon rational and final lines.

That would perhaps be no great harm in itself. It would merely mean that a false policy had failed, and that proper frank and loyal discussion would succeed all this hushing up and boycott. Unfortunately the false policy had other and much worse consequences. It exasperated men who had already begun to interest themselves in the political discussion and who would not tolerate undeserved ridicule. It heaped up a world of determined opposition to the Jews. It is not exactly that the Anti-Semite has already won or even is as yet certainly on his way to winning, but he now has his chance of winning. Whereas, some few years ago, he had the tide against him, he is now, through the fault of the Jews themselves, at its turn. He now finds himself on an extreme wing, it is true, but attached to a very large body which is already strongly biassed against the Jews, dislikes their presence among us, and is determined to act against them, not only where they still have great power, but also where that power is visibly declining, and even where they are in danger.

It must not be forgotten, as we survey this growing menace, that a policy which reaches no finality is not on that account futile. It must not be forgotten that in the minds of many men (one might say in the minds of most men) during periods of excitement, a policy of repression, though always failing to reach finality, may still be continuous: it may become a habit and may endure indefinitely in the vast suffering of its victims. The Jews have seen that happen in many a small nationality other than their own. They have seen, no doubt, that continued repression acting in an atmosphere of equally continuous rebellion has usually in the long run failed, but they must admit that the maintenance of such repression, with all its accompaniments of moral and physical torture, confiscation, exile and all the rest, has often been a policy long drawn out. It has been drawn out in some cases for centuries. It is not true that, because a policy does not aim at a complete settlement, therefore it cannot be undertaken and vigorously pursued. It can. Time and again a hostile force has attempted to eliminate opposition, or even contrast, and to eliminate it by every instrument, including massacre itself. Sometimes, very rarely, it has succeeded. Usually it has, in the long run, failed. But in the great majority of cases it has at any rate continued long after its failure was apparent. That is the danger which menaces from the phenomenon I have examined in this chapter. It would be madness in the Jews to neglect that phenomenon. It is now so strong in numbers, intensity of conviction, and passion that it menaces their whole immediate future in our civilization. Its ultimate causes we have explored. Its immediate cause, the cause of its sudden development and present startling growth, we have seen to be the Jewish action in Russia, and to this, which I have already touched upon in my third chapter, where I sketched the sequence of events leading up to the present situation, I will next turn, in order to make a more detailed examination of it. For undoubtedly it is the sudden appearance of Jewish Bolshevism that has brought things to their present crisis.

(Continue to Chapter 8: Bolshevism)

Raised in a home filled with books on Western civilization, P.G. Mantel became a lover of history at an early age. An amateur writer of verse, he makes himself useful as an editor for Men of the West.

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