“The Jews” by Hilaire Belloc: The Cause of Friction Upon Our Side

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

(Continued from Chapter 5: The Special Causes of Friction)


Having concluded a brief review of the causes of friction upon the Jewish side, we must turn to the cause of friction upon our own.

At first sight it might seem that the task was superfluous. Action and reaction are equal and opposite. If you have shown why A irritates B, you have also presumably shown why B irritates A. Or again, if you regard an alien minority in a community as an irritant (which it nearly always is and which it certainly is in the case of the Jews), you have, it would seem, sufficiently defined the position and need not trouble to examine what part the irritated play in the matter. What is parasitical at the worst preys upon the general body, at the best disturbs it. The general body would appear passive. It has no part in the business but to react against the cause of the disturbance and if possible get rid of it. As that cause is none of its making, one need not seek for any responsibility on its side.

The house is ours: the Jew is an intruder (an objector may say), and there is an end of it.

But the situation is not as simple as that. Quite apart from the fact that the Jew will certainly not allow such a description of his activity, there is the obvious truth that where you are dealing with two human factors, that is, with two factors which have a common nature and therefore common duties, you are also dealing with two known and analysable organic things. You are also dealing with two sets of wills, and these wills we know to be free, in spite of sophists. A man and a group of men can do well or ill, both absolutely, and relatively to some particular question in hand; and no group of men can escape responsibility in relation to any other group with which it is in contact. It is certain that we play a part ourselves in this quarrel between us and the Jews. It is a part which is in a measure inevitable, because it proceeds in a measure from the mere contrast between two racial characters. But there is a remaining part which can be remedied by the action of the will.

Though we cannot change that element which is inherent in our nature any more than the Jews can change theirs, yet an understanding of it makes all the difference; and we can certainly change those elements which are inherent in our wills.

The proof of this is that in the long story of the relations between the two races, there have been, in various times and places, those exceptional chapters of calm to which I have alluded on an earlier page, and these could not have been maintained had not the causes of friction been modified on either side, but especially upon ours.

All that cause of friction which arises from the mere contrast of character may be set down very briefly. It is included in what has just been said on the general causes, the difference in nature between the Jews and ourselves. If their form of courage, their form of generosity, their form of loyalty is, as it is, of a different quality from ours; if their defects show the same difference of quality or colour; if we perpetually feel, as we do feel, the friction caused by this contrast, so do they, presumably, feel a corresponding friction in their dealings with us. We shall neither of us be able to change that state of affairs. We must admit it, and we must try to understand its nature.

Above all, we must not take it for granted that a difference from ourselves is in itself an evil in another. That is a point to be insisted upon. When we are dealing with inanimate nature, or with unintelligent animate nature, we do not ascribe motive, for there is no motive to ascribe. A man does not go about with bitterness in his heart against wasps, though the purpose of the wasp is very different from the purpose of the man and their interests clash. He does not call the wasp wicked, nor, save as a relief to his feelings, give it moral names. He does not condemn the wasp. Still less does he condemn all wasps, or anything else in nature around him that works against his interest. But when he has to deal with other human beings, man at once begins to ascribe a motive. He must do so, because he knows that motive is the spring of all human action, including his own. When that motive differs from his, contrasts with his and is therefore in any degree inimical to his, he is inclined to ascribe an evil motive. All that is a truism as old as the hills.

If you have not to live with those who thus differ from you there is no great harm done, but if you have to accept them as part of your life, it is a different matter. It is then essential to the order of the State that this illusion of directly antagonistic motive should be watched and restrained.

But all this concerns rather our duty in the matter than the mere cause of friction.

The first cause of friction is that contrast which is the same whether we describe it from the alien’s point of view, as has just been done, or from our own.

The causes of friction which lie within the province of the will, and which are, therefore, directly a matter for reform, are of another kind. The first of them undoubtedly is our disingenuousness in our dealings with the Jew.

This disingenuousness extends from our daily habit to our treatment of history. It is more deep-rooted than most people are aware of, more widespread than those who are aware of it like to admit. It affects our relations with the Jews just as much when we are attempting to defend their position in the State as when we attack them. Indeed, I think it affects our relations more when we are trying to defend them than when we attack them. The only two kinds of men who show perfect candour in their dealings with the Jews are the completely ignorant dupe who can hardly tell a Jew when he sees one and who accepts as a reality the old fiction of there being no difference except a difference of religion (which he has been taught to think unimportant) and the person called an “Anti-Semite.”

Both these types certainly say what they think. That is why in their heart of hearts the Jews are grateful to both, although both are intellectually contemptible. The Jew feels, I think, when he meets either of these types, “At any rate I know where I am.” But the great bulk of men, especially among the more cultivated, are grossly disingenuous in all their dealings with the Jews. It is the great fault of our side which corresponds to the fault of secrecy upon theirs. And when you have allowed for routine, for the necessities of social intercourse, for convention and the rest, it remains a deliberately conceived moral evil.

A man and his friend meet in the street a Jew whom they know; they exchange ordinary civilities with him; they pass on. The moment his back is turned each comments to his companion upon the Jewish character of the man they have just left, and almost invariably to his disadvantage.

Now to blame this way of going on does not imply that when you meet your Jewish acquaintance you are to offend him by saying to his face the kind of things you say behind his back; that would be a monstrous piece of cynicism and, in practice, insane. We do not act thus in any relation of life. But it does mean that in the attitude, the gesture, the tone of the voice, we play a deliberately false part in our relations with Jews, which we do not play in our relations with any other people. A peculiar pretence, a pretence only practised with Jews, is elaborately maintained. There is no allusion to or admission of our real attitude, our sense of contrast. We therefore suffer an unnatural strain; and we relieve of the strain immediately afterwards by an exaggeration of the contrast we have pretended to ignore. It is blameworthy in a special degree because it is peculiar to that one case. If we admitted the Jew as a Jew, talked to him of the things that were uppermost in his mind and in ours, and treated him as we treat any other foreigner in our midst, there would have been no harm done. As it is the lie has done a double harm—to him and to us. To us by an exasperation which is entirely our own fault, to him by deceiving him as to his true position.

The Jews who mix with the wealthiest classes to-day, especially in London, have no true idea of their real position in the eyes of their guests; and the fault is with their guests.

I have cited an obvious daily example, but it is the least important, for it is passing and shallow. This disingenuousness spreads to relations more permanent. A man goes into business with a Jew, accepts him as a partner, works with him constantly and yet nourishes in his heart a disloyalty to that relationship. It is a phenomenon of constant recurrence and it poisons the relations between the two races. If a man is prepared to enter into one of these permanent relations with another man who differs fundamentally from himself in tradition and human character, he must face the consequences. One of those consequences, if he is to remain an honest man, is the acceptation of the position with all that it implies. He cannot have the advantage—as he hopes to have it—of the Jewish sobriety, the Jewish tenacity, the Jewish lucidity of thought, the Jewish international relationships, the Jewish opportunity of advancement through the aid of his fellows, and at the same time secretly indulge in a contempt and dislike for his companion, and relieve that suppressed feeling in his absence. Yet that is what men are doing daily throughout the business world.

Listen to the conversation of such a man as, having thus engaged in intimate commercial relationship with the Jew, falls upon misfortune. He spends the rest of his life denouncing the Jews as a race and his own companion in misfortune in particular. He has no right to do it. It is undignified; it is puerile, but, worst of all, it is unjust. He presumably knew what he was doing when he entered into what could not but be a difficult relationship. The consequences of that relationship he should accept whether they turn out well for him or ill.

We find something perhaps even worse to note in the attitude of those who are successful in their business through an alliance with the Jew. For in this case gratitude should be added to justice, and that gratitude is very rarely shown. On the contrary, the non-Jewish partner is for ever in a mood of complaint about his share. He is perpetually in a grievance that he has been overreached, or that he has been bullied, or that he has been robbed, save in those very rare cases where the success is so overwhelming, the fortunes so rapid, that there is no room for a grudge. In almost every other case that I have come across there is that element of recrimination—behind the Jew’s back—even under conditions of success.

I know very well what can be said upon the other side. It can be said that what I have called upon a former page the “ruthlessness” of the Jew in commercial relations, as well as his tenacity and all the rest, make the contest unequal; that in a partnership between Jew and non-Jew the non-Jew is, as a fact, often overreached and is, as a fact, often left (as the pretty vocabulary of modern commerce has it) “in the cart.” But pray why did the non-Jew enter into the alliance at all? Was it not precisely in order that he should benefit, if he could, by those very qualities which he later denounces? He expected that those qualities which make for the success of the Jew in commerce would also benefit himself. He knew that there must always be a certain amount of competition, even within such an alliance. He backed himself to watch his own interests under conditions which he knew perfectly well when he entered into them. He has not a leg to stand upon in quarrelling with the results of the relationship, for in so doing he is merely quarrelling with his own judgment and, for the matter of that, his own plot.

If a man cannot tolerate the contrast between the Jewish race and our own, or if he regards that race as possessing energies which will invariably defeat him in the competition of commerce, then let him keep away from a Jewish alliance altogether. It is the simplest plan. But to immix himself with the Jewish commercial activity and then to grumble at the results is despicable.

All this is worse, of course, when one is dealing with relations even closer than those of commerce. Those relations are numerous in the modern world, and disingenuousness in them takes the worst possible form. Men, especially of the wealthier classes of the gentry, will make the closest friends of Jews with the avowed purpose of personal advantage. They think the friendship will help them to great positions in the State, or to the advancement of private fortune, or to fame. In that calculation they are wise. For the Jew has to-day exceptional power in all these things. They therefore have the Jew continually at their tables, they stay continually under the Jew’s roof. In all the relations of life they are as intimate as friends can be. Yet they relieve the strain which such an unnatural situation imposes by a standing sneer at their Jewish friends in their absence. One may say of such men (and they are to-day an increasing majority among our rich) that the falsity of their situation has got on their nerves. It has become a sort of disease with them; and I am very certain that when the opportunity comes, when the public reaction against Jewish power rises, clamorous, insistent and open, they will be among the first to take their revenge. It is abominable, but it is true.

And this truth applies not only to friendships, it even applies to marriages. Marriage between Christian and Jew is, in that rank, an affair of interest, and the bitterness the relation breeds is excessive.

This disingenuousness, then—lack of candour on the part of our race in its dealings with the Jew—a vice particularly rife among the wealthy and middle classes (far less common among the poor), extends, as I have said, to history. We dare not, or will not teach in our history books the plain facts of the relations between our own race and the Jews. We throw the story of these relations, which are among the half-dozen leading factors of history, right into the background even when we do mention it. In what they are taught of history the schoolboy and the undergraduate come across no more than a line or two upon those relations. The teacher cannot be quite silent upon the expulsion of the Jews under Edward I or upon their return under Cromwell. A man cannot read the history of the Roman Empire without hearing of the Jewish war. A man cannot read the Constitutional History of England without hearing of the special economic position of Jews under the Mediaeval Crown. But the vastness of the subject, its permanent and insistent character throughout two thousand years; its great episodes; its general effect—all that is deliberately suppressed.

How many people, for instance, of those who profess a good knowledge of the Roman Empire, even in its details, are aware, let alone have written upon the tremendous massacres and counter-massacres of Jews and Europeans, the mass of edicts alternately protecting and persecuting Jews; the economic position of the Jew, especially in the later empire; the character of the dispersion?

There took place in Cyprus and in the Libyan cities under Hadrian a Jewish movement against the surrounding non-Jewish society far exceeding in violence the late wreckage of Russia, which today fills all our thoughts. The massacres were wholesale and so were the reprisals. The Jews killed a quarter of a million of the people of Cyprus alone, and the Roman authorities answered with a repression which was a pitiless war.

One might pile up instances indefinitely. The point is, that the average educated man has never been allowed to hear of them. What a factor the Jew was in that Roman State from which we all spring, how he survived its violent antagonism to him and his antagonism to it; the special privilege whereby he was excepted from a worship of its gods; his handling of its finances—all the intimate parallel which it affords to later times is left in silence. The average educated man who has been taught, even in some fullness, his Roman History, leaves that study with the impression that the Jews (if he had noticed them at all) are but an insignificant detail in the story.

So it is with history more recent and even contemporaneous. In the history of the nineteenth century it is outrageous. The special character of the Jew, his actions through the Secret Societies and in the various revolutions of foreign States, his rapid acquisition of power through finance, political and social, especially in this country—all that is left out. It is an exact parallel to the disingenuousness which we note in social relations. The same man who shall have written a monograph upon some point of nineteenth century history and left his readers in ignorance of the Jewish elements in the story will regale you in private with a dozen anecdotes: such-and-such a man was a Jew; such-and-such a man was half a Jew; another was controlled in his policy by a Jewish mistress; the go-between in such-and-such a negotiation was a Jew; the Jewish blood in such-and-such a family came in thus and thus—And so forth: but not a word of it on the printed page!

This deliberate falsehood equally applies to contemporary record. The newspaper reader is deceived—so far as it is still possible to deceive him—with the most shameless lies. “Abraham Cohen, a Pole”; “M. Mosevitch, a distinguished Roumanian”; “Mr. Schiff, and other representative Americans”; “M. Bergson with his typically French lucidity”; “Maximilian Harden, always courageous in his criticism of his own people” (his own being the German) … and the rest of the rubbish. It is weakening, I admit, but it has not yet ceased.

Now this form of falsehood corrodes, of course, the souls of those who indulge in it. But that does not concern the matter of this book. Where it comes in as a cause of friction between the two races, and a removable cause of friction, is in the effect it has upon the Jewish conception of their position in our society. It falsifies that conception altogether. It produces in the Jew a false sense of security and a completely distorted phantasm of the way in which he is really received in our society. The more this disingenuousness is practised the more the surprise which follows upon its discovery and the more legitimate the bitterness and hatred which that surprise occasions in those of whom we are the hosts. It is not only true of this country; it is true of every other country in which the Jew has been harboured and for a time protected. Invariably he has complained that his awakening was rude, that he was bewildered by what seemed to him a novel and inexplicable feeling against him; that he had thought he was among friends and found himself suddenly among treacherous enemies. All this would have been saved to others in the past, and will be saved to ourselves in the near future, if this pestilent habit of falsehood were eliminated.

Disingenuousness is, on our side, the first main cause of the friction between the two races.

The second main cause of friction upon our side is the unintelligence of our dealing with the Jews. That unintelligence is allied, of course, to the disingenuousness of which I have spoken; but it is a separate thing none the less, and we can learn from the Jews its opposite, for their dealings with us are always intelligent. They know what they are driving at in those relations, though they often misunderstand the material with which they deal. But we, over and over again, would seem not even to know what we are driving at.

What could be more unintelligent, for instance, than the special forms of courtesy with which the Jew is treated? I am not talking of the elaborate, false friendship which I have just dealt with under the head of disingenuousness, but of the genuine attempts at courtesy towards this alien people—the courtesy expressed by those who have no intimate relations with them, and do not desire to have intimate relations with them. It is almost invariably, in those who commonly avoid the Jews, a courtesy which expresses patronage on the surface of it. It may be compared with the courtesy that rich men show to poor men—as offensive a thing as there is in the world.

And how unintelligent is our dealing with any particular Jewish problem; for instance, the problem of Jewish immigration! We mask it under false names, calling it “the alien question,” “Russian immigration,” “the influx of undesirables from Eastern and Central Europe,” and any number of other timorous equivalents. The process is one of cowardly falsehood, but the falsehood is not more remarkable than the stupidity, for no one is taken in and least of all the Jews themselves.

This unintelligence extends to many another field. How unintelligent are the efforts of the writers who would, as it were, make amends to the Jews for former persecution by putting imaginary Jew heroes into their books. In this particular we offend less than did our fathers of the Victorian period. Dickens’ offence was grave. He disliked Jews instinctively; when he wrote of a Jew according to his inclination he made him out a criminal. Hearing that he must make amends for this action, he introduced a Jew who is like nothing on earth—a sort of compound of an Arab Sheik and a Family Bible picture from the Old Testament, and the whole embroidered on an utterly non-Jewish—a purely English character.

How unintelligent are the various defences of the Jew by the non-Jew, even with the best intentions! You will hear people tell you solemnly, as a sort of revelation, that there are kindly, witty Jews, Jews who are good prize-fighters or good fencers. I well remember one old gentleman who tried hard to convince me (as though I needed convincing) that there were Jews who had taste. He said to me, “I do not myself go into Jewish houses, but my son does, and he assures me that much of the decoration is in good taste.” How unintelligent is the idea that because a man’s motives are not open and because he has not the same reasons for serving the State that you have, therefore he is to be perpetually under suspicion! How still more unintelligent is the conception that, although he is alien, yet you cannot use him in certain special services for the State.

This unintelligence is specially apparent in the treatment of the Jew in his international relations. The Jew is a nomad, the non-Jew a man with a fixed habitation. The Englishman, the Frenchman and the rest are perpetually approaching the Jew as though he also had a fixed habitation. We seem never to be able to get over the shock of surprise when we learn that a particular Jew abroad is the cousin, or nephew, or brother of another Jew with a different name in England, or with another Jew with yet another name in Pinsk or San Francisco. Yet, surely, this is of the very essence of the Jewish position. We ought to take it for granted that the Jew is thus nomadic, international, spread all over the world, migratory, as we take the same thing for granted in birds of passage. To adopt the attitude which we almost invariably do and to feel a shock of surprise when we discover what must in the nature of things be the most regular feature in the civic situation of the Jew, is to fall into that most stupid of all stupid errors, the reading of oneself into others.

I remember the horror and scandal with which men whispered their discovery that a man with a German name, who had got into trouble a few years ago, was the first cousin of a Cabinet Minister. Why not? They seemed to be struck all of a heap by the dreadful revelation that the names borne by Jews were not always their original names, that rich and important men often have poor relations, and that poor relations often get embarrassed.

In terms of their own society the thing would have been simple enough. They would have felt no surprise to hear that some man of our own race, who had made a rapid fortune and purchased a political position, suffered from a disreputable relative, also of our own race. But because in the case of the Jew there were the two unusual elements of a foreign name and distant origin, they were bewildered. They even thought it in some way specially scandalous. They had not appreciated the material with which they were dealing, and that is the mark of unintelligence. But the cream of unintelligence, the form in which unintelligent treatment of him most exasperates the Jew, is undoubtedly that typical, that ceaseless case of the man who is perpetually crying out against Israel, and purposing nothing—the man who nourishes a sterile grievance; who has not even the clarity or vigour to attempt suppression; who would be horrified at persecution, almost equally horrified at any breach of convention, and yet continues to cry out against a state of affairs which he does nothing to put right and for which he has not even a theoretic solution.

The last of the main causes of friction between the Jews and ourselves is lack of charity, and that in the simplest form of refusing to go half way to meet the Jew, and of refusing to put ourselves in the shoes of the Jew so as to understand his position in our society and his attitude towards it. It is a universal fault just as common in those who daily associate with, live off, and fawn upon Jews as in those who keep aloof from them. It never seems to occur to anyone on our side who has to deal with the Jewish problem, to make the imaginative effort required. And yet we have the parallel ready to our hands. The Jew feels among us, only with far greater intensity, what we feel when we are resident in a foreign country—a sense of exile, a sense of irritation against alien things, merely because they are alien; a great desire for companionship and for understanding, yet a great indifference to the fate of those among whom he finds himself; an added attachment, not, indeed, to his territorial home, for he has none, but to his nation. If we could perpetually bear in mind that parallel, the friction on our side would be greatly modified.

There are many Jewish societies which ask nothing better than to have occasional addresses from non-Jews. Those addresses are given, those Societies are visited, but not nearly as much as they should be.

There is a great Jewish literature—I mean a great mass of books dealing specially with the Jew’s position from the Jew’s own point of view. It is not read or known. I may be told that the fault of all this is largely that of the Jews themselves on account of their use of secrecy. I do not think the objection applies. With all his use of secrecy the Jew is there present among us for us to approach, if we will, and to understand as best we can. And I say that the approach is not made.

It is an effort, of course. No one knows it better than I; for on more than one occasion when I have addressed a Jewish audience I have found myself the object of very severe language. But it is an effort which every one ought to make who admits that there is a Jewish problem at all, and it is an effort very rarely made. It is not only an effort because it involves the crossing of a gulf, it is also an effort because we find this alien thing in many ways repugnant to us. Yet people make that effort for the purposes of the State continually where other races are concerned. It is far more important that they should make it where the Jews are concerned. For those other alien races, administrated for the moment by officials of our own race, will not permanently be so administered. The relations between them and us are for a brief time, and they are relations that constantly change. The Jew is with us always; and the type of contact between his race and ours will remain much the same through an indefinitely long future as they have through so very long a past.

*         *         *         *         *

Here, then, is the summary, as I see it, of the causes of friction between the two races.

First, a general cause, which lies in the contrasting nature of the two and upon the irritant effect of that contrast. This cause is not to be eliminated, though its effects may be modified. It is a profound contrast and a sharp irritant constant in its activity. The essential is to recognize its real nature, not to give to it general terms of faults and vices, but to appreciate the difference of quality involved: above all, not to tell lies about it and pretend it is not present.

Secondly, as to special causes of friction—I mean causes which on their side, as on ours, can be, if not eliminated, at any rate modified—I suggest that the most prominent are: 1. The sense of superiority which, though it cannot be destroyed, can at least be checked in expression and which, by a pretty irony, is equally strong upon both sides. 2. The use of secrecy by the Jews themselves; partly as a weapon of defence, partly as a method of action, always to be deplored, and of a nature particularly exasperating to our temperament. 3. Upon our side, a persistent disingenuousness in our treatment of this minority. Unintelligence in their treatment: the whole made worse by an indifference or lack of charity, a refusal to make the effort necessary for meeting and understanding as well as we can the race which must always be with us and which is yet so different from our own.

Now these causes of friction permanently present tend to produce what I have called the tragic cycle: welcome of a Jewish colony, then ill-ease, followed by acute ill-ease, followed by persecution, exile and even massacre. This followed, naturally, by a reaction and the taking up of the process all over again.

In our own time we have seen, quite lately, the succession of the second to the first of these stages; we have passed from welcome to ill-ease. That passage threatens a further passage from the second to the third; from the third to the terrible conclusion.

We feel quite secure today from the last extreme of this cycle. We are certain it will never come to persecution: that is still inconceivable. But it is not inconceivable everywhere: and no society is free from change. Some now alive may live to see riots even in this quiet polity and worse in newer or less settled states.

Such a catastrophe is to be avoided by every effort in our power and a solution to the problem presented must imperatively be sought. But in passing we should note, for the consideration of those who may doubt the acuteness of the problem and the immediate practical necessity for a solution, the presence of a phenomenon which amply proves that it is acute and that the solution is necessary. That phenomenon is the presence today of a new type, the Anti-Semite, the man to whom all the Jews are abhorrent.

It is a phenomenon which has increased prodigiously; its rate of increase is accelerating, and as a warning of the peril, as a proof of its magnitude, I propose to examine that phenomenon closely in my next chapter.

(Continue to Chapter VII: The Anti-Semite)

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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