Editor’s note: The following comprises the second chapter of The Jews, by Hilaire Belloc (published 1922).
CHAPTER II: THE DENIAL OF THE PROBLEM
I have stated the Problem. There is friction between the two races—the Jews in their dispersion and those among whom they live. This friction is growing acute. It has led invariably in the past (and consequently may lead now) to the most fearful consequences, terrible for the Jew but evil also for us. Therefore that the problem is immediate, practical and grave. Therefore a solution is imperative.
But I may be—and indeed I shall be—met at the outset by the denial that any such problem exists. Such was the attitude of all our immediate past; such is the attitude of many of the best men to-day on both sides of the gulf which separates Israel from our world.
I must meet this objection before going further, for if it be sound, if indeed there is no problem (save what may be created by ignorance or malice), then no solution is demanded. All we have to do is to enlighten the ignorant and to repress the malicious: the ignorant, who imagine there is an alien Jewish nation among them, the malicious, who treat as though they were alien, men who are, in fact, exactly like ourselves and normal fellow-citizens.
I do not here allude to the great mass of convention, hypocrisy and fear which pretends ignorance of a truth it well knows. I am speaking of the sincere conviction, still present in many—particularly those of the older generation—that no Jewish problem exists.
It is honestly denied by a certain type of mind that there is any such thing as a Jewish nation; there can therefore be no friction between it and its hosts: the thing is a delusion. Let us examine that mind and see whether the illusion is on our side or no.
It was the attitude familiar to the nineteenth century, and agreeable to that one of its political moods in which it found itself best satisfied: the negative attitude of leaving the Jewish nation unrecognized; of creating a fiction of single citizenship to replace the reality of dual allegiance; of calling a Jew a full member of whatever society he happened to inhabit during whatever space of time he happened to sojourn there in his wanderings across the earth. That was the attitude agreeable on the political side to everything which called itself “modern thought.” Such was the doctrine proposed by the great men of the French Revolution. Such was the attitude accepted almost enthusiastically by Liberal England, that is, by all the dominant public life of England during the Victorian period. Such was the policy which once obtained universal favour throughout the whole of our Western civilization. That was the attitude which the West actually attempted to impose upon Eastern States, and the last effect of its rapidly-declining credit is to be found in certain clauses of the Treaty of Versailles: for that attitude is still the official attitude of all our governments.
In the Treaty of Versailles and the other treaties following the Great War the Jews of Eastern Europe were put under a sort of special protection, but not in a straightforward and positive fashion. The word “Jew” was never blurted out—it was replaced by the word “minority”—but the intention was obvious. The underlying implication was: “We, the Western governments, say there is no Jewish problem. The idea of a Jewish nation is a delusion and the conception of the Jew as something different from a Pole or a Rumanian is a mania. If you in the East are still benighted in this matter, at any rate we will prevent your ignorance or obsession from leading you to persecution.” The same men who made these declarations proceeded to erect a brand-new highly-distinct Jewish state in Palestine, with the threat behind it of ruthlessly suppressing a majority by the use of Western arms.
Both actions were the consequence of that confused position I have just defined (history will call it the last example), which, though much weakened in public opinion, was still honestly taken for granted by some of the Parliamentarians who framed the Treaty, and was certainly felt to be of personal advantage to all: the position that there is no Jewish nation when the admission of it may inconvenience the Jew, but very much of a Jewish nation when it can advantage him.
Those who defended this position did so from various standpoints; but these may all be regarded as so many degrees in a certain way of looking at the Jewish people. It was till lately the attitude of the majority of educated Frenchmen, Englishmen and Italians. It was, so to speak, the official political attitude of Western Europe with its parliamentary governments and other corresponding institutions.
The most extreme form of this opinion was to be found in people who spoke of the Jew as nothing other than a citizen with a particular religion. A state would be dominantly Catholic or Protestant, but it would contain smaller religious bodies, eager minorities, for which a place had to be found, side by side with the more or less indifferent majority. Catholic France had a five percent and wealthy Huguenot minority. Protestant England had a seven percent and poor Catholic minority. Protestant Holland had a large minority—more than a third—of Catholics, and so forth. It had become odious to nineteenth century thought that religious differences (which it regarded as nothing more than shades of doubtfully-held private opinion) should be the concern of the State. A large number of people thought of the Jews, not as a race, but only as a religion; and regarding all religion thus, they concluded that it could involve no diminution of citizenship.
At the other end of the scale you had public men who fully appreciated the ultimate difficulties which would certainly arise from this inconclusive settlement of the matter. These regarded the Jews as a quite distinct nationality, and even as a nationality likely to clash with the national needs of its hosts; they would even (in private) express their hostility towards that nationality. None the less, they thought it must be treated in public life as though it did not exist. These men were most emphatic in their private letters and conversation—that the Jewish problem was not a religious but a national one. Nevertheless (they said) it was necessary today to mask that problem by a fiction and to pretend that the Jew was just like everybody else save for his religion. All other solutions (they said) demanded a knowledge of history and of Europe not to be expected of the public at large; again, the Jews were so powerful that if they desired the fiction to be supported they must be humoured. At any rate, recourse must be had, in our time at least, to this make-believe.
To the new and already antagonistic attitude towards the Jews now rising so strongly everywhere throughout Western Europe (which is in part a reaction from the nineteenth century position), this old-fashioned way of denying the Jewish race or ignoring its existence by a fiction appears morally odious, and we wonder today why it commanded universal support. It involved a falsehood, of course, often a conscious falsehood; and it was also undignified; for there appears to our generation something as grotesque in denying the existence of the Jewish nation as in denying our own. But that the fiction was maintained sincerely, and that the grotesque and undignified side of it went unperceived, we can assure ourselves in a few moments’ converse with any one of that older generation which maintained it and still represents it among us.
It might have continued to flourish for yet another generation, at any rate among the leading classes of this commercial community, but for two new developments which broke it down, each development the result of so large a toleration. The first was the growth of numbers, the second of influence. What made that old falsehood glaring and that old grotesque apparent was the enormous increase throughout all the West of the Jewish poor, accompanied by the enormous increase of the power exercised by the Jewish rich in public affairs. Men grew angry at finding themselves pledged to a pretence that Jews were not, when their presence was everywhere unavoidable, in the streets, and in the offices of government. The fiction was possible when a very few financiers, mixed with and lost in the polite world, were alone concerned. It became impossible in the face of the vast new ghettos of London, Manchester, Bradford, Glasgow, and the formidable and growing list of Jewish and half-Jewish Ministers, Viceroys, ambassadors, dictators of policy.
This contempt for and irritation with what I have called the nineteenth century attitude, the Liberal attitude, was already apparent before the end of that century. It was muttering during the South African war in England and the Dreyfus case in France; it became vocal in the first years of this century, especially in connection with parliamentary scandals; with the Bolshevist rising in 1917 it became clamorous. It will certainly grow. We already have a formidable minority prepared to act against the interest of the Jew. It will in all probability become, and that shortly, a majority. It may appear at any moment, on some critical occasion, on some new provocation, as an overwhelming flood of exasperated opinion.
All the more does it behoove us to treat the old-fashioned neutrality and fiction fairly; to examine it even with a bias in its favour; to set down all that can be said in its defence before we reject it, as I think we must now all reluctantly reject it. I say “reluctantly”; for after all it was the fixed mood of our fathers, who did great things: we feel their reproach when we abandon it, and there are still present with us very many of our elders to whom our new anxiety is abhorrent.
We must remember in the first place that the treating of the Jew in the West as no Jew at all, but a plain citizen like the rest, worked well enough for a time. One might almost say that there was no Jewish problem consciously present to the mind of the average educated Englishman or Frenchman, Italian, or even western German, between, say, the years 1830 and 1890. A very small body of Jews in England and France, in Italy and the rest of the West, were vaguely associated with wealth in the popular mind; a large proportion of them were distinguished for public work of various kinds; many of them with beneficence. The presence of such men could not conceivably lead to political difficulties—or at least, so it then seemed. The stories of persecution that came through from Eastern Europe, even examples of friction between great bodies of Jews there and the natives of the States where they happened to find themselves, were received in the West with disgust as the aberrations of imperfectly civilized people.
Even in the valley of the Rhine, where the Jew was more numerous and better known “in bulk,” the convention of the more civilized West was accepted. The doctrines, the abstraction of the French Revolution in this matter had prevailed.
Here any reader with an historical sense will at once point out that the space of time I have just quoted—1830 to 1890—is ridiculously short. Any treatment of a very great political problem, centuries old, which works for only sixty years and then begins to break down is no settlement at all. But I would reply that this period was especially a time in which historical perspective was lost. Men, even highly educated men, in the nineteenth century, greatly exaggerated the foreground of the historical picture.
You may note this in any school manual of the period, where all the four centuries of our Roman foundation are compressed into a few sentences, the dark ages into a few pages, the whole vast story of the Middle Ages themselves into a few chapters; where the mass of the work is invariably given to the last three centuries, while of these the nineteenth is regarded as equal in importance to all the rest put together.
This false historical perspective is apparent in every other department of their political thought. For instance, although capitalism, huge national debts, the anonymity of financial action and the rest of it, did not begin to flourish fully until after the first third of the nineteenth century, and though anyone might (one would think) have been able to discover the exceedingly unstable character of that society, yet our fathers took it for granted as an eternal state of things. Your Victorian man with £100,000 in railway stock thought his family immutably secure in a comfortable income, and what he thought about capitalism he thought also about his newly-developed anonymous press, his national frontiers, his tolerance of this, his intolerance of that, his parliaments and all the rest of it. It is no wonder if, under such a false sense of permanence and security, he lost historical perspective in this other and graver matter we are here discussing.
But apart from the argument that what I have called the nineteenth century or Liberal attitude towards the Jews worked well for its little day (at least, in Western Europe), there is also the fact that under special circumstances something very like it has worked well for much longer periods in the past. Take, for example, the position of the Jews in such a town as Amsterdam. The reception of a Jew as a citizen exactly like others, though he was present in very large numbers, the fiction denying his separate nationality, has held for generations in that community and it has procured peace and apparent contentment upon both sides. And what is true to this day of Amsterdam has been true in the past for long periods in the life of many another commercial and cosmopolitan society: that of Venice, notably, and, in a large measure, that of Rome; in that of Frankfort, of Lyons, and of a hundred cities at special times. It was true of all Poland for generations.
One might add to the list indefinitely, but always with the uncomfortable knowledge, as one wrote, that the experiment invariably broke down in the long run.
Again, there was to be advanced for this Liberal attitude of the nineteenth century the very powerful argument that while to one party in the issue, the Englishman, the Frenchman, the Italian, etc., it seemed well enough and certainly did no harm, it was highly acceptable to the other. The Jew as a rule not only accepted but welcomed this particular way of dealing with what he at any rate has always known to be a very grave problem indeed. For the Jew has a racial memory beyond all other men. The arrangement seemed to give him all the security of which his racial history (a thing of which every Jew is acutely conscious) had made him ardently desirous. I think we should add (though the phrase would be quarrelled with by many modern people) that this fiction satisfied the Jew’s sense of justice. For it is no small part of the problem we are examining that the Jew does really feel such special treatment to be his due. Without it he feels handicapped. He is, in his own view, only saved from the disadvantage of a latent hostility when he is thus protected, and he is therefore convinced that the world owes him this singular privilege of full citizenship in any community where he happens for the moment to be, while at the same time retaining full citizenship in his own nation.
Now, if in any conflict an arrangement seems workable enough to one party and is actually acclaimed by the other, it is not lightly to be disregarded.
If, for instance, a man and his tenant quarrel about the tenure of a field upon a very long lease, the tenant caring little about nominal ownership but very much about his inviolable tenure, the landlord quite agreeable to a very long lease but keen on retaining the titular ownership, that quarrel can be easily settled. One could give any name to the tenant’s position other than the name of “owner,” yet satisfy all his practical demands. A rough parallel exists between such a position and the attempt at a settlement which marked the nineteenth century.
What the Jew wanted was not the proud privilege of being called an Englishman, a Frenchman, an Italian, or a Dutchman. To this he was completely indifferent (for his pride lay in being a Jew, his loyalty was to his own, and what is more, he might at any moment fold up his tent and go off to another country for good). What the Jew wanted was not the feeling that he was just like the others—that would have been odious to him—what he wanted was security; it is what every human being craves for and what he of all men most lacked: the power to feel safe in the place where one happens to be. On the other hand, his hosts had not yet found any practical inconvenience in granting this demand. They did not know the historical argument against it, or they thought it worthless, because they thought the past barbarous and no model for their own action. So a compromise was arrived at, the fiction was solidly established, and the Jew, though remaining a Jew, became a German in Hamburg, a Frenchman in Paris, an American in New York, as he wandered from place to place, and for a long lifetime no one felt himself much the worse for the false convention.
The next argument in favour of this policy was the fact that it drew upon a number of ideas, each one of which at some time or another had been taken for granted by our ancestors in each one of their numerous (but unsuccessful) attempts to deal with the problem after their own fashion.
For instance, a modern objector says: “What rubbish to treat Jews as though they merely represented a religion! We all know they represent a nation!” But all manner of legislation in the past, even in times and places where the difference between Jews and Europeans was most marked, has perpetually fallen back upon that very point of religion alone. Over and over again you find it the test of policy: in early, and again in fifteenth century Spain, under Charlemagne’s rule in Gaul, in early mediaeval England, at Byzantium, and to this day in Eastern parts where the Jew is subject to perpetual interference. Exception was in all these made for the Jew who abandoned his religion. His nation was left unmentioned.
It is pertinent to quote such a simple and recent example as the body of Prussian officers, now happily extinct. It was a standing rule in the smarter Prussian regiments (I believe in nearly all) that no Jew could get his commission. The Prussian system left the granting of commissions, in practice, to the existing members of the regimental staff; they treated their mess as a Club and they blackballed Jews. But they would admit baptized Jews, and did so in considerable numbers. Was the Jew less of a Jew in race through his baptism? Throughout all the centuries that religious criterion, which the modern reformer cries out against as a piece of humbug and a mask for the real political problem, has been the criterion taken. It is true that the modern solution did not attempt a religious segregation. On the contrary, the Liberal thought of the nineteenth century held all such segregation in abhorrence; but it had this in common with the older fashion, that it made religion the point of interest, and to that extent masked the more real point of nationality and allegiance.
Lord Palmerston, making his famous speech on the sanctity of a Greek Jew’s bedstead, and insisting that the said Greek Jew was an English citizen; Lord Palmerston carefully avoiding the word “Jew” and pretending throughout his speech that the Greek Jew in question was as much an Englishman as himself, was in a very different mood from a Spanish fifth-century Bishop admitting a Jew to Office on condition of his conversion. Yet the two had this in common, that neither regarded the Jew as the member of another nation, but each (for very different reasons) as no more than the member of a religion.
To Palmerston, this Greek Jew about whose bedstead he made his famous speech, and onto whose bedstead hangs to this day the phrase “Civus Romanus Sum,” was above all a fellow-citizen. He may have seemed to Palmerston a doubtful sort of Englishman because his home was Greece, but he certainly did not seem doubtful because he happened to be a Jew. Palmerston would have thought that only a matter of private opinion, and would no more have regarded a Jew as an alien on account of this private opinion than he would have regarded as alien a fellow-Member of the House of Commons who preferred roast mutton to boiled.
Take, again, another aspect of the nineteenth century liberal idea: the recognition of citizenship. You have had that over and over again in the attempted solutions of the past. It was the very essence of the Roman method. For though the Government of the Roman Empire was much too concerned with realities and with enduring work to accept any fiction in the matter, or to pretend in practice that the Jew was not a Jew; though, on the contrary, the Romans recognized at once the gulf between the Jews and themselves, and recognized it not only by their cruelty to the Jew but also by the privileges they granted him; yet it was always their policy to admit citizenship as the primary distinction. The Jew who could claim that he was a full Roman citizen was, in the eyes of a Roman Tribunal, much more important in that capacity than in his social capacity as Jew. His “point,” as we should say in our modern slang, was his citizenship, not his Judaism. So, I say, this solution has for a further argument the fact that in one part or another it is in touch with the various attempts our race has made in the past to solve the problem.
There is yet another argument strongly in favour of the Liberal fiction which was attempted in the immediate past, and thought to have been successfully established. It is the consonance of that fiction with the whole body of modern custom and law, with the whole mass of modern economic and social habit.
We travel so much, we mix so much, our economic activities are at once so complicated, so interlocked, and (unhappily) for the most part so secret, that any other way of meeting the Jews would have seemed—at any rate if it had appeared in the shape of a positive law—a monstrous anachronism. A man must meet his friends’ friends and treat them as a normal part of the general society in which he moves. As the Jew permeated the society of the West everywhere (small though his numbers were in the West), as he everywhere intermarried with Europeans of the wealthier class, to insist in his presence upon his separate nationality would have been odious; it would have been like making a guest feel out of place in one’s home.
What is more, to by far the greater part of the wealthier and governing classes of the Western States the difference of race was so far masked that it had almost come to be forgotten. Sometimes a shock would revive it. An English squire would find, for instance, that a relation of his by marriage, whose Jewish name and descent he had never bothered about, was cousin to, and in close connection with, a person of a totally different name—an Oriental name—mixed up in some conspiracy, say, against the Russian State. Or he would learn with surprise that a learned University man with whom he had recently dined was the uncle of a socialist agitator in Vienna. But the shock would be a passing one, and the old mood of security would return.
With the growth of plutocracy the anomaly of treating Jews as individuals separate from the rest of the community increased. The most important men in control of international finance were admittedly Jewish. The Jew’s international position made him always useful and often necessary in the vast international economic undertakings of our time. The anonymity which had come to be taken for granted throughout modern capitalism made it seem absurd or impossible, always highly unusual, and probably futile, to search for a separate Jewish element in any particular undertaking.
There is one last argument for this Liberal policy, which has a strong practical value, though it is exceedingly dangerous to use it in the defence of that policy because it cuts both ways. It is the argument that the Jew ought to be thus treated as a citizen exactly like the rest and given no position either of privilege or disability, because he does, as a fact, mould himself so very rapidly to his environment.
When men say—as they are beginning to do—that a Jew is as different from ourselves as a Chinaman, or a negro, or an Esquimaux, and ought therefore to be treated as belonging to a separate body from our own, the answer is that the Jew is nothing of the kind. Indeed, he becomes, after a short sojourn among Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans or Americans, so like his hosts on the surface that he is, to many, indistinguishable from them; and that is one of the main facts in the problem.
That is the real reason why to the majority of the middle classes in the nineteenth century, in Western countries, the Jewish problem was nonexistent. Were you to say it of any other race—negroes, for instance, or Chinamen—it would sound incredible; but we know it in practice to be true, that a Jew will pass his life in, say, three different communities in turn, and in each the people who have met him will testify that he seemed just like themselves.
I have known a case in point which would amuse my non-Jewish readers but perhaps offend my Jewish readers were I to present it in detail. I shall cite it therefore without names, because I desire throughout this book to keep to the rule whereby alone it can be of service, that nothing offensive to either party shall be introduced; but it is typical and can be matched in the experience of many.
The case was that of the father of a man in English public life. He began life with a German name in Hamburg. He was a patriotic citizen of that free city, highly respected and in every way a Hamburger, and the Hamburg men of that generation still talk of him as one of themselves.
He drifted to Paris before the Franco-German War, and, there, was an active Parisian, familiar with the life of the Boulevards and full of energy in every patriotic and characteristically French pursuit; notably he helped to recruit men during the national catastrophe of 1870-71. Everybody who met him in this phase of his life thought of him and talked of him as a Frenchman.
Deciding that the future of France was doubtful after such a defeat, he migrated to the United States, and there died. Though a man of some years when he landed, he soon appeared in the eyes of the Americans with whom he associated to be an American just like themselves. He acquired the American accent, the American manner, the freedom and the restraints of that manner. In every way he was a characteristic American.
In Hamburg his German name had been pronounced after the German fashion. In France, where German names are common, he retained it, but had it pronounced in French fashion. On reaching the United States it was changed to a Scotch name which it distantly resembled, and no doubt if he had gone to Japan the Japanese would be telling us that they had known him as a worthy Japanese gentleman of great activity in national affairs and bearing the honoured name of an ancient Samurai family.
The nineteenth century attitude almost entirely depended upon this marvellous characteristic in the Jews which differentiates them from all the rest of mankind. Had that characteristic power of superficial mutation been absent, the nineteenth century policy would have broken down as completely as the corresponding Northern policy towards the negro broke down in the United States. Had the Jew been as conspicuous among us, as, say, a white man is among Kaffirs, the fiction would have broken down at once. As it was, all who adopted that policy, honestly or dishonestly, were supported by this power of the Jew to conform externally to his temporary surroundings.
The man who consciously adopted the nineteenth century Liberal policy towards the Jews as a mere political scheme, knowing full well the dangers it might develop; the man only half conscious of the existence of those dangers; and the man who had never heard of them but took it for granted that the Jew was a citizen just like himself, with an exceptional religion—each of those three men had in common, aiding the schemes of the one, supporting the illusion of the other, the amazing fact that a Jew takes on with inexplicable rapidity the colour of his environment. That unique characteristic was the support of the Liberal attitude and was at the same time its necessary condition.
The fiction that a man of obviously different type and culture and race is the same as ourselves, may be practical for purposes of law and government, but cannot be maintained in general opinion. A conspiracy or illusion attempting, for instance, to establish the Esquimaux in Greenland as indistinguishable from the Danish officials of the Settlement, would fail through ridicule. Equally ridiculous would be the pretence that because they were both subjects of the same Crown an Englishman in the Civil Service of India was exactly the same sort of person as a Sikh soldier. But with the Jews you have the startling truth that, while the fundamental difference goes on the whole time and is perhaps deeper than any other of the differences separating mankind into groups; while he is, within, and through all his ultimate character, above all things a Jew; yet in the superficial and most immediately apparent things he is clothed in the very habit of whatever society he for the moment inhabits.
I say that this might seem to many the last and strongest argument in favour of the old-fashioned Liberal policy, but I repeat that it is a dangerous argument, for it cuts both ways. If a food which disagrees with you looks exactly like another kind of food which suits you, you might use the likeness as an argument for eating either sort of food indifferently. You might say: “It is silly to try to distinguish; one must admit, on looking at them, that they are the same thing”; but it would turn out after dinner a very bad practical policy.
There is indeed one last argument which to me, personally, and I suppose to most of my readers, is stronger than all the rest, for it is the argument from morals.
If the Liberal attitude of the nineteenth century had proved a stable one, omitting that element in it which is a falsehood and therefore a factor of instability, one could retain the rest; then it would satisfy two appetites common to all men—appetite for justice and the appetite for charity.
Here is a man, a neighbour present in the midst of my society. I put him to inconvenience if I treat him as an alien. I like him; I regard him as a friend. To treat such a man as though he were, although a friend, something separate, not to be admitted to certain functions of my community, offends the heart, as it also offends the sense of justice. Such a man may possess a great talent for, say, administration. Like all men possessed of a great talent, he must exercise it. You maim him if you do not allow him to exercise it. A rule forbidding him to take part in the administration of the society in which he finds himself, or even a feeling hindering him in such activities, creates, not only in him, but in those who are his hosts, a sense of injustice; and if it were possible to adopt a policy wherein the separate character of the Jew should be always in abeyance, so that he could be at the same time an Englishman and yet not an Englishman, or a Frenchman and yet not a Frenchman, then we should have a settlement which all good men ought to accept.
Unfortunately that solution is false because, like many appeals to a virtuous instinct, it is sentimental. We call “sentimental” a policy or theory which attempts to reconcile contradictions. The sentimental man will equally abhor crime and its necessary punishment; disorder and an organized police. He likes to think of human life as though it did not come to an end. He likes to read of the passion of love without its concomitant of sexual conflict. He likes to read and think of great fortunes accumulated without avarice, cunning or theft. He likes to imagine an impossible world of mutually exclusive things. It makes him comfortable.
Now we commit the fault of the sentimental man (the gravest of practical faults in politics) when we cling at this late date to a continuance of the old policy. You cannot have your cake and eat it too, you cannot at the same time have present in the world this ubiquitous fluid, yet closely organized Jewish community, and at the same time each of the individuals composing it treated as though they were not members of the nation which makes them all they are. You cannot at the same time treat a whole as one thing and its component parts as another. If you do, you are building on contradiction and you will, like everybody who builds on contradiction, run up against disaster.
* * * * *
I am minded to give the reader another anecdote (again taking care, I hope, to suppress all names and dates to prevent identification, which might irritate my Jewish readers or too greatly interest their opponents). As a younger man it was my constant pastime to linger at the bar of the House of Lords and listen to what went on there. I shall always remember one occasion when an aged Jew, who had begun life in very humble circumstances, had accumulated a great fortune and had purchased his peerage like any other, rose to speak in connection with a resolution or with a bill dealing with “aliens”—the hypocrisy of the politician, and the popular ferment against the rush of Jewish immigrants into the East End between them gave rise to that non-committal name. This old gentleman very rightly pushed all such humbug aside. He knew perfectly well that the policy was aimed at “his people”—and he called them “my people.” He knew perfectly well that the proposed change would introduce interference with their movement and would subject them to humiliation. He spoke with flaming patriotism, and I was enthralled by the intensity, vigour and sincerity of his appeal. It was a very fine performance and, incidentally (considering what the man was!), it illustrated the vast difference between his people and my own. For a life devoted to accumulating wealth, which would have killed nobler instincts in any one of us, had evidently seemed to him quite normal and left him with every appetite of justice and of love of nation unimpaired. He clinched that fine speech with the cry, “What our people want is to be let alone.” He said it over and over again. I am sure that in the audience which listened to him, all the older men felt a responsive echo to that appeal. It was the very doctrine in which they had been brought up and the very note of the great Victorian Liberal era, with its national triumphs in commerce and in arms.
Well, within a very few years the younger members of that very man’s family came out in Parliamentary scandal after scandal, appearing all in sequence one after the other—a sort of procession. They had been let alone right enough! But they had not let us alone. I ask myself, sometimes, How would it sound if some years hence any one of those descendants—having by that time been given his peerage (for they are rich men and all of them in professional politics)—should return to that cry of his ancestor and ask to be “let alone”? There would be no response then in the breasts of the contemporaries who might hear him. Manners will so much have changed in this regard that he would be interrupted. But I do not think that my hypothetical descendant of that rich old Jew is likely to make any such speech. I think that when the time comes for making it, the whole idea of “letting alone” will be quite dead.
I have quoted this old man’s speech with no invidious intention but only as an actual example of the way in which the “letting alone” of this great question breaks down. I am as familiar as any Jewish reader of mine with names that have dignified public life in the past, Jewish names, Jewish peers: and I recall in particular the honoured name of Lord Herschell to the friendship between whose nearest and my own I preserve a grateful and sacred memory.
* * * * *
But to return to the failure of the sentimental argument.
The sentimental argument fails because it involves contradictions—that is, incompatibility of fact.
Even if one had not this strictly rational principle to guide one, there is the whole of history to guide one. It is true that the pretence of common citizenship has worked now for a shorter, now for a longer, period, but never indefinitely. You always come at last to a smash. The Jew is welcomed in mediaeval Poland; he comes in vast numbers; all goes well. Then the inevitable happens and the Jew and the Pole stand apart as enemies, each accusing the other of injustice, the one crying out that he is persecuted, the other that the State is in danger by alien activity within. Spain alternatively pursued this policy, and its opposite; the whole history of Spain—the original seat of Jewish influence in Europe after the general exile—is a history of alternating attempts at the sentimental solution and a savage reaction against it: the reaction of the man, who, fighting for his life, strikes out violently in terror of death. That is the history not only of Spain but of every other country at one time or another.
Indeed, we have before our very eyes to-day the beginning of exactly such a reaction in the West of Europe and the United States of America, and it is the presence of that reaction which has caused this book to be written. The attempt at a Liberal solution has already failed in our hands; if it had not failed there would be no more to be said, or, at any rate, we could postpone the discussion until the actual difficulty began. But we have only to look around us to see that, after these few years, this one lifetime, during which the experiment has flourished in the highest part of civilization, it is already breaking down. Everywhere the old questions are being asked, everywhere the old complaints are being raised, everywhere the old perils are reappearing. We must seek some solution, for if we fail to find it we know from the past what tragedies are in store for us both. There is a problem, a most direct and urgent problem. Once it is recognized, a solution of it is necessarily demanded.
But it is not enough to show that the mere denial of the existence of that problem—the old nineteenth century Liberal policy—was false and bound to break down. It is just as necessary, if we appreciate how practical and immediate the problem is, to state it and illustrate it from contemporary events. It is not enough to show that the attempted Liberal policy has failed. One must also, before trying to discover a solution, analyse the nature of the problem as it presents itself at the moment, and that is what I propose to do in the next chapter.