Reflections on Hilaire Belloc’s “The Jews” (1922) [Part One of Three]

Andrew Joyce
Occidental Observer
September 18, 2014

Hilaire Belloc
Hilaire Belloc

Of all the fallacies that one confronts when engaging with the theme of relations between Jews and Europeans, one of the most easily disproven is the idea that antagonism towards Jews is constantly changing. In the ‘mainstream’ reading of the history of European-Jewish interactions, the friction that exists between Jews and other elements of the society is argued to be linked solely to a Christianity-induced communal psychosis on the part of Europeans. This psychosis is said to undergo almost ceaseless metamorphoses.

The idea is so deep-rooted among organized Jewry that, even today, we are forced to listen to endless bleating about the emergence of a “new anti-Semitism”? This redundant cry resounds almost weekly even though, to the informed observer, it is clear that there isn’t, and has never been, any real change in the essence of the friction between Jews and Europeans. The ‘Jewish Problem,’ if one wishes to employ that archaic terminology, is seemingly as timeless and unchanging as the Jews themselves.

In my examination of Robert Wistrich’s Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred, I pointed to that author’s typically contorted argument that a “virus” existed in Europe,  in which “pagan, pre-Christian anti-Semitism grafted on to the stem of medieval Christian stereotypes of the Jew which then passed over into the post-Christian rationalist anti-Judaism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” Needless to say Wistrich’s phantasm, and similar poorly-fabricated ‘theories,’ are prejudiced at a very early stage by the employment of that fundamentally meaningless term: ‘anti-Semitism.’ By its very nature the term places the Jew or the ‘Semitism’ immediately in the passive position, thereby avoiding confrontation with the true essence of the problem — that there is a mutual friction between two essentially different entities, with divergent group interests and goals.

Concurrent with such prejudices, in mainstream ‘histories’ one finds a wholesale condemnation of many historical writers and their work on the subject of ‘the Jews.’ The gravest sin of these authors was their emphasis on the causes and nature of the inter-ethnic friction, rather than on the ‘martyr-ology’ which today passes for Jewish ‘history.’ Too much analysis, and not enough sympathy. The efforts of these authors were intended to point out the differences, transgressions, and secrecy which together combined to ensure a periodic, and often chaotic, resurgence of Gentile exasperation. I am thinking in particular of specific works produced by Voltaire, Wagner, Bauer, and von Treitschke.

Today, much of the basic meaning of these writings is lost amidst the jargon and squabble of obviously-biased scholars. However, one striking and enduring feature of these works is the uniformity of their argument that, specific provocations aside, the ‘Jewish Problem’ was unchanging. None of these authors operated on the assumption or pretence, made fashionable by western Liberalism, that Jews as a group did not exist. These authors defied an age in which the wisdom was passed down from above that nationality and citizenship was a purely voluntary affair. They dared to insist that ‘the Jew remains a Jew,’ and it is this element that gives such writings a timeless quality and a defiant relevance. The majority of these writings have passed through the centuries unscathed, even their anecdotes finding resonance and familiarity in the present. In this essay I want to share some reflections on one of the lesser-known of these important authors whom ‘history’ would rather we forget. Although now largely forgotten, Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953) was a poet and author of some eminence during his lifetime, and his notable 1922 work, The Jews, remains one of the most lucid, relevant, and balanced examinations of the nature of Jewish-Gentile relations available to us today.

A Brief Biographical Summary

Hilaire Belloc was born at La Celle St Cloud, near Paris, the younger child of Louis Belloc and his wife, Elizabeth Rayner Parkes, daughter of a successful English lawyer. Louis Belloc was French (although with Irish blood from his maternal grandfather); his father was a well-known portrait painter. Hilaire Belloc was born just before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war and a few weeks later the family retreated to England, having taken the last train out of Paris. When the Bellocs returned to the family home after the war they found that it had been ransacked and pillaged. The fortunes of the family declined further when, aged only two years, Hilaire’s father died. Elizabeth and her two children moved to London, later settling in Sussex, where the family lived a life of genteel poverty.

After he left school, Belloc’s energy and restlessness made it hard for him to settle to a career. In succession he attempted to train for the French navy, to become a farmer, and then a draughtsman. In 1892 Belloc undertook military service in the French army as an artilleryman — a necessity if he wished to retain French nationality. It was a highly formative experience, which gave him a lifelong interest in military matters. It also made him aware that he was by now more of an Englishman than a Frenchman. A few years later he decided to become a British subject.

After he returned from France, Belloc was admitted to Balliol College, Oxford, with the financial support of his sister and her fiancé. Belloc excelled and quickly became a star performer in debates at the Oxford Union. He graduated in modern history with first class honors in 1895. After graduation, he applied for a prize fellowship at All Souls College, which would have given him a financially secure niche in Oxford, but his assertive and argumentative demeanor had already made him enemies in the small world of the university. For a while Belloc remained at Oxford, making money by tutoring while unsuccessfully applying for academic posts. He was also launching himself as a writer, and it was in this early phase of his career that, beginning with The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts in 1896, he started to produce the comic and satirical verse which for many readers is his best-known work. He soon began making a living by the labors of his pen, and as a man of immense energy, versatile talents, and wide reading, he worked in many genres.

Belloc eventually reconciled himself to the fact that he would never get a college fellowship in Oxford. In 1899 the family moved to London. Belloc’s literary career was by now gaining momentum, and he began producing a stream of books and articles. He had a sharp, penetrating, dogmatic intelligence, and there were few subjects on which he did not have strong opinions. Belloc soon acquired public literary fame. Most famously, he became known as a polemical apologist for the Roman Catholic Church, which he regarded as the only source of sanity and order in the world. Although Roman Catholicism was central to Belloc’s life and his writings, his beliefs and attitudes were often out of step with the spirit of the Church. His religion was a disciplined matter of the will and the intelligence, but his subjective stance to the world was essentially pessimistic and strikes one as more pagan than Christian.

In 1906 Belloc entered politics as a Member of Parliament on the radical wing of the Liberal Party. It was an unsatisfactory and disillusioning experience. Belloc was never at ease with the practice and assumptions of the British parliamentary system and turned sharply against it after he left the House of Commons in 1910. He was later outraged by the Marconi scandal of 1913, in which several Jewish members of the Liberal government were accused of improper trading in the shares of the Marconi Company. Belloc gradually came to the belief that true democracy was feasible only in small communities such as the Greek city state, and that in large modern societies it inevitably degenerated into an unaccountable oligarchy. He had originally described himself as a republican and supported the ideals of the French Revolution; he now shifted towards a belief in absolute monarchy, or, in effect, dictatorship, as he expounded in The House of Commons and Monarchy (1920).

In 1912 Belloc published a critique of modern society, The Servile State, in which he attacks both capitalism and socialism. His argument was that modern civilization combines notional political freedom with economic slavery, since most people in the modern period possess little or no ‘rooted’ property, and such property is essential for both freedom and well-being. Belloc believed that a rooted life, close to nature, was humanly superior to the massification produced by modern civilization. His ideal was a society of peasant proprietors or craftsmen, negotiating with each other by free contract, where property is widely distributed and not concentrated in a few hands. Two books from the 1920s developed further some of his basic political ideas. The first, Europe and the Faith (1920) sets out his personal reading of European history. The other work is The Jews (1922), an analysis of which will form the main body of this essay.

In his final years Belloc was a public figure with many friends and admirers, though he was lonely, and increasingly wearied by the need to continually write books for money. His despair at personal and national tragedy deepened during the Second World War when his son Peter died on active service in the Royal Marines. After a stroke in 1942 his health declined and he became senile within a few years. He struggled defiantly to retain independence until his death in 1953. Many of Belloc’s numerous books are now forgotten, though Amazon very recently reissued a few, including The Jews, under their cut-price Forgotten Books imprint.

The Jews (1922)

One of my first impressions of The Jews was how closely it seemed to fit the psychological, and even physical, attributes ascribed to its author by some of his earliest biographers. C. Creighton Mandell describes a forceful, rapid, orderly and energetic man whose vigor “appears, in his person, in the massive breadth of his shoulders and the solidity of his neck.” Like its author, The Jews is a compact, powerful, and solidly-built treatise on “the relation between the Jews and the nations around them (vii)”. The book is characterized by its directness and its urgency. This is not a work of prose or literature. It is a work of argument and action. There are few words wasted. Each chapter arrives like a hammer blow against convention.

Belloc begins by outlining in simple language the thesis of his book: the need to address the problem of reducing or accommodating the strain produced by the presence of an alien body, in this case the “small but intense” Jewish population (12), within European culture and society. Belloc writes: “The alien body sets up strains, or to change the metaphor, produces a friction, which is evil both to itself and to the organism which it inhabits (4).” The author then outlines the only two ways whereby the easing of these strains can be achieved. “The first is by the elimination of what is alien. The second is by its segregation. There is no other way (4).” Belloc states that elimination can take three forms: destruction, expulsion or absorption. Segregation can take two forms: a hostile form which takes no account of the needs of that which is segregated, and an alternative form which considers the good of both parties and may be better described by the term “recognition.” Belloc’s book is intended to advocate for the ‘recognition’ solution.

Solution by way of destruction is condemned as “abominable in morals” and “futile in practice (5).” Belloc briefly lists historical instances where angry popular masses have vented violent frustration upon Jews, arguing that this has led to “a dreadful inheritance of hatred upon the one side and of shame upon the other (5).” Expulsion is no better a solution because, although theoretically sustainable, it is weak in practice and “only one degree less odious than the first (6).” It would involve “a mass of individual injustice” and it would be “almost impossible to dissociate it from violence and ill deeds of all kinds (6).” Expulsion is also something that can never be complete. Belloc points out that expulsion has only ever been attempted “at moments and in places where the strength of the Jews has declined; and this invariably means their corresponding strength in some other quarter (6).” Absorption, while vastly gentler than the other means of elimination, is declared impossible. Belloc writes that “there have been generations and even centuries where every opportunity for absorption existed; yet that absorption has never taken place (9).” The body of Jewry “as a whole has remained separate, differentiated, with a strong identity of its own under all conditions and in all places (10).”

Hostile segregation is little more than static expulsion. This is contrasted with the more amicable form of segregation which may be by mutual arrangement: “a recognition, with mutual advantage, of a reality which is unavoidable by other party (10).” Societal recognition would involve a scenario wherein “the Jews on their side shall openly recognize their wholly separate nationality and we on ours shall equally recognize that separate nationality, treat it without reserve as an alien thing, and respect it as a province of society outside our own (5).” Belloc powerfully concludes his opening chapter by arguing that:

If the Jewish nation comes to express its own pride and patriotism openly, and equally openly to admit the necessary limitations imposed by that expression; if we on our side frankly accept the presence of this nation as a thing utterly different from ourselves but with just as good a right to existence as we have; if we renounce our pretences in the matter; if we talk of and recognize the Jewish people freely and without fear as a separate body; if upon both sides the realities of the situation are admitted, with the consequent and necessary definitions which those realities imply, we shall have peace (11).

Belloc argues that opposition to a solution to the problem among Gentiles is for the most part rooted in three falsehoods, which are based on flawed western Liberal conceptions of nationality and citizenship (12):

  • Denial of the existence of the problem.
  • Defining the problem in false terms — e.g., proclaiming it as a religious matter rather than as a national/racial one.
  • Conceding truths by accompanying this with contradictory statements e.g. admitting that the Jew is international but arguing that one can be a patriot and at the same time international.

The second chapter consists of a breakdown of these forms of denial. In the first instance we see those who earnestly hold the conviction “that no Jewish problem exists (18).” Here one finds an ignorant mind beholden to the post-Enlightenment dogma that a Jew is “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 (18).” Since there is no Jewish nation, so the thinking goes, there can be no friction between it and the society in which it dwells. We are all simply individuals. Without friction between groups, there is no problem.

Aside from that seen in simple minds, denial also takes more deliberate and insidious forms. In one piercingly insightful paragraph, Belloc points out the hypocrisy of Western governments who castigated Poles and Romanians for entertaining the idea that Jews were a separate nation and lectured them on ‘minority’ rights, while at the same time proceeding “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 (19).”

The illogical and contradictory nature of denial enabled “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 (19).” Of course, Jews were more than keen to support and encourage the non-ethnocentric view of nationality held by Europeans, because it granted them entry to European societies on very weak terms. These weak terms, which ask next to nothing of Jews, were based on the equally weak principles that all men are equal and that the nation is merely a construct. To Jews, citizenship was a path to the security and special treatment which, Belloc argues, ‘the Jew’ feels “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 this 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 of his own nation. … 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. 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.(26).

Belloc raises an interesting point: the incessant search of Jews for security remains a stark but often overlooked reality in the present. The rise of the National Socialists, and the wave of pent-up exasperation which swept through Europe during World War Two, revealed to Jews the weakness of citizenship, in and of itself, to maintain the fiction of equality and to offer the deep level of security they crave. Confronted with a mass expression of European ethnocentrism, the Jew could find no appropriate mask. Not one of religion, for the guise of ‘Christian’ no longer offered protection and the opportunity of crypsis. The state now comprised a citizenry of racial brothers rather than ‘fellow citizens’ of the Jews. For the first time in the long game of musical chairs they had played since arriving in Europe, the music had stopped playing — and the Jews were left without a chair.

From the rubble of World War II, a new world was to be fashioned. No longer was citizenship for the Jews enough — now Jewish security was to be sought by regulating non-Jews and imposing limits on the exercise of their citizenship. Since World War II this has taken the form of everything from engineering the demographic profile of Western nations, to ‘hate speech’ laws and lobbying for gun control. One of the crucial functions of The Occidental Observer has been to catalog instances where, under the guise of equal citizenship and other Western liberal fads, Jewish organizations have been moving towards achieving immunity from criticism, and water-tight levels of Jewish security, in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, France and many other nations. Thus a process which began following the Enlightenment with Jewish admission to citizenship, has slowly evolved to the gradual diminution of the citizenship of non-Jews and the ascendance of Jews to privileged protected status throughout the West.

The parallel with the position of Jews under feudalism is astonishing. Rather than ensuring the equality of everyone under the law, Western Liberalism’s non-ethnocentric citizenship has simply acted as the conduit for the transfer of power within society.

Further, I would argue that no amount of repressive legislation would satisfy these Jewish organizations or make them feel truly safe. The craving they feel is so deep-rooted it seems more like an unquenchable thirst. The slow chipping away of our freedoms suggest that the continued indulgence of this thirst by our own elites will only be to our detriment in the long run.

But, of course, the problem is not simply one of our own making, and Belloc has much to say on the Jews themselves.