The charge of anti-Semitism

The most devastating accusation against G.K. Chesterton is that he was an anti-Semite. It has been repeated so many times that not only do his enemies assume it be fact, so do many of his friends. They ignore the fact that Chesterton was a great defender of the Jews, from his schoolboy days to the day of his death. So why does the charge persist? Two reasons. One, it is a convenient way to discredit Chesterton altogether. The charge itself is as good as a guilty verdict; it suggests a fundamental flaw in Chesterton that must therefore make all of his writing suddenly suspect, especially his defense of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. Two, it ensures that Chesterton’s honest (and sympathetic) criticisms of the Jews will not be taken seriously, but will be immediately dismissed or ignored as anti-Semitic ravings.

Chesterton was puzzled by the charge of anti-Semitism in his own lifetime. He thought it strange that he could criticize everyone except the Jews. (And he did criticize everyone, most of all, himself. And his criticisms of the Jews are lightweight compared to what he said about Moslems, Buddhists, Christian Scientists, Germans, and, more surprisingly, Americans.)

The main problem is that no one bothers examining the evidence. Much of the so-called support for the charge is taken from this book. However, the quotations are carefully lifted out of context or else blatantly misquoted. There is not space to deal with all of them here, but in any case, it is a crime against Chesterton to characterize his statements as hostile or hateful.