G.K. Chesterton.

The New Jerusalem online

. (page 20 of 21)
Online LibraryG.K. ChestertonThe New Jerusalem → online text (page 20 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

He is a self-respecting man who does not despise himself
for being a usurer. In one word, he regards usury as normal.
In that word is the whole problem of the popular impression of the Jews.
What Shakespeare suggested about the Jew in a subtle and sympathetic way,
millions of plain men everywhere would suggest about him in a
rough and ready way. Regarding the Jew in relation to his ideas
about interest, they think either that he is simply immoral;
or that if he is moral, then he has a different morality.
There is a great deal more to be said about how far this is true,
and about what are its causes and excuses if it is true.
But it is an old story, surely, that the worst of all cures is
to deny the disease.

To recognise the reality of the Jewish problem is very vital for
everybody and especially vital for Jews. To pretend that there is no
problem is to precipitate the expression of a rational impatience,
which unfortunately can only express itself in the rather irrational
form of Anti-Semitism. In the controversies of Palestine and Syria,
for instance, it is very common to hear the answer that the Jew is no
worse than the Armenian. The Armenian also is said to be unpopular
as a money-lender and a mercantile upstart; yet the Armenian figures
as a martyr for the Christian faith and a victim of the Moslem fury.
But this is one of those arguments which really carry their own answer.
It is like the sceptical saying that man is only an animal,
which of itself provokes the retort, "What an animal!"
The very similarity only emphasises the contrast. Is it seriously
suggested that we can substitute the Armenian for the Jew in
the study of a world-wide problem like that of the Jews? Could we
talk of the competition of Armenians among Welsh shop-keepers,
or of the crowd of Armenians on Brighton Parade? Can Armenian usury
be a common topic of talk in a camp in California and in a club
in Piccadilly? Does Shakespeare show us a tragic Armenian towering
over the great Venice of the Renascence? Does Dickens show us
a realistic Armenian teaching in the thieves' kitchens of the slums?
When we meet Mr. Vernon Vavasour, that brilliant financier, do we
speculate on the probability of his really having an Armenian name
to match his Armenian nose? Is it true, in short, that all sorts
of people, from the peasants of Poland to the peasants of Portugal,
can agree more or less upon the special subject of Armenia? Obviously it
is not in the least true; obviously the Armenian question is only
a local question of certain Christians, who may be more avaricious
than other Christians. But it is the truth about the Jews.
It is only half the truth, and one which by itself would be very unjust
to the Jews. But it is the truth, and we must realise it as sharply
and clearly as we can. The truth is that it is rather strange
that the Jews should be so anxious for international agreements.
For one of the few really international agreements is a suspicion
of the Jews.

A more practical comparison would be one between the Jews
and gipsies; for the latter at least cover several countries,
and can be tested by the impressions of very different districts.
And in some preliminary respects the comparison is really useful.
Both races are in different ways landless, and therefore in
different ways lawless. For the fundamental laws are land laws.
In both cases a reasonable man will see reasons for unpopularity,
without wishing to indulge any task for persecution.
In both cases he will probably recognise the reality of a racial fault,
while admitting that it may be largely a racial misfortune.
That is to say, the drifting and detached condition may be largely
the cause of Jewish usury or gipsy pilfering; but it is not common sense
to contradict the general experience of gipsy pilfering or Jewish usury.
The comparison helps us to clear away some of the cloudy evasions
by which modern men have tried to escape from that experience.
It is absurd to say that people are only prejudiced against the money
methods of the Jews because the medieval church has left behind a hatred
of their religion. We might as well say that people only protect
the chickens from the gipsies because the medieval church undoubtedly
condemned fortune-telling. It is unreasonable for a Jew to complain
that Shakespeare makes Shylock and not Antonio the ruthless money-lender;
or that Dickens makes Fagin and not Sikes the receiver of stolen goods.
It is as if a gipsy were to complain when a novelist describes a child
as stolen by the gipsies, and not by the curate or the mothers' meeting.
It is to complain of facts and probabilities. There may be good gipsies;
there may be good qualities which specially belong to them as gipsies;
many students of the strange race have, for instance, praised a
certain dignity and self-respect among the women of the Romany.
But no student ever praised them for an exaggerated respect
for private property, and the whole argument about gipsy theft can
be roughly repeated about Hebrew usury. Above all, there is one
other respect in which the comparison is even more to the point.
It is the essential fact of the whole business, that the Jews do not
become national merely by becoming a political part of any nation.
We might as well say that the gipsies had villas in Clapham,
when their caravans stood on Clapham Common.

But, of course, even this comparison between the two wandering peoples
fails in the presence of the greater problem. Here again even the attempt
at a parallel leaves the primary thing more unique. The gipsies do
not become municipal merely by passing through a number of parishes,
and it would seem equally obvious that a Jew need not become English
merely by passing through England on his way from Germany to America.
But the gipsy not only is not municipal, but he is not called municipal.
His caravan is not immediately painted outside with the number and name
of 123 Laburnam Road, Clapham. The municipal authorities generally
notice the wheels attached to the new cottage, and therefore do not
fall into the error. The gipsy may halt in a particular parish,
but he is not as a rule immediately made a parish councillor.
The cases in which a travelling tinker has been suddenly made
the mayor of an important industrial town must be comparatively rare.
And if the poor vagabonds of the Romany blood are bullied by mayors
and magistrates, kicked off the land by landlords, pursued by policemen
and generally knocked about from pillar to post, nobody raises
an outcry that _they_ are the victims of religious persecution;
nobody summons meetings in public halls, collects subscriptions
or sends petitions to parliament; nobody threatens anybody else
with the organised indignation of the gipsies all over the world.
The case of the Jew in the nation is very different from
that of the tinker in the town. The moral elements that can
be appealed to are of a very different style and scale.
No gipsies are millionaires.

In short, the Jewish problem differs from anything like the gipsy
problem in two highly practical respects. First, the Jews already
exercise colossal cosmopolitan financial power. And second,
the modern societies they live in also grant them vital forms of national
political power. Here the vagrant is already as rich as a miser
and the vagrant is actually made a mayor. As will be seen shortly,
there is a Jewish side of the story which leads really to the same
ending of the story; but the truth stated here is quite independent
of any sympathetic or unsympathetic view of the race in question.
It is a question of fact, which a sensible Jew can afford to recognise,
and which the most sensible Jews do very definitely recognise.
It is really irrational for anybody to pretend that the Jews
are only a curious sect of Englishmen, like the Plymouth Brothers
or the Seventh Day Baptists, in the face of such a simple fact
as the family of Rothschild. Nobody can pretend that such
an English sect can establish five brothers, or even cousins,
in the five great capitals of Europe. Nobody can pretend that the
Seventh Day Baptists are the seven grandchildren of one grandfather,
scattered systematically among the warring nations of the earth.
Nobody thinks the Plymouth Brothers are literally brothers,
or that they are likely to be quite as powerful in Paris or in
Petrograd as in Plymouth.

The Jewish problem can be stated very simply after all.
It is normal for the nation to contain the family.
With the Jews the family is generally divided among the nations.
This may not appear to matter to those who do not believe in nations,
those who really think there ought not to be any nations.
But I literally fail to understand anybody who does believe in patriotism
thinking that this state of affairs can be consistent with it.
It is in its nature intolerable, from a national standpoint,
that a man admittedly powerful in one nation should be bound
to a man equally powerful in another nation, by ties more private
and personal even than nationality. Even when the purpose is not
any sort of treachery, the very position is a sort of treason.
Given the passionately patriotic peoples of the west of Europe especially,
the state of things cannot conceivably be satisfactory to a patriot.
But least of all can it conceivably be satisfactory to a Jewish patriot;
by which I do not mean a sham Englishman or a sham Frenchman,
but a man who is sincerely patriotic for the historic and highly
civilised nation of the Jews.

For what may be criticised here as Anti-Semitism is only the negative
side of Zionism. For the sake of convenience I have begun by stating
it in terms of the universal popular impression which some call
a popular prejudice. But such a truth of differentiation is equally
true on both its different sides. Suppose somebody proposes to mix up
England and America, under some absurd name like the Anglo-Saxon Empire.
One man may say, "Why should the jolly English inns and villages
be swamped by these priggish provincial Yankees?" Another may say,
"Why should the real democracy of a young country be tied to your
snobbish old squirarchy?" But both these views are only versions
of the same view of a great American: "God never made one people
good enough to rule another."

The primary point about Zionism is that, whether it is right or wrong,
it does offer a real and reasonable answer both to Anti-Semitism
and to the charge of Anti-Semitism. The usual phrases about
religious persecution and racial hatred are not reasonable answers,
or answers at all. These Jews do not deny that they are Jews;
they do not deny that Jews may be unpopular; they do not deny that there
may be other than superstitious reasons for their unpopularity.
They are not obliged to maintain that when a Piccadilly dandy talks
about being in the hands of the Jews he is moved by the theological
fanaticism that prevails in Piccadilly; or that when a silly youth on
Derby Day says he was done by a dirty Jew, he is merely conforming to that
Christian orthodoxy which is one of the strict traditions of the Turf.
They are not, like some other Jews, forced to pay so extravagant
a compliment to the Christian religion as to suppose it the ruling
motive of half the discontented talk in clubs and public-houses,
of nearly every business man who suspects a foreign financier,
or nearly every working man who grumbles against the local
pawn-broker. Religious mania, unfortunately, is not so common.
The Zionists do not need to deny any of these things;
what they offer is not a denial but a diagnosis and a remedy.
Whether their diagnosis is correct, whether their remedy
is practicable, we will try to consider later, with something
like a fair summary of what is to be said on both sides.
But their theory, on the face of it, is perfectly reasonable.
It is the theory that any abnormal qualities in the Jews are due
to the abnormal position of the Jews. They are traders rather
than producers because they have no land of their own from
which to produce, and they are cosmopolitans rather than patriots
because they have no country of their own for which to be patriotic.
They can no more become farmers while they are vagrant than they
could have built the Temple of Solomon while they were building
the Pyramids of Egypt. They can no more feel the full stream
of nationalism while they wander in the desert of nomadism than
they could bathe in the waters of Jordan while they were weeping
by the waters of Babylon. For exile is the worst kind of bondage.
In insisting upon that at least the Zionists have insisted upon
a profound truth, with many applications to many other moral issues.
It is true that for any one whose heart is set on a particular
home or shrine, to be locked out is to be locked in.
The narrowest possible prison for him is the whole world.

It will be well to notice briefly, however, how the principle
applies to the two Anti-Semitic arguments already considered.
The first is the charge of usury and unproductive loans, the second
the charge either of treason or of unpatriotic detachment.
The charge of usury is regarded, not unreasonably, as only
a specially dangerous development of the general charge of
uncreative commerce and the refusal of creative manual exercise;
the unproductive loan is only a minor form of the unproductive labour.
It is certainly true that the latter complaint is, if possible,
commoner than the former, especially in comparatively simple
communities like those of Palestine. A very honest Moslem Arab
said to me, with a singular blend of simplicity and humour, "A Jew
does not work; but he grows rich. You never see a Jew working;
and yet they grow rich. What I want to know is, why do we not
all do the same? Why do we not also do this and become rich?"
This is, I need hardly say, an over-simplification. Jews often
work hard at some things, especially intellectual things.
But the same experience which tells us that we have known many industrious
Jewish scholars, Jewish lawyers, Jewish doctors, Jewish pianists,
chess-players and so on, is an experience which cuts both ways.
The same experience, if carefully consulted, will probably tell us
that we have not known personally many patient Jewish ploughmen,
many laborious Jewish blacksmiths, many active Jewish hedgers
and ditchers, or even many energetic Jewish hunters and fishermen.
In short, the popular impression is tolerably true to life,
as popular impressions very often are; though it is not fashionable
to say so in these days of democracy and self-determination. Jews
do not generally work on the land, or in any of the handicrafts
that are akin to the land; but the Zionists reply that this is
because it can never really be their own land. That is Zionism,
and that has really a practical place in the past and future of Zion.

Patriotism is not merely dying for the nation. It is dying
with the nation. It is regarding the fatherland not merely
as a real resting-place like an inn, but as a final resting-place,
like a house or even a grave. Even the most Jingo of the Jews
do not feel like this about their adopted country; and I doubt
if the most intelligent of the Jews would pretend that they did.
Even if we can bring ourselves to believe that Disraeli lived
for England, we cannot think that he would have died with her.
If England had sunk in the Atlantic he would not have sunk with her,
but easily floated over to America to stand for the Presidency.
Even if we are profoundly convinced that Mr. Beit or Mr. Eckstein
had patriotic tears in his eyes when he obtained a gold concession
from Queen Victoria, we cannot believe that in her absence he would
have refused a similar concession from the German Emperor.
When the Jew in France or in England says he is a good patriot
he only means that he is a good citizen, and he would put it
more truly if he said he was a good exile. Sometimes indeed
he is an abominably bad citizen, and a most exasperating and
execrable exile, but I am not talking of that side of the case.
I am assuming that a man like Disraeli did really make a romance
of England, that a man like Dernburg did really make a romance
of Germany, and it is still true that though it was a romance,
they would not have allowed it to be a tragedy. They would have
seen that the story had a happy ending, especially for themselves.
These Jews would not have died with any Christian nation.

But the Jews did die with Jerusalem. That is the first and
last great truth in Zionism. Jerusalem was destroyed and Jews
were destroyed with it, men who cared no longer to live because
the city of their faith had fallen. It may be questioned whether
all the Zionists have all the sublime insanity of the Zealots.
But at least it is not nonsense to suggest that the Zionists
might feel like this about Zion. It is nonsense to suggest
that they would ever feel like this about Dublin or Moscow.
And so far at least the truth both in Semitism and Anti-Semitism
is included in Zionism.

It is a commonplace that the infamous are more famous than the famous.
Byron noted, with his own misanthropic moral, that we think more
of Nero the monster who killed his mother than of Nero the noble
Roman who defeated Hannibal. The name of Julian more often suggests
Julian the Apostate than Julian the Saint; though the latter crowned
his canonisation with the sacred glory of being the patron saint
of inn-keepers. But the best example of this unjust historical
habit is the most famous of all and the most infamous of all.
If there is one proper noun which has become a common noun,
if there is one name which has been generalised till it means a thing,
it is certainly the name of Judas. We should hesitate perhaps to call
it a Christian name, except in the more evasive form of Jude.
And even that, as the name of a more faithful apostle, is another
illustration of the same injustice; for, by comparison with the other,
Jude the faithful might almost be called Jude the obscure.
The critic who said, whether innocently or ironically, "What wicked
men these early Christians were!" was certainly more successful
in innocence than in irony; for he seems to have been innocent or
ignorant of the whole idea of the Christian communion. Judas Iscariot
was one of the very earliest of all possible early Christians.
And the whole point about him was that his hand was in the same dish;
the traitor is always a friend, or he could never be a foe.
But the point for the moment is merely that the name is known
everywhere merely as the name of a traitor. The name of Judas nearly
always means Judas Iscariot; it hardly ever means Judas Maccabeus.
And if you shout out "Judas" to a politician in the thick of a political
tumult, you will have some difficulty in soothing him afterwards,
with the assurance that you had merely traced in him something
of that splendid zeal and valour which dragged down the tyranny
of Antiochus, in the day of the great deliverance of Israel.

Those two possible uses of the name of Judas would give us yet another
compact embodiment of the case for Zionism. Numberless international
Jews have gained the bad name of Judas, and some have certainly
earned it. If you have gained or earned the good name of Judas,
it can quite fairly and intelligently be affirmed that this was not
the fault of the Jews, but of the peculiar position of the Jews.
A man can betray like Judas Iscariot in another man's house;
but a man cannot fight like Judas Maccabeus for another man's temple.
There is no more truly rousing revolutionary story amid all the stories
of mankind, there is no more perfect type of the element of chivalry
in rebellion, than that magnificent tale of the Maccabee who stabbed
from underneath the elephant of Antiochus and died under the fall
of that huge and living castle. But it would be unreasonable to ask
Mr. Montagu to stick a knife into the elephant on which Lord Curzon,
let us say, was riding in all the pomp of Asiatic imperialism.
For Mr. Montagu would not be liberating his own land; and therefore
he naturally prefers to interest himself either in operations in silver
or in somewhat slower and less efficient methods of liberation.
In short, whatever we may think of the financial or social services
such as were rendered to England in the affair of Marconi, or to France
in the affair of Panama, it must be admitted that these exhibit
a humbler and more humdrum type of civic duty, and do not remind
us of the more reckless virtues of the Maccabees or the Zealots.
A man may be a good citizen of anywhere, but he cannot be a national
hero of nowhere; and for this particular type of patriotic passion
it is necessary to have a _patria_. The Zionists therefore are
maintaining a perfectly reasonable proposition, both about the charge
of usury and the charge of treason, if they claim that both could
be cured by the return to a national soil as promised in Zionism.

Unfortunately they are not always reasonable about their own
reasonable proposition. Some of them have a most unlucky habit
of ignoring, and therefore implicitly denying, the very evil
that they are wisely trying to cure. I have already remarked
this irritating innocence in the first of the two questions;
the criticism that sees everything in Shylock except the point of him,
or the point of his knife. How in the politics of Palestine at this
moment this first question is in every sense the primary question.
Palestine has hardly as yet a patriotism to be betrayed; but it
certainly has a peasantry to be oppressed, and especially to be
oppressed as so many peasantries have been with usury and forestalling.
The Syrians and Arabs and all the agricultural and pastoral populations
of Palestine are, rightly or wrongly, alarmed and angered at the advent
of the Jews to power; for the perfectly practical and simple
reason of the reputation which the Jews have all over the world.
It is really ridiculous in people so intelligent as the Jews,
and especially so intelligent as the Zionists, to ignore so enormous
and elementary a fact as that reputation and its natural results.
It may or may not in this case be unjust; but in any case it
is not unnatural. It may be the result of persecution, but it
is one that has definitely resulted. It may be the consequence
of a misunderstanding; but it is a misunderstanding that must itself
be understood. Rightly or wrongly, certain people in Palestine
fear the coming of the Jews as they fear the coming of the locusts;
they regard them as parasites that feed on a community by a
thousand methods of financial intrigue and economic exploitation.
I could understand the Jews indignantly denying this, or eagerly
disproving it, or best of all, explaining what is true in it while
exposing what is untrue. What is strange, I might almost say weird,
about the attitude of some quite intelligent and sincere Zionists,
is that they talk, write and apparently think as if there were no
such thing in the world.

I will give one curious example from one of the best and most
brilliant of the Zionists. Dr. Weizmann is a man of large mind
and human sympathies; and it is difficult to believe that any one
with so fine a sense of humanity can be entirely empty of anything
like a sense of humour. Yet, in the middle of a very temperate
and magnanimous address on "Zionist Policy," he can actually
say a thing like this, "The Arabs need us with our knowledge,
and our experience and our money. If they do not have us they
will fall into the hands of others, they will fall among sharks."
One is tempted for the moment to doubt whether any one else
in the world could have said that, except the Jew with his strange
mixture of brilliancy and blindness, of subtlety and simplicity.
It is much as if President Wilson were to say, "Unless America deals
with Mexico, it will be dealt with by some modern commercial power,
that has trust-magnates and hustling millionaires." But would
President Wilson say it? It is as if the German Chancellor had said,
"We must rush to the rescue of the poor Belgians, or they may be put
under some system with a rigid militarism and a bullying bureaucracy."
But would even a German Chancellor put it exactly like that?
Would anybody put it in the exact order of words and structure of
sentence in which Dr. Weizmann has put it? Would even the Turks say,
"The Armenians need us with our order and our discipline and our arms.
If they do not have us they will fall into the hands of others, they will
perhaps be in danger of massacres." I suspect that a Turk would see

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20

Online LibraryG.K. ChestertonThe New Jerusalem → online text (page 20 of 21)