G. K.'s Weekly
was a British publication founded in 1925
(pilot edition late 1924) by G. K. Chesterton
, continuing until his death in 1936. It contained much of his later journalism, and extracts from it were published as The Outline of Sanity
History in sequence with related publications
Chesterton had for seven years (1916-1923) been continuing as editor of the The New Witness
, previously owned by his brother Cecil Chesterton
who had served in the British Army
from 1916 and died in France in 1918. Gilbert had kept it going with Cecil's widow. That paper had been founded (as Eye-Witness
) by Hilaire Belloc
With the continuation of G. K.'s Weekly after Gilbert's death, by Belloc's son-in-law Reginald Jebb with Hilary Pepler, the complete series of publications therefore reads as
- The Eye-Witness (1911-1914) →
- The New Witness (1914-1923) →
- G. K.'s Weekly (1925-1936) →
- The Weekly Review (1936/7 - 1948, when it became a short-lived monthly).
Distributism in context
The essential continuity under the main editorial figures (those mentioned, plus W. R. Titterton
who was Gilbert's sub-editor), is a manifestation of the political and economic doctrine of distributism
. This was mainly the work of Belloc, Gilbert and Cecil Chesterton, and Arthur Penty
, and had its origins in an Edwardian-era split of Fabian socialism
in London circles, around A. R. Orage
and his prominent publication The New Age
In fact, in founding The Eye-Witness, Belloc took a title of a book of essays of his own from a couple of years before, and drew initially on a group of writers more associated with The Speaker.
The papers under discussion in this article became, in practical terms, the organs of the distributist group. This came together as the Distributist League in 1926, as G. K.'s Weekly appeared as a revamped publication. The main business of the League, organisationally, fell to Titterton. The League had its own newsletter from 1931.
Chesterton as editor and campaigner
Chesterton travelled the country to local distributist chapters. G. K.'s Weekly
in fact gained little financially for Chesterton; it was not a lucrative venture, but a gesture of respect for Cecil's memory. The financial state of the publications meant that contributors could expect little or no reward. One later famous name who first broke into journalism this way was Eric Blair
Editorial policy in the latter days of G. K.'s Weekly was moving towards a right-wing position. Attitude to Mussolini (whom GKC interviewed, see the Maisie Ward biography) in the 1930s is close to the point; Chesterton made somewhat favourable remarks about contemporary Italy in his Autobiography (1935). Right at the end of his life G. K.'s Weekly in editorial comment on the invasion of Abyssinia seemed to go further (but there is evidence that this was not Chesterton writing, and that he was upset by the incident).
The League after Chesterton's death
After Chesterton died in 1936 the League was near collapse but continued in a new form, until being closed down in 1940. Arthur Penty's Distributist Manifesto
was published in 1937; Belloc had taken over as President, and the vice-presidents included Eric Gill
and T. S. Eliot
The Chesterbelloc and anti-Semitic prejudice
There is a continuing debate about the extent of anti-Semitic
prejudice to be found in the views of Gilbert and Cecil Chesterton, and of Hilaire Belloc. The discussion involves three people, who were very different in character, and who have certainly been put in the frame on grounds of guilt by association
in the past. The Chesterbelloc
was the term coined by George Bernard Shaw
for Gilbert Chesterton in partnership with Belloc; the description stuck. Cecil Chesterton was the most combative, and probably the most theoretical of the three. Looking at them together acknowledges that the publications' history pieced together does represent a continuity of thought.
Barnet Litvinoff has written
Britain had its replicas of Maurras and Daudet in those adornments of English letters, G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.
This question has to be examined on a historical trajectory, from the time of the Second Boer War to the Spanish Civil War, via the Marconi scandal. Bryan Cheyette speaks of Chesterton's 'literary decline' from around 1922, and writes
To his detriment, Chesterton's fiction at this time seems to be unduly influenced by Belloc's Barnett quartet with its constant reference to all-powerful Jewish plutocrats [...]
Litvinoff also cites Chesterton commenting on Henry Ford, Sr.'s view on the 'Jewish problem', in his 1922 What I Saw in America.
The journalism of Cecil Chesterton for the Eye-Witness at the time of the Marconi scandal, is a substantive though flawed reason why Belloc, Cecil Chesterton and G. K. Chesterton have often been considered an anti-semitic clique. This can justly be called guilt by association; which was certainly the precise tactic and fallacy Cecil himself used. One Jewish member of the government, Herbert Samuel, was accused and no evidence was ever shown of his involvement. Godfrey Isaacs sued successfully; he was the brother of the politician Rufus Isaacs, who was cleared by Parliament, but had a case to answer.
Hilaire Belloc's views
Belloc's views from the Edwardian period, when he was in politics, are discussed in Hilaire Belloc: Edwardian Radical
by McCarthy. At this period the targets were plutocracy
, the Second Boer War
seen as economically motivated, and the Jewish part in international finance. Negative fictional characters who are Jewish appear in Belloc's novels from this time.
The evidence from The Path to Rome is that Belloc at that time found anti-Semitism puzzling, if distasteful:
At the foot of the street was an inn where I entered to eat, and finding there another man—I take him to have been a shopkeeper--I determined to talk politics, and began as follows: 'Have you any anti-Semitism in your town?' 'It is not my town,' he said, 'but there is anti-Semitism. It
flourishes.' 'Why then?' I asked. 'How many Jews have you in your town?' He said there were seven. 'But,' said I, 'seven families of Jews--' 'There are not seven families,' he interrupted; 'there are seven Jews all told. There are but two families, and I am reckoning in the children. The servants are Christians.' 'Why,' said I, 'that is only just and proper, that the Jewish families from beyond the frontier should have local Christian people to wait on
them and do their bidding. But what I was going to say was that so very few Jews seem to me an insufficient fuel to fire the anti-Semites…
I then rose from my meal, saluted him, and went musing up the valley
road, pondering upon what it could be that the Jews sacrificed in this
remote borough, but I could not for the life of me imagine what it
was, though I have had a great many Jews among my friends.
Belloc's own book The Jews (1922) sets out his later views in his own words. He identified a cycle of persecution, and coined the phrase the tragic cycle of anti-Semitism. The work has been construed both as supporting the case that Belloc had no animus against Jews, and as a statement of the historical view that Jewish integration 'inevitably' causes friction. Rabbi David Dalin has commented positively on Belloc's contribution in it to understanding of anti-Semitism. Belloc wrote,
- It has been a series of cycles invariably following the same steps. The Jew comes to an alien society, at first in small numbers. He thrives. His presence is not resented. He is rather treated as a friend. Whether from mere contrast in type — what I have called "friction" — or from some apparent divergence between his objects and those of his hosts, or through his increasing numbers, he creates (or discovers) a growing animosity. He resents it. He opposes his hosts. They call themselves masters in their own house. The Jew resists their claim. It comes to violence.
- It is always the same miserable sequence. First a welcome; then a growing, half-conscious ill-ease; next a culmination in acute ill-ease; lastly catastrophe and disaster; insult, persecution, even massacre, the exiles flying from the place of persecution into a new district where the Jew is hardly known, where the problem has never existed or has been forgotten. He meets again with the largest hospitality. There follows here also, after a period of amicable interfusion, a growing, half-conscious ill-ease, which next becomes acute and leads to new explosions, and so on, in a fatal round. Hilaire Belloc, The Jews, Butler and Tanner, London, 1937, pp. 11-12.
Belloc also wrote,
- The various nations of Europe have every one of them, in the course of their long histories, passed through successive phases towards the Jew which I have called the tragic cycle. Each has in turn welcomed, tolerated, persecuted, attempted to exile — often actually exiled — welcomed again, and so forth. The two chief examples of extremes in action, are, as I have also pointed out in an earlier part of this book, Spain and England. Spaniards, and in particular the Spaniards of the Kingdom of Castile, went through every phase of this cycle in its fullest form. England passed through even greater extremes, for England was the only country which absolutely got rid of the Jews for hundreds of years, and England is the only country which has, even for a brief period, entered into something like an alliance with them. Hilaire Belloc, The Jews, Butler and Tanner, London, 1937, p. 215.
On the integration of Jews into British society at the higher levels, he wrote, in the same book,
- with the opening of the twentieth century those of the great territorial English families in which there was no Jewish blood were the exception. In nearly all of them was the stain more or less marked, in some of them so strong that though the name was still an English name and the tradition those of a purely English lineage of the long past, the physique and character had become wholly Jewish and the members of the family were taken for Jews whenever they travelled in countries where the gentry had not yet suffered or enjoyed the admixture.
Belloc made the following controversial statement in a conversation with Hugh Kingsmill and Hesketh Pearson:
- Belloc: It was the Dreyfus case that opened my eyes to the Jew question. I'm not an anti-Semite. I love 'em, poor dears. Get on very well with them. My best secretary was a Jewess. Poor darlings — it must be terrible to be born with the knowledge that you belong to the enemies of the human race.
- Kingsmill: Why do you say the Jews are the enemies of the human race?
- Belloc: The Crucifixion.
Robert Speaight however cites a private letter by Belloc to one of his Jewish American friends in the 1920s in which Belloc pilloried conspiracy-theorist Nesta Webster for her accusations against "the Jews". In February 1924, Belloc wrote to an American Jewish friend regarding an anti-Semitic book by Webster. Webster had rejected Christianity, studied Eastern religions, accepted the Hindu concept of the equality of all religions and was fascinated by theories of reincarnation and ancestral memory. Belloc expressed his views on Webster's antisemitism very clearly:
- "In my opinion it is a lunatic book. She is one of those people who have got one cause on the brain. It is the good old 'Jewish revolutionary' bogey. But there is a type of unstable mind which cannot rest without morbid imaginings, and the conception of a single cause simplifies thought. With this good woman it is the Jews, with some people it is the Jesuits, with others Freemasons and so on. The world is more complex than that."
Gilbert Chesterton's views
Points often made about Chesterton's attitude to Jews relate to well-known writings, both 'in the small' or casual, and in the large when he seriously addressed the question.
Bernard Levin, a leading British columnist who frequently quoted Chesterton, in The Case for Chesterton brought up some of his light verse, and said The best one can say of Chesterton's anti-semitism is that it was less vile than Belloc's; let us leave it at that. Joseph Pearce wrote that It is clear that such verses may cause offence, but it is equally clear they were not intended to.
Against Chesterton are also cited remarks in The New Jerusalem (1920). Chesterton was, in a real sense, a Zionist. He was not, however, a Zionist without conditions. The following is from the introductory remarks in that book:
- I have felt disposed to say: let all liberal legislation stand, let all literal and legal civic equality stand; let a Jew occupy any political or social position which he can gain in open competition; let us not listen for a moment to any suggestions of reactionary restrictions or racial privilege. Let a Jew be Lord Chief justice, if his exceptional veracity and reliability have clearly marked him out for that post. Let a Jew be Archbishop of Canterbury, if our national religion has attained to that receptive breadth that would render such a transition unobjectionable and even unconscious. But let there be one single-clause bill; one simple and sweeping law about Jews, and no other. Be it enacted, by the King's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons in Parliament assembled, that every Jew must be dressed like an Arab. Let him sit on the Woolsack, but let him sit there dressed as an Arab. Let him preach in St. Paul's Cathedral, but let him preach there dressed as an Arab. It is not my point at present to dwell on the pleasing if flippant fancy of how much this would transform the political scene; of the dapper figure of Sir Herbert Samuel swathed as a Bedouin, or Sir Alfred Mond gaining a yet greater grandeur from the gorgeous and trailing robes of the East. If my image is quaint my intention is quite serious; and the point of it is not personal to any particular Jew. The point applies to any Jew, and to our own recovery of healthier relations with him. The point is that we should know where we are; and he would know where he is, which is in a foreign land.
This is seen by some as an unacceptable statement. The point is still contested. It was Chesterton's stated view, having a fondness for the dramatic, that all nations should maintain and return to traditional dress, and enjoyed wearing a classical form of dress himself in the manner of capes and swordsticks. He gave this idea free rein in his first novel The Napoleon of Notting Hill.
Further discussion comes from comments about Jews being responsible for both the USSR's communism and the USA's unbridled capitalism (1929). John Gross in The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters (1969) commented:
- Chesterton's hatred of capitalism and his dread of the monolithic state were the generous responses of a man who saw the sickness of his society far more clearly than the ordinary Liberal and felt it far more deeply than the self-confident Fabian social engineers. Unfortunately, though, a sense of outrage often proved as bad a counsellor in his case as it had done in Carlyle's. His diatribes against usury and corruption were those of a man on the edge of hysteria; his anti-semitism was an illness. Despite this, his fundamental decency is never obscured for long. He hated oppression; he belonged to the world before totalitarianism. But the positive side of his politics — Distributism, peasant smallholdings, Merrie Englandism — led him into a hopeless cul-de-sac.
Chesterton however opposed all forms of persecution of Jews and all violent anti-semitism. In 1934, after the Nazi Party took power in Germany he wrote that:
In our early days Hilaire Belloc and myself were accused of being uncompromising Anti-Semites. Today, although I still think there is a Jewish problem, I am appalled by the Hitlerite atrocities. They have absolutely no reason or logic behind them. It is quite obviously the expedient of a man who has been driven to seeking a scapegoat, and has found with relief the most famous scapegoat in European history, the Jewish people.
- The Outline of Sanity (1926) G. K. Chesterton
- GK's: A Miscellany of the First 500 Issues of G.K.'s Weekly (1934)
- G. K.'s Weekly, a Sampler (1986) editor Lyle W. Dorsett
- G. K.'s Weekly: An Appraisal (1990) Brocard Sewell