Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Tedious Repetition Of Old Canards: Part I

Some anecdotes are so good, they can't be repeated too often.
The journalist turned MP Martin Bell has one about Mikhail Kalashnikov stating that he would preferred to have invented the lawnmower rather than his eponymous rifle that, if memory serves, he repeats it in each of his books 'Through Gates of Fire', and 'The Truth that Sticks'.
Mr. Bell is greatly attached to the works of G. K. Chesterton; 'The Truth that Sticks', in particular the opening section, is peppered with Chesterton quotes, and in his book 'An Accidental MP', he recounts that he even quoted from GKC's poem 'The Secret People' on the night of his election as MP for Tatton; again, if memory serves, he quoted precisely the same lines ('Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget, For we are the people of England, that never has spoken yet') on his most recent appearance on 'Question Time'.
Mr. Bell's books display a humanity, an admirably Chestertonian common sense and, one senses, a great deal of personal charm that seems absent in many journalists of later vintage; although hoping for any improvement in the quality of modern mainstream journalism might be the folly of hoping for the triumph of hope over experience, one lives in hope. Mr. Bell is a model most modern journalists could do worse than to emulate. When he repeats his anecdotes, it's because they help reinforce the point he is trying to make. Sadly, the fact that one has recently seen the canard that both Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were anti-Semites repeated on more than one occasion would seem to indicate that some journalists believe anecdotes are there to be used not to illustrate their argument's point, but its pointlessness.
Nailing Chesterton to the wall as an anti-Semite is a work of literary criticism worthy of a pedant. Let's see (ho, hum); there's this bit in 'The Everlasting Man' -
"It is true, in this sense, that the world owes God to the Jews. It owes that truth to much that is blamed on the Jews, possibly to much that is blameable in the Jews."
Anyone trying to pin anti-Semitism on GKC in consequence of this passage clearly cannot differentiate between the meanings of the words 'on' and 'in'; and their opponents can accordingly disengage themselves from the argument with a meaty 'Over and Out'. Such a lack of comprehension skills indicates a lack of common sense for which one could only recommend, well, a hearty dose of Chesterton. Next!
Ah, yes - the serious one; Chesterton promoted the blood libel, founded on this passage in, again, 'The Everlasting Man', perhaps the only one of Chesterton's works his slanderers have read; presumably like old wives thumbing through dictionaries in the hope of finding swearwords -
"This inverted imagination produces things of which it is better not to speak. Some of them indeed might almost be named without being known; for they are of that extreme evil which seems innocent to the innocent. They are too inhuman even to be indecent. But without dwelling much longer in these dark corners, it may be noted as not irrelevant here that certain anti-human antagonisms seem to recur in this tradition of black magic. There may be suspected as running through it everywhere, for instance, a mystical hatred of the idea of childhood. People would understand better the popular fury against the witches, if they remembered that the malice most commonly attributed to them was preventing the birth of children. The Hebrew prophets were perpetually protesting against the Hebrew race relapsing into an idolatry that involved such a war upon children; and it is probable enough that this abominable apostasy from the God of Israel has occasionally appeared in Israel since, in the form of what is called ritual murder; not of course by any representative of the religion of Judaism, but by individual and irresponsible diabolists who did happen to be Jews. This sense that the forces of evil especially threaten childhood is found again in the enormous popularity of the Child Martyr of the Middle Ages. Chaucer did but give another version of a very national English legend, when he conceived the wickedest of all possible witches as the dark alien woman watching behind her high lattice and hearing, like the babble of a brook down the stony street, the singing of little St. Hugh. "
Unless one is the kind of extreme cynic who would believe that the 20th Century's greatest advocate of common sense wrote this sentence alone and no other he ever wrote throughout his long and incredibly prolific career with his tongue wedged in his cheek, and compounded this lapse by being so sloppy that he failed to punctuate the words 'not of course by' as 'not, of course, by', the phrase 'not of course by any representative of the religion of Judaism' would seem to indicate a searing lack of animus towards Jews qua Jews and Judaism in general. What Chesterton was interested was the truth, or rather The Truth; helping people get towards it was his life's work, and false accusations of an anti-Semitism never did deter him.
It is hard to credit that Gilbert Chesterton remains so hated by Christianity's opponents that they continue to slander his memory over 70 years after his death. These slanders might arise from ignorance; but my own belief is that they arise from what Belloc described as 'hatred of the Faith', because they know what Chesterton stands for, a message that is precisely the opposite of theirs. He was a partisan of hope, they are partisans of despair. He will speak to people for as long as he is read; so I guess slandering him is a good way of discouraging his potential readership from making the effort. What they don't realise about the guy is that he was so cool that if he were alive today, he'd be on every outlet from Fareed Zakaria to Kerrang! Gilbert rocks - the jury is dismissed.
I have things to do today, but will be revisiting accusations of antisemitism against Belloc in early course. And if you don't believe that, you'll believe Chesterton was a fascist sympathiser.


Blogger James Higham said...

Anyone trying to pin anti-Semitism on GKC in consequence of this passage clearly cannot differentiate between the meanings of the words 'on' and 'in'; and their opponents can accordingly disengage themselves from the argument with a meaty 'Over and Out'.

Precisely. I always thought his work contrived but loved his hat, cape, stick and Catholicism. There are far too few high profile people standing up these days for good.

01 November, 2009 16:54  

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