Lecture 129: Another Arena - Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton
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Lecture 129: Another Arena

Essays from The Daily Herald

Daily Herald


When G.K. Chesterton left the Daily News in February of 1913 and started writing for the Daily Herald, it was itself news in all the other papers. He had walked away from the liberal paper that had built his great reputation but that had also benefitted greatly from his weekly column. It happened after a major falling out with the editors, who did not have the courage to take a stand against the corrupt leadership of the Liberal Party during the Marconi Scandal. Chesterton’s parting shot was to call the paper’s owner “a cad and coward.” The Daily Herald was a Labor newspaper, and its editors gave Chesterton the freedom to write whatever he wanted. Chesterton used the platform to excoriate the government in general and the Liberals in particular. But, with equal force, he also went after big money capitalists, who were largely the source of the government corruption. People forget that the Marconi Scandal also exposed the existence of secret party funds, which Chesterton calls “public money disposed of in private.” And since this phenomenon was not exclusive to the Liberal Party, he points out that “The party system has become a deadlock of mutual blackmail.”  

In the Daily Herald, Chesterton continues his attacks on the party leaders for covering up their crimes, and is subsequently attacked by an article in The New Statesman that hauls out the old chestnut against Chesterton, calling him an anti-Semite, saying that he never would have criticized Rufus Isaacs but for the fact Isaacs was Jewish. GKC rebuts this with one of his most passionate and forthright denials of this ugly charge against him: 

I know I do not write in insincerity, I do not think I write in anger (but of this no man can be sure) when I say that I think the writer of that note about my Anti-Semitism really ought to be ashamed of himself. There is such a thing as Anti-Semitism; as there was such a thing as the Massacre of St. Bartholomew or the Massacres of September. It is a cruel thing, though often produced by cruel provocation. It may be that Anti-Semites may have written for this paper or the “New Witness”: because (queer as it may sound to modern Liberals and Socialists), we think a man has right to be an Anti-Semite if he chooses. But the suggestion that my motive is Anti-Semite is one of the very few things that are contradicted by every fact in existence. It is contradicted by the facts of the Marconi Case; in which we denounce two Gentiles to one Jew. It is contradicted by the facts of every public controversy in which I have been concerned, from opposing the unjust sentence on Stinie Morrison to supporting the splendid and generous crusade of Dr. Eder. It is contradicted by the facts of the whole of my private life, which has been less private than most. It is contradicted by myself and my nearest friends on our personal word, which is certainly not a more damaged security than that of the politicians we attack. We joke about Jews; but so do the Jews. We recognise a difficulty about the Jews; but so do the Jews. But if you say we should not have said the same if no Jew had ever been near the Marconi Case, then you talk rubbish. I have analysed this small handful of the rubbish; and I hope we shall hear of it no more. 

Sadly, this hope remains unfulfilled even today.  

Chesterton has been accused of focusing on Rufus Isaacs, a Jew, in the Marconi Scandal instead of the equally guilty David Lloyd George, a non-Jew. But this isn’t true, and the evidence is in the Daily Herald. Long before he wrote his infamous Open Letter to Lord Reading (Isaacs) in the New Witness in 1918, he sent an Open Letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lloyd George) in the Daily Herald on May 3, 1913, lambasting him. A reader subsequently demanded that Chesterton apologize to Lloyd George, and GKC pens a very crafty “Apology” that shows that his attack is not personal. “I do apologise to you for the causes of your own fall…You did not make the mess; its mud is on us and on our children.” He implores Lloyd George to “smash the system” and “be the deliverer of Democracy.” Another unfulfilled hope. 

Chesterton predicts that the ruling party would try to change the subject rather than dealing justly and openly with the corruption exposed by the Marconi Scandal. (“The whole point of conjuring is to make unimportant anything that is important; and that is the whole point of modern politics.”) He gets more specific in his prediction and says what the subject of distraction will be: Women’s Suffrage. And sure enough, the Liberals suddenly and loudly embrace the cause of Women’s Suffrage, after having ignored it for years. Thus, we could argue that women got the vote in England not because of their poignant demonstrations, but because of the corrupt Liberal party trying to draw attention away from the Marconi Scandal. The ruling party did not care about justice for women, but about preserving its own power, and was now engaging in the same sort of sensationalism as the Suffragists, “fixing the limelight on Mrs. Drummond so as to shift it away from Mr. Lloyd George.”  

Chesterton is opposed to Women’s Suffrage on the principle that the political process is flawed and women have more influence in society (especially in a democracy) in realms other than the political process. For women to think that their lot would be better if they had the vote is a kind of insult to the laboring men whose vote has not helped their lot whatsoever. “I have read carefully all the serious arguments; and they all start from one of two assumptions: that a voter has political power (which I deny), or that a modern employee has economic independence (which I also deny); and there we stick.” Chesterton objects to the methods of the Suffragists, which he calls “impolite but not impolitical.” However, he defends them against the men who have mistreated them: “I think there are masculine emotions, and bad ones, mixed up with this detestable mobbing of women by men. But while the roughs may have thought of thousands of things, I will swear they have never thought once about their votes. If it interests Mr. Housman [Laurence Housman, a proponent of Women’s Suffrage] I may tell him that I was pelted with eggs myself for protecting Suffragists in my house; and I still do not see how anyone with popular sympathies could have failed to foresee such things.” Moreover, after Philip Snowden had made a speech that attacked the methods of physical violence used by the Suffragists as “an example of their reason not being sufficiently developed to carry on the contest in the intellectual sphere,” GKC responds by saying, “After reading Mr. Philip Snowden’s lecture, I feel almost inclined to dress up as a woman, a stout elderly, respectable woman, and go and knock down the Nelson Column by leaning against it.” He said the remark is “(1) bad manners, (2) bad reasoning, (3) bad history and politics.” He goes on to defend the intellect of the Suffragists and the use of physical violence, even though he disagrees with them, and savaging Snowden, even though they are both against the Suffragists. 

My critic says that any paper would print what I wrote, evidently meaning anything written against Suffragettes. Why, yes; if I wrote tosh; if I said a woman’s skull was smaller than a man’s; if I said that in war women would be unpatriotic (they are much more likely to be brutally jingo); if I repeat all the rubbish of Schopenhauer; if I really did despise the woman’s intellect, and the reader’s as well, then probably any paper would read what I wrote. At least their only difficulty in printing it would be that I should not write it. But if you think I could print my sincere argument, right or wrong, in any other daily paper than this, I say to you again that you do not know the land you live in, nor the crisis to which your countrymen have come. I also tell you that I know more about it that you do, having tried to get it printed in the other papers, and failed. 

Though he is grateful for the freedom to say whatever he wants, it is ironic that the Daily Herald contains some of Chesterton’s most ephemeral journalism. When he felt more restricted about what he could write, he wrote for the ages, and not just for the day. Though some of these essays were collected in book form, it does not qualify as one of his timeless volumes. Published in America under the title The Utopia of Usurers, the book has never been published in England. For the rest of the essays, while there is interesting material concerning Chesterton’s life and personal ideas, they will always lack that universal appeal that most of his writing enjoys. The anger, though he wishes to deny it, is palpable. We can sense that Chesterton is ready to explode. And that is precisely what happens. His writing for the Herald came to an end when Chesterton suffered a complete physical collapse in November, 1914. He would lay semi-comatose for the next six months, while his body, mind, and spirit, had to recover. 

This essay was first published in the January/February 2018 issue of Gilbert! magazine.