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Dear Chesterton, why do we despise thee?

By PAUL JOHNSON [Standpoint] – The young, especially, do not know enough about GKC. Among their elders, there is a lot of prejudice against him, especially those who have something to do with education. He is kept off official reading lists, curricula and degree courses. Although, in his last years, he showed himself a fine broadcaster, the BBC establishment has always hated him. His Father Brown stories have never been serialised on TV, though they are a natural.

Why this hostility? One explanation often advanced is that he was anti-Semitic. I have never been able to see this. His odd and aggressive brother, Cecil, was certainly an anti-Semite. So was his friend and associate Hilaire Belloc. GKC was involved in the Marconi campaign against Lloyd George and Rufus Isaacs. But that was all. GKC lacked all the characteristics of the real anti-Semite: love of conspiracy theory, bitterness, huge hidden hatreds and violence of thought. It is significant that he saw through Hitler before anyone else in England, issuing dire warnings from 1932 onwards. Before his death in 1936, he even predicted Hitler would begin the Second World War with a grab at Poland.

A more likely explanation for the hostility is GKC’s Christianity, which was always strong and culminated in his becoming a Catholic in 1922. It was the centre of his intellectual and emotional life, and he nearly always brought it into the argument — that was what the secular Bloomsbury types, and the people they influenced, could not abide. To people such as E. M. Forster, Lytton Strachey and the Woolfs, he was everything they most hated in a writer. The fact that he never wrote or said a mean, cruel or malicious word was an additional reason for disliking him, for it proved (in their opinion) that he was a hypocrite. GKC had a childlike, innocent soul, and he kept it pure all his life. They could not believe such a person existed.

There is another reason for the academic hostility to him — and this was, and is, openly avowed: his inaccuracy. Now it is true he was inaccurate. But then so are most academics, much more so than most men and women of letters.

Continued at Standpoint | More Chronicle & Notices.

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