Sunday, March 24, 2024

An anti-Semite?

In “'Realism coloured by poetry': rereading John Buchan," Roger Kimball considers, among much else, whether John Buchan was an anti-Semite:
At the beginning of The Thirty-Nine Steps, Franklin Scudder is ranting about the international Jewish conspiracy and conjures up the evil figure of the mastermind behind the scenes, a “little white-faced Jew in a bath chair with an eye like a rattlesnake.” Of course, Scudder is potty and winds up a few pages later with a knife in his back. But Buchan’s portrayal of Jews, at least in his early novels, is not glamorous. With some exceptions, they are rag dealers or pawnbrokers or else nefarious anarchists or shady financiers. There are exceptions—Julius Victor, for example, “the richest man in the world,” who is a thoroughly noble chap. But then he is described by the dyspeptic American John S. Blenkiron as “the whitest Jew since the apostle Paul.” It was meant as praise, but still...

Buchan’s biographer Lownie said that “It is difficult to find any evidence of anti-Semitism in Buchan’s own personal views.” Well, maybe. It’s much more likely that—up to the 1930s, anyway—Buchan was anti-Semitic (and anti-foreigner) in the way nearly everyone in his society was. At the time, Gertrude Himmelfarb notes, “Men were normally anti-Semitic, unless by some quirk of temperament or ideology they happened to be philo-Semitic. So long as the world itself was normal, this was of no great consequence. . . . It was Hitler...who put an end to the casual, innocent anti-Semitism of the clubman.” And by the time the Nazis came along, Buchan had abandoned any casual aspersions against Jews in his novels. Moreover, he publicly denounced Hitler’s anti-Semitism in 1934. (Which was one reason, no doubt, that he was on the Nazi’s post-invasion list of people to be imprisoned for “Pro-Jewish activity.”) ...Buchan was ardently pro-Zionist, and his name was later ceremoniously inscribed in the Golden Book of the Jewish National Fund.

In The Three Hostages, Sandy Arbuthnot gives voice to feelings of exasperation that, I suspect, come close to Buchan’s own feelings:
“The old English way was to regard all foreigners as slightly childish and rather idiotic and ourselves as the only grown-ups in a kindergarten world. That meant that we had a cool detached view and did even-handed unsympathetic justice. But now we have to go into the nursery ourselves and are bear-fighting on the floor. We take violent sides, and make pets, and of course if you are -phil something or other you have got to be -phobe something else.”
It was precisely that unreasoning attachment to ideology—to the grim nursery of human passions—that Buchan resisted. ....
The Gertrude Himmelfarb essay on John Buchan can be found here (pdf).

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