T. S. Eliot and the Jews 7

This creates difficulties when critics try to nail Eliot down to one set of influences or ideas. Kenneth Asher’s T. S. Eliot and Ideology (1995), for example, made a significant contribution to our under¬standing of the importance Maurras had for Eliot, but it got hung up by looking for signposts where there are only many, many signs. “From beginning to end,” Asher proposed, “Eliot’s work, including both the poetry and the prose, was shaped by a political vision inherited from French reactionary thinkers, especially from Charles Maurras.” No doubt it was, and in ways Asher did a lot to illumi¬nate; but Eliot’s work was shaped by a dozen other influences as well, some consistent and some inconsistent with Maurrasian philosophy. Richard Wollheim once suggested that Eliot “was progres¬sively led to substitute in his mind, on the one hand, ideas of less content for ideas of more content, and, on the other hand, poorer or softer ideas for better and stronger ideas.”
Two things are distressing about the political and sociological writings Eliot produced in the 1930s. One is the deeply antimodern animus, the high-minded intolerance, that informs them. The other is the comfort they seem so blithely to give to people and doctrines whose potential for evil must have been perfectly manifest. Some of these cases involve the fate of the European Jews. Julius went over many of them carefully and critically, noting, for example, that Hitler had already come to power when Eliot made his remarks about the undesirability of “free-thinking Jews,” and had been in power for a year when those remarks were finally published. That Eliot was indifferent to the threat posed by Nazism to German Jews is chillingly suggested by an unsigned book notice which appeared in the Criterion in 1936. The book was The Yellow Spot: The Exter¬mination of the Jews in Germany; it carries an introduction by the Bishop of Durham. Julius, following several other scholars, including Ricks, believed the writing is Eliot’s own. It is not; the review was by Montgomery Belgion, a writer Eliot often published on French subjects. The style, though, is plainly imitative of the style of the master. This is the review Eliot ran:
There should be someone to point out that this book, although enjoying a cathedratic blessing, is an attempt to arouse moral indignation by means of sensationalism. Needless to say, it does not touch on how we might alleviate the situation of those whose misfortunes it describes, still less on why they, among all the unfortunates of the world, have a first claim on our compassion and help. Certainly no English man or woman would wish to be a German Jew in Germany today; but not only is our title to the moral dictatorship of the world open to question, there is not the least prospect of our being able to exercise it. More particularly, it is noticeable that the jacket of the book speaks of the “extermination” of the Jews in Germany, whereas the title-page refers only to their “persecution”; and as the title-page is to the jacket, so are the contents to the title-page, especially in the chapter devoted to the ill-treatment of Jews in German concentration camps.
Eliot did not write this. He did, however, assign, edit, and publish it. For he seems to have thought it a brilliant strategy to use the spread of fascism in Europe as a stick to beat the British liberals with. So, for example, in his “Commentary” in the Criterion for October 1938—after Mussolini’s Ethiopian war, after the Anchluss, after Munich—we find Eliot attacking “the heirs of liberalism, who find an emotional outlet in denouncing the iniquity of something called ‘fascism.’ ” “The irresponsible ‘anti-fascist,’ ” he complains, “is a danger in several ways. His activities . . . distract attention from the true evils of his own society. What some of these are may be learned by reading Viscount Lymington’s Famine in England”— which he goes on, at some length, though in vague terms, to praise.
Now, Viscount Lymington, later the Earl of Portsmouth, was a man named Gerard Wallop. He was a friend of Eliot’s; they had met some years earlier at a private dinner in the House of Commons. Famine in England is a warning against war with Germany, a war the British are being driven to, Wallop advises, by Communist propa-ganda and by those who would benefit from the chaos war would bring. What England needs instead, he argues, is a renewal of its agricultural and its human stock: “It is blood and soil which rule at last.” It seems that the real danger is within:
Foreign invasion of England has not happened in war time. It has happened in the last hundred years. Anyone who has been able to notice with his own eyes the foreign invasion of London should read Colonel Lane’s The Alien Menace to see the extent to which it has been carried on. . . . These immigrants have invaded the slums and the high places as well. It should not be forgotten that those aliens who now appear to have a stake in this country have a stake also in many others. But most of them, who are obscure, have a definite stake in revolution and no instinct for or interest in English life and tradition. One by one they have “muscled in” on the En¬glishman’s livelihood till they are everywhere in key positions. With them has come corruption and disrespect for the ancient decencies.

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