T. S. Eliot and the Jews 8

Arthur Lane’s The Alien Menace is a work of classic paranoid anti-Semitism, in the tradition of Nesta Webster, a writer Lane repeatedly cites. Two sentences are adequate to give the flavor of his book: “It is unsound and inconsistent of our Government to spend large sums of money in emigrating our best people instead of expelling and repatriating the scourings of the earth, whose natural climate and country is the East. Why not settle this evil horde in Palestine and the Euphrates Valley.” Following the publica¬tion of Famine in England, Wallop was invited to Berlin. He went for a week in 1939, meeting with Hitler (he had also had an audience with him earlier in the decade) and “being,” as he put it in his autobiography, “wined and dined, seeing youth work camps, bride schools, and a very great many of the good things Hitler was doing.”
Eliot’s inability to dissociate himself from men whose anti- Semitism was virulent and overt was lifelong. Such a man was Ezra Pound, long before he met Major Douglas or heard of Mussolini. In a series entitled “Patria Mia,” in the British New Age in 1912, he praised the ethnic diversity of New York, but found it necessary to add, “The Jew alone can retain his detestable qualities.” Such a man was John Quinn, the New York lawyer who was the patron of Pound, Joyce, and Eliot. Quinn had written to Eliot in 1919 con¬cerning some trouble with the publisher Horace Liveright (who was Jewish), and expressing his satisfaction on hearing news of Polish pogroms and his keen desire to start a pogrom in New York—so that Eliot must have thought it a useful piece of stroking when, writing to Quinn several years later to complain again about Liveright, he commented that he was sick of what he called Jew publishers and asked whether Quinn couldn’t find a decent Christian one. And such a man was Charles Maurras, who shouted “C’est la revanche de Dreyfus!” upon his conviction in 1945 by a French court for collaborating with the Nazi occupation. After the trial, the right-wing French newspaper Aspects de la France et du Monde published a special issue in homage to Maurras; Eliot contributed an essay in which he described Maurras as “a sort of Virgil who led us to the doors of the temple.”
As Julius argued, the poems in Ara Vos Free are poetry, and they are anti-Semitic, and the two qualities are inseparable, for the poems have a place within a very specific tradition of anti-Semitic literary thought. Julius’s claim that anti-Semitism casts a shadow on Eliot’s writing after 1922 is right as well. And in the end, even his refusal to concede ground to exculpatory arguments seems just. For indifference is not a defense. There is no evidence that Eliot ever demonstrated personal hostility to a Jew. His anti-Semitism was certainly not, as some of his defenders claimed over the years, “genteel” (whatever it could mean to be a genteel bigot); but neither was it, except as a spur to writing, acted upon or intended to be acted upon. I don’t think Eliot ever wished any harm to the Jews. But he took support from and gave support to many people who did. He was a traveler in that terrible fellowship.
For most of his career Eliot laid claim to a position outside the fray. It was his role, he seemed to feel, to be the one man who could think eschatologically while everyone around him was thinking merely politically and biologically. Asher has a nice phrase for the rhetorical gambit Eliot used when he assumed this stance: “the calling of a truce while he attacks from above.” But I don’t think Eliot’s personal associations with anti-Semitism were unworldly. I think they were all too worldly.

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