Some time ago, I published a rather flippant post with the title "Was Chesterton Anti-Semitic?", the post itself consisting of the single monosyllable "No".
Today, a reader by the name of Pierre Chanel left a comment which makes some interesting points. Since it is unlikely to be noticed by anyone on the original post, I thought I should publish it as a post of its own. I haven't read The New Jerusalem or A Short History of England or (so far as I can remember) the Father Brown story in question. It would be interesting to learn if any other readers who have read these books agree.
In any case, I thank him for his contribution, which follows:
Let me introduce myself. I was a tremendous Chesterton fan when I was a teenager (about 30 years ago) and have a large collection of his books. Recently I have been trying to re-read him and see how he seems to me now. He was extremely wise and witty, but he also had serious flaws (look at his heroworship of Mussolini in THE RESURRECTION OF ROME), and I'm afraid one of them was antisemitism.
There are quite a few passages in Chesterton which can only be described as anti-semitic. In one of the Father Brown stories Father Brown denies that Jews were ever persecuted in mediaeval England on the grounds that they were specially protected by the Crown (for the efficiency of this "protection" see any biography of King Edward I; Chesterton was well aware of this because he refers to Edward's expulsion of the Jews from England in decidedly equivocal terms in his HISTROY OF ENGLAND). In the same story Father Brown also denies anyone ever committed suicide from despair in the Middle Ages; and mediaevalist knows this is just plain false.
In THE NEW JERUSALEM Chesterton endorses Zionism explicitly on the grounds that Jews should have their own nation-state because they cannot really belong to any other nation, and states that Jews in Britain and elsewhere should be forced to wear a special dress marking them out as Jews. How is that not anti-semitic?
I think his prejudice against Jews came from two sources (1) the old Gladstonian-Little Englander image of Disraeli as amoral oriental adventurer corrupting the traditional English virtues and leading the country to despotism through imperialist adventures. This is the emotional background to THE FLYING INN, in which (as in Belloc's THE MERCY OF ALLAH) Jews are symbolically equated with Moslems as oriental pure monotheists who are led by their non-belief in the Incarnation to accept and practise tyranny (2) Belloc's importation of French anti-semitism to England, partly because Belloc as a half-French Catholic resented being seem as an outsider and wanted to find someone else he could pick on and present as "real" outsiders. Belloc IMHO had the Jew-bug much worse than Chesterton and was a bad influence on him in this regard.
I do believe Chesterton deserves more attention, but we must come to terms with his problematic side - that aspect which is childish, as distinct from his genius which is childlike.