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The British conspiratorial tradition

Having been a key supporter of Mosley’s before the war, A.K. Chesterton moved out from beneath his shadow to become a prominent far-right leader in his own right. In stark contrast to Mosley’s Europeanism, Chesterton trumpeted more traditional nationalism based on Britain and her Empire. While both agreed that Britain was in decline, Chesterton passionately argued that it was the Empire that offered salvation, not European union. Central to his ideas was a uniquely British form of conspiratorial antisemitism that argued the Empire was under attack by secret Jewish power.

The British tradition of conspiratorial antisemitism has a long history, but the notion that Britain itself - and importantly its empire - was under attack began life in the wake of World War I. Like most of Europe at the time, Britain emerged from the horrors of the First World War with a kaleidoscope of conflicting national emotions. Coupled with the trauma of massive human loss was the relief of victory and the façade of imperial security. In 1919, following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the British Empire acquired an additional 1,800,000 square miles of territory and 13 million new subjects.8 Yet even before the red ink had dried on the enlarged map of the British Empire, crisis struck with revolts in Ireland, Egypt, India and Mesopotamia. Simultaneously, Bolshevism threatened to spread across Europe and ‘poison’ the minds of Britain’s war-fatigued proletariat. In the midst of this turbulent and bipolar public consciousness, a uniquely British conspiracy theory regarding alleged Jewish global ambitions emerged.

In The Cause of World Unrest, a collection of articles published in 1920 that heavily referenced the notorious Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, the then-editor of The Morning Post, H.A. Gwynne, argued:

That there is a Jewish Peril I have no sort of doubt. ... It is easy to prove that a certain section of the Jews in the world are engaged in a mighty attempt to destroy the established rule in many countries and to bring this world into communistic brotherhood.9

The simultaneous challenge of Bolshevism, with its internationalist agenda calling for ‘world revolution’ and the Protocols’ false evidence of a Jewish-led plot for world domination, made the synthesis of the two epiphenomena almost inevitable.

In the interwar years, no one did more to develop the conspiracy and to add a pseudo-intellectual edge than the ‘historian’ and occultist, Nesta Webster. She had contributed to the multi-authored The Cause of World Unrest, but it was with her later books that she detailed her particular take on the world conspiracy. Webster argued that the long-term aim of the Jewish conspiracy was to hijack the apparatus of the Illuminati - an Enlightenment-era secret society - and use it to destroy Christian civilisation."’ With the British Empire championed by Webster as the bastion of this civilisation, it was naturally a primary target of the Jews’ subversive activity:

It is because England, with all its shortcomings . . . yet remains the stronghold of Christian civilisation, that the conspiracy has made her the principal point of attack. . . . Illuminism is mustering all its forces for a supreme onslaught in our own country."

The British Empire was the final dam that, if breeched, would allow the waters of subversion to flood and drown civilisation.

While the most prominent and influential conspiracist, Webster was not the only person investigating Britain’s interwar imperial turmoil through an antisemitic lens. In 1935, in a scathing pamphlet, the notorious antisemite Arnold Leese, leader of the Imperial Fascist League and mainstay of the British far right well into the postwar period, alleged secret Jewish control of India. In The Destruction of India, Leese argued: ‘To destroy Aryan prestige in India is to kill it throughout Asia. That is the objective of Jewish Politics applied to India’.12 In his mind, the White Paper published in 1933, which laid down the blueprint for Indian self-government, was the primary tool of Jewish conspirators: ‘Thus it is proved from official sources that the White Paper and Army Indianisation are both the product of Jewish Rule in India’.13 The fear of a world without British hegemony led many to seek out an explanation for imperial decline, and, for those who still believed in the legitimacy of the Protocols, such as Leese,14 the Jewish world conspiracy provided an answer.

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