Ann Farmer: Chesterton, Rhodes and the rise of the modern racist

256px-Gilbert_ChestertonAs the controversy over Cecil Rhodes and racism rumbles on – the latest news is that ‘Rhodes will not fall’[1] – it is interesting to recall that although both have been castigated as racists, Chesterton was an anti-Imperialist. Famously, he remarked that saying “my country right or wrong” was like saying “my mother, drunk or sober.”[2]

Ironically, in his day anti-Imperialism was a progressive stance, but now the most progressive have become regressive; neo-colonialism is all the rage, with Western progressives trying to impose ‘sexual diversity’, contraception, abortion, etc., on Africa.[3] In fact, providing you employ the politically correct nomenclature, you can address the ‘problem’ of ‘too many Africans’ – even if you are a progressive, non-white American President.[4]

For his part, Chesterton doubted whether, had slavery survived until “the age of Rhodes and Roosevelt and evolutionary imperialism,” emancipation would have happened at all.[5] One thing that especially bothered the evolutionists after emancipation was that black and white could reproduce – that they were not, in fact, different species, but belonged to the same human race; as Chesterton pointed out: “An ape cannot be a priest, but a negro can be a priest.”[6]

Chesterton claimed that Rhodes’s worst influence was not on “colonial politicians, whom he understood” but “on English gentlemen, whom he could not understand”;[7] he inspired Gandhi’s campaign for Indian independence, with his warning that Internationalism was merely Imperialism in disguise since it was “the imposition of one ideal of one sect on the vital varieties of men”;[8] he even defended the religion of dervishes against ‘progressive’ Imperialists who ranked thought above religion, and would allow capitalists to “mow down men like grass in the Soudan, to steal their land and desecrate their tombs” because they were not considered “thinking human beings.”[9]

To Chesterton, patriotism was a good thing, but when it transgressed its boundaries it became Imperialism and trampled on other countries’ rights to self-determination.[10] He supported Irish and Jewish independence, but believed that Imperialism could be economic as well as military, warning that countries could also be ‘invaded’ economically; he claimed that the “perilous power and opportunity” of “wealth and worldly success” had passed from the British Empire to the United States, but that Imperialism was still Imperialism even when advanced by “economic pressure or snobbish fashion rather than by conquest”; although he had “more respect” for the Empire spread by fighting than by finance, in “both cases,” the “worst things” were spread.[11]

Chesterton was born in 1874, and like many in that era struggled to include non-whites in his view of the equality of man, but with his adherence to Enlightenment universalism and universal religion, and with the plight of the underdog as a goad to his sense of injustice he became an anti-Imperialist. Moreover he opposed the birth control movement, which warned against the proliferation of the poor and non-white races, and tried to curb their numbers – unlike Marie Stopes and her American counterpart, Margaret Sanger, both feminist icons for their campaigns for fertility control, despite their overtly racist and eugenicist views.[12]

‘Reproductive choice’ is the latest progressive fad, even when, as in China it is not a choice; abortion is prized as a human right, regardless of the human right to life of the unborn child.[13] Hitler, too, was a fan of population control and eugenics, and saw abortion as a racial weapon[14] – which explains why Stopes was a fan of Hitler’s.[15]

Chesterton was not; in 1912, regarding Rhodes and Imperialism, he observed:

[T]he colonial ideal of such men as Cecil Rhodes did not arise out of any fresh creative idea of the Western genius, it was a fad, and like most fads an imitation. For what was wrong with Rhodes was not that, like Cromwell or Hildebrand, he made huge mistakes, nor even that he committed great crimes. It was that he committed these crimes and errors in order to spread certain ideas.

Unlike Cromwell and Hildebrand, however:

…Rhodes had no principles whatever to give the world. He had only a hasty but elaborate machinery for spreading the principles that he hadn’t got. What he called his ideals were the dregs of a Darwinism which had already grown not only stagnant, but poisonous. That the fittest must survive, and that any one like himself must be the fittest; that the weakest must go to the wall, and that any one he could not understand must be the weakest; that was the philosophy which he lumberingly believed through life, like many another agnostic old bachelor of the Victorian era.

And when it came to religion, Rhodes’s views “were simply the stalest ideas of his time”:

It was not his fault, poor fellow, that he called a high hill somewhere in South Africa ‘his church.’ It was not his fault, I mean, that he could not see that a church all to oneself is not a church at all. It is a madman’s cell. It was not his fault that he ‘figured out that God meant as much of the planet to be Anglo-Saxon as possible.’ Many evolutionists much wiser had ‘figured out’ things even more babyish. He was an honest and humble recipient of the plodding popular science of his time… But it was exactly because he had no ideas to spread that he invoked slaughter, violated justice, and ruined republics to spread them. … Fashionable Imperialism not only has no ideas of its own to extend; but such ideas as it has are actually borrowed from the brown and black peoples to whom it seeks to extend them.

Chesterton added that a recent Rhodes biography gave “an obvious and amusing proof of this”:

The writer admits with proper Imperial gloom the fact that Africa is still chiefly inhabited by Africans. …he quotes this remark of Cecil Rhodes: ‘It is inevitable fate that all this should be changed; and I should like to be the agent of fate.’ That was Cecil Rhodes’s one small genuine idea; and it is an Oriental idea. … Rhodes and Kitchener are to conquer Moslem bedouins and barbarians, in order to teach them to believe only in inevitable fate. We are to wreck provinces and pour blood like Niagara, all in order to teach a Turk to say ‘Kismet’; which he has said since his cradle. We are to deny Christian justice and destroy international equality, all in order to teach an Arab to believe he is ‘an agent of fate,’ when he has never believed anything else. If Cecil Rhodes’s vision could come true (which fortunately is increasingly improbable), such countries as Persia or Arabia would simply be filled with ugly and vulgar fatalists in billycocks, instead of with graceful and dignified fatalists in turbans. The best Western idea, the idea of spiritual liberty and danger, of a doubtful and romantic future in which all things may happen—this essential Western idea Cecil Rhodes could not spread, because (as he says himself) he did not believe in it.

Chesterton concluded:

[T]he Cecil Rhodes Imperialism set up not the King, but the Sultan; with all the typically Eastern ideas of the magic of money, of luxury without uproar; of prostrate provinces and a chosen race. Indeed Cecil Rhodes illustrated almost every quality essential to the Sultan, from the love of diamonds to the scorn of woman.[16]

Chesterton saw Imperialism as a sort of collective pride; a collective of lions is known as a pride, and coincidentally there has been more concern in the Western media about a lion killed by an American dentist than any number of dead Africans killed by terrorism, or simply by hunger and disease. Population control propaganda has been so sly but so successful that whenever disaster strikes we are programmed to think that there are too many Africans anyway. When they succeed in pulling the Imperialist Cecil Rhodes off his pedestal, perhaps the anti-Rhodes campaigners, if they decline to erect a statue to the anti-Imperialist Chesterton, will at least consider a statue to poor unfortunate Cecil the lion.

[1] “Oxford University’s statue of Cecil Rhodes is to stay in place after furious donors threatened to withdraw gifts and bequests worth more than £100 million if it was remove” (‘Cash crisis forces Oriel College to defy student activists who wanted controversial statue toppled’, Daily Telegraph, January 29, 2016, p. 1).

[2] G. K. Chesterton, “A Defence of Patriotism,” The Defendant (1902), accessed July 3, 2008,

[3] The constitution of South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011, protects every person’s “inherent right to life,” stating that “every child has the right to life, survival and development”, but clinics, private health centres and pharmacies hand out chemical abortion pills to women. President of the Population Research Institute Steven Mosher commented that “colonialism” was continuing in Africa “under the guise of such ‘aid’”, but that “instead of governing African countries, Western aid agencies…simply take over the country’s health ministry. Using the power of the purse, they force it to focus on population control. Instead of providing antibiotics and vaccinations, or clean water and septic systems, the donors push chemical abortions and sterilizations”; it was “almost as if they were saying, ‘the only good African baby is a dead African baby” (‘African priest begs help to end 15 years of illegal chemical abortions ravaging his nation’, LifeSiteNews, September 9, 2014, accessed at at September 10, 2014).

[3] In Africa, with the help of ‘family planning’ practices that have helped to spread sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS has affected mainly heterosexuals (see: S. W. Mosher, Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits (New Brunswick, N. J.: Transaction Publishers, 2009); however, same-sex-attracted African-American males have been disproportionately affected: “Whereas new HIV infections were relatively stable among MSM [men having sex with men] from 2006-2009, they increased 34% among young MSM – an increase largely due to a 48% increase among young black/African American MSM aged 13-29” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘HIV among Gay and Bisexual Men,’ May 18, 2012 (, quoted in Thomas Coy, LifeSiteNews, November 13, 2012, accessed at at June 6, 2013).

[4] Progressives’ discomfort at the conservative social attitudes of black communities and black African nations has led to a kind of neo-Imperialism in which whole countries have been ‘leant on’, with the enthusiastic if ironic support of America’s first non-white, but thoroughly progressive President, who told announced: ‘“[N]o matter where you are, and no matter who you love, we stand with you. Across the globe, in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas our diplomats are assisting local LGBT organizations and supporting local human rights advocates working to promote equality, create dialogue, and ensure protections for LGBT individuals”; through the Global Equality Fund, the State Department had ‘“already provided critical emergency and long-term assistance to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons in over twenty-five countries”’; this support would ‘“continue to grow”’ – indeed, the President believed it was ‘“central”’ to the U.S. approach to human rights (Kirsten Andersen, LifeSiteNews, June 10, 2013, accessed at at June 11, 2013). The US embassy in Islamabad held “its first-ever lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ‘pride celebration’”, against protests from a wide variety of Pakistani groups; ironically, their anti-sodomy law, which they wished to retain, was “introduced at the time of British colonialism” (R. R. Reilly, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything (San Francisco, Ca.: Ignatius Press, 2014), p. 201).

[5] G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1922), p. 301.

[6] G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1922), pp. 302–303.

[7] G. K. Chesterton, “The Patriotic Idea,” England: a Nation, Being the papers of the Patriots’ Club in L. Oldershaw, ed. (1904), G. K. Chesterton, G. K. Chesterton Collected Works, Vol. XX (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001), pp. 616–617.

[8] G. K. Chesterton, “Our Notebook,” Illustrated London News, June 17, 1922, p. 890, in G. K. Chesterton, Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movements That Led to Nazism and World War II, Edited by M. W. Perry (Seattle: Inkling Books, 2008), p. 410; “The principal weakness of Indian Nationalism seems to be that it is not very Indian and not very national” (G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, September 18, 1909 (Ibid., p. 409); “I, for one, was led by Mr. Chesterton’s article to all these reflections and I place them before readers” (Mahatma Gandhi, Indian Opinion, January 8, 1910 (Ibid.).

[9] G. K. Chesterton, Letter, “The Jew in Modern Life,” The Nation, April 8, 1911, pp. 58–59, in J. Stapleton, Christianity, Patriotism, and Nationhood: The England of G. K. Chesterton (Lanham, MD/Plymouth, Devon: Lexington Books, 2009), p. 142.

[10] G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (Ware, Herts.: Wordsworth Classics, 1904/1996), p. 115.

[11] G. K. Chesterton, Sidelights on New London and Newer York and Other Essays (London: Sheed & Ward, 1932), p. 164.

[12] Stopes’s mantra ‘every child a wanted child’ sounded positive, but she believed that unless children were deliberately planned they must be unwanted, consequently most poor children should not be born at all: “Are these puny-faced, gaunt, blotchy, ill-balanced, feeble, ungainly, withered children the young of an Imperial race? …Mrs. Jones is destroying the race!” (‘Mrs Jones Does Her Worst,’ Daily Mail, 1919, quoted in S. Trombley, The Right to Reproduce: A History of Coercive Sterilization (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988), p. 79). After the abolition of slavery in America the oppression continued in sterilization programmes aimed at poor Americans (black and white), as well as Margaret Sanger’s racially motivated birth control project, in which she attempted to interest the Ku Klux Klan: “It seems to me from my experience…that while the colored Negroes have great respect for white doctors they can get closer to their own members and more or less lay their cards on the table which means their ignorance, superstitions and doubts… The ministers [sic] work is also important and also he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members” (M. Sanger, letter to Clarence Gamble, December 10, 1939, Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, in A. Franks, Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy: The Control of Female Fertility (Jefferson, N. Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005), pp. 41-46). Sanger permitted racist authors to contribute to her publications: “Part of her motivation to legalize birth control was to cut down on births among the ‘unfit,’ which included the black population” (Sarah Terzo, ‘The racist underpinnings of the abortion movement,’ LifeSiteNews, March 26, 2013, accessed at at March 27, 2013).

[13] “Amnesty International is helping lead a pro-abortion push to repeal the 8th Amendment in Ireland, which has provided legal protection for unborn babies for years. Amnesty International Ireland recruited [Liam] Neeson, an Irish actor, to do a voice-over for its commercial” (Steven Ertelt,‘People Hated Liam Neeson’s Pro-Abortion Ad So Much Amnesty International Hid the Ratings’, LifeNews, November 27, 2015, accessed at at November 28, 2015).

[14] Hitler has been described as “perhaps the greatest applied eugenist who ever lived” (S. Trombley, The Right to Reproduce: A History of Coercive Sterilization (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988), p. 110). He viewed the German people as a biological entity in perpetual struggle: “If the power to fight for one’s own health is no longer present, the right to live in this world of struggle ends. This world belongs only to the forceful ‘whole man’ and not to the weak ‘half’ man” (A. Hitler, Mein Kampf (London: Pimlico, 1925-26/2001), p. 234); he insisted: “He who is not physically and mentally healthy and worthy must not perpetuate his misery in the body of his child”’ (Quoted in D. Sewell, The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics (London: Picador, 2010), p. 137). Weikart remarks that “Hitler – and many other Germans – perpetrated one of the most evil programs the world has ever witnessed under the delusion that Darwinism could help us discover how to make the world better” (R. Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (Houndmills, Hants.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 227); “Darwinism by itself did not produce the Holocaust, but without Darwinism, especially in its social Darwinist and eugenics permutations, neither Hitler nor his Nazi followers would have had the necessary scientific underpinnings to convince themselves and their collaborators that one of the world’s greatest atrocities was really morally praiseworthy. Darwinism – or at least some naturalistic interpretations of Darwinism – succeeded in turning morality on its head” (Ibid, p. 233).

[15] Although when war broke out Stopes ordered Winston Churchill to bomb Berlin, in August 1939 she expressed her admiration by sending Hitler a book of her poetry (J. Rose, Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution (London: Faber & Faber, 1992), p. 219).

[16] G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Sultan’, The Daily News, in A Miscellancy of Men (Norfolk VA, USA: IHS Press, 1912/2004), pp. 128-130.

Copyright 2016 Ann Farmer

Photo by Ernest Herbert Mills [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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