While researching the history of the Guild, I came across a small but disturbingly persistent theme. That is to say, several Guild members and associates seemed to have links to British Fascism. These were all independent, and in no sense could the Guild collectively be deemed to be compromised, indeed none of the connections I came across involved individuals who were Guild members at the time and all related to the pre-WW2 period; nevertheless, the links I have found are worth further consideration:
- Captain Herbert Shove – Brocard Sewell reports that Shove he was drawn to fascism; indeed, he met with Mussolini, who impressed him greatly. Shove was also a supporter of the repellent Oswald Mosley, something he concealed when he sought a commission at the start of WW2.
- Hilary Pepler – Stephen Dorril’s Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism (2006) mentions Pepler in passing, as a member of the British People’s Party (a British far-right political party founded in 1939). Indeed, Pepler’s daughter Susan has written about how her father had moved increasingly rightwards politically as the war approached. It should be noted however that when Douglas Hyde wrote three articles accusing GK’s weekly in general, and Pepler and RD Jebb in particular, of having fascist sympathies, he was successfully sued.
- Fr Brocard Sewell – he was a member of the British Fascist Party and devoted friend of Oswald Mosley. Fr Sewell wrote in relation to Captain Shove that many distributists were drawn to fascism before the war.
- David Jones – In an anti-war essay dated 11 May 1939 and intended for the Tablet, though never published there, Jones wrote that ‘there is much in both the Fascist and Nazi revolutions that demands our understanding and sympathy,’ and that Fascism and Nazism represent ‘for all their alarming characteristics a heroic attempt to cope with certain admitted corruptions in our civilisation’. Most believe these views to be been a passing wave, due as much to naivety as conviction. One Jones enthusiast, Dr Rowan Williams, says this about Jones’s links to fascism: “[his biographer] does not shirk the embarrassing fact that Jones expressed a measure of sympathy for Hitler in the 1930s. This should not be misunderstood. What Jones says is that, having read Mein Kampf, he feels it is almost right, but ruined by hatred and racial triumphalism. Hitler appears to him more appealing than most of his opponents, who represent international finance and impersonal bureaucracy, or Marxist collectivism. He later admits that he was simply wrong. But it is a revealing wrongness: he accepts at face value a rhetoric that opposes the market, and he seems to see Hitler’s passion and violence as at least a more honest response to national or global crisis than the “business as usual” of mainstream politicians. And how far are Hitler’s “opponents” being tacitly understood as the cosmopolitan financiers of anti-Semitic myth? Dilworth does not absolve Jones for dipping his toe into this swamp; but he does note that Jones was – more than many of his Catholic colleagues – intolerant of the anti-Semitism of much traditional Catholic thought and shocked by the persecution of the Jews in Germany.“
- Desmond Chute – He was a member of the Tigullian Circle which grew around the prominent anti-Semite and Hitler sympathiser, Ezra Pound. I have not come across any suggestion that Chute shared these views, but he must have been aware of them and continued his friendship nonetheless.
On the face of it, nothing could have been further away from the peaceful, independent, communal existence of the Guild that the nationalistic, authoritarian, militaristic parties that were gathering around Continental Europe and indeed making some headway in England. The question of how as many as five Guild supporters could have come anywhere near being snared into this faction is one that bears some scrutiny.
The nature of British links to fascist politics is a complex matter, and much has been written about the attitudes of English Intellectuals and establishment figures to Nazism in the 1930s. I will limit myself to offering some disparate ideas which may form part of the answer, none of which should be seen as excusing this shocking tendency.
- In the 1930s, the true nature of Fascism had yet to fully emerge though Nazism, and there was much interest through intellectual circles. To some extent, this may have led to some cherry-picking of elements of Fascist ideology so that it seemed more balanced than it actually was.
- Fascists were inclined to idealise the past and oppose modern materialism, something Guild members would certainly relate to. Gill, who himself was unambiguously opposed to fascism, attributed many modern ills to the rise of the usurious merchant class in the 15th and 16th centuries.
- The Catholic Church was and is authoritarian, not a democratic organisation, it takes the point of view that you cannot vote away truth.
- In the Spanish Civil War, the treatment of priests and church by Republican forces was often brutal, leading many Catholics to see a Fascist leader like Franco as a defender of the church.
- The Fascist ideology had a now overlooked concern for ecological issues, believing in preserving the land and forest from the ongoing rush of urbanisation.
- The rise of the USSR with its atheistic ideology led many, in particular the Catholic Church, to see it as the main enemy and all who opposed it as less problematic.
- The harsh treatment of Germany after WW1 led some to sympathise with its plight.
- Oswald Mosley posed as an anti-War figure, notwithstanding the tendency of his movement to indulge in violence at every opportunity.
- Like the Guild, fascism was opposed to both Capitalism / big business (albeit, as a slightly disguised form of anti-Semitism) and trade unions.
- Anti-Semitism was rife in society, frequently arising as a result of a widespread habit of making broad and careless judgements about racial groups. The reputations of both GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc have suffered in this respect.