Event Date: 15 – 17 May 2019
Richmond University – The American University in London
Richmond TW10 6JP
A Century of Radical Right Extremism: New Approaches
Liam Liburd (University of Sheffield) – Among the ‘Drawing-room Fascists’: The career of A. K. Chesterton, 1938-1954
This paper examines what one Home Office report from the 1940s called the ‘Drawing-room Fascists’ through a study of the journalistic career of A.K. Chesterton (1899-1973) during the late 1930s, 40s and 50s. The term ‘Drawing-room Fascists’ referred to the “respectable” radical right milieu clustered around journals like Truth, The Patriot, and The Weekly Review, and groups like English Mistery/English Array and the Constitutional Research Association. This was the circle in which Chesterton moved and the crucible in which his ideology developed from Mosleyite fascism into an ultra-reactionary imperialism. As well as his ideological development, this study of his activist journalism sheds light on the persistence of networks operating in ‘the grey area between Fascism and conservatism’.
Chesterton was one of the most prominent ideologues of the twentieth century British radical right. Formerly a leading member of the inter-war British Union of Fascists (BUF), the worldview he developed during the 1940s and early 1950s went on to heavily influence the ideology of succeeding generations of radical right activists from the National Front onwards. His works were still appearing on the booklists of the British National Party in 1999.
David Baker’s Ideology of Obsession: A. K. Chesterton and British Fascism is the only full-length biography of Chesterton but it deals with the 1930s, covering his post-1938 career in a sort of epilogue. This paper builds on Baker’s work as well as that of Richard Griffiths on the ‘Fellow travellers of the right’. It also aims to contribute to the small but steadily growing number of studies on the British radical right’s relationship with British imperialism. Imperialism, as the activism and networks of Chesterton will demonstrate, was the issue which most often united fascists and disaffected Conservatives. When it came to the Empire, they often spoke in the same language and exhibited a similar passionate desire for its retention.