The other day yet another white supremacist went on a rampage, killing five people of five different nationalities: Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, African-American, and … Jewish. Which led me to reflect once again on the strange exemplarity of the Jews.
It is not by way of complaint that I refer to an anomaly that is inevitably ignored or dismissed rather than reflected on. Jews do not benefit from affirmative action programs for disadvantaged minorities; they are not considered a “minority” at all, merely a Euro-American ethnic group like Poles or Italians. In mainstream American society, Jews today feel more threatened by intermarriage than prejudice. Yet among those who see as their mission to maintain the purity of the white (Caucasian? Aryan?) race, the chief target remains, even after the Holocaust, not “people of color” but the Jews, the masters and beneficiaries of ZOG (Zionist Occupied Government).
The superficial explanation for this obsession is that it is a historical holdover from European antisemitism and in particular from Nazism. Yet the skinheads and their brethren are not–as were, for example, the Old Leftists–beholden to European philosophies. The proof that antisemitism is essential to these movements is that there is not to my knowledge a single white supremacy group that does not practice it. If whiteness is the ideal and “mongrelization” the problem, there are plenty of people of non-European ancestry to hate; why remain obsessed with a group of highly assimilated Caucasians? There is something more here than mere slavery to tradition.
In Chronicle 155 I attempted to explain the peculiar virulence of modern antisemitism as a reflection of the decentered structure of market society. Karl Marx’s On the Jewish Question designates the Jew as the central figure of capitalism. Now that Marx’s “scientific socialism” has been discredited, we can understand better than a century ago that the Jew is fingered as the central figure of capitalism precisely because there is no central figure of capitalism. The myth of the “international Jewish conspiracy” as an all-encompassing explanation of the behavior of the market is all the more enticing because there is no rival explanation: the free market is “inexplicable,” and the importance of the Jew to our homegrown white supremacists is a corollary of this fact.
The subsumption of racial and ethnic minorities into a Jewish-directed conspiracy is an extension of the same paranoid logic. The civil rights era, and especially that of affirmative action, generated great resentment among less fortunate whites. That the Jews have never directly benefited from the racial preferences they have supported politically only proves that they are secretly profiting from them. The Turner Diaries, the neo-Nazi cult novel discussed in Chronicle 90, portrays the Jew as controlling animal-like Blacks (a model guaranteed to turn Blacks into antisemites) in a racial variant on the old idea that Bolshevism was a plot of Jewish bankers. In this manner, the threats to the lower middle class from above and below, from the unpredictable outcomes of the market and from the emergence of new ethnic forces, may be explained with a single word.
Yet this explanation is still too historically contingent to exhaust the anthropological significance of antisemitism. The figure of the Jew as the “subject” of the capitalist market is too restrictive both in scope–the Jew is seen as dominating culture as well as the marketplace–and in historical depth. Not only has antisemitism been, at least since the Crusades, a constant feature of the Christian West, but the modern market is not a historical contingency but a highly stable institution that evolves by progressively freeing originary human reciprocity from the restrictions of pre-industrial economies.
The traditional justification for anti-Judaism indicts the stubborn Jewish refusal to accept the Christian intuition of the humanity of the sacred center. For the Jew, man is made in God’s image, but there is no specific image for that to be. Christianity proclaims itself the historical revelation of the originary truth of human reciprocity, the unity of theology and anthropology. The Jew is a reproach to the Christian because he shares this truth but has no pretensions of living it as an apocalypse.
To live as a Christian is to gain the world in practice by turning away from it in theory. Economic exchange can free itself from the ritual order only as an exchange among free spirits who know the center of the circle as well as the periphery. Hence it is really no surprise that it was Christians, not Jews, who created capitalism. The market is modeled on the decentered reciprocity of the Kingdom of God, whereas the Jewish liberation from the ritual center never overrides the ethical concerns of the community.
In the Biblical understanding of the originary scene revealed to Moses in Exodus 3, the sign that remains after the consumption of the central being is to be used not for the imperative recalling of the scene but for its declarative universalization. God’s name is not “Jehovah” but “I am that I am.” Yet this declarative, objective God retains a privileged relationship with this particular people. Even if we forget God’s specific promises to Israel, we cannot put out of mind the superiority of a people constituted by the warrant to conceive all experience, and particularly the worst, as God’s message to itself alone.
What then of the Christian revelation? To reprise my argument in Science and Faith, Jesus’ admonitions to love one another, to put away our sacrifices and reconcile ourselves with our brother are already part of the Jewish tradition. What is radically new is Paul’s understanding of the sacred centrality of the persecuted, the revelation of Jesus’ divinity on the road to Damascus. Where the Jews had understood that the real center is inhabited by the Being of the sign, the Christians realized that this Being was generated, and could be generated anew, by an act interpretable as a victimization. To expel the other is to sacralize him; if we would be free of this mimetic idolatry, we must accept the mediation of the one who was expelled for revealing this mechanism. But this imperative is compelling only to the persecutor, not to the indifferent. If he who, like Saul of Tarsus, is obsessed with expelling Jesus, can find solace only through conversion, this is not true of those who do not share this obsession.
What Saul/Paul discovers is that to persecute is to adore in the mode of mimetic rivalry. It is in this same mode that the Jew is persecuted by the anti-Semite, who is protected from conversion to the worship of this Jew by the historical specificity of the Pauline revelation that makes him already the worshiper of a Jew. The anti-Semite compels the Jew to enter the infernal circle of rivalry and persecution in order to reenact his own Christian conversion: he is the new Paul, and the Jew is the Saul he used to be.
This analysis suggests that antisemitism intensifies in the bourgeois era because it is at this point in history that persecution, which grants significance, comes to be preferable to indifference. The Romantic prefers (imaginary) martyrdom to anonymity, as witness not to his God but to himself. This is the era of individualism, but also of nationalism. If Rousseau’s Rêveries d’un promeneur solitaire is the key text of Romantic neo-martyrdom, Du contrat social defines the terms of nationalist–and socialist–mythology: the “masses” enter political circulation by pledging their allegiance to an avatar of Rousseau’s “general will.” At this point the Jew’s indifference to Jesus is no longer a veil covering his guilt for the Crucifixion; it is itself the ultimate persecution. To opt out of the theater of national life is ipso facto to operate in a hidden realm of conspiracy. The Jew is the ultimate dandy whose detachment from society–in principle, regardless of fact–is the sign of his omnipotence. The anthropological meaning of anti-Semitism may be expressed in terms of the market, but only insofar as the lesson of the modern market is itself understood as a transhistorical revelation concerning human exchange. The Jew is designated the “subject” of the market because, faithful to the empty center revealed by the burning bush, he remains in principle indifferent to the objects–whether of persecution or adoration–that he finds there.
It took the Holocaust to remind us that real persecution is indeed worse than indifference. The succeeding half-century has been dominated by the denunciation of persecutors by minority victims, a global affirmative action from which the Jews, unsurprisingly, have benefited little. Now, at the moment when Jesus’ status as a white man has run afoul of newer identities, those who see the white race as itself a victim are obsessed less with other races than with the corrosion of racial identity itself by the Jews’ “anesthetic” indifference.
Monotheism means being able to claim that everything that happens is God’s message to us. Enraged at the Jews’ monotheistic equanimity in defeat and disaster, the Nazis hoped to inflict on them a catastrophe so great that it could not be understood as the message of God to his people. Nearly sixty years later, we are only beginning to come to grips with the implications of considering the Holocaust as just such a message. Meanwhile, the Nazis’ latter-day disciples, more pathetic than fearsome, although capable of real violence, see themselves as a last line of defense against the Jewish centerlessness that presides over the world of human exchange. However similar to theirs is the conspiratorial mindlessness of the anti-market anarchists of Washington State and Washington DC, we may at least be thankful that the effigies they burn are not those of the Elders of Zion.