in memoriam René Girard
When I was in school, I learned about white Caucasians and black Africans and yellow Asians and red American Indians. But skin color was not the same as race; darker-skinned (Asian) Indians were of the same Caucasian race as myself.
Today, “white” means European exclusively. Even Near-Easterners, whose physical features are close to those common in Southern Europe, must be looked upon as “brown” people, as are the populations of Latin America, whether or not of Amerindian descent.
A growing number of antisemitic incidents, although almost all carried out by non-whites, have provided the Left with a new pretext for evoking the bogeyman of white supremacy to distract from the real terrorism emanating from the Left, as they had served as a sadly effective means from scaring Jews and other liberals away from Donald Trump—David Duke voted for him!
Yet this current rash of incidents is but a footnote to Jewish history. What is of real significance is the spread of the paradoxical Jewish-firstness role to the entire root population of Western civilization. The same shamefaced repudiation of what used to be called Jewish “stiff-necked pride” and is today deemed “white privilege” has now, in the form of White Guilt, spread to the entire respectable population of European origin, whether in the US or in the nations of Europe—the unabashed remainder being classed with neo-Nazis and other deplorables.
Thus the typically apologetic self-presentation of Western Jews, rooted in centuries of real oppression, has now become all but obligatory for whites—and even more broadly, for all non-victimary, that is, unmarked categories, even including women, who may be marked with respect to men, but not with respect to transwomen: whence “pregnant persons,” “chest-feeding,” men on girls’ sports teams, etc.
As for heterosexual or even homosexual cis-normality, although one may not be expected to feel shameful about it, it is no longer considered inoffensive to treat it as a norm. If pregnant person makes 0.001% of the population (surely an exaggeration) feel less unsafe, then the other 99.999% had just better bow to their presumed wishes—even though, as with the Cleveland Indians, so named after a real Indian—uh, Native American—there is no evidence that anyone other than Newspeak activists has ever been offended by terms like “mother” or “pregnant woman.”
The connection between this behavior and antisemitism in the narrow sense is the common thread of disavowal of firstness, now no longer limited to the ancient priority of the One God, but applied to the firstness of the Christian West in applying the Hebrews’ religious breakthrough to the liberation of individual minds that allowed it to create the world of modernity—in contrast with China which despite its many science-related discoveries, remained a feudal monarchy. The shameful Jew role must be experienced by as many people and as often as possible. The woke conscience is satisfied only by the affirmation of the victimary in every single manifestation of human culture—ideally, in every sentence. (What are your pronouns?)
Thus George Orwell’s prophecy has at last come true, although the imposition of today’s Newspeak is yet more sinister than in 1984. In the novel, it was imposed from above, albeit destined to take over the language as the old words were forgotten. But the source of today’s Newspeak is a grass roots operation centered in the social media.
The populations in 1984 were coerced by threats of punishment, as in the USSR or today’s PRC. We don’t need a gulag—the mob’s pressure forces administrators to impose whatever manner avoids offending it. Just as numbers of clicks and likes determine popularity (and income) among “influencers,” activist voices impose wokeness as an ongoing critique of every element of culture.
In the place of the Burkean “silent majority” that maintains the inertial traditions of a society, the “cake of custom” that can be changed only slowly and for good reasons emerging through the political process, we have reduced the decision procedure to counting made-up minds on Twitter. Thousands of people sit at their computers every day seeking and finding new sources of outrage, and it is this dynamic that obliges the heads of corporations and universities and governmental agencies to pursue their never-ending purge of normality.
Today, Jews and whites throughout the West increasingly see themselves in the same spotlighted position of guilty firstness. Whites remain the majority and dominate the ruling class in all Western countries, while Jews, the majority nowhere for two millennia, are now defined no longer as a frequently persecuted minority but as the colonial oppressors of the “indigenous” population of the “apartheid” state of Israel.
Being self-conscious of the “privilege” of firstness is not in itself a bad thing. But rather than the bathwater of the babe of civilization, firstness is its very womb. Centuries of resentment-epistemology have led today’s woke to deny every mode of human superiority, including that of human life itself, treating us as usurping colonizers of Gaia who would do better to leave the Earth before we destroy it—as though this one among billions of planets would be of any significance in a universe deprived of, as far as we know, the only creatures able to conceive of significance—which is another name for the sacred.
In the face of the woke takeover of the near-totality of our institutions, from government to academic to military to business to foundations and NGOs, what still sustains the US and the rest of the West is the residual civic ethic of its populations. If I send my child to school, he is going to learn about CRT, and perhaps not much else, but in his everyday dealings with others, he will see little of this. Race relations in the US are generally quite cordial, as are those between the sexes. How can this social capital be salvaged while there still remains enough of it to resist the institutional pressure that erodes it?
The key is to arrest the progress (the “march through the institutions”) of the epistemology of resentment, increasingly dominant since the French Revolution, and which since the 1930s has largely replaced with “Cultural Marxism” the materialism of Das Kapital.
This leftward movement had begun in reaction to the feudal system, merit-based in its inception, but that continued long after the erosion of its base in medieval agrarian society to privilege members of castes (nobility and clergy) whose claims were no longer grounded in social utility. In Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt famously explained modern antisemitism in these very terms: at the beginning of the early modern era, “court Jews” had been protected by rulers as useful intermediaries, international bankers, etc., but in the emerging bourgeois era this role had lost its importance, whence the growth of the modern antisemitism that led eventually to the Holocaust.
In contrast to resentment of obsolete caste privileges, today’s woke religion is founded on resentment of “privilege” per se, no longer in the sense of inherited status, but of the statistical advantage of more established groups (whites) over those less so (blacks and others) in qualifying for desirable social roles. The point is no longer that the rewards are not matched to the abilities, but that historical inertia has led to the concentration of these abilities among one population as opposed to the other.
Of course the success not merely of Jews, but of certain Asian groups, notably Chinese and Japanese, contradicts the notion of “systemic racism,” particularly in the light of the severe discrimination exercised against these groups in not so distant times by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the confinement of Japanese-Americans during WWII.
Yet the lower qualifications of certain minorities, along with their much higher crime rates, is taken as ipso facto proof of racism. The society as a whole is made responsible for inferior performance on the basis of historical conditions that may no longer obtain, but whose prolonged effect is laid to the charge of those who share the race of the former perpetrators.
Thus do the institutions of our increasingly digital society not only ally themselves with, but deliberately incite minority resentment, focusing respectable minds on White Guilt and away from their “post-national” economic stance, profiting from Chinese and other international trade. The shameful genuflections of the corporate world toward China, whether in Hollywood or in product advertising, need no demonstration here.
In the digital age, the split that Charles Murray revealed between professional Belmont and working-class Fishtown was only the beginning of the coming apart of American society. In Belmont, people like myself are well regarded: full professor at a major university…. Whereas from the standpoint of the separation that more and more marks the American economy, people such as I, who might well eat at the Olive Garden, are scarcely differentiated from the hillbilly deplorables in flyover country.
When Barack Obama threw his recent “scaled-down” 60th birthday party, I don’t need to do research to know that few or none of the attendees arrived on commercial flights. It is this Belmont++ class that protects itself by translating the trends of the social media into vast sums that subsidize not only Antifa and BLM, but the foundations and NGOs and above all, the media that contribute to the woke brainwashing of the American public, not merely stoking minority resentment and white guilt, but implementing the various aspects of the cancel culture. The digital economy gives them the power to do this by virtue of its extraordinary ability to concentrate wealth in a few hands. We are at the antipodes of Marx’s “labor theory of value.” One “worker” today can earn an income a million times greater than another.
The black/colored minority is offered symbolic triumphs like writing Black as opposed to white, but is if anything discouraged from improving its human capital—as witness abolishing advanced math classes and denouncing the “whiteness” of getting the correct answer. In short, the teaching of racial resentment in preference to the three Rs, the gifting of points on objective examinations like the SAT—which are now being abandoned altogether in the interest of “diversity.” All this only accentuates the digital divide that cuts off minorities from real achievement and subjects them to what Dinesh D’Souza rightly calls the “Plantation” of welfare and false sympathy, benefiting mostly an updated class of race-hustlers whose arrogance far outclasses that of the Al Sharptons.
So long as academic merit can be associated with “white privilege,” the very notion of meritocracy is discredited. Yet one does not abolish the necessity of matching ability to responsibility by disguising it in symbolic rituals that only make the inferiority of minority performance more obvious. Noble figures like Thomas Sowell who have been saying this for years gain respect, but have little public influence; the smart money is elsewhere.
We can only hope that the shamelessness of the current administration will provoke a sufficiently strong reaction, hopefully honored not only at the ballot box but in the back rooms where the votes are counted, to allow a return to what at this point need only be called common sense. The very point of wokeness is to discredit common sense, that basis of Burkean social solidarity. But we can hope that all has not succumbed to the new religion, and that political leaders will be found to overturn this truly dangerous insurrection against American democracy, in contrast with the pitiful riot of January 6.
What historical lesson do we learn from making the entire root population of the West share the stigmatized role of the Jews? Of all the paradoxes their conception of the One God has given to history, this may well be the most consequential—although if the consequences turn out badly, there may be no one left to tell the tale.
The coincidence between the Assumption of the Virgin and the fall of Kabul may give us a hint. If Christianity is a dialectical synthesis between Judaism and pagan Classicism, Islam is quite different. Where Christianity offers as our model/mediator the “prince of peace” whose crucifixion is a prelude to his resurrection, Islam rejects all dialectic in favor of submission. In a word, in claiming to be the originary truth distorted by its Abrahamic brethren, it simply abolishes firstness as a human category.
This justifies acts of barbarism that the West has long renounced. Yet war, the ultimate means of defending one’s right to exist, is full of acts of barbarism. The end of WWII with the destruction of two Japanese cities full of people is no accident, nor is the West’s mourning for them expressed so masterfully in Duras/Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour. WWII was marked by especially cruel atrocities on the Axis side and notably by the Holocaust, but there were plenty on our own, as our moralizers are happy to tell us. Well, that’s what war is, or at least became after the French Revolution. Nor is it a coincidence that René Girard’s last book, Achever Clausewitz, had total war at its center.
If the West has not won a war since WWII, the reason is here. Jewish firstness is essentially chronological, and thereby indelible; it does not require to be defended by military victory. Whereas Christianity, other-worldly as is the basis of its theology (“My kingdom is not of this world”), in principle leaving the world to Caesar, nonetheless revealed itself to be history’s most successful means of world conquest. I still believe in Fukuyama’s idea that liberal democracy is, as Churchill put it, the worst system with the exception of all the others; this paradoxical structure is that of Christianity itself, whatever the clerical authorities think of credo quia absurdum.
Today’s “strong horses,” the Muslim Taliban and the Chinese, didn’t invent the weapons of modern warfare, but they show themselves willing, as the West is no longer, to use them without compunction. Just as Muslims (or Asian Communists) make no claim of firstness, but submit in principle to the sacred will, as Westerners can no longer do without sharing the guilt of its violence. The ultimate sense of Girard’s la violence, ou le sacré, is not the simple equation of the two as a danger to be conjured, but the reservation of violence as the ultimate weapon of the sacred will, the principle of “holy war.”
The West has no more holy wars to win, hence it can no longer defend itself from the soldiers of Allah or those of Mao. It can only deter them with threats of total violence that, as it becomes every day clearer, cannot be carried out. Fleeing Kabul under attack by a semi-primitive militia is not a sagacious move to cut our losses, but a full-fledged surrender, not merely of our “interests” in Afghanistan, but of our ability to assert the dominance of Western values, however benign, over the rest of the world.
It is characteristic that, in witnessing the debacle, the MSM never neglect to blame it on Donald Trump, as though his statements about leaving Afghanistan obliged Biden to honor his commitment. I cannot imagine Trump presiding over such a catastrophe, and neither really can his detractors. But such is the current state of the Decline of the West, Die Untergang des Abendlandes.
Let us hope that, before it is too late, Israel will absorb the lesson of this world-historical humiliation.