In the spirit of knowing one’s enemy, I recently read Andrew Macdonald’s The Turner Diaries (1978), an eschatological tale of the White takeover of the US and the world–which requires “sterilizing” all of Asia east of the Urals. In a personally endearing moment, UCLA faculty are hanged from lampposts in an act of Aryan retribution. Compared to this, Mein Kampf is a sober work of political philosophy. Although I expected a great deal of racial paranoia, I was not quite ready for the Nazi-strength antisemitism. Indeed, this branch of the “ultra-right” is really neo-Nazism. For a truly apocalyptic racial vision, good old American racism is insufficient; the most virulent strain must be imported from abroad.
But if I was at least partly prepared to hear about the Jew in a work of white supremacist propaganda, I was altogether surprised to find him in a far more respectable American classic: W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903), reproduced in its entirety in the new Norton Anthology of African-American Literature. Du Bois’ antisemitism is hardly obsessive, but it is not tangential either: there are a half-dozen derogatory references to Jews, including (twice) “the Jew,” shown “squeezing blood” from Blacks; on three other occasions an exploitative landowner is referred to as “a Russian Jew,” although no other White ethnic group (aside from “Yankees”) is identified. If the readings in the Norton Anthology are as representative as they appear to be, Du Bois’ work–three generations before Louis Farrakhan–is the origin of Black antisemitism.
Antisemitism is just about the only thing the White activist and the Black activist have in common. And, curiously enough, Macdonald’s book helps make this understandable. Whereas the Jew, however vile, is shown as diabolically clever and untiring in his efforts–he is the evil double and, implicitly, the worthy adversary of the Aryan hero–Blacks are portrayed as savage brutes manipulated by Jews in exchange for being allowed to rape, plunder, and occasionally devour their White enemies. Farrakhan’s picture of the Jews controlling Black sports and entertainment figures (as well as the NAACP) could be inserted into the book unchanged. If there is one thing a Black reader of Turner might be tempted to accept, it is its antisemitism.
Jews and Blacks are the two great victimary peoples–the sacred, if not the chosen peoples–of Western, and now of world civilization (thus there is now antisemitism in Japan). From the days of the spirituals through Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939), American Blacks took the Hebrew slaves and their Exodus from Egypt as their model. The more recent Afrocentric identification of Black Africans with the Pharaonic Egyptians is more than a historical myth: it is an inversion of their former identification with the Hebrews. The repudiation of the Jewish model is also an important subtext in Blacks’ attraction to Islam–and to leaders like Farrakhan. Afrocentrism is a post-Holocaust phenomenon. The Holocaust, as an unequivocal demonstration of the sacrificial nature of ethnic discrimination, provided the originary guarantee for the great postwar surge in victimary thought and rhetoric, among the accomplishments of which were the liberation of European colonies and the American Civil Rights revolution. At the same time, this historical reiteration of Black dependency on the Jewish model of victimage has been a source of mimetic rivalry made all the more intense by the Jews’ exemplary role as the bearers of White guilt in American society.
There is an un-Nazi-like ambivalence in Black antisemitism that reflects the impossibility of a victimary people fully identifying with the ruling class, be it American or Egyptian. Paradoxically, it is this ambivalence that gives Black antisemitism its special edge: not only does the Jew victimize the Black, he is the very source of his image of victimization. This feature is already present in Du Bois. His final reference to Jews in Souls occurs in the conclusion to Chapter 12, where he identifies the subject of his eulogy, the Black minister Alexander Crummell, with the crucified Jesus, described as “a dark and pierced Jew.” This touching passage makes the reader want to forget the previous ones. The same cannot be said for Farrakhan’s crudely schematic expression of the same ambivalence in the claim that “rich Jews” financed the Holocaust: “Little Jews died while big Jews made money.” In Du Bois, the ambivalence can still be separated into two distinct emotions; in Farrakhan’s post-Holocaust environment, any expressed sympathy for the imagined “little Jews” of the past serves only to fuel hatred for the real Jews of today.
Both Jews and Blacks are models of the tribal origin of Western Christian society: the Jew as the “superseded” precursor, the Black as the “primitive” ancestor. African societies, although not “savage,” were indeed primitive by European standards; how else could they have been conquered so easily a century later? The horror of Western slavery was precisely its introduction of a practice typcial of African society into a more advanced civilization. In the days of the slave trade, African slavery–still practiced, from what one hears, in the Sudan and elsewhere–was no more shocking than slavery in ancient Greece. But to justify its importation into the West required extrapolating from the lower historical level of African social development to an inferior Black racial essence, a sin against the Western ethical ideal that “all men are created equal.” The African-American is the witness to our falling-away from universal reciprocity in order to profit from historical difference. Post-emancipation racism reaffirms the essential nature of this difference in the face of the norms of our own society, and in the days of the lynch mob (when Du Bois’ work was written), obsession with racial difference provided a sacrificial justification of the distinct Southern social order despite its economic inferiority to the North.
But if the Black stands as a reminder to the Christian West of its unfulfilled promise of universal human reciprocity, the Jew will not let it forget that his tribal uniqueness stands at the origin of Western universality. By revealing the one God’s unfigurability, the Jews created for themselves an irreversible priority. Hence in the nineteenth century, when each country wants to redraw God in the national image, the Jew comes to incarnate the resistance of the universalizing forces of Western society–notably its money-based exchange-system–to national solidarity. If anti-Black racism denies the West’s guilt for abandoning its principle of ethical universality to profit from the historical advantage this very principle had given it, antisemitism would deny the historical origin of universality itself. The racist dreams of a new white world without Blacks; the antisemite can only dream of a new version of history in which Jews never existed.
For a time after the Holocaust, there was a general moratorium on antisemitism; this period has now come to an end. Its resurgence, for the moment more in thought than in action, demonstrates what one is tempted to call its structural necessity in Western culture. Just before completing this column, I read in the May 5 New Republic Michael Kelly’s denunciation of the general tolerance of Farrakhan. I cannot agree more with Kelly’s point that politicians and pundits should stop pandering to the Nation of Islam and its leader. But implicit in his analysis is a sinister development that he never quite spells out: that the White establishment’s acceptance of Farrakhan is a newly creative way of combining racism with antisemitism. Although the publisher of The Turner Diaries claims to have sold over 200,000 copies, its sympathizers are well beyond the pale of legitimate political discourse; the same cannot be said for antisemites in the Black community. By accepting a separatist Black nationalism, the broader society frees itself from the messy business of undoing the disastrous policy of affirmative racial preferences and integrating Blacks into the social mainstream. In this context, antisemitism provides a secret bond between the Nation of Islam and important forces in the greater society (those represented by Robert Novak, for example): Farrakhan and his emulators dare to express the eternal antisemitic “truths” that Whites cannot openly admit. As a result of this unavowed complicity, for the first time in history, antisemitism has acquired a significant constituency in American politics.
It is too easy to denounce racism and antisemitism; they reflect not merely our sinful nature but real problems of the social order. To incorporate into society the heirs of Black slavery and the bearers of Jewish historical uniqueness will take far more time and effort and love of our fellow humans than any isolated individual has patience for. These are not tasks that can ever be accomplished once and for all; they are exemplary goals that point out the horizon of the global society we are in the process of creating.