There used to be two kinds of people in academia. There were learned scholars, who added to the sum of human knowledge in their respective fields and subfields by repairing and extending dominant frames of inquiry. And then there were equally and sometimes even more brilliant and learned people who delighted in turning existing fields and subfields into rubble, thus clearing the way for new and hopefully even greater flowerings of knowledge.
One of the symptoms of the over-bureaucratized decadence of academia these days that scholars of the latter type are nearly impossible to find. While the model of the university as a means for transmitting orthodoxies has deep roots in the Christian tradition, it has done little for the progress of humanistic and critical thought. Needless to say, stamping out the critical spirit is bad for the Jews, just as it is bad for scholarship and for universities.
Benjamin Ginsberg, political scientist and chair of the Johns Hopkins Center for Advanced Governmental Studies, is an oddity in the current academic landscape. He is a Republican in a liberal Democratic monoculture; he is a puckish contrarian who refuses to shut up, in a moment when the penalty for light nonconformist banter is often to be hauled before tribunals, and lose your job; he is funny, in an age of humorlessness and virtue-mongering; he is a weirdo, in an age where conformity is king. A conversation with Ben Ginsberg is likely to be disorienting, and even infuriating; it is also an excellent spur to productive thought.
Which is why, after a long walk in the woods behind my home in Delaware County the other day, I decided to call Ben Ginsberg on the phone and pay homage to the pleasures of the pre-machine age, like playing around with ideas about what’s actually happening in the world. What follows is a transcript of our conversation that has not been edited to keep anyone out of trouble.
David Samuels: I want you to tell me how I should think about a large social phenomenon that falls within your field of academic expertise. I’ll propose a few answers, and you can pick one.
Benjamin Ginsberg: I can pick one. That’s good!
What interests me is that virtually overnight, the entire American elite class, which also comprises the directorships of the 100 largest corporations in America, has enthusiastically embraced the movement that, for lack of a better word, we can call woke-ism. Among the components of their new belief system is their ritual obeisance to the slogan “Black Lives Matter”—the display of which is now mandatory at sporting events, on public buildings, on the websites of large foundations and on strollers in Park Slope. The speed of this embrace might seem to throw into question the underlying premise of woke-ism, which is that America is a country dominated by “white supremacists”—when in fact America is a country ruled by people who enthusiastically embrace the demands of woke-ism at warp speed.
I want to review three explanations for this phenomenon that are currently in my head.
One is that America is in the grip of one of the great religious awakenings that have marked the country’s history, the Great A-woken-ing. All these billionaire corporate directors and banker mommies and daddies are all being moved by the Holy Spirit, or the singularity, or whatever they call religion in Silicon Valley these days.
What’s another explanation? I don’t like that one.
Explanation number two relies on the power of a different root human emotion: Fear. The black-clad legions of antifa have terrified the white supremacist power structure.
This would be the Great Fear.
Yes, the Great Fear.
OK. Let’s get down to a real explanation, shall we?
(Laughs). The Great A-woken-ing and the Great Fear please ye not. Fine.
My own explanation is that beneath all the fun urban cosplay and the very real wealth transfers being effected by the coronavirus, what we are seeing is the consolidation of a new American elite, who are the beneficiaries of the digital revolution of the past 25 years and the global trade arrangements that these new technologies have made possible.
One obvious effect of these new arrangements is the rise of a new and incredibly wealthy class of billionaire people who live somewhere in the clouds surrounded by lifestyle servants and NDAs. Another obvious effect is the collapse of 20th-century America—from the shipping of manufacturing jobs to China; to the destruction of the print pyramid and its accompanying notions of gatekeepers and objectivity; the ongoing destruction of white-collar work and of expertise in fields like medicine, and so forth. What has replaced it all is a new form of corporate feudalism which is administered by a new class of bureaucrats.
I mean, Jeff Bezos alone is worth $200 billion; he owns The Washington Post and the entire U.S. publishing industry while hosting the CIA’s databases in his secure cloud. Thanks to the coronavirus, Amazon has now transferred an enormous part of the U.S. small business and retail sector to China. Amazon also manufactures a range of devices that listen in on our private conversations inside our homes.
So, to get to the point, I think what we are seeing now is a version of what we saw in the Gilded Age—namely the familiar historical process by which the old institutionally grounded elites consummate their marriage with fabulously wealthy upstarts.
Yes, that explanation has considerable merit. Remember, of course, that these enormous multinational corporations engage in tax arbitrage and pay virtually no taxes in the United States. I think Apple pays its taxes in the Republic of Ireland where it has negotiated a 0.005% tax rate. As a result, they can afford to espouse virtuous policies in the U.S. since someone else will pay for them.
But part of what’s happening today is much more mundane. Namely that groups within the Democratic Party have seized on police shootings of Black men as a way of exciting Black voters to turn out for the 2020 election. They are tending to their base, by pushing the usual symbolic buttons, in the absence of any kind of real solutions to the problems of our inner cities over which they’ve presided for the past half-century.
Trump, of course, hopes that images of rioting will frighten white suburban voters and induce them to support the GOP.
Maybe. But again, if you look at the places where Black Lives Matter fervor has seemed to really catch fire in the streets, like Portland and Seattle, none of these cities are traditional strongholds of African American voters. Portland and Seattle may be the two whitest cities in America.
Yes, but the precise physical location of these events is not that important. They are viewed through the national media and might as well be next door.
But let’s get back to the elite consolidation thesis, then. Notice where radical groups have demanded a defunding of the police, local Black mayors have said, “Well, no. Let’s, let’s not go that far.”
Democratic mayors know that the police will be needed to restore order pretty soon, once the Democrats win the election.
Defunding the police is another idea that comes from so-called progressive spaces in which Black activists play an important symbolic, legitimating role, but in which all the actual money and power is in the hands of the rich white elite and their color-coded retainers. Since the formal civil rights struggle was decided on the federal level in 1964, the politics of race in America has devolved into a grotesque and demeaning skin game which is especially cruel to black-skinned people. Go look at Newark, or Baltimore, or Chicago, and see who a half-century of social policy from both the left and the right—the mass incarceration welfare state—has actually benefited. Municipal unions and sneaker companies.
Having spent a decent part of my childhood in a lower-middle-income housing project in Brooklyn, I can tell you that no one wants to get shot by criminals, whatever their skin color, or have them doing their business in the apartment next door.
I agree. I also agree that there is a kind of interesting elite consolidation under way in the U.S. that does parallel the events of the late 19th century. We have a fabulously wealthy new elite, namely tech billionaires and related folks. The established monied classes in the United States need to incorporate these people, and they’re being incorporated around a kind of woke agenda, just as the elites of the late 19th century were incorporated around a Christian agenda of social do-gooding.
You’ve written very well about the way this marriage was consummated in late 19th-century America, when the old white Anglo-Saxon Protestant elites were forced to absorb the Vanderbilts and Carnegies and Goulds, many of whom were quite vulgar and even illiterate. How does that happen?
Well, in the late 19th century, you know, established wealthy and socially prominent groups in the Northeast had their power challenged by a new fabulously wealthy industrial elite. Their response was to offer this elite prestige in exchange for money.
The new industrialists, as you said, often couldn’t read or write that well, but they could make a lot of money. So, they were given an opportunity to do good, to do prestigious things, to endow universities and otherwise, as we would say, make their money more kosher. In exchange, the established elite was given and retained a good deal of control over these institutions.
This is where the great New England boarding schools come from, right?
Absolutely. The New England Brahmins were given control over these schools, which were funded by the new industrial elite.
Part of what I took from your work is that there’s a sort of ceremony to the marriage of old money and new money in America. And also, that part of that ceremony is kicking Jews out of clubs and universities and so forth. It’s a folk tradition, like breaking the glass under the chuppah. Why is that?
Why do exclusive institutions want to exclude Jews? Well, how else would you know they were exclusive?
At the end of the 19th century, the industrialists, who were yesterday’s Silicon Valley tech barons, had come under attack for among other reasons, for being uncouth, and being no better than a bunch of Jews.
And indeed, they were closely associated with Jews. The Jewish railroad builders and bankers were part of this group, and that made the industrialists vulnerable to charges of being a gaggle of Jews.
So, as part of the ritual by which they were declared to be honorable members of society they had to extrude their Jewish friends, which they did quite quickly.
If you look at tech barons today, right, the myth is that of self-made men like Steve Jobs, the Syrian immigrant’s son—although his Syrian father was actually quite rich, and Jobs never had anything to do with the guy.
The actual money that funded Silicon Valley is mostly old California institutional and personal money. The whole valley tech complex, including the mythos of startups in someone’s garage, goes back to Bill Hewlett and David Packard, two absolutely classic West Coast WASPs who met at Stanford before World War II. Jeff Bezos comes from an old money Texas family and went to Princeton. Bill Gates’ father was a powerful old money lawyer in Seattle whose kid became Harvard’s second-most-famous dropout after Gram Parsons.
Then there are those two very wealthy and smart Jews who run Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who’ve both shown their intelligence by not appearing in public for the past decade and hiring a sort of uber-establishment WASP bagman named Eric Schmidt to attend congressional hearings and buy off the Ivies.
So this context, then it’s interesting to me that there’s this one tech villain-figure shaping up, and it’s not Jeff Bezos. Instead, it’s Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who makes the mistake of actually appearing at congressional hearings.
Why didn’t he hire somebody?
(Laughs.) Right? This shows that the ex-Soviet Jew, Sergey Brin, was so much smarter than the American Jew, Mark Zuckerberg. Sergey knew the score. Hire Eric Schmidt and let him pretend to be head of Google. Then hide your money in a cave in New Zealand.
Mark Zuckerberg also makes the mistake of marrying an Asian woman. So now he incarnates the two things that the new woke American elite seems eager to eliminate as part of their marriage pact, namely rich Jews and Asians who go to Harvard.
Of course, the power of the Jews is always kind of an illusion. Jews exercise power, but they’re always on very shaky ground, and both the Jews and their enemies know it.
Q: So why don’t they love us anymore, Benjamin? A: It’s because of us, David. We’re not that lovable.
In America, Jews exercise power as part of an alliance with the liberal Protestant bourgeoisie. This is an alliance that began in the Second World War. It was the pro-British, anti-German coalition, the Jews feared Germany and the WASPs supported Great Britain. That alliance was renewed when McCarthy attacked the WASPs, and the House Un-American Activities Committee attacked the Jews.
Alger Hiss and the Hollywood Ten.
Right. So the Jews and WASPs united. The Jews controlled the new television networks, and the WASPs were the front people, and they united to undermine McCarthy.
Why don’t they love us anymore, Benjamin?
It’s because of us, David. We’re not that lovable.
We’re not very lovable, even though we are very useful allies because we’re smart, we are rich, and we are active. But we’re, uh, as they say, pushy. That is, we’re not content to be followers. We want to lead.
I remember years ago Pat Buchanan made an apt comment about Jewish conservatives. He said he’s happy to welcome Jewish conservatives to the church, and even let them sing in the choir, but the problem is they want to be the ministers and rewrite the gospels.
I mean, we’re right up there on the cross.
Jews are not just allies. They’re competitors for leadership. And the gentile bourgeoisie has resented this. And they’ve identified two Jewish weaknesses in the present day.
One weakness that the Jews possess is their association with Israel. Notice I don’t say support. A lot of Jews don’t support Israel, but they’re still associated with it.
Why is that inherently a weakness? Italians are associated with Italy, right?
One reason is that Israel has, according to some, become the world’s greatest bastion of racism. And under the doctrine of intersectionality, it’s not just racism. It’s sexism. Zionists are inherently opposed to trans people. To all people of color everywhere. They’re opposed to everybody.
That’s obviously so. But my question is, who made it so?
Well, this goes back to another dimension of Jewish political weakness, and that has to do with African Americans. Jews saw themselves as, and indeed were, supporters and patrons of African Americans during the Civil Rights era and beyond. But patrons are often resented and younger generations of Black leaders then attacked their elders for being too closely identified with Jews.
Stokely Carmichael, as you might recall, was the first recognized Civil Rights leader to say anti-Semitic things in public, as part of his message, by way of differentiating himself.
God how I hate this stupid race language. I don’t find African American anti-Semitism, or whatever you want to call it, to be some kind of endemic or innate characteristic. It’s something creepy and pathetic about some failed individuals. It doesn’t strike me as coming from a place of power.
You may regard it as such, but it was useful for people like Jesse Jackson at one time. Certainly for Louis Farrakhan, and for Al Sharpton and others.
Anti-Semitism has been a useful organizing tool for many people in many places throughout history, right?
Black anti-Semitism gave others ideas—it gave legitimacy to an anti-Semitic discourse that was always lurking among the elites. When some African Americans started to attack the Jews, American leftists saw the possibilities and began attacking Israel making use of the rhetoric of Third World anti-Zionism which was already quite prevalent in Europe.
Remember that you have 3 million, 4 million, Muslim immigrants in Europe, and European left-wing parties saw these as potential constituents. But they were constituents not interested in reading Das Kapital.
And, anti-Israel rhetoric quickly transferred to those associated with Israel, namely European Jews. Soon thereafter, the American left–always eager to imitate the European left–joined the chorus.
I have another explanation for you.
OK. What’s your explanation?
Interelite competition. I think the Jews made themselves competitors within elite circles to WASPs.
Yes, that is the underlying phenomenon.
Whereas, African Americans are so often seen within such circles with this enormous condescension, as recipients of charity or handouts. It’s all that “Obama is so articulate, he speaks so beautifully” crap that these supposedly “liberal” people spout.
Oh, absolutely. This rush in the publishing business led by that bastion of wokeness, The New York Times, to capitalize the word “Black” and lowercase “white.” It’s utter condescension. We white folk, especially those of us who are really woke and work for The New York Times, are happy to throw these crumbs to people of color. We’ll even capitalize them! How noble!
We will kneel with a piece of your tribal kente cloth draped around our necks, in order to show our respect to your culture, as per page 72 of the British Raj handbook.
It is quite disgusting. But, yes, that’s right. It’s about interelite conflict.
OK. I feel like I should say here that I actually have a soft spot for WASPs, more so than for American Jews—both groups being foreign to my own native Nabokovian culture.
WASPs taught me a lot of things. They taught me how to sail a sailboat.
Well, WASPs can do that.
Also, when I was a youthful drug addict, they had access to the best illegal drugs.
From an IQ standpoint, WASPs may be a bit stupid, especially the men—but there’s a spirit of adventure and friendship that I find highly congenial, and they deserve points for trying hard. Overall, I’d say that WASPs get a lot of undeservedly bad press. Most of them are very nice people.
So, one of the things that I detected in my congress with these people, which came as a revelation to me and which explains a lot, I think, is their instinctive resentment and dislike of Israel. Emotionally, I think that feeling of resentment is key.
Now part of that, of course, is that the idea of Jews claiming the Holy Land and all of its places to be Jewish is an insult to Christians—and also to Episcopalians. I mean, two millennia of the Crusades and Christmas and whatnot doesn’t just vanish into nothing, even in our supposedly post-religious age. It’s still part of the cultural DNA.
But even leaving the small matter of Christianity aside, there is a much more immediate sort of insult that they perceive in Israel’s existence, which relates again to interelite competition. Israel became important to American Jews at the very moment when Jews were coming to the WASPs and saying, “You have to open up all of your universities, law firms, banks and clubs. You have to admit Jews, Black people, Pakistanis, women, Sikhs. The places that you felt were yours, and which your ancestors built, and where you felt comfortable being you, belong to everyone now. And if you insist on still having these things, we will use them against you, socially, professionally and politically.”
I mean, that was tough for the WASP people, and maybe a bit unfair. Did anyone really join a yacht club in 1978 because it excluded Jews? No. It was just the custom of the place, plus there were five old guys who sat in the corner who really didn’t like Jews. But it was your club, and your father went there, and it’s where you kissed Mary Jane or Muffy behind the garden wall, and then suddenly, all of those institutions were forced to sanitize themselves and give up the pleasures of their own particularity.
And then, at the same moment Jews turn around and say, “Also, we’ve got an entire nation in the Middle East that embodies our particularity, and we’re going to flaunt it ...”
(Laughs.) I like that.
“Yeah, we’re gonna wear Jewish stars around our necks and have our kids’ bar mitzvahs at the Western Wall and shoot M-16s, and rend our garments if our sons marry your daughters.”
But the WASPs had to obey the new rules, and I think it was quite maddening for some of them, and eventually they said, “Fuck you. If we have to give up our yachting clubs and let Jews become partners in the law firms and date our daughters, then you can’t have your stupid fucking Israel, which anyway belongs to the Arabs, who have much more money and are much more polite than the Jews.”
I like the theme of resentment. I think it fits in there. But it doesn’t contradict the idea that, that on the left, opposition to Israel became a sort of mechanism for—
Getting the Turkish vote out in Hamburg.
And yes, the European left is wonderful because it resolves the tension between two key class signifiers. The first being summers in Europe, and how wonderful it is to rough it in a hostel in Denmark or Sweden with your college roommates before spending a week at your great-aunt Peggy’s chateau. The second is “liberalism” or being “on the left,” which is de rigeur in elite circles, but can be in tension with chateaus. Enter, Europe.
The American left will instantly emulate the European left, to whom they look up. So Israel becomes the chief villain on the world stage. Zionism becomes not only racist but it opposes vegetarianism. And association with Israel makes the Jews de facto imperialists and militarists.
This is why the Mearsheimer-Walt book caught on so quickly. Because, American leftists had always been accused of being unpatriotic. So now Mearsheimer and Walt show, well, no. It’s not we who are unpatriotic, because the nationalists are not really nationalists. They’re creatures of the Jews. Behind Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, the Jews are pulling the strings.
Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld also happen to be our father’s cousins, or in business with our grandmother’s brother in Texas, which is embarrassing. So now we can get rid of our family sins by pinning them on the Jews.
Right. You can be patriotic and opposed to racism and impeccably liberal simply by opposing the Jews. So tossing out the Jews is very useful.
OK, I get the Jewish part now.
But what about the Asians? What did they do wrong?
I know you’re focused on the Asians, but I don’t think that throwing them out is that important. They don’t compete with WASPs for leadership positions.
I don’t know. I think they compete. And it’s their places in the University of California system that have to be given away in order for justice to be done, right?
Oh, right. Sure. But the problem that the Asians have is that they are politically not well organized, so it’s easy to push them aside and give away their places.
Look at de Blasio and the elite public schools in New York City. At one time those schools were Jewish and the Jews defended them. Now those schools are Asian, but the Asians were not immediately aware they would have to defend them. So de Blasio just brushed them aside.
What wokeness means in practice is that the gentile corporate and political bourgeoisie can offer Blacks positions in the Democratic Party and state institutions, and in universities, and so forth, that were previously held by Jews and Asians. To the gentile bourgeoisie these are crumbs, right? They’re not giving them charge of major corporations or banks.
Now the game here at the beginning of the 21st century is a little bit different from the game in the late 19th century. At that time, the goal was extrusion of the Jews, period. But now the Jews are very useful because they are quite rich. And they are specifically very useful to the Democratic Party.
If the Jews committed an incredible moral and cultural sin and deserted en masse to the GOP, exactly how would the Democratic Party ever win an election again?
Jews contribute two-thirds of the money and probably provide 80% of the political energy in the Democratic Party. So you can’t eliminate them, but you can subordinate them. And I think that’s what’s going on here.
The Jews will continue to support progressive policies, but they’ll be subordinated. Some of their places will be given away in the name of justice. The majority of Jews who remain will be made to feel insecure and therefore work really hard, really, really hard to prove that they are adequately woke and not Zios—which is a word David Duke invented and that progressives have now picked up.
Because, even those Jews who say they really don’t like Israel might be crypto Zios. They might be practicing their Zionism in secret. So they have to work really hard to denounce Israel and even to abandon traditional forms of Jewish belief and practice.
In fact, they have to abandon reality entirely, so that LBGTQ Jewish organizations can affirm that Saudi Arabia is friendlier to gay people than Israel.
So these Jews you are describing, who are funding an order in which they will be subordinated, in order to avoid being excluded, they’re like the American version of the Spanish conversos, right? “I denounce Israel and all her pomps and snares, and now I can resume my career as a respected attorney and donate money to Nancy Pelosi.”
Except, the fact that you are constantly under this weird suspicion is ultimately quite stressful and castrating, even for billionaires.
That’s exactly right. I remember Hannah Arendt made the observation in the Origins of Totalitarianism that Jews are reputed to be smart, but politically they seem to be quite stupid. They hang onto their political allegiances long after it makes any sense to do so. And they support political parties that don’t protect them. So, when you look at them politically, they’re quite dumb.
Looked at coldly and rationally, why should the Jews not be Republicans? The Republicans have plenty of money without the Jews, but Jews would play a major role in the GOP.
The gentiles in the Republican Party claim to like Jews, who figure prominently in their eschatology. Why should the Jews not enjoy the freedom to maneuver politically like everybody else does?
I have an answer to that one. Namely, the idea that America is a two-party system is a bit of a misnomer.
Q: So when does that bill come due? A: It won’t be this generation. It may be the next generation.
The reality is that America is a one-party system with an opposition. The opposition consists of everybody who, for some reason or another, is at odds with or excluded from the ruling party. Structurally speaking, the opposition party in America today is the Republican Party. It’s the Democratic Party that is presiding over the marriage ceremony of the new elite, not Republicans.
So, then the question is are Jews actually rich and secure enough on one hand, or acutely marginalized enough on the other hand, to afford to be Republicans?
The answer to that question is no.
Well, Jews are certainly rich enough, but they don’t feel secure enough.
What Jews and African Americans share in common in America is that both groups bear a terrible public wound. It’s been shown that you can kill Jews in industrialized fashion in modern states and nobody particularly cares.
The knowledge that the population group to which you belong or are assigned can be victimized on a grand global scale is a terribly humiliating and damaging thing. It’s also quite dangerous. It’s never good to advertise one’s vulnerability like that in a dog-eat-dog world. People are always listening. Your recent ancestors were put into gas chambers and turned into soap, or owned like cattle, and everyone knows it. In fact, they teach it in schools—as a bad thing, of course.
That to me is what Jews and Blacks actually share in common in America, that enormous sense of vulnerability born of terrible historical injury and humiliation. Other people may or may not care, but if you belong to one of these groups, it’s too dangerous not to care.
So, my point is that both groups inherently feel too vulnerable to not be Democrats, given that the Democratic Party, especially now, is the entire professional and bureaucratic structure of the state. If you are that vulnerable, and rightfully insecure, why would you want to alienate the entirety of state power?
Republicans are losers and outcasts.
Well, it is risky.
The point to which I want to return is that at the end of the 19th century Jews didn’t matter that much in America. They could safely and easily be extruded. Today, the Jews have power and resources, and the gentile bourgeoisie, i.e., the leadership of the Democratic Party, doesn’t want to extrude the Jews. Instead, they would like to subordinate them as much as possible, given the need to accommodate this new monied class, and the resentments that it breeds. And the Jews can be humiliated quite a lot before they will actually be willing to leave the Democratic Party, so they’re a perfect sacrifice at the altar.
My own personal view is that the time has come, David. You know, the first time you vote Republican it’s hard. You feel like you’ve been forced to kneel before the cross. But the second time it’s pretty easy. So what the hell.
I don’t vote in elections. I don’t want either side blaming the resulting mess on me.
I think that many Jews feel the same way about woke-ism as you felt about voting Republican. The first time you have to say Israel is an evil Zionist conspiracy implanted by colonialist occupiers and Jews have too much “white privilege” you might imagine your old Jewish grandmother shedding a tear. But after the third time you do it, it’s just words. Who cares? Just piss on them.
Right. But ultimately, this is a dangerous course, because the more you allow yourself to be subordinated, the less power you can wield, and the more you are severed from your own strengths, the less able you are to defend yourself.
So when does that bill come due?
It won’t be this generation. But It may be the next generation.
In reality, Jews need to resist now, before it’s too late. And in a couple of generations it will be too late.
So when the Christian Zionists hold out their hands and say, “Please work with us,” don’t rebuff them.
When conservative Republicans say, “Hey, come on over to our side,” don’t rebuff them.
Republican, that’s not a dirty word. It’s spelled R-E-P-
Have a Republican over to dinner. Grill them up a nice, juicy steak.
Have them over to dinner, because political commitments, you know, are for today. Tomorrow’s a different story.
Maybe this was Arendt’s point about Jews clinging to political attachments long after they are operative, for reasons that she couldn’t explain, and maybe you have. Maybe it is a collective feeling of vulnerability born out of historical experience of powerlessness.
But the fact is that Jews cling to their political alliances in ways that nobody else does. I mean, the Italians have shifted alliances many times in the last 30 years.
Italians actually are good at politics—the whole of Italy aside, of course.
I think we’ve adequately covered the parallels between the 19th century and now and the new American class system, and so forth, in way that people will hopefully find illuminating or enraging.
Enraging is good. I like to enrage people.
I had a funny thought the other day when I tried to list all the things I believed were good as a young man in the ’90s. Multiculturalism is good. Immigration is good. Travel is good. As technology progressed, it was great to be able to order all those different types of food with a push of a button and have them delivered to your doorstep at zero cost—to me, at least. It was amazing how cheap everything was on Amazon.
Anyway, when I reviewed this list of marvels and pleasures I was interested to note how many of them were connected to the mechanics of a world where American jobs could be easily shipped off to China where they could be done by workers at a quarter of the price with no safety or environmental protections. And I started noticing this funny congruence between what are now held to be liberal or leftist beliefs in a borderless world and the arrangements that allow billionaire oligarchs to make enormous amounts of money while destroying working-class and middle-class jobs and the accumulated social capital of most of the country.
And it kinda struck me as interesting, when you look at woke-ism as an elite phenomenon, both inside elite institutional structures and on the streets of Portland and Seattle, how these so-called leftist beliefs, also including the emphasis on identity politics, reflect the interests of the richest and most powerful elements of our society.
Let’s institute tariffs to protect working-class American jobs and ban imports that are made by people who aren’t paid a living wage isn’t a left-wing position. It’s a right-wing position.
Isn’t that what Trump said?
The Demon Emperor. He said it. He didn’t actually do it, because he’s not actually very competent when it comes to stuff like governance.
Multinational corporations embrace woke-ism because they benefit politically from virtue signaling, benefit economically from labor arbitrage and pass along the costs of their virtue by engaging in tax arbitrage that frees them from paying U.S. taxes.
If Karl Marx was writing the next volume of Das Kapital, he would point this out, right?
Having grown up as a Marxist that’s what I see, sure. Marx himself would be the first to point out that so-called identity politics is a travesty of politics and that the entire concept of “identity” is a capitalist scam.
I guess the core question for me is whether we’re actually in a moment that represents a clear break with the American political tradition or not. My answer to that question as a lapsed historian is almost always no. While moments of inflection always seem like they represent a radical break with the past, they rarely do.
Only, the coincidence of this moment with the clear effects of a technological revolution that has transformed every aspect of economic relations and cultural production plus the accelerationist effect of this pandemic is making me wonder.
Yes, and to answer the traditional question: Will this be good for the Jews? Probably not.
David Samuels has written cover stories for Harper’s, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic and other magazines. He is Tablet’s Literary Editor.