Memoirs of an Antisemite
Pedro Gonzalez's Mea Kinda Culpa
Last time, I had a few comments about the “revelation” that Chronicles politics editor Pedro Gonzalez, a DeSantis surrogate, was an obsessive antisemite. Since then, Gonzalez has issued an account of himself, a non-apology apology, to explain how it came to pass that he turned to Jew-baiting. On the one hand, Gonzalez is not a terribly important figure: his magazine has a small readership and he is mostly known to other people who are also “too online.” On the other, I believe he’s indicative of the trend I’ve called “groyperfication:” the turn of many young cadre on the Right towards fascist, Nazi, and antisemitic ideas. I also think that it’s worth taking a look at his confession, because it provides an object-lesson about the process of becoming a fascist and an antisemite.
Here’s part of what he writes:
I got into politics largely because of Trump. My early political writings were in defense of him. Before that, I had spent most of my life enmeshed in generic liberalism, someone who imbibed the atmospheric opinions of California, where I was raised, as plain facts about life and the world. Like Tucker Carlson, who profiled me on his short-lived Fox Nation show, I was pro-choice, pro-death penalty (that hasn’t changed), ambivalent toward immigration, and pro-interventionism. I also liked the way Bernie Sanders talked about the ruling class. “You know, I think many people have the mistaken impression that Congress regulates Wall Street,” Bernie once said. “In truth that’s not the case. The real truth is that Wall Street regulates the Congress.” Bernie was right, and Trump said similar things about the elites. Those similarities made eventually supporting Trump fairly easy
I have done a political speedrun. Though I jumped into the discourse by reading about the paleoconservatives and Old Right, I still cycled through the course of conservatism, from a confused orthodoxy to where I am today. I went to war with libertarianism but also defended Trump’s economic policies initially, which had essentially just sprung from the brain of Paul Ryan. I took Israel’s side in its dispute with the Palestinians and rationalized the invasion of Iraq as disastrous but well-intentioned and defended Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and was not initially affected by his veering into more hawkish foreign policy vis-à-vis Russia. In time, however, I became essentially an isolationist and economic populist, no longer able to defend foreign conflicts at all and utterly unconcerned with affairs abroad that do not directly affect Americans.
I do not know what exactly triggered the descent that happened next. Part of it, I think, stems from a desire to transgress the boundaries of politically acceptable discourse. There is a human impulse to stalk and break taboos, and anger with the status quo leads some of us to seek answers outside the mainstream at a time when trust in traditional sources of information has collapsed. Everything is in the swirl. That which is declared off-limits, that which cannot be said, does not disappear from the discourse; it is merely driven underground, where it roils and burns. Joking about taboos becomes a signifier of membership in a secret club while demonstrating supposedly esoteric knowledge indicates that one has ascended from the cave of “normie” conservatism. You’ve escaped the Matrix.
But the truth is that all this is just different parts of the same cave, subterranean chambers that merely feel like freedom from constraints when they are, in fact, limiting and self-destructive. Monomaniacal malding over Jews or any group as the collective source of your frustration is a trap and an acidic mind virus. It is a mind virus, like the 1619 Project is a mind virus, and like any such disease, it will envelope your mind in midnight and consume your life and destroy your relationships if you let it. There is no need to conduct substantive analysis or engage in anything constructive if your enemies are everywhere and nowhere. You do not have to think about things seriously when you can just engage in performative bigotry at collectives. Vulgarity becomes a substitute for actual thinking. You either see that and grow up and move on or stay tilting at a different set of shadows, losing your mind in the seething darkness.
This, another example of the “college essay fascism” that appeared in Tucker Carlson’s texts, is more revealing than Gonzalez intended. Just about every conception and even cliché about the nature of antisemitism is contained in these few paragraphs:
As is typical, there’s a relationship to a strongman figure. While antisemites usually search for a Caesar-figure as the vehicle for their politics, but in this case the operation happens in reverse, as it probably happens in practice a great deal: identification with the strongman, the attraction to Trump, lead to the descent into antisemitism.
We can see antisemitism functioning here in a classic way as the socialism of fools. It’s described above explicitly flowing from an anti-elite and anti-capitalist orientation, albeit one that is reactionary. In fact, it is one of the only ways a reactionary anti-capitalism can function as an ideology. Reactionary forms of anti-capitalism are always incoherent because their intrinsic deference to authority results in exceptions for "productive" and "wholesome" forms of capital, usually family ownership and personal entrepreneurship—or symbols of it, like, say, Donald Trump. The consequent fantasy is of capitalism without class antagonism or social upheaval, then antisemitism or a structurally similar ideologeme gets slotted in to resolve this contradiction: "The problem is not systemic, it's because of this alien presence. The problem is not capitalism as such, it's these weird banker-merchant capitalists, We love our salt of the earth store keepers and bold entrepreneurs. The reactionary anti-capitalists never have a brief against domination as such, they say, “An earlier form of domination was better, more humane, more genteel, more natural, etc." This is implied in the discourse of "elite theory" and populism itself: it's not that there is a certain way the economy is structured on a material level, it’s that the people in these positions are bad. Of course, this is a natural tendency for aspiring but socially frustrated elites.
This is related to another basic function of antisemitism, as great simplifier. Gonzalez writes, “There is no need to conduct substantive analysis or engage in anything constructive if your enemies are everywhere and nowhere.” Compare to Maurras famous statement, “Everything seems impossible or terribly difficult without the providential appearance of antisemitism. It enables everything to be arranged, smoothed over and simplified.”
Gonzalez also reveals the thoughtlessness involved — It just happened, he does not know exactly what brought it on. This reminds one of Arendt’s famous banality of evil thesis: there is not some radical decision to be wicked, rather evil is a result of superficiality and thoughtlessness, a willingness to let oneself be swept along. And we see in his account indulgence in dozens of clichés and just-so stories — college essay fascism. Arendt wrote of evil spreading, “like a fungus on the surface.” That’s a very accurate picture of the way this type of politics perpetuates itself: in the pure dissemination of memes and propaganda, the subjective appropriation of the themes comes later. I would reckon most people who help disseminate antisemitic propaganda do not consider themselves ideological Nazis or antisemites: they are just doing it on a lark.
Related to the thoughtlessness, this happens in bad faith — there is always a process of self-excusal: “I am merely ironically transgressing norms, I am just sharing a meme, it is just a joke, I am kidding around with my friends, I don’t care, I am deliberately being irresponsible, provocative., etc.” Often, Jew-baiters will make some remark and then retreat behind their Jewish friends and family members. They may do this protect their own conscience from realizing of what they are really involved in.
As Sartre famously wrote in Antisemite and Jew, part of the appeal is reveling in this bad faith:
Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. he anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.
Part of the process of fascist subject formation is the experience of acceleration and coming to power—”the political speedrun,” as Gonzalez puts it. Also the discovery of hidden truths: the possession of“esoteric knowledge” that he mentions, as well.
As a taboo, antisemitism also provided a kick of obscene enjoyment that nothing else could quite offer. The revulsion and fear it inspired was the part of the appeal and gave indulging in it the feeling of possessing power itself. It is hardcore. This is antisemitism functioning as pornographic graffito or cartoon, as I’ve written about in the past:
Antisemitism is sort of an obscene graffito scrawled on the bathroom wall of bourgeois society. But it also has something of an air of mystical hocus-pocus and the direct, graphic power of occult symbols, like the swastika. Like cartoons, it is also plastic: shapeable and moldable to new conditions and subject to limitless morphological variation. Fans of other simplistic renderings of society will have a tendency gravitate to the world of antisemitic vignettes as providing more vivid and pornographic kicks… Antisemitism is the real hardcore stuff: the softcore populist enjoyment of sticking it to elites does not come close to the air of sinister, stalking murderousness one can indulge in with antisemitism. The highs are more intense and satisfying. With antisemitism in one’s possession one can suddenly, with very little effort, terrorize and menace. It can feel like possessing power itself. Rejection by polite society seems to only confirm “the truth” or at least the effectiveness and power of the idea. As such, it will always be a favored technique of charlatans and hucksters who promise to reveal “hidden secrets” about the world.