[h/t Jeffrey Blutinger]
Why would a prominent online magazine of crypto-conservative Jewish culture and politics publish “American Racist: A Q & A with Kevin MacDonald, the country’s most influential white identitarian ideologue”? A large indented block quote by interviewer David Samuels here at Tablet sets out to answer that very question. “What strikes me [David Samuels] as useful isn’t to ban anti-Semites and racists, or to attempt to argue them out of their symptoms. Rather, it is simply to know what they sound like.” The problem is that the anti-Semite and racist interviewed at Tablet sounds not entirely unlike and perhaps a little like the interviewer at Tablet.
For my part, I am more interested in Tablet than in MacDonald. Symptomatic is why Tablet sought to platform white nationalism in the first place and where does this decision position Tablet on the American Jewish ideological eco-sphere. The interview itself is a boring and banal slog; in parts snarky and in parts chummy; two bros talking. (Samuels likes American whiskey and “American women,” at least when they are not “bonkers.”) What the interview confirms is something someone at Tablet told me in private; Tablet has set itself “at the forefront” against “the stupidities of the woke left.” And this position in the fight against the left identity politics from the standpoint of a journal dedicated to a particular form of Jewish group identity puts Tablet in the corner of soft white nationalism.
Samuels and MacDonald seem to share two things.
First there is the shared illiberalism. The white nationalist assumes that Jews exercise the genetic pre-disposition of a living organism that sets itself up in an organized way against its host. Somewhere in the background, you can hear Tablet wish. Alas, if only American Jews were so cohesive a group.
The starting problem is expressed in the question by the interviewer: “But how you do see that kind of group dynamic functioning in modern Western societies, like the United States, where communal controls are completely absent?” [[Note: I am putting Samuels in bold and his interviewee in italics]]
Samuel’s question is in fact very in sync with a reactionary world-view. It presupposes a dystopian vision of liberal society, a reactionary yen for strong communal controls, as per another question posed by Samuels concerning a “coherent, disciplined group of people operating in a strategic way.” Samuel asks: “You suggest that Jews are a highly organized group of people. Jews as a group are very cohesive. Jews as a group have a clear, observable capacity for disciplining group members while pursuing conscious, top-down strategies. None of these statements rings true to my own experience of Jews.”
What MacDonald writes of the immigrants from East Europe is par for the course at Tablet. This is the normative picture, a fantasy, of Jewishness, of “immigrants coming from Eastern Europe [who] were mainly Orthodox and were very clannish, I would say, especially when they first got here. I think they retained a sense of identity and a sense of group cohesion, despite the lack of community control. And of course, some Jews didn’t like that. They married somebody else. They decided they wouldn’t even want to be Jewish, and they left. But that certainly didn’t apply to the mainstream.”
Setting aside MacDonald’s racism, the difference here between Samuels and his interviewee is that the latter purports to see is what the interviewer wishes were true re: a cohesive American Jewish identity.
The second thing is that neither Samuels nor MacDonald like “multiculturalism.” That becomes a common bond as the interview unfolds.
“So, do you think American Jews are now being bitten in the ass by their own multicultural utopianism?”, Samuels asks, to which the interviewee responds, “They may well be.”
“Do you find it funny that every other group except for the self-defined or historically defined “white” group is now officially licensed to speak about itself as a group?”
“Do I find it funny?”
“Sorry. Does it make you angry?”
“I think it’s producing incredible divisions. In a way, I’m sort of happy to see that, because it’s ultimately going to produce more white identity.”
“Just today I was tweeting this article from The New York Times about Trump being the origin of the huge increase in white identity and consciousness, because of the way he talks about things—and I think that’s probably right. But it’s not a hard sell, because of what you say. Everybody’s got a group now. Whites are a group, too.”
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad idea. I think it’s a good idea. We can’t decree a world in which people stop having these identities. And more and more, you see this hate against white America. It’s a pejorative now.”
“That’s true,” agrees Samuel simply and without argument.
Now that Samuels agrees with the ethno-nationalist that the left hates “white America,” the interview concludes weaving together the two strands I have suggested that we mark out: the idea of social cohesion and the animus against multicultural identitarian politics. Even as the interviewer seeks to identify right and left identitarianism, there no longer seems to be any significant daylight between the interviewer and the interviewee aside from the difference between what might be bad for “you” and what might still be good for “us.”
“It scares me,” writes Samuels, “that the language that you have been using for the past 25 years, identitarian language, the language of race and group identity, has now become the dominant language in American politics, on both the right and on the left.”
“Yeah. Well, you know, when you’re in the university setting, I mean, you see all these departments, and the whole reason for their existence is their identities—black studies. Jewish studies. Asian studies. American Indian studies. Then we have the LGBTQ. And all these people appreciate identity. I always think it’s a top-down thing. You source it academically. And then it spreads out through the elite media.”
There’s no such thing as elite media anymore.
“I mean, that’s how Trump got elected in the first place.”
I think we are seeing the inherent volatility of a society where you’ve eliminated that stabilizer, and plugged us all into machines that amplify difference and conflict.
“There was truly a consensus. An elite consensus that filtered down, that was dependent on controlling consensus in the media, which was formed by the critical class, whose power is now broken.”
“That is too bad for you. I hope that it can still be good for us.”
The attempt to split the difference at Tablet between “us” and “them” is too clever by half, like that tongue in cheek thought exercise about the putative whiteness of “a Jewish guy, or a black guy, or a really big, black Jewish guy” and “I happen to love listening to Mozart, you know, and eating Napoleons for dessert.” And it turns out that both “like” black jazz. The final joke is that even while Samuels plays MacDonald like a fool, it’s Samuels who ends up in agreement with MacDonald about white ID and multiculturalism.
[[For more, there’s a full blown critique, see this Twitter thread by Ben Lorber. Jeffrey Blutinger’s long post at FB about the interview is here. On FB, Elliot Ratzman posted this 2000 piece here by Judith Shulevitch that includes bibliographical details and a synopsis of MacDonald’s written work, his trilogy relating to anti-Semitism in terms of group evolutionary psychology. His page the Southern Poverty Law Center is here. The upshot is that you don’t need to puff interview with a racist and anti-Semite to know what’s on his mind. For students of contemporary American Jewish culture, what remains unclear is just how close is Tablet going to inch towards soft forms of white nationalism in the pursuit of the objects of its own animus.]]