The Jewish Angle To Rony Guldman’s Story

In his work in progress, A Critical Theory of Academia, Rony Guldmann writes:

* Barbara [Fried] had remarked to someone in the faculty lounge at the outset of our December 2008 meeting (with Joe) that here was a meeting of Jews. While I chalked up that remark to insignificant small talk at the time, that the tensions expressed and disagreements voiced in that meeting should have then culminated in a conflagration of Jews a mere nine months later is hardly surprising given the astonishing scope of Barbara demonstrable prescience—which I am prepared to describe as prophetic even at the risk of sounding superstitious. My Gaither experience can be articulated in the political terms that I outlined in the last chapter. But it also admits of a religious interpretation, which is only fitting given that it was Joe and Barbara who suggested that I turn my attention to law and religion, the only significant recommendation that I accepted. While the events which I have here related may strike the reader as anomalous and peculiar, if not downright incredible, the truth is that our respective machinations embodied advanced Jewish thought at the very highest level. If this claim seems incredible to some, this is simply testimony to the sublimity and sophistication of those machinations, which we will now examine from a religious perspective.

* What, after all, was Barbara’s vengefulness—her pursuit of a double-revenge that would entrap me in a self-enclosed world from which I could never escape—but the sublime vengefulness of Israel? That vengefulness suspended me in semantic and existential indeterminacy, Stanford’s unofficial reality, which dragged on for a year before its disappointing meaning became clarified. And what was this other than a “truly grand politics of revenge… a farseeing, subterranean, slowly advancing, and premeditated revenge”? What was the “evidence” being broadcast by the homepage and Set I other than the “bait” through which this revenge would be expedited, the incentive that would induce me to acquiesce in the indeterminacy and then be drawn further and further into it? And if I was prepared to “swallow just this bait,” to accept this evidence in compensation for the risk of Interpretation II, was this not excusable, given that there was nothing “equal to the enticing, intoxicating, overwhelming, and undermining power” of the bait being held out? After all, that bait was nothing less than the prospect of a job at Stanford, and in a situation where there could be no other opportunity to advance the research into which I had already invested years of my life and the entirety of my being. The homepage and Set I were the “real instrument” of Barbara’s revenge, which could be readily denied before “all the world,” before anyone who saw Set I but was unfamiliar with the policy of allusion, insinuation, and double-meaning upon which we had all embarked.

* Law school faculties endeavor to “place” their graduates and fellows in tenure-track jobs at law schools. Larry Solum’s Entry Level Hiring Report was a “placement” survey. Correlatively, teaching candidates seek to be “placed,” to obtain employment through the support and connections of their law school faculties. But given the circumstances in which I found myself in August 2009, I had little hope of ever being placed. And so did I not instead attempt to place myself, to procure employment, not by currying the favor of mentors or submitting to the judgments of faculties and hiring committees, but through the cause of action generated by my application materials? Did I not, furthermore, seek to place myself, not just anywhere and in any old role, but at “the head of all décadence movements”? After all, this was Stanford, one of the greatest universities in the world and therefore also one of the greatest embodiments of the cultural pathologies diagnosed in the preceding chapters. Indeed, Stanford is home to CASBS itself. Moreover, it seems clear that I endeavored to place myself at Stanford, not just in any old fashion, but with a “non plus ultra of histrionic genius,” acting as though engaged in business as usual while in truth always operating in the shadow of the semantic and existential indeterminacy into which I had been cast. I attempted to place myself, not by openly displaying the true nature of my aspirations, but through a surreptitious quid pro quo, the system of allusions, insinuations, and double-meanings that ensued from the events of September 2009. And what was this system but a non plus ultra of histrionic genius, a histrionic genius of the very highest order?

This was a form of genius to which Joe, Barbara, Larry and Dick had been repeatedly subject, a form of genius that was deployed again and again and in myriad ways, from the Legal Theory presentation to our December 2008 meeting to the distribution of the Overview, and then in even more interesting and consequential ways. It was, moreover, a form of genius in which all of them would eventually come to participate themselves, and to their great credit, so contagious was it and so appealing did I make it. This skill set was never listed on my CV. Yet it is key to understanding the emergence and development of Stanford’s unofficial reality. That this reality should have provoked the reader’s incredulity is no great surprise. For the unofficial reality was the product of a liberal conspiracy, and this liberal conspiracy was also a Jewish conspiracy, bearing all the characteristic markers thereof. My struggle against Stanford was in its essence a Jew on Jew battle, with each side embodying a characteristically Jewish impulse that was then expressed in the manner possible under the circumstances at hand. On Barbara’s side was the sublime vengefulness of Israel. On my own was the desire to, with a non plus ultra of histrionic genius, place oneself at the head of all decadence movements. Each of these impulses sought to use the other as the medium of its own realization, and thereby collaborated to generate the unofficial reality.

* Nietzsche describes Judaism as engaged in a project of revenge against the entire world and identifies Christianity as the instrument of that revenge.

* Nietzsche’s crucial starting point is that Jewish history is the history of reaction to political decline. The history of Israel, he writes, is “invaluable as a typical history of the denaturalization of natural values.” For the Jewish religion was not always what it would eventually become. In the beginning, the period of the united, Davidic Kingdom, “Israel too stood in a correct, that is to say natural relationship to all things. Their Yaweh was the expression of their consciousness of power, of their delight in themselves, their hopes of themselves: in him they anticipated victory and salvation, with him they trusted that nature would provide what the people needed – above all rain. Yaweh was the God of Israel and consequently the God of justice: the logic of every nation that is in power and has a good conscience about it.”
The Israel of this period embraced an ethos and value system that were not in their essentials all so different from the pagan cultures from which a later form of Hebraic religion would rigorously distinguish itself. Indeed, Nietzsche ranks these ancient Israelites along with the Greeks and Romans as paragons of ancient vitality and life-affirmation. Israel’s God represented an affirmation of Israel, the source and symbol of its self-confidence and sense of superiority. Yaweh was the power that cleared the path for victory in battle, vanquishing the lesser gods of lesser peoples… The history of Israel is a history of the denaturalization of natural values because that history proceeds in response to developments that made this life-affirming conception of divinity unsustainable. With the Jews facing repeated conquest, dispossession, and exile, the conditions under which the old ideals had once been plausible were becoming progressively eroded. Yaweh could no longer be reconciled with what seemed like Israel’s inescapable misfortune. With defeat following upon defeat and indignity following upon indignity, the old God was losing all credibility as Israel’s vanguard and defender.
One response to this dissonance would have been for the Jews to simply relinquish their God and, with him, their former sense of national greatness. They would then have gone down by the wayside just like any number of now extinct ancient peoples, melting away into the forgotten recesses of history. But refusing to just melt away, the Jews instead opted to transform the character of their God, and therefore their own values, in order to reestablish his credibility on different terms…

* Whereas the old God helped and affirmed, the new God judged and dictated. No longer an expression of Israel’s self-confidence, he became raised above Israel as a chief magistrate and disciplinarian, as a God who demands and condemns rather than a God who aids and inspires. The values held out by the old God were “the expression of the conditions under which a nation lives and grows.” But the values demanded by the new one expressed conditions under which a nation was just barely surviving, conditions under which a nation must rationalize its misfortune in order to reconcile it to its exalted yet precariously maintained self-image. Israel could persevere in its exalted self-image only by moralizing it, by rooting their self-esteem, not in natural values like health, vitality, and conquest, but in obedience to a God who, having been raised on high above ordinary human nature and human flourishing, condemns these as selfishness, vanity, or sin. No longer able to act on the old ideals, Israel required a religion that could rationalize the ideals on which it could act under the degraded conditions of conquest and exile. These were ideals of humility, caution, submission, self-effacement. And a strict, censorious God offered just this, provided an ideology wherein the inability to affirm life on life’s terms could be rationalized as the Jews’ participation in a holy dispensation that raised them above their sullied and benighted pagan conquerors. If the Jews suffered, this reflected not national inferiority but moral superiority, the Jews’ special status as the chosen people who are therefore subject to God’s stringent standards and exacting punishments. Suffering and misfortune were no longer natural phenomena without higher meaning, but rather indicia of Jewish specialness.
Defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition celebrate Judaism as having initiated a process of ever-expanding moral enlightenment that would eventually be transmitted to the rest of humanity through Christianity. But for Nietzsche, Judaism develops as the price which the Jews had to pay for their own national preservation…

* The transformations initiated by Judaism were not merely theological, but rather represented the radical inversion of an entire range of values away from their natural default settings. To achieve this, Judaism propagated a basic distortion in human beings’ understanding of their relationship to the natural world, the conviction that life requires some justification outside itself in the will of God. This distortion would come to pervade every sphere of life, as one natural human impulse after another became discredited as falling short of holiness. With life no longer accepted on its own terms, every act, thought, and encounter would become defined as an occasion for moral self-exertion, which now replaces the old pagan ideals of human flourishing.
The beginnings the Jewish value revolution are detailed in first essay of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, which chronicles what Nietzsche calls the “slave revolt in morality,” the Judeo-Christian overthrow of pagan morality as it developed in reaction to the overwhelming power of ancient Judea’s foreign overlords.

* How did the most inoffensive and therefore unimpressive human being become celebrated as the most “good”? How did the virtues of humility and submission become the paramount values around which Judeo-Christianity would have us organize our lives? What could have made these ideals so uncontroversial that they could displace the pagans’ “affirmative” virtues of pride, strength, and courage? Nietzsche’s crucial starting point is the observation that life prior to the slave revolt in morality carried on without resort to the “good and evil” dichotomy. For it was rather the “good and bad” dichotomy that provided the language and values by which people judged themselves and one another. The “good” originally referred to those whom Nietzsche designates as the “masters,” the wielders of political and military power who were most distinguished by their self-confidence, optimism, and exuberance. The “bad,” by contrast, designated the “slaves.” The slaves did not necessarily live in literal bondage, but Nietzsche employs the term to evoke a picture of individuals who were generally downtrodden and disadvantaged along all the important human measures. The slaves were bad people, not in the contemporary moral sense, but in that same way that an athlete or automobile might be judged bad—that is, “low quality.”
Quite naturally, this antithesis generated considerable resentment among the slaves, who wished to be “good” but could not be. The slaves resented the masters, not only for what they did, but most importantly, for what they were. They were, as Maudemarie Clark observes, offended by the masters’ “easy sense of superiority.”6 But in and of itself this resentment only serve to confirm the slaves’ badness. With the slaves being too impotent to act on this resentment, this emotion could only highlight their own humiliation. Such was the fate of slaves the world over. But it was only the Jewish slaves, who had been masters in an earlier period, who discovered a creative solution to the problem. Ingeniously resorting to what Nietzsche calls a “spiritual revenge,” the Jews attempting to eliminate their overlords’ superiority symbolically, through a revaluation of values.

* The slaves’ resentment could become “creative” because it spawned values that, in turning the masters’ goodness into something very different—“evil,” an object of moral opprobrium—allowed the slaves to distract themselves from their own badness. Since the slaves could not affirm themselves on the masters’ terms, they affirmed themselves in opposition to the masters. And this involved a fundamental revision in the image of the master.

* Seen accurately in the light of natural values, the masters’ goodness consisted in “a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies, resistances and triumphs.”9 These values originated in an “enthusiastic impulsiveness in anger, love, reverence, gratitude, and revenge.”10 But the slaves were committed to the proposition that “health, well-constitutedness, strength, pride, and the sense of power [are] necessarily vicious things for which one must one day pay.”11 And so the venomous eye of ressentiment recast the masters’ overflowing energy as the eruption of a diabolical force and recast their pagan virtues as empty conceits. What the masters held up as courage and tenacity, the slaves dismissed as obtuseness and insensitivity. What the masters considered rightful pride in their victories, the slaves dismissed as smug self-satisfaction. The masters’ celebration of life became a rebellion against a higher realm in whose light the unselfconscious athleticism of the Greco-Roman warrior became transformed into the image of sneering gargoyles in obtuse rebellion against God’s order—just as the masters in Israel’s own history became “pathetic cringing bigots or ‘godless men.’” These judgments were to be ultimately vindicated in a “higher world” in which the masters’ natural superiority would be declared null and void. For Judaism, this higher world was God’s law and the eventual arrival of the messiah. For Christianity, the higher world would become heaven and hell, the prospect of eternal damnation or salvation. But in either iteration, the high ideal was driven by the imperative to establish a dichotomy that would profoundly falsify the nature of the masters, and through this the nature of life itself.
The masters had to be falsified because the slaves’ erected their entire self-esteem on their difference from, and opposition to, “evil.” This falsification permitted the slaves to recast their ineluctable weakness as admirable self-restraint, a willed virtue embraced in recognition of their place in the order of things and in reaction to evil. The ideal of goodness qua duty and self-effacement, the foundation of the slaves’ self-esteem, achieved its appeal by being presented as an alternative to precisely this, to a malign, endlessly insidious desire to reject God’s order and, with this, the slaves’ value within that order. Judaism thereby inaugurated an ethos and value system that, in elevating moral categories to hegemonic status, tamed and disciplined amoral human nature.

* “On a soil falsified in this way, where all nature, all natural value, all reality had the profoundest instincts of the ruling class against it, there arose Christianity, a form of moral hostility to reality as yet unsurpassed. The ‘holy people’, which had retained only priestly values, priestly words, for all things, and with a consistency capable of inspiring fear had separated itself from everything else powerful on earth, calling it ‘unholy’, ‘world’, ‘sin’ – this people produced for itself an instinct which was logical to the point of self-negation: as Christianity it negated the last remaining form of reality, the ‘holy people’, the ‘chosen people’, the Jewish reality itself…. [Christianity] was a revolt against ‘the good and the just’, against the ‘saints of Israel’, against the social hierarchy –not against a corruption of these but against caste, privilege, the order, the social form; it was disbelief in ‘higher men’, a No uttered toward everything that was priest and theologian. But the hierarchy which was thus called in question, even if only momentarily, was the pile-work upon which the Jewish nation [continued] to exist at all in the midst of the ‘waters’ – the laboriously-achieved last possibility of remaining in being, the residuum of its separate political existence: an attack on this was an attack on the profoundest national instinct, on the toughest national will to life which has ever existed on earth. This holy anarchist [Jesus] who roused up the lowly, the outcasts and ‘sinners’, the Chandala within Judaism to oppose the ruling order…was a political criminal, in so far as political criminals were possible in an absurdly unpolitical society.”

Christianity is both the extension and negation of Judaism. It is an extension of Judaism inasmuch as it continues Judaism’s war against aristocratic master morality, introducing the prospect of eternal damnation and the pain of hellfire to the slave revolt’s ideological arsenal. But Christianity is the negation of Judaism inasmuch as it was also directed against the residual elements of master morality within Judaism itself. Christianity was a slave revolt within a slave revolt. For while the Jews rejected the political and military hierarchies of their Roman overlords, they nevertheless retained the ideal of hierarchy, and therefore of higher men, within the confines of their priestly institutions and practices, and it was these that became Christianity’s target.
Even priestly Judaism retained a national God and thereby preserved an element of the older self-affirmation. But this was precisely the target of Christian universalism, which was incompatible with the Jews’ ingrained sense of their exceptionalism. This exceptionalism was the last relic of Jewish national health, which had to be translated into priestly terms in order to survive at all. The older aristocratic values of pre-prophetic and pre-priestly Israel lived on in the Jews’ conception of themselves as the “chosen people,” notwithstanding that this claim could no longer be substantiated in the old ways, through national political vitality and military prowess. We might say that whereas Judaism represents a “slave morality” vis-à-vis Israel’s various conquerors—the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans—it represents a “master morality” vis-à-vis its universalistic offshoot, Christianity. Unlike Christianity, Judaism was no prepared to take the slave revolt to its logical conclusion. The Jews retained priestly words and priestly values. But they did not permit these to degenerate into a “moral hostility to reality as yet unsurpassed.” Notwithstanding their many falsifications, Jewish values retained an attenuated connection to the embodied, this-worldly flourishing that Nietzsche believes Christianity repudiates categorically.

* This is the sense in which Christianity is at once an expression of Jewish values and Judaism’s revenge upon the rest of the world for the degradation which befell “a nation of the toughest vital energy.” The Jews had engaged in what was a simulacrum of décadence because their values were ultimately working in the service of national self-preservation in the face of “impossible circumstances.” But they could, from out of this simulacrum, then produce the genuine article in the form of Christianity. It is because Christianity is both the antithesis and the logical terminus of Judaism that Israel could deny the real instrument of its revenge before “all the world.” In nailing God to the cross, the Jews could make appealing as the opposite of Judaism what was in fact the hypertrophying of Judaism’s worst tendencies. And this is how all the enemies of Israel could “swallow the bait.” As a slave revolt within a slave revolt, Christianity permitted the Jews an opportunity to reassert their masterly status. The paradox that one should be avenging oneself upon others through the imposition of one’s own values is resolved one we recognize that values that served a merely instrumental function in the hands of Judaism—and were therefore restrained and tempered by virtue of this instrumental status—would assume an unhinged and self-perpetuating life of their own once exported abroad through Christianity.

The Jews, then, came to occupy a kind of no man’s land. On the one hand, they were no longer capable of the physicality, vitality, self-confidence, and unashamed ambition associated with the old ways. To attempt to live by these values under the inimical conditions at hand would have spelled the destruction of the Jewish nation, as it would have gone by the wayside of history just like any number of other once prosperous but eventually conquered people in the ancient world. Self-preservation meant taking the side of all décadence instincts, the development of a human constitution wherein basic human energy no longer had to channeled outward, openly and directly, as it could not be under the new conditions. On the other hand, the Jews did not allow the repressions that circumstance had imposed upon them to devolve into genuine decadence—the devitalization of the caged animal, as it were—and instead deployed décadence values as the vehicles through which to provide Israel original will to affirm itself with spiritualized and intellectualized expression. The Jews “took the side of all décadence instincts” but “not as being dominated by them” because the power-drive which found normal and exuberant expression during the “great epoch” of Israel remained fundamentally intact, having been creatively sublimated into the new ideals. The Jews had no choice but to identify with these ideals under the new conditions if they were to preserve themselves as a
nation. But far from submitting to these ideals wholesale—as does Christianity—they used them in the service of power, cultivating them in order to effect a revolution of consciousness wherein they could once again enjoy preeminence as the most “good.”
The Jews are what Nietzsche calls the “counterparts of décadents” because they always retained a certain distance from the values which they themselves invented. And it was precisely this distance that allowed the Jews to “prevail against ‘the world.’” No longer able to prevail according to the original rules—according to natural values—the Jews reinvented the rules, a new game within which their supremacy could be established anew in a different way, by reasserting their aristocratic status in the context of the anti-aristocratic, décadence values which they had themselves spawned. Identifying with décadence values only superficially, the Jews became positioned to provide the décadents with a leadership, direction, and ideology which the décadents could not, being décadents, generate out of their own resources. Whether by means of priestcraft, moralism, liberalism, or scholarship, the Jews would place themselves “at the head of all décadence movements,” at the leadership of all the institutions that would, through the bypath of Christianity, grow out of the Jewish revolution in moral consciousness.

* The suspicion that Jews are fundamentally outsiders who manipulatively aggrandize themselves at others’ expense is a crude articulation of the awareness that Jews have not actually submitted to the décadence instincts with which they superficially identify and which they urged upon others historically. What is condemned as Jewish deceitfulness is in fact the Jews’ non plus ultra of histrionic genius.

* “Nietzsche thus assigned a major role to the Jews as Jews within his new Europe. If the Nazis considered the Jews as untermenschen, to Nietzsche they were a possibly catalyst of the Úbermensch. Of course, for this to happen, European society must open up to the Jews and welcome them, as Nietzsche forcefully demanded. He opposed a nationalist (or Zionist) solution, because he wanted the Jews to mingle with the other European peoples. At the same time he opposed the usual, passive, and imitative Jewish assimilation. His solution was creative assimilation, in which the Jews would be secularized, excel in all European matters, and serve as catalysts in a new revolution of values—this time a curative, Dionysian revolution that would overcome the Christian culture and the “modern ideas” born of it.”

* The Jews were at the origin of “the Christian culture and the ‘modern ideas’ born of it,” because it was they who, in reflection of their “impossible circumstances” first raised God above human nature in a way that would inevitably devalue that human nature as falling sinfully short of “holiness.” On the other hand, the basic impulses that underpinned this revolution of moral consciousness were not themselves renunciatory, but rather expressions of, as Nietzsche says, “the toughest national will to life which has ever existed on earth”—which had to assume the particular shape it did in reflection of a highly specific set of conditions. And this tension, Nietzsche believed, held out the possibility that modern Jews might see past the official content of the values which they had brought into being—now embodied in Christianity and its secularized cultural offshoots—in order to resurrect the creative, life-affirming impulses which engendered them.

Why would the Jews be disposed to do this when they were not before? Nietzsche’s reasoning is, I believe, that, having achieved its final, secularized fruition in the modern, liberal culture, the slave revolt in morality has now lost its original raison d’être. For that against which it was first initiated no longer exists. With Western culture having been reduced to decadence, the Jews are no longer oppressed by any kind of master morality. And this positions them to reassert a modernized, secularized version of that morality themselves, thereby reviving the very beginnings of their national past. There can be a “creative” as opposed to “passive” assimilation of Jews in the midst of secularization because the Jews can abandon their formal Jewish precepts while retaining a consciousness of the ancient, pre-modern power-drive that is, in Nietzsche’s view, more basic to the Jewish identity than those precepts—which were just pragmatic adaptations to contingent historical circumstances. That drive could therefore serve as a basis for reviving ancient, life-affirming values in the midst of modern decadence, a vantage point from which the renunciatory asceticism that permeates modern culture could be critiqued and discredited. The true history of the monotheistic revolution remains in the Jewish cultural DNA at some level, and this permits the Jews to reverse falsifications for which their ancestors bear responsibility and which others today may be incapable of recognizing.

* The James C. Gaither fellowship, 2008-2010 should be understood in the context of this philosophical history. For I had assumed the role of the modern Jew who was, in furtherance of Nietzsche’s vision, seeking to pay my debt to European culture from what my priestly ancestors had done to it. The repayment was, of course, my assault against the CASBS Ideology, one of the modern, “enlightened” ideas which the Jews must help European culture overcome. The Jews can be of such assistance precisely because, lying as they do at the earliest origins of these ideas, they are positioned to recognize their historical contingency and cultural artificiality. While Jews are at the vanguard of modern ideas, they also enjoy a certain distance from these that is unavailable to those whose ancestors unthinkingly swallowed the bait of Christianity. And it was precisely this distance that I was endeavoring to articulate through Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression. For it was by means of this project that I was endeavoring to step outside the buffered identity, the ultimate consequence of the monotheistic revolution in the West. And this would, as I have explained, permit a critique of the CASBS Ideology, the rationalization of intellectual life, from whose spiritual foundations I had extricated myself after August 2009. The August epiphany was, in a sense, the point at which I ceased acting as a décadent in order to instead challenge academia’s décadence values. While I was indeed seeking to “mingle with other European peoples,” as Yovel says, involving myself in European affairs “as my own,” I was endeavoring to do so through the “creative assimilation” that challenged modern ideas rather than through “the usual, passive, and imitative Jewish assimilation” that unreflectively embraced them.
This was the root of all my difficulties at Stanford. For my mentors, on the other hand, were precisely these kinds of Jews, and so would urge the usual, passive and imitative assimilation upon me. This was the meaning of Joe’s and Barbara’s advice, the object of which was to assimilate me into academia by turning me into yet another “highly intelligent, productive, provocative scholar.” And so I was, just like my ancestors, “placed in impossible circumstances.” I wanted an academic career but also wanted to achieve it on my own terms, when the truth was that I would have to acquiesce in the CASBS Ideology in order to obtain its rewards. The very thing that made an academic career attractive—thinking for oneself—also posed what appeared like an insurmountable obstacle to its attainment.
This being my predicament, I resorted to the only tools that were at my disposal, the only tools which have ever been at the Jews’ disposal. I would have to, just like my priestly ancestors, take the side of all décadence instincts without being dominated by them, in order to divine in them a power by means of which I could prevail against ‘the world—against the CASBS Ideology, against the law school view of what ‘prejudices’ must be stamped out, against Stanford. This power would, if all went according to plan, permit me to act as a décadent to the point of illusion and thereby place myself, with a non plus ultra of histrionic genius, at the head of all décadence movements—that is, at Stanford. Having achieved this, I would then be positioned to introduce my dissenting paradigm intellectual rigor. By exposing and then combating the cultural pathologies of academia, I would thereby help make of Stanford “something stronger than any party affirmative of life.” This would be my “creative assimilation.” And the surreptitious quid pro quo arrangement was my attempt to achieve just this, to assimilate to academia by revising rather than submitting to its mores, which is precisely why a non plus ultra of histrionic genius would be required.
The foundations of my later histrionics were in fact being laid well before I received the fellowship, over the winter term of 2008 and then over the following summer. Let us recall that it was Barbara who reached out to me about pursuing an academic career after being impressed by my Freedom and Resentment class presentation, just as it was Joe who shortly after I graduated went out of his way to email me that I was positioned to put together “a writing package that would get you a top-flight job at a law school,” assuming I was “still interested in pursuing this kind of life.” Likewise, I was awarded the Gaither fellowship without applying for it, inquiring about it, or even knowing of its existence, during what was supposed to be nothing more than a general brainstorming session about long-term career strategies. Most serendipitously, Barbara’s rather spontaneous disbursement of the Gaither only weeks before I was set to depart the Bay Area for New York fulfilled the vague and seemingly outlandish premonition that I had been entertaining the whole summer, that I would somehow be spending the fall working full time on Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression rather than toiling in a New York law firm.
In all these instances and many others, Joe and Barbara were reinforced in their sense of their own agency and of my ostensible passivity. Generating this impression was in fact indispensable to my career goals. While Joe, Larry, and Barbara were impressed by what Barbara lauded as the “brilliance” of Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression, that brilliance was neither sufficient nor necessary for career success. For this supposed brilliance was in truth but the flipside of my alienation from the CASBS Ideology. It therefore had as its corollary a degree of intellectual independence that could prove to be a serious liability, something that raised serious questions about whether I could be smoothly integrated into the intellectual magistrature of the sacred college of masters. And so I had to compensate for that vulnerability by projecting a persona of passivity and pliability. Rather than apprising Joe, Larry, and Barbara of my longstanding interest in the critical theory of academia—that is, my long-held reservations about their most fundamental values—I presented myself, rather disingenuously, as someone who was “a little lost.” This would, in reinforcing my advisors’ own sense of agency, help persuade them that I could eventually be molded to their specifications, that I was a tabula rasa upon which the dominant paradigm of intellectual rigor could be inscribed with a just a few words of advice here and there. One might think that, with philosophy graduate school having failed to properly socialize me into the mores and pieties of academia, there was little hope that Joe, Larry, or Barbara would now succeed where so many others had failed. But my mentors wanted to believe that they could succeed notwithstanding what their own instincts told them, and I went out of my way to encourage that impression. Truth be told, they were always on some level attuned to my disingenuousness here. Hence their perennial ambivalence toward me, their sense that I was never really absorbing anything they had to say, and was merely going through the motions of doing so. They knew this, but they were also helped to repress what they knew. Unpleasant though this charade was, it also represented “the profoundest shrewdness in self-preservation,” my last chance to obtain an academic position after the defeats on the philosophy teaching market several years before. I was “compelled to act as a décadent” if I was to have any chance whatsoever of advancing my academic career, and that chance arrived with the fellowship offer.

* This dilemma called for new kind of histrionics, a new persona premised, not on passivity and pliability, but aloofness, elusiveness, and evasiveness. I had to once again act as a décadent, though in a new way, because only this would generate the social distance from Joe, Barbara, and Stanford without which my research could not proceed. I was once again successful. My failure to act on most of Joe’s and Barbara’s recommendations, when combined with my lack of visible productivity, merely sporadic appearances at Stanford, and unrealistically optimistic predictions about upcoming progress “just around the corner” served to alienate Joe and Barbara in ways they would not acknowledge. This in turn permitted me the freedom to think in accordance with my own inclinations, in a manner appropriate to my mind’s nature and present mood. From their perspective, of course, they could not but conclude that I had taken the side of all décadence instincts. At first, this amounted only to the concern that I was squandering my time writing on and on in the absence of a clear thesis, as worried Barbara, or that I was wasting it contemplating the pronouncements of an “imbecile” like Robert Bork, as worried Joe. But as time went on and the same patterns persisted, the basic intuition that I had “taken the side of all décadence instincts” came to admit of more troubling interpretations, which was that what Joe and Barbara had originally judged to be a student “of the toughest vital energy” was perhaps loafing about and not doing much of anything.

* Joe and Barbara can be forgiven for surmising as they did in December 2008 that I was just digging myself into a great big hole. Given my inability to articulate anything close to a clear thesis, they concluded, and reasonably enough, that I had, propelled along by nothing more than my own hubris, ascended a ladder of abstractions which could perhaps never be reconnected with anything that any normal human being could possibly care about. This was the problem from the very outset, or at least from the conclusion of my Legal Theory presentation, which everyone, including myself, concurred was inadequate and disconnected. So it wasn’t at all surprising that that they would have come to conceive of most everything from December 2008 onward as but a descending spiral fueled by tendencies of mine which they had the good sense to discern but the recklessness to disregard. That gap between scope of claims and ability to defend—or even just articulate, explain, and relate—was there from the beginning. And so they could not but conclude that the problem had only worsened and that I was hiding away in shame at the same time as I remained obstinately and irrationally unrepentant about my overconfidence and ungrateful to them for their gracious attempts to deflate it. Being so completely inside my own head, I furthermore exuded a certain exhaustion in our December 2008 meeting, as I would continue to do throughout the year at the same time that I was becoming ever more aloof from all manner of practical realities. So it was only natural that they would conclude that I had taken the side of all décadence instincts and that the project had gone nowhere at all after all this time.
But that these conclusions were all the same utterly false has already been established in too many ways to count. The rapid coalescence of my job-talk paper over the summer of 2009 and all the praise which it subsequently garnered belies any impression that I was somehow going nowhere. Much more significantly, the fact that my research agenda should have become three-dimensional, unconcealing the surreptitious sectarianism of Templar culture—by exposing me to a radiance that streams inextinguishably from the gateway of the Law—is irrefutable evidence of that agenda’s underlying fecundity. How, then, are we to explain what was a very wide discrepancy between perception and reality and, even more interestingly, the fact that the perception was just as reasonable as it was mistaken?

* My surreptitious cause of action against Stanford was the concrete legal embodiment of conservative claims of cultural oppression, because it was my investigation of those claims which engendered both Barbara’s misinterpretations and my ability to exploit those misinterpretations. I could divine in conservative claims of cultural oppression a power by means of which one can prevail against ‘the world’ because I had by their means achieved a perspective external to the disciplines and repressions of the buffered identity—as is enjoyed by the claimants—while also developing the ability to articulate its meaning—as is not. I thereby realized a dialectical synthesis of the modern and pre-modern. It was precisely that synthesis, first announced by the Overview, that permitted me to outmaneuver Barbara on the phone and then be there to greet Bob Weisberg right on time a week later. I could outmaneuver Barbara because I had come to understand her own hero-system better than she did. And I could achieve this because I had, by means of conservative claims of cultural oppression, attained a perspective external to it. This was the meaning of my August epiphany, whereby Israel’s oldest, most powerful instincts reemerged from out of the shell in which they had been buried by the many accretions of history.

* One reason it could do so was that I assumed that, with Joe, Larry, and Barbara being Jews, they would have some sympathy for my objectives. After all, it was they who had, without any instructions from me, extended the invitation to self-placement and had moreover done so with a non plus ultra of histrionic genius—through the tour de force of Set I and the homepage. And this suggested to me that they remained well rooted in the ancient Jewish instincts. They weren’t Nietzsche specialists, of course. Indeed, Barbara had once confessed to me in responding to one of my essays that she hadn’t “read Nietzsche seriously since college a million years ago.” But one need hardly be a Nietzsche specialist, or even have read him seriously, to comprehend an imperative which arises out of one’s own being and which Nietzsche was merely documenting.

* Refusing to recognize the irony, moral ambiguity, and comic value of the events of September 2009, they responded with a “humorless determination to castigate sin and disorder, a denial of ambiguity and complexity in unmixed condemnation.”

* Joe, Larry, and Barbara are Jewish academics, and my fellowship’s disappointing denouement conclusively established that they are academics before they are Jews.

* …that Joe, Barbara, and Larry should have derived such satisfaction from the betrayal of their own heritage is to say the least disconcerting. Equally disconcerting is that my own alma mater could have countenanced the level of latent, institutionalized anti-Semitism that brought my academic aspirations to such an abrupt halt. Not satisfied to preempt my application for fellowship renewal on the basis of a false premise, Barbara proceeded to mock and manipulate what she surely understood deep-down—in her gut even if not on the level of high theory—is the most primal impulse throbbing in the heart of every Jew, an ancient yearning, not to just be placed anywhere by just anyone and in any old fashion, but, more fastidiously, to place oneself at no less than the head of all décadence movements, and to moreover do so with a non plus ultra of histrionic genius. Barbara dangled that possibility and raised that hope only in order to dash the dream, because this was my Achilles’ Heel, I’ll freely admit.
Barbara sees both everything and nothing. But she knew me well enough to understand that I would be irresistibly drawn to the prospect of self-placement, irrespective of the actual odds, out of both instinct and first principle, because this is what it means to operate a level up. That’s just how devious Barbara can be sometimes, for her actions indicated a precise knowledge of my vulnerabilities.

* I won’t go so far as to call Barbara a self-hating Jew. But she was surely a cognitive elite before she was a Jew. And so she could never countenance a situation in which I was operating a level up at her arguable expense, even in the name Judaism itself.

* The great irony was that while the ultimate end of the liberal conspiracy—the manipulation of my Judaism—was anti-Semitic, at least metaphysically, the means through which that end was realized were profoundly Jewish. For as we noted at the outset, Barbara’s vengefulness was in fact the sublime vengefulness of Israel, a “farseeing, subterranean, slowly advancing, and premeditated revenge” whose instrument could be denied before “all the world.”

* This reality was a higher world that became separated from everything else on earth, one more Jewish revolt against everything that it normal and natural, yet another illustration of the fear-inspiring consistency with which Jews can define themselves counter to the conditions under which life must be lived.

* “Secularization” is, on the mutation counter-narrative, not the lopping off of religion, but the “thorough molding and interpenetration of the secular world” by religion. The secular is necessarily the secularization of something that is not itself secular, the reinterpretation and internalization by consciousness of certain religious ideals, to the point that their origin, and so also their contemporary significance, can no longer be recognized. Whereas secular, naturalistic attitudes are, on the subtraction account, coterminous with psychological and epistemic liberation from the illusions of pre-modern religious cosmologies, they are, on the mutation counter-narrative, the final articulations of understandings that were implicit in, but not fully grasped and realized by, those cosmologies. In insisting that we distinguish “between a principle as such and its application, its introduction and execution in the actuality of life and spirit” Hegel permits us to recognize that while secularization may involve the widespread discarding of many traditional religious beliefs, it is also the emergence of a form of consciousness that was progressively inculcated by the cultural practices of which these religious beliefs were manifestations.
This “thorough molding and interpenetration” of the secular by the religious is, I submit, precisely what were produced through my efforts to place myself, because it was thereby that I caused an ancient religious ideal to be physically and digitally instantiated in my secular daily world. I unearthed the sedimentation of the past in the present by causing that sedimentation to be articulated in such a way as to become publicly displayed, enter the email record, and so become amenable to empirical verification by disinterested third-parties.

* Ontogeny does indeed recapitulate phylogeny, at least in my case, because nearly the entire history and spirit of Israel would appear to have been born again and then relived in my own person, and in the span of just a few years, in the span of just one law school fellowship.

* Barbara, that “ostensible opponent and disintegrator of Israel,” was merely the unknown and unknowing “bypath” to that end—to the revaluation of her own values, to the supersession of her own culture, to what I suspect is the first ever self-consecrating academic job-talk paper, not only at Stanford, but in the history of the world.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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