“As I have often repeated, a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite; we share the same roots. It would be a contradiction of faith and life. Rather, we are called to commit ourselves to ensure anti-Semitism is banned from the human community.”
– Pope Francis, “Greetings of His Holiness Pope Francis to a Delegation of the World Congress of Mountain Jews,” Hall of Popes, 5 November 2018
Recently, while surveying the Catholic social media landscape, I came across an episode of The Patrick Coffin Show podcast titled “Meet the Real Mayor Pete” (#130 from May 28, 2019), featuring guest E. Michael Jones. Coffin, for those unfamiliar with him, is a Catholic media personality who spent almost eight years as the host of Catholic Answers Live and now hosts his own independent show. Jones was on Coffin’s show to talk about Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who as many will know is running to be the Democratic nominee for the 2020 U.S. election. Plenty of social media pundits are offering their opinions on Pete Buttigieg right now, but this interview stood out to me because what Jones had to say tapped into a line of thinking that deserves some explication for the uninitiated.
Jones has a personal connection to the topic, since he was apparently a neighbour of Buttigieg’s and was disturbed by the way Pete was raised and influenced by his father, Joseph Buttigieg. The elder Buttigieg, who died in January of this year, was an English professor, known in academic circles for having edited and translated the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist who had a major influence on the development of cultural theory in the humanities. As Jones correctly notes, Buttigieg’s time in the academy was preceded by the reign of what was called the ‘New Criticism’ in English studies—a mode of formalistic criticism characterized by the ‘close reading’ of texts. The New Criticism was replaced, in Buttigieg’s era, by new forms of literary criticism associated with thinkers like Jacques Derrida and Stanley Fish.
Jones describes this new era as one of “Jewish literary criticism.” Specifically, he says, “During this period of time, [the New Criticism] was succeeded by Jewish literary criticism, which was basically people like Stanley Fish, who was my teacher at Temple University. . . . We go from Sola Scriptura [New Criticism] at the beginning, and now we have Talmudic literary criticism where the only person who’s allowed to talk about the text is the rabbi. And Stanley Fish is the rabbi, Jacques Derrida is the rabbi. It was called deconstructionism. Fish was not part of that, but it was part of this whole revolution in literary criticism which basically took over the university and in effect redefined discourse” (6:51-8:08). This will sound a bit strange to anyone with a knowledge of the field. Certainly Derrida, who Jones rightly points out was the originator of the method known as deconstruction, was Jewish and influenced by Talmudic and Kabbalistic thought; Fish is also Jewish. But the same cannot be said for many other thinkers in this group. A number of them were Catholic. The other great voice of literary deconstruction, the Belgian Paul de Man, actually worked for a collaborationist newspaper during World War II and wrote an infamously anti-Semitic article titled “The Jews in Contemporary Literature.” They were not a homogenous bunch.
Ok, so how does this relate to Pete Buttigieg? Well, Jones asserts that Joseph Buttigieg, having absorbed the spirit of Talmudic literary criticism, brought up his son according to this spirit, even though Pete was baptized in the Catholic Church and attended Catholic schools. Allegedly, as a result of being a young man with a Jewish mentality in a Catholic environment, Pete was very isolated and did not interact with his neighbours. Jones explains: “What we’re seeing is here this kind of Jewish mentality of [non-Jews] being unclean. I think it’s clear. You know, if you touch the man who’s unclean, you become unclean. And this was an attitude that you saw here that pervaded his upbringing at the hands of his father” (10:45-11:02). Jones sees this attitude reflected in what he describes as Pete Buttigieg’s cold and calculating approach to politics and detached attitude toward the common man. Today’s Pete Buttigieg, then, is essentially a product of his father, who was in turn a product of the “Jewish mentality” pervasive in academia. Jones and Coffin further speculate that the icy father-son relationship fostered by this mentality was perhaps what brought out Pete’s homosexuality, but for the purposes of this piece we need not continue that far into this odd narrative.
So what is this all about? Where is Jones coming from? For anyone familiar with Jones, it is obvious. Jones has a long history as one of the leading purveyors of Catholic anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. In his Culture Wars magazine, and in books like The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit and Its Impact on World History, The Jews and Moral Subversion, and Catholics and the Jew Taboo, Jones has outlined a narrative of a world-historical conspiracy of Jewish aggression and subversion against both the Church and the United States. For Jones, Jewish thought or the Jewish spirit is the Satanic opposition to the Logos, which is God, Christ, the Church, morality, etc. Just look up “E. Michael Jones and Jews” on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. This great dichotomy allows Jones to cast the Jews as the originators and purveyors of almost any kind of evil and subversion.
In this interview, Jones is recycling material from The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit. The relevant section bears the title “October 1976: The Jewish takeover of American Discourse” (1000-5). Speaking of the ideas behind Fish’s reader-response criticism, Jones writes, “Reader Response Criticism corresponded in time to the Jewish take over of American culture. The speech codes which got imposed on college campuses over the course of the 1990s which came to be known as political correctness, were in fact the practical consequences which were drawn from the Jewish takeover of discourse which occurred in America during the 1970s” (1004-5). Pete Buttigieg, we can infer, is the very embodiment of this “Jewish takeover of discourse” and of the much-derided campus speech-police who promote “political correctness.”
I should note, in fairness, that Jones does not consider himself an anti-Semite and strenuously objects to that characterization. However, in doing so he is being disingenuous. The argument he makes in his defence goes something like the following (and here I am quoting from The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit): “Jewish leadership controls the ‘Synagogue of Satan,’ which in turn controls the ethnic group into which Jews are born. No one has control over the circumstances of his birth. That is why anti-Semitism, if by that term we mean hatred of the Jews because of immutable and ineradicable racial characteristics, is wrong” (1067). So not all Jews are bad—only the ones who adhere to the Satanic Jewish mentality. They are not bad because of their racial makeup, but because of their religion and culture. How tolerant he is! The problem with this argument, if it needs to be pointed out, is that racialist anti-Semitism was merely one form of anti-Semitism, which is normally understood to encompass non-racialist anti-Judaism.
It should be clear to any Catholic that Jones’s anti-Semitic project—the great narrative that lies behind his analysis of Pete Buttigieg in his interview with Coffin—stands in stark contrast with the message of Nostra aetate:
Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.
. . .
Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone. (4)
Pope Francis restated this message even more succinctly in his 2018 greeting to the World Congress of Mountain Jews, remarking that to be a Christian and an anti-Semite is “a contradiction of faith and life,” and that “we are called to commit ourselves to ensure anti-Semitism is banned from the human community.” Now although I take the words of the Holy Father very seriously, I’m not going to suggest that Jones should be ‘banned.’ I simply suggest that any Catholic should treat Jones’s words with exceptional care, and reject his anti-Semitism entirely. Further, Coffin might want to consider exactly where he is heading with his increasingly reactionary show.
As the anti-Francis vortex continues to grow in scope and intensity, I think we will be hearing more from Jones or from other Catholics thinking along similar lines. Anti-Semitism is the ur-conspiracy that all conspiracy theory leads to, and unfortunately it has a history in the Church.
All this being said, I must admit that I agree with Jones on some points. He is right to be suspicious of forms of literary criticism like deconstruction, which constitute a genuine threat to Catholic values and a proper understanding of culture and history. But if he looks a little deeper into deconstruction, he might be surprised to find not a Jewish plot, but rather the origin of his own brand of reality-twisting cultural and historical analysis.
“Meet the Real Mayor Pete—E. Michael Jones.” The Patrick Coffin Show. Podcast. https://youtu.be/muNxJeZvQkI
Jones, E. Michael. The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit and its Impact on World History. South Bend, Indiana: Fidelity Press, 2008.
Nostra aetate. October 28, 1965. Vatican.va. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html
Pope Francis. Greeting of His Holiness Pope Francis to a Delegation of the World Congress of Mountain Jews. Hall of Popes. Monday, 5 November 2018. Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/it/papa-francesco/2018/udienze/udienza-ad-una-delegazione-di-rabbini–mountain-jews–del-caucas/en.html
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D.W. Lafferty, PhD, is a Catholic husband, dad, and independent scholar from Ontario, Canada. He works in higher education and has published articles on the literature of Wyndham Lewis, the conspiracy theory of Douglas Reed, and the life and legacy of Engelbert Dollfuss. Online, he tweets as @rightscholar.