“This is the water
And this is the well.
- The Woodsman
When I got wind that my not-husband Michael Malice was writing a new book, and specifically that the book would be about “the new right,” I immediately began salivating. I am perfectly fine with the fact that I have, as I have often put it, embarrassing lady-wood for MM. I adore him. He can basically do no wrong in my eyes. The fact that he was writing a book about the happenings on the right made the proposition doubly exciting for me, as I have struggled to get my head around it for quite some time.
I preordered the book at some now-indeterminate point in the past, and it arrived in my mailbox on the release date. Being unaccustomed to good mail, it made my day, and I bounded inside to rip the package open, plop down on the couch, and start reading.
For fans of Malice, I will get it out of the way now: You will be glad that you read it. It is, in many ways, exactly what you would expect. When Tom Woods tweeted a picture of himself with his advance copy, I retweeted with a comment along the lines of, “This is the libertarian equivalent of seeing the last season of Game of Thrones early.” That one earned me a follow from Woods. I figure I’ll never get MM, so Woods and Thaddeus Russell are probably going to be the apex of my Twitter career. In any case, if Thrones has been an utter suckfest and unrelenting disappointment (I never paid to watch it as it aired and let me just say that doing so for season 8 has been an appallingly bad decision), The New Right is what it could have been, had the writers any care at all for their craft or any respect for a slavish audience. As much as he trolls us, Malice has enough respect for the dear readers to give them a satisfying run from start to finish.
First of all, it is littered with Easter eggs, insofar as it is appropriate to say that a Russian Jew came to your house with a basket of brightly painted eggs. Seems a bit creepy to say out loud, honestly. Even creepier if you imagine him dressed in a furry rabbit outfit. But I digress. When he dropped Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me into chapter two, I literally squealed. I don’t squeal. I don’t get excited. Feelings of joy come to me infrequently, and I express them poorly when I have them. But I squealed. I think it might have been the literary equivalent of having an orgasm.
Far and away one of things that I appreciate the most about Michael Malice is that he is culturally literate, and by that I mean that we like a lot of the same shit. We both enjoy drag queens, Twin Peaks, and Camille Paglia, and I know he’s seen Strangers with Candy because the lone interaction I’ve had with him in the Twit-o-Sphere was due to something he said on Woods that made me happy. He somehow squeezed in “doing the wrong things for the right reasons,” and I was so sure it was a sly wink that I tweeted it out. “Someone wants cake,” was the response, and I was so absurdly overjoyed and frightened by being acknowledged that I couldn’t even say anything in reply. As much as I love him, I’m scared to death of Michael Malice, and that’s no joke. I fear very few people, but I know that if I met him, I would be so desperate for approval that it would be pathetic. Now that I’ve exposed my inferiority complex, on with the review!
He devotes some time at the beginning of the book to some historical perspective of the New Right, and he talks at some length about Pat Buchanan and Murray Rothbard. This portion of the book was quite informative to me. I have read some of Rothbard’s work and a few of Buchanan’s old campaign leaflets. (My grandfather definitely supported him back in 1993, so Pat Buchanan is hardly an unknown for me or a mere caricature to be dropped into MAD TV skits featuring a young Artie Lange.) I think for most people in the libertarian movement, Rothbard seems a bit more obvious than Buchanan as a starting point, but he weaves a narrative that manages to bring Nixon, paleolibertarianism, trolling, and memes into a single tapestry that tells a coherent, believable tale. Malice is, in my opinion, always at his strongest when he applies his intellect to cultural development. In this way, he is quite a lot like Camille Paglia, and I suspect it would flatter him somewhat to hear that.
I found his treatment of Rothbard to be quite even-handed. I have often felt that the Mises-adjacent libertarians are unfailingly enamored with Rothbard, and while I have no doubt that he is due a majority of that praise, I have long held some reservations about his political methods. This isn’t to say that those who knew and worked with him shouldn’t praise him, but rather that I know the man was no saint, and I like all of my cards on the table. I think Malice gives us a much more honest picture of the political Rothbard. And the political Rothbard had enemies – rightly so, I think.
I have always perceived that Malice much prefers Rand to Rothbard, and it’s not that hard to see why. In my own mind, I expect he (Malice) has much admiration for those who, like Rand, are unabashedly themselves. And if she was nothing else, Ayn Rand was herself, ego and all. She was almost pure ego, in fact, and it was delightfully entertaining to watch. They have that in common, Rand and Malice: ego and hubris. There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. If you aren’t for yourself, who will be for you?
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book is the dishiness of it. I assumed a long time ago that Malice had been traveling in these fringe circles for longer than he let on, and that turned out to be an accurate assessment. He talks a lot about the people that he met through the usual Internet pathways, including some noteworthy folks whose names even non-libertarians will recognize. You kids know I like my tea hot, and the tea is so much better when it’s giving you a certain depth of perspective about the disjointed mishmash that is the New Right. He doesn’t tell these stories without objective because they certainly work towards the greater service of providing the depth and dimension that the topic deserves, but it feels dishy, nevertheless.
I did receive introduction to a character whom I feel rather remiss for having never heard of prior to opening this book, and that is Jim Goad. This man may be the punk rock of the New Right, which is saying a lot because the New Right already has its fair share of loud, abrasive dudes that don’t belong in polite company, but Jim Goad is someone I will be revisiting on my own. I think his activities deserve a little bit of my time.
The meat of the book, in my opinion, lies with his explanation of Gamergate and the weaponized autism behind it, and a pretty thorough (and hardly unexpected) takedown of democracy, from a philosophical standpoint. I must confess that Gamergate is not a subject that I was particularly knowledgeable about, but I think that he did an excellent job of explaining the strategy behind it and how the geeks really won the day. It has a sort of Losers Club, irreverent triumph about it that really strikes at the heart of what drives the New Right. It also highlights a certain amorphousness particular to people who, to some extent, are more real online than in “real life,” and you walk away understanding how this guerilla existence is the truth strength of those who served in the Meme Wars.
One thing that I feel I must interject here is my feeling about various parts of the book. I think it goes without saying that I appreciate and enjoy analyzing the logic and philosophy behind what Malice says, but I would be remiss if I didn’t give some insight to the feelings that his observations about the movement occasionally inspired. To put it succinctly, the book made me uneasy more than I was expecting. In retrospect, I think I was a bit naïve to believe that I was getting out of this without some sense of being tricked. Part of me wants to substitute “trolled” for “tricked,” but I’m sticking with my initial choice. I felt tricked more times than I could count, and about midway through, I decided that was completely intentional on Malice’s part. Or I’m a paranoid midwit.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that pays attention to him that Malice is an unreliable narrator. If the anarchist-libertarian world has a trickster god, it is Michael Malice. He does it with such natural ease that sometimes it is difficult to know how to take him. In this respect, he is in his element among the New Right because it is the Land of the Trolls. There are these blurred lines everywhere to be found, and I think a lot of people have a hard time knowing what elements are legitimately threatening and which are just taking the piss to own the libs. It becomes this mirrored funhouse, and nothing is exactly what it seems to be. I struggled against the feeling of the unreliable narrator and the way he appeared to be gleefully leading me through this fucked up carnival.
The carnival ends with the circus coming to town in the form of Christopher Cantwell (a.k.a. “the crying Nazi”), Jared “Hu-white” Taylor, and Charlottesville, home of Cracker Barrel’s white gravy and one badass Outback Steakhouse. (If you ever read this, Michael Malice, I hope you realize that I’m from a part of the world where, if I have to travel for business, my coworkers want to stop at Cracker Barrel specifically for white gravy and gift shop soap. Oh Christ, that soap cutting video… Focus. There will be soap cutting videos later.) At that point, there is a sharp departure from the house of mirrors, and you are able to completely and clearly see the circus, according to Malice.
This was my favorite part of the book, not because it was dishy or witty or provided more insight into the events at Charlottesville. It did all of that and did it well. The reason I liked it, quite frankly, is because it made Michael Malice seem far more human to me than he has in any other context or setting – more so even than when he gets fired up about communism or loyalty. To be sure, he has his emotionally relatable moments, but I suppose what I’m ultimately driving at is that it is tough to catch him slipping. He is not a person that shows vulnerability much, as far as I can tell, and I can relate to that.
It seems pretty clear that the anti-Semitic bent of the far right – the real far right, the ones that will openly tell you that they dislike Jews and think blacks are inferior – bothers him, and rightly so. His retelling of his conversations with Taylor and Cantwell, and Cantwell more particularly, gave me a distinct sense of weight, the kind that feels like it’s sitting on your chest. It brings unease and discomfort with it, or at least it did for me.
Look, I have no illusions about who or what I am. I’m not going to lie to anyone about that. I am a Noahide; I am not Jewish. But I behave Jewishly – probably more so than quite a lot of born Jews. The only reason I haven’t converted is because I’m too far away from an active community to make it feasible right now. The conversion shtick provides a fair little reserve of jokes for my friends to dip into, and most of the time, it’s good-natured and we all laugh and that’s it.
I saw an old friend-of-a-friend last weekend. It had been 10+ years. When our mutual friend told her that I was on an evergreen hunt for a rabbi I liked who isn’t 2+ hours away, she gave me the funniest look.
“Why are you doing that? So you can make more money?” As if putting on a yarmulke or a Star of David automatically adds three zeroes to the balance of your bank account.
I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember that I rolled my eyes. I was a little bit surprised to hear it coming from this particular person. She’s liberal in most all respects, but over the course of the weekend, she made it no secret how she feels about Jews.
We went camping the second and third nights of our excursion, and she asked me point-blank why, “you guys always seem like you’re out to get everyone else and why there are so many Jews that work in banks and in the media.”
Was there some eye rolling? Yes. Is this chick a threat to my life? Definitely not. There are shades of anti-Semitism, and most of the time, it’s ignorance and nothing more. The person speaking may not love Jews, but they aren’t out to get them either, and such was the case here. This was not a dangerous person – not to anyone but herself, leastways.
Malice mentioned the lower class rednecks with 1488 and swastika tattoos. I got hit on by just such a person at the local Walmarts (typo and it stays) once. He was wearing a black T-shirt, Crocs, and neo-Nazi ink. I wasn’t sure if I should be more offended by the presence of rubber clogs or the Iron Cross. But my hand sure as hell went to my neck to make sure that the Star of David I generally wear was tucked into my shirt. (Yes, I am aware that wearing it can be perceived as being a poser, and no, I don’t give two shits. I will convert when I can, and I do what I want in the meantime.)
Because here’s the thing, folks: Lines are blurred. Probably this guy was just some stupid redneck who wouldn’t attack me in the Walmart parking lot if he thought I was Jewish, but there’s no way to know for sure. And that’s the problem. A friend of mine knew a guy who had done time before age 25 and joined the Aryan Brotherhood, and he would fuck your shit up. His tattoos were not a joke; he hated Jews, black people – anyone who wasn’t WASP. I say “hated” because he ended his life in a standoff with the police. You never know exactly who or what you’re dealing with in strangers.
I talk about this to illustrate the point about the feelings the final sections of the book brought me, but also to illustrate a couple of things about Michael Malice. I have always wondered about the extent to which his Jewishness figures into his identity. I haven’t read Ego and Hubris (soon, very soon), but my understanding is that the books makes clear his rejection of Judaism from a religious standpoint. But Jewishness is a three-pronged identity of religion, culture, and ethnicity. One could be religiously and culturally Jewish without being Ashkenazi or Sephardic, or one could be culturally and ethnically Jewish but not religiously so. The second one is, in fact, quite common. Because of this, I have long been trying to suss out where Jewish identity figures in for MM. It is rare for it to vanish completely.
The New Right clarifies his position a lot. As he discusses his interview with Jared Taylor, it is clear that he views dismissing Taylor as a crackpot or a harmless man with stupid ideas is the wrong tack to take. The tone with which he delivers his verdict leads me to think that his conversations with these highly controversial figures left a bit of a mark on him, as well they should. While I think we can conclude that neither Cantwell nor Taylor would necessarily care to be the ones lining people up against a wall, it is unclear whether or not they would do anything to prevent it.
And although I have heard Malice speak on Charlottesville multiple times, the impression he leaves in the book is a bit different from the one that I’ve gotten from listening to podcast appearances. It seems obvious that, given the situation, one would have some care for his safety, Jewish or no. There were a lot of angry people in Charlottesville. It also seems clear to me that his Jewishness was a consideration, not just for himself but for others who made it known. The fact of these blurred lines, of not knowing how far people will go, was the adjacent consideration.
I think this unnerved me because I don’t think of MM as a person who has much fear. I feel like he does what he wants and fuck it if you don’t like who he is or what he does. I do think he is largely a measured person who is good at seeing the angles, but I was left with the impression that he was a bit surprised by what he found. Perhaps this is, to some extent, the result of living one’s whole life in New York, where being Jewish is common, acceptable, and a significant part of the city’s overall cultural fabric. It’s a different tale out here in the sticks.
To be truthful, I felt a certain kinship with him in those pages that perhaps I should not rightly experience, one that is distinct from the happiness I feel at having a political celeb I follow share enthusiasm for a show or a band or a book. I realize that there are quite a lot of Jewish people who would not like the fact that I wear that Star of David without having converted. Fine, great. I am not doing it to please them. The flip side to that coin is that I am accepting the risk that goes with it. If the Walmart Nazi sees it and decides he wants to hit me instead of hit on me, I highly doubt he will stop and ask first whether I was born that way or converted. People in that frame of mind aren’t going to stop and ask questions of someone who is part of the problem. Their minds are already made up.
The point I’m making with this self-serving section of the review is that his concerns and feelings resonated with me. That shared concern did not make me feel good. I didn’t want to squeal in excitement or imagine how much fun it would be to do a walking tour of New York with him, talking about weird bands and oddly textured food. Those are all enjoyable things and have been the primary source of connection I have felt to this public figure. This was a connection that had an entirely different effect, one of making Michael Malice human to me. This isn’t to say I view him as inhuman – more like superhuman, at least with regard to his intellect. He gives off the air of being invincible, and when someone is mentally powerful in the way that he is, moments of vulnerability, however fleeting, have a grounding effect.
This is indispensible to the book because in those pages, the blurred line is gone. It is a real boundary, and it becomes evident where his appreciation for a good troll ends and healthy concern for the furthest elements of the fringe begins. There is a point beyond the Pale, as it were.
My final rating on the book, shocking exactly no one, is a solid five stars. Obviously for any Malice fan, this is a must-have addition to the library. But even if Michael Malice isn’t your pretend husband, or at least the guy you cheat on Thaddeus Russell with, this book is indispensible reading on the Right. It provides a clear historical lens followed by an insightful assessment of the overall mentality of the movement, the differences between its various and varied groups, and whether or not that infamous Alt Right-libertarian pipeline really exists. If you want to have eyes to see, this book is a must.
But although the meat of the book is focused on the subject at hand, the real star of the show is, unsurprisingly, Malice himself. That it is written in his own voice lends it that special je ne sais quoi that has endeared him to his followers. Although he maintains an academic air when necessary, quite a lot of the book feels conversational. I doubt it would be a stretch to say that changing the book from third-person to first-person narrative was the best decision his editor made. The parenthetical asides are perhaps my favorite stylistic flourish, largely because I use them so much myself in my own writing. They allow for interjecting thoughts, which is a function of flowing, lively intellectual conversations. Malice makes excellent use of the device, sneaking in acute observations and his trademark sick burns with the usual dexterous ease.
My parting thought is that this is the exact book that I wanted it to be. It is in turns witty, insightful, and sober where appropriate. Perhaps most importantly, it provided valuable and (I think) accurate insight into a movement that confuses and confounds even those participating in it. Self-knowledge is essential, and this is indispensible reading for everyone who belongs to the New Right. We are indeed something of a carnival without a ringmaster, full of clowns, lions, elephants, trapeze artists, strong men, and sawdust spreaders down by the Tilt-o-Whirl.
But towards the back of the fairgrounds, under the shade of a few large trees, there is another tent, a tent that houses things that are misunderstood, and other things that are simply hideous to behold. Outside the tent, leaning against a ticket booth with colors that were once brightly painted on, is a small man dressed in a neat but odd suit with a top hat on his head. He looks out from under the hat brim and catches your eye as you walk past, and he smiles – the smile of a jester who knows something that you don’t, a wicked, impish little smile that both intrigues and unnerves you. He holds up a hand covered in a crisp, white glove, and he beckons you with one finger.
“Come and see… Come and see…”