Pascal Bruckner: La tyrannie de la pénitenceEssai sur le masochisme occidental

T which is supposed to be criticism eally amounts to confession Critical thought at first subversive turns against itself and becomes a new conformism but one that is sanctified by the memory of its former ebellion Yesterday s audacity is transformed into clich s There is no artist no journalist no actor who does not claim to be subversive especially if he or she eceives a government subsidy Martyrdom has now been ecast as being on the eceiving end of oppression Suffering gives one ights it is even the sole source of ights that is what we have learned over the past century In Christianity it used to generate edemption now it generates eparations An important point he aises is that the celebration of victimhood the meek shall inherit the Earth locks people into that ole It is merely a ecasting of our discredited attitude of superiority This culture of apologies is above all a culture of condescendence Nothing authorizes us to divide humanity into the guilty and the innocent for innocence is the lot of children but also that of idiots and slaves A people that is never held accountable for its acts has lost all the ualities that make it possible to treat it as an eual Whose interest does all this eally serve Multiculturalism may ultimately be nothing than a legal apartheid in which we find the wealthy once again explaining tenderly to the poor that money won t make them happy let us shoulder the burden of freedom of inventing ourselves of the euality of men and women you have the joys of custom forced marriages the veil polygamy and clitoridectomy Finally he suggests that our supposed caring about others is eally an act of self indulgence There still emains to uench their thirst for the absolute a final noble savage the Palestinian He is the great Christ like icon the oppressed of the oppressed whose beatification has been proceeding for the past thirty years And the fact that his situation has hardly improved makes it possible to keep alive the evolt he incarnates The author makes it clear that he is well aware of the eal injustices suffered by the Palestinians His point is that we do not actually care about them as eal people People who support the Palestinians are not hoping to aid flesh and blood human beings but pure ideas Intellectuals writers and politicians are not so much engaged in inuiring into a specific antagonism as in settling accounts with Western culture The actual fate of millions of men and women subjected to daily humiliation and precarious living conditions is of little importance We are pursuing our own mythologies in a foreign theater The writing is provocative It is meant to be He is trying to puncture our own mythologies But he also has a positive view about how we should acknowledge and overcome that which we egret about our past The best victory over the exterminators torturers and slave traders of yesterday is the coexistence that is now possible among peoples and ethnic groups that prejudices and mentalities previously declared to be incompatible it is that formerly dominated people are now treated as euals and engaged in a collective adventure Not everyone likes the book This eview observes that he is sometimes loose with his facts Taken literally it is unnecessarily polarizing However I ead it as philosophy a source of ideas ather than an objective documentary about the Western intellectual landscape It is food for thought not the gospel I am glad I ead it. T self esteem to act decisively in a world of chaos and violence Lamenting the vice of anti Americanism that grips so many European intellectuals Bruckner urges a enewed transatlantic alliance and advises Americans not to let ecent foreign policy misadventures sap their own confidence This is a searing provocative and psychologically penetrating account of the crude thought and bad politics that arise from excessive bad conscience.

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An excellent critiue of cultural elativism western guilt and multiculturalism While western society has produced injustices colonialism slavery acism massacre it has also produced the antidotes antislavery and abolition anticolonialism the belief in euality before the law liberty antiracism The attitude that guilt over past western injustices should be atoned for by being uncritical towards other cultures is wrongheaded it is atrophying for ourselves and also takes away the possibility of progress for other societies I ead fairly happily until page 31 I thought until that moment that perhaps the translation was inadeuate to convey the subtleties of Bruckner s arguments but suspected that the fault lay with Bruckner himself Indeed it appears to me that he is slightly madThe premise here is that the West isn t only bad and that it s not only Western governments that have inflicted evil I agree and enjoyed the beginning of this wild and provocative ide But only sentences after arguing that forcing baguettes on Africans and pudding on Hindus is using tribalism to practice imperialism he shows that despite his hip and all embracing posturing he in fact eeks of that all too familiar Western superiority Page 31 Without Caesar and without the infusion of Greco Roman culture into France was it an infusion and not a forced imperialist infliction because he approves of its high culture in etrospect There are plenty of examples of Great Cultures practiced by non Europeans too France would get this have long emained a myriad of tribes with uncouth customs and obscure forms of worship I can only laugh because if I think much further about this abomination there will be a book burning in Berlin tonight I m wasting neither my time nor a match Lucid and prescient would be the best way to describe this short bookessay Despite his egalitarianpluralist bent Pascal Bruckner does not as many liberals turn a blind eye to the dubiousness of the Western guilt complex He does not accept it as dogma prima facie that The West is guilty in an unualified sense nor does he accept the pious pleading for absolution as a necessary or desirable phenomenon amongst our peoples References to important thinkers Nietzsche Lichtenberg Thucydides etc abound in the book and are eferenced wellWell worth the ead despite the somewhat egrettable e affirmation of democracy and pluralism as if those help us in any sense Any intensification of of the same will do us no good I m afraid This was a powerfully argued in many ways persuasive intelligent book that I thought I would end up disliking because of Bruckner s eputation as a political gadfly in Europe The subject of the book would also put off a certain kind of American eader who might openly identify with the terms liberal or progressive In a time when the French thinker can sometimes be identified with the obscurantism of someone like Jean Baudrillard Bruckner much closely esembles someone like Raymond Aron which would position him politically at least as a moderate in the United States and on the far ight especially in academic circles on the Continent At the heart of Bruckner s book he makes claim that is not meant to provoke so much as it is to get people thinking Europe has spent too much of the twentieth century apologizing for its mistakes fascism the Holocaust the horrors of Communist instead of carving out a new path for itself by learning from these mistakes This apologiz. Fascism communism genocide slavery acism imperialism the West has no shortage of easons for guilt And indeed since the Holocaust and the end of World War II Europeans in particular have been consumed by emorse But Pascal Bruckner argues that guilt has now gone too far It has become a pathology and even an obstacle to fighting today's atrocities Bruckner one of France's leading writers and public intellectuals argues that obsessiv.

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Ing he says can become pathologically debilitating In a time of bracing secularism Brucker argues that the guilt of original sin never eally left us but that it has been transmogrified into guilt at the former atrocities of colonialism slavery acism genocide and many others Condemnation has become a kind of new civic eligion Instead of doing the ational thing which would consist of a dialectical consideration of both our past crimes and an ongoing effort to both correct for them and ensure that they do not occur again the West and he s particularly talking about western Europe here everts to a kind of childish narcissism whereby the only way we can savage any shred of former international importance is to wallow in past atrocities Whether or not you agree with Bruckner s thesis and I had the feeling that I would learn and appreciate it a lot less than I actually did his writing even the translation is extraordinarily well crafted and his writing convincing A few of his minor assertions like his claim that Baudrillard was positively giddy at the bombing of the Twin Towers on 911 struck me as dubious The general themes however brought me on board than I expected them to This is said too often and of too many writers but its true of Bruckner whether you agree with him or not you ll certainly come away from this book having been challenged and done so by a writer who while far outside the European political mainstream of the intelligentsia eschews extremism and intelligently uestions even his own assumptions Think of this book as a work of philosophy A French intellectual is challenging the thinking of his contemporaries who chose to deride the accomplishments of their own culture The writing is very French not only is it about the perspective as seen from France but the writing style itself is very florid Personally I thought some of it was very elouent It seems many people disagree with me and found it difficult to eadHe is not attacking irrelevant straw men These intellectuals are the people who are teaching our children that the West is the source of all oppression with a litany of victims and their ideas are creeping into mainstream society It is important to challenge this thinking and this work ead properly can make a useful contributionRather than try to summarize his entire argument I will drop a few uotes so you can get a feel for his writing style and some of the ideas he explores Lets start at the beginning Repent That is the message that under cover of its proclaimed hedonism Western philosophy has been hammering into us for the past half century though that philosophy claims to be both an emancipatory discourse and the guilty conscience of its time What it injects into us in the guise of atheism is nothing other than the old notion of original sin the ancient poison of damnation In Judeo Christian lands there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt and the our philosophers and sociologists proclaim themselves to be agnostics atheists and free thinkers the they take us back to the eligious belief they are challenging As Nietzsche put it in the name of humanity secular ideologies have out Christianized Christianity and taken its message still further Here is an idea that I have not fully considered before our progressive intellectuals are imprisoned by the worst ideas from our past They are merely e enacting the old medieval play while changing the names of the actors For example tha. E guilt has obscured important ealities The West has no monopoly on evil and has destroyed monsters as well as created them leading in the abolition of slavery enouncing colonialism building peaceful and prosperous communities and establishing ules and institutions that are models for the world The West should be proud and eady to defend itself and its values In this Europeans should learn from Americans who still have sufficien.

Pascal Bruckner is a French writer one of the New Philosophers who came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s Much of his work has been devoted to critiues of French society and culture He is the author of many books including The Tyranny of Guilt Perpetual Euphoria and The Paradox of Love He writes regularly for Le Nouvel Observateur