June 30, 2013


The Gallic Gadfly : Pascal Bruckner takes on Western guilt, self-loathing, and 'apocalyptic propaganda' (Emily Eakin, 6/17/13, The Chronicle Review)

He's a gadfly and a goad, a self-declared man of the left who considers the influence of leftist ideology on contemporary France to have been, by and large, disastrous. In Bruckner's view, Europe is "wallowing in shame and self-loathing," and France "embodies the illnesses of Europe to excess." As a general rule, the more virtuous-seeming the liberal belief--about love, marriage, minorities, Muslims, the third world, and the West--the more contradiction, hypocrisy, and defeatism he finds corroding its name.

"I am like an epidemiologist of the disease of French democracy," Bruckner, 64, said by phone from his home, in Paris. "I try to sort out the symptoms of French psychological distress." The latest outbreak he's detected is environmentalism. The green movement is being hijacked by extremists, he writes in The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse: Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings, just released in the United States by Polity Press. In place of scientific fact, environmental crusaders spread guilt and fear, terrorizing citizens and undermining their own cause. Surveying images of planetary cataclysm proffered by activists like Al Gore ("Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb"), the former NASA climatologist James Hansen (who has called for trying climate-change deniers for "crimes against humanity"), and an array of European science writers and Green Party delegates, Bruckner complains that "all catastrophist discourses suffer from a twofold contradiction: If the situation is as serious as they claim, why fight against it? Why not sit back and await the deluge? But the proposed solutions are ludicrous in view of the perils. ... Let's be clear: a cosmic calamity is not going to be averted by eating vegetables and sorting our rubbish." [...]

Unlike many of the other so-called nouveaux philosophes--a loosely affiliated group whose number includes, in addition to Bruckner and Finkielkraut, the writers André Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Lévy--Bruckner was never a militant Marxist. The label, coined by Lévy in the mid-1970s, originally designated those young intellectuals who, disillusioned by Maoism (and its most influential French champion, Sartre), had begun renouncing their radical affiliations and attacking leftist dogma in philosophy and politics.

Bruckner joined the student protests of May 1968, mainly out of curiosity and "for the fun," he says. But the extremist tendencies he perceived in some of his fellow demonstrators made a big impression. His first book, Le Nouveau Désordre Amoureux (The New Love Disorder), written with Finkielkraut and published in 1977, was an indignant critique of the sexual-liberation movement. "We were among the first to point out that emancipation was a new dogma, that in those inflamed speeches was a terrorism directed at the body," Bruckner says. "Sexuality was about performance more than about pleasure." The book was never translated into English, but he has frequently reprised its themes, including in Le Paradoxe Amoureux (2009) (The Paradox of Love, 2012), in which he calls "free love" the "oxymoron par excellence": "How can love, which attaches, be compatible with freedom, which separates?" He's also explored the perversities of romantic love in a series of dark, erotic novels. One, the extravagantly dissolute Lunes de file (1981) (Evil Angels, 1987), was the basis for the film Bitter Moon, by Roman Polanski, in which free love is shown to be a grotesque and deadly con.

The book that established Bruckner's nouveau philosophe bona fides was Le Sanglot de l'Homme Blanc (1983) (The Tears of the White Man: Compassion as Contempt, 1986). Disillusioned with China and the Soviet Union, the French left, he argued, had merely transferred its revolutionary aspirations to the third world. The result was patronizing and narcissistic: "Everything became simple, formulaic, and we could steep ourselves in Latin American revolution as easily as in the rampages of the Red Guard. ... The world was a coat rack upon which we could hang our fantasies. We searched for a more intense, and, therefore, more innocent version of ourselves in Angolan soldiers, Bengali Naxalites, and Bolivian guerrillas."

In Bruckner's understanding, tiers mondisme (third worldism) was also a reaction, sentimental and misguided, to guilt over France's colonial adventure, over its brutality in the Algerian war, over Vichy. Guilt became a guiding preoccupation. In La Tyrannie de la Pénitence: Essai Sur le Masochisme Occidental (2006) (The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, 2010), he extended his analysis to political correctness, multiculturalism, anti-imperialism, and anti-Americanism--all contemporary manifestations of the guilt and self-loathing that Bruckner believes is crippling France. His description of multiculturalism as a form of "legal apartheid," which "accords the same treatment to all communities, but not to the people who form them, denying them the freedom to liberate themselves from their own traditions," became part of a high-profile spat in 2007, when he applied the term to the journalists Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton-Ash, after they expressed reservations about the work of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken Dutch-Somali critic of Islam--and a former Muslim. "There's no denying that the enemies of freedom come from free societies," Bruckner declared.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by at June 30, 2013 8:55 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus