“Everywhere in the [French] middle classes ‘bourgeois bolshevism’ is thriving.
There is no artist, no journalist, no actor who does not claim to be subversive, especially if he or she receives a government subsidy.”
(Pascal Bruckner: The Tyranny of Guilt)
“Thinkers from Gadamer to Derrida have contested the claims of the Enlightenment to embody a new age of self-conscious history … for them, criticism of prejudices is nothing but a prejudice itself.” (Pascal Bruckner: signandsight.com, 2007, in defence of Ayaan Hirsi Ali)
Who is Pascal Bruckner? An unscientific survey of my better read English friends drew only blank looks, though one hazarded that “he might be a composer?” (A descendant of Anton, perhaps?) This is despite the fact that Bruckner’s polemical essays have all been (excellently) translated into English. Furthermore his steamy erotic novel The Evil Angels has been turned into a film called Bitter Moon, directed by Roman Polanski and starring box office bombshells Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas. In France, however, Bruckner is a well-known and controversial figure, usually lumped together with the “nouveaux philosophes” (a label he dislikes). The latter are a group of scholars and commentators that has somewhat restored the honour of French intellectuals since the long night of totalitarianism worship promoted by left-bank leftists (all of them, needless to say, much fawned upon by the academy and the media). Bruckner, himself claiming to be a man of the left, is similarly a public intellectual in the French manner, something which I fear does not increase his chances of reaching a wider public in Britain. As W. H. Auden mordantly observed of his fellow-countrymen,
To the man in the street who I’m sorry to say
Is a keen observer of life,
The word intellectual suggests straight away
A man who’s untrue to his wife.
The less than electrifying nomenclature “nouveaux philosophes” was coined by Bernard-Henri Lévy in 1976 and subsequently adopted by a heterogeneous bunch of scholars, who nevertheless had one thing in common: all of them were appalled by the revelations in the nineteen-sixties and seventies of writers like Solzhenitsyn, which made it impossible for French communists to hide any longer from the ugly truth about their admired Stalinist (or Maoist) utopias. Abjuring the power worship of their predecessors, the nouveaux philosophes opted instead for what Václav Havel has described as “living in truth”. This implied a shift away from the rigid historicist systems of Marx and Hegel towards a more pragmatic empiricism. Propagandistic dogmatism shrouded in disingenuous or impenetrable jargon was eschewed in favour of a clear statement of broadly liberal values. Bruckner himself studied under Roland Barthes, who is associated with structuralism and semiotics; if Barthes has had any significant effect on him, it would seem to be that of felicitous and witty expression rather than any preoccupation with the distinction between “author” and “scriptor”, the “readerly” and the “writerly” text, or other whimsies promoted by the post-structuralist sage.
This is one reason why the Anglo-Saxon world ought to take Bruckner to its heart, for he belongs in a tradition we well understand, that of the left-wing writer who tells truth to power by calling a spade a spade: while the oppressive political right naturally attracts his censure, the latter is also extended to those on the left who are regrettably inclined to excuse the inhumanity of an ethnic or religious minority if it can be reconciled with left-wing ideology. In Britain, the stance of left-wing dissidence combined with intellectual integrity was more or less copyrighted by George Orwell, both in his essays and in his memorable account of his experiences in the Spanish civil war, Homage to Catalonia. The book was refused by Gollancz, Orwell’s leftist publisher, precisely on the cynical grounds that Orwell spent a lifetime attacking: namely that the cause (“Socialist” victory) must not be put at risk by exposing the evil means used to achieve it.(1)Two recently deceased and greatly lamented English writers have continued in the uncompromising Orwellian manner of stating uncomfortable truths to their own constituency: the late Christopher Hitchens and the historian Tony Judt. Both, like Bruckner, were essentially men of the left, Judt eventually describing himself as a “universalist Social Democrat” after resiling from a youthful enthusiasm for Marxism and Zionism.
The Orwell tradition places great emphasis on clarity of language, which itself should be the mirror of clear thought. It does not believe that obscurity of expression is necessarily a sign of deep insight, or that inventing abstractions that distort or weaken the power of language to reflect underlying reality is a strategy pursued in good faith by its practitioners. One wonders what Orwell himself would have had to say about a phrase like “repressive tolerance”, which was coined by that darling of the sixty-eighters, Herbert Marcuse, and the inspiration for much subsequent sloganeering designed to “have it both ways”. The disingenuousness of writing and speaking in this manner can often be exposed by reversing the formulation – could there, for example, be such a thing as “tolerant repression”? As Orwell himself observed, “when words lose their meaning, men lose their freedom”: it is one of Bruckner’s recurring insights that this comment is as applicable today to the bien pensant rhetoric of the liberal left, with its slogans of “diversity”, “multiculturalism” and “respect”, as it is to the euphemisms of the Neo- Cons. In particular he hones in on weaselly statements by politicians and others implying that we, as the targets of terrorism (especially of Islamic terrorism) are ourselves responsible for inflicting the “injustice, resentment and frustration” that supposedly begets such violence. “Such interpretative schemes”, writes Bruckner, “suffer from a major problem: they confuse pretexts with causes.”(2)
The title sand subtitles of Bruckner’s polemical essays give a good indication of what he is about, if not what we should actually expect from these wide-ranging, allusive texts. The Temptation of Innocence (2000)(3)is subtitled “The Age of Entitlement”. Perpetual Euphoria (2011) is subtitled “On the Duty to be Happy”. The Paradox of Love (2012), on the other hand, has no subtitle and perhaps needs none. Each of these books surveys our present philosophical, psychological and moral uncertainties following an age of social liberation that was supposed to have abolished all of them. “One of the purposes of my work is to show that in the 1960s we thought we had got rid of all the taboos and commandments of the bourgeoisie and Christian society”, said Bruckner in an interview. “But I try to show that in fact these commandments are coming back, through our search for happiness and in our guilty feelings. In fact, we are still Christians in our mind, even though we think we’ve killed God.”(4)
Of all the neo-Christian neuroses (if that is what they are), guilt looms largest in his work and is explored in a trilogy beginning with The Tears of the White Man: Compassion as Contempt (1986), followed by The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay in Western Masochism (2010) and finally The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse: Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings (2013). All of these essays go out of their way to offend the susceptibilities and world view of liberals and left-liberals and to undermine the assumption of the same that by signing up to certain slogans and causes they are enrolled in the ranks of the saved, whereas those who challenge their shibboleths are destined for outer darkness. The Tears of the White Man explores what Bruckner sees as the sentimental and narcissistic “Third Worldism” of the European left which was energised by anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, but evaded discussion of the appallingly corrupt and cruel governance in the states that had supposedly gained their “freedom” from their colonialist oppressors (us). He is alert to the Third Worldism industry and remarks that, although humanitarian NGOs are indispensable for exposing problems, “there is a strange perversion in [them] in that they are not working to help people, but are looking for people to help in order to promote themselves. So they are fighting in Brussels or the United States”.(5) While not only those who work for NGOs would vigorously contest this, Bruckner has put his finger on a neuralgic point: NGOs, unelected, well funded and immensely influential, represent a democratic deficit in our political arrangements – and most of them accept the tenets of “Third Worldism” as unimpeachable.(6)
A further problem with “Third Worldism” was its tendency to romanticise the objects of its ideological benevolence to such a degree that, according to Bruckner, it ended up recreating something similar to the essentialist’s “noble savages” of a bygone age. These magnificent beings were supposedly uncorrupted by the materialist, colonialist and imperialist vices that the Europeans had tried to impose on them, an assumption which made them collectively an ideal canvas onto which leftist ideologues of the developed world could project their utopian dreams. You do not have to embrace the notion of original sin to believe that the truth about the history of African societies is a little more complex than the idealists would have us believe, but in any case the immediate and enthusiastic embrace of an oppressive form of Marxism by so many of the rulers who came to power at the end of colonial rule suggests that Africans (or Asians or South Americans) are susceptible to exactly the same political panaceas as Europeans and quite as capable of enslaving themselves to them. Third Worldism turned out to be yet another form of leftist self-indulgence, the type of sentimentalism that embraces its objects for the sake of contemporary political exploitation rather than out of genuine compassion. As Roger Scruton has remarked in another context, “sentimental people respond more warmly to strangers than to those who are close to them, and are more heatedly concerned by abstract issues which demand no personal sacrifice, than by concrete obligations that cost time and energy to fulfil … Sentimental emotions are artefacts: they are designed to reflect credit on the one who claims them … The sentimental friend is not a friend: indeed he is a danger to others … He enters human relationships by seduction, and leaves them by betrayal.”(7)
If Bruckner’s dismissal of Third Worldism was liable to give certain members of the Senior Common Room a fit of the vapours, his attacks on multiculturalism (which he has called “a racism of the anti-racists”) would likely put them off their cornflakes for a month. It is however a major theme in his writings and as such is worth exploring in greater detail. As immigrants from the developing countries began to arrive in Europe in ever greater numbers from the 1960s, liberals believed that the key to racial harmony and political stability was a “multicultural” approach – and governments, right or left, mostly agreed with them. As the inadequacy of this policy gradually became apparent, there was a change of heart, most dramatically when the moderate conservative Angela Merkel declared in 2010 that the “multi-culti” approach had utterly failed. Migrants, she said, must also be prepared give as well as receive (“man müsse Migranten nicht nur fördern, sondern auch fordern”).(8)This about-turn was clearly in response to the political weather on this issue being made by the CDU’s more right-wing sister party in Bavaria, the CSU, whose leader had set out a seven point plan for tightening up on immigration. The issue simmered until 2014 when a real backlash against immigration grew out of a facebook campaign fronted by PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West).(9)Before Christmas 2014 this organisation was able to bring quite large numbers onto the streets of Dresden and elsewhere in Germany, although there were also counter-demonstrations against intolerance, racism and hostility to foreigners.
Bruckner is in no doubt that the consequences of multiculturalism in France have been dire. It has resulted in parallel societies with ghettoes of Moroccan and Algerian immigrants filled with testosterone-fuelled unemployed young men who periodically rage violently through the Parisian banlieues. While well-meaning commentators point to the social distress and exclusion of these people as the proximate cause of their alienation, Bruckner has denounced the consequences of multicultural policies that refrain from demanding a minimum level of integration from settlers, thus creating political, religious and social ghettoes that are segregated from mainstream society. Ironically this situation means that many of those immigrants who actually wish to escape from the claustrophobic and authoritarian confines of a highly conservative culture remain imprisoned in it: “The paradox of multiculturalism”, Bruckner has written, “[is that] it 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. Instead: recognition of the group, oppression of the individual” [italics added].(10) The doctrine of unqualified, non-judgemental respect for Islamic customs and practices has brought liberals close to endorsing highly illiberal and even violent aspects of the immigrant culture, it being anathema to them to concede that their own society may, with all its faults, be more humane or civilised in certain aspects than the imported one. This attitude was highlighted when two respected liberal academics wielded their stilettos against the courageous Somali-born Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who, apart from her stance against the appeasement of Islamist extremism, had deeply embarrassed liberal multiculturalists by not only escaping from her oppressive background in Islam, but having the lack of tact to say exactly why she had done so: “I left the world of faith, of genital cutting and forced marriage for the world of reason and sexual emancipation. After making this voyage I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other. Not for its gaudy gadgetry but for its fundamental values.”
This offends against a key element of multicultural dogma, that which insists on the primacy of non-judgemental relativism (codified as “respect”) and is thus often forced into the position of sanitising or evading condemnation of practices in a particular culture that are rightly condemned in that of the Western Europeans. In his remarkably disingenuous book Murder in Amsterdam,(11) which deals with the assassination of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic fundamentalist of Moroccan extraction, Ian Buruma employed silky insinuation in his defamation of Hirsi Ali, the core of which is the accusation that she is an “Enlightenment fundamentalist” [italics added]. Apart from the oxymoronic character of this phrase which falls into the same category of “having it both ways” that I have already alluded to, the context in which the claim is made is especially revealing and unpleasant. Van Gogh’s killer had stuck a dagger into the corpse, attached to which was a death threat in the form of an “open letter” to the filmmaker’s friend and collaborator, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. While Buruma quotes some of the abusive appellations for Van Gogh in this letter (“soldier of evil”, “liar”, tool of the “Zionists and Crusaders” and so forth), which are surely bad enough, he somehow fails to mention that also Hirsi Ali herself is denounced as an infidel fundamentalist.(12) While the two phrases are not identical, the echo of the assassin’s denunciation in Buruma’s smear of Hirsi Ali is unmistakable. This must represent the absolute nadir of liberal double standards – in one dexterous verbal sally, Buruma redirected guilt from the perpetrator to the potential victim and transformed a critic of oppression into its “fundamentalist” advocate. Even more insidiously, it seems to suggest that the “fundamental values” embraced by Ali (reason rather than dogma, sexual emancipation rather than oppression of women) are morally equivalent to “fundamentalist” religious intolerance that violently opposes precisely such vital aspects of a free and civil society. There could be no more depressing example of the contemporary trahison des clercs.
In his review of Buruma’s book and Hirsi Ali’s autobiographical The Caged Virgin,(13) Timothy Garton Ash picked up the same smear. For good measure he sought to discredit Hirsi Ali as if she was no more than an over-promoted glamour girl with a poor grasp of the issues in which she had involved herself. He wrote, for example, that “It’s no disrespect to Ms Ali to suggest that if she had been short, squat and squinting, her story and views might not be so closely attended to.” To the contrary, his remark is of course of the greatest disrespect to Ali, not to mention being patronising and sexist (imagine the outcry if a conservative had written in this way of a liberal disputant and you will catch the full flavour of the double standards a liberal grandee allows himself).(14) But let us dismiss this condescension as the unguarded consequence of one too many glasses of postprandial port at St Anthony’s and concentrate on the mileage that Garton Ash, and soon others of his ilk, have extracted from the phrase “Enlightenment fundamentalist” borrowed from Buruma. It goes to the heart of what one is strongly tempted to call “multicultural fundamentalism”, although that would be to adopt the same oxymoronic tactic that I have criticised above; so it is more appropriate to describe it as the appeasement of barbarous intolerance through the relativist application of the doctrine of tolerance – the tolerance which itself did indeed arise in the Enlightenment. In his remarkable defence of Hirsi Ali posted on signandsight.com,(15) Pascal Bruckner gets to the heart of this problem which is not in fact new, since a number of influential twentieth century intellectuals had honed the art of deceiving themselves (for example, about the nature of Stalin’s or Mao’s regimes) the better to deceive other people.
Bruckner’s polemic has three main strands: firstly he opposes the dishonesty of arguments based on an assumed “moral equivalence” between actions or codes of conduct where none exists. Secondly he denounces the tendency of modern leftist intellectuals, especially French ones, to traduce the values of the Enlightenment from a faux-relativist point of view. Thirdly he points to the actual consequences of extreme relativism wrapped into the apparently respectable and altruistic doctrine of multiculturalism, namely that it distorts our own values by protecting (even privileging) values which we, as liberals, would certainly not consider acceptable for ourselves. Worse, it prevents people from escaping an oppressive conservative (and usually theocratic) tradition by approving that tradition and the authority of its adherents and guardians. This is what Bruckner means, as I understand it, by multiculturalism having become, despite its undoubted good intentions at the outset, the “racism of the anti-racists”. Liberty is liberty in whatever cultural context you place it. Tolerance, a principle invented by the Enlightenment (although it has de facto existed at some other times), can only function on the basis of reciprocity. There is no merit in tolerating or protecting dogmas that not only themselves refuse to embrace the principle of tolerance, but even wish to subjugate or eliminate those who do. “The freedom to oppress other people”, said Bertrand Russell, “is not a freedom worth preserving.”
The argument from moral equivalence is perennial. As Bruckner points out, “it was used throughout the 19th century by the Catholic Church to block reforms and more recently in France at the time of the ‘Islamic headscarf affair’ by those opposed to the law” [which banned the headscarf in French schools]. He writes further that Hirsi Ali uses “persuasion, refutation and discourse” in her dispute with fundamentalism and backwardness, which are of course the peaceful “weapons” of the Enlightenment, indeed of western civilisation at its best. Herself the victim of genital mutilation, forced marriage and domestic violence sanctioned by conservative Islam, Ali does not preach sectarian revenge, merely that barbarous practices should cease on humanitarian grounds, if no other. Bruckner writes that “the difference between her and Muhammed Bouyeri, the killer of Theo van Gogh, is that she has never advocated murder to further her ideas … It is well known that in the struggle of the weak against the strong it is easier to attack the former.” That last remark again touches a neuralgic point of multiculturalism. Ali, like other dissenting Muslims, lives under armed guard in the shadow of death threats because she has dared to criticise the Koran and openly question some of the reactionary shibboleths of Islam. Garton Ash however prefers to describe her stance as that of “offending a vulnerable minority in the heart of Europe” [italics added]. One notices immediately in this remark how victimhood has been tacitly reserved for Muslims, who are seldom if ever targeted for hate killings in Europe (except on occasion by other Muslims), while someone who merely applies the values that Garton Ash and others pretend to uphold is patronisingly reprimanded. After all, says Bruckner in a mordant aside, “she … has committed an unpardonable offence: she has taken democratic principles seriously”. Elsewhere he has remarked that “it is astonishing that sixty-two years after the fall of the Third Reich and sixteen years after the fall of the Berlin wall, an important segment of Europe’s intelligentsia is engaged in slandering the friends of democracy”.
One should at this point give Garton Ash due credit for the fact that he has publicly repented of his accusation that Ali is an “Enlightenment fundamentalist”.(16) “It did not occur to me”, he said rather grandly, “that anyone would be so idiotic as to imagine that one was construing any sympathy between Islamic fundamentalists and Enlightenment fundamentalists” – as if anyone had posited such “sympathy”. Buruma however does not appear to have repented. Indeed he has gone out of his way to contrast Hirsi Ali unfavourably with Voltaire (whose challenges to obscurantism she often cites). The latter, he says, confronted one of the most powerful institutions of his time in the Catholic Church, while Ali risked only offending a minority that was already vulnerable in the heart of Europe (one begins to wonder if Buruma and Garton Ash collaborate in framing their propaganda!). Voltaire certainly ran some grave risks (apparently approved by the G. A.–Buruma pantomime horse), but you would hardly recognise from this remark that Hirsi Ali lives under twenty-four hour police protection to keep her safe from a vengeful religious radicalism whose reach is worldwide.
Until the Enlightenment, the Catholic Church indeed sanctioned violence against heretics and blasphemers and one would like to be able to say that official, moderate Islam does not do so today. There is a real problem however in that Islam is neither unified nor united, making it difficult to negotiate issues of cohabitation and integration. The Christian churches, for example, may exert the authority of their hierarchies (the Pope, the Orthodox Patriarchs, the heads of the Protestant communities), but it is difficult for moderate Muslim “leaders” to exert anything like the same level of moral influence, still less for a Sunni to offer guidance to a Shia or vice versa. Moderate Muslims cannot prevent freelance radicals of enormous authority from issuing homicidal fatwas, like the one handed down against the novelist Salman Rushdie by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. Voltaire himself crystallised the issue in his rhetorical question “What to say to a man who tells you he prefers to obey God than to obey men, and who is consequently sure of entering the gates of Heaven by slitting your throat?” Of course the multiculturalists can point to the millions of Muslims who have no intention of slitting anyone’s throat and they are right to do so. All too often however they tend towards the sort of euphemising circumvention once characteristic of the Catholic Church when sanitising abuses in its ranks with the mantra “weil nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf” (“Because what is forbidden cannot have occurred”). In the context of radical religion, as in radical politics, the tail often wags the dog, threatening not only moderate Islam but also the open liberal societies that the people of Western Europe have achieved through struggle and perseverance over centuries. “The facts”, writes Bruckner, “speak against the appeasers, who enjoin Europe to fit in with Islam rather than vice versa.”
The implicit attack on Enlightenment values by opportunist intellectuals is a recurring and important theme in Bruckner’s allusive and epigrammatic essays. The point he repeatedly makes is that the Enlightenment not only enunciated the principle of confessional choice after centuries of religious wars but also laid the foundations for a modern state based on the rule of law, education, and (in due course) the ending of serfdom. This certainly did not mean that the philosophy of the Enlightenment always prevailed, as the horrific wars of the nineteenth and twentieth century showed, but Bruckner insists that the capacity for self-criticism of Enlightened societies nevertheless survived, providing thereby the possibility for them to correct themselves and learn from the aberrations that occurred. Bruckner’s argument is more subtle than my rough and ready summary of it, but his point is that the conflict of ideas (therefore freedom of speech) is endemic to such societies, quoting Montesquieu’s remark that “where there are no visible conflicts, there is no freedom”. Obviously freedom of speech is the key element in a society that claims to uphold the liberty of the individual; the acid test of that freedom is not only whether or not governments can successfully persecute those who take advantage of it, but also whether vested interests can. The notion of blasphemy, which after all lasted until 2008 as a punishable offence in the UK, is characteristic of the latter, insofar as those claiming to be offended by particular speech also claim an absolute right to punish those who offer the “offence”. Liberals are fond of using the word “offensive” when speaking of Islam critiques, as though speech so described was inherently reprehensible, whereas it is most likely to be a defence of the very principles by which those same liberals claim to be guided. The orchestrated uproar over the caricatures of Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper in 2005 illustrated this very well. Even when it was revealed that the touring show of the caricatures included fakes added by the agitators, liberal intellectuals and politicians still counselled appeasement in the face of violence and death threats. “Radical Islam speaks two languages:” writes Bruckner, “that of the victim, spoken by ‘respectable’ theologians who are sent to Europe and the United States to make us feel guilty; and that of the executioner, who wants to terrorise us …”(17)
In perhaps his best essay, The Tyranny of Guilt, Bruckner explores how the West has got to the stage where self-criticism, the Enlightenment’s inspiring incentive to moral improvement, has curdled into masochistic self-loathing driven forward by intellectuals who seem only to see in the achievements of western societies an affront to the rest of the world, the latter being depicted as the helpless victim of the West’s rapacity and imperialistic domination. This is despite the massive evidence that many from the Third World who want to overthrow the West also want to join it – something illustrated in Bruckner’s hilarious description of thousands of Algerians shouting aggressively at Jacques Chirac when he visited the country in 2004, the first French President to do so since decolonisation. And what were they shouting? “Visas! Visas! Visas!”(18) Evidently those struggling to leave the oppression and corruption of the Third World hate the West rather less than their many supposed admirers among western intellectuals. To be sure, a liberal might retort that the Algerian objects of “the white man’s tears” might just be saying “forget the tears – give us the money!” Either way the sentimental view of the uncorrupted victim, the twentieth century “noble savage”, takes a bit of a knock. In this context Bruckner quotes Jean Genet, who had expressed admiration at different times for the SS (chiefly on account of its members’ homo- erotic glamour), hoodlums, assassins, Black Panthers and fedayeen. In 1974 Genet decided to add the Palestinians to his martyrology: “Why the Palestinians? It was perfectly natural that I should be attracted not only to the most disadvantaged people but also to the one that most fully crystallises the hatred of the West.”(19)
A key insight of The Tyranny of Guilt is that the West has invented and patented the notions not only of self-criticism, but also of self-hatred. “Nothing is more Western”, writes Bruckner, “than hatred of the West … By issuing their anathemas, the high priests of defamation signal their membership in the universe they reject.”(20) Until recently, he claims, other cultures have not practised this “systematic challenging of their own convictions”. Whether that is true or not, his analysis of the psychology of an intellectual elite that is tempted to view the West as the fons et origo of the world’s calamities is persuasive. In The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse, the most recent of his works to be translated into English, he links this habit of mind to “catastrophism”, and “catastrophism” in turn recalls Christianity’s ancient teachings of sin and repentance. Climate change zealotry is one aspect of this, what the mathematician Benoît Rittaud characterises as a “pseudoscience attached to climatology” which he labels “climatomancy: an art of divination seeking to deduce from human behaviour the climatic future of the Earth, with the goal of prescribing penitential acts for everyone”.(21)There is however a modern spin to our version of penitentialism: in the Middle Ages natural cataclysms were an “act of God”, to millenarian sects “a terrible trial to be endured” by sinful man “before humanity’s redemption … Misfortunes were attributed to the human creature’s impotence. Today they are attributed to our excessive power, even though we benefit, at least in the developed countries, from an increased life expectancy and an abundant food supply unprecedented in history.”(22)
Bruckner sees Ecosalvationism as the ideology that has filled the vacuum left by the failures of Marxism and Third Worldism, a “new secular religion that is rising… from the ruins of a disbelieving world”. However it “excels more in preventing than in proposing: it closes factories, blocks projects, forbids the construction of super-highways, airports, railway lines. It is the power that always denies.” However Bruckner makes it clear in this often dazzling essay that he is no Neo-Liberal with blind faith in “markets”,(23) but rather a hard-headed realist with a Popperian predilection for piecemeal progress and practical solutions. The doom-mongers he finds disingenuous and depressing, the utopians dangerous and totalitarian. We are experiencing “the end of the supremacy of Europe and America over the rest of the globe”. Perhaps that is dismaying, but it also means that the neo-colonialism of the left has increasingly fewer victims to patronise. “The European left-wing movements”, he writes, “have already trampled on their principles twice: first by confusing education and entertainment, thus participating in the collapse of the schools; and, second, by abandoning the battle for equality in favour of the battle for identity politics, to the point of forgetting the question of social justice and letting the proletariat drift toward the extreme right. If they now desert the idea of progress, which was the armature of their whole combat, they will no longer have any raison d’être.”(24) It seems to me that only a former Marxist who has been “mugged by reality” could dare to write like that. Garton Ash, patronising as ever, has referred to this reformed character as “the intellectual equivalent of a drunk meandering down the road”.(25) But you know what they say: “In vino veritas …”
1 In fairness to Gollancz, one should state that the conservative T. S. Eliot turned down Orwell’s Animal Farm for Faber on grounds that are not all that dissimilar (he was afraid it would upset the Soviet Union, a wartime ally – as indeed it did…).
2 Pascal Bruckner: The Tyranny of Guilt, translated by Steven Rendall (Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2012), p.19.
3 Dates are of the publication of the English editions.
4 Andrew Anthony: “Pascal Bruckner: ‘Happiness is a moment of grace’”. Interview in The Observer, 23 January 2011.
5 This remark occurs in an interview with J. K. Fowler in “The Mantle”, 8 March 2011.
6 For example it has been reported that the British government, in pursuit of its arbitrary choice of allocating 0.7 per cent of GDP (about 11.3 billion pounds in 2014) to “overseas aid”, was unable to find enough deserving clients for this largesse on its own, so turned over a large portion of the funds to NGOs. But this means that taxpayers’ money is being shovelled into electorally unaccountable organisations, often with large expenses of their own …
7 Roger Scruton: The Aesthetics of Music (OUP, 1997), pp. 486–487.
8 Angela Merkel was addressing the Deutschlandtag der Jungen Union (JU) in Potsdam, 16/10/2010.
9 One should also mention in this context the polemic by Thilo Sarrazin, a former Socialist Finance Senator for Berlin and member of the Executive Board of the Bundesbank. Entitled Deutschland schafft sich ab [Germany is abolishing itself], his book called time on what the author regarded as the watering down of German culture and values through excessive immigration. According to the populist daily Bild, he has also said of Islam that “No other religion in Europe makes so many demands. No immigrant group other than Muslims is so strongly connected with claims on the welfare state and crime. No group emphasises their differences so strongly in public, especially through women’s clothing. In no other religion is the transition to violence, dictatorship and terrorism so fluid.”
10 Pascal Bruckner: “Enlightenment fundamentalism or racism of the anti-racists?” Signandsight.com, 24/01/2007.
11 Ian Buruma: Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam and the Limits of Tolerance (Atlantic Books, 2006). For a painstaking deconstruction of Buruma’s extraordinarily nasty technique of pretending to praise Ayaan Hirsi Ali while chipping away at her credibility and integrity, see Paul Berman: The Flight of the Intellectuals: The Controversy over Islamism and the Press (Melville House Publishing, New York, 2011), particularly Chapters 8 and 9.
12 Thierry Chervel in a blog for signandsight.com (16/02/2009) gives the following translation: “I know, oh Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that you shall go under / I know, oh fundamentalists of unbelief, that you shall go down.”
13 New York Review of Books, 5 October 2006. Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam (Free Press, New York, 2006).
14 For example, when David Cameron borrowed the phrase “Calm down dear!” from a TV soap in order to put down an obstreperous female opponent on the Labour side of the House of Commons, he was violently denounced in the press by feminists claiming to be offended by his sexism.
15 signandsight.com. Let’s talk European, 24/01/2007 Enlightenment fundamentalists or racism of the anti-racists? Pascal Bruckner defends Ayaan Hirsi Ali against Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash, condemning their idea of multiculturalism for chaining people to their roots.
16 In a public debate with Ayaan Hirsi Ali and subsequently in a footnote to an article in the New York Review of Books republished in a collection of his pieces entitled Facts are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade without a Name (Atlantic Books, London, 2009).
17 Pascal Bruckner: The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, translated by Steven Rendall
(Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2012), pp. 54–55.
18 The Tyranny of Guilt, p. 12.
19 The Tyranny of Guilt, p. 58, quoted from an interview with Jean Genet in Le Monde diplomatique,
20 Tyranny of Guilt, pp. 33–34.
21 Pascal Bruckner: The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse: Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings, translated by Steven Rendall (Polity Press, Cambridge, 2013), note 17 on page 200 quoting Benoît Rittaud: Le Mythe climatique (Seuil, Paris, 2010), p.176.
22 Fanaticism, p. 78.
23 See for example his castigation of Reaganism and Thatcherism as the “neo-feudalism of the rich”,
Fanaticism, p. 10.
24 Fanaticism, pp. 3 and 180–181.
25 Quoted in Paul Berman, op cit., p. 276.