BOOK REVIEW: News Weekly
THE NEW VICHY SYNDROME: Why the West is lost
, August 7, 2010
THE NEW VICHY SYNDROME:
Why European Intellectuals Surrender To Barbarism
by Theodore Dalrymple
(New York: Encounter Books)
Hardcover: 160 pages
Rec. price: AUD$47.90
Reviewed by Bill James
In 1940, C.S. Lewis wrote an article called Dangers Of National Repentance, in which he exposed the sophistry, self-indulgence and moral vanity of educated young people who were calling Britain to contrition over her alleged culpability in the outbreak of World War II.
Lewis demonstrated that beneath the surface of an ostentatious humility, their intonation of "We repent of England's sins" was in fact code for, "We condemn the motivations and decisions not of ourselves, but of them - our older and more conventional countrymen whom we despise".
Seventy years later, Theodore Dalrymple has identified another manifestation of the dishonesty of the same bien pensant mentality, under the heading Another Way Of Being Important.
Today's European intelligentsia claim to believe that their intrinsically evil continent has ruined the world, but this confession is in fact a form of boasting.
In effect, they are asserting that only Westerners are capable of wreaking devastation on such a cosmic scale.
Dalrymple is concerned to investigate the phenomenon of what he calls "miserabilist historiography".
Like the proponents of "black armband" history in Australia, European miserablists either deny that there is anything at all to be proud of in their history and culture, or else argue that the occasional undeniably worthwhile element which they have produced is vitiated and obviated by the preponderance of violence and injustice in their past.
Dalrymple believes that the precipitous collapse of European self-confidence is attributable to the 20th century's two world wars, particularly the second of them.
Just as France emerged from World War II struggling with feelings of guilt over its failures and compromises, embodied most powerfully in the Vichy regime, so almost every country of Europe had something to be ashamed of in its behaviour during 1939-45 (hence the book's title).
Britain might not have surrendered or collaborated or remained neutral in the struggle with fascism, but it still had a long and geographically extensive imperial past which it came to deplore.
These crippling attitudes of regret and worthlessness have been accompanied and exacerbated by other factors including moral relativism, secularisation, multiculturalism, anti-nationalism and a suspicion of rationality and science.
Europeans have been left with no transcendent values to believe in, and no aims in life beyond comfort, security and pleasure.
This commitment to hedonism includes a disinclination to procreate and endure the sacrifices attendant upon family life, with the result that European birth-rates have plummeted.
The result of this ubiquitous and deeply entrenched confusion and apathy is that Europe, inevitably, finds itself incapable of withstanding the challenges from its rapidly growing and passionately opinionated Islamic migrant communities.
In the face of actual or threatened violence against anyone seen to be transgressing Muslim sensitivities (such as Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Theo van Gogh and Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard), Europeans have failed to unambiguously support the principles of freedom of religion and expression.
In the face of Muslim treatment of women (such as genital mutilation, denial of education, honour killings and coerced marriages), Europeans have not only failed in practice to adequately protect them, but have been equivocal about proclaiming the utter unacceptability of such victimisation.
Dalrymple's writing is elegant (despite a non-sentence on page 30!), erudite and nuanced; he cannot be dismissed as an alarmist, tunnel-visioned bigot.
Not only is he honest in admitting Europe's failures, but he also hoses down fears that Europe is undergoing an irrevocable process of incorporation into a sharia-administered caliphate.
However, the situation is depressing enough.
Banal and hackneyed as it might sound, the Europe described by Dalrymple exemplifies the truism that those who don't stand for something will fall for anything.