BOOK REVIEW: News Weekly
THE TYRANNY OF GUILT: An Essay on Western Masochism, by Pascal Bruckner
, December 25, 2010
The high priests of denigrating the West
THE TYRANNY OF GUILT:
An Essay on Western Masochism
by Pascal Bruckner
(Princeton University Press)
Hardcover: 256 pages
Rec. price: AUD$53.90
Reviewed by Mervyn F. Bendle
"We will destroy this civilisation that you cherish. ... Western world, you are condemned to death. ... We will awaken everywhere the germs of confusion and malaise. We are the agitators of the mind ... those who will always hold out our hands to the enemy" (p.10).
So promised the communist artist, Louis Aragon, in 1925, in one of the many treasonous and self-lacerating utterances made by Western intellectuals in the face of the totalitarian tide, and cited by Bruckner in his scathing denunciation of their moral bankruptcy.
Aragon was defining the future role of intellectuals, and they still stumble over each other in their rush to denounce the very civilisation that makes their existence possible. This is so even when it faces direct attack by terrorists committed to the most heinous theocratic tyrannies, with leading postmodernists like Jean Baudrillard and Jacques Derrida indulging in intellectual contortions to justify the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent bombings in Bali, Madrid, London and elsewhere.
Derrida proclaimed, for example, that all Westerners are complicit in terrorism because people die unnecessarily in Africa, and the West somehow benefits from this (pp.20-1). He insists there is no difference in terms of the use of violence for political ends between terrorist groups like al Qaeda and nation-states like Australia, an extreme form of moral relativism that is parroted by postmodernist academics across Australia, including (incredibly) at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
As Bruckner remarks (p.9): "Nowadays all it takes to attack Europe is a bit of conformism" to the dominant intellectual fashions and the all-pervasive anti-Americanism and hatred of the West that dominates intellectual discourse: "From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West" (p.2). "We Europeans are born with a burden of vices and ugliness that marks us like stigmata", while "the white man is [depicted as] genetically determined to kill, massacre and rape; he has split himself off from the rest of humanity in order to enslave it" (p.23).
The West is depicted as "the very figure of Satan" (p.23), despite its monumental and unparalleled achievements. Indeed, "a curse is hidden behind our civilisation that corrupts its meaning and mocks its grandeur. ... The whole world hates us, and we deserve it" (pp.6-7).
This grotesque vision of their civilisation has poisoned the minds of students, teachers and academics throughout our education systems who routinely acquiesce in the demand that they repent continuously and unreservedly for the vast litany of sins for which they are held vicariously responsible. (Tragically it appears that the new national curriculum will now further entrench this requirement.)
Even the powerful instrument of critical thought has been corrupted and turned inward, denouncing its own achievements and the intellectual tradition that produced and nurtured it - making Enlightenment ideals such as reason, liberty, equality and universalism the source of all evil.
As a result, "the intellectual caste [is now] the penitential class par excellence, continuing the role of the clergy under the Old Regime. We have to call its members what they are: officials of original sin" (p.21), and "high priests of defamation" (p.34).
An entire bureaucratic apparatus operates to ensure that this new form of secular penance is honoured endlessly with a multitude of meaningless ceremonies and hollow observances, reinforced by laws prohibiting freedom of thought and speech and various powerful commissions and agencies that monitor and regulate every act and utterance, threatening criminal charges against those who fail fully to embrace self-hatred or adequately abase themselves before all things non-Western.
A vast cultural discourse of guilt, remorse and repentance has been created and elevated to a supreme status where it lurks like a supernatural presence, with bureaucrats "appointed to maintain it like the ancient guardians of the sacred flame and issue permits to think and speak" (p.3).
The result is silence and impotence in the face of even the most monstrous dishonesty and evil: "the duty to repent forbids the Western bloc, which is eternally guilty, to judge or combat other systems, other states, other religions" (p.3), however violently they may abuse and attack us or their own people, and however authoritarian and barbaric may be their attitudes and institutions.
While the West cringes before its assailants, there is no sign of a "guilty conscience in Teheran, Riyadh, Karachi, Moscow, Beijing, Havana, Caracas, Algiers, Damascus, Rangoon, Harare and Khartoum" (p.221), where various atrocities occur as a matter of course. Whatever we may know or witness about such cruelty and crime, "our only right is to remain silent" (p.3).
"Islamophobia" - the ready adoption of this bogus concept is an excellent example of how intellectuals, politicians and the media have enthusiastically embraced such intimidation. This alleged form of prejudice was specifically manufactured by skilled Islamist propagandists and their allies in order to portray critics of Islam as little better than racists.
As Bruckner points out, its invention "fulfils several functions: to deny the reality of an Islamist offensive in Europe the better to legitimate it, but especially to silence Muslims who dare to criticise their faith, denounce fundamentalism, or call for reform ... and the right to apostasy" (p.50).
This strategy has been very successful, so that the West, "with a suicidal blindness ... kneels down before Allah's madmen and gags or ignores the [few] free-thinkers", who have the courage to speak out (p.47).
Predictably, the United Nations is now considering a motion to prohibit the "defamation" of prophets, along with the imposition of strict limits on freedom of expression relating to religious symbols - the Muslim world wants the UN to regulate cartoons on a global scale and the UN is only too happy to oblige. Even resistance to uncontrolled immigration is now labelled "Islamophobic" (p.51, n.19).
This imposed silence has no reciprocity, stifling all debate about Islam in a manner that wouldn't be countenanced for any other religion. The most outrageous things can be said or done concerning Christianity, and Christians are forced to suffer in silence, while even the mildest criticism or comment about Islam attracts condemnation.
Central to this system of intimidation is the use of legal action against those who speak out. This happens regularly in Australia (as I can attest), but is especially the case in Britain, where the legal system has proved so compliant in libel and defamation cases that Islamists and their supporters routinely use it to intimidate authors and suppress books and other exposÃ©s of their activities, including those that are not even published in Britain.
A particularly egregious attack of this sort was made on the American counter-terrorism expert, Rachel Ehrenfeld, in order to suppress her book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It (2003). As a result, various "libel terrorism protection" laws were introduced in the United States to protect US citizens targeted in this fashion by Islamists using foreign courts.
Complementing this capitulation to post-colonialist guilt and Islamist cultural aggression is a virulent anti-Americanism that serves as a defining characteristic of Western intellectuals, including not only those in Europe and Australia, but in the US itself, as Barack Obama exemplifies.
For such intellectuals, "evil America condenses in a single place, a single people and a single system all the abjection of which Europe used to be capable. Parasitical, murderous, arrogant, America seems to bear all the signs by which we recognise the West's guilt: as rich as it is inegalitarian; dominating, polluting and founded on a double crime, the [American] Indian genocide and the Black slave trade ... it is entirely devoted to the worship of the almighty dollar, the only religion in this materialist country" (pp.80-1).
Bruckner is writing of this appalling attitude with France particularly in mind, and it must be bemusing to American (and Australian) visitors to Normandy and the vast American military cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach that the French so quickly and completely embraced this hateful caricature of a country that sacrificed so much to deliver France from both the Kaiser and the Nazis in two world wars.
Even more bizarre is the tendency among intellectuals and leftist politicians in Europe to construct a new identity for themselves as heroic defenders of the "down-trodden", identifying with the Muslim world and the Third World, against America and "the West", which has ceased to be a tangible political, cultural or geographical entity, and has instead become the symbol of all that is evil in the world - "the failure of modernity, the devastation of the globe, the [oppression] of minorities, [and] the enslavement and massacre of peoples" (p.83).
As Bruckner is only too aware, this is a pathetic attempt by Europeans to rid themselves of their own guilt by projecting it onto America, which they see as a "swaggering colossus" (p.207), which is especially vulnerable because it lacks the cultural will and intellectual capacity to defend itself.
Bruckner concludes that "we must have done with the blackmail of culpability, cease to sacrifice ourselves to our persecutors. A policy of friendship cannot be founded on the false principle: we take the opprobrium, you take the forgiveness. Once we have recognised any faults we may have, then the prosecution must turn against the accusers and subject them to constant criticism as well" (p.221).
These are fine sentiments, but they assume that there is good will on the side of those who continuously denounce the West and seek to exploit the burden of guilt it has so unwisely accepted. In fact, there is little or no good will there and no openness to criticism. Ultimately, it seems this is a fight to the finish against forces that want only to destroy our civilisation and build their tyrannies upon the ruins.
Mervyn F. Bendle, PhD, teaches the history of terrorism at James Cook University, Queensland, and has published dozens of articles on terrorism and related matters.