Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Apologizing for Our Predecessors' Accomplishments

My friend Eric Gans' latest Chronicles of Love and Resentment is an absolutely "must read." It is his review of Pascal Bruckner's La tyrannie de la pénitence, a critique of the Western self-abnegation. Eric begins this way:
Although the term “white guilt” was inspired by the historically fraught relationship between America’s two principal racial groups, the phenomenon itself is more potent today in Europe than in the United States. Where the US had slavery and Jim Crow, Europe had colonialism and the Holocaust, and it is the last of these that has had the determining effect on the postmodern era. Furthermore, although the US has had its share of European-style penitents, including the last two Democratic presidential candidates, it also has world responsibilities that require it to maintain a dominant military establishment, while Europe, with its limited commitments, reposes comfortably under the American umbrella. Thus whatever one's affinity for the European model in foreign affairs, the United States cannot give itself over to the kind of penitential posturing that Pascal Bruckner examines in his against-the-grain La tyrannie de la pĂ©nitence : essai sur le masochisme occidental (Grasset, 2006).

Bruckner accuses Europe in general and France in particular of taking a “masochistic” stance toward the world of its former colonies and dependencies. He detects in this self-flagellation an inverted moral narcissism through which former great powers attempt to retain their place at the center of the world by taking the blame for all its ills. Europe has become, in Bruckner’s view, a Hegelian “beautiful soul” who recoils from any concrete engagement with the world’s problems while pretending that they can all be solved through peaceful “dialogue,” leaving the heavy lifting to the United States.
And here are a few salient passages:
Bruckner’s book provides a welcome occasion for reflection on our civilization’s self-destructive tendencies. Is it implicit in the development of an economically and technologically advanced social order that it will become paralyzed with guilt at its own superiority and succumb to blackmail from its purported victims rather than defend itself as the only conceivable source of benefits for the rest of the world? Can Western firstness sustain itself long enough to transmit its advantages to the rest of the planet, or is the resentment it arouses fated to destroy it from within as well as without?

Bruckner would like guilt-obsessed Westerners to remember their contributions to moral progress. The West may have practiced slavery, but so did every other society capable of profiting from it; yet the West abolished it, while it persists to this day in Africa and the Arab world. The West may have created the twin monstrosities of Nazism and Stalinism, but it also defeated them, while brutal dictatorships continue to flourish elsewhere. But the very need to make such obvious points, or to refute the absurd notion that Western prosperity is a product of the exploitation of the rest of the world, demonstrates the elemental power of the originary moral model, which, in the absence of ideological barriers, reads every unequal configuration as a zero-sum game whose winners can only have stolen from the losers.
Eric's conclusion:
Bruckner’s lucid analysis of European white guilt and its dangers offers finally little reassurance against Mark Steyn’s ominous vision of Europe's failure to resist jihad from without and depopulation from within: America Alone.
Read it all here.

1 comment:

Ludwik Kowalski said...


Please share this link with those who might be interested.


P.S. The book is waiting for a reviewer