Guilt, stirred up by leftist thinkers, is now de rigueur in the west. But Pascal Bruckner believes our soul-searching is both hypocritical and injuriousby E K / July 21, 2010 / Leave a comment
The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism by Pascal Bruckner, trans Steven Rendall (Princeton, £18.95)
According to Pascal Bruckner, we in the west suffer from neurotic guilt, a condition imposed upon us by the high priests of the left. This secular clerisy are heirs to the Christian tradition of original sin, which universalised guilt by claiming that humans are fallen and must redeem themselves. Nietzsche denounced Christian guilt as a psychic evil which forces man’s will to power in on himself. Pascal Bruckner is a latter-day Nietzschean who gives no quarter when it comes to excoriating our new moral elite.
Bruckner represents a distinct species of French intellectual. Born in 1948 and coming of age in the upheavals of 1968, he initially indulged the revolutionary fervour sweeping Paris but soon became affiliated with the nouveaux philosophes, a group of anti-Marxist intellectuals. Consisting of figures like Andre Glucksmann, Alain Finkielkraut, Bernard-Henri Levy and Jean-Marie Benoist, this cenacle may be considered France’s second generation of anti-communist thinkers.
Bruckner’s day job is that of novelist—one item in his bulging portfolio, Bitter Moon, even received film treatment at the hands of Roman Polanski. As a result of his literary background and immersion in the fiery French essayist tradition, he writes in a sparkling prose, captured well here by his translator, Steven Rendall. The resulting tone is redolent for Anglo-Saxon readers of an earlier era, when social critics like Marx or Nietzsche conveyed their ideas with combative gravitas.
Beneath Bruckner’s eloquence is a serious message: we remain prisoners of a white guilt whose victim is its supposed beneficiary. Our guilt, he writes, is actually a means for us to retain our superiority over the non-white world, our masochism a form of sadism. After all, if everything is the fault of the west then the power to change the world lies squarely in the hands of westerners.
This belief demeans Frantz Fanon’s “wretched of the earth”—the non-western poor who we are supposed to redeem. Worse than this, it excuses the barbarism of tinpot dictators from Mao to Mugabe, who are considered irresponsible children, their crimes the result of colonialism, racism or capitalist exploitation. In upholding one moral code for the west (and Israel) and another for the rest, we retard human progress. Surely the column inches devoted to Israel’s atrocities, which Bruckner doesn’t gloss, should be overshadowed by the more significant carnage of Darfur.…