Thursday, September 30, 2010

Penitential Europe and Self-Affirming America

The title of this City Journal article is "Europe's Guilty Conscience, Self-Hatred is paralyzing the Continent." It was written by the French writer and philosopher Pascal Bruckner and translated by Alexis Cornel.

I thought while reading it of Leftist Billy Blogblather's "hatred," who speaks as though he has objectified his hatred of whites, but inasmuch as he is white, I don't see how that can work terribly well -- perhaps it is somewhat like what Bruckner sees in Europe. Bruckner not only describes European funk, he sheds light on America's more positive attitudes. The contrast he makes is between Guilt-ridden Europeans and optimistic Americans.

After describing with a very broad brush Europe's history, and how Europeans wallow in self-hatred and embrace their monumental Guilty Conscience, Bruckner writes, "But a civilization responsible for the worst atrocities as well as the most sublime accomplishments cannot understand itself solely in terms of guilt. The suspicion that colors our most brilliant successes always risks degenerating into self-hatred and facile defeatism. We now live on self-denunciation, as if permanently indebted to the poor, the destitute, to immigrants—as if our only duty were expiation, endless expiation, restoring without limit what we had taken from humanity from the beginning. This wave of repentance spreads through our latitudes and our governments like an epidemic. An active conscience is a fine and healthy thing, of course. But contrition must not be limited to certain parties while innocence is accorded to anyone who claims to be persecuted."

There is no reason for the U.S. to feel that same level of guilt. The U.S. didn't create slavery, imperialism, fascism or communism. It didn't create either of the World wars. It didn't create the holocaust. When Europeans want to sweep America up in an agony of Western guilt, they have to hark back to days before it was the United States, when it was still a European colony. Or they have to dwell on the Slaves that were brought to the U.S. largely by Europeans. Or they need to dwell upon the U.S. activities during the Cold War which to a significant extent were intended to protect Europe. In Bruckner's view, the level of guilt isn't commensurable. He writes, "The United States, despite its own faults, retains the capacity to combine self-criticism with self-affirmation, demonstrating a pride that we lack. But Europe’s worst enemy is Europe itself, with its penitential view of its past, its corrosive guilt, and a scrupulousness taken to the point of paralysis. How can we expect to be respected if we do not respect ourselves, if our media and our literature always depict us by our blackest traits? The truth is that Europeans do not like themselves, or at least do not like themselves enough to overcome their distaste and to show the kind of quasi-religious fervor for their culture that is so striking in Americans."

We note here that his statement does not apply to all Americans. Billy Blogblather is a Leftist living in Tennessee and he doesn't fit into this category. Billy doesn't display a quasi-religious fervor for American culture. Instead he displays a European-like hatred of his own culture.

Bruckner continues: "We too often forget that modern Europe was born not during a time of enthusiastic historical rebeginning, as was the United States, but from a weariness of slaughter. It took the total disaster of the twentieth century, embodied in Verdun and Auschwitz, for the Old World to happen upon virtue, like an aging trollop who moves directly from debauchery to fervent religious belief. Without the two global conflicts and their parade of horrors, we would never have known this aspiration for peace—which is often hard to distinguish from an aspiration for rest. We became wise, perhaps, but with the force-fed wisdom of a people brutalized by carnage and resigned to modest projects. The only ambition we have left is to escape the furies of our age and to confine ourselves to the administration of economic and social matters.

"While America is a project, Europe is a sorrow. Before long, it will amount to little except the residue of abandoned dreams. We dreamed of a great diversity where we might live well, seek personal fulfillment, and, if possible, get rich—and all this in proximity to great works of culture. This was a worthwhile project, to be sure, and such a calm condition would be perfect in a time of great serenity, in a world that had finally achieved Kant’s “perpetual peace.” But there is a striking contrast between the stories that we Europeans tell ourselves about rights, tolerance, and multilateralism and the tragedies that we witness in the surrounding world—in autocratic Russia, aggressive Iran, arrogant China, a divided Middle East. We see them, too, in the heart of our great cities, in the double offensive of Islamist terrorism and fundamentalist groups aiming to colonize minds and hearts and Islamize Europe.

"There is nothing more insidious than a collective guilt passed down from generation to generation, dyeing a people with a kind of permanent stain. Contrition cannot define a political order. As there is no hereditary transmission of victim status, so there is no transmission of oppressor status. . . ."

I wonder here whether there is a unique American "collective guilt" passed down from generation to generation in Leftist elements of the American South. Have there been Leftist elements in the South for so many generations?

" . . . Europe has vanquished its most horrible monsters. Slavery was abolished, colonialism abandoned, fascism defeated, and communism brought to its knees. What other continent can claim more? In the end, the good prevailed over the abominable. Europe is the Holocaust, but it is also the destruction of Nazism; it is the Gulag, but also the fall of the Wall; imperialism, but also decolonization; slavery, but also abolition. In each case, there is a form of violence that is not only left behind but delegitimized, a twofold progress in civilization and in law. At the end of the day, freedom prevailed over oppression, which is why life is better in Europe than on many other continents and why people from the rest of the world are knocking on Europe’s door while Europe wallows in guilt.

"Europe no longer believes in evil but only in misunderstandings to be resolved by discussion and dialogue. She no longer has enemies but only partners. If she is nice to extremists, she thinks, they will be nice to her, and she will be able to disarm their aggressiveness and soften them up."

Further down, Bruckner writes, " In its worst moments, Europe seeks peace at any price, even what Saint Thomas Aquinas called a bad peace—one that consecrates injustice, arbitrary power, and terror, a detestable peace heavy with vicious consequences. Europe postulates freedom for all but is content with just its own. It has a history, whereas America is still making history, animated by an eschatological tension toward the future. If the latter sometimes makes major mistakes, the former makes none because it attempts nothing. For Europe, prudence no longer consists in the art, defended by the ancients, of finding one’s way within an uncertain story. We hate America because she makes a difference. We prefer Europe because she is not a threat. Our repulsion represents a kind of homage, and our sympathy a kind of contempt."

Even further down Bruckner writes "Our lazy despair leads us not to fight injustice but to coexist with it. We delight in tranquil impotence, and we take up residence in a peaceful hell. We allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with words of blame, a role we willingly adopt so as to be accountable to no one and to avoid taking any part in world affairs. Remorse is a mixture of good will and bad faith: a sincere desire to close old wounds and a secret wish to be left alone. Eventually, indebtedness to the dead prevails over duty to the living. Repentance makes of us a people who apologize for old crimes in order to ignore present ones."

One might expect a "healthy soul," to borrow William James' expression who lives in Europe amongst so many "sick souls" to consider moving to a healthier climate, and I see that Pascal Bruckner "will be a visiting professor at Texas A&M University this autumn." But what can someone like Billy Blogblather, someone who lives in this "healthier climate" but finds it as unhealthy as Europe do? I have no answer to that. I do not understand Blogblather -- no more than I do the modern European. I wonder how many read this article in France and if any were swayed by it. Given the content, I would guess not many and no.

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