The Tyranny of Guilt

The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism

PASCAL BRUCKNER Translated from the French by
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Tyranny of Guilt
    Book Description:

    Fascism, communism, genocide, slavery, racism, imperialism--the West has no shortage of reasons for guilt. And, indeed, since the Holocaust and the end of World War II, Europeans in particular have been consumed by remorse. But Pascal Bruckner argues that guilt has now gone too far. It has become a pathology, and even an obstacle to fighting today's atrocities. Bruckner, one of France's leading writers and public intellectuals, argues that obsessive guilt has obscured important realities. The West has no monopoly on evil, and has destroyed monsters as well as created them--leading in the abolition of slavery, renouncing colonialism, building peaceful and prosperous communities, and establishing rules and institutions that are models for the world. The West should be proud--and ready to defend itself and its values. In this, Europeans should learn from Americans, who still have sufficient self-esteem to act decisively in a world of chaos and violence. Lamenting the vice of anti-Americanism that grips so many European intellectuals, Bruckner urges a renewed transatlantic alliance, and advises Americans not to let recent foreign-policy misadventures sap their own confidence. This is a searing, provocative, and psychologically penetrating account of the crude thought and bad politics that arise from excessive bad conscience.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3431-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-4)

    A great city in northern Europe is struck by an unusual heat wave in the middle of winter as an asteroid approaches Earth. In the evening, residents go out into the streets in their pajamas, wiping away the sweat that is running down their cheeks, and look anxiously up at the sky, seeing the asteroid grow larger as they watch. They all fear the same thing: that this mass of molten matter will collide with our planet. Hordes of panicked rats are fleeing the sewers, car tires are exploding, the asphalt is melting. Then a strange figure dressed in a...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Guilt Peddlers
    (pp. 5-26)

    The whole world hates us, and we deserve it: that is what most Europeans think, at least in Western Europe. Since 1945 our continent has been obsessed by torments of repentance. Ruminating on its past abominations—wars, religious persecutions, slavery, imperialism, fascism, communism—it views its history as nothing more than a long series of massacres and sackings that led to two world wars, that is, to an enthusiastic suicide. Unparalleled horrors, the industrialization of death on a grand scale in the Nazi and Soviet camps, the promotion of bloodthirsty clowns to the rank of mass idols, and the experience...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Pathologies of Debt
    (pp. 27-56)

    A French teacher living in Libya, shocked by the caricatures of Muhammad that appeared during the winter of 2006 and noting the havoc they had wrought among his students, wrote to the Paris newspaperLe Mondeto express his indignation, concluding with these words: “We are still the masters of the world and we seem to have forgotten the sensitivities of those who aren’t.”¹ We are masters of the world! Coming from a Disraeli or a Jules Ferry, that expression wouldn’t be surprising. But today, in a left-wing newspaper, what presumption! We will see that, paradoxically, this will to power...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Innocence Recovered
    (pp. 57-86)

    Every Way of the Cross eventually leads to redemption. For condemned Europeans, there remains one exit that will allow them to avoid decline: shifting the blame to two nations unworthy of European civilization, Israel and the United States, repudiating them in order to redeem ourselves. Breaking all ties with them, unceasingly renouncing them, calling loudly and clearly, if not for their disappearance, at least for their neutralization, proving that “the West” does not exist, that it is a concept that is not pertinent because it includes dissimilar realities. For those who have lost all their subversive hopes and are not...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Fanaticism of Modesty
    (pp. 87-110)

    We too often forget that contemporary Europe was not born, like the United States, from a collective commitment to regard everything as possible. Europe was born out of its weariness with sacrifice. It took the total disaster of the twentieth century for the Old World to be won over to virtue, like whores whose age leads them directly from debauchery to religious zeal. Without the two world wars and their train of horrors, its desire for peace, which coincides with a desire for repose, would never have come into being. It was our saturation with murder and criminal immoderation that...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Second Golgotha
    (pp. 111-138)

    We have to admit it: more than sixty years after the Third Reich’s capitulation, the pedagogy of the Shoah has failed. After so many books, films, and debates, we have ended up with a situation at the beginning of the twenty-first century in which the genocide of the Jews and Gypsies can no longer be taught in many French schools! What happened? A saturation effect, a feeling that the Jews were monopolizing all the suffering in the world? Probably, and the multiplicity of commemorations has helped make the Jews seem a problematic elect that arouses jealousy. A fine example of...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Listen to My Suffering
    (pp. 139-166)

    The fact that in France a certain number of black or Maghrebin citizens would like to redefine their contract with the Republic because they feel unloved or underrepresented is proof of the Republic’s health. That they want to be seen as full-fledged French citizens, not a separate group within the body politic, that they denounce discrimination on the basis of appearance or family name, that they exclaim thatleur couleur est leur douleur, as a Moroccan worker expressed it on television, is both just and legitimate. France—and this is both its greatness and its limitation—postulates the abstraction of...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Depression in Paradise: France, a Symptom and Caricature of Europe
    (pp. 167-192)

    There is a nation that embodies the illnesses of Europe to excess, and adds other, more specific ones: France. These days, it is not easy to be French, that is, heirs to a glorious past whose ups and down bring out our pettiness in contrast. France, which until 1989 took advantage of its position between the United States and the USSR, was the big loser in the West when the Berlin Wall came down. The reunification of Germany, with its eighty million inhabitants and its wealth, awakened our inferiority complex, which had been nourished by three wars—in two and...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Doubt and Faith: The Quarrel between Europe and the United States
    (pp. 193-214)

    A young millionaire from the American West, Christopher Newman, who has made a large fortune in business, comes to France, curious, like a reverse Christopher Columbus, about the Old World and its customs. As awkward as he is honest, he falls madly in love with a young noblewoman whose hands fascinate him. He courts her with simplicity, tells her naively about all the money that would be at her disposal were she to marry him, and does not dissimulate either his intentions or his character. “I honestly believe I have no hidden vices or nasty tricks. I am kind, kind,...

  12. CONCLUSION A Poisoned Gift
    (pp. 215-222)

    Inspired by St. Bernard, the Jesuit Louis Bourdaloue, a famous preacher at the court of Louis XIV, distinguished four kinds of consciences: the good and peaceful (Paradise), the good and troubled (Purgatory), the bad and troubled (Hell), and the bad and peaceful (despair).¹ How can we fail to see that contemporary Europe falls into the last category? We have rarely seen all a continent’s elites embrace culpability with such enthusiasm, to the point of taking responsibility for others’ faults, volunteering for the most distant catastrophes, and crying “I’m remorseful, I’m remorseful, who has a crime?” Culpability suits us: it provides...

    (pp. 223-228)

    The first decade of the twenty-first century seems to have been characterized by a decline in Western influence, which may be temporary: the crisis of the economic models proposed by the Thatcher and Reagan governments and their well-known consequences; the impossibility of winning a military victory in Afghanistan and Pakistan; the rise of the Chinese model, which combines political authoritarianism with hypercapitalism; and the booming irruption of great emerging countries onto the international scene. Anglo-American hegemony over the planet has run its course, even if no other has yet replaced it. This is the Obama moment, both a tremendous outburst...

  14. INDEX
    (pp. 229-239)