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The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism Paperback – April 1, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
In a critique of the West's postcolonial self-flagellating tendencies that is both fascinating and repellent, prize-winning French novelist and essayist Bruckner (Tears of the White Man) offers a broad defense of neoliberal democracy as a force for progress, enlightenment, and emancipation. In polemical tones, the author identifies how the aftermath of WWII and postcolonial liberation movements spawned a pathology of remorse and guilt corrupting the European self-image that was maintained by its own intelligentsia and by a variety of immigrants, Islamists, and Arabs. Though the book offers insightful analyses of how discourses of guilt and self-hatred can serve to mask self-glorification and assertions of cultural superiority, it is marred by a monolithic, often Franco-centric view of Europe, a tendency toward overgeneralization, and an almost total disregard for how global economic concerns and practices are linked to international dissatisfactions with the behavior of Western democracies. Nonetheless, as a work that takes seriously the challenges posed by multiculturalism and the changing face of Europe, it is a worthy attempt to resuscitate the ideals of progressive enlightenment, political action, and civic pride. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"The Tyranny of Guilt is one of the landmark books of our time. With humour, depth, breadth, restraint and great insight Bruckner diagnoses an infuriating era. . . . Pascal Bruckner's short book is one of the most vital published in recent years. If the civilisation which it explains survives then I suspect his book will have played as important a part as any piece of writing could in determining that outcome."--Douglas Murray, Literary Review
"That Bruckner's talents defy classification might help to account for the relatively understated reception of his work on this side of the Atlantic. This situation is likely to change soon: along with The Tyranny of Guilt, Princeton University Press will also publish Perpetual Euphoria. . . . Bruckner is a bold and eloquent and important thinker."--Richard Wolin, New Republic
"[The Tyranny of Guilt] is a work of bracing lucidity and exhilarating perception. . . . Europe needs to rethink its attitude towards its past if it is to build a more inclusive and dynamic future. As this exceptional book so emphatically shows, guilt is a luxury we can no longer afford."--Andrew Anthony, The Observer
"When it comes to the sweaty metabolism of guilt, Bruckner is perhaps the most accomplished anatomist since Nietzsche. (He is also, like Nietzsche, an extraordinary stylist, commanding a sinewy, memorably epigrammatic prose.) . . . Ferociously intelligent, passionately argued, stylistically brilliant."--Roger Kimball, National Review
"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. . . . [T]his is a stirring and important book."--Eric Kaufmann, Prospect
"Mr. Bruckner cites literary figures, journalists and intellectuals throughout the Western world making the case that whatever punishment the West has been made to suffer--e.g., the horrors of 9/11--are merely well deserved."--Wall Street Journal
"Bruckner's book is controversial at times, but he does a wonderful job of combining passionate writing with a well-argued critique of modern Europe."--Library Journal
"[Pascal Bruckner's] angry book could change a whole civilization's opinion, if only that civilization had sense enough to pay attention."--Robert Fulford, National Post
"In the end, Bruckner's real theme is something deeper and broader: Western guilt and the resulting lack of self-belief. Again, he sees the origins of this in a guilty conscience, and there is an echo here of debates sixty or more years ago over Communism."--Geoffrey Wheatcroft, National Interest
"These provocative statements undergird Bruckner's brilliant polemic arguing that European remorse for the sins of imperialism, fascism, and racism has gripped the continent to the point of stifling its creativity, destroying its self-confidence, and depleting its optimism."--Daniel Pipes, National Review Online
"Bruckner shows how selective we are about teaching history and how our media is obsessed with only one struggle (Israel/Palestine) while ignoring others (Sudan/Darfur). The essay, translated into clear American English, is provocative, scholarly and accessible."--Julia Pascal, The Independent
"In Pascal Bruckner's recent essay The Tyranny of Guilt, we finally get an argument that should move those ready away from the masochistic acceptance of blame for every bad thing in the world."--Stanley Crouch, Daily Beast
"Bruckner's originality lies in taking the narcissism of Western guilt and using the old distinction between repentance, where one resolves to find absolution by doing better, and remorse, where one wallows in perpetual penitence, to create a synthesis of great explanatory power."--Nick Cohen, The Australian
"As the Obama administration and congressional Democrats work to make the United States a more European-style society, The Tyranny of Guilt arrives at the right time (and kudos to Princeton University Press for publishing such a bracing, politically incorrect book). Pascal Bruckner, who remains a man of the left in some sense, recognizes the true genius of the West--and the capacity of its brightest minds to forget that genius or, worse, condemn it."--Brian Anderson, New Criterion
"[Bruckner's] basic thesis is that the entire western world is addicted to wallowing in guilt about the past, and that the root of it all is roughly religious--stemming from the notion of original sin. Bruckner's most vivid illustration of our addiction to guilt is that so many thinkers and commentators could greet the murder of 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, with cries of 'we had it coming.'"--Irish Independent
"Bruckner, a French intellectual, argues brilliantly if controversially it's high time the West lighten up, bring historical perspective to itself, celebrate its more prosperous institutions, and stop hamstringing its relations with other groups."--Miriam Cosic, Australian
"It's no put-down of Pascal Bruckner's latest book to say I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoyed the Daily Express, although his canvas is bigger and his style more literary and erudite. . . . In this work, [Bruckner] has many shrewd insights into contemporary Europe."--Tara McCormack, Spiked
"Pascal Bruckner has written a passionate meditation that many, especially on the Left, will find provocative. One might even hope that this little book will awaken European thinkers from their dogmatic slumber and lead them to consider the advantages and disadvantages of history for European civic life."--Daniel DiSalvo, Society
Top customer reviews
Elites on both sides of the Atlantic are animated by hatred of the West and denounce it vehemently in an attempt to make the West feel eternally guilty for its past wrongs, and think that anyone who stands up for Western Europe or nations such as Israel or the United States is beyond the pale of respectability.
Bruckner sees in this attitude an inverted superiority complex, a sort of "You don't realize how evil Europe, America, and Western Civilization are and I do, therefore I'm more moral and enlightened than you are" type of preening narcissistic grandstanding.
The author acknowledges the West's crimes, but states that Europe, unlike Islam, is "like a jailer who throws you into prison and slips you the keys to your cell", bringing the world both despotism and liberty. For example, the West did not invent slavery, but played a major role in its abolition. Bruckner states that no country was not founded on crime and coercion, but only the West's crimes are remembered by the elites, who have one set of rules for designated victim nations and another, more stringent set for designated oppressor nations.
Bruckner thinks that Europe's guilty conscience stems from a desire to withdraw after the horrors of the twentieth century. Europe, he believes, does not feel that it any longer has the moral authority to stand up to evil, so instead it tolerates the evil around it, leading it to "take up residence in a peaceful hell".
The author provides suggestions for Europe to get out of its funk, such as having a statute of limitations for past offenses that have been repented of--being forever chained to the past injects emotional paralysis and does not free one to live in the present.
Bruckner examines European anti-Semitism, and closes this remarkable volume by comparing France to the United States, showing that America does not have the anti-West mindset to the same degree that Europe does.
Bruckner writes about France in detail, Europe more generally, and only briefly on the U.S. A politically attuned American reader might analogize to some progressive strains in the U.S., but I didn't read too much into it. The "Colonization" sin is felt heavier in Europe and, naturally, ritual atonement and abasement more competitive and attention-seeking. Plus, God Bless them, the French (and Europeans because of their proximity to the French) are more sensitive and attentive to these issues. If you want a more generalized, more international account of the progressive’s abandonment if the West’s highest ideals, see BHL’s <i>Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism</i>.
BHL doesn’t have, though, Bruckner’s florid style (or able translator), his French-specific details, and overall venomous diagnosis of France's political and cultural sclerosis.
It’s not central to the book, but Bruckner's proud defense of his country's distinctive contributions to the world is a good antidote for American derision and changed my mind quite a bit.