Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Tyranny of Guilt: an Essay on Western Masochism by Pascal Bruckner translated by Steven Rendall

Pascal Bruckner is considered one of the eminent philosophers in France today.

The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western MasochismThe Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism by Pascal Bruckner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pascal Bruckner clearly and successfully articulates my own thoughts and feelings concerning the West's heavy love affair with flagellating itself.

He makes so many good points and I certainly won't attempt to list them all, but
here are a few:

Once upon a time the West had good reason to feel guilty of slavery, racism, genocide, fascism, communism, imperialism etc... but those days are gone. We are still apologizing for events that have happened hundreds of years ago. The most recent events, like segregation and racial discrimination hearken back to the years before affirmative action which was the 1950s. Notice how all the popular movies about racism in the U.S. take place in the fifties or earlier? But according to our culture of Western guilt nothing has changed.

Yes, we have poverty and too many minorities and immigrants living in ghettos, but are the reasons still due to racism and discrimination?

Bruckner gives a resounding "No!" He then elucidates on what actually does hold minorities and immigrants back. It is the tyranny of Western Guilt. Because when the great white west tells African and Middle Eastern immigrants and also racial minorities in the U.S. that "It is all due to the evil white empire that you are degraded." What are you saying? You are calling these people degraded.

What can be more degrading than to make a career of victimhood?

The terrorist threats? The West's fault! Poverty among immigrants? West's fault.

Bruckner's book goes further into citing specific historical sources and also political leaders that have profited by perpetuating this myth and the people that follow along because it makes them feel virtuous while they continue to live in upper scale, segregated neighborhoods, putting their children in private schools while denying minorities who are too poor to pay for these schools the same choice and have to put their children in dangerous, failing public schools and continue to live in gang-ridden neighborhoods.

Bruckner makes an interesting observation about the recent turn against Jewish people, especially in Europe. They were acceptable as victims of the holocaust, and living in ghettos, but once they rose to equal status to the rest of Europe and America and built their own nation, they are the "new fascists" and the Arab nations are Israel's victims.

He points out how Europe enables anti-nationalism because we are not supposed to identify with a particular country anymore but see ourselves as part of a global community. So people gleefully boo during the French national anthem during soccer matches. Algerian immigrants who were born and raised in France wave Algerian flags while never ever intending to step foot in Algeria.

The career of Victim-hood demands that we see ourselves as the tyrannical oppressors of Middle Eastern countries while never contemplating why these same people are desperately trying to get out of their own countries and come to Europe, America and Canada.

He brilliantly points out a fact that the self-flagellates are blind to: that to view yourself as an oppressor or tyrant is to hold yourself as guess what? Superior! And guess what it also does? Holds your "victims" as Inferior.

The results of this Western Guilt is to preserve racial division and create an even greater hostile environment between the different groups than when there was actual discrimination.

An excellent quote from the book:

"It is a mistake to believe that making schoolchildren feel guilty in accord with the principle 'your ancestors enslaved mine' will make them like the idea of human diversity any better or will seem to them anything more than a theatrical artifice.

Just imagine little blond, brunette or curly headed kids coming up to each other on the playground and introducing themselves as descendants of slaves, of colonized peoples, of slave traders, of bandits, of peasants, of beggars...

...Why ask boys and girls to make themselves the contemporaries of crimes that may have been committed three centuries ago...we are supposed constantly to inject rage and anger into them. "

He goes on to say that perhaps we should simply abolish any kind of statutes of limitations on crimes, give all of us a portfolio at birth of grievances to exploit. That we can go back as "far as the Middle Ages" to "demand justice."

Our present system of white guilt has produced "chronic malcontents" where no one can ever get on with their life and enjoy it. We must either view ourselves as oppressed and be miserable or as oppressors and be consumed with guilt (another form of misery).

Somebody finally put in print what I have been thinking for ever so long.

The book says far more with many historical recitations and I don't agree with everything he says, especially concerning Christianity, which he considers the originator of guilt, at least the Medieval Catholic church, which is an oversimplification and it ignores the gods of pagan countries who had to be constantly appeased in order to avoid destruction.

He says that the Enlightenment threw off religion but retained the mantle of guilt. This is his theory of origins but he can't really substantiate it.

However, his observations of the here and now are compelling and one of the most perspicacious studies on the subject.

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  1. Great post Sharon.

    This is an important subject that I have been thinking and talking about a lot lately.

    I am also mostly with Bruckner on this. This has manifested itself in many ways that are harmful. Most recently dissidents , reformers in third world countries and within immigrant communities have come under attack as "agents of colonialism".

    Another extreme example involves attacks on concepts like truth and science. In some quarters these basic concepts are considered European and Colonial social constructs. I could go on and and on with examples.

    It is interesting that Bruckner looks to the historical roots of this. More recently much of this seems to lie in extreme versions of critical race theory and intersectionality.

    Conservatives have been arguing against these trends for years. In the past couple of years the Left has been divided on these issues. Folks, who sometimes identified themselves as "Classical Liberals" have been vigorously challenging this stuff. Of course people are pushing back. All too often those questioning the "Western Guilt" thing are incorrectly labeled as racists.

    Have a great week!

    1. Hi Brian. That is interesting what you say about viewing basic concepts of truth and science as colonial constructs. It makes me think of the dilemma I saw with minorities in the school I taught. Succeeding academically was seen as "acting white" and only a "gangsta" and drug culture was acceptable. Yet there was a disconnect between participating in this gang and drug culture and living in government housing and poverty.

      I do not know what critical race theory and intersectionality is. I would like to learn more about it.

      On a side note. I took a political survey test and it seems I am somewhere middle of the road, a "moderate conservative".

      I'm not sure what that is but I do think the Democratic party has unfortunately been taken over by an extreme left wing and a lot of moderates have been robbed of their voice.

      Have a great week too!

    2. I am way over simplifying but Intersectionality is the theory that all oppressions are connected. The extreme elements tend to rank groups based on oppression. I have seen a Intersectionalists arguing over who was more "privileged" Blacks or Gays. I have seen the same argument over Asian women and African women.

      Critical race theory tend to see every problem and issue in terms of race.

      I think that I took the same test. I came up center left and moderately libertarian.


    3. Hi Brian. Thanks for explaining that for me. That is so interesting. Perhaps you have some literature on the subject you could suggest. In these sadly divisive times it would help to understand why people of different races and genders have come to regard themselves as the enemy. I mean since the Civil Rights movement when anti-discrimination laws have been implemented.

      Of course, as a Christian I would view all oppression stemming from the same source: Fallen mankind.

      My husband considers himself a libertarian or to be more accurate: a "states rights guy" (his expression).

      Take care!

  2. Hi Sharon, Great Article!

    I agree that the west should stop apologizing for our past. How far back should we continue to apologize for? Our history is what defines us. Should we just apologize for existing too?

    Unlike India, Thailand, and many other countries, the west allows people in poverty the chance have prosperity. Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Tom Cruise, and countless other celebrities and non celebrities have risen out of poverty.

    Thanks again for the article!

    1. Hi there Chris! I agree and I also notice that many minorities were on the upward mobile track to middle class until Johson's "war on poverty" halted that progress and we now have created the phenomena of generational poverty. Young people being born into poverty have no higher aspiration than to follow in their parents footsteps. State assistance may help keep you alive, but it's definitely a subsistence living as I see with a number of family relatives.

  3. "Notice how all the popular movies about racism in the U.S. take place in the fifties or earlier?"

    Are they popular because we can remark on how things have changed, and pat ourselves on the back. There are newer movies about quite recent events, e.g. Fruitvale Station that have received decent reviews.

  4. Hi George.

    Not to be inflammatory, but a black man gets killed by police and national riots break out, a cause is born or as in Fruitvale Station, a movie is made about it.

    Around the corner from where I live, a white girl was shot dead by police and the local newspaper barely had a paragraph about it and not on the front page.

    The point of the book was that white guilt is really a white supremacist attitude in disguise. Only a "superior" people group has power to "oppress" or "victimize" another people group.

  5. Very interesting review, Sharon. I think some of his ideas explain the problem we have in Australia with the plight of our Indigenous people. The past is past and I don't really think that dwelling on it is helpful when it comes to addressing the issues in Aboriginal communities today. There's no easy answer, but a good many of us came from other parts of the world in more recent times & had nothing to do with these past events anyhow.

    1. Hi Carol.
      There is no easy answer but I think that it behooves no one to spend our lives playing a blame game. Only a sense of personal autonomy and responsibility for our lives and the choices we make can change our destinies.

      Many people have come out of impoverished backgrounds where they were racially discriminated against and rose to be successful members of society. To say that someone else's prejudices are holding you back is to claim that other person is very powerful indeed.

      And, of course, as Christians we know the ultimate root of it all is spiritual. :)

  6. Nice review, certainly gets you thinking. When admiring your beautiful flower display, I noticed all your books behind it on both sides. You must have quite a collection!

    1. Hi Marcia

      I own a ridiculous amount of books. My husband and I have had to come to an agreement. I don't buy books until I read the ones already in the house. I won't be buying new books for a looooong time.
      Have a great week!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.