In trying to come to terms with the complexities of our day, the mainstream media is of little help to us. Newspaper reports are for the most part editorials in disguise, shilling for a chiefly leftist agenda. As for the TV networks—News, public affairs programming and the majority of talk shows—they are almost always slanted and superficial. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Canada, for example, is little more than a farm team for Al-Jazeera, the BBC is a marble soapbox, and the American colossi are in the business of generating simulated worlds.
For those who have the time, however, nothing can replace a significant body of literature that has come both to supplement and to ground our awareness of the intellectual currents and ideological forces troubling the contemporary world. In this respect, the book still remains the primary “technology” for the dissemination of substantive knowledge. Our focus here tends to fasten, for obvious reasons, on the English and American publishing market, rich with important contributions toward our understanding of the times we live in, but by no means exhaustive. Those who enjoy the leisure to travel further afield might do well to consult the school of Nouveaux Philosophes, or New Philosophers, enlivening the intellectual scene in France, whom National Post columnist Robert Fulford describes as “more academic yet more flamboyant cousins of the American neo-conservatives.” Many of their books have been translated and are readily available.
This distinguished cohort boasts some of the most astute writers and commentators on the predicament in which the West now finds itself. Among the most prominent members are André Glucksmann, generally regarded as the father-doyen of the group, Alain Finkielkraut, Shmuel Trigano, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Pascal Bruckner. Although their sources, methods, specific subjects and lines of attack may differ, they are all united in confronting what they intuit as the imminent collapse of the West.
Glucksmann is concerned with what he calls “the Somalization of the planet” and the Western tendency “to sleep peacefully” before the looming threat of a reinvigorated Islam, which “puts us all in jeopardy” (City Journal). Finkielkraut sees the swelling tide of antisemitism as a sure sign of a coming civilizational catastrophe. His seminal texts, The Imaginary Jew and The Defeat of the Mind, make essential reading. In Left in Dark Times, Lévy (who coined the term by which the group is known) retains a nostalgic allegiance to the “old left’s” commitment to “social justice” but excoriates the simple-mindedness, facile utopianism, self-infatuation and futile search for transcendence which characterizes the “new left.” (Though how this differs from the “old left” is an open question.) We might say that the terms “social justice,” “diversity,” “accommodation” and “egalitarianism” bandied about by the left comprise an averting rhetoric meant to protect an obsolete and defective world-view, like installing a car alarm in a Trabant.
Trigano takes a somewhat different tack, analyzing the Jewish proclivity to self-betrayal as a way of dodging “la mauvaise foi planétaire”—“the planetary bad faith” represented by antisemitism (Controverse, numero 10). As he writes in his le temps de l’exil, “Une lumière s’étaint dans le monde” (“A light is extinguished in the world”). Curiously and somewhat incomprehensibly, as if in confirmation of Trigano’s thesis, both Finkielkraut and Lévy have recently joined the new petitionary group JCall with a distinctly anti-Israeli stamp, and have been taken to task by Trigano. “There is something pathetic,” he says, “about seeing political blindness masquerading as moral grandiloquence…Israel has become the screen onto which Europe projects all its problems and its failure to face up to the challenges at hand.”
Nevertheless, in spite of their pessimism and their differences, these writers continue to struggle against that which they fear may well be inevitable. This is particularly true of Bruckner who, in my estimation, is one of the most compelling and prescient of the cadre of French intellectuals and repays prolonged study. Indeed, in his 2006 La tyrannie de la pénitence, he predicted the Russian invasion of Georgia and the craven European prostration before the Russian juggernaut: “Si demain Vladimir Poutine…envahissait la Géorgie…l’Europe occidentale, d’un seul souffle, s’exclamerait: servez vous!” (“If tomorrow Vladimir Putin…should invade Georgia…Western Europe, with one breath, would exclaim: help yourself!”) Two years later it came to pass precisely as he had envisioned. And in earlier books such as The Tears of the White Man and The Temptation of Innocence, Bruckner addresses the pervasive cultural drift toward self-abasement, political weakness and the glorification of the Third World, especially Islam, at the expense of our own survival. “The future of the West,” he laments, “is self-destruction.”
True, in La tyrannie de la pénitence, the most recent of his political books (his 2009 offering, Le Paradoxe amoureux, deals with the sexual paradoxes of the current age), Bruckner seems to go against his own grain, downplaying the apocalyptic mode of thought. “Il existe chez les Modernes,” he writes, “une fascination pour le thème du déclin…qui seduit à la fois les experts et les moralistes…Quiconque en caresse l’idée se voit comme l’intelligence supérieure qui a saisi le processus caché de l’Histoire. Annoncer…la décadence d’un empire vous pose en prophète.” (“There exists among the Moderns a fascination for the theme of decline…which seduces at the same time both the experts and the moralists…Whoever caresses the idea sees himself as a superior intelligence who has grasped the hidden processes of History. Announcing… the decay of an empire makes you seem like a prophet.”)
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