BLOCL

The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism

By Pascal Bruckner

buy on amazon

There are mosques in Rome, but are there Christian churches in Mecca, Jeddah, or Riyadh? Isn’t it better to be a Muslim in Düsseldorf or Paris than a Christian in Cairo or Karachi?

But it is always from Christianity and from it alone that repentance is expected, because it invented repentance in its modern forms. In other words, the Catholic Church has simultaneously betrayThe Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism by Pascal Bruckner

There are mosques in Rome, but are there Christian churches in Mecca, Jeddah, or Riyadh? Isn’t it better to be a Muslim in Düsseldorf or Paris than a Christian in Cairo or Karachi?

But it is always from Christianity and from it alone that repentance is expected, because it invented repentance in its modern forms. In other words, the Catholic Church has simultaneously betrayed and transmitted the spirit of the Gospels.

The day when its highest authorities recognize the conquering, aggressive nature of their faith, when they ask to be pardoned for the holy wars waged in the name of the Qur’an and for the infamies committed against infidels, apostates, unbelievers, and women, when they apologize for the terrorist attacks that profane the name of God—that will be a day of progress and will help dissipate the suspicion that many people legitimately harbor regarding this sacrificial monotheism.

We protect our villages, our historical sites with maniacal attention to detail, a concern to make them fit into the landscape, which is itself carefully groomed and arranged and constitutes all the beauty of the Old World.

This is the grammar of nostalgia: we suspect that in our forward progress, something essential has been left behind, and that it is important that we preserve a few traces of it. We try to give our public squares and private mansions the patina of the immemorial.

However, this nostalgia seeks less to revive the flickering flame of memory than to extinguish it forever. It transforms us into tourists in our own history, and in palaces and ancient cities we take pleasure in contemplating a specific quality of the time: pacification.

Our hearts ache when we contemplate an abandoned church, whereas two hundred years earlier, we would have burned it down or pillaged it, perhaps out of hatred for the clergy.

These Baroque or Romanesque splendors don’t say to us: Dare! Instead, they command us: Respect, repeat.

Making a tacit oath: never again history and its mass destructions, never again anything but private life, the twists and turns of consumerism, the obsession with happiness.

A strange inversion: the past, which is naturally fragile and doomed to sink into darkness, takes precedence over the present and the future, transforming the living into visitors to cemeteries. That is the great difference between Europe and America: one broods on the past, the other starts over again.

he true crime of old Europe is not only what it did in the past, but what it is not doing today—its inaction in the course of the 1990s in the Balkans, its scandalous wait-and-see attitude in Rwanda, its silence on Chechnya, its indifference to Darfur and western Sudan, and in general its indulgence, its kowtowing, its servility.

What is remarkable in this regard is the way Europe avoids getting involved in urrent tensions, including those on its own soil, leaving it to the Yankee big brother to do the dirty work, while criticizing him harshly later on. Whatever America does, whether it intervenes or stands aside, it is always wrong, in accord with the customary roles. *

On the whole, the Old World prefers guilt to responsibility: the former is easier to bear; we get on well with our guilty conscience. Our lazy despair does not incite us to fight injustice but rather to coexist with it.

Let us recall this very simple fact: Europe has more or less vanquished its monsters, slavery has been abolished, colonialism has been abandoned, fascism defeated, communism brought to its knees. What continent can boast of such a record of accomplishment?

One should be proud, not of what one is and that is not up to us, but of what one does.

If a people no longer has the strength or will to maintain itself in the political sphere, that is not the end of politics in the world. It is only the end of a weak people. —CARL SCHMITT

It is the charm and the good fortune of Europe not to have been completely taken over by capitalism, to have escaped in part from the painful crudeness of money, from the logic of calculation, from the vulgarity of the reign of profits, and to still be fraught with bizarre customs, old-fashioned civilities, and ancient solidarities that form a fascinating kaleidoscope.

But the irony of Europe is that although it is a bastion of socialism and Marxism, it defines itself only in social and mercantile terms. Its politicians are primarily traveling salesmen whom the prospect of juicy contracts renders oddly silent regarding the subject of fundamental rights.

Whereas America asserts itself, Europe questions itself. One says “I want,” the other says “Who am I”.

We resent America for having grown as we have dwindled, but especially for having promoted, often in a brutal and cynical way, values to which we pay only lip service because we no longer believe in them.

Europe has a history but America is history.

America generally begins by making mistakes, sometimes criminal ones, but then it corrects them. Europe makes no mistakes because it doesn’t try anything.

The perpetual peace to which Europe aspires has its source not in Europe but in the United States.

America is more vulnerable than it thinks, and Europe is less weak than it thinks. One should learn moderation, the other pride.

If there is any lesson that Europe can teach the world, it is the way in which hostile brothers, exhausted by killings, have been reconciled at the edge of the abyss, putting an end to intractable quarrels, and proving that the bitterest heritages can be overcome.

The only war that ultimately matters, as we have known since the Enlightenment, is the war of ideas that is waged day and night, attacking iniquities and denouncing scandals. It is this war, and not torture or bombing, that changes mentalities in depth, improves the condition of women and children, and leads religious believers to live their faith in a more tolerant way and to revise the most aggressive postulates of their sacred scriptures. This war has one defect: it is long. It extends beyond the term of a legislature, goes on over generations and even centuries. To win it, through education, the media, and culture, we have to use the weapons of reason and eloquence. We have to combine our impatience for freedom with the wisdom to wait.

ed and transmitted the spirit of the Gospels.

The day when its highest authorities recognize the conquering, aggressive nature of their faith, when they ask to be pardoned for the holy wars waged in the name of the Qur’an and for the infamies committed against infidels, apostates, unbelievers, and women, when they apologize for the terrorist attacks that profane the name of God—that will be a day of progress and will help dissipate the suspicion that many people legitimately harbor regarding this sacrificial monotheism.

We protect our villages, our historical sites with maniacal attention to detail, a concern to make them fit into the landscape, which is itself carefully groomed and arranged and constitutes all the beauty of the Old World.

This is the grammar of nostalgia: we suspect that in our forward progress, something essential has been left behind, and that it is important that we preserve a few traces of it. We try to give our public squares and private mansions the patina of the immemorial.

However, this nostalgia seeks less to revive the flickering flame of memory than to extinguish it forever. It transforms us into tourists in our own history, and in palaces and ancient cities we take pleasure in contemplating a specific quality of the time: pacification.

Our hearts ache when we contemplate an abandoned church, whereas two hundred years earlier, we would have burned it down or pillaged it, perhaps out of hatred for the clergy.

These Baroque or Romanesque splendors don’t say to us: Dare! Instead, they command us: Respect, repeat.

Making a tacit oath: never again history and its mass destructions, never again anything but private life, the twists and turns of consumerism, the obsession with happiness.

A strange inversion: the past, which is naturally fragile and doomed to sink into darkness, takes precedence over the present and the future, transforming the living into visitors to cemeteries. That is the great difference between Europe and America: one broods on the past, the other starts over again.

he true crime of old Europe is not only what it did in the past, but what it is not doing today—its inaction in the course of the 1990s in the Balkans, its scandalous wait-and-see attitude in Rwanda, its silence on Chechnya, its indifference to Darfur and western Sudan, and in general its indulgence, its kowtowing, its servility.

What is remarkable in this regard is the way Europe avoids getting involved in urrent tensions, including those on its own soil, leaving it to the Yankee big brother to do the dirty work, while criticizing him harshly later on. Whatever America does, whether it intervenes or stands aside, it is always wrong, in accord with the customary roles. *

On the whole, the Old World prefers guilt to responsibility: the former is easier to bear; we get on well with our guilty conscience. Our lazy despair does not incite us to fight injustice but rather to coexist with it.

Let us recall this very simple fact: Europe has more or less vanquished its monsters, slavery has been abolished, colonialism has been abandoned, fascism defeated, communism brought to its knees. What continent can boast of such a record of accomplishment?

One should be proud, not of what one is and that is not up to us, but of what one does.

If a people no longer has the strength or will to maintain itself in the political sphere, that is not the end of politics in the world. It is only the end of a weak people. —CARL SCHMITT

It is the charm and the good fortune of Europe not to have been completely taken over by capitalism, to have escaped in part from the painful crudeness of money, from the logic of calculation, from the vulgarity of the reign of profits, and to still be fraught with bizarre customs, old-fashioned civilities, and ancient solidarities that form a fascinating kaleidoscope.

But the irony of Europe is that although it is a bastion of socialism and Marxism, it defines itself only in social and mercantile terms. Its politicians are primarily traveling salesmen whom the prospect of juicy contracts renders oddly silent regarding the subject of fundamental rights.

Whereas America asserts itself, Europe questions itself. One says “I want,” the other says “Who am I”.

We resent America for having grown as we have dwindled, but especially for having promoted, often in a brutal and cynical way, values to which we pay only lip service because we no longer believe in them.

Europe has a history but America is history.

America generally begins by making mistakes, sometimes criminal ones, but then it corrects them. Europe makes no mistakes because it doesn’t try anything.

The perpetual peace to which Europe aspires has its source not in Europe but in the United States.

America is more vulnerable than it thinks, and Europe is less weak than it thinks. One should learn moderation, the other pride.

If there is any lesson that Europe can teach the world, it is the way in which hostile brothers, exhausted by killings, have been reconciled at the edge of the abyss, putting an end to intractable quarrels, and proving that the bitterest heritages can be overcome.

The only war that ultimately matters, as we have known since the Enlightenment, is the war of ideas that is waged day and night, attacking iniquities and denouncing scandals. It is this war, and not torture or bombing, that changes mentalities in depth, improves the condition of women and children, and leads religious believers to live their faith in a more tolerant way and to revise the most aggressive postulates of their sacred scriptures. This war has one defect: it is long. It extends beyond the term of a legislature, goes on over generations and even centuries. To win it, through education, the media, and culture, we have to use the weapons of reason and eloquence. We have to combine our impatience for freedom with the wisdom to wait.