The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism

The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism

The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism

The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 white sheet and wearing a long beard begins to harangue the crowd, striking a gong and shouting: “This is punishment, repent, the end of Time has come.”

We smile at this tawdry prophet belching forth prophesies, since this scene occurs in a comic book, Herges The Shooting Star. However, beneath the silliness, what truth there is in the cry: “Repent!” That is the message that, under cover of its proclaimed hedonism, Western philosophy

Casterman, 1947.

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