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But where I disagree with him most is in his deprecating the apocalyptic mode of thought. “There exists among the Moderns a fascination for the theme of decline… Announcing… the decay of an empire makes you seem like a prophet.” The discourse of cataclysm or degeneration is, of course, a perennial temptation. One recalls Harold Brown, writing in The Sensate Culture: Western Civilization Between Chaos and Transformation, that “There seems to be a mentality that enjoys predicting the worst.” This is no doubt the case, but Brown goes on to assert that “a dramatic loss of confidence and hope for the future is typical of the kind of culture that prevails across most of the world today. For our contemporary society, there is a danger that these bleak prophecies will prove self-fulfilling.” In the current historical nexus such dismal visions of the future seem frighteningly apt, whether self-fulfilling or not.
Yet, like so many of us, Bruckner’s reluctance to sound “over the top” does not disguise or obviate a profound apprehension of the worst. He cannot, ultimately, resist his own clairvoyant intuitions. Irrespective of his disclaimers—perhaps even writing against his inherent grain—Bruckner’s crystal ball is filled with plumes of fire and smoke. One notes that Bruckner’s countryman, the novelist Jean Raspail, in his 1973 must-read The Camp of the Saints, sees a different kind of Armageddon approaching the West, but one no less dramatic in the long haul. This is not the death by a thousand cuts or a hundred bombs but by a billion refugees and immigrants come to claim their share of Western prosperity. Their slice of the Western pie, Raspail fears, will eventually morph into the whole pie itself.
The difference, however, is only between Gog and Magog. One way or another, I suspect that Raspail is right in his anatomizing of our public intellectuals, media types and politicians who, “bound by all the new taboos, conditioned by thirty years of intellectual terrorism,” have allowed their will to be “gelded of its instinct for self-preservation.” They are no match for what he calls “the Beast,” his term for the Western conscience made up of one part guilt for its colonial past, and one part a fashionable anti-racism which neutralizes any concerted effort to resist the future that is impending.
It seems evident that Raspail has exerted a formative influence on Bruckner’s thinking. “Remorse,” Bruckner writes in The Tyranny of Guilt, “has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.” We are no longer permitted to judge other cultures or systems of thought, “except by approving those whom we formerly oppressed.” Bruckner quotes a speech by leftist poet Louis Aragon, which is very much to the quivering point: ‘We are those who will always hold out our hands to the enemy.’ Such “destructive jubilance,” says Bruckner, which “subsists in our reflex to spontaneously blame ourselves for the planet’s ills” while at the same time reveling in the conviction of our moral sublimity, has become the order of the day. Despite his discomfort with catastrophic scenarios and prophetic indulgences, Bruckner expresses his true apprehensions in a short, unvarnished statement: “The future of the West is self-destruction.”
The real Pascal Bruckner stands up here. And he may be right.
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