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I have had occasion, in various articles and books, including a previous posting on this site, to refer with approval to the work of Pascal Bruckner, a member of the distinguished fraternity of Nouveaux Philosophes, or New Philosophers, in France and a major political essayist. He was one of the radical youth who earned his popular colors in the student uprising of May 1968, marching in the streets, holding banners aloft and adopting its revolutionary slogans. But unlike the majority of his contemporaries, he managed to resist the temptation of cheap iconoclasm and antinomian fervor to emerge in the course of time as a sane, thoughtful and leading conservative thinker commanding a wide and respectful audience.
But I do not read him entirely without criticism. Regardless of a certain aphoristic flair and a gift for the memorable phrase, his books are structured in the manner of patristic exegesis: an exordium, a long development and a homiletic conclusion, which imparts a medieval flavor to his argumentation. There is also a soupçon of the classical rhetorical tradition, with its three-stage pattern, inventio (selection of a thesis), dispositio (arrangement of material), and amplificatio (concluding with a homily and an exhortation).
It is primarily in this latter portion of his texts that his romantic nature comes to the fore, culminating in a series of radiant didacticisms and preachments. There is a touching innocence about his work accompanied, for all his undeniable astuteness, by patches of unawareness: he does not seem to know what is transpiring on American campuses—rampant leftist indoctrination, Israel Apartheid Weeks—though he has taught in the United States, and his knowledge of Middle East affairs, on which he comments extensively, is woefully lacking in detail and historical background.
There is, in effect, a curious insularity in his theoretical globality. And his confidence that Europe in its wisdom has much to offer the United States in its swaggering naivety is utterly misplaced, an expression, really, of that European conviction of supremacy which Bruckner has often condemned but from which he has not been able to free himself entirely. His unhappiness over what he conceives, in his most recent political book The Tyranny of Guilt, as the American tendency “to place itself above the common law of nations,” as its “dubious guerilla campaign against the International Court of Justice in the Hague” and “against the UN which it pursues the better to reject it afterward,” reveals a strain of Gallic smugness in his thinking and a certain complacency before the facts.
Of course, he could not foresee the ascendancy of Barack Obama, who would follow his recipe for the political meringue of global accommodation. Despite the audacity of his intellectual peregrinations, it sometimes seems as if Bruckner also maintains an office in the Berlaymont Building. Although, I am glad to say, he is no propitiator, far from it, nevertheless, there is a pocket of complaisance in his thinking in which the colonies of appeasers breeding prolifically in the Western world may find a certain comfort.
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