The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism

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Overview

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.
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Editorial Reviews

National Interest Online
In the end, Bruckner's real theme is something deeper and broader: Western guilt and the resulting lack of self-belief. Again, he sees the origins of this in a guilty conscience, and there is an echo here of debates sixty or more years ago over Communism.
— Geoffrey Wheatcroft
Wall Street Journal
Mr. Bruckner cites literary figures, journalists and intellectuals throughout the Western world making the case that whatever punishment the West has been made to suffer—e.g., the horrors of 9/11—are merely well deserved.
National Review
When it comes to the sweaty metabolism of guilt, Bruckner is perhaps the most accomplished anatomist since Nietzsche. (He is also, like Nietzsche, an extraordinary stylist, commanding a sinewy, memorably epigrammatic prose.) . . . Ferociously intelligent, passionately argued, stylistically brilliant.
— Roger Kimball
New Republic
That Bruckner's talents defy classification might help to account for the relatively understated reception of his work on this side of the Atlantic. This situation is likely to change soon: along with The Tyranny of Guilt, Princeton University Press will also publish Perpetual Euphoria. . . . Bruckner is a bold and eloquent and important thinker.
— Richard Wolin
The Independent
Bruckner shows how selective we are about teaching history and how our media is obsessed with only one struggle (Israel/Palestine) while ignoring others (Sudan/Darfur). The essay, translated into clear American English, is provocative, scholarly and accessible.
— Julia Pascal
The Observer
[The Tyranny of Guilt] is a work of bracing lucidity and exhilarating perception. . . . Europe needs to rethink its attitude towards its past if it is to build a more inclusive and dynamic future. As this exceptional book so emphatically shows, guilt is a luxury we can no longer afford.
— Andrew Anthony
Literary Review
The Tyranny of Guilt is one of the landmark books of our time. With humour, depth, breadth, restraint and great insight Bruckner diagnoses an infuriating era. . . . Pascal Bruckner's short book is one of the most vital published in recent years. If the civilisation which it explains survives then I suspect his book will have played as important a part as any piece of writing could in determining that outcome.
— Douglas Murray
The Australian
Bruckner's originality lies in taking the narcissism of Western guilt and using the old distinction between repentance, where one resolves to find absolution by doing better, and remorse, where one wallows in perpetual penitence, to create a synthesis of great explanatory power.
— Nick Cohen
Australian
Bruckner, a French intellectual, argues brilliantly if controversially it's high time the West lighten up, bring historical perspective to itself, celebrate its more prosperous institutions, and stop hamstringing its relations with other groups.
— Miriam Cosic
Irish Independent
[Bruckner's] basic thesis is that the entire western world is addicted to wallowing in guilt about the past, and that the root of it all is roughly religious—stemming from the notion of original sin. Bruckner's most vivid illustration of our addiction to guilt is that so many thinkers and commentators could greet the murder of 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, with cries of 'we had it coming.'
New Criterion
As the Obama administration and congressional Democrats work to make the United States a more European-style society, The Tyranny of Guilt arrives at the right time (and kudos to Princeton University Press for publishing such a bracing, politically incorrect book). Pascal Bruckner, who remains a man of the left in some sense, recognizes the true genius of the West—and the capacity of its brightest minds to forget that genius or, worse, condemn it.
— Brian Anderson
National Post
[Pascal Bruckner's] angry book could change a whole civilization's opinion, if only that civilization had sense enough to pay attention.
— Robert Fulford
National Interest
In the end, Bruckner's real theme is something deeper and broader: Western guilt and the resulting lack of self-belief. Again, he sees the origins of this in a guilty conscience, and there is an echo here of debates sixty or more years ago over Communism.
— Geoffrey Wheatcroft
National Review Online
These provocative statements undergird Bruckner's brilliant polemic arguing that European remorse for the sins of imperialism, fascism, and racism has gripped the continent to the point of stifling its creativity, destroying its self-confidence, and depleting its optimism.
— Daniel Pipes
Prospect
As a result of his literary background and immersion in the fiery French essayist tradition, he writes in a sparkling prose, captured well here by his translator, Steven Rendall. The resulting tone is redolent for Anglo-Saxon readers of an earlier era, when social critics like Marx or Nietzsche conveyed their ideas with combative gravitas. Beneath Bruckner's eloquence is a serious message: we remain prisoners of a white guilt whose victim is its supposed beneficiary. . . . [T]his is a stirring and important book.
— Eric Kaufmann
Daily Beast
In Pascal Bruckner's recent essay The Tyranny of Guilt, we finally get an argument that should move those ready away from the masochistic acceptance of blame for every bad thing in the world.
— Stanley Crouch
Standpoint Magazine
[M]agnificent.
Publishers Weekly
In a critique of the West’s postcolonial self-flagellating tendencies that is both fascinating and repellent, prize-winning French novelist and essayist Bruckner (Tears of the White Man) offers a broad defense of neoliberal democracy as a force for progress, enlightenment, and emancipation. In polemical tones, the author identifies how the aftermath of WWII and postcolonial liberation movements spawned a pathology of remorse and guilt corrupting the European self-image that was maintained by its own intelligentsia and by a variety of immigrants, Islamists, and Arabs. Though the book offers insightful analyses of how discourses of guilt and self-hatred can serve to mask self-glorification and assertions of cultural superiority, it is marred by a monolithic, often Franco-centric view of Europe, a tendency toward overgeneralization, and an almost total disregard for how global economic concerns and practices are linked to international dissatisfactions with the behavior of Western democracies. Nonetheless, as a work that takes seriously the challenges posed by multiculturalism and the changing face of Europe, it is a worthy attempt to resuscitate the ideals of progressive enlightenment, political action, and civic pride. (Mar.)
Library Journal
The French writer Bruckner (Tears of the White Man) seeks to examine the guilt that European countries, and France in particular, feel for past evils committed by their governments. European intellectuals and philosophers have assisted this guilt by denouncing the West and emphasizing its past crimes of racism, colonialism, and genocide. This has led to relativism and doubt where Europeans are afraid to denounce militant groups and tyrannical governments for fear of seeming like the oppressor. While Bruckner acknowledges that Europe is responsible for many past atrocities and crimes, he argues that their innocence cannot be reclaimed. They should stop questioning their democratic ideals and instead emulate the United States by showing other nations the benefits of human rights, open elections, and respect for principles. VERDICT Bruckner's book is controversial at times, but he does a wonderful job of combining passionate writing with a well-argued critique of modern Europe. It will appeal to scholars and readers with an interest in European thought and politics.—Scott Duimstra, Lansing, MI
Literary Review
The Tyranny of Guilt is one of the landmark books of our time. With humour, depth, breadth, restraint and great insight Bruckner diagnoses an infuriating era. . . . Pascal Bruckner's short book is one of the most vital published in recent years. If the civilisation which it explains survives then I suspect his book will have played as important a part as any piece of writing could in determining that outcome.
— Douglas Murray
New Criterion
As the Obama administration and congressional Democrats work to make the United States a more European-style society, The Tyranny of Guilt arrives at the right time (and kudos to Princeton University Press for publishing such a bracing, politically incorrect book). Pascal Bruckner, who remains a man of the left in some sense, recognizes the true genius of the West—and the capacity of its brightest minds to forget that genius or, worse, condemn it.
— Brian Anderson
Australian
Bruckner, a French intellectual, argues brilliantly if controversially it's high time the West lighten up, bring historical perspective to itself, celebrate its more prosperous institutions, and stop hamstringing its relations with other groups.
— Miriam Cosic
Wall Street Journal
Mr. Bruckner cites literary figures, journalists and intellectuals throughout the Western world making the case that whatever punishment the West has been made to suffer—e.g., the horrors of 9/11—are merely well deserved.
National Post
[Pascal Bruckner's] angry book could change a whole civilization's opinion, if only that civilization had sense enough to pay attention.
— Robert Fulford
National Interest
In the end, Bruckner's real theme is something deeper and broader: Western guilt and the resulting lack of self-belief. Again, he sees the origins of this in a guilty conscience, and there is an echo here of debates sixty or more years ago over Communism.
— Geoffrey Wheatcroft
Standpoint Magazine
[M]agnificent.
National Review Online
These provocative statements undergird Bruckner's brilliant polemic arguing that European remorse for the sins of imperialism, fascism, and racism has gripped the continent to the point of stifling its creativity, destroying its self-confidence, and depleting its optimism.
— Daniel Pipes
Daily Beast
In Pascal Bruckner's recent essay The Tyranny of Guilt, we finally get an argument that should move those ready away from the masochistic acceptance of blame for every bad thing in the world.
— Stanley Crouch
Irish Independent
[Bruckner's] basic thesis is that the entire western world is addicted to wallowing in guilt about the past, and that the root of it all is roughly religious—stemming from the notion of original sin. Bruckner's most vivid illustration of our addiction to guilt is that so many thinkers and commentators could greet the murder of 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, with cries of 'we had it coming.'
The Independent
Bruckner shows how selective we are about teaching history and how our media is obsessed with only one struggle (Israel/Palestine) while ignoring others (Sudan/Darfur). The essay, translated into clear American English, is provocative, scholarly and accessible.
— Julia Pascal
The Australian
Bruckner's originality lies in taking the narcissism of Western guilt and using the old distinction between repentance, where one resolves to find absolution by doing better, and remorse, where one wallows in perpetual penitence, to create a synthesis of great explanatory power.
— Nick Cohen
The Observer
[The Tyranny of Guilt] is a work of bracing lucidity and exhilarating perception. . . . Europe needs to rethink its attitude towards its past if it is to build a more inclusive and dynamic future. As this exceptional book so emphatically shows, guilt is a luxury we can no longer afford.
— Andrew Anthony
New Republic
That Bruckner's talents defy classification might help to account for the relatively understated reception of his work on this side of the Atlantic. This situation is likely to change soon: along with The Tyranny of Guilt, Princeton University Press will also publish Perpetual Euphoria. . . . Bruckner is a bold and eloquent and important thinker.
— Richard Wolin
National Review
When it comes to the sweaty metabolism of guilt, Bruckner is perhaps the most accomplished anatomist since Nietzsche. (He is also, like Nietzsche, an extraordinary stylist, commanding a sinewy, memorably epigrammatic prose.) . . . Ferociously intelligent, passionately argued, stylistically brilliant.
— Roger Kimball
Prospect
As a result of his literary background and immersion in the fiery French essayist tradition, he writes in a sparkling prose, captured well here by his translator, Steven Rendall. The resulting tone is redolent for Anglo-Saxon readers of an earlier era, when social critics like Marx or Nietzsche conveyed their ideas with combative gravitas. Beneath Bruckner's eloquence is a serious message: we remain prisoners of a white guilt whose victim is its supposed beneficiary. . . . [T]his is a stirring and important book.
— Eric Kaufmann
Spiked
It's no put-down of Pascal Bruckner's latest book to say I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoyed the Daily Express, although his canvas is bigger and his style more literary and erudite. . . . In this work, [Bruckner] has many shrewd insights into contemporary Europe.
— Tara McCormack
Society
Pascal Bruckner has written a passionate meditation that many, especially on the Left, will find provocative. One might even hope that this little book will awaken European thinkers from their dogmatic slumber and lead them to consider the advantages and disadvantages of history for European civic life.
— Daniel DiSalvo
Literary Review - Douglas Murray
The Tyranny of Guilt is one of the landmark books of our time. With humour, depth, breadth, restraint and great insight Bruckner diagnoses an infuriating era. . . . Pascal Bruckner's short book is one of the most vital published in recent years. If the civilisation which it explains survives then I suspect his book will have played as important a part as any piece of writing could in determining that outcome.
New Republic - Richard Wolin
That Bruckner's talents defy classification might help to account for the relatively understated reception of his work on this side of the Atlantic. This situation is likely to change soon: along with The Tyranny of Guilt, Princeton University Press will also publish Perpetual Euphoria. . . . Bruckner is a bold and eloquent and important thinker.
The Observer - Andrew Anthony
[The Tyranny of Guilt] is a work of bracing lucidity and exhilarating perception. . . . Europe needs to rethink its attitude towards its past if it is to build a more inclusive and dynamic future. As this exceptional book so emphatically shows, guilt is a luxury we can no longer afford.
National Review - Roger Kimball
When it comes to the sweaty metabolism of guilt, Bruckner is perhaps the most accomplished anatomist since Nietzsche. (He is also, like Nietzsche, an extraordinary stylist, commanding a sinewy, memorably epigrammatic prose.) . . . Ferociously intelligent, passionately argued, stylistically brilliant.
Prospect - Eric Kaufmann
As a result of his literary background and immersion in the fiery French essayist tradition, he writes in a sparkling prose, captured well here by his translator, Steven Rendall. The resulting tone is redolent for Anglo-Saxon readers of an earlier era, when social critics like Marx or Nietzsche conveyed their ideas with combative gravitas. Beneath Bruckner's eloquence is a serious message: we remain prisoners of a white guilt whose victim is its supposed beneficiary. . . . [T]his is a stirring and important book.
National Post - Robert Fulford
[Pascal Bruckner's] angry book could change a whole civilization's opinion, if only that civilization had sense enough to pay attention.
National Interest - Geoffrey Wheatcroft
In the end, Bruckner's real theme is something deeper and broader: Western guilt and the resulting lack of self-belief. Again, he sees the origins of this in a guilty conscience, and there is an echo here of debates sixty or more years ago over Communism.
National Review Online - Daniel Pipes
These provocative statements undergird Bruckner's brilliant polemic arguing that European remorse for the sins of imperialism, fascism, and racism has gripped the continent to the point of stifling its creativity, destroying its self-confidence, and depleting its optimism.
The Independent - Julia Pascal
Bruckner shows how selective we are about teaching history and how our media is obsessed with only one struggle (Israel/Palestine) while ignoring others (Sudan/Darfur). The essay, translated into clear American English, is provocative, scholarly and accessible.
Daily Beast - Stanley Crouch
In Pascal Bruckner's recent essay The Tyranny of Guilt, we finally get an argument that should move those ready away from the masochistic acceptance of blame for every bad thing in the world.
The Australian - Nick Cohen
Bruckner's originality lies in taking the narcissism of Western guilt and using the old distinction between repentance, where one resolves to find absolution by doing better, and remorse, where one wallows in perpetual penitence, to create a synthesis of great explanatory power.
New Criterion - Brian Anderson
As the Obama administration and congressional Democrats work to make the United States a more European-style society, The Tyranny of Guilt arrives at the right time (and kudos to Princeton University Press for publishing such a bracing, politically incorrect book). Pascal Bruckner, who remains a man of the left in some sense, recognizes the true genius of the West—and the capacity of its brightest minds to forget that genius or, worse, condemn it.
Australian - Miriam Cosic
Bruckner, a French intellectual, argues brilliantly if controversially it's high time the West lighten up, bring historical perspective to itself, celebrate its more prosperous institutions, and stop hamstringing its relations with other groups.
Spiked - Tara McCormack
It's no put-down of Pascal Bruckner's latest book to say I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoyed the Daily Express, although his canvas is bigger and his style more literary and erudite. . . . In this work, [Bruckner] has many shrewd insights into contemporary Europe.
Society - Daniel DiSalvo
Pascal Bruckner has written a passionate meditation that many, especially on the Left, will find provocative. One might even hope that this little book will awaken European thinkers from their dogmatic slumber and lead them to consider the advantages and disadvantages of history for European civic life.
From the Publisher
"The Tyranny of Guilt is one of the landmark books of our time. With humour, depth, breadth, restraint and great insight Bruckner diagnoses an infuriating era. . . . Pascal Bruckner's short book is one of the most vital published in recent years. If the civilisation which it explains survives then I suspect his book will have played as important a part as any piece of writing could in determining that outcome."—Douglas Murray, Literary Review

"That Bruckner's talents defy classification might help to account for the relatively understated reception of his work on this side of the Atlantic. This situation is likely to change soon: along with The Tyranny of Guilt, Princeton University Press will also publish Perpetual Euphoria. . . . Bruckner is a bold and eloquent and important thinker."—Richard Wolin, New Republic

"[The Tyranny of Guilt] is a work of bracing lucidity and exhilarating perception. . . . Europe needs to rethink its attitude towards its past if it is to build a more inclusive and dynamic future. As this exceptional book so emphatically shows, guilt is a luxury we can no longer afford."—Andrew Anthony, The Observer

"When it comes to the sweaty metabolism of guilt, Bruckner is perhaps the most accomplished anatomist since Nietzsche. (He is also, like Nietzsche, an extraordinary stylist, commanding a sinewy, memorably epigrammatic prose.) . . . Ferociously intelligent, passionately argued, stylistically brilliant."—Roger Kimball, National Review

"As a result of his literary background and immersion in the fiery French essayist tradition, he writes in a sparkling prose, captured well here by his translator, Steven Rendall. The resulting tone is redolent for Anglo-Saxon readers of an earlier era, when social critics like Marx or Nietzsche conveyed their ideas with combative gravitas. Beneath Bruckner's eloquence is a serious message: we remain prisoners of a white guilt whose victim is its supposed beneficiary. . . . [T]his is a stirring and important book."—Eric Kaufmann, Prospect

"Mr. Bruckner cites literary figures, journalists and intellectuals throughout the Western world making the case that whatever punishment the West has been made to suffer—e.g., the horrors of 9/11—are merely well deserved."—Wall Street Journal

"Bruckner's book is controversial at times, but he does a wonderful job of combining passionate writing with a well-argued critique of modern Europe."—Library Journal

"[Pascal Bruckner's] angry book could change a whole civilization's opinion, if only that civilization had sense enough to pay attention."—Robert Fulford, National Post

"In the end, Bruckner's real theme is something deeper and broader: Western guilt and the resulting lack of self-belief. Again, he sees the origins of this in a guilty conscience, and there is an echo here of debates sixty or more years ago over Communism."—Geoffrey Wheatcroft, National Interest

"[M]agnificent."—Standpoint Magazine
"These provocative statements undergird Bruckner's brilliant polemic arguing that European remorse for the sins of imperialism, fascism, and racism has gripped the continent to the point of stifling its creativity, destroying its self-confidence, and depleting its optimism."—Daniel Pipes, National Review Online

"Bruckner shows how selective we are about teaching history and how our media is obsessed with only one struggle (Israel/Palestine) while ignoring others (Sudan/Darfur). The essay, translated into clear American English, is provocative, scholarly and accessible."—Julia Pascal, The Independent

"In Pascal Bruckner's recent essay The Tyranny of Guilt, we finally get an argument that should move those ready away from the masochistic acceptance of blame for every bad thing in the world."—Stanley Crouch, Daily Beast

"Bruckner's originality lies in taking the narcissism of Western guilt and using the old distinction between repentance, where one resolves to find absolution by doing better, and remorse, where one wallows in perpetual penitence, to create a synthesis of great explanatory power."—Nick Cohen, The Australian

"As the Obama administration and congressional Democrats work to make the United States a more European-style society, The Tyranny of Guilt arrives at the right time (and kudos to Princeton University Press for publishing such a bracing, politically incorrect book). Pascal Bruckner, who remains a man of the left in some sense, recognizes the true genius of the West—and the capacity of its brightest minds to forget that genius or, worse, condemn it."—Brian Anderson, New Criterion

"[Bruckner's] basic thesis is that the entire western world is addicted to wallowing in guilt about the past, and that the root of it all is roughly religious—stemming from the notion of original sin. Bruckner's most vivid illustration of our addiction to guilt is that so many thinkers and commentators could greet the murder of 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, with cries of 'we had it coming.'"—Irish Independent

"Bruckner, a French intellectual, argues brilliantly if controversially it's high time the West lighten up, bring historical perspective to itself, celebrate its more prosperous institutions, and stop hamstringing its relations with other groups."—Miriam Cosic, Australian

"It's no put-down of Pascal Bruckner's latest book to say I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoyed the Daily Express, although his canvas is bigger and his style more literary and erudite. . . . In this work, [Bruckner] has many shrewd insights into contemporary Europe."—Tara McCormack, Spiked

"Pascal Bruckner has written a passionate meditation that many, especially on the Left, will find provocative. One might even hope that this little book will awaken European thinkers from their dogmatic slumber and lead them to consider the advantages and disadvantages of history for European civic life."—Daniel DiSalvo, Society

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691143767
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/21/2010
  • Pages: 239
  • Sales rank: 1,108,367
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Pascal Bruckner is the award-winning author of many books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel "Bitter Moon", which was made into a film by Roman Polanski. Bruckner's nonfiction books include "Perpetual Euphoria" and "The Paradox of Love" (both Princeton).

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Chapter One: Guilt Peddlers 5
The Irremediable and Despondency 6
The Ideology That Stammers 9
The Self-Flagellants of the Western World 13
A Thirst for Punishment 22

Chapter Two: The Pathologies of Debt 27
Placing the Enemy in One's Heart 28
The Vanities of Self-Hatred 33
One-Way Repentance 40
The False Quarrel over Islamophobia 47

Chapter Three: Innocence Recovered 57
How Central Is the Near East? 59
"Zionism, the Criminal DNA of Humanity" 62
Unmasking the Usurper 67
A Delicate Arbitrage 74
America Doubly Damned 80

Chapter Four: The Fanaticism of Modesty 87
A Tardy Conversion to Virtue 88
The Empire of Emptiness 90
The Pacification of the Past 93
The Guilty Imagination 96
Recovering Self-Esteem 100
The Twofold Lesson 106

Chapter Five: The Second Golgotha 111
Misinterpretations of Auschwitz 113
Hitlerizing History 117
The Twofold Colonial Nostalgia 127

Chapter Six: Listen to My Suffering 139
On Victimization as a Career 140
Protect Minorities or Emancipate the Individual? 148
What Duty of Memory? 157

Chapter Seven: Depression in Paradise: France, a Symptom and Caricature of Europe 167
A Universal Victim? 168
The Wild Ass's Skin 176
Who Are the Reactionaries? 179
The Triumph of Fear 183
Metamorphosis or Decline? 186

Chapter Eight: Doubt and Faith: The Quarrel between Europe and the United States 193
To Be or to Have 194
The Troublemakers in History 199
The Archaism of the Soldier 203
The Swaggering Colossus 207

Conclusion 215
Postscript to the English Translation 223
Index 229

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