Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pascal Bruckner

Required Reading

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

Read Less

Why Does the New York Times Only Cover Some Kinds of Anti-Semitism?

Here’s a pop quiz that I’m sure nobody will have a hard time passing: Which of the following two stories made it into the New York Times?

1. One of the top leaders of Hamas, Mahmoud Zahar, a man who has been written about on hundreds of occasions in the Times, responded to the dedication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem by delivering a viciously anti-Semitic rant in which he promised the annihilation of Israel and said that the Jews “killed and murdered your prophets” and “have always dealt in loan-sharking” and are “destined to be destroyed.”

2. A Vatican preacher compared condemnation of the Church over its sex-abuse scandal to the persecution of Jews, remarks from which Church officials immediately distanced themselves.

The first story, of course, was not covered. The second was not just covered, but given above-the-fold, front page treatment. Why is this?

Is it because this is Easter weekend? This fact probably elevates media interest a little bit — but enough to land the story on the front page? Maybe it’s because Jewish groups complained about the sermon? Sure, but Jewish groups routinely complain about anti-Semitism and incitement and are routinely greeted with yawns from the press. So why the different treatment?

The reason, I think, is because the Times is a left-wing paper and adheres to one of the central tenets of enlightened progressivism: people who can be identified as Third World, or who are not members of the Judeo-Christian/European world, must not be held to the same standards to which white, First World people are held. This double-standard — it is the racism of the enlightened — pervades the treatment of different cultures and religions in the strongholds of Western liberalism, that is, in the media, academia, and the “human rights” community.

The fact of the matter is that the most violent and genocidal kinds of anti-Semitic (and anti-Christian, and anti-American) hate speech are commonplace in the Muslim Middle East, yet are covered in the West only by boutique outlets such as MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch. But when a white, Christian, European makes a statement that really is far more insensitive and dumb than it is anti-Semitic, not only does it land on the front page of the New York Times, but it is given sensational media coverage throughout the western world. The key factor is not the offense itself — it is the religious or cultural identity of the person who has committed the offense.

As Charles Jacobs one wrote,

To predict what the human rights community (and the media) focus on, look not at the oppressed; look instead at the party seen as the oppressor. Imagine the media coverage and the rights groups’ reaction if it were “whites” enslaving blacks in Sudan. Having the “right” oppressor would change everything.

This is because, as Pascal Bruckner points out in his magnificent new book, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, progressivism is obsessed with a belief in the hypocrisy and guilt of Western Civilization, and therefore with the need for repentance. “The duty to repent forbids the Western bloc, which is eternally guilty, to judge or combat other systems, other states, other religions. Our past crimes command us to keep our mouths closed. Our only right is to remain silent.”

We can see the truth of this thesis before our eyes today: the mildly offensive words of a Vatican preacher get front-page scrutiny. The genocidal hatred of a Hamas leader doesn’t even make it into the paper.

Here’s a pop quiz that I’m sure nobody will have a hard time passing: Which of the following two stories made it into the New York Times?

1. One of the top leaders of Hamas, Mahmoud Zahar, a man who has been written about on hundreds of occasions in the Times, responded to the dedication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem by delivering a viciously anti-Semitic rant in which he promised the annihilation of Israel and said that the Jews “killed and murdered your prophets” and “have always dealt in loan-sharking” and are “destined to be destroyed.”

2. A Vatican preacher compared condemnation of the Church over its sex-abuse scandal to the persecution of Jews, remarks from which Church officials immediately distanced themselves.

The first story, of course, was not covered. The second was not just covered, but given above-the-fold, front page treatment. Why is this?

Is it because this is Easter weekend? This fact probably elevates media interest a little bit — but enough to land the story on the front page? Maybe it’s because Jewish groups complained about the sermon? Sure, but Jewish groups routinely complain about anti-Semitism and incitement and are routinely greeted with yawns from the press. So why the different treatment?

The reason, I think, is because the Times is a left-wing paper and adheres to one of the central tenets of enlightened progressivism: people who can be identified as Third World, or who are not members of the Judeo-Christian/European world, must not be held to the same standards to which white, First World people are held. This double-standard — it is the racism of the enlightened — pervades the treatment of different cultures and religions in the strongholds of Western liberalism, that is, in the media, academia, and the “human rights” community.

The fact of the matter is that the most violent and genocidal kinds of anti-Semitic (and anti-Christian, and anti-American) hate speech are commonplace in the Muslim Middle East, yet are covered in the West only by boutique outlets such as MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch. But when a white, Christian, European makes a statement that really is far more insensitive and dumb than it is anti-Semitic, not only does it land on the front page of the New York Times, but it is given sensational media coverage throughout the western world. The key factor is not the offense itself — it is the religious or cultural identity of the person who has committed the offense.

As Charles Jacobs one wrote,

To predict what the human rights community (and the media) focus on, look not at the oppressed; look instead at the party seen as the oppressor. Imagine the media coverage and the rights groups’ reaction if it were “whites” enslaving blacks in Sudan. Having the “right” oppressor would change everything.

This is because, as Pascal Bruckner points out in his magnificent new book, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, progressivism is obsessed with a belief in the hypocrisy and guilt of Western Civilization, and therefore with the need for repentance. “The duty to repent forbids the Western bloc, which is eternally guilty, to judge or combat other systems, other states, other religions. Our past crimes command us to keep our mouths closed. Our only right is to remain silent.”

We can see the truth of this thesis before our eyes today: the mildly offensive words of a Vatican preacher get front-page scrutiny. The genocidal hatred of a Hamas leader doesn’t even make it into the paper.

Read Less