A Self-Contained World

Pascal Bruckner is a French version of the Cold War liberal, updated for the age of jihad.  In general, his views would be at home in blue-state America.  He is pro-E.U. and pro-affirmative action, takes a more positive view of the free market than is common in France, is generally pro-Israel and pro-American, and favors a moderate version of the “War on Terror.”  He is also a strong proponent of lifestyle liberalism, with its emphasis on nondiscrimination, personal autonomy, and hedonism.

The point of his book is to defend such principles against what he calls “Western masochism” or “the tyranny of guilt”: the view that the West should always give way because it is eternally guilty, its history an endless series of crimes, while all others are spotless victims.  The author cites instances of such attitudes, and most readers can supply their own.  His response to them is immanent cultural and psychological criticism of the European intellectual class.  The criticisms he presents are well expressed, to the point, and often quite penetrating.

On the author’s account, Western guilt serves a variety of functions.  Some are quite obvious, as when it provides unjustified psychic and material benefits to those who claim to be victims.  “In our age of loudly displayed enjoyment,” he says, “affliction still runs the show.  Anyone who seizes...

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