The compilers of today’s NRO’s web briefing have linked to a piece from City Journal by Pascal Bruckner, a French writer and philosopher, on Europe’s guilty conscience. It’s well worth reading, but do so with care. The topic is the sense of guilt that Europeans are meant to feel about their past, but, as I read on, it was impossible to avoid the conclusion that Professor Bruckner has succumbed to the temptation of assuming that the supposed values of Europe’s elites are those of the European in the street. In the age of the post-democratic EU, that’s an understandable mistake to make, but I still read lines like this with amazement:
. . . since the end of World War II, Europe has been tormented by a need to repent. Brooding over its past crimes (slavery, imperialism, fascism, communism), Europe sees its history as a series of murders and depredations that culminated in two global conflicts. The average European, male or female, is an extremely sensitive being, always ready to feel pity for the world’s sorrows and to take responsibility for them, always asking what the North can do for the South rather than asking what the South can do for itself. Those born after World War II are endowed with the certainty of belonging to the dregs of humanity, an execrable civilization that has dominated and pillaged most of the world for centuries in the name of the superiority of the white man.
As a description of what “average Europeans” think, this is close to nonsense. Of course, there are quite a few Europeans who feel or claim to feel the way that Professor Bruckner describes, but most of them belong to the continent’s governing class, a class that now spends a great deal of its time trying to convince its distinctly skeptical fellow citizens that they share the proudly proclaimed morality of their bien-pensant betters.
To be fair, Bruckner goes on to make a fine case showing how this sense of guilt (which he describes in more detail in the rest of the piece) is overdone, and how disastrous its consequences are becoming. Nevertheless, by missing the key distinction between the views of Europe’s elite and those of its people, he misses the way in which “guilt” is being used by the elite as a device to drain power (and justify draining power) from uncouth electorates and, of course, the nation-states that are, unforgivably, the reasonably authentic expressions of the populations that live within them.
Why should the elite behave this way? Well, some of them may be sincere (every ideology has its true believers), and some may have convinced themselves that they are sincere, but for the most part power — and what flows from power — is, as always, the answer. And if the consequences for future generations are as dire as Bruckner (not unreasonably) suggests, what of it? To quote the words of the member of an earlier member of Europe’s elite: Après Moi le Deluge.