Magazine May 17, 2010, Issue

The West’s Burden

Detail of Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, by Rembrandt (1653) (Public domain / Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, by Pascal Bruckner (Princeton, 256 pp., $26.95)

Ihave always regarded guilt as an overrated emotion. I am not, nota bene, speaking about genuine repentance, through which one acknowledges a fault, makes what amends one can, and then gets on with things. Rather, I am talking about remorse, the hothouse-bred allotrope of repentance. What’s the difference? For one thing, repentance aims at expiation. Remorse aims at emotional enslavement. Forgetting, or at least recognizing a statute of limitations about airing the tort, is a beneficent codicil to effective repentance. Remorse recognizes no terminus. “Remorse does not repent of its sin,” observes Pascal Bruckner in his remarkable new book The

Roger Kimball — Mr. Kimball is publisher of Encounter Books, and co-editor and publisher of The New Criterion.

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