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The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  371 ratings  ·  47 reviews
Why the West must overcome its guilty conscience to foster a better global future

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 bec
Hardcover, 239 pages
Published February 25th 2010 by Princeton University Press (first published 2006)
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Apr 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Quite excellent in its erudite and stinging execution, this necessary essay expounding upon the modern era's debilitatingly pervasive Cult of Culpability, and its attendant spiritual morbidity, aligns itself remarkably well as a complementary companion piece to Walter Russell Mead's God and Gold. Much as in the work that I've read of Chantal Delsol, Bruckner, a kindred French thinker, focusses the majority of his powers of observation upon his homeland—yet not only does his gaze allow itself to ...more
Think of this book as a work of philosophy. A French intellectual is challenging the thinking of his contemporaries who chose to deride the accomplishments of their own culture. The writing is very French – not only is it about the perspective as seen from France, but the writing style itself is very florid. Personally I thought some of it was very eloquent. It seems many people disagree with me and found it difficult to read.

He is not attacking irrelevant straw men. These intellectuals are the
May 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
What started as a decent and well-constructed study on the feelings of shame and guilt of Europe turned out to be a biased, narrow-minded read spewing hatred towards islam and eulogizing zionism and the Zionist Construction. Eloquently written, regarding the content however it is too many times inaccurate and not much worth.
Jim Coughenour
From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the the latter's hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance.

Thus begins Pascal Bruckner's entertaining, occasionally brilliant denunciation of the denunciators – who are, more or less, all of us.

It would be easy to lump Bruckner in with disillusioned Anglo-American liberals such as Paul Berman or Christ
John David
Jun 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a powerfully argued, in many ways persuasive, intelligent book that I thought I would end up disliking because of Bruckner’s reputation as a political gadfly in Europe. The subject of the book would also put off a certain kind of American reader who might openly identify with the terms “liberal” or “progressive.” In a time when the French thinker can sometimes be more identified with the obscurantism of someone like Jean Baudrillard, Bruckner much more closely resembles someone like Ray ...more
Feb 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Lucid and prescient would be the best way to describe this short book/essay. Despite his egalitarian/pluralist bent Pascal Bruckner does not, as many liberals, turn a blind eye to the dubiousness of the Western guilt complex.

He does not accept it as dogma prima facie that 'The West' is guilty in an unqualified sense, nor does he accept the pious pleading for absolution as a necessary or desirable phenomenon amongst our peoples.

References to important thinkers: Nietzsche, Lichtenberg, Thucydide
Jan 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politiek
Guilt must be the Christian principle par excellence. Obviously it is a healthy element that helps to discipline both individuals and societies. But as Aristoteles has taught us, a virtue should be moderate. The current European is paralyzed by guilt, masochism and fear. Both the left (Aragon, Chomsky) and Third World countries help to exploit this feeling. The former because they thrive on chaos, the latter mostly for financial reasons. Paradoxically, millions immigrants still want to invade th ...more
Aug 18, 2011 rated it did not like it
I read fairly happily until page 31. I thought, until that moment, that perhaps the translation was inadequate to convey the subtleties of Bruckner's arguments, but suspected that the fault lay with Bruckner himself. Indeed it appears to me that he is slightly mad.

The premise here is that the West isn't only bad, and that it's not only Western governments that have inflicted evil. I agree and enjoyed the beginning of this wild and provocative ride. But only sentences after arguing that forcing b
Aurélien Thomas
Feb 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
We've been living baffling times. Human Right activists and Humanists of all sides surely are right in agreeing upon one point: from slavery to colonialism, the Western world has been guilty of awful deeds across the globe and for the past centuries. No one denies that, yet... Isn't it bizarre that such criticisms are more often than not turned only against the West, and is not applied to others -political regimes, foreign governments, religions, cultures... The 'others' have often been perceive ...more
Sep 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Lots of incisive phrasing and humor in this very serious book about how Western multiculturalism sells out Western values while denying full personhood to minorities. Protecting minority culture in the West creates "a legal apartheid in which we find the wealthy once again explaining tenderly to the poor that money won't make them happy: let us shoulder the burden of freedom, of inventing ourselves, of the equality of men and women; you have the joys of custom, forced marriages, the veil, polyga ...more
Michael Morgan
Feb 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent critique of cultural relativism, western guilt, and multiculturalism. While western society has produced injustices (colonialism, slavery, racism, massacre) it has also produced the antidotes - antislavery and abolition, anticolonialism, the belief in equality before the law, liberty, antiracism. The attitude that guilt over past western injustices should be atoned for by being uncritical towards other cultures is wrongheaded - it is atrophying for ourselves and also takes away the ...more
Kitty Red-Eye
In some ways, Bruckner is quite a mouthful. Combined with very learned references comes a very polemical style (I'm not sure when I might have read the word "plebeian" used non-ironical earlier, but it's not often and it's not recent). In Norwegian, when someone is put in his place, we say that that someone gets "to know where David bought the beer" - I don't know an English equivalent. In this book, Bruckner tells France, Europe, USA, the West and the rest of the world for good measure, "where ...more
Dirk Donavon
Jan 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Quite simply, this book is masterful and eloquent, and it translates beautifully from its original French. Pascale Bruckner's many talents are showcased here: at once, France's leading intellectual is a painter with words, a globalist philosopher, a left-leaning journalist. His tone is kind and compassionate one moment, scathing and sarcastic the next. Ultimately, Bruckner makes a case for unity between America and the European Union, while also detailing the cultural incompatibilities that sepa ...more
Oct 28, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
The intellectual farts of a French bureaucrat rehashing the school manual as own thoughts. In the end Bruckner's ideas are like asking a soccer star with a childhood experience in tending chicken what an investment bank should do next. A racist text that puts the abstraction of some recent institutions above human beings. ...more
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
A deeply uncomfortable read in the best possible way. Bruckner challenges left and right on their attitudes towards the West, antisemitism, islamophobia and guilt to make the point that we shouldn't lose sight of the good we've done. Not always convincing, but he does a good job of pushing your buttons. ...more
Aug 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Much wisdom here but not likely to convince those holding opposing views...
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Nothing is more western than hatred of the West.

An extended think piece, but wonderful as such. Bruckner champions a moderate answer to the problem of Europe's relationship with the rest of the world. Between war and peace there is politics, and it is the answer, not the passive relativism of the EU nor the aggressive world-policing of the US.

Brimming with bulls-eye aphorism-like stabs, such as: "The rebel used to be a man of the people who wanted to shock the bourgeois; now he is a bourgeois wh
Alex Stroshine
An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education described Pascal Bruckner as the "Gallic Christopher Hitchens," a French intellectual who outside his native country is more admired by conservatives than the left. I appreciated this punchy and eloquent jeremiad; according to Bruckner, Europe has replaced the Christian concept of original sin with the "tyranny of guilt." Europe is awash with remorse over its past crimes and tragedies, eagerly waiting for the next purported victim to come forward s ...more
Jonathan van Belle
Jan 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book is what happens when the French intelligentsia turns its literary (almost prolix) attention upon itself—critique of critique, with more paradoxical asides than a Shakespearean comedy. But aside from the purply polemical style, Bruckner’s political points are provocative and, I would argue, important to consider, if not integrate into a set of personal and social reforms, especially his primary points concerning the gentleness and fairness we will need to cultivate as every nation—witho ...more
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Pascal Bruckner clearly and successfully articulates my own thoughts and feelings concerning the West's heavy love affair with flagellating itself.

He makes so many good points and I certainly won't attempt to list them all here but a few:

That once upon a time the West had good reason to feel guilty of slavery, racism, genocide, fascism, communism, imperialism etc... but those days are gone. We are still apologizing for events that have happened hundreds of years ago. The most recent events, like
Sean Perrin
Jun 24, 2018 rated it did not like it
Here we have an amazingly long, meandering essay, coupled with needlessly ostentatious language that serves no purpose other than to satisfy the narcissistic literary whims of the author, albeit this may be because it’s an English translation of a book originally published in French. (Imagine every sentence in an entire book being like the one I just wrote, this gives a taste of the material).

The entire book should have been boiled down into a thousand word blog post. Its impact, reach, and abso
Jan 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Very interesting topic and many good points made. Like many French intellectuals Bruckner does sometimes waffle, as Foucault said (quoted by Chomsky) "if I don't make part of my work unintelligible, the French won't take me seriously". Bruckner spoils his argument by these pseudo-intellectual, unnecessarily complex verbal riffs. ...more
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
'The only war that ultimately matters, as we have known since the enlightenment, is the war of ideas that is waged day and night, attacking iniquities and denouncing scandals. it is this war, and not torture or bombing, that changes mentalities in depth, improves the condition of women and children, and leads religious believers to live their faith in a more tolerant way and to revise the most aggressive postulates of their sacred scriptures. This war has one defect: it is long. it extends beyon ...more
Vasil Kolev
Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pysch, must-read, politics
This book isn't easy to rate.

It's writing style is close to horrible - maybe because its original language is French, and maybe because the author likes overly poetical and complex sentences too much - which make the book pretty hard to read.

Most of the ideas are sound and have good footing, although there are some omissions - for example, there should've been more on the practical censorship implemented with "forbidden" topics, "hate speech" and such vague definitions of things that are illegal
Edward Podritske
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a challenging intellectual achievement to have identified the unwarranted guilt and self-deprecation that is characteristic of most of western culture, not just Europe.

Bruckner appears to slip into a sort of fundamental mysticism at times but one does not have to accept and certainly should disregard any arguments made from this sort of conception. This does not take away significantly from the overall value of this collection.

Bruckner is right. Europe and America need to shrug off the b
Apr 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Requiem and warning. Mr. Bruckner calls for Europe, France in particular, to recover its pride and elan in order to stop what he sees as the slow decay of liberal-democratic values. His points and facts are impressively marshaled and his erudition is evident, but to call this an essay is misleading. It's one extended jeremiad with little organization to it. Nevertheless, I recommend it for the object lessons it provides. What happened to Europe can certainly happen to America. Some would argue t ...more
Oct 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Explains for me much of contemporary thought in Western Europe.
History lesson in the Netherlands was mainly a moral lecture on how bad the Dutch army was during colonial times (even Zinn wouldn't agree with the format as he states that history should not be scholarly lecture on morals). Bruckner puts this in perspective. He also illustrates negative effects of on society of both regimes omitting to confess sins (France in the case of the Pied Noirs) and regimes that overdo it.
Giorgos Pappas
Aug 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bruckner some times takes a too black and white view of France, The USA and Europe. The interest of the book lies in the fact that this outlook of the european tendency to flagellation is in many ways outside the orthodox view of Europe. At a time that the european project faces it's harshest criticism due to the financial crisis, the book gives a much needed opportunity to think what we have achieved and not what we failed on, what binds us and not what separates us. ...more
Jake Goretzki
Mar 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Superb. About ten pages in, I gave up highlighting the 'YES! YES!' sections.

Splendid examination of anti-Americanism, anti-Israel, antisemitism and identity politics. And so refreshing that it's not one of 'ours' - the French angle is really welcome and provides a fresh set of examples. The story stands, of course, post Charlie Hebdo.

Manna for the Eustonite. (Secular) God Bless America.
Dec 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
The first four or five chapters are the best.
I did not care much about the chapter about France, but it would not have been truthful to the book not to be particular about one's own country.
The style makes it a little hard to read.
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Pascal Bruckner is a French writer, one of the "New Philosophers" who came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s. Much of his work has been devoted to critiques of French society and culture. He is the author of many books including The Tyranny of Guilt, Perpetual Euphoria and The Paradox of Love. He writes regularly for Le Nouvel Observateur. ...more

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4 likes · 3 comments
“We are not afraid of death,” the suicide bombers say to show their superiority to ordinary people. But they are afraid of life, constantly trampling on it, slandering it, destroying it, and training children still in their cradles for martyrdom. Observers have noted that the photos of terrorists taken a few hours before they made their attacks show people who are serene and at peace. They have eliminated doubt: they know. It is the paradox of open societies that they seem to be disordered, unjust, threatened by crime, loneliness, and drugs because they display their indignity before the whole world, never ceasing to admit their defects, whereas other, more oppressive societies seem harmonious because the press and the opposition are muzzled.
“Where there are no visible conflicts, there is no freedom,” Montesquieu said.”
“The critical spirit rises up against itself and consumes its form. But instead of coming out of this process greater and purified, it devours itself in a kind of self-cannibalism and takes a morose pleasure in annihilating itself. Hyper-criticism eventuates in self-hatred, leaving behind it only ruins. A new dogma of demolition is born out of the rejection of dogmas. Thus we euro-americans are supposed to have only one obligation: endlessly atoning for what we have inflicted on other parts of humanity. How can we fail to see that this leads us to live off self-denunciation while taking a strange pride in being the worst? Self-denigration is all too clearly a form of indirect self-glorification. Evil can come only from us; other people are motivated by sympathy, good will, candor. This is the paternalism of the guilty conscience: seeing ourselves as the kings of infamy is still a way of staying on the crest of history.” 3 likes
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