As early as 1983, the French philosopher Bruckner warned ‘of the possible rise of an anti-white racism, a crusade against the white-faced’. The nightmare he feared then has now come true, almost forty years later.
Bruckner is a philosopher who in the 1970s and 1980s was counted among the ‘Nouveaux Philosophes’, a handy publishing label that an author like Bernard-Henry Lévy stuck on himself and other French thinkers, including Alain Finkelkraut and André Glucksmann. The latter, by the way, was not pleased. Bruckner was also recruited at that time because he opposed the philosophical omnipotence of the Marxist left at the time; a few years later, ‘the newcomers’ also turned against the influence of post-structuralists such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.
Each in their own way, these ‘seventies philosophers’ argued for a return to metaphysics, and against any form of relativization of Evil, which could again be written with capital. We are now decades further and Bruckner now has a new Evil: ‘wokism’.
The man as satan
In his latest book, Guilty Across the Line, in which he describes ‘how the white man became the ideal scapegoat’, nuance is shunned like the plague. As befits a classically trained French philosopher, his argument is supported by three propositions. In the first chapter Bruckner deals with the fate of ‘the man as Satan’, in chapter two he questions how ‘deadly’ and ‘racist’ the new anti-racism is, and in the last chapter he champions the old Europe of the Enlightenment, which is now under constant attack for a history of slavery, racism and colonialism.
All these abuses must be investigated and acknowledged, but, says Bruckner, ‘no society can survive if it blames itself for that existence. Ours is very imperfect. So reformable.’ Bruckner sees criticism and self-criticism as fundamental, European values, but he finds the penchant for masochism and self-loathing intolerable. “We have every reason to take up the defense of Europe, one of the greatest civilizations in history.” Bruckner is most convincing when he opposes the ‘racialization of anti-racism’, as it first happened in the United States and now increasingly in Europe. ‘America tackles racism in (…) racist terms: every (sic) person is reduced to the color of his skin, social analysis is out of the question (…) The result is a fragmentation to infinity.’
According to Bruckner, in the current anti-racist struggle, designations such as ‘white’ and ‘black’ threaten to be regarded as real essences, unchanging data, with which the aim is not a ‘multiracial society’, but a ‘multiracist’. The new anti-racism puts ‘race’ back on a pedestal, thus perpetuating ‘pigmentary madness’.
As someone who lived through the 1960s, and once belonged naturally to the “left” – the left concerned with “the class struggle and social inequality” – Bruckner sees that a dramatic shift has occurred. There are now “three new foundations: race, gender and identity.” And the ‘damned straight white man’, this ‘human being reduced to the color of his skin’ is ‘the mangy sheep’ in all three discourses. This scapegoat must be sent into the wilderness by the congregation, for “he cannot be separated from his sin.” The Christian idea of ’original sin’, which used to affect all mortals, has now become ‘white guilt’ and ‘white privilege’. And reconciliation seems out of the question.
Now, in his own words, Bruckner himself belongs to that appointed, new scapegoat and so it may happen that in his tirades against the ‘new feminism’, the ‘new anti-racism’, the #MeToo movement and the ‘decolonization’ everything is is associated.
In fact, Bruckner acts just like his opponents, the contemporary activists who are also called ‘social justice warriors’: they blindly link gender, race, class and sexuality, even if they first have to construct that connection themselves. And then there is ‘a small thing’ to note about Bruckner’s book: he does not see that the ‘white man’ as a ‘scapegoat’ is not in the least banished to the desert, but wholly occupied the positions of power in Western societies.
White man as a free port
Now there is sharp criticism from a relatively small activist and academic group of that white man. This is not always fair and often demagogic. But one thing Bruckner makes clear in all his aggravation: the white man is not used to being problematized; the white man sees himself as the pre-eminent free port in the midst of this sea of minorities. He is used to judging, not being judged. Self-problemization, self-criticism and introspection, that’s what this book lacks.
Pascal Bruckner: Guilty all the way through. How the white man became the ideal scapegoat. transl. Wouter Meeuws. Davidsfonds, 272 pages. € 24.99
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 21, 2022