Pascal’s Wager for Today

Stop the presses: a French intellectual has a good op-ed article in today’s Wall Street Journal—Pascal Bruckner’s “The Ideology of Catastrophe.”  It’s a nice tour of the apocalypticism that is popular with the media and the Left (but I repeat. . .), with a French twist:

My point is not to minimize our dangers. Rather, it is to understand why apocalyptic fear has gripped so many of our leaders, scientists and intellectuals, who insist on reasoning and arguing as though they were following the scripts of mediocre Hollywood disaster movies.

Bruckner underscores something that has long been a theme of mine.  When people ask me, why are environmentalists so wedded to unending apocalyptic visions?  Because, I explain as simply and directly as I can, it makes them happy.  Bruckner on the point—“catastrophe is not their fear but their joy”:

We begin to suspect that the numberless Cassandras who prophesy all around us do not intend to warn us so much as to condemn us.

In classical Judaism, the prophet sought to give new life to God’s cause against kings and the powerful. In Christianity, millenarian movements embodied a hope for justice against a church wallowing in luxury and vice. But in a secular society, a prophet has no function other than indignation. So it happens that he becomes intoxicated with his own words and claims a legitimacy with no basis, calling down the destruction that he pretends to warn against.

You’ll get what you’ve got coming! That is the death wish that our misanthropes address to us. These are not great souls who alert us to troubles but tiny minds who wish us suffering if we have the presumption to refuse to listen to them. Catastrophe is not their fear but their joy. It is a short distance from lucidity to bitterness, from prediction to anathema.

Bruckner deserves to be better known to American readers, I think.  I hadn’t heard of him until one of our regular readers and frequent podcast interrogators, Ben Boychuk of the InfiniteMonkeys blog, called my attention to one of Bruckner’s previous books, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism.  Terrific read.  It is a wonderfully aphoristic takedown of the self-loathing at the heart of cosmopolitan liberalism today.  Such as:

Europe against itself: anti-Occidentalism, as we know, is a European tradition that stretches from Montaigne to Sartre and instills relativism and doubt in a serene conscience sure that it is in the right. . . Nowadays all it takes to attack Europe is a bit of conformism.

Or this perfect gem of common sense:

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.  Democracies are by their nature uneasy, they never realize their ideal; they necessarily disappoint us, creating a gap between the hope they elicit and the realities they construct.

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