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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Window into the European mind, 15 Jun. 2008
Peter Uys "Toypom" (Sandton) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Icarus Fallen (Crosscurrents) (Hardcover)
Intended as a "sociology of the mind," this essay examines the existential uncertainty and barren spiritual landscape that Chantal Delsol observes in Europe. She portrays the continent's (post)modern cultural confusion in terms of an Icarus who survived his fall but suffers from paralyzing injuries. The European mind was first wounded by the loss of Christianity and then more grievously by failed attempts to replace it with secular salvationist substitutes that were responsible for the totalitarian tragedies of the 20th century. These experiments have left people dazed, disoriented and stripped of certainties. Utopian ideologies weren't the only attempted replacements; they also included science, the arts and reason itself. Delsol elegantly likens these failures to collapsed cathedrals.

She believes Europeans have lost the will for meaning as they now reject all interpretative frameworks. Although the heart's yearning can never be quenched, the fear of absolutes and ideology has understandably bred disillusionment. Rigidity of thought was indeed the cause of the persecutions, the wars, the Holocaust and the Gulag. Without a sense of purpose however, mankind embraces the vapid and fatuous as revealed in banal and clichéd discourse. Delsol calls it the "clandestine" ideology of our time, overt ideology having become taboo. This black market substitute is sickly sentimental, arbitrary and intolerant despite claims to the contrary. Resembling political correctness in the USA, it functions as code language for the European welfare state whose citizens remain adolescents that conflate desires with rights. Delsol defines this process as the "sacralization" of rights. What began as freedoms are being transformed into entitlements.

Tolerance has been perverted too. Originally signifying a willingness to endure that of which one disapproved, the meaning now encompasses active legitimization and encouragement of ideas and behaviors by the state. Emotion becomes more important than truth when ignoring this vital distinction: Tolerance shown to people is a virtue, but when extended to beliefs and behaviors that are manifestly evil it becomes cowardice and complicity in crime. A perfect example is when European authorities ignore the atrocity of female circumcision amongst certain immigrant communities, failing to enforce the law. Worse still are those Western adherents of multiculturalism who approve of every sadistic practice based on the lie that "no culture is superior to any other."

Now enveloped in a smog of humanistic complacency, Europe pays lip-service to inclusion and equality whilst denying the reality of two societies: one of native Europeans and assimilated immigrants, the other of alienated immigrant populations congregating in no-go areas for law enforcers. There is a type of European piety frequently expressed in hysterical fits of morality by artists and intellectuals. Its relativism, rage and selectivity betray it as mere posturing; it is moreover demonstrably contradictory in the way it clings to moral absolutes whilst affirming the omnipresence of relativism. Delsol considers it a vain, empty morality of despair and withdrawal. To me it looks like grotesque hypocrisy and crude projection, especially when aimed at Israel, the USA, doubters of the climate change threat, smokers and conservative Christians.

Relativism has not - because of the nature of reality - succeeded in eliminating ideas of enduring significance: questions of good and evil, truth and falsehood and the eternity of the divine. To my great relief, Delsol does not advocate a facile repudiation of the modern or blind regression to premodern forms of meaning, wisely observing: "The great difficulty will be to protect the gains of modernity while simultaneously struggling against its excesses. For taking a simplistic approach is always the first reflex, and the great temptation of this disappointed era could easily be complete rejection, a return to the besieged cocoon of a priori certitudes or purity-seeking fundamentalism which is just another form of utopian delusion."

Concluding the essay with a call for increased vigilance and a revived sense of responsibility, she recommends a more direct and open engagement with life's fragility and contradictions. No role for metaphysics or theology is explicitly suggested. This shows admirable restraint and wisdom but man being an emotional animal, I have no confidence in the efficacy of these proposed antidotes. Delsol admits to an insufficient, fragmented knowledge of other Western societies but assumes some similarity with Europe. Only to a limited extent, in my opinion. Icarus has not yet fallen in the Anglosphere outside of the UK. In North America for example, the affliction is geographically restricted to the large cities and to particular spheres like academia where it thrives amongst the tenured termites, in the mass media and amongst narcissistic entertainers.

Delsol offers outsiders a compelling view of the contemporary European soul. She thinks a return to Christianity would be remedial but considers it impossible. I am not so sure of its impossibility and deeply distrustful of its salutary potential. History attests to organized religion as a frequent carrier of evil. I do not only mean the current and past crimes of Islamism or the Church in its Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant varieties, but more comprehensively the Salvationist idea itself which was the driving force behind the entire continuum of secular collectivist ideologies that caused so much misery. One of its prominent contemporary manifestations is the neo-pagan environmental movement: The First Church of the Boiling Globe.

The danger is that a hedonistic, nihilistic Europe's habit of appeasement will attract escalating demands, compliance with which will destroy its civilizational cornerstones like freedom of speech. The demographic implosion amongst native Europeans is far advanced making more immigration unavoidable. Threatened by a hostile and increasingly barbaric Russia in cynical alliance with other oil producers and rogue states like Iran and destabilized within by its unassimilated alien communities, Europe might simultaneously become the target of massive terror attacks. Such a scenario is not improbable; should it come to that, the past reveals the future. Betrayed by the Brussels Eurocracy and all their consensus-seeking politicians of the centre right and left, suffering economic hardship plus urban unrest and panicked by acts of terror, desperate Europeans will return to their religion en masse and with great fervour, before you can say "Black Madonna." And should there appear a powerful charismatic leader in the Christian tradition offering solutions and order, they will hail and revere him like a Constantine.

Icarus Fallen has a translator's preface and author's preface to the English edition and concludes with bibliographic notes and an index. Unlike many prominent French philosophers that deliberately obfuscate, Delsol admirably elucidates with her descriptive clarity, elegant style and arresting imagery.
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Icarus Fallen (Crosscurrents)
Icarus Fallen (Crosscurrents) by Chantal Delsol (Hardcover - 15 Aug. 2003)
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