Only literature can give you that feeling of contact with another human spirit, with the totality of that spirit, his weaknesses and grandeurs, his limitations, his pettiness, his obsessions, his beliefs; with whatever moves, interests, excites, or disgusts him. Only literature can grant you access to a spirit of a dead man in a more direct, more complete, and deeper way than you would even have in conversation with a friend—as deep, as lasting as in a friendship. We never open up in a conversation as completely as when we face a blank page, addressing ourselves to an unknown reader. ~ Michel Houellebecq, Submission
In his novel, Submission, Michel Houellebecq refers to a philosophy dissertation, held at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve, entitled Guénon lecteur de Nietzsche (Guenon Reader of Nietzsche) by Robert Rediger. Over the past several months, I have made several efforts to track down a copy. A dear friend, an employee of the State Department stationed in Brussels, managed to locate a photocopy for me. When she stopped by on the way to visit her family stateside for Christmas, I was able to inspect it during her layover at the airport. Although there was not much time, I tried to extract its main themes.
The first thing to point out is the deep influence that Rediger’s dissertation had on Houellebecq himself. This is shown in the main themes of the novel as expressed through the voice of Francois, his alter ego. Furthermore, the dissertation brought out several inchoate themes that were filled out in Rediger’s later writings. Obviously, Rene Guenon was never a “reader” of Nietzsche. Rediger came to that conclusion when he wrote:
I don’t think Guenon was influenced by Nietzsche especially. His rejection of the modern world was just as vehement as Nietzsche’s, but it had radically different sources.
So it is not the sources that are of interest, but rather how Guenon and Nietzsche reached similar conclusions. Specifically, there was the recognition of the decadence of Europe, the failure of Christianity to forestall it, and the rise of Islam. Francois notes this:
The facts were plain: Europe had reached a point of such putrid decomposition that it could no longer save itself, any more than fifth-century Rome could have done. This wave of new immigrants, with their traditional culture—of natural hierarchies, the submission of women, and respect for elders—offered a historic opportunity for the moral and familial rearmament of Europe. These immigrants held out the hope of a new golden age for the old continent.
The USA is likewise in a state of decomposition, although the particular circumstances are quite different. The main difference, of course, is that the European more or less recognizes his situation while his American counterpart is blithely unaware of his real situation. Even those who call themselves conservatives in the USA are in the dark. Right wing talk shows are in a tither about Muslim violence although they, of all people, should be more concerned about those who can kill the soul rather than those who kill the body. Hence, they condemn Islam for everything in it that is traditional. For example, they emphasize the West’s concern for women’s and gay rights, while praising the separation of any spiritual authority over political matters.
Rediger wryly pointed out:
Their irrational hostility to Islam should blind them to the obvious: on every question that really mattered, the nativists and the Muslims were in perfect agreement. When it came to rejecting atheism and humanism, or the necessary submission of women, or the return of patriarchy, they were fighting exactly the same fight.
This shows up first of all in the end of patriarchy in the West. In Francois’ words, almost a direct quote from the dissertation:
At least patriarchy existed. I mean, as a social system it was able to perpetuate itself. There were families with children, and most of them had children. In other words, it worked, where now there aren’t enough children, so we’re finished.
Liberalism could overturn all the established institutions: the churches, education, the workplace, political leaderships, and so on. However, the attack on the family cannot be maintained, for without children, no society can continue to exist.
Nevertheless, liberalism is adamant, while birthrates plummet. There is no longer an organic community but rather a heap of unrelated consumers. Francois lists some examples:
- The eco-responsible bobo
- The show-off bourgeois woman
- The gay-friendly nightclubbing girl
- The satanic geek
- The techno-Zennist
In other words, everyone is a “type”, trying overly hard for a sui generis identity. The reader can identify more. For example, there is a facebook group called “Liberal and proud of it”. Thus, it is not a well-thought out worldview, but rather a tribal identity marker.
Francois, despite himself, is a “type”, perhaps the aging professor or the effete intellectual. His own life exemplifies the sterility of the modern world. Rejecting family life, he mates with his students, or with call girls when necessary. The sex scenes are not intended to be erotic, but rather sad. His preference is for anal sex or else he is ejaculating in some woman’s mouth – anywhere except where a well-bred man would consider healthy and normal.
Assimilation and Transformation
Rediger then takes up a theme mentioned years ago on Gornahoor in The Prophecies of Guenon. In the Crisis of the Modern World, Guenon wrote that only Catholicism could restore Tradition to modern world. Rediger agreed with Guenon about the medieval tradition:
The greatness of medieval Christendom, whose artistic achievements would live forever in human memory; but little by little it had given way, it had been forced to compromise with rationalism, it had renounced its temporal powers, and so had sealed its own doom.
According to Guenon, Church leaders had forgotten the deeper truths of Tradition. Rediger goes further, asserting that the Church itself is actively engaged in subverting Tradition. He wrote:
By dint of the affectations, the playful caresses, and the shameful fondling of the progressives, the Church had lost its ability to oppose moral decadence, to renounce homosexual marriage, abortion rights, and women in the workplace.
Even Guenon, after having failed to make any impact on Catholic thought, openly converted to Islam. Although Guenon claimed he did it for personal reasons, Rediger sees a larger perspective:
Today this fight to establish a new organic phase of civilization could no longer be waged in the name of Christianity. Islam, its sister faith, was newer, simpler, and truer.
As Guenon predicted, the available choices are degeneration, assimilation, and transformation. Degeneration cannot continue unabated. In the novel, Houellebecq opts for a gentle assimilation and then a transformation. He foresees an alliance between the Left and the Islamist elements. That is not so far-fetched since liberalism believes it can use Islam to further erode Christian influence. However, in Houellebecq’s scenario, it is Islam that assimilates the Left.
Polygamy and the Social Order
Guenon was single-pointedly focused on the metaphysical elements, so he provides little or no insight into actual Muslim religious life and practice. Rediger, on the other hand, does expand on those influences, while, at the same time, adding a distinctive Western element to Islam. For this part of the dissertation, he relies more on Nietzsche than on Guenon.
Then, Rediger, also following Nietzsche, claims that Christianity is fundamentally a feminine religion. Rediger quotes Nietzsche from the Anti-Christ:
If Islam despises Christianity, it has a thousandfold right to do so; Islam at least assumes that it is dealing with men.
Rediger attributes the ideals of humanism and the rights of man to the dogma of the Incarnation. Now you may object that Medieval Christianity, which Rediger lauded, was itself patriarchal and masculine. Can anyone accuse Constantine, Clovis, Charlemagne, Arthur, or Boucicaut of being feminine. Moreover, the medievals admired the great pagan warriors like Hector, Alexander, Scipio, and Julius Caesar. Even St Paul regarded effeminacy as a sin. At this point, Rediger makes the only reference to Julius Evola that I noticed: he likewise claims that this masculine element in Medieval Christianity was due solely to the still existing remnants of paganism, but not to anything specifically Christian.
First of all, Rediger accepts Nietzsche’s classification of life-affirming and life-denying religions, of which Islam belongs to the former. He writes:
Islam accepts the world, and accepts it whole. It accepts the world as such, Nietzsche might say. For Buddhism, the world is dukkha, unsatisfactoriness, suffering. Christianity has serious reservations of its own. Isn’t Satan called “the prince of the world”? For Islam, though, the divine creation is perfect, it’s an absolute masterpiece. What is the Koran, really, but one long mystical poem of praise? Of praise for the Creator, and of submission to his laws?
Rediger again turns to Nietzsche to justify the Islamic hierarchical and patriarchal order. There would be a small cadre of aristocrats on a large base of common people. Destitution would be reduced due to the requirement of alms-giving. Also, the extended family would be the “first responders”, so to speak, in the event of the tragedies of life. These customs would reduce the size of the welfare budget. Unemployment would be reduced as more women left the workplace to stay at home, raising children.
Polygamy, too, is understood as the will to power. The stronger and the most genetically fit would have more wives, hence more children. Of course, this means that some men will have no offspring at all. This brings to mind what we recently wrote about Social Surgery. To what extent does the community have the right to regulate the genetic makeup of its members, assuming the goal is the common good?
At this point, Rediger becomes less convincing since he does not take his ideas to their logical conclusion. He makes a good point that men of all types and castes will select the same kind of women. For example, in mate selection, most men, regardless of intelligence or station in life, would prefer a Taylor Swift. Women, on the other hand, are more malleable in their mate selection; for example, she may overlook a man’s looks or age if he is wealthy or powerful.
Moreover, the woman’s attraction can be trained. Rediger, thus, wants to define intellectuals as “alpha males”, deserving of the better quality women. It is beyond belief that, in the West as it now is, that women will be attracted to studious Thomists rather than the team quarterback. However, on second thought, female students are often attracted to their male professors. Asian women, and to a lesser extent Latinas, are more likely than European women to find a STEM major sexually desirable.
To accomplish this, Rediger claims that there will be women who serve as matchmakers. The details of this process are fuzzy. It would be a simple matter to determine if Islamic countries are more biologically fit than Western nations. My understanding is that the opposite is sometimes the case due to the preference for cousin marriages. But perhaps Rediger’s Westernized, Nietzschean version of Islam would become the norm.
With a Whimper
Overall, the social structure is based on submission, beginning with submission to God. Then there is the submission to the social order, and finally women’s submission to men. Houellebecq sees the Story of O by Pauline Reage as the model for submission. He sees this as occurring without much incident. This is hard to believe, although, given that the 50 Shades of Grey has sold more than 70 million copies, perhaps there is a secret desire to be dominated.
Thus, the transition occurs not with a bang, but with a whimper. Why would it be that way? Some would say it is a matter of convenience, as the intellectuals and others take advantage of the new opportunities that open up to them. Rediger concludes with a different answer:
In the end, it was a mystery; God had ordained it so.
If that is the case, then the mystery of the three rings will have been solved.
Some of the translations from the French text are my own.