Review of Pascal Bruckner's book "The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse" by the Czech ex-president
Pascal Bruckner, a significant personality belonging to the contemporary generation of French writers, a member of the left-wing "nouveaux philosophie", wrote an important book for the French people but comparably important for us as well – us who were mostly suckled on the Anglo-Saxon reasoning and who tend to underestimate the French in the social-scientific fields or, to put it more precisely, who tend to associate the French with a very illiberal thinking.
I am mentioning the French context deliberately because I remember very well how strangely or, to put it euphemistically, how lukewarmly my book "Planéte Bleue en Péril Vert" (IREF, 2009) was "welcome" in France. I had the feeling – even from the reactions of the French conservatives – that this theme is a complete taboo in France. The French original of Bruckner's book was published in 2011 and thankfully, the book has been translated to English. I am very happy that I discovered a positive review of the book in The Weekly Standard in August 2013 because otherwise I would have missed it inside the flood of new books about this topic that are being published across the world on a daily basis.
The book is very pretty. It's supported by numerous references, offers lots of powerful and original formulations, but it is a French book – boasting a geyser of ideas but a slightly chaotic whole which I cannot fully grasp (and describe) by my way of thinking. Something is way too clear, however. The book isn't forgiving or donating anything to the environmentalists (Bruckner prefers to talk about the ecologists) and the green activists of all flavors. And the threat that the author sees in these people themselves (not the threat of a man-made global warming) is something he takes seriously. As soon as on page 3, he makes his position clear when he says that "for the ecologists, Nature is just a stick they use to beat the human beings". I also think that Nature is just a tool, not the ultimate goal. In the same sense, I agree with the reviewer Steven F. Hayward that the main cause of environmentalism isn't related to Nature because the ideology "wants to purify the mankind". Pascal Bruckner uses the term "antihumanism" and "neoascetism" for these attitudes.
The author is afraid that ecologism has already won a "battle of ideas" that has been taking place for several decades and that it may be difficult to undo this victory. He also sees the problem in the apparent fact that "all the lunacy of Bolshevism, Marxism, and Trotzkyism has been – in an exponentially amplified form – used in the name of the salvation of the planet" (page 19) and that people tend to increasingly believe this assertion. I would add that the champions of the traditional Western values are being condemned and trampled upon in the current world, in the era of the political correctness, unprecedented manipulation by the media, post-politics, and post-democracy that makes the people so confused that they're ready to take rise to the bait and adopt any new religion or an ideology resembling a religion. We should view this tendency as a warning.
Pascal Bruckner is an author who is not attempting to amateurishly compete with the scientists in general and the climatologists in particular because he knows very well that this "battle of ideas" isn't about science at all. I have also enjoyed his criticism of the unusually strong role played by the precautionary principle that has turned into a fundamental refusal of the standard scientific analysis, one that is based on the evidence and data, of the costs and benefits and a fundamental argument proposed to support the so-called "scientific consensus" which represents a devastating exit from the (until recently) unquestioned Popper's principle of falsification. According to Bruckner, "the precautionary principle is a method to gradually squeeze science out of the human decision making process" (page 114). I would say the same thing not only about science but about common sense, too.
Bruckner is a witty and skillful writer who knows how to invent memorable punch lines:
- "in 2009, the Greens in Switzerland were demanding to abolish the Swiss military because it has become useless today – the only genuine threat is global warming" (page 12);
- the French deputy of the European Parliament Yves Cochet proposed to "fine the families that are considering a third child, referring to the argument that the child is – when it comes to its CO2 emissions – equivalent to 620 round trip flights between Paris and New York" (page 15);
- the same deputy is proposing to "reduce the electricity consumption of each of us by 50 percent by maximizing our utilization of the daylight" (page 115);
- well-known ecologist Amory Lovins demands that each of us will voluntarily "reduce our daily inflow of the watts";
- Michel Rocard is comparing "our passivity towards the increasing temperatures with the crimes against humanity" (page 30);
- and I must admit that I was amused (along with everyone who isn't capable of regulating our daily intake of calories) by the sentence that "to eat is almost as dangerous as bungee-jumping" (page 108).
Books of this type are important; we shouldn't allow the battle of the ideas to be played according to the scripts written by the opposing side. We must also speak, write, and formulate arguments. Without our activity, the opinion of the other side that claims that "Nature, much like God, is mute, and that's why we are obliged to become Her interpreters" (page 83) will win. Their acquiring of the monopoly to be Nature's exclusive interpreters is a scenario we must prevent.
Václav Klaus, a review of "The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse", a book by Pascal Bruckner published by Polity Press, U.S., 2013, 204 pages.
Published in the "People's Newspaper" (Lidové noviny) daily, December 4th, 2013
By the way, in a Czech Public TV interview, Klaus said tough things about the disappearance of the parliamentary democracy and trade economy in Czechia as we knew them (the process took place in recent 3-4 years). Pseudo-problems like corruption – which is surely not any defining problem of our country or our era – have replaced genuine battles of ideas. Klaus finds the differences between politicians who have emerged to be beneath his sensitivity threshold and he's not interested which of them will win.
When asked about the specific corruption-related topics, he said that he has no interests to defend Dr Rath, his long-time foe, but concerning the Blanka tunnel in Prague, it's just a difficult construction – and it's difficult to estimate the expenses. He mentions the skyrocketing expenses for some nuclear projects in the "non-corrupt" U.S. to suggest that it's no different here than the U.S. Klaus is dissatisfied with the false blame game involving a few mayors in Prague and the huge oversimplification of these issues.
The host aggressively asked about possible Klaus' contributions to the "demise of the post-Velvet-Revolution regime". Klaus sees no contributions, in fact, he would like to insist that he has largely introduced the [democratic, capitalist] regime into our country. He also views all the "blame Klaus" games as utterly childish, naive, and stupid, partly because he hasn't led governments for many years.
New president Zeman is mostly criticized by people who haven't accepted that their candidate has lost. However, Klaus has criticized Zeman for abandoning the traditional presidential duties to decide about the pardons and amnesties. I also think it's wrong for Zeman to "refuse" doing this part of his work – he's rewriting the constitution, in a sense. Klaus recalls that he has personally done all the hard work on these decisions. When the single person is no longer responsible, it might be better to abolish the pardons than to allow a committee of five nameless unaccountable ministry bureaucrats to make the decisions, Klaus says.
A recent book co-authored by Klaus mentions the exit from the EU. He was asked whether the scenario is just an academic provocation or a genuine plan he is working on. Klaus says that there are three scenarios and none of them has been eliminated. But Klaus says Yes, it was needed to pose and legitimize the question about the EU which is no genocide or heresy. And what shall be done with Czechia? In the short run, nothing can be made. The models of Ukraine or Thailand shouldn't be emulated. (He thinks that the mess in Ukraine is being encouraged from abroad.) In spite of that, something has to be done.
On a U.S.-EU summit, he talked about convergence of the U.S. and the EU in the negative sense. The convergence takes place because even in America, the freedom etc. isn't as unshakable and shining as it used to be and America starts to qualitatively resemble the EU, too.