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Bruckner's opus

Yesterday I was at the House of Lords for the launch of Pascal Bruckner's book on environmental catastrophism, which was sponsored by GWPF.

Bruckner, a prominent philosopher and author, gave a very impressive talk introducing some of the themes from his book, which is entitled The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse. French philosophers can overpower with their intellectualism, and while Bruckner is no slouch on this front I was pleasantly surprised by his easy wit, and how approachable he made his argument; it's hard to take against anyone who opens with a discussion of Tintin.

There was a great deal to enjoy. I kept having to pick up my pen to jot down things Bruckner said that had never occurred to me before or older ideas that were explored from new angles:

  • The idea of catastrophe has replaced the idea of progress
  • Racial minorities, women and slaves have been replaced as principal victims by Mother Earth
  • Fear has become something to be desired.
  • We are being transformed into children, ready to obey the orders of an enlightened elite.
  • Friends of the earth have become the enemies of mankind
  • Environmentalism is universal but "end of the worldism" is purely western.
  • Environmentalism is about keeping the world for the bobos (bohemian bourgeois)

I've started working my way through the book and it's not an easy read (although much more straightforward than most works by philosophers). But I think Bruckner's view on greenery is rather penetrating and it's a valuable counterblast against apocalyptism. If you like struggling with ideas, it could well be worth a look.

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Reader Comments (65)

Bish: three typos. "transfored" "elightened", last bullet should be singular "environmentalism".

It sounds like a fun do. What politicians were there, if any?

Apr 25, 2013 at 9:34 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Thanks - see what happens when you are on the sleeper train!

Apr 25, 2013 at 9:40 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Well I could never sleep on a sleeper train, so I sympathise.

Apr 25, 2013 at 9:43 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

bobo = burnt out but opulent?

Apr 25, 2013 at 9:51 AM | Unregistered CommenternTropywins

'Childhood's End', Arthur C. Clarke.

Apr 25, 2013 at 9:57 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Was there any mention of Julian Simon?

Apr 25, 2013 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

"We are being transformed into children" = The education system and the media (BBC especially) are being dumbed down and used as propaganda tools.

Apr 25, 2013 at 10:04 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Excellent news. I've been wondering if the English edition would be published before I managed to plod my way unreliably through the French one. Well it has, with quite a few months to spare! Despite being on the political left, Bruckner has not flinched from thinking for himself and from challenging the groupthink he finds himself immersed in. For example, on multiculturalism, which has been there with 'climate change' as touchstones of the faith: . The left, or at least some of the Labour Party leadership, in the UK seem not so sure about that now, and maybe we shall yet see the other shibboleth crack a little when Bruckner's pensees get wider attention here.

Here is a report of how some of the French left, including their newspapers Le Monde and Liberation, took to them:


However since the book appeared in French late last year, Bruckner has been pilloried in certain quarters as a reactionary turncoat aiding the worst climate change deniers. He has seen some publications that traditionally laud his work decry Fanaticism of the Apocalypse as hedonistic, deluded and dangerous.

“Le Monde devoted four pages to say to what extent my book was bad, false and full of lies, which is rather curious,” Bruckner says, with a slight edge to his voice, as we are ushered into an upper room in his local cafe, Le Progres, in the Marais neighbourhood of Paris. When his last book, The Paradox of Love, a reflection on the vicissitudes of the modern God of “Amour”, was released in 2009, it was critically acclaimed and became a bestseller.

“But I took a risk,” he explains of his latest controversial work. “It was [written in] a fit of anger. I went against today’s dominant ideas. There is widespread ‘greenwashing’ including in our thinking. The dominant passion of our time is fear.”

One blistering assessment, in Liberation newspaper, was headed “The Fanaticism of Denial”. The article accused Bruckner of being a pleasure-addled baby boomer stuck in pre-global warming nostalgia for the insouciant Trente Glorieuses, the 30 years of postwar French prosperity before the 1970s petrol shock.

That was good enough for me to conclude that here was a book worth reading. I'm going to get the English version asap.

Apr 25, 2013 at 10:36 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

"We are being transformed into children"

You only have to look at each new environmentalist short film on YouTube to prove the point. Always cute, kooky animations, simplifying oh-so complex realities for us bewildered children so that we learn how to behave. This one, for example, from the DECC:

Apr 25, 2013 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan Woolley

In Surinamese and Dutch, bobo refers to a fool in a position of power.

Apr 25, 2013 at 10:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Looks interesting. It is unusual to find French philosophers untainted by Marxist ideas.

I'd be interested to hear, Bishop, if there was any GWPF gossip about how the war is going.

Apr 25, 2013 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Ian Woolley:

The cartoon is amazing. Not merely as it seeks to infantalise us, not just because it accepts completely uncritically the CAGW thesis – well, it would, wouldn't it? – but because, bearing the true hallmark of contemporary government propaganda, you can guarantee it cost a small fortune to make.

Apr 25, 2013 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterAgouts

Those bullet points encapsulate the ideas that have been pushed about on this and others sceptic blogs for a couple of years now, if in a more nebulous form than M. Bruckner has so clearly delineated. I'm reading. "Perpetual Euphoria - on the duty to be happy", ATM. One gets the feeling that, "the Road to Serfdom", has left it's mark in key areas of M. Bruckner's thinking. Like Andrew, I find Pascal slow going, but worth the effort.

Apr 25, 2013 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man

Thanks for this, wasn't aware of a new addition to the catastrophism literature. I wonder if he mentions Velikovsky.

The 'enjoyment of fear' reminded me of some recent Marxist (sorry!) writers like Zizek and Lacan. The idea that the 'others' which we fear justify certain practices and ideas. In this case there is a (familiar) fear of impending catastrophe which provides a justification for political action (nef's 100 Months and Counting is an example of this). Fear of the unknown future is pitted against a distrust of prediction...

Apr 25, 2013 at 11:25 AM | Registered Commenter@warrenpearce

Bobo is a character in Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky.

Apr 25, 2013 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Norman

"The dominant passion of our time is fear.”
Shades of Ayn Rand "Atlas Shrugged".

"Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against - then you'll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it. There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted - and you create a nation of law-breakers - and then you cash in on guilt. Now, that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."

Apr 25, 2013 at 11:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

In Australia, a 'bobo' is a 'itt' spelt by a dyslectic. Usually nice, aslo.

Apr 25, 2013 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

Environmentalism is just the latest form of the counter enlightenment movement. The ascendancy of Rousseau over Voltaire plus a good dose of Savanarola Redux; ie. the "Bonfire of the Vanities" where people were exhorted to burn their luxurious belongings in order to expiate their sins. Miserabilism sums it up.

Apr 25, 2013 at 11:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterGordon Walker

Sounds v. interesting, worth a read.

In his book Black Mass, John Gray suggests that the idea of progress and an apocalyptic vision are part of the same philosophy, whose roots lie a Christian philosophy of creating a Heaven on Earth (utopia) and were secularised during or after the Enlightenment.

This secularised/politicised philosophy first materialised with the French Revolution – and the associated Jacobin movement of the late 18th century – and subsequently produced the various utopian political movements of the past century: Communism, Nazism, capitalism, and even Islamicism. Environmentalism also fits this idea.

Each of these movements is bound by an expectation that, after some great apocalyptic struggle or upheaval, the world will enter a post-historic utopia in which a single universal social and economic model will prevail.

Progress, he says, is an illusion because it suggests that there is a goal to aim for (a utopia) and that it precipitates the idea that old is bad, new is good.

Apr 25, 2013 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Furniss

You can read the introduction, "The Return of Original Sin" free on Amazon.
It reminds me of one of my favourite global warming cartoons.
It's a bit hard to read - here is a longer version of the text.

Apr 25, 2013 at 11:54 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

In his book Black Mass, John Gray suggests that the idea of progress and an apocalyptic vision are part of the same philosophy,

Mike Hulme describes* the four strands of Post-Modern environmental science as:

1) Lamenting Eden, (bad humans have despoiled pristine Earth)
2) Presaging Apocalypse, (catastrophe is coming)
3) Constructing Babel, (there are steps we can take to avert apocalypse)
4) Celebrating Jubilee, (the Right People, the morally pure, will lead us back from the brink)

Viewed in those terms, all the posturing by AGW alarmists makes perfect sense.

* in the SINTEF report

Apr 25, 2013 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Excellent post with a summary which provides concision to complex ideas.
The puzzle for me is the idea that environmentalism is left wing. If the left are supposed to represent the working class, an old fashioned idea I know, then the last thing they would be espousing is the anti science and anti industry so loved by the green gravy trainers.

Apr 25, 2013 at 12:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterStacey

There is nothing new under the sun ( but please don't tell the French avant garde).

I trust the dot point speak of trends only and not black to white transformations. Ask Freud about the desirability of fear in 19c Vienna. Ask your parent if they felt treated like children in the 1950s.

Not sure what is meant by end of the worldism, but if the apocalypse of Daniel fits the bill (and so to it's imitation in and outside of the NT) then I thought it was widely regarded that this genre had its origins in Persia.

Apr 25, 2013 at 12:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterBerniel

It's been quoted here before, but H L Mencken's observation seems pertinent:

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

And not just politics, it would seem.

Apr 25, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Paul Matthews

Excellent cartoon - thank you. Reminds me of the beginning of Stanley Holloway's 'Three ha'pence a foot', where Noah is introducing himself:

Sam asked Noah what was 'is business,
And t'ould chap went on to remark,
That not liking the look of the weather,
'E were thinking of building an Ark.
The 'ouses were soon under water,
And folks to the roof 'ad to climb.
They said 'twas the rottenest summer
That Bury 'ad 'ad for some time.

Apr 25, 2013 at 1:10 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Sir John Maddox discussed this at length in his book, "The Doomsday Syndrome".
Sir John was the editor of Nature magazine, ironically.
If anything, Sir John was far too cautious about how pernicious the enviro extremist movement would become over the years.
This new book seems to more fully realize just how far away from science the enviro extremists have traveled.
I look forward to reading it.
Maddox's book is a good read as well, by the way.

Apr 25, 2013 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterlurker, passing through laughing

Stacey, good point. I don't know much about these things, but I get the feeling that those labels "left" and "right" don't have the relevance as they once did, and the debate over the environment is a good example.

In Black Mass (see post above), Gray argues that Communism and Nazism had a lot in common, as did Bush and Blair on the one side and Al-Qaida on the other. They have all wanted in their own way to wipe the slate clean and start afresh in a new era in which enlightened thought would create worldwide peace and prosperity. The cost of creating and sustaining such a utopia would be quietly forgotten.

Apr 25, 2013 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Furniss

Ah, well, if all this French intellectualism get a bit too much, there's always tomorrow's Farmers Weekly.............only a few of quid, from all good newsagents...

Apr 25, 2013 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

Another not-so-left-wing French philosopher, Luc Ferry, wrote a book about environmentalism some years ago - 1992 - which is also worth a read. "Le Nouvel Ordre Ecologique" was the title in French; it still seems to be in print in English as "The New Ecological Order".

Apr 25, 2013 at 1:56 PM | Registered CommenterJeremy Harvey

No mention of the 'sceptical' alarmists warning of economic destruction and an end to western civilisation if we should stop digging things up and burning them, I suppose? Silly B, of course not...

Apr 25, 2013 at 2:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

They have all wanted in their own way to wipe the slate clean and start afresh in a new era

This was also the explicitly stated idea behind Year Zero in Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea, where the cost of creating and sustaining the utopia for less than 5 years cost 1.7 million lives or about 25% of the country's population.

Beware those who say "we must make a clean start."

Apr 25, 2013 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Paul Matthews - liked the cartoon link, thanks. For some reason it reminds me of a classic (not climate related) cartoon I saw in an old Private Eye (doubt is online), which as I can't draw I will recount:

Two neolithic blokes chatting in foreground with Stonehenge under construction behind them. One bloke says to other "you think they could have used local stone...".

Sorry for OT.

Apr 25, 2013 at 2:22 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Anyone looked at the latest Science issue? It has a piece (wouldn't call it a 'paper') by Paul Ehrlich which, among other things, takes shots at cable television and Matt Ridley.

It even has math: 'Let's say I have a prejudice {P1}. A pre-existing one is {P2}. Will {P1UP2} mean that the 'environment' is doomed? We hereby show...etc etc'

Apr 25, 2013 at 2:53 PM | Registered Commentershub

"We are being transformed into children"

We are also transforming children. I sincerely hope this is not widespread:

Brian Sussman, author of Eco-Tyranny, interviews 6th grader at the Earth Day festival in Santa Cruz, California. With her proud mother standing by, the youngster says she has been taught in school that anthropogenic climate change is threatening the planet and that sometimes she thinks humans "shouldn't exist."

Apr 25, 2013 at 2:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeC

My philosophical take is a bit simpler. Like sex, fear sells. Hollywood and the MSM demonstrate this every day. They have to earn a living too, and sex or fear is often the first marketing tool they reach for.

In the case of environmentalism, the more removed the individual becomes from industrial activity (and farming), the easier it becomes to confuse them about what is necessary to support their lifestyle, and what is potentially harmful.

Increasing susceptibility to greenwash also generally rises commensurately with material comfort. Educational preferences and choices also trend away from technical subjects, thus exacerbating ignorance. Hence the general observations about the BBC.

Apr 25, 2013 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

The Earth's climate is remarkably stable as shown by its ability to have ice ages with far higher CO2 than now. Searching for the control mechanism which allow this has been great fun for an engineer. There is such a control system involving the detailed optical physics of GHGs and clouds.

'Scientists' fouled up because they came under the control of politicians and some past physicists, Sagan and Houghton, made elementary mistakes - their problem was faith in equations rather than common sense.

Apr 25, 2013 at 4:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecm

"Environmentalism is about keeping the world for the bobos (bohemian bourgeois)"

Unlike other apocalyptic or millenarian movements, environmentalism is most definitely class and culture based. To join, you have to share a goodly portion of the cultural "creds" of an Obama.

Apr 25, 2013 at 5:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Ordered it today ^.^

I hope I get through it !

Apr 25, 2013 at 5:46 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Those interested in Bruckner's ideas and style might find an earlier book of his similarly on point, on a slightly different topic.
It's Tears of the White Man, Compassion as Contempt, published in the mid 80's. It concerns the West's obsession - then, at least - with helping and saving the wretched of the Earth.

Apr 25, 2013 at 5:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterKen Banyas

He made good philosophical points, but I think missed something rather deeper. I found this expressed rather nicely, just by coincidence, when re-reading the Father Brown detective story called 'The Oracle of the dog'. (G K Chesterton) in which the the dog in question was observed to howl at just the time his master, situated elsewhere, was mysteriously stabbed. It turned out that the dog had howled because stick thrown for it had sunk in sea - because it was sword stick - and the murderer has used stick throwing to dispose of the weapon! For the dog read 'our changing climate'.

"The dog could almost have told you the story, if he could talk,' said the priest. 'All I complain of is that because he couldn't talk you made up his story for him, and made him talk with the tongues of men and angels. It's part of something I've noticed more and more in the modern world, appearing in all sorts of newspaper rumours and conversational catchwords; something that's arbitrary without being authoritative. People readily swal­low the untested claims of this, that, or the other. It's drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it's coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition."
He stood up abruptly, his face heavy with a sort of frown, and went on talking almost as if he were alone.
"It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense and can't see things as they are. Anything that anybody talks about, and says there's a good deal in it, extends itself indefinitely like a vista in a nightmare. And a dog is an omen, and a cat is a mystery, and a pig is a mascot, and a beetle is a scarab, calling up all the menagerie of polytheism from Egypt and old India; Dog Anubis and great green-eyed Pasht and all the holy howling Bulls of Bashan; reeling back to the bestial gods of the beginning, escaping into elephants and snakes and crocodiles; and all because you are frightened of four words: 'He was made Man'."

Apr 25, 2013 at 8:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

In many comments on mulitiple websites (WUWT, Jo Nova, and others) I have been beating the drum of the impending collapse of the global warming scam. The slooooow change in media treatment, the influx of "peer reviewed" papers debunking AGW are but two examples. This philosopher (world famous) is another, more major then it may seem, crack in the foundation of the Berlin Wall of climate alarmism. When philosophers are describing the defects in your ideology you are in real trouble. Trouble could not happen to a more deserving group of people.

Apr 25, 2013 at 9:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan stendera

I'd say there were many aspects to environmental catastrophism all coming together, not the least of which is a growing love affair with the irrational.

However, one which always strikes me is the aspect of a fad or craze, such as Y2K or a religious revival, and it was that which engaged or disarmed the public.

Most of these crazes last a few months, because the date comes and goes and the world doesn't end. In this case the exact date of the apocolypse is less certain so the end is less well defined, but people are getting fed up with it.

The craze which I'd say is most similar is the witchcraft mania of the 1500s and 1600s, which had official backing and ebbed and flowed for about a century. It had pretty much fizzled out by 1700.

Apr 25, 2013 at 9:19 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

stan stendera,

The difficulty for government is in sweeping away such a glorious scam, admitting they've been conned or have been conning, and a truly stupendous amount of money has been wasted, and then getting rid of all the structure, the jobs, the taxes, the positions of prestige, the rackets.

Apr 25, 2013 at 9:24 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic


Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

The thing is with the internet and 24/7 news the world moves faster. Difficult for many, including my 70 year old self to deal with. My point is twofold. When philosophers destroy your idology you are in trouble. Second, the media, academia, and public opinion can change over night. Politicians will soon follow. This my sound like mysticism but there is a history in my family of precognisicent. No, I do not buy stock on that basis, but try to make rational decisions. But I do get feelings, and over the years many, many of them have born out. Maybe I should buy stocks. My "feeling" is there is a sea change coming in th agw preception. You are quite correct to point out the difficulty many of the establishment will find in retreating from the agw (no caps intended) mindless support. Hopefully some of the worse offenders (Hansen, Borenstein, and especially Mann) will suffer public score and even legal consequences.

Apr 25, 2013 at 10:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan stendera

Interesting observation, cosmic. But Y2K's a hopeless example. Far from being "a fad or craze", it was potentially a most serious problem that had to be tackled.

And, as this paper explains, it was.

Apr 25, 2013 at 10:52 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

"a prominent philosopher"

Not all that prominent. I'm a university lecturer in philosophy, and his name is almost unknown outside France. Mind you, my name is totally unknown everywhere.

Apr 26, 2013 at 12:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoHa

Ah, well, if all this French intellectualism get a bit too much, there's always tomorrow's Farmers Weekly.............only a few of quid, from all good newsagents...
Charlie Flindt

'Twas a hard decision, but you've settled it for me, Charlie. Farmers Weekly it is. I wonder if you can buy it in Hampstead or Islington?

Apr 26, 2013 at 1:42 AM | Registered CommenterHector Pascal

Stan Stendera

Great posts mate and about the sea change in ideas about CAGW I believe that you are absolutely correct. However your statement "difficulty many of the establishment will find in retreating from the agw mindless support" assumes that they would like to do that if they could find a way.
In the face of evidence that the world is not warming, that moving away from fossil fuels could (will) destroy our economy and that unilateral action by the UK will change nothing, certain politicians are determined to press on regardless. The battle of ideas does not affect the lives of the UK population but government policy does and some politicians have no intention of changing course.

Apr 26, 2013 at 2:40 AM | Registered CommenterDung


Three ha'pence a foot is my favourite of the monologues. Coincidentally, I played it to my music group only a couple of weeks ago.

Apr 26, 2013 at 8:45 AM | Unregistered Commentermike fowle

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