Le Choc de l'Histoire Review: The Written Spoken Word
I had read a previous book written by Dominique Venner, entitled Un samouraï d'Occident, and so, for better or worse, it is almost inevitable to me that I will try to compare the two to each other, to see the ways in which the genius of the writer is expressed differently across the two different milieus. For surely, although I might not agree with all of the political observations which are posed by Venner, it is almost assuredly my observation that he is indeed a man of great literary talent and so therefor I think it is fascinating to see what he does in the two different volumes, which are so different from each other in character, even if they stem from the same source. For in contrast to Un samouraï d'Occident, claimed as well as a history book and much more of the traditional work of the genre, Le Choc de l'histoire is rather written in the form of a lengthy interview, divided into multiple chapters, each one supposedly covering a different subject - be it the age old interest of Venner, with his constant focus on Hellenic origins of Western civilization, or be it the principles of Ernst Junger and the conservative revolution in Germany in the Interwar period, this attempt to rebuild society along anti-democratic, anti-bourgeois lines, or the development and transmission of political authority over time throughout the West, what feminity means in the West, historical legacy and what tradition means for the Europeans, the history, identity, and decline of the United States, the roots of the Western intellectual tradition and the reason for the extremism and irrealism among so many of its intellectuals, and many other subjects.
There are many fascinating elements embedded within, useful both to understand the viewpoint and the perspective of Venner, and also for their relevance and interest in of themselves. For me, my interest in reading the works which are published by Venner, although there is certainly a genuine historical aspect, relate much more to his own connection to contemporary European right, far right, and identitaire movements, for whom his ideals form an important cornerstone - how could they not, when he himself uses with such liberal profligacy the word identitaire? Thus it is of some of the greatest interest on my part to see the references and the discussion about the relation between politics and social change as defined by Venner, when he delves into the ultimate influence which the Spanish Falange, as well as other fascist movements in Italy and Germany had had upon their socieites - in the end, these political religions of the modern age were for him doomed to fail, either unable to carry out their actions to their conclusion when dealing with a purely political field of action, or undermined inevitably by their own contradictions and that when one comes to the end, a political religion, is still politics, and defined and limited by the requirements therein contained, that unlike a religion it cannot simply rely upon convinction and the promise of salvation in the afterlife to save itself when its promises upon earth prove to be illusory. For the contemporary generation identitaire movements across Europe, who reject the political field of battle, it makes for an intriguing comparison - to be sure, some of this is caused by their weakness, for it is almost unimaginable to think of an identitaire party managing to win serious power in a European country, and even the far right which adopts some of their ideas, only goes so far - but nevertheless there are deeper philosophical trends which underly it, and it is through the work of books such as that of Venner that we are able to hence see these.
The attention to the traditions of European thought and of European culture is also something which I find constantly fascinating: the comparison between the traditions of the Celts and the Greeks, which both reposed upon the idea of the heroic death of the young hero, choosing rather than the long life of tranquility the glorious and short storm of existence before being felled upon the field of battle in the death of a hero, is one which is replesedant in European history, but which is, or so at least claims Venner, one with much less resonance elsewhere. That from the storm tossed cliffs of the Atlantic to the warm and sunny lands of the Aegean, from the cold and mist-clad forests of the north to the sun-dappled olive trees besides Athens, could nevertheless grow from this fecund soil, united by the ancient links between the Indo-European people and of a claimed long, cultural, connection of Europe, stretching back as far as the painted grottos which riddle the continent, is an impressive claim, although one for which, I at least, must harbor more doubts: what of the other branches of the Indo-Europeans, who travelled to the south and to the east, and whose descendents now live along the banks of the Ganges? What of the great disruption that must have been levelled by the arrival of the Indo-Europeans, who replaced the previous inhabitants of the continent and brought forth their own languages and customs? What of those who were never replaced, such as the Finns in the North, or those who arrived later but now are as European as any others, such as the Hungarians? Perhaps, if one as to treat this book as one which is a cold and dry history novel, it would be one which to me would pose more qualms and difficulties in reading it, but for me, it is one which reflects a conversation, an analysis, the roots of thought and ideas, rather than simply being a dissertation upon history and the past, and hence for me, the uncertainties on my part represent something else to explore when one day I will arrive to read the other works which form the crucial butresses of Venner's ideas, from which, just as like with his principles concerning the Greeks, he draws the arguments which he presents within this volume.
While at the same time recognizing the impressive breadth and width of the discussion, and the fact that it does form at the same time a rather fascinating discussion and look into the thoughts of Venner, it is my belief that this book does less well than Un samouraï d'Occident at explaining the full grasp and the variety of thoughts which Venner has marshalled. or to speak more precisely, in Un samourai, there is a full, rich, highly detailed and elegant enquiry into the ideological origins and the myths of Western civilization. Flashes of this pierce through the veil in this book, but they are incomplete and scattered in contrast, without the same depth and power which is provided in the great current of thought which Venner guides in his other tome. Conversely, this volume is a broader and without the same extensive amount of research that went into producing it, the product of an educated mind rather than an educated quill. Perhaps it is simply my preference for the literary spirit rather than for the spoken word, even now when it finds itself frozen into the white paper, but in any case I find the work which is portrayed here to be less profound than that which is contained in a Samuraï d'occident. There is less of the intellectual tradition, from the well of which we can on our own, without needing for the thoughts and ideas to be themselves explained to us, grasp the ideas, mentality, and intention of Venner.
Despite these flaws, certainly the book makes for a fascinating topic. It is not so much to my mind, a history book, certainly not in the traditional sense, but rather a commentary on what history means to a people and what history means to the historian himself who writes it. In this, it is not terribly dissimilar to my opinion which I had previously provided for Un samouraï d'Occident, but rather more marked, as Le choc de l'Histoire continues the same trends which were illustrated in its counterpart, but without the same great bastion of thought which enabled us to truly comprehend the significance of Venner's ideas and to place them into their appropriate context. It makes for a book which might be an even better introduction into his ideas than Un samouraï d'Occident, but which conversely, is less satisfying, less rich, less deep and less organic, one which is more content to merely explain what his principles are, rather than to bring forth the flowing river from which we ourselves are content to gaze and see the currents and the patterns which move beneath the surface and which attire our attention.