‘The white race is the cancer of human history’

Dalrymple comes across an article by Susan Sontag in the American quarterly Partisan Review. It reads in part:

Neither do I dare deride the turn toward the East (or more generally, to the wisdom of the nonwhite world) on the part of a tiny group of young people — however uninformed and jejune the adherence usually is. (But then nothing could be more ignorant than Fiedler’s insinuation that Oriental modes of thought are ‘feminine’ and ‘passive,’ which is the reason the demasculinised kids are drawn to them.) Why shouldn’t they look for wisdom elsewhere? If America is the culmination of Western white civilisation, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilisation. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far. It’s easier, much easier, to accuse the kids, to reproach them for being ‘non-participants in the past’ and ‘drop-outs from history.’ But it isn’t real history Fiedler is referring to with such solicitude. It’s just our history, which he claims is identical with ‘the tradition of the human,’ the tradition of ‘reason’ itself. Of course, it’s hard to assess life on this planet from a genuinely world-historical perspective; the effort induces vertigo and seems like an invitation to suicide. But from a world-historical perspective, that local history that some young people are repudiating (with their fondness for dirty words, their peyote, their macrobiotic rice, their Dadaist art, etc.) looks a good deal less pleasing and less self-evidently worthy of perpetuation. The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilisation has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions — which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself. What the Mongol hordes threaten is far less frightening than the damage that western ‘Faustian’ man, with his idealism, his magnificent art, his sense of intellectual adventure, his world-devouring energies for conquest, has already done, and further threatens to do.

Dalrymple comments:

The question with assertions of this nature is whether they can ever correspond to any genuine feeling, or are but the manifestation of a straining after feeling. To me they have the authentic ring of humbug, which is the besetting sin of our age (which is not to say that it has existed or been prevalent in no other).

Hazlitt (‘On cant and hypocrisy’, London Weekly Review, 1828) tells us that

sincerity has to do with the connexion between our words and thoughts, and not between our belief and actions. The last constantly belie the strongest convictions and resolutions in the best of men; it is only the base and dishonest who give themselves credit with their tongue, for sentiments and opinions which in their hearts they disown.

To this, says Dalrymple,

he might have added feeling, for expressed feelings can be as divorced from true feelings as cant can be from true belief. The complexity of the human mind is such that we can easily disguise the divorce from ourselves and deny that it exists, the denial leading us to act as if the false were true.

Dalrymple does not believe that Sontag

thought or felt of herself as a cancerous cell, for such a sincere thought or feeling is really possible only to someone with a mental state akin to Cotard’s syndrome, the rare delusion that one is already (and deservedly) dead or putrefying: and people with Cotard’s syndrome do not write essays, not even for the Partisan Review.

He adds:

The grandiose moral exhibitionism of which the Sontag quotation is so notable an example serves another function in our moral economy: to divert the locus of our moral concern from the pettiness of our daily existences to the largest general problems facing the world.

It renders alien to us, he says, the Blakean thought (Jerusalem, f. 55, ll. 48–53, 60–6):

And many conversèd on these things as they labour’d at the furrow,
Saying: ‘It is better to prevent misery than to release from misery;
It is better to prevent error than to forgive the criminal.
Labour well the Minute Particulars: attend to the Little Ones;
And those who are in misery cannot remain so long,
If we do but our duty: labour well the teeming Earth.…
He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.
General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer;
For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organised Particulars,
And not in generalising Demonstrations of the Rational Power:
The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity.
Establishment of Truth depends on destruction of Falsehood continually,
On Circumcision, not on Virginity, O Reasoners of Albion!

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