Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Michel Houellebecq

I came across this article by Michel Houellebecq and decided to comment on it in order to take a short break from Jean-Jacques Rousseau; I'll return to Cranston on my next post. At the moment I feel vindicated in preferring essays to fiction, because, in the case of an essay, the author can't attribute ideas to fictional characters, and he or she therefore has less wiggle room. Houellebecq's essay reads almost exactly the same as his novels, and now at least he is taking direct responsibility for positions rather than placing them in the mouths of imaginary characters.

The essay starts out reasonably well, and along the way Houellebecq admits that Donald Trump is a "pretty repulsive" person. He provides what I think is an acceptable short summary of the role the U.S. played during World War II and its actions on the international scene since then. America helped defeat Hitler and prevented the U.S.S.R. from advancing into Western Europe. However, America's international record since then has been dismal, if you only look at Vietnam and Iraq and don't even count Afghanistan or Libya. Houellebecq correctly notes that the quality of U.S. presidents has been amazingly low since World War II. I'm thinking that perhaps Eisenhower wasn't too bad, but all of the rest have been in the mediocre-to-inferior range. Houellebecq scorns American interventionism in a manner understood by many throughout the world, but which receives little negative publicity here. Beyond this point, I think the essay goes downhill.

As a foreign observer of America, I don't think that Houellebecq is fully attuned to the nature or extent of Donald Trump's ignorance. He misattributes Trump's treaty renegotiation strategy and "America first" slogans to a rare sagacity that is beyond the capacities of most politicians. He thinks that Trump's policies, besides getting the U.S. off the backs of other countries, will benefit American workers. At this point in the essay there is an explosion of Houellebecq's ignorance, something that simmers in the background of his novels but never shows itself in the light of day. Trump's trade war is disrupting international economic activities at no benefit to any country. Of particular importance, and contradicting Trump's campaign promises, American farmers are declaring bankruptcy in droves, partly as a result of low commodity prices exacerbated by the trade war. I should also mention that there is no evidence that Trump's policies will increase the number of manufacturing jobs or middle-class incomes in the U.S. To make matters worse, Houellebecq loves Brexit and the disbanding of the EU and NATO, mistakenly thinking that the end of globalization will bring prosperity to ordinary workers. Houellebecq has also bought into the somewhat improbable suggestion that Trump, through shrewd negotiating techniques, will denuclearize North Korea. Oddly, Houellebecq even seems to like Vladimir Putin.

Thanks to this essay, I have a clearer idea of Houellebecq's intellectual deficiencies. He doesn't recognize that, like Donald Trump, he has no understanding of economics. Also, far more important in a novelist, he doesn't realize that Trump's pathology and actual skills are a detriment to his being of service to anyone other than himself. Trump came to prominence by teaming up with criminals and bullying whoever stood in the way of his business interests. He only cares about activities that will benefit him personally. This is evident in everything that he does and has resulted in one of the most incompetent executive branches in American history and the careless and irresponsible violation of the U. S. Constitution. Houellebecq doesn't mention climate change, which is being denied by Trump. He also says nothing about overpopulation or repressive regimes; Trump supports overpopulation by opposing abortions, and his primary solution for asylum-seekers seems to be to let them die on the opposite side of a wall. Houellebecq clearly hasn't done his homework, or he would have known that Trump's tax cut mainly benefits the wealthy and has inflated the budget deficit for future generations. Perhaps Houellebecq's most conspicuous omission is the way in which Trump's right-wing populism echoes the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany during the 1930's.

Just to speculate a little, it may be that, now that Houellebecq has become internationally famous, he has started to follow in the footsteps of his friend, Gérard Depardieu, the tax dodger: Donald Trump may be just the man for nouveau-riche bourgeoisie who can never have enough money to satisfy themselves. I had been thinking about reading Houellebecq's latest novel, Serotonin, but I'm going to give it a pass. Whatever Houellebecq's motives, he is simply too ignorant to be taken seriously. After spending time reading about the French Enlightenment, it is disappointing to see just how far the standards have fallen. In order to qualify as a French intellectual, one once had to know something; today a cursory knowledge of blowjobs seems to be all that is necessary. Houellebecq is the last person anyone would want to consult regarding the problems currently facing the world.

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