By: Michel Houellebecq
Translator: Lorin Stein
At several of the book’s junctures, I found myself wondering incredulously: “is Houellebecq reading NRx? Or is NRx reading Houellebecq?” Realistically speaking, both Houellebecq and the denizens of the alt-right have undoubtedly arrived independently at similar conclusions about the current age. The catastrophic failures of liberalism are so myriad and so high profile that it is fast becoming apparent to many that the current Western socio-political dispensations are entirely unsustainable. Nonetheless, the themes and motifs explored in this superb novel bear a distinctly reactionary flavor that makes it a refreshing zephyr as compared to the stagnant and excruciatingly derivative offerings in the world of contemporary adult fiction.
It’s 2022, and the protagonist Francois begins by informing the reader that the apogee of his life was the defense of his doctoral thesis on 19th Century French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans, everything thereafter being a profound disappointment. Through his eyes, the reader sees the pernicious & soul-killing effects of Western cultural dildofication: we watch as Francois tepidly attends to his career as a professor of literature at the Sorbonne, as he eats insipid TV dinners night after night, and as he avoids emotional entanglements opting instead to engage in anhedonic sodomitic acts with an assortment of liberated sluts year after year – because that’s simply what one does in the (future) current year. However, things have been changing in his native France for the better part of 10 years, changes which culminate in the election of an openly Islamic political party assuming power in the country with the explicit goal of reconstituting and consolidating the Roman & Ottoman Empires and the complete Islamification of the new realm.
While many readers clearly regard the novel as a horrifying presage of things to come, this book’s strength lies primarily in its brutal indictment of the current cultural climate of the West. It is descriptive rather than predictive. The book takes place in a future state, but every observation made in its pages describes the degeneracy of the current state of affairs. Submission calls into question the very validity of the West’s entire liberal, atheistic project, dating back to the Revolution of 1789. Houellebecq contemptuously describes Western decadence & civilizational decline, that having replaced faith in God with adherence to the Cult of Self now flails about sans direction, seeking to find meaning in the most meaningless of pursuits. Francois is, above all, a man of his time and he suffers from every posdmodern malady that all men of his time suffer from: hollowness, nihilism, aimlessness, and despair. He goes from existential crisis to existential crisis, utterly incapable of introspection, lacking the tools to critically assess the culture.
But Francois realizes, at least subconsciously, that something is dreadfully amiss with the current state of affairs. He frequently makes one-off comments lampooning the religion of Gender Equality, noting how destructive it has been to intersexual relationships and to family stability. He opines on the ridiculousness of serial monogamy. He notes that the academy is self-serving and exists to perpetuate itself at the expense of its students. He comments on the futility of equality. He understands that the feckless French political parties are basically two sides of the same coin and would be willing to sell their own people out in order to ensure their own survival. His obsession with Huysmans can be easily interpreted as his longing for the halcyon days of France, when true beauty and art flourished and intellectual rigor reigned supreme.
An especially interesting theme is the irrelevance of the left-right political dichotomy that in many ways channels the philosophy of Aleksander Dugin. Houellebecq, through Francois observes that leftism, which was a godless death cult from inception has spectacularly and bloodily failed; nationalism (or fascism or nativism, whichever you choose), now decoupled from traditional mores and a robust belief in God is also a failure, as it now lacks the authority to provide a divine justification for the existence of the nation-state. Houellebecq’s greatest achievement in the book is that he forces the reader to ask himself: “what makes a civilization worthy of survival? What makes this life worth living?” When the new Islamic regime takes over France, it is clear that the changes made are beneficial to everyone. By contrast, the preceding zeitgeist and its promotion of an empty existence of work, booze, and casual sex seems downright dreary. What’s remarkable is that Islam doesn’t sound bad at all by comparison. The new regime manages to turn back 226 years of history practically overnight by restoring a natural order, expelling women from the workplace, scaling back the welfare state and placing the family ahead of the individual, encouraging reproduction, restoring the centrality of faith and God, and embracing masculinity. There is a lesson here: if the West is not willing to disavow hollow materialism and liberalism, if France is not willing to reexamine the premises of the Revolution in order to save itself – both deserve to be cannibalized by the only remaining non-degenerate ideology that still possesses the vitality necessary to impose its will upon the world and the will to do so – Islam.
It is important to note that Houellebecq is no friend of Islam. Nevertheless, he recognizes the signs of the decline and understands that in the face of an enervated, valueless culture that is unmoored from everything that has traditionally infused human life with meaning, other value systems will rise to fill the void. The Ottoman Empire 2.0 may very well be the West’s successor if it does not rediscover its vigor.
Stylistically, the novel is a fun read. The translator has done an impeccable job, and the book’s humor and acerbic wit comes across perfectly in English. The one criticism that I have of the book is that the action speeds up improbably after the Islamic Party’s election. For example, the book describes women dressing far more modestly a mere 3 weeks after the election and other near instantaneous changes that would be improbable unless the reader is to assume that the Islamic Party and its coalition was circumventing the legislature.
The book is a fun and fairly quick read that gives the reader much food for thought.