Jewish Political Studies Review 19:1-2 (Spring 2007)
A Chilling Analysis
Les penchants criminels de l’Europe démocratique (The Criminal Tendencies of Democratic Europe), by Jean-Claude Milner, Editions Verdier, 2003, 155 pp. [French]
Reviewed by Michelle Mazel
This book offers a new approach and a startling explanation for the growing hostility of most European countries toward the state of Israel. Neither the plight of the Palestinians nor the real or imagined sins of the Jewish state account for the deterioration of Israel’s image in Europe. Jean-Claude Milner, the well-known French philosopher and linguist, argues that Europeans now view the Jewish state’s very existence as an obstacle to expanding Europe’s influence across the Mediterranean and throughout the Arab world. Were Israel to disappear, it would not be mourned in most capital cities of the continent.
Upon its publication in 2003, Milner’s book made headlines and was immediately reviewed at length in leading newspapers and magazines. Bernard-Henri Levy in Le Point and Claude Lanzmann in Marianne tended to agree with its message, and even Paul Kechichian in Le Monde found the book “terrifying.” It is a slim, succinct volume in which each word has been carefully crafted. In a didactic approach, Milner uses seventy-four theses to develop his theory.
Before World War I, Milner maintains, Europe was seeking a solution to the Jewish problem because it already yearned for a unified, homogeneous society. Because they were perceived as different, the Jews constituted an obstacle to this vision. Since the era of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, some thinkers believed that granting full equality to the Jews would solve the problem by allowing them to fully integrate into European society. This did not work, and, according to Milner, it was left to Hitler to remove the obstacle by using state-of-the-art methods of extermination.
When World War II ended, there were hardly any Jews left in Europe and the Jewish question no longer existed. Hitler had thus paved the way for the emergence of a unified Europe. This helps explain why the continent was so ready at first to help the reborn Jewish state: its existence proved that the Jews of Europe had not been wholly exterminated.
Israel as Obstacle
But as time passed and the new European identity gradually strengthened, the story of what had happened to the Jews, and why, lost its importance. Indifference gradually displaced sympathy for Israel. Then, in a new development, Europe desired greater influence in the Middle Eastern and Arab world, long a favorite of Britain and France. Once again, the Jews-this time in Israel-were in the way, obstructing European progress.
“The Jews no longer interest anyone in Europe,” Milner writes. “In Durban, Paris, and many other places, Israel’s disappearance is presented as opening the way to a reconciliation between all people of goodwill.” Behind the Jewish state, however, it is still the Jew who is targeted wherever he is; at Durban one could hear the mob chanting “One Jew, one bullet.”
In the background of this renewed hostility toward the Jews, a civilizational upheaval is occurring. Modern Europe seeks to free itself of all moral constraints and traditional values and to build a postmodern society where the family unit-man, woman, and children-no longer has a place. However, once again the Jews are believed to be different in continuing to uphold these values, and their very existence is seen as a challenge.
Milner offers no easy solution to the problem, and his conclusion is far from clear: “The first duty of the Jews is not, as Herzl imagined it, to free Europe of the Jews. The first duty of the Jews is to free themselves from Europe. Not by ignoring it (a thing only the United States can afford to do) but by knowing it thoroughly, as it was-criminal by deed-and as it has become-criminal by boundless omission.”
The book is not an easy read, and not only because of its grim message. Milner is first and foremost a philosopher, often engaging in arcane digressions and technical terminology. What he has to say is, however, important. Yet, puzzlingly, nowhere does Milner address the growing influence of Islam on European society. This religion emphasizes values that contradict everything modern Europe represents. A possible explanation is that at the time of writing, the full scope of that problem had not yet emerged.
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MICHELLE MAZEL is a graduate of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and the Faculté de Droit of that city.