Oh no, Michel Houellebecq dons a Yellow Vest too!

Dialogue with the Alter Ego on the French writer’s Trump defense

Trump is pursuing and amplifying the policy of disengagement initiated by Obama; this is very good news for the rest of the world. (…) The Americans are no longer prepared to die for the freedom of the press. Besides, what freedom of the press? Ever since I was twelve years old, I’ve watched the range of opinions permissible in the press steadily shrinking.(…) Unlike free-market liberals (who are, in their way, as fanatical as communists), President Trump doesn’t consider global free trade the be-all and end-all of human progress. When free trade favors American interests, President Trump is in favor of free trade; in the contrary case, he finds old-fashioned protectionist measures entirely appropriate. (…) President Trump doesn’t like the European Union; he thinks we don’t have a lot in common, especially not “values”; and I call this fortunate, because, what values? “Human rights”? Seriously? (…) It’s my belief that we in Europe have neither a common language, nor common values, nor common interests, that, in a word, Europe doesn’t exist, and that it will never constitute a people or support a possible democracy (see the etymology of the term), simply because it doesn’t want to constitute a people. In short, Europe is just a dumb idea that has gradually turned into a bad dream, from which we shall eventually wake up. “

Michel Houellebecq: Donald Trump Is a Good President. Harper’s Magazine, December 20, 2018

Question by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE): We are aware that Noah denkt™ is reluctant to come out of its self-imposed retirement from public debate and speak out again despite all the “macro garbage” and “manufactroversy” (see Salman Rushdie : The Golden House, 2017 ) that is engulfing us. But Michel Houellebecq’s Harper’s Magazine statements (“Trump is a good President”, December 20, 2018) forces us to confront you again. You probably read the pertaining article, didn’t you?

Answer by Noah denkt™ (Nd): Yes, we did.

AE: To summarize Houellebecq’s position both in the Harper’s Magazine essay as well as in his literary work, it is probably fair to say that he is wary of the mass-market ignorance and hyperbole the post-modern civilization generates, that in his mind the opportunist free trade regime has a lot to do with this increasing absence of decency and refinement, and that a return to protectionist, nation-state policies might not be too big a mistake. Would Noah denkt™ agree with this characterization of Houellebecq’s views?

Nd: We would. The latter part, pertaining to the preferable return to protectionist, nation-state policies was nevertheless somewhat new to us. His novels so far did not explicitly suggest an anti-EU stance, for instance.

AE: So what does Noah denkt™ make of this latest, let’s call it, yellow-vest-evolution in Houellebecq’s thinking?

Nd: Well, it needs to be taken seriously. And that is true despite the lack of depth his views may exhibit in terms of historical perspective and economic analysis. If a fine, poetic French soul like his comes to these kinds of protectionist conclusions this clearly deserves attention. Obviously, there is no denying that liberalism, democracy and capitalism are in very dire straits at this point. Financial markets everywhere would crash if they weren’t being propped up by extremely blown-up central bank balance sheets. Companies more often than not have to push the legal limits in order to satisfy their investors’ revenue expectations (VW, Facebook, fiscal engineering etc.). Entrepreneurial can-do confidence usually receives VC funding only for dating, storing and “cornerjob” search applications. And voters by now are so tired of the usual set phrases repeated over and over again by their political class that they meanwhile prefer to vote for outright nutcases instead endorsing the same old rhetoric yet again. It is hence no wonder that people like Houellebecq ponder whether a fundamental switch away from UN/WTO internationalism might not bring some relief here?

AE: And what is Noah denkt™’s position in this? Obviously you have defended both the European Union and Houellebecq’s work in the past.

Nd: And we still do. Of course, we recognize the possibility that people living in the internationalist liberal system might by now be emotionally too exhausted and despondent to still be able to defend their freedom. It is our opinion, however, that the mere benefits which the liberal architecture has provided us with over the last 70 plus years (peace, increased life expectation, respect for minority rights, scientific advances etc…) should oblige us to give it an extra chance. After all, it may well be that a good part of the decay, the chaos and the dysfunctionality which we now see in the turbo-capitalist reality has more to do with inadequate training and education than with an inherent natural human tendency towards value-less, opportunistic behavior.

AE: Why do you say that?

Nd: Take the fact, for instance, that a lot of people never manage to find their professional vocation and fulfillment.  Clearly this is not what people want. And clearly this points to a deficiency in the quality of tutoring that people tend to receive in their adolescence. Of course, it is only natural that people who are ultimately forced to take whatever loveless job they can get end up suffering from all sorts of discontents afterwards.  – But it is not just on the lower end of the market that the academic system fails. Take also the fact that the best our highly acclaimed ivy-league business schools have been able to produce in the last few decades are either entrepreneurs who come up with business models based on advertising revenues or graduates that sign up for bubble generating financial sector jobs. Is that really the top end of what these institutions can accomplish? Should we not expect more educational ingenuity from schools that never get tired to brag about their academic excellence? Noah denkt™ certainly believes that a lot more can be done here.

AE: Of course you have presented your views on the educational dilemma before on this site. And we recognize the fact that it is not your intention to provide all the practical answers here but to stimulate a national debate instead. Is it not, however, likewise possible that the prolonged absence of such a debate suggests that much more than what we have now can really not be achieved in the educational sector? Is it not quite legitimate for human beings to prefer hiding in the safe and comfortable realm of mediocracy rather than venturing out into the sacrifice of the unknown? After all, it is only to fair to presume that not everybody is equipped to be a Steve Jobs or a Lang Lang.

Nd: If it were true what you say, and standard common sense quality is all we can ultimately expect even from the most highly acclaimed institutions then we should probably also ditch the never ending rhetoric about being cutting edge, state of the art and striving for excellence and perfection which otherwise infests the marketplace on a daily basis. – No, no, it is our conviction that it is precisely our own inbred mediocracy which inspires us to stand out. The desire to improve and excel is hence just as fundamental to our psychological makeup as is the wish to play it safe. And ignoring our aspirations for uniqueness and stardom would therefore violate our souls just as much as does denying our lingering need for comfort and security. To get out of this conundrum we need to take calculated risks. And in the present case this can only mean that we hedge our exposure to a possible self-destruction of freedom by accepting the need for more and better academic ingenuity. If we don’t get better in this we might just as well go back and follow Houellebecq’s protectionist nation-state recommendations into the not so glorious past.

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