Dancing on a Hero’s Grave
By Paul Gottfried
As a college student I would buy copies of The New Yorker to sample the sparkling prose of James Thurber and S. J. Perelman and to appreciate the clever cartoons that graced each issue. Despite the magazine’s veering toward the trendy left thereafter, I could still find material in it worth reading well into the 1980s, such as John Updike’s elegantly phrased erotica or the occasional vignettes of interwar Hungary by John Lukacs. Then The New Yorker took a further slide into sheer madness, and the results are visible in a libelous obit that came out last Wednesday by a certain Judith Thurman. Seething with rage syndrome, Thurman announced the “Final Solution” of my onetime correspondent and one of France’s most illustrious historians of the last century, Dominique Venner (1935-2013).
On May 21, Venner, acting desperately in the face of events he could no longer control, committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Venner left behind a suicide note explaining his horror at the gay-marriage law that French President Francois Hollande had just pushed through the National Assembly. Venner further lamented the self-destruction of his country and of European civilization that he ascribed to gay marriage and to Western Europeans’ unwillingness to keep Muslims from resettling their countries.
It continues to be disputed whether Venner was a believing Catholic, although the “Catholic traditionalists” in whose company Thurman places Venner admired his cultural stands and continue to hope that he’ll make it into heaven despite the mortal sin he committed by hastening his departure from this world.
Venner was also a hero to the neo-pagan European right, and since the 1960s he was active in laying and extending the foundations of the emphatically anti-Christian French new right, together with his frequent collaborator Alain de Benoist. Venner had a clear record of standing defiantly in the face of the French Communist Party. Unlike the communists and other French leftists who supported the Algerian rebels, Venner fought gallantly and was decorated as a sergeant in the French forces in Algeria.
Contrary to what Thurman tells us, Venner did not get his political start as a fan of the Nazis and their French collaborators (although his parents had once rallied to Jacques Doriot’s French fascist party). He rose to fame as a fervent anti-communist and European nationalist. The young Venner risked his life as a volunteer in the Algerian War, went to Budapest in 1956 to stand with the outnumbered Hungarian rebels against the Soviet occupational forces, and later was caught sacking the premises of the French Communist Party, whose allegiance to the Soviets he detested.
In the last twenty years of his life, this “unapologetic Islamophobe,” to use Thurman’s phrase, showed the audacity to characterize both the takeover of European inner cities by a hostile Muslim population and “the declining white birthrate in France and Europe” as “a catastrophic peril for the future.” Several blog respondents to this screed noted the embarrassing coincidence that Thurman’s expression of rage against the “Islamophobe” Venner appeared at the very time that predominantly Muslim riots had broken out in Sweden and a Muslim convert cut off the head of a hapless off-duty soldier in London.
In a final nod to PC, Thurman tells us that Venner’s commentaries “evoked the racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Fascist European right between the two World Wars, which has been moderated, though not abolished, by postwar hate-speech laws.” Thurman does not offer even a sliver of proof that Venner imitated the style of Hitler’s Mein Kampf; having read both Venner and Hitler, I would have no trouble distinguishing between the two, even if I’m not a certified “antifascist.” But we should be grateful for small improvements: Now we have the enforcement of “hate-speech laws” in Europe to protect us from what Ms. Thurman doesn’t care to hear. As one of her respondents asks very much to the point: Is Ms. Thurman out to ban as reminiscent of fascism any oral or written communication that doesn’t meet her criteria of sensitive speech?
Thurman’s treatment of Venner as a trained historian specializing in military affairs is almost as perplexing as it is glaringly biased. Thurman tells us that Venner wrote a work “admiring of the Vichy collaboration with Hitler” and other presumably pro-Nazi polemics, but she then identifies the dead author with “a history of the Red Army that received a prize from the Académie Française.” Venner was widely respected for his objective two-volume Histoire de L’Armeé Rouge, which starts with the creation of the Soviet army during the Russian Civil War and then examines the further development of Soviet military forces through World War II. Venner also compiled an eleven-volume encyclopedia on firearms that continues to enjoy academic favor. The works that obviously irk Thurman, however, are Venner’s sympathetic studies of the white forces that combated the Red Armies and his work on French divisions that fought alongside the Wehrmacht in Russia during World War II.*
Perhaps most inexcusably for his leftist critics, Venner published a critical work on the French Resistance in 2000, presenting its shadow side in a way that the French left or its American journalistic appendix do not care to hear about. Venner reminded us of the frequency with which communists in the Resistance carried out assassinations against political enemies, a tendency that became pandemic after the Liberation. He also dwells on isolated terrorist acts by the Résistants that did little to advance the cause of freeing France from a foreign occupation.**
I knew Venner best for having edited two stimulating journals that I would devour whenever I could get my hands on them: Enquête sur l’histoire (in the 1990s) and its recent successor La Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire, a publication that displays the same willingness to defy leftist taboos as everything else Venner wrote.
A kindly leftist historian Benoît Rayski wrote after he heard of Venner’s death:
I rarely agreed with his ideas, but he was a man who escaped with his courage and nobility from the usual ideological trappings and he wore his independence as a badge of honor.
Too bad our leftist hacks in Midtown can’t show a similar generosity toward a dead, non-conformist scholar.
* Gottfried is referring here to Venner’s Les Blancs et les Rouges: histoire de la guerre civile russe, 1917-1921 (Paris: Pygmalion Gérard watelet, 1997.).
** Gottfried appears to be referring here to Venner’s Histoire critique de la Résistance (Paris: Pygmalion/G. Watelet, 1995).
Gottfried, Paul. “Dancing on a Hero’s Grave.” Taki’s Magazine, 29 May 2013. <http://takimag.com/article/dancing_on_a_heros_grave_paul_gottfried/print#ixzz2UnYjBhkH >.