The Testament of a European Patriot: A Review of Dominique Venner’s “Breviary of the Unvanquished” (Part 2)

Dominique Venner in his youth

Part 1

We Heretics: A Thankless Struggle

Venner has no doubt that, if we are to live amidst the existential threats against us, we must struggle. Again illustrating his attraction to the heroic Western tradition noted in Part 1, struggle is integral to life. In a particularly inspiring passage for those of us at war with the present system, Venner writes:

To exist is to struggle against that which is denying me. To be unbowed does not consist in collecting heretical books, dreaming of fantastical conspiracies, or taking to the maquis in the Carpathians. It means holding oneself up to one’s own standard in the name of a higher standard. To be loyal to oneself in the face of the void. To ensure one is never cured of one’s youthfulness. To prefer alienating people to living on one’s knees. Amidst the setbacks, to never ask oneself the question of the uselessness of the struggle. We act because it is disgraceful to give up, and it is better to go down fighting than to surrender. (28)

Venner often notes that history is filled with surprises and unexpected reversals. As a result, the demobilization caused by hopelessness is somewhat irrational and in any case unhelpful: You never know in what circumstances our labors could prove salutary.

Venner learned this from his time as a soldier and political prisoner during the Algerian War:

To have lived a troubled epoch up close is an enormous advantage for the meditative historian. I thus discovered that the courage of a radical dissident in a period of civil war demands guts above and beyond that of heroes of regular warfare The latter receive from society their legitimacy and the satisfactions of glory. In contrast, the radical dissident must draw from within himself his justifications, confront general censure, the aversion of a great many, and an unglamorous persecution. (54)

This is indeed the greatest difficulty of non-sociopathic people — opposing a disgraceful status quo at the price of enduring censure and ostracism. But public opinion can change quickly. Venner notes that, as a youngster in the Second World War, he could see how public opinion could rapidly change from one day to the next, the assumptions of yesterday being forgotten, and new myths fabricated.

Venner is profoundly disturbed by the illusion that Westerners can forever live without war and, on the contrary, notes how the prospect of war is a factor of social unity:

Due to an uncontrollable “progress,” war, in the twentieth century, became an industrialization of death, which, however, did not annul the tragic grandeur of the soldier. Among the more lucid of the Europeans, this cruel reality also did not eliminate the feeling that struggle is anyway inherent to life, the fruit of factors and happenstances which escape our will, and which one must face with a firm heart. (49)

At the risk of worsening the case against me, based upon all that I have learned from history, I know that the presence, even veiled, of war, is what gives meaning and poetry to a society, allowing it to build and maintain itself, to not be a formless crowd, but a people, a polis, a nation. [. . .] Thus is the paradox of war! (51)

In this, Venner is again speaking to the heroic Indo-European tradition of the West which is militaristic to the core. To be a man is to be willing to go to war and sacrifice one’s life for one’s people. This might be called a paradox of individualism — the fact that to be a man in the highly individualistic and competitive Indo-European social milieu meant that you did not give a thought to death in battle on behalf of “a people, a polis, a nation.” Fundamentally, the commitment to the group among individualists is a moral commitment based on personal honor and reputation.

This is also in line with recent evolutionary thinking and scientific studies, which increasingly suggest that phenomena enabling group cohesion and solidarity, such as in-group altruism, religion, and ethnocentrism, evolved specifically in the context of constant inter-tribal war in our prehistory. These traits were necessary to triumph against other tribes. On this, see for instance the New York Times science journalist Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures (Penguin, 2010).

In our struggle, Venner emphasizes the need to construct, by words, our own political identity and that of our enemies:

To choose the name by which one designates an adversary, to name him, that is already to impose oneself upon him . . . to prepare his annihilation or, conversely, to liberate oneself from his domination. [. . .] Words are weapons. To give oneself one’s own words, and first of all a name, is to affirm one’s existence, one’s autonomy, one’s freedom. (28-29)

Jewish organizations have certainly excelled at this, being extremely adept at branding and name-calling to marginalize critics as “White supremacists” or “anti-Semites.” Now that the Internet has given dissidents their own media voice, already we can appreciate the power of words such as “identitarian” and “cuckservative.”

Stoicism: Living and Dying Well

In helping us get through this Dark Age, Venner suggests the return to the ancient Romans’ Stoic wisdom. We must never forget that, however psychologically difficult our struggles may be, materially our ancestors lived and overcame in incomparably more difficult circumstances. They learned sophisticated techniques in living well, notably Stoicism.

On this, I can only recommend reading the Stoic philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelis’ Meditations — a philosophical work which, in addition to being short, was written by a doer rather than a strict thinker. It therefore offers wonderful practical insights for the busy modern reader. As Aurelius notes: “Eat like a man, drink like a man, dress, marry, have children . . . live the life of a citizen. Show us this, so that we know you really learned something from the philosophers.”

Venner also gives us examples of feminine strength and stoic courage. He gives the example of a working class native French woman who has become a minority in her own neighborhood. Her children wonder why they are not Black or Arab and indeed her oldest son has converted to Islam. Yet, she soldiers on. More brutal is the story of a German woman in the anonymous memoirs A Woman in Berlin. (Virago Press, 2006). In it she recounts, without self-pity, the horrors and rapes she and other Berliners suffered at the hands of the Red Army in 1945.

If we are European patriots, this means not only affirming some heretical truths in the abstract, but actually living by them through the cultivation of good habits. Venner notes:

[For the ancient philosophers], to be an Epicurian, a Stoic, or a Neoplatonist meant an exercise on oneself, a spiritual transformation and a change of behavior whose effects on the soul were analogous to those made by training on the athlete’s body: self-control in Stoicism, or renunciation of superfluous pleasures in Epicurianism. (239)

Venner urges us not to be dependent on wealth, and to carefully guard and cultivate our “inner citadel.” Above all, we must not deny death. Human life only has meaning in a frank realization of the inevitability of death. We must not complain, not cede to self-pity, and not shrink in the face of death.

Venners dedicates an entire chapter to Japan — no doubt the most refined example of non-European civilization — to better highlight European uniqueness by way of comparison. Stoicism in some ways is similar to Japanese Zen Buddhism, both urging indifference to that which does not depend on us. The Japanese nobility, unlike the European, were franker in recognizing death, especially in the practice of seppuku (ritual suicide). In contrast, the European nobility’s warrior ethos degenerated into bourgeois morality and Christian sentimentality. Citing the case of Yukio Mishima, Venner asserts: “Only passive death is meaningless. Willed, it has the meaning one gives it, even when it has no practical utility” (115).

For Venner, we must, in the face of death, be like the ironically smiling knight in the famous woodcut by Albrecht Dürer: Unshakable.

From Modern Hubris to the Return to Nature

Venner deems Western culture today to be dominated by a sense of nihilism and the hubristic illusions of “limitlessness.” Between the Enlightenment and World War II, Westerners have come to believe that limitless cultural and material “progress” is possible. Thus, they believe, all the hard-won wisdom of our ancestors is obsolete. (Evolutionary thinkers would add: Egalitarian progressives have the illusion that limitless cultural and material progress is possible despite biologically based differences between individuals and between peoples — a terrible conceit given the biological foundation of human existence.)

Venner urges the rejection of the Judeo-Christian doctrine of anthropocentrism. He rejects the idea of man’s radical autonomy from Nature or the idea that “anything is possible.” Venner concedes that Europeans have a tendency towards these kinds of excesses:

Hubris [démesure] is an obvious characteristic of the European personality, a major characteristic, often catastrophic in its consequences, but inseparable from a tragic greatness before which we are seized, divided between admiration and dead. (227)

Venner notes however that “the idea of the autonomy and freedom of men [. . .] was foreign to the ancient Greeks for whom ‘freedom’ meant conforming to nature’s rational and eternal order.” (92) Indeed, hubris was the worst fault as far as the Greeks were concerned.

Whatever Western Man’s hubristic tendencies, Venner argues that Europeans can constrain their excesses through conscious and conscientious policies. Just as Japan or China were in the past able by political decision to close themselves off from outsiders and preserve their culture, so can Europe today stop immigration.

Venner advises Europeans to seek solace in and be in harmony with Nature. Even simple walks in the forests can be “an intoxicating experience which changes the state of consciousness” (76). Being in harmony with Nature has straightforward implications in many areas, such as gender relations, in which society should reflect natural differences stemming from basic biological realities.

Man (vir for the Romans) is legitimate in his virility only by his role as a protector and a provider. In the same way, woman is above all legitimate in her femininity by the sweetness and beauty she dispenses around her and by the perpetuation of life she makes possible. [. . .] In terms of archetypes, nothing has changed since the first clan-based hunter societies. The masculine archetype is still Mister Cro-Magnon whose wife and children wait for him to bring back a deer for dinner, and expect him to protect the home against bandits. As to the feminine archetype, it is still represented by Misses Cro-Magnon who likes to gossip with her friends in the clan, makes herself beautiful to welcome her man, gives him beautiful children, and keeps the home’s fire alive. (44)

“A New Reformation”

Venner sees the cultivation of a new spirituality as central to any project of European renewal, specifically calling for “a new Reformation.” “Mystique” (25), he says, comes before politics.

Venners quotes Alexis Carrel at length on man’s hybrid biological-spiritual nature and the ability of a spiritual minority to reform an apathetic society. Carrel was a major French figure of the first half of the twentieth century: He was a Nobel-prize winning biologist who pioneered organ transplants, a leading advocate of eugenics, a friend of the American nationalist Charles Lindbergh, and a European patriot. Carrel’s bestseller Man, the Unknown is cited on the possibility of a new Reformation:

One would not need a very large dissident group to profoundly transform modern society. It is an observable fact that discipline makes men very powerful. An ascetic and mystical minority could rapidly acquire an irresistible power over the pleasure-seeking and enfeebled majority. It would be capable, by persuasion or by force, to impose on it other ways of life. No dogma in modern society is unshakable. (295; my emphasis)

Venner’s final chapter is a veritable profession of faith in the European cause:

[There are] signs of an internal reconquest. To again become master of oneself and in one’s home, that is the hope. To look at one’s children without blanching with shame, and, when the day comes, to leave life knowing that the legacy is safe. (290)

I rebel against the programmed invasion of our cities and our countries, I rebel against the denial of French and European memory. [. . .] Threatened like all my European brothers with spiritual and historical death, this memory [of Homer] is my most precious possession. That on which to rely upon to be reborn. (291)

It is by deciding oneself, in really desiring one’s destiny, that one defeats the void. (292)

[T]he best can emerge from the worst. (293)


Dominique Venner

Venner stresses that our renewal is a practical, daily, lived endeavor which each of us must pursue:

To change behavior, starting with that of leaders, we need to reform the spirits, a task that must be endlessly renewed. Whatever you do, your priority must be to cultivate within yourself, every day, like an inaugural invocation, an indestructible faith in the permanence of the European tradition. (297, my emphasis)

And he concludes:

When will the great awakening occur? I do not know, but of this awakening I have no doubt. I have shown in this Breviary that the spirit of the Iliad is like a subterranean river, inexhaustible and always renewing itself, which it is up to us to rediscover. Because this continuity is invisible and yet true, we must remember this evening and morning. And in this way we will be invincible. [. . .]

The Antiquity that we are invoking is not that of scholars. It is a living Antiquity of which it is our task to reinvent. Thus I have undertaken to recompose our tradition to turn it into a creative myth. This cannot be done only by writings and spoken words. The intense effort of refoundation must be authenticated with acts that have a sacrificial and foundational value.

Thus was Dominique Venner.


27 replies

Comments are closed.