Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel, Soumission, has attracted enormous attention. The book portrays the coming to power of an Islamist president in France in 2022 and has predictably been condemned as Islamophobic. The timing of the Charlie Hebdo massacres – a few disgruntled French-born Muslims murdering left-liberal cartoonists and Jews – could not have been better in terms of boosting sales. Indeed, Soumission is already that rarest of things: a succès européen (rather than our usual pan-European cultural fare of Hollywood blockbusters and degenerate Anglo pop music). Translated versions have already become instant best-sellers in Italy and Germany. Evidently, Houellebecq has struck a nerve going to the heart of contemporary European Man’s fears and aspirations.
Anglophones have however largely been left out of the fun, being stuck getting dribs and drabs of information from news and book reviews, as there is as yet no English translation. I hope this review proves useful in this respect.
One can fairly ask the question: Did we really need another existentially subjective French novel about an alienated, ineffectual, sexually accomplished bookish fellow? If Soumission is any indication, the answer is an unambiguous “yes.”
A first, not unimportant point: Soumission is an easy and highly enjoyable read. One can breeze through it in a weekend or so. You’ll chuckle away at a joke or wry observation, delivered with a certain deadpan objectivity, on almost every page. Many consider Houellebecq’s writing to be “dark,” including his trademark highly graphic sex scenes, but I tend to think it’s just matter-of-fact. It seems to me one can only be “shocked” if one is in denial about a few basic realities about oneself, but maybe I am asking too much of my fellow featherless bipeds. It is true that the points in Houellebecq’s dialectic – whether on the safety of Paris’ Chinatown in case of a race war, the emptiness of casual sex or the slow decay of the body – are made with a rare biting force.
Soumission is among other things a marketing coup. The title translates as “submission,” which of course is one of the translations of the Arabic Islām. The rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in France taps into deep fears in Western Europe regarding the steady growth of the Islamic population, which given enough time will eventually become majoritarian in many countries.
But the work is not an apology for Identitarianism, nor is it even Islamophobic. On the contrary, the author uses the fantasy of an Islamic regime in France as a critique of the West’s feminist, individualist, “social democratic,” liberal-egalitarian degeneracy, his usual target. One wonders if any of his readers will be disappointed by the bait-and-switch. Houellebecq is not defending the White Man, but attacking the Last Man, the effeminate, cowardly, isolated, depressed, and yet terribly comfortable consumer-slaves we have become.
Politics by no means overwhelms the novel but rather forms the background to the protagonist’s musings. But, from the little we are told, France’s joining the House of Islam proves highly salutary, and the administration of President Mohammed Ben Abbes is an enlightened one. Even if we cannot automatically assume that the protagonist’s statements necessarily reflect the author’s views or that the narrator is completely reliable, it seems fair to say that Soumission can be read as Houellebecq’s portrayal of a possible ideal polity. Which raises the question: What are the characteristics of this polity? What destiny for nationalists, Identitarians and Jews?
A Return to Tradition
The Muslim takeover, far from being a bloodthirsty or even really an authoritarian event, is achieved democratically. Ben Abbes and Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen make it to the second round of the presidential elections, prompting the mainstream parties to back the Muslim Brotherhood to prevent a nationalist victory. Islam achieves power through the sheer apathy of the postmodern, nihilist, and feckless Westerner.
The new regime slowly but steadily changes the society and its mores. Patriarchy is restored as women no longer teach, and girls begin spontaneously dressing modestly, curbing a male desire which had been constantly taunted by short skirts and our pornographic advertising and pop culture. Many public universities become Islamic and only allow Muslim teachers, although secular ones are allowed on the side. Non-Muslims do fine as dhimmitude, we are told, is “flexible” in its interpretation (p. 155).
Well-known French politicians and journalists are amusingly skewered. The media is inbred while the drastic budget cuts for public education (l’Éducation nationale) has highly positive effects. Evidently Houellebecq believes France’s current cultural-ideological superstructure is basically parasitic and destructive. Democracy is no more than the competition of two rival gangs and at best an impression.
Ben Abbes having gutted the education budget, schooling becomes mandatory only up to the age of 12, apprenticeships are promoted and higher education becomes an entirely private affair. State aid to giant corporates is abolished, welfare is reduced by 85%, taxes on craftsmen and small businessmen are sharply reduced, while family allowances are massively increased on the condition that the wife is not working. The result? A flowering optimism not seen since the Trentes glorieuses and a huge fall in unemployment as women drop out of the workforce. Crime nosedives as social conservatism reigns.
The family resumes its central role in the economy (family businesses) and society as the location of intergenerational transmission. G. K. Chesterton, Hillaire Belloc and their Distributist theories of an ownership society are explicitly mentioned as models. (Is Houellebecq aware of Belloc’s Judeo-criticism?)
In short, Houellebecq’s Utopia is a traditional society of personal responsibility and organic hierarchy rather than a hopelessly over-bureaucratized society of hapless, coddled cogs over-determined by the double domination of mega-corporate oligopoly and an overbearing Nanny State.
The Destiny of the Identitarian
Identitarians and nationalists have mixed portrayals. Marine Le Pen is a stately figure. Jean-Marie Le Pen is described by the protagonist as “an idiot, more or less completely uncultivated” (p. 103). It’s not clear whether this is Houellebecq’s view. In any case, Le Pen père took the characterization in stride, responding with reference to the writer’s wretched appearance: “Houellebecq writes that I am an idiot and uncultivated. One can get the wrong impression, I always thought he was a homeless drunk!”
The Identitarians are sometimes portrayed as a kind of mirror image of violent jihadis, the two sides being involved in occasional bloodshed and electoral shenanigans. Both the Front National and the Muslim Brotherhood take the more “responsible,” route of peaceful democratic politics. Ben Abbes scolds the impatient jihadis: Why use violence now? Simply wait, and the hollow Occident will naturally turn to Islam.
In the book, the destiny of both the militant Identitarian and the depoliticized liberal is to embrace Islam. After all, pleads one Identitarian-turned-Muslim, do they not agree on the scourges of atheism and feminism, and the need for patriarchy?
The portrayal of nationalists and Identitarians is ultimately not hostile, but has a certain understanding for those calling themselves “Indigenous Europeans.” The humble goy protagonist ruefully notes as his Jewish girlfriend leaves for Israel, fearing violence: “There is no Israel for me” (p. 112).
The Disappearance of the Jews
The Jews gradually disappear throughout the course of the book with the rise of Muslim power: first the student union in the university, then the kosher aisle in the supermarket, and so on. Houllebecq repeatedly has the 44-year-old protagonist sexually desecrating his pretty young Jewess, the main love interest. She and her parents leave for Israel with the rise of the Ben Abbes regime (though no persecutions are portrayed or really implied).
A third party describes the Muslim president’s attitude thus:
[H]e really believes that massive conversions are possible with the Christians – and nothing proves that this is impossible – he no doubt has very few illusions concerning the Jews. What he hopes deep down I believe is that they will decide themselves to leave France – to emigrate to Israel. (p. 157)
Apparently Ben Abbes does not believe Jews are compatible with his Utopia.
At the end of the novel the protagonist, happily reconciled to the new regime, worries about his former girlfriend’s future: “She would live her own life, I knew it, in much more difficult conditions than mine. I sincerely hoped her life would be happy – even though I did not believe it very much” (p. 299). Her challenges are not made explicit however.
The new regime’s foreign policy is touched upon. France creates a new “Roman Empire” by re-centering the European Union southwards, with Morocco and Turkey joining, and others still in the wings. France “retakes the ambition of De Gaulle, that of a great Arab policy,” no longer participating in the United States’ destruction of the Islamic World under Zionist influence. The Gulf petro-monarchies, having become too unpopular due to collaboration with Washington, “are starting to think that an ally like Europe, less organically linked to Israel, could be for them a much better choice . . .” (p. 158–59). Now why would one Houellebecq’s characters suggest that America is “organically linked to Israel”?
Insofar as Ben Abbes’ administration can be taken as a portrayal of Houellebecq’s ideal regime, the implications are indeed rather anti-Judaic: as the forces of disintegration at work in the West are overcome, the Jews (coincidentally or not) disappear. Is the author not implying that Jewish influence is not compatible with a regenerated, patriarchal, hierarchical France? What to make of the fact that France’s return to grandeur in the world is achieved by leading a new foreign policy independent of Israelite influence? Nonetheless, Houellebecq leaves himself more than sufficient plausible deniability to avoid the charge of anti-Semitism.
The novel makes several intriguing inegalitarian and eugenicist points. The protagonist explains early on:
A few private lessons I gave in the hope of increasing my standard of living had soon convinced me that the transmission of knowledge was most of the time impossible; the diversity of intelligences, extreme; and that nothing could eliminate or even attenuate this fundamental inequality. (p. 18)
Later on the alleged eugenic effect of polygamy is presented as the most prominent benefit of the practice, driving mankind’s self-realization:
In the case of mammals, given the gestation time of females, to be contrasted with the almost unlimited reproductive abilities of males, selective pressure exerts itself above all on males. Inequality between males – if some were granted the enjoyment of several females, others would necessarily be deprived of it – should not be considered as a perverse effect of polygamy, but indeed its actual goal. Thus the destiny of the species fulfilled itself. (p. 269)
Later still, this eugenic effect is described as concerning especially intelligence, which is where selective pressure among human males is most prominent (p. 292). Women, in choosing men, have this effect, while men only select for beauty in their choice of mate. Although he amusingly adds that culture plays a role: “One can even, to a certain extent, persuade them [women] of the high erotic value of university professors . . .” (p. 294).
The demographic obsession is present throughout the novel. The postmodern world is selecting for those predisposed to religion, as only they breed. The new regime assures its hegemony by focusing on education: “he who controls the children controls the future, end of story” (p. 82). Islam will conquer the world through the womb; even China and India will eventually fall, for they have “allowed themselves to be contaminated by Western values” of materialism and individualism (p. 271).
A Soralian Vision?
Now, one can be forgiven for thinking that Houellebecq is engaging in some “epic trolling” of any of his readers with nationalist or Identitarian leanings. Instead of the advertised attack on Islamic immigration, one in fact gets a critique of Western liberal degeneracy through the prism of a positive portrayal of Islam. The heights of chutzpah are reached when one character explains:
One had to admit the obvious: having reached such a repugnant degree of decomposition, Western Europe was no longer in any condition to save itself – no more than Ancient Rome had been in the fifth century of our era. The massive arrival of immigration populations imbued of a traditional culture still marked by natural hierarchies, the submission of women, and the respect due to elders constituted a historic opportunity for Europe’s moral and familial rearmament, opened the perspective of a new golden age for the old continent. (p. 276)
This kind of argument, even if it is part of a dialectic, can only be very troubling for Identitarians, who incidentally are portrayed in the book as wanting “Race war now!” while we are still the overwhelming majority in mother Europa. This is not an irrational attitude if a war must occur: there is no question that we grow demographically weaker with every generation in the face of the fatal triad of sub-replacement fertility, displacement-level immigration, and miscegenation.
In any case, Houellebecq’s positively showing Islam as a force for Tradition in a book marketed to Identitarians reveals him to be a man of peace. The French nationalist and anti-Judaic activist Alain Soral warmly welcomed the book and the author as “a great French writer and a guy possessed by the eternal French genius.” Soral goes so far as to argue that the narrative indicates Houellebecq has been reading from his Égalité et Réconciliation website and his Kontre Kulture bookstore. (Although Soral adds he does not want a Muslim president, but rather a Putin or a Chávez.)
Soral is against both immigration to Europe and forced remigration out. One can criticize this position, given the threat against us of irreversible genetic damage and ultimately extinction in Europe. But there is a legitimate sense in which we must be careful and not macho in fantasizing about civil war. We are much weaker today than we were in 1914 or 1933. There is clearly a tendency within Western oligarchies – among neoconservatives, Zionists, representatives of the Surveillance State and Military-Industrial Complex, etc – of actively promoting a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam in order to strengthen Liberal-Atlanticist power elites and destroy the enemies of Israel. Identitarians must not prove their useful idiots.
Houellebecq and the Right
Houellebecq is not a White Nationalist; he is a ruthless chronicler of European Man’s descent into degeneracy under Liberal hegemony. Soumission positively portrays and compellingly shows the case, on a personal, emotional and subjective level, for organic hierarchy, transcendental values and even eugenics. Clearly this is a work of the Right.
The book is completely unrealistic on numerous counts. There is no prospect of an Islamic takeover in 2022 or even decades after that, given the numbers still in our favor. Muslim political organization in France is nil, their ethnic lobbies being effectively emanations of the state and of (often Jewish-led) “antiracist” groups. This is an important point: Muslims, for the most part, do not have political agency (in contrast to Jews and Liberals, who have it in spades). There is no evidence Islamic polygamy is eugenic, and a lot of evidence that their institutionalized cousin-impregnating is highly dysgenic and evidently the exogamous polygamy of Sub-Saharan Africa has not had positive results. (Although could polygamy, in the right conditions, be eugenic?) These are trivial observations however. The point of the novel is not realism but a fantasy allowing one to play with ideas and argue a morality.
More relevant would be to point out that Islam – though an amusing way of criticizing feminism and liberalism – is not our way. Nor should the Roman Empire be glorified as a model, given that it eventually ruined its Latin core through miscegenation and deracination. The case for close association with Morocco or Turkey is lost on me, given for example that the Islamic World’s scientific output since the end of its Golden Age is close to nil.
Having said all this, I would argue that Houellebecq’s novel is useful to nationalists and Identitarians. Islam, I am convinced, is not our primary enemy because Muslims for the most part have no political agency. The enemy would be those who opened the floodgates and continue to marginalize European nationalists: the Zionist and/or Liberal elites who are in varying proportions hegemonic across the West.
Recognizing this, Houellebecq’s work is an invitation to Identitarians to be creative and not misidentify their enemy, to not overlook possible alliances. We need to be forward-looking and creative in our approach, which does not mean selling out. Soumission’s protagonist is obsessed with the 19th-century French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans, particularly of his use of rare or forgotten French words as neologisms. Perhaps this is trivial, but I was struck by the similarity between this usage and the wider notion of archeofuturism.
For having made the Right-wing diagnostic, having identified a past as less degenerate, how do we go from A to B? One cannot simply start up a time machine and undo the fall of medieval Christendom, the American Civil War, or the Great European Civil War of 1914–1945. One cannot, as some might want to, simply pick up where Jefferson or Hitler left off. We must come to terms with our defeats. If Identitarianism is purely backward-looking – wishing merely to preserve Europe like a kind of mummified museum – then it will fail. I believe Houellebecq is calling on us not to cling to the past or simply charge against the wave of destruction, but to ride it, to move forward to seize the contradictions that will in turn destroy it, so that in that mysterious dialectical process we overcome the current age and ensure our salvation.