As you’ll recall, the cover cartoon on Charlie Hebdo at the time of the massacre was of novelist Michel Houellebecq, author of the new bestselling novel Submission about the French establishment turning the country over to Islamists to keep Marine Le Pen from becoming president in 2022. Houellebecq bravely showed up at the Cologne book festival last week to promote his book: 270,000 copies have been printed in German. (Germany must be the best big country for authors in the world.)
Houellebecq (pronounced “well-beck”) is never too natty-looking, but it looks like it’s been a particularly stressful month. At right is the more flattering of the two pictures I could find from the Cologne event. (The Guardian’s picture makes him look like he’s been gnawing on human brains.)
The book won’t be published in English until September; hence, reviews in English have been rare so far. Here are two of the first:
In Taki’s Magazine, Ann Sterzinger reviews Submission:
Houellebecq and Cassandra
by Ann Sterzinger
… Indeed, whenever Houellebecq gets too serious about political details, the narrative bogs down considerably. Compared to the mathematical computations and personality cults of electoral machination, the protagonist’s regrets at seeing his Jewish girlfriend flee for Israel are far more—how you say?—sexy. Although his wistful parting shot at her, political though it be, breaks your heart for the French: “There is no Israel for me.”
Read the whole thing there.
And in an iSteve exclusive, here is commenter Torn and Frayed’s review, complete with tons and tons of spoilers. This is the fullest description of Submission that I’ve seen in English:
As the popularity of the Front National continues to grow in France, the traditional right / left political spectrum is increasingly being pushed to the side in favor of a nationalism vs. globalism analysis. Michel Houellebecq, however, is not following this trend. His latest novel Submission, is firmly planted on the right side of the political spectrum. In his search for political allies, he looks back to reactionary and Catholic writers from the late 19th and early 20th century, mostly from France, although Houellebecq also incorporates ideas from G.K. Chesterton in this frontal attack on the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. And the novel actually features several respectable characters with nativist, far-right identitaire backgrounds.
Set in 2022, this is the story of Jacques, a 40-something professor of literature (he’s an expert on the author Joris-Karl Huysmans) at an elite university in Paris.
While Jacques may sound like Houellebecq’s stand-in, the class differences are probably important: Houellebecq is less a beneficiary of France’s elite production process than is Jacques. The author has a degree in agriculture and then worked in computer network management, so he’s had to scrounge harder than Jacques to become a professional intellectual.
Thus, there may be a certain satirical distance to Houellebecq’s recounting of Jacques’ rapid submission to the new order.
Or is there?
The plot revolves around the ongoing French Presidential elections, which in the second round, pit Marine Le Pen against a new moderate Muslim party led by Mohammed Ben Abbes. As France falls into something approaching a civil war, the media refuses to report on the expanding violence for fear it would only help the Front National; government intelligence agencies actively censor the internet to keep the news of the violence from reaching the masses. As the tensions mount and the election is seen as a toss-up, the mainstream parties, trying at all costs to avoid a Front National victory, start negotiations with the Muslim party and end up making huge concessions on education policy in return for retaining temporary control over other critical ministries.
Jacques spends much of the novel in search of an ideological framework for countering his own loneliness and the atomization of society in general – a structure that would allow all these lonely free-floating atoms, including Jacques, to join together and form a society of stronger molecules. His colleague with an identitaire background, Godfrey Lempereur, relates how his nativist movement struggled to find a unifying thread, passing through phases of Catholicism, royalism, neo-paganism, nationalism, etc, until they finally agreed to focus on the “indigenous” character of their struggle. With this ideological structure, they could resist both Muslim colonization and the undue influence of American multinationals. As indigenous people, they could now picture themselves as following in the footsteps of Geronimo, Cochise, and Sitting Bull in their struggles against foreign colonizers.
In introducing Godfrey Lempereur as an indentitaire, Houellebecq is careful to signal that he is not anti-Semitic. He accomplishes this by among other ways, making Lempereur an expert on Leon Bloy, a reactionary Catholic writer who also happened to be wildly philo-Semitic.
As time goes on the indigenous nature of the struggle is taken up by the Front National. But as the second round Presidential election in 2022 approaches, it becomes increasingly obvious the French political elite is going to join forces with the Muslim Brotherhood party.
The recent Charlie Hebdo marches give us yet another example of real life imitating art: In Submission, the National Front organizes a protest march to protest the betrayal of France to the forces of Islam by the mainstream political elite. But instead of “Je Suis Charlie”, the marchers find an elegant way to highlight their shared ethnicity without resorting to outright hostility by holding banners with the slogan: “Nous Sommes Chez Nous”. While it literally means “we are in our home (land),” what it is really saying is “this is our country and we want to rule it.” Ominously as the march ends, there is a huge outbreak of violence as gunfire erupts around Paris.
As the riots start to spread in Paris, Jacques flees towards the Dordogne region and stops not coincidentally in the town of Martel, which is named after Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne who saved France from an Islamic invasion back in 732. In fact the Dordogne region embodies all three of potential unifying pillars that Jacques explores: indigenous struggle, Catholicism, and medieval Europe. The nearby Lascaux caves provide, at least symbolically, an ancient ethnic connection for the “old-stock” French.
In the picturesque medieval cliff village Rocamadour is the pilgrimage church of Notre Dame and its wood carved Black Madonna. Not only does walking the village allow him to contemplate medieval life, but over the course of several weeks Jacques spends many hours alone on a pew in front of the Black Madonna, and on several occasions even feels himself on the verge of a religious awakening. But he never quite gets there. In the end Jacques returns to Paris disappointed and frustrated at still being alone. Once back home his inability to consummate his spiritual relationship with the Black Madonna is mirrored in a series of sexual encounters with various prostitutes where he struggles to reach satisfaction.
Jacques lives in the Parisian version of Chinatown and as instability in Paris grows, he feels safe in his neighborhood and is thankful that the Chinese who dominate the area had the foresight to not “let in any blacks or Arabs.”
Once the political deal is concluded, the French political establishment rallies around Ben Abbes and he goes on to easily defeat the Front National, and becomes the new French President.
French society starts changing soon after the election; women stop working, unemployment goes down, and the economy gets better. Public school is now only offered up until sixth grade, afterwards, all secondary and university education is non-mandatory and private. The incessant violence and criminality in France’s immigrant dominated suburbs called banlieues suddenly drops by a factor of ten. Women start wearing much more modest clothing; the budget is balanced following huge cuts in welfare and education. But the trains do not run on time, and passengers are known to suffer malodorous toilet malfunctions on them.
Jacques’ university is shut down, and when it eventually reopens, he is laid off due to the new requirement that all teachers must be Muslim. And as time goes on, the new President Ben Abbes is able through negotiations to reestablish a sort of Roman Empire by expanding the EU into North Africa and the Mediterranean region. And although countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia jump in to fund elite universities in France, there is continuing tension between their representatives and the more moderate Islamic French leader.
The search for a unifying ideology is only culminated once Islam takes power in France, and it ends up being “distributism”, a third way economic system based heavily on Catholic social teachings from the early 20th century that was championed back in the day by among others, GK Chesterton, whom Houellebecq cites by name. The key tenet of distributism is that while the means of production should remain private, they should be distributed as widely as possible. Distributism looks back on medieval Europe for inspiration as a result strongly opposes both capitalism and socialism, which are each complimentary products of the Enlightenment. The family replaces the state or the multinational corporation as the key institution in society in a distributist regime. In Submission the new Islamic leaders of France, backed by the ideology of distributism and justifying the move with the primacy of the family, slash welfare payments and when combined with the substantial savings already achieved by the cuts in education, are able to easily balance the budget.
The rise of an Islamic regime in France is not at all in conflict with Jacques’ views towards women. For the sexually attractive few, Jacques sees their purpose in life as providing sexual pleasure for men. Once the inevitable ravages of aging set in — once women hit the proverbial wall — they are transformed into “flabby and pendulous” sacks of meat that can never again serve as “objects of desire.”
Look who’s talking.
It is at this point women can graduate to the role of femme pot-au-feu, which is basically a stay-at-home wife who prepares authentic home cooked meals for her man. And as the novel progresses, thanks to the joys of polygamy, the very hottest women may temporarily avoid their cooking role, but eventually all women are expected to submit to the tyranny of their man’s (and family’s) stomachs. This is clearly a novel in which Roissy would find very little to disapprove of concerning gender roles.
Jews are definitely treated kindly in the novel, even if they do tend to disappear from the storyline as Islam takes power. Early in the novel, Jacques cynically comments on how certain colleagues try to get ahead by taking outlandish pro-Palestinian political lines. He also recycles girlfriends each year (he compares them to doing year-long internships), but last year’s fling Miriam, a very hot and sexually talented Jewish girl, has not yet met someone new (as usually happens after the summer break) and so there are still occasional extra-circular activities ongoing between them. After one such session, Miriam even defends the Front National against claims it is still anti-Semitic. But as events evolve and it becomes clear political Islam is coming to power, Miriam’s Jewish family decides to move to Israel. There is a scene in which she is very upset about moving and claims she only feels French, etc. to counteract any thoughts of disloyalty or dual allegiances that might creep up into the reader’s mind.
Jacques comes as close as he is able to actually loving this girl but she eventually departs, and she of course ends up facing even more terrorist violence in Israel. But as time goes on, one ominous sign for Israel is that as the new Muslim leader in France slowly reconstructs the Roman Empire by adding one Mediterranean country after another to an ever expanding European Union, and even as Lebanon and Egypt are being mentioned as potential new members, Israel never comes up for discussion about joining the EU. Implicitly this shows a future Israel surrounded by hostile nations that are aligned not to backwards camel herders in Riyadh, but to sophisticated politicians in an ever more powerful European Union.
Houellebecq is also very generous towards the Front National, even if they also tend to disappear in the second half of the book. Given his views on women above a certain age, it is even more remarkable that at one point he goes so far as to call Marine Le Pen “almost beautiful.”
And even eugenics gets a brief shout-out. The new university President, Muslim convert, and rising political star Robert Rediger is revealed as a former identitarian who has quickly advanced up through the ranks and is becoming one of the ideological leaders of the Islamic movement. Rediger desperately wants Jacques to return to his position at the university so he takes the lead in facilitating Jacques’ conversion to Islam.
Rediger has written a book for converts, Ten Questions about Islam, and when Jacques finally gets around to reading it he quickly skips to the only chapter that really interests him: the one on polygamy.
Male self-confidence can be an amazing thing.
Here it is stated that only dominant males are worthy of reproducing and therefore it is in the interest of the species that these men have priority reproductive access to as many as four woman at the expense of lower status men, many of whom necessarily end up not getting any access to women. A few days later Jacques was surprised to find out that a dorky former colleague who had never even kissed a woman in his life and can only be described as an omega male, had recently converted to Islam, and was now happily married. Jacques complains about this: surely this omega loser was not a “dominant male.” But Rediger sets him straight:
“I can tell you clearly you are wrong about this. Natural selection is a universal principle that applies for all living things, but it takes very different forms. It exists even in plants; but in this case it is related to access to soil nutrients, water, and sunlight. It is clear that man is also an animal; but he is neither a prairie dog nor an antelope. It’s neither claws nor teeth nor how fast he runs that enables man to dominate nature. No, it is indeed his intelligence that does so. So I am quite serious about this: there is nothing wrong with considering university professors as being dominant males.”
Jacques is eventually told given his fairly high status he could look forward to three wives. But a practical question is posed: given all the new modest clothing women are wearing, how will Jacques be able to determine the quality of the various physical attributes belonging to these female candidates for marriage? Rediger explains to him the concept of marriage makers – older women tasked with paring young women to potential husbands — and they get to see the girls naked. These marriage makers take pride in being able to match a girl’s beauty to the status of the potential husband. So the whole “pick-up artist” industry and “game” blogs don’t have much of a future in Islamic France!
They agree to meet at Rediger’s house to discuss his conversion, but in fact Jacques’ decision to convert to Islam occurs at the very beginning of their conversation. As he waits in the public lobby of Rediger’s house, a pretty young teenage girl walks in and quickly covers her face in shame and runs away when she sees a strange man staring at her. It turns out this is Rediger’s new wife Aisha, who “just turned 15”. This is the moment Jacques’ sex organ converts to Islam; it takes a few more days for the rest of his body to get the message.
As the novel goes on, the mystery concerning the identitaire role in the new regime only mounts. There were already questions during the “civil war’ as to the various motivations of the jihadi youth and the identitaires. Since they were almost always hooded, it was hard to tell who exactly was attacking whom and there were debates over which side had more of an interest to disrupt the elections. But slowly it is revealed just how much ideological influence Roger Rediger has on the new Muslim government. The clincher is that next door in Belgium, a new Islamic regime comes to power headed by an ethnic European who has well-known roots in the identitaire movement. In Lenin’s classic Who/Whom framework of power relations, it becomes increasingly clear that far from being the weak and subjective Whom, at least some European far right nativist identitaires are actually on the power-holding Who side of the struggle.
But why would the right-wing nativist indentitaires want to help push Muslim overlords into power in their country? Jacques searches the internet and finds a very interesting article written by none other than Roger Rediger:
The whole article was an appeal to his former identitaire and traditionalist comrades. It’s tragic, he pleaded fervently, that irrational hostility towards Islam prevents them from recognizing the obvious: they were for the most part in perfect agreement with the Muslims. On the rejection of atheism and humanism, on the need for the subordination of women, on the return to patriarchy: their struggles from any point of view were exactly the same. But this fight to establish a new and natural phase of civilization could not now be conducted in the name of Christianity. No, it’s only with Christianity’s newer, simpler, and truer sister religion Islam that this battle could be waged.
Therefore it was Islam which now had to carry the torch. Because of all the dainty rhetoric, cajoling, and shameful stroking by progressives, the Catholic Church could no longer resist moral decadence. It was now unable to clearly and vigorously resist gay marriage, abortion rights and women moving into the workforce. We had to face the facts: the church had reached a repugnant degree of decline. Western Europe was no longer in any condition to save itself – just as ancient Rome had not been able to so the 5th century. The influx of massive numbers of immigrants — who were still under the influence of traditional cultures which not only accepted natural hierarchies, but also obliged both the submission of and respect due to women — was an historic opportunity for a moral and familial realignment of Europe. In fact this opened the prospect for a new golden age on the old continent. While these new immigrant populations were sometimes Christian; but we must admit they were mostly Muslim.
Roger Rediger was the first to admit that medieval Christianity was a great civilization whose artistic achievements remain forever alive in the memory of men. But little by little it lost ground, medieval Christianity was forced to compromise with rationalism and submit to secular power, and by degrees, was doomed. And as to why? Basically, according to Rediger, it was a mystery; God had simply decided it would be so.
Towards the end of the novel Houellebecq does have Roger Rediger weigh in on the nationalism vs. globalism debate:
He came back once again to the failure of communism – which was, after all, a first attempt to struggle against free market individualism. Rediger used the failure to emphasize that Trotsky had been right all along against Stalin: Communism could have only triumphed had it been global. He warned that the same rule applies for Islam: if it is to remain in existence, it must be universal.
While the obvious comparison is with Jean Raspail’s very prescient Camp of the Saints, some French critics have been juxtaposing Submission’s dystopian near future to those described in both 1984 and Brave New World. Some commentators even jokingly refer to the author as “Orhouellebecq” (pronounced Orwell-Beck). But instead of creating yet another version of totalitarianism, what Houellebecq is actually presenting is an inverted social order where a lowly Muslim out-group is able (with the help of some indentitaires) to co-opt the UMPS political elite of capitalists and socialists and create a counter-Enlightenment “Old World Order” that not only returns France to the ancien regime, but looks even further back for inspiration from medieval and even classical European times. And in this somewhat incongruous and even flamboyant reversal of power relations I see, for example, some shades of Planet of the Apes.
After failing spectacularly the first time they tried colonialism, can Europe ever really accomplish an updated mission civilatrice by assimilating all those swarthy masses of immigrants from pre-Enlightenment societies, in a process of inverse colonialism, and somehow magically turn the vast majority of them into secular-loving left-leaning European citizens? The end-game for the first bout of colonialism was fairly straightforward: the white man returned to his homeland and thereafter managed the third world through indirect means such as elite co-option. But for the current bout of inverse colonialism, there are three possible conclusions to the inevitable civil wars that will soon arise in Europe. The first, and most simple conceptually, is to send the unassimilated immigrant masses back to where they came from just as the original anti-colonial movements did to their colonial masters. The second is the gradual Kosovarization of Europe where Muslim minorities gain political control of their no-go banlieues which becomes a sort of “oil-spot” strategy, but for insurgents. And the third is for the entire society to reject the Enlightenment and accept a form of reverse-assimilation in which the prevailing culture slides backwards and accepts immigrant cultural hegemony. Houellebecq demonstrates in Submission that this might not be as bad an option as previously thought — at least for intelligent, right-leaning males of native stock. Just how serious he is about all this is another matter.
I’ve only read Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles or Atomized or whatever it’s called. It was pretty funny, although not in a line by line fashion. But as a piece of deadpan performance art, tied closely to the author’s decaying hangdog appearance (looking as he does like a Charlie Hebdo caricature of himself), it was pretty memorable.