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The Occidental Observer April 25, 2016

The Testament of a European Patriot:
A Review of Dominique Venner’s “Breviary of the Unvanquished” (Part 1)
Guillaume Durocher

Book cover: Un Samuraï d'Occident Dominique Venner, Un samouraï d’Occident: Le Bréviaire des insoumis (A Samurai of the West: Breviary of the Unvanquished; Pierre-Guillaume de Roux, 2013).

All Europeans, whether they are of the Old World or the New, are suffering today. Their very existence is demonized by a reigning culture which would prefer to see them blended into oblivion. Whereas the old beliefs — Christianity, communism, fascism — are dead or dying, no new faith has replaced them. We, ourselves, are dying as peoples, slowly vanishing from the face of the Earth.

But some Europeans refuse to go down quietly, notwithstanding the base allures of comfort. So it was with Dominique Venner, an erudite historian and European patriot, who lived, fought, and died by the pen and the sword.

Venner’s last book — which translates as A Samurai of the West: The Breviary of the Unvanquished — presents itself as his political testament and his final attempt to reconnect Europeans with their tradition and thus awaken them ethnically and politically. This Breviary is not a traditional prayer book but rather presents “the substantive core” of the European tradition and is “a collection of writings, thoughts, and examples to which one can turn to every day to nourish one’s thoughts, one’s acts, and one’s life” (34). Venner says that the world-view implicit in this work can form the basis “to build the personal life of each of us, of families, of nations, and of living communities” (36).

The Breviary is not only a wonderful introduction to Homeric and Stoic wisdom, but also has practical advice on day-to-day life: On establishing one’s own “breviary” of quotes from sacred texts and great thinkers, on communing with nature in the woods, on traveling across Europe like the Wandervögel, on cultivating beauty in one’s own life, or on the reconstruction of one’s family tree.

Venner’s legitimacy stems from a lifetime of struggle for the European peoples. Born in 1935, he volunteered as a young man to fight in the Algerian War to defend the 1 million European settlers in that country, who were threatened by ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Arab nationalists. Venner was enraged by President Charles de Gaulle’s decision to abandon Algeria despite military victory. He was imprisoned several times for his political activism, including an 18-month stint in 1961–62 for planning an armed assault on the Élysée Palace, presumably with the intention of killing De Gaulle. Behind bars with 30 other civilian and military rebels, often very senior, Venner says he “no doubt learned more from this on the drivers of history and its actors, great and small, than at university” (53). He later had a more nuanced appreciation of De Gaulle’s legacy.

Venner famously chose to end his life in 2013, by committing suicide in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, that his final act too might contribute to awakening the European peoples.

The European Tradition

A real problem for those in search of a European identity in our twenty-first century, is that Europeans have been so culturally and ideologically fragmented across countries and throughout the ages. European have been Ice Age hunter-gatherers, conquering Aryans, pagan Greco-Romans, self-abnegating Christians, fratricidal nationalists, and, finally, universalist liberal egalitarians. We have nothing like the religious and ethno-national continuity of Japanese or Jewish history.

Venner however has no doubt of the fundamental unity and continuity of European civilization from the ancient world through the Middle Ages to today. For Venner, Europeans’ true self is “the spirit of the Iliad,” the great Homeric poem. This is a virile spirit which he argues has remained with us and periodically resurfaces throughout our history, such as in the chivalry of the medieval Romances or the neo-pagan art of the Renaissance. Venner notes that the Catholic Church, which more than anything gave spiritual and cultural unity to Western Europe in the Middle Ages, was inspired by neoplatonic philosophy and was a kind of heir to the Roman Empire. He points out that many of the Christian churches built in the late Roman Empire and early Middle Ages were in fact former Pagan temples, and that many of these temples in turn had been built upon sacred woods. Venner observes:

In 1711, four pillars [. . .] were discovered under the choir of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, going back to the first century of our era. They represent the Celtic deities once venerated in a Gallo-Roman temple on which twelve centuries later the Christian cathedral was built.(68)

This, no doubt, explains why Venner chose Notre-Dame Cathedral as the place for his spectacular suicide: The cathedral, though Christian, was the most central and most awesome sacred place showing spiritual continuity with the earliest European peoples in France. (Venner in general, while approving of Christian architecture and beauty, has a basically Nietzschean critique of Christian ethics as debilitating and guilt-inducing.) As a “mediative historian” (his expression), Venner sought throughout his adult life to make Europeans aware of their ancestral tradition, and hence, turn them into a conscious people with political agency.

Race and Civilization

But who are the Europeans? Why has there been continuity in their civilization? Venner defines Europeans as “the sons of the different peoples of the great Borean fatherland” (289), that is to say the sons of the north. Boreans in turn are “Europeans of ancient stock” (187). The continuity in our variegated civilization was the reflection of the European soul. Venner argues that the characteristics of civilizations “are the reflections of a certain spiritual morphology, transmitted no doubt as much by atavism as by learning” (123). Put another way, that most complex and high-level phenomenon which is European civilization, reflects the underlying European personality, which insofar as it is genetically determined, necessarily has significant continuity since the days of Homer.

If the underlying basis of European civilization and peoplehood is biological, then demography indeed is destiny: “the stakes of history are always found in the space and the soul of peoples, in the atavistic sense of the word” (56). Hence, the ultimate threat to a people is its physical replacement and elimination: “the roots of civilizations are practically indestructible as long as the people which was its mold has not disappeared” (125). Thus Venner has the harshest words against mass migration towards European lands:

[An] odious and perverse project to denature Europe by a replacement of the population. In their struggles, the immigrants however find public assistance to their benefit, charitable actions, the support of a clannish solidarity and the moral support that can bring them the return to Islam, a religion of their part of the world.

The fate of French that we call “de souche” [i.e. ethnic], those who, in the banlieues, are called “Gaulish,” seems to me all the more poignant and desperate. And I know it is the same everywhere in the disfigured Europe of today. I therefore reserve my compassion for these Europeans “de souche.” (9-10)

And if this monstrous undertaking, whose consequences will be paid for at an exorbitant price in the long run, has been able to impose itself, it is of course because of the complicity of perverse or decadent elites, but also especially because the Europeans, unlike other peoples, are lacking in identitarian memory and in consciousness of who they are. (21)

Venner clearly identifies culture as a primary factor in European unconsciousness and decline. He argues that Europeans were psychologically prepared for displacement by a long tradition of both religious and secular universalism. Politically, Europe was effectively neutralized by World War II, coming under American and Soviet domination in 1945. Emotional manipulation also plays a role: “[W]e are in addition plunging into an unparalleled guilt. According to Élie Barnavi’s eloquent phrase: ‘The Shoah has raised itself to the rank of a civil religion in the West’” (22). Barnavi, an Israeli historian and diplomat, apparently has the same view as the Franco-Jewish pundit Éric Zemmour on this matter.

Homer: Our Sacred Poems

Europeans are faced with the challenge of finding a “useable past” — a tradition and frame of reference which all people of European descent can turn to. For Venner, the foundation of Western civilization is neither the New Testament nor Enlightenment philosophy, but above all the great poems of Homer. These poems are odes to heroism and virility, to the warrior ethos, to the love of beauty, to the sense of tragedy, to exalted patriotism, and to harmony with Nature.

On all this I can do no better than quote Venner at length:

According to Plato, Homer was the educator of ancient Greece, therefore [he is] ours by spiritual inheritance and a distant consanguinity. To Europeans who are asking themselves questions about themselves and their identity, the two great poems offer a mirror by which to find again their true inner face, freed of what had disfigured them and often made them err, anxious and lost. (168)

Inspired by the gods and poetry, which are but one, Homer has given to the Greeks and the Europeans the founding books to which to always turn to find themselves again. (169)

These sacred poems tell us in an unsurpassed way who we were at our dawn. (176)

[T]hey tell us that our fears, our hopes, our sufferings, and our joys have already been lived by our forebears. (177)

“Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles’ [the opening line of the Iliad].” This goddess who sings the epic is the Muse of memory, of whom the poet is the interpreter, which underlines his ties with the divine world. (191)

For Homer, life, this little ephemeral and so commonplace thing, has no value in itself. It has value only by its intensity, its beauty, the breath of greatness that each — and firstly in one’s own eyes — can give it” (197).

Far from being models of perfection, Homer’s heroes are the subjects of error and excess in the very proportion of their vitality. [. . .] But on the part of Homer, what generosity and higher wisdom too, which frees humans from the imaginary guilt which other beliefs would burden them with. (201–202)

How far all this is from the short-sighted, self-indulgent individualism of the 1960s cultural revolution!

Venner strongly emphasizes the notions of patriotism and community in Homer:

In a famous passage of the Iliad (book XIII), the poet describes the Achaean phalanx: “[They made a living fence], spear to spear, shield to shield, buckler to buckler, helmet to helmet, and man to man.” It is not only a foreshadowing of the hoplite order that we see here, but especially the expression of what is a solidary community where every member can rely on the others, where desertion of a single member would instantaneously annihilate the indivisible whole. There is no question of a “contract” here, but mutual obligations inscribed in the founding pact of the clan, of the tribe, of the polis, and of the phalanx. (190)

There is nothing more heart-felt or more relevant today than [the Trojan hero] Hector’s love for his fatherland, of which his wife and son are the concrete images. (205)

Venner comments on Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, taking revenge against the “pretenders” and returning to harmony with nature through a sacrifice to Poseidon: “The foundations of the social order and of civil peace are the ethnic unity of the polis and the respect for the laws, guaranteed by the Ancients and by force” (218).

There is also the tragic sense in which our very difficulties give greatness to our endeavors, noting that in the stories of Achilles, Tristan, or Hamlet:

By the grace of the work of art, the worst (“[Achilles’] black rage”) can transform into a good, that is to say beauty. [. . .] The crueler is the fate, the greater it is, the more beautiful it is. Here, Homer accomplishes in a striking way the esthetic reversal made by the tragic spirit. It awakens in us the thirst for heroism and for beauty. We need to remember this when we are ourselves confronted with misfortunes born of war or the happenstances of life. (230)

Or as Homer puts it: “Zeus gives us an evil fate, so we may be subjects for men’s songs in human generations yet to come” (Iliad, book VI). Venner sums up Homeric ethics: “[T]he struggle towards beauty is the condition for the good” (232).

This recalls Ricardo Duchesne’s emphasis in The Uniqueness of Western Civilization on the heroic Western tradition stemming from our Indo-European forebears. An essential aspect of of this heroic tradition is the ethic of striving for renown, of which Homer is an exemplar. Duchesne quotes these lines from Beowulf:

As we must all expect to leave our life on this earth, we must earn some renown,
If we can before death; daring is the thing
for a fighting man to be remembered by. …
A man must act so when he means in a fight to frame himself
a long lasting glory; it is not life he thinks of.

Pro Patria

Notwithstanding the very real strains of universalism in European thought throughout our history, Venner notes that patriotism and a sense of European identity, separate from Africans and Asians, have also been important. He notes:

[Homer] had also powerfully expressed how important it is for the individual to have vital feeling of belonging to a people or to a polis which preceded him and will outlive him. Through this belonging individuals cease to be separated. (243)

The fatherland is the idealized family household which is merged with the future of the polis. It is the sacred land where the ancestors rest. (246)

Venner notes this feeling of community and continuity is deeply reassuring and satisfying for individuals, who otherwise are liable to feel their existence is isolated, short-lived, and meaningless. Personally, I believe such a feeling of anomic depression has contributed at least in part to the unprecedented decline in life expectancy among European-Americans (and possibly Frenchmen as well), driven essentially by self-neglect: Unhealthy living, alcoholism, drug abuse, etc. As Venner notes:

Even when they don’t know it, individuals and peoples have a vital need for roots, for their own traditions and civilization, that is to say for reassuring continuities, rites, internalized order, and spirituality. (293)

Venner quotes the poet Aeschylus 300 years later in The Persians on rousing the Greeks to repel the hordes of Asia:

On, sons of Greece! Set free
Your fatherland, set free your children, wives,
Places of your ancestral gods and tombs of your ancestors!
Forward for all

He also recalls Roman poet Horace’s famous line: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori!” (“It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s fatherland.”)

Venner notes that, throughout history, Europeans have been conscious of their uniqueness even when, being among themselves, they did not state this explicitly:

When [the ancient Greeks and Romans] said “men,” they did not think of humanity in general. They were thinking of the Greeks or of the Romans, free citizens, virtuous, and endowed with reason. In this respect, the Europeans of the Enlightenment were like them, for whom “men” implicitly meant Europeans. (258)

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).

Durer: Knight, Death, and the Devil 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:

Dominique Venner

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.

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

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.