Has the gaping crater left by the ravages of European modernism, with all its caricatured secularism and crusading feminism, actually set the stage for a neo-medieval solution? Michel Houellebecq’s satirical novel, Submission, imagines the near-future rise of an Islamic government in France as a welcomed salve to the social deconstruction of post-enlightenment Europe. In a surprising twist to the dystopian genre, we watch the curious ascendency of the French Muslim Brotherhood through the eyes of a tenured Huysmans scholar in Paris. The new moderate Islamist regime—and its mild Sharia code—encounters little resistance from the academic elites. Apparently a re-domesticated society seems refreshing to the late “putrid decomposition” of Europe, and what might have been once scoffed as barbaric could be a romantic “new golden age.” No surprises: the polygamy didn’t hurt their approval, either.
Houellebecq paints, albeit with a darker more cynical palette, a similar portrait as C. S. Lewis did in That Hideous Strength. The glaring difference being that Lewis was forthtelling and Houellebecq was recounting his keen observation. Both satirists deride the incremental neutering of society with oracular insight. The only difference seems to be that Lewis saw a way out.
For Houellebecq’s, the punch line never quite transforms us into comedy—we never surface. In a telling monologue, a chief apologist for the Muslim order tips his hand to the reason why, at least by my estimation, Houellebecq sees no happy ending in his European fantasy:
Thanks to the simpering seductions and the lewd enticements of the progressives, the Church had lost its ability to oppose moral decadence, to renounce homosexual marriage, abortion rights, and women in the workplace. The facts were plain: Europe had reached a point of such putrid decomposition that it could no longer save itself, any more than fifth-century Rome could have done. This wave of new immigrants, with their traditional culture— of natural hierarchies, the submission of women, and respect for elders— offered a historic opportunity for the moral and familial rearmament of Europe. These immigrants held out the hope of a new golden age for the old continent. Some were Christian; but there was no denying that the vast majority were Muslim (226).
Throughout the novel, the Islamic worldview is touted as the ironic, but simple solution to the felt inadequacies of secular humanism. Christianity is mocked as overly complex, full of paradox, and thus prone to compromise. The incarnation is mocked as a pious breed of anthropocentrism, another way for man to make himself the center of the universe. And in all fairness, I can’t fault Houellebecq for rejecting the kind Christianity he does. The sad part of the story is, Lewis rang the alarm bell 50 years ago, and too few of us listened.
My Rating: 3/5