21 May 2013
Idiot of the Week: awarded posthumously to Dominique Venner
Dominique Venner entered public life as a terrorist sympathizer, supporting the OAS organization that sought to kill General de Gaulle and topple the French government rather than concede the independence of Algeria. He eventually retreated to academia, becoming a respectable, award-winning historian; an account of the battle of Gettysburg is among his works. He remained a rightist, abhorring the influx of Muslims into his country and, more recently, advances toward equal rights for homosexuals. This spring, France legalized gay marriage. The debate preceding this action provoked mass, violent demonstrations of homophobia on a scale hardly seen even in the backwaters of the United States. Earlier today, Venner protested the change on his blog and called for "spectacular and symbolic" gestures of protest. Having talked the talk, he walked into the Notre Dame cathedral, placed a letter (contents as yet undisclosed) on the altar, put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. In his mind, I suppose, this was the moral equivalent of a Buddhist monk immolating himself to protest oppression in Vietnam or China. If those gestures have seemed less absurd than Venner's, it's probably because people at least accepted the premise that the monks were responding to genuine oppression. It's hard to equate the granting of equal rights to homosexuals as oppression unless you already share Venner's convictions. While his act may seem an awkward fit, I suppose it does fit into the history of passive resistance, though if anything, his gesture would be akin to George Wallace fasting to protest school integration in Alabama. The virtue of passive resistance really does depend on what you're protesting against. It's hard to see how Venner's suicide will compel gay-rights supporters to rethink their position. The idea of passive resistance may be to make your antagonist feel responsible for your suffering, on the assumption that there must be something wrong with me if my actions drive others to mortify themselves. Yet it will not seem selfish if the gay-rights movement and its allies don't feel that way, however much they may regret anyone killing himself. Sometimes suicide is simply madness, just as homophobia is.