Suicide at Notre Dame a Warning to the West

Marjorie Jeffrey, Crisis Magazine, June 18, 2013

The mainstream American right has remained almost entirely silent about the recent suicide of the French historian, Dominique Venner. The reasons for this, I do not know—perhaps it is a squeamishness about the symbolism of his final act, or a lack of understanding of it. Perhaps it is a refusal to see what the people of France already see, and are rising up against.

Venner shot himself on the altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame on May 21st, 2013. The image of this act ought to make us pause in awe. The American left immediately dismissed him as a discontented right-wing Catholic crank, simply angry at the recent legalization of gay marriage in his country. None of them examined his last article, or his suicide note, which tell a different story: and one which ought to be heeded by the rest of the West.

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Just maybe, there is something we can learn from the spirit of his deed, if not from the deed itself. It certainly seems clear that Venner did not mean for men of the West to follow his example and commit mass suicide; he meant for it to shake them out of their malaise. It was a cri-du-cœur against the modern age.

Dominique Venner was, from my understanding, neither Catholic nor formally pagan: his spiritual life was found in a kind of reverence for the heritage of Europe; that heritage includes both pagan and Christian religion, and so he admired both. His suicide in the cathedral was a final act of respect, as well as a powerful setting for the message he intended to convey. He saw the cathedrals of Europe as artistic manifestations of the genius of his people. In his suicide note, “Reasons for a Voluntary Death,” he explained,

I am healthy in body and mind… However, in the evening of my life, facing immense dangers to my French and European homeland, I feel the duty to act as long as I still have strength. I believe it necessary to sacrifice myself to break the lethargy that plagues us. I give up what life remains to me in order to protest and to found. I chose a highly symbolic place, the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris,which I respect and admire: she was built by the genius of my ancestors on the site of cults still more ancient, recalling our immemorial origins. [Emphasis mine.]

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The final piece that he wrote on his personal blog, “The May 26 Protests and Heidegger,” gives a clearer explanation of his death than does his suicide letter. It contains a warning and a call to arms. He addresses this warning to the French anti-gay marriage protesters, who, in his opinion, have addressed their rightful indignation at the wrong thing. Venner himself expressed horror at the notion of “gay marriage,” but his objection to the culture of relativism goes deeper than that. He relates the words of an Algerian blogger,

“In any case,” he said, “in 15 years the Islamists will be in power in France and will remove this law.” Not to please us, we suspect, but because it is contrary to Sharia (Islamic law).

This is the only superficially common point between the European tradition (that respects women) and Islam (which does not respect them). But the bald assertion of the Algerian is chilling. These consequences will be far greater and more catastrophic then the detestable Taubira law.

Ultimately, the objections of the May 26th protesters will be moot. Gay marriage is a smaller symptom of the disease. In the end, the suicide of Europe will result in conquest by Islam. He continues, “The May 26 protestors cannot ignore this reality. Their struggle cannot be limited to the rejection of gay marriage. The ‘great replacement’ of the population of France and Europe, denounced by the writer Renaud Camus, is a far more catastrophic danger for the future.”

“Polite street protests,” as he puts it, are not enough. He calls for “real intellectual and moral reform,” which ought to begin as quickly as possible. And it is here that Dominique Venner tells us (what he hopes will be) the meaning of his death:

It certainly will require new, spectacular, and symbolic gestures to stir our somnolence, shake our anesthetized consciousness, and awaken the memory of our origins. We are entering a time when words must be authenticated by deeds.

What does Venner’s revolt mean for Americans? We are not as far down the suicidal road as is Europe. We have more time, but just a little. His warning should be a source of reflection for us, just as much as it is for France and for Europe.

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