The Decline and Fall of Liberal Democracy: Michel Houellebecq’s Submission as Satire

Leander Møller Gøttcke*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission imagines a future in which a Muslim party wins the 2022 election and begins to turn France into an Islamic country. This story initially led critics to accuse Houellebecq of reproducing a far-right narrative about Muslim immigration. More recently, however, other critics have argued that the novel does not denigrate Islam but depicts the new regime as a viable refuge from Western liberalism, leading to the accusation that Houellebecq glorifies patriarchal society. This article addresses both charges by arguing that Submission is not primarily concerned with Islam at all; rather, it is a satire of Western liberal democracy, which uses Islam as a satirical device to illustrate the shortcomings of Western conceptions of freedom and democracy. It is therefore no coincidence that Submission revolves around a farcical democratic election, and that the French people embraces their new illiberal system. Importantly, although the novel’s protagonist compares political Islam favorably with Western liberal democracy, there are numerous signs in the novel that Houellebecq does not champion the return of the patriarchy. Finally, drawing on political science, the article argues that Houellebecq’s satire correctly pinpoints some major problems with liberal democracy as it is presently exercised throughout the West.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCritique
Volume63
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)42-56
ISSN0011-1619
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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