It might be time for society to move beyond values and head directly
to Christ, says the director a think tank on globalization.
Marguerite Peeters, the director of the Brussels-based Institute for
Intercultural Dialogue Dynamics, is the author of “The Globalization of
the Western Cultural Revolution: Key-Concepts, Operational Mechanisms”
Peeters spoke Friday at the two-day Vatican conference on "Politics, a
Demanding Form of Charity," which was organized by the Pontifical
Council for Justice and Peace. Her talk was titled "The Political
Consequences of the Western Cultural Revolution."
In this interview with ZENIT, Peeters discusses postmodernity in the
West and her analysis of the role of Christianity in inspiring a new
movement of culture.
Q: At the seminar on politics and charity you spoke about the political
consequences of the Western cultural revolution. What do you mean by
Peeters: There is a direct nexus between the cultural process which,
over the centuries, has led the West to renegade and deconstruct the
foundations of its own civilization, and the current democratic deficit,
breakdown of the social contract, lack of trust in institutions,
disconnect between governments and citizens, general malaise and sense
the sense that the “demos,” the people, no longer rule, in other words,
that we are no longer living in a democracy.
The 2002 doctrinal note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith on “some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in
political life” reminded us that “democracy must be based on the true
and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the
underpinning of life in society,” and that democracy “succeeds only to
the extent that it is based on a correct understanding of the human
When it is not based on those solid foundations, democracy fails. Even
if, formally speaking, the facade of democratic institutions is still
standing, democracy is now resting on moving sands, and one is uncertain
as to who really governs, and whether societies are in fact still
governed and governable.
Q: How did we come to this point?
Peeters: The cultural revolution of the West started with the
enlightenment, and dramatically accelerated in the course of the last
century. When Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God in 1882, he was
aware that nihilism would ensue: He promoted the “will to power” as a
remedy to despair. But the utopia of his superman theory has now been
revealed. The man who had killed God rushed to kill the father, the
mother and the spouse.
The feminist revolution sought to liberate the woman from the “slavery
of reproduction” (Margaret Sanger). The sexual revolution replaced the
spouse with changing partners.
Freud turned the murder of the father, found in Oedipus’ myth, into a
major theme of a Western culture already in the throes of apostasy. From
then on, fatherhood was culturally associated with repression. Apostasy
and anthropological deconstruction, which started with the rejection of
the father, had dramatic political consequences.
Marcuse, the intellectual agent of May '68, who like Freud deemed
civilization repressive, spoke of the advent of a non-repressive
civilization in which our instinctual drives would become political
values. When this eventually happened, when Western culture endorsed the
free, unrestricted exercise of the libido, then institutions, the law,
order and democracy lost both their authority and their legitimacy.
What is now left is horizontal brotherhood, but brothers without a
common father are unable to govern themselves, and dysfunctional
societies become anarchical and often prepare the ground for
dictatorship: It is easy to grab power in a situation of general social
and political disorder.
Q: Can the current situation be described as post-democratic?
Peeters: The Western cultural revolution today ushers into a no man's
land called, for lack of a better word, postmodernity.
Postmodernity, as the word suggests, is what comes after modernity:
after the nation-state, liberal democracy, democratic representation,
consent of the governed, government, authority, hierarchy, clear-cut
left and right, Marxist and capitalist
the contract of society and the contract of government, human rights,
human dignity, “universal values,” institutional power, the primacy of
reason, trust in science and so on.
All of these concepts, which we readily recognize, are deeply in crisis.
The cultural revolution did not formally abolish modern institutions and
values, but it fundamentally destabilized them and surreptitiously
reinterpreted their core content, which has become radically ambivalent
and can no longer be taken for granted.
In a postmodern system, the enemy is within. Ambivalence is not
sustainable; the situation we are in is unhealthy. Let me also say that
since postmodernity surfs on the powerful wave of globalization, the
bitter fruits of the Western cultural revolution and its ensuing crisis
of democracy have already reached the shores of the non-Western world
and threaten to globalize both social deconstruction and loss of
Q: Does postmodernity have a political platform, apart from
Peeters: The “freedom to choose” of the individual
to choose even against the design of the creator
has by now become the cornerstone of a new global ethic. Deconstruction
paradoxically becomes systemic and globally normative. It goes without
saying that such a perspective is asocial and incoherent, and
contributes to further deconstructing the contract of society that binds
The new political system would be a “flexible” process depending on
people’s changing choices: It “celebrates” the “diversity” of our
choices, whatever they are. The “right to choose” challenges even the
need for people to be governed. The “do-it-yourself” mentality rapidly
gains ground. But reality tells us that people and societies do need to
Q: Must we then go back to modernity and its values?
Peeters: Modern Western democracies rested on a system of “values,”
eventually proclaimed “universal” in 1948. The historical fact is that
modern values did not prove capable of containing the revolutionary
process that eventually led to their destruction.
The reason is, in my analysis, that what appeared to be consonant with
the social doctrine of the Church was in fact internally infested by the
deism, naturalism, rationalism and individualism of the enlightenment.
Insofar as “values” are an artificial and abstract construct,
accentuating the divorce between faith and reason and faith and life,
their breakdown is a providential opportunity for the new
evangelization. It is a sign of the times.
Q: How so?
Peeters: People are tired of abstraction and grand theories. The time
has come to disentangle the Christian reason from Masonic rationalism,
our theological approach to nature from modern naturalism, our
Trinitarian faith from the deism of the past.
The grace of our time may be that we are called to move beyond “values”
to concrete, operational charity, to practical faith, hope and love, to
the theological life, to God’s Trinitarian design.
The cultural and political challenge we are confronted is about the
“death of God” and the death of man, about apostasy and the
deconstruction of our Trinitarian anthropological structure. Modern
“values” will not bring us back to God and to man. Christ himself will:
"Duc in Altum"
we are called to go out into the deep. It is to the Father that we must
Q: Who holds political power under a postmodern regime?
Peeters: At the end of the Cold War, Western governments lacked moral
leadership and failed to provide the vision that was needed for the new
era. There was a vacuum. A political revolution then took place.
Those who had a vision
that is, the May '68 generation then at the rudder of global governance,
motivated by minority interests
filled the void. The universal aspirations of humanity were hijacked,
and the residues of the Western cultural revolution became global norms.
Power was transferred to “non-state actors,” and “partnership” with
nongovernmental organizations, experts, the “private sector,” minorities
and lobbies became a political principle. The revolution has led us into
unchartered territory that has granted minorities who “participate”
political legitimacy by stealth.
The prevailing fuzziness as to who governs us is all the more dangerous
than the deconstruction of conscience that has turned the majority of
citizens into zombies that are easy to seduce or manipulate.
Q: What did the political revolution achieve?
Peeters: A series of dramatic shifts in the way policy and decisions are
now made. Let me name just a few: from government to governance; from
hierarchy to equal partnerships; from representation to participation;
from majority vote to consensus-building; from institutional power to
people-power; from authority to empowerment; from identity to diversity;
from formal to informal; from majority power to the power of minorities;
from hard to soft; from content to process; from intergovernmental to
multistakeholder; from national sovereignty to global governance, and so
Each of the shifts has vast implications, which need to be carefully
analyzed. The new paradigms do exercise a critical political influence
and have been mainstreamed throughout culture everywhere: Even in the
remotest African village we hear about good governance.
Do we now live under a regime of coexistence of two parallel political
one legitimate and formal but moribund, and the other informal but
effectively governing the world by stealth? The new concepts are very
seducing and often appear close to the social doctrine of the Church,
but they have been hijacked.
Q: Is everything black and white in the shifts you listed?
Peeters: To date, the relationship between the old and the new, the
modern and the postmodern, hasn't been clarified. But it is clear that
the advent of governance, according to its current dominant
interpretation, has contributed to further weakening the authority of
government; that partnerships have contributed to deconstruct legitimate
hierarchies; that diversity as a process tends to destabilize the
content of identity; that participation often replaces the notion of
democratic representation; that decentralization, tied as it is in
practice to the implementation of a global agenda shaped, not by local
citizens and the people themselves, but by “global experts,” has
Discernment is all the more needed as the consequences of the political
revolution are major. A new and global secularist ethic seeks to
eliminate reality, truth, the good, love from culture and to impose
itself on all by stealth, taking advantage of the weak or moribund state
of our democratic institutions.
This global ethic places itself above the Gospel and claims to replace
it. The global ethic represents an unprecedented violation of the
principle of subsidiarity.
Q: Do you discern any positive element in the cultural and political
Peeters: What would happen if the new culture were de-hijacked, if it
were evangelized? Would it not usher into the civilization of love?
Surely, the Holy Spirit is at work in the postmodern culture. Its main
— consensus, choice, people-centeredness, participation, broad
bottom-up involvement, equality, empowerment, enablement, inclusion,
diversity, flexibility, dynamism, complexity, holism, access,
are clearly closer to love and the heart than the paradigms of the age
Under modernity, rationalism subverted love: We thought we could build a
global order with the sole power of our reason and of science.
Are Christians not called to serve humanity by inspiring a new movement
giving charity the primacy it deserves and reintroducing in the new
culture a common search for what is true, real and good?
In the current political context, which reveals the vanity of our
projects of institutions and civilizations, Pope Benedict prophetically
emphasizes the primacy of charity and invites us, as again recently in
Brindisi, to “hope, not as a utopia, but as tenacious confidence in the
power of the good.” He called it a hope that is not temporal, but
theological, and “founded on the coming of Christ, that ultimately
coincides with his person and his mystery of salvation.” The intrinsic
authority of truth, the good, love, hope
the light of the coming Christ, the “light that darkness could not
overpower” (John 1, 5)
shines, and the darkness of our times cannot overpower it.