Thinkers Behind the Culture of Death

Author: ZENIT


Thinkers Behind the Culture of Death

Part 1

Donald DeMarco on Who Helped Build the Current Crisis

KITCHENER, Ontario, 11 NOV. 2004 (ZENIT)

Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand and Wilhelm Reich may have had therapeutic aims to cure the world of its ills.

But instead they contributed immensely to the modern sickness that John Paul II has identified as the "culture of death."

So says Donald DeMarco, who co-authored a book investigating the dysfunctional lives and theories of the "Architects of the Culture of Death" (Ignatius) with Benjamin Wiker.

DeMarco is an adjunct philosophy professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, in Connecticut, and professor emeritus at St. Jerome's University, in Ontario.

In this three-part interview, he shared with ZENIT how a few individuals' highly influential thought has fueled the formation of the present culture of death.

Q: Why did you decide to compile this book on the lives of the "Architects of the Culture of Death"?

DeMarco: The title is the brainchild of Benjamin Wiker, my co-author. When I first came across his engaging title in an article that he wrote for the National Catholic Register, I had the very strong sense that I could write a series of pieces on this theme and that Ben and I could collaborate to write a book bearing the title, "Architects of the Culture of Death."

I think that we had something in common that allowed us to share this vision, namely, a deeply felt conviction that something terribly wrong has occurred in the modern world, that people need to know how it has come about and that there is an answer to our present dilemma.

I had been teaching moral philosophy and the history of modern philosophy at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario, for many, many years. Therefore, it was an easy task for me to assemble 15 of these architects and explain how their highly influential thought has contributed mightily to the formation of the present culture of death.

I have written five books on the subject of virtue. People commonly talk about the importance of love, but without virtue, there is no conduit through which love can be expressed in any effective or satisfactory way.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that my thoughts would turn from something positive to its antithesis. One defends the truth only half way if one does not expose the lies that assail and conceal it.

I had no difficulty, as I mentioned, coming up with 15 "architects," and though there are more that I could present, I am satisfied with those whom I have chosen. Moreover, they fall into nice categories: the will worshipers, the atheistic existentialists, the secular utopianists, the pleasure seekers and the death peddlers. Ben, my co-author, covered the eight other thinkers spotlighted in our book.

Q: What is it about the lives of these individuals that is so telling?

DeMarco: Being a philosopher by trade, naturally I wrote about my architects in such a way that what would be most "telling" about them is that their thought is demonstrably untenable. Their view of life and the world simply does not stand up against any reasonable form of analysis. In no instance do any of the architects indicate that they have a balanced notion of what constitutes a human being.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand give so much prominence to the will that there was little left over for reason. Historians have referred to this triad as "irrational vitalists."

Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Elisabeth Badinter absolutize freedom to the point where there is nothing left over for responsibility, especially communal responsibility.

The utopianism of Karl Marx, Auguste Comte and Judith Jarvis Thomson is an escape into fantasy.

Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich and Helen Gurley Brown make pleasure, and not love, central in the lives of human beings.

Finally, Jack Kevorkian, Derek Humphry and Peter Singer completely lose sight of human dignity and the sanctity of life.

Another "telling" feature of these individuals is that their lives were in such disarray. At least three of them — Auguste Comte, Wilhelm Reich and Friedrich Nietzsche — according to various historians of philosophy, were mad. Several of the others exhibited clear signs of neuroses. In many cases, and this is also true for the architects that my colleague treats, they involved themselves in activities that are truly shocking.

St. Augustine once stated that the only real justification for philosophy is that, if followed, it can make a person happy. There should be a harmony between a person's philosophy of life and the life satisfactions that its implementation brings about. Ideas have consequences. Realistic thoughts should be a blueprint for a happy life. Unrealistic thoughts cannot lead to happiness. Philosophy is supposed to be a love of wisdom, not a bromide for misery.

Q: What do you think will most surprise readers about the thinkers outlined in your book?

DeMarco: This is a difficult question to answer inasmuch as it is difficult to anticipate how readers will respond.

But it may be that many readers will be surprised at the absolute discrepancy that exists between the therapeutic aims of the architects and the fact that they have contributed immensely to a culture of death.

Wilhelm Reich thought of himself as a secular Messiah who would cure the world of both its social as well as personal neuroses. He saw himself as the world's first Freudo-Marxist. He earned, more than anyone else, the appellation, "Father of the Sexual Revolution."

Yet he died in a federal penitentiary, serving time there because he had defrauded the American public by selling them empty boxes that were allegedly constructed to capture a precious form of energy called "orgone." One critic of Reich said that it was hard to take any man seriously who said, "I realized that I could no longer live without a brothel."

Friedrich Nietzsche, a few years before his death at age 56, was found assaulting a piano with his elbows before he was taken away to an asylum. He had said of his masterpiece, "Zarathustra," that, "This work stands alone. If all the spirit and goodness of every great soul were collected together, the whole could not create a single one of Zarathustra's discourses." Freud imagined himself to be a new Moses.

Karl Marx believed himself to be a new Prometheus.

Ayn Rand counted herself the greatest philosopher in all history, after Aristotle. She argued that, "Altruism is the root of all evil." She arranged that a 6-foot dollar sign adorn her casket. When she died, she had hardly a friend in the world.

These architects had large egos, but it could hardly be said that they had practical strategies for healing society of its ills.

All of the architects claimed to be humanists and liberators in one way or another. Yet, what they preached was a false humanism because it saw human beings in an entirely one-sided way.

It may be surprising to many, then, that powerful and influential thinkers nonetheless find the nature of the human person to be elusive. We are still trying, often with disastrous results, to answer the eternal question, "What is man?" ZE04111122

Part 2

Donald DeMarco on the "Masters of Suspicion"

KITCHENER, Ontario, 12 NOV. 2004 (ZENIT)

John Paul II has referred to Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche as the "masters of suspicion" because they espoused that the heart is at odds with itself and therefore cannot be trusted.

Donald DeMarco agrees wholeheartedly with the Pope's insight. DeMarco has co-authored a book investigating the dysfunctional lives and theories of the "Architects of the Culture of Death" (Ignatius) with Benjamin Wiker.

DeMarco, an adjunct philosophy professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and professor emeritus at St. Jerome's University, relayed to ZENIT how these three thinkers and others have led to the disintegration of the human person.

Part 1 of this three-part interview appeared Thursday.

Q: Which of the 23 profiled "architects of the culture of death" have done the most damage to society, in your opinion?

DeMarco: In terms of death toll and damage to human lives all over the world, Karl Marx stands head and shoulders above all the rest.

Arthur Schopenhauer is important because he is the first to regard the will — malevolent and irrational — as a fundamental factor in reality. He had an immense influence on Friedrich Nietzsche, who put the will in the ego, and Sigmund Freud, who placed it in the "id." Ayn Rand is also influenced by this notion of the will as primary.

Sartre had an immense influence in absolutizing freedom, which lead ultimately to a purely "pro-choice" philosophy.

Q: How did Karl Marx exploit the religious impulses of his followers and how did he distort Christian doctrine for his own anti-Christian ends?

DeMarco: When Marx dismissed religion by his celebrated phrases as "the opium of the people," the "halo of woe" and "the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world," he was not criticizing the authentic practice of religion but its shell. Marx reacted, to employ Jacques Maritain's distinction, to "the christian world," and not to "Christianity."

That is to say, he mistook the caricature for the archetype, the mockery for the model. It would have been generous for Marx to say, "It is most unfortunate that people sometimes misuse religion by using it as a drug that dulls their moral and intellectual sensibilities."

Therein, he would have reflected an understanding of the difference between fraudulent and authentic practices of religion. But he dismissed all religion because he judged the orthodox by its heterodox counterfeit. As a result, he did everything he could to prevent authentic religion from flowering.

Marx claimed that, "It is easy to be a saint if you have no wish to be human." He would see religion in nothing other than a negative light. Religion meant little to his own parents. His father, in order to be successful as a practicing attorney, traded his Judaism for Lutheranism. Like father, like son. His family lived as liberal Protestants without any profound religious beliefs.

No human, needless to say, would be eligible for sanctity without being thoroughly human. Marx used his own faulty ideology as a measuring stick by which to gauge religion. Christianity, itself, has a better indictment against the attempt to become holy without first becoming human. It stigmatizes such a practice as "Pharisaism."

Marx was in a hurry to change the world and had little concern for some of the more essential points of critical thinking: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it."

Q: You note that John Paul II describes Marx, Nietzsche and Freud as the "masters of suspicion." What does he mean by that and why did he pinpoint those particular men?

DeMarco: In the course of his "theology of the body," Pope John Paul II refers to the "masters of suspicion," an expression he borrows from Paul Ricoeur that applies to Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche.

For the Holy Father, the philosophies of this triumvirate typify what St. John the Evangelist describes in his First Letter, verses 15 through 16, as the "lust of the flesh," "lust of the eyes" and the "pride of life."

Freud wanted to free the sexual instinct from the restraints of the "superego"; Marx encouraged members of the proletariat to revolt so that they could satisfy their desires for material possessions; and Nietzsche proclaimed an ego too powerful to be held down by moral constraints.

The lust, avarice and pride that these three atheistic revolutionaries espoused have not brought about personal fulfillment. On the contrary, they have led to a disintegration of personality. The fruits of lust, avarice and pride are, respectively, bitter loneliness, spiritual dissatisfaction and abject misery.

John Paul explains that "masters of suspicion" is a most telling phrase because it indicates that a heart that naturally expresses itself in the form of lust, avarice or pride cannot be trusted. The heart of man, as described by Freud, Marx and Nietzsche, implodes upon itself and in so doing becomes an object of deep suspicion. The heart is at odds with itself and therefore cannot be trusted.

The vital element that is omitted in the thought of these three godless thinkers is a relationship with the Father. As St. John writes, "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; which is not from the Father, but from the world."

The image comes to mind that the poet William Butler Yeats provides in "The Second Coming": "The falcon cannot hear the falconer ... anarchy is loosed upon the world." Man in the modern world, following the "masters of suspicion," has become so estranged from God that he can no longer hear the Father's integrating message. Without the Father, chaos reigns.

Freud, Marx and Nietzsche, whose influence on the modern world is immense, were particularly vehement in their rejection to the Fatherhood aspect of God. They all believed and taught that the condition for human liberty is the death of God the Father.

For Freud, perhaps the most basic tenet of his psychoanalysis is that neurosis results when the severity of the superego is too great. He therefore sought to rid people of the Law — and ultimately the Law Giver — that formed the superego. Freud saw himself as a new Moses, or an anti-Moses, whose destiny is to abolish the Fatherhood of God that was responsible for the oppression of the human psyche.

Marx was an avowed enemy of anything divine. "I hate all the gods," he proclaimed. His Promethean temperament set him against what he believed to be a fictitious god that first mesmerized and then oppressed the masses. He viewed subservience to a Father figure as a deathblow to one's own selfhood.

No sacrifice for him could be too great in deposing god in the interest of liberating man. "I would much rather be bound to a rock," he proudly asserted, "than be the docile valet of Zeus the Father."

Nietzsche wrote his first essay on ethics when he was but 13. In it, he imagined that he solved the problem of evil. "My solution to the problem was to give the honor to God, as is only just, and make him the father of evil," he wrote.

"Why atheism nowadays?" Nietzsche asked. "The father in God is thoroughly refuted." He also advised, "Love yourself through grace; then you are no longer in need of your God, and you can act the whole drama of Fall and Redemption to its end in yourself." ZE04111223

Part 3

Donald DeMarco on the False Messiahs' Enduring Appeal

KITCHENER, Ontario, 14 NOV. 2004 (ZENIT)

Backward thinkers of the past still have appeal today because they offer the promise of an easier life, says a philosophy scholar.

Donald DeMarco, an adjunct philosophy professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and professor emeritus at St. Jerome's University, has investigated the dysfunctional theories and lasting legacies of "Architects of the Culture of Death" (Ignatius) with his co-author, Benjamin Wiker.

He shared with ZENIT how facing the real challenges in life, and not following the path of least resistance, is the way to live authentically and combat the culture of death.

Part 2 of this interview appeared Friday.

Q: Some tend to blame the 1960s for all of the current troubles in society. In hindsight, did the '60s reflect the culmination of a logical train of events and ideas?

DeMarco: The '60s represented, among other things, a sexual revolution in the sense of separating sex from responsibility; this may more properly be viewed as a devolution.

It also represented a rejection of authority, including a rejection of fatherhood — the cultural notion as well as the religious notion of fatherhood. The views of Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir are very much in evidence during this period.

It was also a period during which many religiously minded people were trying to create a synthesis between Christian and Marxist thought. It was believed, by some, that Christianity had the love while Marxism had the structure for social change. Christianity and Marxism, however, are really disjunctive belief systems and cannot be reconciled with each other.

Indeed, the '60s was a tumultuous period and represented the convergence of the thought of a number of the "architects" we have treated. But it did not provide the genesis of the problem. Rather, it was the fruition, if one can use that term, of the problem.

There are roots that go back to the Great Wars and even to the Enlightenment period — when man began to think that he could live very well without God or religion. Albert Camus' phrase continues to haunt the modern world and man's pretense to self-sufficiency: "Why did the Enlightenment lead to the blackout?"

Q: How is it that the "architects of the culture of death" continue to enjoy a high level of respect in the popular culture?

DeMarco: I believe the essential appeal that our 23 architects have — and it is an appeal that was operative right from the beginning — is that they offer the world the promise of an easier life.

The path of least resistance, or the short cut, has always had great appeal. The modern world would love to separate death from life and enjoy life without death. This is the promise of the false Messiahs, whose message is more religious than most people seem to realize.

Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and others have an Old Testamentary kind of righteous anger. They are surely moralists. And they propose to bring about a better world than the one we have grown weary of.

Ortega y Gasset wrote a wonderfully prescient work in 1931 called "The Revolt of the Masses." One of my favorite phrases from that work, which contains no end of memorable phrases, is "the sovereignty of the unqualified." Ortega was pointing out that the social pyramid was being inverted — that the qualified people were deposed to the bottom, while the unqualified masses had ascended to the top and assumed control of culture.

We now live in a mass culture with mass taste, mass standards and standardized mass living. Philosophy and religion are regarded with deep suspicion. Wisdom is assumed to be either non-existent or unattainable. Media entertainment is just that — a distraction from reality, but hardly ever enlightening.

Ours is a very superficial culture and we are in love with the unholy triad of immediacy, expediency and simplicity. We allow ourselves to be influenced by the kind of incomplete, poorly thought out philosophies that we find among the architects of death.

It is easy for anyone to float downstream — even a dead man can do that. But to swim against the current, to discover our authentic identity as loving human beings, takes effort, courage and virtue in many forms.

The media continue to lull us to sleep, dangling before our eyes the enticements of early retirement, financial independence, a reduced workweek, exotic vacation packages, material ease and a thousand other forms of somnolence that represent the comfort of death more than the energy of life. And so, we are easily exploited by bad philosophies.

Q: If the culture of death rests on a fragmented view of the person and the eclipse of God, as you note, what does the culture of life rest on? What hope is there for the future?

DeMarco: The obvious answer is that the culture of life rests on its citizens being unified persons and establishing authentic relationships with God and neighbor. The answer is obvious enough, but the implementation or the bringing it about is quite something else.

We need inspiration to accept the real challenges of life. Difficulty ought not be daunting. The English poet John Keats is truly a heroic figure. In a letter to his siblings back home in British Isles, he explained how we need difficulties in order to rise to the task and find out who we really are.

"Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is," he wrote, "to school an intelligence and make it a soul? As various as the lives of men are — so various become their souls, and thus God makes individual beings."

Keats was living in exile in Rome and dying at age 23 of tuberculosis. Despite his early death, he left for posterity some remarkable and insightful and beautiful poetry. We must pay more attention to people like Keats and less to the Howard Sterns of the world.

If there is one thing I would like readers to take from our book it is the primary significance of anthropological realism. All this means is that we must understand realistically, without tempting illusions, what it means to be a human being and then find the courage to live in the light of that understanding, which is to live authentically.

What is a human being? He is a person who is simultaneously a unique individual and a communal being with loving responsibilities toward his neighbors. In this dynamic tension between the poles of individuality and communality emerges a real person who can form good marriages and assist in providing the basis for a better society.

When Fyodor Dostoevsky submitted his great novel, "Crime and Punishment," he appended the following note: "This is the story of a university student whose mind is infected with incomplete ideas that float on the wind."

The culture of life is based on complete ideas of the human person. John Paul II's personalism is a good place to begin if we want a better understanding of what it means to be a human person. And as challenging as it may be to live as a complete human being, this challenge is necessary if we are to avoid the enticements of the culture of death and live in accordance with the principles of the culture of life. ZE04111425

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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