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Benedict XVI & The New Totalitarianism

Benedict XVI (ABC News)

The Italian journalist Antonio Socci writes about something Benedict XVI said to his biographer Peter Seewald. Excerpts from Socci’s piece:

The crucial question placed by Seewald to Ratzinger is this:

One phrase from your first homily as pope has remained particularly impressed in our memory: “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.” Had you perhaps foreseen what awaited you?

The pope replies that this was not an allusion to the problems of the Vatican (such as Vatileaks), as many thought. Benedict XVI explains:

The true threat for the Church, and thus for the Petrine service, does not come from this sort of episode: it comes instead from the universal dictatorship of apparently humanistic ideologies. Anyone who contradicts this dictatorship is excluded from the basic consensus of society. One hundred years ago, anyone would have thought it absurd to speak of homosexual matrimony. Today those who oppose it are socially excommunicated. The same holds true for abortion and the production of human beings in the laboratory. Modern society intends to formulate an anti-Christian creed: whoever contests it is punished with social excommunication. Being afraid of this spiritual power of the Antichrist is all too natural, and what is truly needed is that the prayers of entire dioceses and of the world Church come to the rescue to resist it.

Anyone who contradicts this dictatorship is excluded from the basic consensus of society, said Benedict XVI — and he went on to associate this with the power of Antichrist.

This photo was taken of St. Peter’s Basilica on the day Pope Benedict announced his resignation:

ABC News)

Funny, but I read this today in conjunction with a 2009 paper about Philip Rieff by the scholar Stephen Gardner. In it, he says:

Wittingly or not, the human sciences prepared the emancipation of desire culminating in consumerism and the sexual revolution. In the last analysis, there is only one revolution in modernity, and that is the bourgeois-democratic. At bottom, it is cultural and moral rather than political or economic. [Emphasis mine — RD] It is measured in the transformation of social relations on the personal level, in relations between the sexes and within the sexes as well. A total revolution has transpired in modern life and the most ancient and hallowed moral understandings have been sacrificed, without putting political and economic forms in the slightest danger.

Gardner says that this has led to the elimination of the distinction between public and private. The personal, as the 1960s generation said, is political. But now that idea has become quite malicious, in that people are being marginalized, and even persecuted, in the public realm for ideas and beliefs they hold privately. In the emerging order, the social credit systematizers will easily identify who the wrongthinkers are, and punish them.

The key point here is that all of this is happening within a bourgeois, democratic, capitalist order. The totalitarians have figured out that the cultural revolution can be carried out within existing structures. This is a big reason why many people cannot grasp what’s happening.

Along these lines, take a look at Carlo Lancelotti’s essay in Communio about the 20th century Italian political theorist Augusto Del Noce’s prophetic anticipation of a new totalitarianism. Excerpt:

Rejection of transcendence has the effect that all human realities (the state, sexuality, work, the family) lose their symbolic or ideal significance and become “dumb,” completely devoid of any finality beyond the satisfaction of the immediate material or psychological needs that can be studied scientifically. It is in this sense that scientism, according to Del Noce, is the philosophical premise of the sexual revolution. At the same time, political struggles take an absolute value, replacing religion as the focus of social concern and the source of people’s identity and meaning.

The flip side of the politicization of reason is the absolutization of politics, which to Del Noce is another definition of totalitarianism. Every aspect of reality is interpreted in terms of a political narrative, which becomes the interpretative key for all aspects of social life: law, education, medicine, the family. Society at all levels splits along political lines because “culture is entirely subordinate to politics” and “the idea of politics is subsumed within the idea of war.” The older totalitarian movements had no desire to find a political accommodation between social classes or races: one side must eliminate the other. Likewise, no compromise is possible with “repression” and “bigotry.” They must be simply fought and, ultimately, eliminated.

But since, in fact, politics lacks any ideal (as opposed to ideological) point of reference, it must necessarily degenerate into “a management technique at the service of the strongest” by a
technocratic elite which is not united to the rest of the population by any real ideal bond. The stated goals of politics can only be a constant expansion of production and consumption and the
advancement of individual autonomy, expressed in the language of “rights.” Paradoxically, the individualism of the technological society covers “the extinction of the individual, by which I
mean the individual inasmuch as he enters into relationship with the absolute, and through this relationship can become critical in the present.” An individual cut off from transcendence becomes “completely dependent on society,” “a social atom.”

Incidentally, this is perfectly compatible with recurrent spasms of ideological extremism, which claim to fight the “system” but in reality are just expressions of alienation, since they generally
fail to call into question the metaphysical presuppositions of the technological society.

Reading BXVI’s remark about the coming of Antichrist makes me revisit Archbishop Georg Gänswein’s remarks on September 11, 2018, endorsing my Benedict Option book. An Italian journalist who was present for Gänswein’s talk told me that I can be sure that BXVI approved ever syllable of what the archbishop, his personal secretary, said that morning. From his speech:

In May, the Archbishop of Utrecht in Holland, Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk, confessed that the present crisis reminded him of the “final trial” of the Church, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it in paragraph 675, which the Church must undergo before the return of Christ, as a trial that ” will shake the faith of many believers”.  The Catechism continues: “The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity.’”

Like an exorcist, Rod Dreher is also familiar with this “mysterium iniquitatis”, as he has proven with his reports over the last few months, in which he also promoted the enlightenment of the scandalous history of the former archbishop of Newark and Washington like perhaps no other journalist. Yet he is not an investigative reporter. Neither is he a fantasist, but a sober analyst who has been following the state of the Church and the world alertly and critically for a long time whilst nonetheless retaining an almost childlike, loving view of the world.

That is why Dreher does not present an apocalyptic novel like the famous “Lord of the World”, with which the British clergyman Robert Hugh Benson shook the Anglo-Saxon world in 1906. Rather, Dreher’s book resembles a practicable guide to building an ark, because he knows that there is no dam to stop the Great Flood that has been flooding the old Christian Occident since long before yesterday, and to which America belongs for him as a matter of course.

We really might be in that time. Cardinal Eijk said that it was the “confusion” in the Catholic Church — he blamed the Pope and bishops — in particular regarding the status of same-sex marriage, that signaled to him that the Great Apostasy might be upon us. Maybe so, maybe not, but it is impossible to watch all this unfold so quickly without alarm. In Live Not By Lies, I talk about how China now has the technological capability to monitor closely the lives of all those who participate in public life in any way, and to cut anyone who refuses to conform out of public life. Specifically, if the Chinese state so desires, you cannot buy or sell without their permission. This is coming to us too, in time. People will welcome it, as many do in China, because it replaces social trust — and people are accustomed to living their lives online anyway. A reader who lives in a former Communist country of Europe told me that it is impossible to overstate how powerful the Internet, specifically social media, is in socializing the young. Nothing — not church, not family, nothing — is more powerful.

It’s all part of the quickening.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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