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Sexual Soft Totalitarianism

'IN GAY WE TRUST': Topless feminist protester demonstrates outside the Vatican (ITN)

Several of you have sent me the link to this First Things piece by Carlo Lancellotti, titled “The Origins Of Sexual Totalitarianism.” Before we start on it, let me issue in public an appeal I have made to my friend Carlo in private: please write a book about this stuff! Carlo is the translator into English of the Italian political theorist Augusto Del Noce. Del Noce is not easy to read, but Carlo is an excellent writer; I think he could write a kind of “Del Noce For Dummies” book that would popularize the great man’s work.

A few years ago, I asked my pal Carl Trueman to write a “Philip Rieff For Dummies” book to help the likes of Self, who gets lost in Rieff’s prose. Carl produced this fall one of the most important Christian books I’ve ever read: The Rise And Triumph Of The Modern Self. It goes way beyond Rieff. If you want to know why things are the way they are, then read Carl Trueman. This really is the book so many of us have been waiting on.

I have every confidence that Carlo, who is a superb writer and thinker, could write a similar book explaining Del Noce. Everybody needs to tell Carlo this, so he will stop cruelly denying us this much-needed book!

Anyway, before we get to Carlo’s new essay, I want to share a couple of pertinent videos with you. The first is of feminist protesters in Argentina celebrating the legalization of abortion in that country:


So, here’s Carlo Lancelotti, commenting on the failure of many of us conservatives to understand why we have been baited-and-switched on “dialogue” about LGBT in the churches:

I will use as a guide some observations by Italian political philosopher Augusto Del Noce, who in the 1960s witnessed the early stages of the sexual revolution. Del Noce was original in studying the sexual revolution as a philosophical phenomenon that reflected a new worldview and not just new social circumstances (e.g., women working, or contraception). In my opinion, a failure to fully grasp this worldview is the reason why today many intelligent people seem genuinely surprised that movements putatively seeking tolerance for marginalized minorities should be so intolerant of dissent.

Del Noce himself was frustrated by his fellow Catholics’ failure to correctly assess the sexual revolution. Despite being by all accounts a gentle and polite man, in 1970 he wrote that the fact that so many people thought they were merely facing changes in “society’s sense of modesty” could be used as evidence that “Catholics are a mentally inferior species.” In reality, he explained, what they were facing was “a condemnation of modesty as abnormal, and this condemnation is moral in its own way.” These words encapsulate what he considered the worst possible misunderstanding of the sexual revolution: as a slackening of morals. Looser sexual morality may have been its practical result, and was probably how common people experienced it, but it was absolutely not how the sexual revolution was conceived by the many writers, filmmakers, therapists, journalists, and intellectuals who advocated for it. To them it was not a moral slackening but a moral quickening. It meant freeing people from irrational and oppressive taboos, harmonizing morality and nature, reconciling life and science. The revolution was “in its own way” intransigently moral—it just inhabited a different ethical universe. This is why, Del Noce wrote, “any ‘dialogue’ with the advocates of sexual liberalization is perfectly useless, simply because they start by denying a priori the metaphysics that is the source of what they regard as ‘repressive’ morality.” It was a waste of time to try to convince them of moral claims that made sense only within a philosophical framework they rejected, and did little to alert the rest of society to what was really at stake.

Carlo says Del Noce took Wilhelm Reich, the theorist of sexual revolution (he actually wrote a book called The Sexual Revolution), seriously. Reich thought that the only thing keeping us from reaching our goal of happiness was sexual repression. Here’s Carlo:

Del Noce observed that Reich’s idea of “sexual revolution” contains in nuce exactly the totalitarian tendencies that have become more visible in recent years. Indeed, if “science” guarantees that mankind can achieve “happiness” by eliminating all forms of “repression,” how can “religion” (and “Fascism,” of course) be allowed to stand in the way? The following sentence from The Sexual Revolution sums it up nicely: “Religion should not be fought, but any interference with the right to carry the findings of natural science to the masses and with the attempts to secure their sexual happiness should not be tolerated.”

Read the whole thing. See, this is why I say there can be no dialogue within the church over LGBT rights [UPDATE: within the Church, is the context I mean here: the role of LGBT people, and of gay sex, within the Christian church]. “Dialogue” is just a strategy to make what should not be up for discussion up for discussion. When the sexual liberationists take power, then they will suppress as bigots the traditionalists who were foolish enough to agree to talk to them. This is what has happened in the Episcopal Church. This is what revolutionaries are trying to make happen in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. And they are not wrong to want to repress the traditionalists! If I believed that there was nothing wrong with gay sex, or sex outside of marriage, and further, if I believed that sexual satisfaction (“happiness”) was a matter of fundamental justice, then you’d better believe that I would seek to suppress those who denied it. Wouldn’t you?

If I had to write Live Not By Liesagain, I would have discussed Del Noce and the Sexual Revolution. You can be sure I’ll bring him up in the Schmemann Lecture I will be delivering next month (via Zoom), sponsored by St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Many on the Orthodox Left — advocates for changing Orthodox teaching and practice on homosexuality — have been campaigning to get my lecture cancelled. I hope you will sign up to watch it. I will not mince words when I talk about the crisis facing the Orthodox Church, and all traditional churches, in this era of soft totalitarianism.

Anyway, please take Carlo Lancelotti seriously here. Del Noce was right: we traditionalists (Christians and otherwise) who will not yield to the demands of the Sexual Revolution will be made to suffer. This is what happens in revolutions. Del Noce is right: what they demand is not a loosening of sexual strictures, but the overturning of the metaphysical basis of Christian morality. This is not “reform”; it really is revolution.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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