Francis X. Maier calls the late Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce the most important thinker that Americans don’t know. Here are excerpts from Maier’s review of a new volume of Del Noce’s writings, which have been translated by Carlo Lancellotti, who comments on this blog from time to time. The title of the new book is The Age of Secularization. From the review:
Del Noce’s use of the word “totalitarian” needs some explanation. He did not mean a society run by bullyboys in jackboots. He was far more worried about a culture addicted to science and technology as the only “real” forms of knowledge; a culture hollowed out and stupefied by the material well-being its tools provide; a culture subject to the resulting philosophy of scientism that renders questions of transcendence irrelevant by confining the human horizon to the here and now.
He defined the technological society as one that, in practice,
accepts all of Marxism’s negations against contemplative thought, religion and metaphysics; that accepts, therefore, the Marxist reduction of ideas to instruments of production; [but] that, on the other hand, rejects the revolutionary-messianic aspects of Marxism, and thus what is still religious in the revolutionary idea. In this regard, it truly represents the bourgeois spirit in its pure state, the bourgeois spirit triumphant over its two traditional adversaries, transcendent religion and revolutionary thought.
Put another way, Del Noce believed that Marxism is inherently atheist—atheist at its core. It succeeded as a mass movement by combining a strong critique of economic injustice with its claim to be scientific and its “metaphysical” promises of a utopian future. It fatally crippled the old religiously informed social order precisely because of its own capacity for religious-like zeal. But the logic of Marxist atheism inevitably destroys its own metaphysical, millenarian dimension.
Thus, historically, Marxism is a stalking horse for something else. It’s a stage in the development of a fully technological civilization. By discrediting traditional moral ideals and comprehensive systems of belief—including even belief in itself—Marxism clears the way for a more effective, pragmatic materialism that has little need to attack religion directly, because it renders the supernatural useless and implausible. The more well-being technology provides, the stronger its momentum toward technocracy. And technocracy becomes technopoly—becomes totalitarian—not by gassing dissidents, but by gradually commandeering the human imagination and excluding human reason from appeals to any higher rational benchmark, any higher moral authority, than itself.
In the words of Lancellotti, Del Noce understood that “we cannot just rely on a mechanical repetition of [religious] formulas, because what we received from our forebears is conditioned by the questions they faced, and we ourselves can only think in terms of the questions we are facing.”
But Del Noce also knew how easily a respect for historical circumstances can morph into a belief that truth is culturally created and conditioned—and therefore adaptable (read: malleable) as needed. Thus, he saved some of his sharpest criticism for Catholic progressives who, in his view, served as flacks for “progressive” politics and secular irreligion within the Church herself, no matter how pure their intentions. Complaints in today’s Church, even among some of her leaders, about “fixist,” “rigid,” and “abstract” doctrines policed by “doctors of law” are anything but new. Del Noce knew them well in his own time and saw them as anti-intellectual and rooted in a kind of neo-Modernism.
Read the entire Maier review. A copy of The Age of Secularization is on its way to me now. I’ll write more about it when it arrives and I’ve had the chance to read it. Stay tuned.
Here’s a link to buy the book (your best luck is to get it via Kindle, it seems). And here is a link to the previous Del Noce volume translated by Carlo, The Crisis of Modernity. TAC published a review, by Alvino-Mario Fantini, of the earlier Del Noce book, but I can’t find it by using the search function. If somebody locates a URL for it, I’ll update this blog post. Meanwhile, here’s a rewarding review of Crisis by Peter Leithart.
UPDATE.2: Here’s a link to the previous TAC review of Del Noce’s Crisis of Modernity. Thanks, James C.