In a few carefully argued pages in his recently translated The Crisis of Modernity, the Italian Catholic philosopher Augusto del Noce explains the “ascendance of eroticism.” Del Noce died in 1989, but his account could have been written yesterday. He illumines why Fifty Shades of Grey strikes a cultural chord, why same-sex marriage became the cutting edge of radical politics, and why virtually no Democrat dares to oppose abortion rights. It’s a little tour de force of philosophical and political analysis.
The sexual revolution, del Noce argues, was a radical change in Western metaphysics and views of human nature. Wilhelm Reich’s manifesto, The Sexual Revolution, began from the unargued assumption that there is no “order of ends, no meta-empirical authority of values.” In a world without purposes, “all that is left is vital energy, which can be identified with sexuality.”
This worldview is partly a product of a deliberate war against Christianity, especially Catholicism, but Del Noce sees it as the fruit of the elevation of science into a metaphysics. Modern science eliminates Aristotelian-Thomist teleology and deals only with efficient causes and natural forces. Sexuality becomes nothing more than a play of drives, without purpose or ultimate value. “The sexual revolution is . . . the point of arrival of ‘scientism.’” Any limit on our drives is an assault on our dignity. Sexual inhibitions are unnatural, every prohibition a threat to human freedom.
This is why the Sexual Revolution was really a cosmological one. More Del Noce, via Leithart:
The sexual revolution transforms the past into “what has to be surpassed,” what Reich calls “the dead trying to suffocate the living.” The past is “what must be negated to find psychological balance.” We are not free unless we are free to couple and decouple at will, without faithfulness or future. As del Noce puts it, “the domain of free sexuality is the pure present.”
Isn’t that what it means to be a fully modern Westerner: to live in the pure present, with nothing but possibility laid out before us, and only our desires to carry us forward?