Thinkers Behind the Culture of Death (Part 1)

Donald DeMarco on Who Helped Build the Current Crisis

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KITCHENER, Ontario, NOV. 11, 2004 ( 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?»

[Friday: The masters of suspicion]

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