Thinkers Behind the Culture of Death (Part 3)

Donald DeMarco on the False Messiahs’ Enduring Appeal

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KITCHENER, Ontario, NOV. 14, 2004 ( Backward thinkers of the past still have appeal today because they offer the promise of an easier life, says a philosophy scholar.

Donald DeMarco, an adjunct philosophy professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, has investigated the dysfunctional theories and lasting legacies of «Architects of the Culture of Death» (Ignatius) with his co-author, Benjamin Wiker.

He shared with ZENIT how facing the real challenges in life, and not following the path of least resistance, is the way to live authentically and combat the culture of death.

Part 2 of this interview appeared Friday.

Q: Some tend to blame the 1960s for all of the current troubles in society. In hindsight, did the ’60s reflect the culmination of a logical train of events and ideas?

DeMarco: The ’60s represented, among other things, a sexual revolution in the sense of separating sex from responsibility; this may more properly be viewed as a devolution.

It also represented a rejection of authority, including a rejection of fatherhood — the cultural notion as well as the religious notion of fatherhood. The views of Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir are very much in evidence during this period.

It was also a period during which many religiously minded people were trying to create a synthesis between Christian and Marxist thought. It was believed, by some, that Christianity had the love while Marxism had the structure for social change. Christianity and Marxism, however, are really disjunctive belief systems and cannot be reconciled with each other.

Indeed, the ’60s was a tumultuous period and represented the convergence of the thought of a number of the «architects» we have treated. But it did not provide the genesis of the problem. Rather, it was the fruition, if one can use that term, of the problem.

There are roots that go back to the Great Wars and even to the Enlightenment period — when man began to think that he could live very well without God or religion. Albert Camus’ phrase continues to haunt the modern world and man’s pretense to self-sufficiency: «Why did the Enlightenment lead to the blackout?»

Q: How is it that the «architects of the culture of death» continue to enjoy a high level of respect in the popular culture?

DeMarco: I believe the essential appeal that our 23 architects have — and it is an appeal that was operative right from the beginning — is that they offer the world the promise of an easier life.

The path of least resistance, or the short cut, has always had great appeal. The modern world would love to separate death from life and enjoy life without death. This is the promise of the false Messiahs, whose message is more religious than most people seem to realize.

Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and others have an Old Testamentary kind of righteous anger. They are surely moralists. And they propose to bring about a better world than the one we have grown weary of.

Ortega y Gasset wrote a wonderfully prescient work in 1931 called «The Revolt of the Masses.» One of my favorite phrases from that work, which contains no end of memorable phrases, is «the sovereignty of the unqualified.» Ortega was pointing out that the social pyramid was being inverted — that the qualified people were deposed to the bottom, while the unqualified masses had ascended to the top and assumed control of culture.

We now live in a mass culture with mass taste, mass standards and standardized mass living. Philosophy and religion are regarded with deep suspicion. Wisdom is assumed to be either non-existent or unattainable. Media entertainment is just that — a distraction from reality, but hardly ever enlightening.

Ours is a very superficial culture and we are in love with the unholy triad of immediacy, expediency and simplicity. We allow ourselves to be influenced by the kind of incomplete, poorly thought out philosophies that we find among the architects of death.

It is easy for anyone to float downstream — even a dead man can do that. But to swim against the current, to discover our authentic identity as loving human beings, takes effort, courage and virtue in many forms.

The media continue to lull us to sleep, dangling before our eyes the enticements of early retirement, financial independence, a reduced workweek, exotic vacation packages, material ease and a thousand other forms of somnolence that represent the comfort of death more than the energy of life. And so, we are easily exploited by bad philosophies.

Q: If the culture of death rests on a fragmented view of the person and the eclipse of God, as you note, what does the culture of life rest on? What hope is there for the future?

DeMarco: The obvious answer is that the culture of life rests on its citizens being unified persons and establishing authentic relationships with God and neighbor. The answer is obvious enough, but the implementation or the bringing it about is quite something else.

We need inspiration to accept the real challenges of life. Difficulty ought not be daunting. The English poet John Keats is truly a heroic figure. In a letter to his siblings back home in British Isles, he explained how we need difficulties in order to rise to the task and find out who we really are.

«Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is,» he wrote, «to school an intelligence and make it a soul? As various as the lives of men are — so various become their souls, and thus God makes individual beings.»

Keats was living in exile in Rome and dying at age 23 of tuberculosis. Despite his early death, he left for posterity some remarkable and insightful and beautiful poetry. We must pay more attention to people like Keats and less to the Howard Sterns of the world.

If there is one thing I would like readers to take from our book it is the primary significance of anthropological realism. All this means is that we must understand realistically, without tempting illusions, what it means to be a human being and then find the courage to live in the light of that understanding, which is to live authentically.

What is a human being? He is a person who is simultaneously a unique individual and a communal being with loving responsibilities toward his neighbors. In this dynamic tension between the poles of individuality and communality emerges a real person who can form good marriages and assist in providing the basis for a better society.

When Fyodor Dostoevsky submitted his great novel, «Crime and Punishment,» he appended the following note: «This is the story of a university student whose mind is infected with incomplete ideas that float on the wind.»

The culture of life is based on complete ideas of the human person. John Paul II’s personalism is a good place to begin if we want a better understanding of what it means to be a human person. And as challenging as it may be to live as a complete human being, this challenge is necessary if we are to avoid the enticements of the culture of death and live in accordance with the principles of the culture of life.

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