Marxism is basic to the history of the 20th century. Such was the view of Catholic philosopher Augusto Del Noce (1910-1989). In particular, he thought its contradictions and consequent disintegration led to the soft post-1960’s totalitarianism that is still with us today.
Del Noce’s account was complex, and much of it relates specifically to the situation in his native Italy. Even so, an aspect worth wider discussion is his observation that “historical materialism is valid, but precisely only as an explanation of the secular forms of thought and of their sequence.”
Which means that excluding transcendent goods from public thought ultimately reduces it to what Marx said it was: an expression of the interests of dominant social and economic classes.
That seems believable: without standards of truth, beauty, and goodness that transcend this-worldly purposes, life becomes a battle of wills, and moral claims become slogans, battle flags, or opportunistic maneuvers rather than principles held as true. On the resulting field of battle, it is strength and not justice that rules.
Such a view would treat woke progressivism, the version of liberalism now dominant, as a ruling class ideology. What else could it be, a consistent Marxist would ask, when powerful institutions promote it so single-mindedly?
This interpretation of an outlook that claims to stand up for the excluded and marginalized sounds surprising, but it works better than might be expected.
Woke progressivism attributes inequalities that affect non-dominant social groups to discrimination, and demands their elimination by whatever means are necessary. So if there aren’t many female Native American particle physicists, it views that as oppression: some voices are being excluded in discussions of the basic nature of physical reality.
Respectable people now find that situation intolerable, and insist that those involved put an end to it.
But woke demands go far beyond personnel policy. Disproportionate representation and even outright discrimination are innate to all historically-evolved social arrangements—national distinctions, religious and cultural communities, settled family forms, understandings of the sexes and their relationships.
Thus, the Constitution was intended to establish a system of law and government that promotes the common welfare of Americans. And Christianity to bring salvation to those who accept it—that is, to Christians. So the Constitution and Christianity treat undocumented Muslim immigrants unfavorably. For example, they cannot participate in central rituals of belonging like voting in U.S. federal elections and receiving communion in Catholic churches.
Woke progressives therefore view the American constitutional order and Christianity as structures of exclusion, and demand their transformation in order to put inclusiveness at their center. Anything else would, in a predominantly white and Christian country like America, support white Christian supremacy—now considered the worst sin possible.
America must therefore open her borders and provide special support for newcomers, and Christianity must transform itself into nonjudgmental outreach, dialogue, accompaniment, and promotion of secular social betterment. Both—we are told—are here to listen, learn, change, and “do better” as allies to the excluded and marginalized.
Progressive opinion, which now dominates the respectable mainstream, views these principles as morally unquestionable and infinitely superior to past views.
But what then? Traditional religions, and cultural communities guarded by national borders, had social authority and function. They told people how to live and gave them ways to cooperate with others. That authority and functionality must somehow be replaced.
Of necessity, they are picked up by government, and by bureaucracies and commercial enterprises supervised by government. Such institutions are rule-based hierarchies designed to advance explicit goals. As such, they lend themselves to regulation intended to bring them in line with the standards that now count as just. So they become the only social institutions considered legitimate in woke progressive society.
As for the people at large, they become a disconnected mass of consumers, productive resources, and clients of social programs with no ability to think, act, or organize on their own. Any such action would involve “bigotry”—reliance on connections like nationality and cultural community that don’t include everyone equally—and rejection of “the science”—the view of things promulgated by official functionaries like Anthony Fauci.
The effect of woke progressivism, then, is to make ordinary people powerless and transfer all power and social functioning to money and bureaucracy. Progressives say that the arc of history bends toward justice. It appears that applies to current history only if justice involves rule by billionaires and bureaucrats.
And that is just what Marx would have predicted: expressions like “social justice,” “human rights,” and “equity,” in their current secular usage, are masks for ruling class interests. They mean that the rich and powerful should run everything.
That, at any rate, would be the consistent Marxist analysis. Conditions seem to support it: we’ve been hearing a lot about equity recently, but the more we hear about it the more we become unequal in wealth, power, social standing, and basic goods like life expectancy and stable family connections. Feminism appears to have made women less happy, transgenderism has multiplied the problems of vulnerable young people, and the biggest result of Black Lives Matter seems to be more dead black people (along with some others).
The educated, wealthy, and influential, who got where they are by pursuing their own interests, are increasingly giving their support to an increasingly woke Democratic Party. And woke progressivism has been widely adopted by the most powerful and influential social institutions. These include universities, scientific, cultural, religious, and professional bodies, prestige media such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and the Biden administration.
They also include major corporations, who have been quite friendly to the gender agenda, and made a huge investment in the Black Lives Matter movement. Even banks and investment management companies have gotten into the act through use of ESG scores in funding decisions.
So it’s believable that woke progressivism is not what it says it is, but is a ruling class ideology. As such, it has the actual predictable effect of increasing inequalities in power and wealth. That, by the way, is similar to a tendency Del Noce noted in Marxism itself: its actual effects—like poverty, slavery, violence, militarized nationalism, and the alienation of man from man—have been the precise opposite of claimed intentions.
Where is the current system likely to go, and what should be done about it—especially by Catholics?
The institutional and cultural forces supporting current tendencies are immensely powerful. Worse, their opponents have been unable to articulate a contrary vision that a propagandized, browbeaten, and radically divided public can find compelling.
Even so, current tendencies won’t last forever. The people are sometimes thoughtless, misled, or ill-informed, but they are not insane. Their rulers, in contrast, are in the grip of an ideology that they cannot escape, because they have staked their legitimacy as rulers on the promise to bring liberation and equality by abolishing the effect of family, cultural, national, and religious connections—thus making money and bureaucracy omnipotent.
Already, the results have included rancor, incompetence, arbitrary governance, popular disaffection, small-scale social chaos, and stupid policies such as depolicing that can’t possibly succeed. To make matters worse, woke progressivism has gone international, promoting a rainbow global empire by means that include confronting nuclear powers and bullying Third World nations. None of this is going to end well.
Current public thought needs to be replaced with something better. That will require, among other things, recognition—at first by some and then by many—of the fundamental problems of the current public order. There will need to be a general turn toward better ways of life and thought, and above all a return of transcendent goods—as a practical matter, God—into public life so it can be understood as more than a battle of wills.
All that is very difficult, but it will happen because people ultimately need to find a tolerable way to live. Those convinced by the liberal vision of individual sovereignty and social neutrality believe such changes would threaten freedom, rationality, and human dignity. But these goods have no place in the system of contending forces that is the spiritual world of secular thought. Events are making that situation ever more obvious: eventually thought will catch up with reality, and the world will change.
• Related at CWR: “Atheism: The core of modern Western culture in the thought of Augusto del Noce” (Dec. 14, 2020) by Dr. Thomas R. Rourke
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!
Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.
Woke are only woke as long as they can exercise power – real or imagined. Once, however, the woke’s power is curtailed by someone with more power in the domain of wokdom, then they cry like babies.
What to do about woke power in culture? Do anything you can to undermine or sabotage it…subtly, imperceptibly and never in direct confrontation as wokes will use all in their power to destroy you if you do. Passive resistance to woke power structures will ultimately defeat them as they have no substance, they have no footing in the Transcendent.
Good piece, especially the last sentence. ‘Passive resistance’ is indeed a good strategy, and may I suggest another – laughter. They CANNOT stand it.
Somewhere there is a tape loop of a man laughing. If you can’t find it make one of your own.
My personal favorite response is to read P.G. Wodehouse, creator of the fictional character Jeeves The Butler, and there are many others, among them – Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton – just THINK of a name like that for a minute or two, pronounce it a few times, savor it.
My favorite Wodehouse quote pretty well sums it all up – “All work and no play makes Jack a peh bah pom bahoo.”
IMO one can’t put it any clearer than that.
You can thank me later.
Noted Terence. God bless you.
The revolt against patriarchy shall continue until the Patriarch returns.
There’s nothing like a provocative headline to coax reading an essay. Kalb, as expected, comes up with the goods. Del Noce’s observation, historical materialism and the secularization of thought. Kalb adds, Woke progressives therefore view the American constitutional order and Christianity as structures of exclusion, and demand their transformation in order to put inclusiveness at their center. American Marxism is now the new order of justice. What we as Catholics experience as oppression, curtailment of religious, even natural rights are no longer valid in the new political ideology, a religion.
Author Kalb nonetheless is optimistic, banking on the reasoned good of human nature. By necessity of need for a tolerable life. Although, there’s the unavoidable Heller’s catch 22, a corrupted human nature whose values contradict any form of a Christian anthropological innovation. At present [it appears] the new Marxist Woke are the public as well as the political majority.
At this stage the Church remains the only comprehensive response for possible deliverance [see recent convert and eminent Dutch legal philosopher Eva Vlaardingerbroek who holds to that premise]. And we’re aware of the opposite direction the Church is taking, away from the traditions that historically made it a bulwark. That Ms Vlaardingerbroek still perceives the Church as that bulwark speaks to hope.
Not optimistic exactly. The idea is more that totalitarian stupidity is going to crash and burn and then people will put the pieces together as best they can. A lot is going to be destroyed by then, and it may take a long time to climb out of the hole.
We can only pray that the Church will soon return to type. There truly is nothing else.
“The idea is more that totalitarian stupidity is going to crash and burn and then people will put the pieces together as best they can.”
Isn’t this precisely the message of the modern Left? I see calls to “Burn it all down!” on a regular basis. One supposes they mean to leave their own edifices (and social constructs) standing, while ours are dismantled or cast into the sea.
The demonic atrocities produced by Marxist ideas on their own should result in regarding him with total despise. But it’s amazing how evil never dies, the ugly head of the demonic always resurfaces. Unfortunately the alternative the economic position ideas of liberty, private property and private markets are always discounted, even though in the end where they are applied prosperity follows. The ideas of Marx’s cousin, socialism, are promoted by the elites since it keeps them in charge. Why not review the ideas of Milton Friedman contained in his book Free to Choose or F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. Both of these in effect support individual liberty, which is a gift from God, although how we use it is always the issue.
Our Christian faith tells us divisiveness is wrong. Jesus Christ provides peaceful solutions (Do unto others).
Marx and class conflict creates problems without a Christian solution. We can do without it.
The parents of Karl Marx were appalled at his actions and behaviour.
Marx’s mother supposedly asked her son when he was going to stop writing about capital and actually make some.
When Sister Marie of St. Pierre received her private revelation about how man, in her day, was disregarding God’s commandments, i.e. not making the Sabbath holy and taking the Lord’s name in vain, she intimated that unless man “go woke” and arise from his spiritual slumber, repent and return to God, God would send humanity a scourge in the form of “revolutionary and rebellious men”. We can only surmise the outcome. Exactly one year later to the day, Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto. So inebriating was this diabolic agenda that not even the majority of the fathers of the Second Vatican Counsel dared speak against it openly (condemning it only a single footnote). In sum, that’s why I refuse to believe the current narrative about how perfect or wonderful the documents of VII. That ENTIRE counsel needs to be re-examined in light of its obvious FAILURES.
Lost me at “Are the Marxists on to Something.”
They are “on to something”.
Fomenting envy and greed.
Mr. Kalb should follow Del Noce’ thinking to its conclusions. Wokeism is much more dangerous than just a new cultural fashion. It is the ideology of the technological society, of the post-liberal capitalist system, of the ruling oligarchies of the West. Otherwise, the total conversion of public and private institutions would be impossible to explain.
I thought that was what the column said.
I forgot to remind Mr. Kalb of one more very important conclusion from Del Noce: it’s not Marxism!
I don’t say woke progressivism is Marxist. I say a Marxist analysis can explain it as a ruling class ideology.
Woke progressivism is Marxist because in denying the essence of being in essence, a beloved son or daughter from the moment of conception to natural death, it denies the inherent Dignity of the human person as a beloved son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife, father or mother, in order to justify the engaging in or affirmation of acts, that regardless of the actors or the actor’s desires, are physically, spiritually, socially, physiologically, and emotionally demeaning, because they objectify the human person and are devoid of
The end goal of the atheist materialistic overpopulation alarmist globalist, is, in fact, the objectification of the human person in order to reorder man in the image of atheist materialism. Thank God, it is not possible for the atheist materialist overpopulation alarmist globalist, who desire to render onto Caesar or themselves what Has Always and Will Always Belong To God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage , to subsist within The One Body Of Christ, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.
What The Catholic Church must do, for the sake of Christ, His Church, all those who will come to believe, and all those prodigal sons and daughters, who, hopefully, will soon return to The One Body Of Christ, outside of which there is no Salvation, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, is to apply The Charitable Anathema, least it continue to appear that The One Body Of Christ consists of those who are for Christ, and those who are against Christ, which in denying The Unity Of The Holy Ghost (Filioque), is a sin against The Holy Ghost, and a denial of Salvational Love, God’s Gift Of Grace and Mercy.
How long while we still continue to muddle-through before it were decided that the current situation was _not_ as disastrous as it is being limned? Predictive sorts have predicted roughly ten thousand of the approximately zero apicalypses of the past two millenia, perhaps because that to which they are reacting is not really the end of the world, but rather indications that what they assumed were eternal vetities are not either, e.g. that without an hereditary monarch enforcing religious law on a populace mostly of serfs no food would be grown and society would collapse.
More specifically, and to the article’s ostensible point: the analysis given is in no way Marxist, focussing as it does on cultural notions and social power, when in a Marxist analysis these (and religious belief) are all mere epiphenomena of what really matters to the Marxist, that being modes of production.
I’d agree it doesn’t give the whole analysis, which would show how the development of the forces of production lead to the current organization of power. Since it’s a column not a treatise, it takes the latter for granted and shows how woke progressivism justifies and reinforces its dominance. That makes it a ruling class ideology in the Marxist sense. What’s “in no way Marxist” about that? As you note, the ideology like other ruling class ideologies involves certain cultural claims.
We can disagree on whether current tendencies are bad and getting worse with no clear end in sight, and whether catastrophically bad things have happened in the past 2000 years.
Brilliant expose, Mr. Kalb
1. The reality is that for every self-interest-seeking left wing activist billionaire out there (e.g., George Soros, Bill Gates), there is at least one self-interest-seeking right wing activist billionaire (e.g., Peter Thiel, Elon Musk).
2. The idea that all the rich and powerful people are left woke is an old propaganda canard pushed for years by the likes of Tucker Carlson. It’s good for provoking rightist populist rage against “elites,” but it’s a lie, a fraud, a gross distortion.
3. In Catholic moral theology, the ends do not justify the means.
4. God loves truthtellers.
5. “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
6. “Blessed are the pure in heart.”
7. “Social justice” is a key term in all the official documents of Catholic moral theology, going back about 150 years now. The terms “social justice” was coined by a Catholic theologian.
1. Bad me. A person is not telling a “lie” just because he/she says that ALL the politically influential rich and powerful people are left woke. Such a person is telling a lie only if they know that that is not true, but they say it nevertheless.
2. I have no idea if Tucker Carlson or others are consciously lying when they promote the idea that ALL the politically influential rich and powerful people are left woke.
3. I think we all know that at least half (and maybe more than half) of rich and powerful people are right wing or conservative in their political activism.
4. For example, right wing/conservative billionaire Harlan Crow has been deeply involved in financial dealings with Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court. Mr. Crows actions reasonably give rise to the impression that he’s been seeking to gain influence on the Supreme Court.
5. Tim Busch is a billionaire who funds the work of Father Robert Spitzer (on EWTN). Mr. Busch’s motives may be holy and pure, but I think we must consider the fallen human nature present in all of us and consider that any billionaire’s motives (of the right or left) may be mixed or self-serving.
6. The owners of many big national companies are right wing or conservative, e.g., Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-A.
Dunno where G of C’s ALL comes from. To say the institutional arrangements that support power draw the support of powerful people is not to say much about those people individually. The point is class interest, which reliably draws collective support. Individuals will of course dissent, and dissenters will attract notice. Even so, we can look at where institutions come out and draw conclusions.
Also don’t know why anyone would think Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Harlan Crow, Tim Busch, Chic-fil-A, Hobby Lobby etc. are dominant in present-day society and ferociously non-woke. Do all the institutions of power praise them to the skies? And what do they favor that’s so anti-woke?