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New book by CWR columnist examines the future of man in a technocratic age

If James Kalb’s analysis in The Decomposition of Man is correct, the Church will simply have to break with liberal ideology sooner or later; in the long run, the latter will not tolerate any vestige of Catholicism, no matter how much Catholics bend, twist, and compromise their faith.

(Image: Angelico Press)

For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. – CS Lewis, The Abolition of Man

As the indefatigable James Kalb is too courteous to say it himself, this reviewer will say it for him: He told us so.

Back when too many other Catholics were singing happy paeans to the consumer society, Mr. Kalb was quietly, patiently, and thoughtfully warning us of insidious tendencies within democratic capitalism. Since then, we have seen migrant caravans storm the border, bishops reflexively throw a pro-life activist under the bus for wearing a ballcap, and church services suppressed in the name of public health while more favored enterprises got a free pass. We have seen mostly peaceful protesters loot, burn, and destroy public monuments with impunity, even as the FBI has become a political arm of the Beltway and the World Economic Forum openly boasts of its plans to remake mankind.

Those finally waking up to the collapse of America and the West are invited to get their bearings by first consulting The Tyranny of Liberalism (ISI, 2008) and Against Inclusiveness (Angelico Press, 2013). Meanwhile, those of us who have already been following Kalb’s work can find a sliver of reasoned hope, along with some insight by which to endure, in his third examination of the modern crisis: The Decomposition of Man: Identity, Technocracy, and the Church.

In his summary of our predicament, Kalb highlights the inherent link between LGBTQ and the technocracy so beloved by a certain type of “conservative.” Under liberalism all deep claims about reality are ruled out as potentially oppressive, Kalb explains, which means that reality itself is regarded less as a given to be respected than as an infinitely malleable resource to be transformed through technology; Nature is seen less as a gift to cultivate than as an obstacle to conquer or circumvent.

Such a position necessarily leads to the surreal mindset now observable throughout America. “In the long run, accepting a world we do not dominate requires supernatural faith. Without it there is no escape from the view that for us man must be the measure, his desires the standard, his truth and identity what he decides for himself, and everything that might restrict him an enemy to be destroyed. If there is no God then man becomes God. We cannot carry the load, so the result is catastrophe.” So the technocratic left represents a perverse theological project, an open-ended jihad against Nature. Even the global environmentalist movement is all-in for this jihad, occasional neopagan rhetoric about “Mother Earth” notwithstanding.

As religion precedes culture and politics, Kalb continues, the technocratic faith of the Man-God can only be successfully confronted by the faith of the God-Man, so America’s future depends less upon the next presidential election than upon the Church’s leadership – which is, quite frankly, a chilling thought. Too many bishops give the impression that they have no idea what is afoot, that they live in an alternate reality where all is just fine and the top priority is not to rock the boat. Homilies too often consist of harmless platitudes, from which we could never guess just how anti-Christian pop culture has become, just how many Catholic youth are hooked up to Internet sex tools, just how many adults have dropped out of the Church, or just how committed Big Tech is to reengineering the human race. Indeed, there are even a few bishops who apparently regard the unprecedented surge in unbelief, colossal pornography industry, record apostasy, and transhumanist agenda to be much less worrying than the continued existence and use of the Latin language.

Kalb, for his part, clearly believes there is a lot of positive good which we laity can do on our own. At the same time, he also insists that the clergy as a class needs to clean up its act, and up its game:

Ordinary Catholics can help in several ways, for example by growing in the Faith, living in a Catholic manner, and cultivating their independence from an anti-Catholic world by disengaging from electronic media and instead studying history, pursuing literature, old books, and the arts, and reconnecting to sources of Catholic tradition like the Bible and the lives of the saints. But such voluntary and informal efforts have their limits. The Church needs to reestablish her intellectual independence […] In recent decades Catholic institutions have tended to assimilate to the world around them, which has made resistance to liberal modernity within Catholicism anti-institutional. This situation must change, and the leadership of the Church must once again pick up the torch of resistance and rebirth. The logic of the situation and the natural tendency of well-founded institutions to return to type make such a change inevitable, however much some ecclesiastical bureaucrats and even high-placed churchmen fight it.

If Kalb’s analysis is correct, the Church will simply have to break with liberal ideology sooner or later; in the long run the latter will not tolerate any vestige of Catholicism, no matter how much Catholics bend, twist, and compromise their faith. Supernatural grace presumes human nature, which is precisely what is targeted by the most avant-garde facets of the technocratic project.

Since “communities have boundaries,” and “settled identities define themselves in part through contrast,” the liberal establishment regards both as “bigoted, oppressive, hateful, and implicitly violent,” even if liberal spokesmen are rarely candid enough to say so outright. While liberalism declares wars upon settled identities – i.e., any identity rooted in reality – made-up identities are by contrast increasingly celebrated as being daring, creative, and redemptive. Where natural masculinity has long been an object of mockery and skepticism by feminists, for instance, transgenders’ fictive sexual identities are elevated precisely because they are fictive. Likewise, even as healthy young men and women are encouraged to postpone marriage and parenting in favor of cosmopolitan hedonism, or the pursuit of an ostensibly glamorous career, homosexuals are avidly encouraged to “marry” and adopt.

And while Oscar Marion, jazz music, Zora Neale Hurston, and the history of black Baptist churches are all interesting and worthwhile objects of study, the technocratic regime hardly celebrates the heritage of African-Americans and other minorities because of a deep concern for history and culture per se. Rather, the reason for the continual ostentatious promotion of minority identity is that such promotion provide a means of obscuring America’s Anglo founding. In the end, the liberal absolutist is obliged to regard all human cultures – including those of minorities – as quasi-fascist impositions upon the solitary, self-defining individual. It is only for the moment and only as an instinctive pragmatic strategy that liberalism concentrates its attacks upon the prevailing cultures of Western nations, using minorities as political wedges to be promptly discarded whenever they have fulfilled their purpose.

For liberalism’s theoretical goal is to abolish all inherited meaning, such that individuals are free to pursue what Kalb calls “do-it-yourself identity.” This pursuit has already effected a terrible cost, Kalb argues, as it represents

a liberation that alienates people from their past, their surroundings, the people around them, and even – since they no longer know who they are – themselves. We are social beings and not economic abstractions, Nietzschean supermen who create our own moral reality, or machines able to dispense with such concerns. Traditional identities and the social arrangements they articulate – family, religion, cultural community, nation, particular civilization – enable people to understand themselves, connect with others, and think about their lives coherently. Depriving people of such things disrupts all that, and leads to loneliness, depression, feelings of pointlessness, and various addictions and obsessions.

While the personal despair and social dysfunction produced by liberal theory are of course deadly serious, there are even profounder concerns at stake – such as human dignity itself. Under liberalism “we can choose what we will be,” Kalb remarks, “but when that identity is deprived of all content and effect that freedom means very little.” So “in the interests of safeguarding identities, the system effectively abolishes them by making them trivial.” When a man can become a woman by saying so, how much can womanhood really mean? When anyone from anywhere can become American through an administrative process, what does American nationality really mean?

In effect, the so-called “WEIRD” governments – “WEIRD” being the fashionable acronym for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Revolutionary, and Democratic – stand for a system of sentimental nihilism. For “the attempts to eradicate ‘racism,’ ‘sexism,’ ‘homophobia,’ and the like, which are defined ever more loosely, are in substance attempts to destroy normal human ties – those consisting of obligations to particular people based on specific affiliations such as family, inherited community, and religion – and replace them with abstract commercial and bureaucratic arrangements considered more just and rational.”

Clearly American Catholics need to revisit what it means to be American, as well as what it means to be Catholic. We also need to reexamine the old question of what justice and rationality really are, for as we pervert justice and reason we make it harder and harder for grace to work in us and through us. For far too long we have all taken “normal human ties” for granted, regarding them casually and with little gratitude. As the song puts it, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

The Decomposition of Man: Identity, Technocracy, and the Church
By James Kalb
Angelico Press, 2023
Hardcover and Paperback, 211 pages

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About Jerry Salyer 58 Articles
Catholic convert Jerry Salyer is a philosophy instructor and freelance writer.


  1. Thanks, dear Jerry Salyer for this clear & cogent review of James Kalb’s very timely: ‘The Decomposition of Man: Identity, Technocracy, and the Church’. Should be required study material in every seminary, university, college, and high school.

    Yet, there is a feeling of powerlessness in the face of the present torrent of denial of reality. Multidisciplinary research indicates that failure of a cogent consonance between the best of the sciences and our New Testament Apostolic Catholic Faith has opened an hiatus for this torrent of dis-identity to flood in on us all.

    Early attempts, like that of Teilhard de Chardin have proven effete, because science has advanced and because their theology was always far from Apostolic. For example, see: ‘Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers’ by John W. Cooper for an insight on the flagrant panentheism of Pope Francis and his coterie of enthusiastic apostates.

    As Kalb shows so well, in the absence of a worldview that is scientifically harmonious and also in accord with Christian Apostolic teaching, just about anything stands.

    In faith – there are certain to be effective solutions to this root problem. My baby-steps to get something going can be found in: ‘Creatio ex ethica or the ethical cause of our universe: a brief account’; ‘Universal processes as natural impediments to and facilitators of Godly love’; ‘Ethical encounter theology; an interdisciplinary consonance’; ‘Ethical ontology harmonizes science, revelation, and human lives’ – all free on the web. Also, I can be reached at:

    Science can be cogently argued to affirm the oft repeated scriptural exhortation to choose life not death. A cogent explanation for cosmogony, cosmogenesis, and evolution subsists in the just divine requirement that good and evil be reified so as to be fairly judged. Coopting science in the re-establishment of divine, ontological ethics is what defeats the current fashion of free-wheeling attributions of whatever to whatever.

    Understanding the matrix (other dimensions; parallel reality) that holds space-time/energy-matter in existence, for its own very good purposes, is able to add scientific backbone to the long tradition of good Catholic moral understanding.

    This is only the beginning of one way to get The Church back on solid rock. Much more work is needed to develop these concepts and apply them to real-life situations.

    You and James point to the universal seriousness of the problem. ‘Ethical Encounter Theology’ is – one trusts- a worldview able to begin redressing the balance.

    Ever in the grace & mercy of Jesus Christ; love & blessings from marty

  2. The next presidential election will have larger and more immediate short term effects by far compared to the dreamy idea of getting good bold Church leadership to engage with the culture wars we all wish weren’t happening. Both need to happen but the effort is incredibly lacking.

  3. One of the best pieces I’ve read on CWR…prophetic. Kalb’s book is a must-read for me (suggestion: purchase two copies – one for yourself and one to send to your bishop. Hopefully, someone in living in Rome will take seriously my suggestion).

  4. Salyer isolates the key text from Kalb, “and even – since they no longer know who they are – themselves”. Anarchic liberty divests Man of his embedded nature. Kalb’s word ‘deconstruction’ is the antonym of a delusional construction now underway in the secular world. Increasingly within a Church of churchmen agog with new paradigms.
    Consequently, presaged visions of Benedict XVI of a smaller Church faithful to Christ breaking away from the apostates.

  5. Dear Fr Peter,

    Correct diagnosis; surely the very wrong medicine . . .

    From the start and over the last two millennia the faithful have always been The Church within a church: edible fish netted with inedible fish; yeast amidst dough; salt within a stew.

    Our salty, yeasty perseverance, under all circumstances is what God has specified.

    Ever in the love of The Lamb; blessings from marty

  6. Yes, yes, and we read: “Clearly American Catholics need to revisit what it means to be American, as well as what it means to be Catholic.” Two amnesiac dilemmas still looking for answers…

    Regarding the FIRST point—and appeals to “tradition” (etc.) as the source of personal meaning and reality, the problem is that “settled identities” can appear to be or even become localisms—and therefore now work only half the time…

    …when, in a world of technological simultaneity, my closest neighbor in Eucharistic prayer can be the Chinese Mandarin Catholic whose family members under the age of 18 are barred from attending Mass. And, where anything I might buy is produced in an overseas sweat shop or, maybe and equally, by abortion-survivor and trafficked children just around the corner. And, where the side-effects of my too-familiar comfort zone might be contributing to a collage of Dust Bowl consequences imposed on others, including later generations, half way around the world and who “now” are also my neighbors.

    Regarding such dilemmas of solidarity and subsidiarity, the late New York Senator Patrick Moynihan told how he was awakened at 2:00 a.m. in the dead of winter by a call from a Manhattan tenement dweller who complained about the lack of heat. Asked why he called his state senator rather than the building manager, the caller said “I didn’t think it right to start at the top.”

    Damn, what is my identity in our newly Augustinian and Apostolic Age when technology, Alaric, Kung, Batzing, and pseudo-Catholic Biden all have breached the walls of Rome? And, further, when the likes of Hollerich and McElroy render the term “Church’s leadership” an oxymoron.

    On the SECOND point—Catholicism, for the Church to “reestablish intellectual independence” in a technological and scientistic age, there remains forever this enduring mystery (!)…

    The advances of science and technology, and then mass-production (enabling the transformer-toy transgender mentality) are built upon replicable events under identical (as in laboratory) conditions. However, the singular and absolute anomaly of the Incarnation of Divinity into the particularity of human history (“under Pontius Pilate”) is a non-replicable event and one which is oriented toward the full range of different conditions across all of history. But, not replicable, and therefore illegitimate under “the scientific method.”

    About such different kinds of ground-truthed proof, Pope Benedict has this to say:
    “Christianity’s claim to be true cannot correspond to the standard of certainty posed by modern science, because the form of verification here is of a quite different kind from the realm of testing by experiment—pledging one’s life for this—is of a quite different kind. The saints, who have undergone the experiment, can stand as guarantors of its truth, but the possibility of disregarding this strong evidence remains” (Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, “Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions,” Ignatius, 2003; p. 226).

    • Dear Peter, thanks for some passionate and evocative prose, there.

      One might also delve deeper than our nation, all nations, The Catholic Church, other churches . . .

      Am thinking of how PEREFECT BEING THEISM has scarcely any mention or influence on what we are all discussing so eloquently.

      Our faith, our sociality, our science, our technology, our financial and commercial lives used to revolve around God. God who we understood to be omnicapable and omnibenevolent, perfect in holiness, unparalleled in goodness, unmatched in wisdom, of unlimited self-giving love, holding this world and all of us in the palm of His hand.

      One of the main lessons of the life of Jesus Christ, His miracles, His unjust torture and crucifixion, His resurrection & ascension, and the Holy Spirit instigated birth of His Catholic Church is that: “God rules, REALLY rules, no matter what!”

      Parts of the longest Psalm in The Bible (118/119) featured in Holy Mass today. Reading this in full, we obtain an understanding of the proper relationship between The One-And-Only Almighty God and us, individually & enchurched.

      When we restore genuine Perfect Being Theism, most of our problems in The Church and in the world will evaporate like morning mist, instead of piling-up into destructive hurricanes and tornados, as they are doing today.

      Don’t we need a movement: “GIVE BACK TO GOD THE GLORY DUE TO GOD!”

      Ever following Jesus Christ: our Way to The Father; love & blessings from marty

  7. “The attempts to eradicate ‘racism,’ ‘sexism,’ ‘homophobia,’ and the like, which are defined ever more loosely, are in substance attempts to destroy normal human … and replace them with abstract commercial and bureaucratic arrangements considered more just and rational.”

    All modern and contemporary thought can be interpreted as an endeavor aimed, on the one hand, at establishing the identity of the individual and, on the other hand, at finding a solid foundation for human society and thus for the earthly polis.

    According to Hans Urs von Balthasar, the medium of human society is not the Hegelian “spirit,” it is not the free will of individuals (Rawls), and it is not the collective entity (Rousseau). Instead, it is the original act of being created in the Son. In the Son, what is supremely universal-communal and, at the same time, supremely personalizing is truly present and given to humanity. Indeed, it is a Person who “embodies” human spiritual subjectivity, and it is still a Person in whom humankind finds its widest unity.

    Without this foundation, the communal medium will necessarily be either impersonal and thus anonymous (WEIRD), or dictatorial and consequently deceitful and violent (as seen in communist or post-communist countries, which make up two-thirds of humanity).

  8. “Clearly American Catholics need to revisit what it means to be American, as well as what it means to be Catholic.”

    A discomforting truth that the US hierarchy should ponder.

    Americans are racists, whether we know it or not (1979 USCCB pastoral, reaffirmed 1998).

    We are also greedy, nativist oppressors (+Dolan, 2016), which is why we owe millions of illegals benefits reserved for our own poor (USCCB unanimous).

    Supporters of the Rule of Law are “hypocrites” and “Pharisees” (+Seitz, 2017).

    And Catholic “charities” are in reality secular NGO’s funded by mandatory taxes rather than voluntary contributions (thus earning the taxpayer no merit in heaven).

    “Systematic” evils abound, requiring massive government welfare (1919 forward). Their “social justice” is based on the Hegelian dialectic.

    As for “Catholic,” they are silent on Humanae Vitae as well as that “very devout Catholic” Joe Biden. And speakng out on the moral rot of the Culture of Death gets you a visit from a retired cover-up prelate sent by Rome.

    The laity founded, funded, and led the pro-life movement since the beginning. Bishops quickly realized that they couldn’t get government funding for pro-life efforts, so they left it to us while they gathered at the federal trough.

    Yes, “American” and “Catholic.” It used to be a tension that bothered Cardinal Gibbons and Orestes Brownson in the late XIX and Msgr. John Ryan in the early XX.

    Not any more. Eric Hoffer’s truism comes to mind: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

    A practical solution: to get “closer to the sheep,” our shepherds should fire the USCCB’s staff and once more reassert their proper consecrated authority – all of it – in their assigned sees. It’s so tiresome to ask a bishop for his authoritative position on a contentious prudential issue, only to be told, “I agree with the position of the Conference.”

    • Daer Christopher Manion,

      Even as an Australian Catholic, one empathizes with your just complaints about the church clerks who, having obtained positions of authority, erect a blanket of secrecy and a policy of non-responsiveness. The same here. Only worse because the clerks also control the Catholic media. At least you have CWR and The Pillar.

      Our ‘best’ is Eureka Street; looks good on the surface but narrowly focuses on promoting anti-Apostolic agendas, is managed with the censorious enthusiasm of The Spanish Inquisition, and is boringly repetitive. Count your blessings in the US!

      Let’s not be too concerned with the ‘Power Over’ factions in The Church; our Lord and Savior & His Apostles lived under the same constraints and in marked contrast proved those who live by ‘Power Under’ are the actual children favored by God.

      Always in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

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