Saturday, October 24, 2009

Neither Washington Nor Moscow But Roman Catholicism

Time for priests to dust off their dog-eared copies of Kapital because early Karl Marx rocks - so says L'Osservatore Romano.

According to The Times Georg Sans, a German-born professor of the history of contemporary philosophy at the pontifical Gregorian University, wrote in an article that Marx’s work remained especially relevant today as mankind was seeking “a new harmony” between its needs and the natural environment. He also said that Marx’s theories may help to explain the enduring issue of income inequality within capitalist societies.
“We have to ask ourselves, with Marx, whether the forms of alienation of which he spoke have their origin in the capitalist system,” Professor Sans wrote. “If money as such does not multiply on its own, how are we to explain the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few?”
Professor Sans’s view of Marx was not without criticism. He argued that Marx’s “materialist” view of history had wrongly reduced man to no more than a product of his material, economic and physical circumstances. He also said that after the fall of communism [sic] in 1989, few believed any more that private property was in itself wrong or unjust, and “given the experience of the past half century” no one believed that collectivisation of property was the answer.
So it's a qualified thumbs-up to be sure.
Plainly, though, the Marxist renaissance in the Vatican isn't just restricted to Professor Sans. Another German academic has this to say in Spe Salvi:
The nineteenth century held fast to its faith in progress as the new form of human hope, and it continued to consider reason and freedom as the guiding stars to be followed along the path of hope. Nevertheless, the increasingly rapid advance of technical development and the industrialization connected with it soon gave rise to an entirely new social situation: there emerged a class of industrial workers and the so-called “industrial proletariat”, whose dreadful living conditions Friedrich Engels described alarmingly in 1845. For his readers, the conclusion is clear: this cannot continue; a change is necessary. Yet the change would shake up and overturn the entire structure of bourgeois society. After the bourgeois revolution of 1789, the time had come for a new, proletarian revolution: progress could not simply continue in small, linear steps. A revolutionary leap was needed. Karl Marx took up the rallying call, and applied his incisive language and intellect to the task of launching this major new and, as he thought, definitive step in history towards salvation—towards what Kant had described as the “Kingdom of God”. Once the truth of the hereafter had been rejected, it would then be a question of establishing the truth of the here and now. The critique of Heaven is transformed into the critique of earth, the critique of theology into the critique of politics. Progress towards the better, towards the definitively good world, no longer comes simply from science but from politics—from a scientifically conceived politics that recognizes the structure of history and society and thus points out the road towards revolution, towards all-encompassing change. With great precision, albeit with a certain onesided bias, Marx described the situation of his time, and with great analytical skill he spelled out the paths leading to revolution—and not only theoretically: by means of the Communist Party that came into being from the Communist Manifesto of 1848, he set it in motion. His promise, owing to the acuteness of his analysis and his clear indication of the means for radical change, was and still remains an endless source of fascination. Real revolution followed, in the most radical way in Russia.
But he went on to say that Marx made a critical mistake:
Together with the victory of the revolution, though, Marx's fundamental error also became evident. He showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order, but he did not say how matters should proceed thereafter. He simply presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized. Then, indeed, all contradictions would be resolved, man and the world would finally sort themselves out. Then everything would be able to proceed by itself along the right path, because everything would belong to everyone and all would desire the best for one another. Thus, having accomplished the revolution, Lenin must have realized that the writings of the master gave no indication as to how to proceed. True, Marx had spoken of the interim phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessity which in time would automatically become redundant. This “intermediate phase” we know all too well, and we also know how it then developed, not ushering in a perfect world, but leaving behind a trail of appalling destruction. Marx not only omitted to work out how this new world would be organized—which should, of course, have been unnecessary. His silence on this matter follows logically from his chosen approach. His error lay deeper. He forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man's freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.
As has been noted here before, Pope Benedict's venerable predecessor, who came to be known as more of a liberation theologian than the liberation theologians had a similarly complex and contradictory relationship with Marxism. At times it bordered on fascination; as a young playwrite he wrote Brother of Our Lord, a play featuring a dialogue between the hero, the monk Brother Albert and a shadowy revolutionary. Yet there's a crucial failure in Sans' and the two Pope's analyses: the assumption that Stalinism had any relationship to revolutionary socialism. In point of fact, Stalinism was anti-socialism enthroned, a perverse evil which had as much in common with Communism as Gnosticism did with Christianity.
But until Professor Callinicos gets to deliver a lecture at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences all that is by the by. In the meantime, it's all about the dialectic in Catholic intellectual circles and let's enjoy the queasy look on George Weigel's face.
Hat Tip: Kevin Clarke at America magazine's In All Things blog.
Footnote: Professor Sans' article first appeared in La Civiltà Cattolica, which is, like America Magazine, a Jesuit publication. And this barely-disguised call for Gordon Brown to tack left was written by Father Peter Scally SJ in Thinking Faith ... another Jesuit publication. You know what I'm thinking, don't you? Is it the Red Flag or the Internationale which is de rigueur among the comrades in the Society of Jesus?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, the founders of the SJ were Basques, and the Basque clergy have a long and honourable history of social agitation as well as being the guardians of national language and culture.

You do realise too that this will be grist to the mill of those who have always believed the Jesuits to be a nest of revolutionaries?

10/27/2009 3:56 PM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

I do, Splints. What will they make of the latest in L'Osservatore Romano? Is it a Jesuitical entryist plot?

10/27/2009 4:30 PM  
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