By Christopher Zehnder
In a recent article published in the journal Commonweal (“The Dead End of the Left? Augusto Del Noce’s Critique of Modern Politics”), author Carlo Lancelotti makes this observation. “The experience,” he says, “of politically engaged Catholics, both in Europe and in the United States, during the past fifty years” has been “a long series of rear-guard battles on ethical issues (divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, etc.) in a cultural context in which the philosophical and religious images (of human life, of marriage, love) that underpinned those ethical values has faded. As a consequence, little can be gained by producing more comprehensive ethical lists, such as ‘consistent ethics of life.’” The reason for the insufficiency of such lists simply is, says Lancelotti, that “[e]thical appeals not backed by ‘Being’ are destined either to fall on deaf ears, as expressions of personal religious preferences, or to develop into moralistic ideologies (think of ‘political correctness’) backed by the will to power.”
Lancelotti aptly summarizes the condition of social and political conflict today. We are experiencing the flowering of the “post-modern mind,” a phenomenon that those of us who came of age in the last two decades of the 20th century can only view with incomprehension. For whatever the confusions of our youth, we at least suffered the illusion that we and our ideological opponents spoke a common moral language. Terms such as “human rights,” “justice,” and “freedom” were rooted (so we thought) in a worldview founded on a kind of moral consensus that, if vague, was nevertheless consistent across ideological divides. For us, the thing we called “western civilization” provided a common ground for discussion and debate. We needed only to find the right arguments to awaken our opponents to the better angels of our commonly held suppositions. Indeed, the only hindrance to success in this endeavor was the perversity arising from our opponents’ bad will, their unwillingness to draw logical conclusions from commonly held premises. Or so we thought.