Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lucia Marx has not been rehabilitated!

Last week, after all the excitement of the Pope's Anglican announcements, a news item of interest seems to have slipped past into the secular world without much a reaction from the Catholic blogs who have bigger things on their minds. However, as an avowed enemy of Communism, I have not allowed myself to forget this particular news item, as it implies a rehabilitation of Marx by the Roman Catholic Church when no such thing has happened. So, it looks like refuting a major error is up to me.

On the 23rd October, the Dominion Post published a cut-down version of the The Times article Vatican thumbs up for Karl Marx after Galileo, Darwin and Oscar Wilde. The Dominion Post titled this cut-down version, "Church revises hatred of Marx".

The problem is that both The Times and The Dominion Post misunderstand the significance of an article published in the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, written by Georg Sans, a professor at the pontifical Gregorian University. The Times' version of the article states:

Professor Sans’s article was first published in La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit paper, which is vetted in advance by the Vatican Secretariat of State. The decision to republish it in the Vatican newspaper gives it added papal endorsement.
First of all, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano has published a number of controversial articles over the last several years that are at odds with Catholic doctrine and by extension, the Pope. So to claim that the newspaper speaks for the Church, which The Dominion Post seems to have understood the case to be is not exactly correct.

For The Times to claim that because the article in question was previously vetted by the Secretariat of State, therefore the article has "papal endorsement", is also a bit of a stretch. The current Secretariat of State is Tarcisio Bertone, who Sandro Magister of Chisea believes is directly reponsible for a number of errors in communications and governance that have negatively impacted upon Pope Benedict. Have a look at these three articles that spell out the problems and their impact upon the Holy Father:

Tarcisio Bertone, the Cardinal Who Was Supposed to Help the Pope Since becoming secretary of state, he has exposed Benedict XVI to two public embarrassments. The first was in Poland, with the Wielgus case. The second is in Italy, with the maneuvers for the change at the top of the episcopal conference

Double Disaster at the Vatican: Of Governance, and of Communication This is the upshot of the lifting of the excommunication for four Lefebvrist bishops. The isolation of Pope Benedict, the ineptitude of the curia, and the misfires of the secretariat of state

Retractions. The Holy Office Teaches Archbishop Fisichella a Lesson The congregation for the doctrine of the faith has released a "clarification" that in fact repudiates the article published in "L'Osservatore Romano" by the president of the pontifical academy for life, on the abortion performed on a Brazilian mother-child. Here's the document
Further, if Pope Benedict had changed his mind about the evils that Marx had unleashed upon the world, we wouldn't be hearing about it through an article by a professor, we'd be hearing about it from the Pope himself. Especially since, as both The Times and The Dominion Post have said, the Catholic Church has been very hostile to his work and it's effects for a very long time now.

This overturns a century of Catholic hostility to his creed. Two years ago Benedict XVI singled out Marxism as one of the great scourges of the modern age. “The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit,” he told an audience in Brazil.
The second sentence of the above paragraph from The Times article negates the first sentence, and should have set off the warning bells with whomever was given the task to cut the article down to size for a New Zealand audience.

Maybe a retraction is in order, though, I won't hold my breath.

Related Link: Vatican thumbs up for Karl Marx after Galileo, Darwin and Oscar Wilde ~ The Times Online

8 comment(s):

maps said...

I think the horse has already bolted. I have been meaning to write something on Ratzinger's 2007 encyclical 'Spe Salvi', which includes a long and very sophisticated assessment not only of Marx but of the European Englightenment tradition of which Marx is taken to be an extreme but representative example.

Ratzinger's view of Marx is a million miles away from the sort of crude Cold War hangover caricature which is quite often found on the right. I can't do justice to his argument here, but it is very similar to the critique of Marx put forward by the controversial German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who cut his teeth as a Catholic critic of modernity. According to Heidegger's view, Marx is not some blight on the wonderful tradition of Western thought, but rather the logical culmination of the history of that tradition. Marx is just Wrstern humanism writ large.

I obviously don't agree with the argument that Ratzinger seems to me to take from Heidegger, but it is both intellectually sophisticated and also implicitly very critical of Western capitalism. After reading Ratzinger's Encyclical I concluded that he is much more radical, though not necessarily in a progressive way, than either his critics or his supporters give him credit for.

The most basic point I would make against Ratzinger's take on Marx, and against any attempt to come to a simple conclusion about Marx's work, is that the actual texts that the old bugger left behind are vast and heterogenous. You can only create a single, orthodox Marx by ignoring some of what he wrote and suppressing other texts. Think of the way that a lot of fundamentalists use the Bible.

I've argued that the orthodox right and left actually took a quite similar view of Marx during the Cold War, to the extent that they created a univocal Marx and associated him automatically with the wide variety of regimes that claimed his name:


Anyway, speaking with my geek's hat on, I will be fascinated to say what Ratzinger says next about Marx - and about the European Enlightenment that he seems to me to loathe.

Lucia Maria said...

Interesting comment, Maps.

It's not often that non-Catholics spent the time reading through encyclicals. Can I ask what prompted you to do so?

After reading Ratzinger's Encyclical I concluded that he is much more radical, though not necessarily in a progressive way, than either his critics or his supporters give him credit for.

Ah, yeah. What appears to be radicalism is really just orthodox Catholicism. :)

maps said...

Hi Lucia,

I studied the Marxist tradition in sometimes exhausting detail for my PhD so the Encyclical, which was issued I think in 2007, grabbed my attention. And I was astonished by how close Ratzinger's arguments seemed to be to those of Heidegger, another bloke I've studied.

The point I was making was not so much that the Pope is a fan of Marx, but that his views represent quite a departure from those of the conservative mainstream in the postwar era, and a huge departure from conservative Catholic thought on the subject.

If I remember rightly - I don't have the Encyclical to hand - Ratzinger says that Marx was an 'acute' observer of European society in the nineteenth century, and that he had 'great intentions', but that his project ran up against the same wall as all the great Enlightenement projects - the prideful belief that man's lot can be improved without the guidance of God.

So Ratzinger's critique of Marx is tied up inextricably with a critique of secularism, democracy, and - I'd argue - capitalism. It's an extremely radical position, and one that contrasts with that of most conservative critics of Marx, who tend to contrast Marx and socialism with secular democracy and capitalism.

As an aside, it's quite notable that Ratzinger thinks that Marx had good intentions and a good grasp of nineteenth century reality. Given that Marx's intention was to get rid of capitalism, and given that his commentaries on nineteenth century Europe were full of condemnations of the rapacity of capitalism and imperialism, that's quite a departure from conservative orthodoxy!

Another fascinating part of the Encyclical, and another sign of a profound debt to Heidegger and a rejection of much contemporary conservative thought, is Ratzinger's description of the afterlife.

maps said...

Hi Lucia, I've made a proper post about this:

libertyscott said...

Which does of course lead towards the view of those of us of the laissez-faire capitalist persuasion that socialist and the church do have a lot in common. Certainly the Vatican has been consistently critical of capitalism for some years, and I suspected its criticism of Marxism was at the very least due to Marxism's famous critique of religion. The fact that Marx and Lenin in particular created its own "this worldly religion" of the proletariat and the great myth of the "general will" eluded them all. From that, of course, rivers of blood ensued against those who were the scapegoat of the proletariat and those who went against the "general will".

However, the concept of from each according to his ability to each according to his means would seem to be in alignment with some of what is said to be Christian.

ZenTiger said...

Remember the Christian doctrine is one of the individual, and not the State.

I think it would be incorrect to assume any criticism of the excess of capitalism implies support for its opposite, just as the ability to acknowledge a few good points in communism or socialism does not mean endorsement of this.

In trying to reach people and move hearts and minds to a new place, one must seek a common recognisable ground in which to commence dialogue.

When I get time, I'd like to respond to Maps' comments. Time though is limited at this point :-(

maps said...

Although you should remember, Liberty Scott, that in the same text that he made the famous 'opium' comment Marx also described religion as 'the heart of a heartless world' - that is, as the form that human attempts to deal with alienation and suffering often take. Marx's attitude is much more nuanced than is sometimes supposed.

libertyscott said...

Zen: Indeed, although certainly criticism of capitalism during the Cold War by the Vatican did cause some pro-capitalists to point out that this played into the hands of the Kremlin. What I find useful is understanding what people are criticising, rather than what they call a "system". After all, few "introduce" capitalism per se, whereas Marxism-Leninism had to be imposed.

Maps: Yes it is interesting, if Marx saw religion as one way of dealing with life, did he then completely rule it out, or rather perhaps see it existing in the "post capitalist utopia" he envisaged?

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