The Triumph and Failure of Marx

The Triumph and Failure of Marx April 5, 2016

In the translator’s introduction to Augusto Del Noce’s Crisis of Modernity, Carlo Lancelotti outlines Del Noce’s theory about the “heterogenesis of ends” in Marxism, its simultaneous failure and success. Originally attracted to a synthesis of Christianity and Marx, Del Noce hesitated because of his moral objections to Marxism’s justification of violence. Marx’s popularity among Catholic thinkers led Del Noce to study Marxism more deeply, which in turn led to a thorough rejection of Marxism.

As Lancelotti puts it, “The position on the ‘Catholic Left’ was predicated on the notion that atheism is an accessory element of Marxism, and that the core of Marx’s thought is a socio-political analysis that can be separated from the ‘religious’ aspect and used in order to fight Fascism and promote social justice. Del Noce realized that, on the contrary, all of Marx’s thought is a consistent development of the radical metaphysical principle that freedom requires self-creation, and thus the rejection of all possible forms of dependence, especially dependence on God. Therefore, Del Noce came to see that in Marx ‘atheism . . . is not the conclusion but rather the precondition of the whole system.”

Del Noce also concluded that Marxism was the culmination and popularization of Enlightenment rationalism, at once “the fully consistent and irreversible endpoint of the evolution of European rationalism since Descartes” and also “the origin of the idea of ‘total revolution that shaped the history of the twentieth century, namely ‘the promise . . . of a new situation of mankind in which the problem of God will no longer arise.’”

But Del Noce also realized that Marxism was doomed. He failed to achieve what it promises, namely, the remaking of human existence and human nature. He formulated the idea of the “heterogenesis of ends,” the simultaneous triumph and decomposition of Marxism. While it failed in its revolutionary promise, is triumphed as atheism. It succeeded as popular philosophy. With Marxism, “modern secular thought made itself a (atheistic) religion and reached the masses, thus shaping modern history as the history of the expansion of atheism.” In Del Noce’s words, “Marxism did realize itself, but by realizing itself at the same time it negated itself. . . . Marxism succeeded in denying that values are absolute, and the nihilism that dominates the Western world reflects this success-failure of Marxism.”

The irony of its success is profound: “Instead of producing universal liberation, it opened the way to the affluence society, ‘the society that succeeds in eliminating the dialectic tension that sustains the revolution by pushing alienation to the highest degree.” In other words, “Marxism paradoxically was instrumental in the rise of a new secular, reltivistic, neo-bourgeois society that accepted all of Marx’s metaphysical negations but rejected his religious/messianic message.” Del Noce argued that this affluent Marxist-bourgeois society is inherently totalitarian because it does not acknowledge any knowledge other than scientific.

This double, paradoxical outcome wasn’t accidental, but the outworking of contradictions inherent in Marxism. On the one hand, Marx posited an atheistic historical materialism that denied transcendence and rejected all hope for salvation from outside man. On the other hand, Marx held out the hope that man could transcend himself. In De Noce’s words, “it is the only possible bourgeois and secular answer to Marxism, and . . . arises because of an intrinsic contradiction within Marxism itself. . . . [it] defeats Marxism in the sense that it appropriates all its negation of transcendent values, by pushing to the limit . . . the aspect of Marxism that makes it a form of absolute relativism. This has the result of turning Maxism upside down into an absolute individualism, which serves the purpose of giving the technological civilization the false appearance of being a ‘democracy’ and a continuation of the spirit of liberalism.”

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