This “elevation of politics to the language of philosophy” goes hand in hand with the rejection of the traditional idea that all people share in a universal rationality. Marx is radically anti-Platonic because the idea of the Logos already contains an aspect of transcendence. This is a general feature of positive atheism: “the essential adversary of the great atheists of the nineteenth century … is not Christianity per se, but Platonism as the philosophy of Truth in itself and Goodness in itself, understood to be absolutes to which man is subordinate; or more precisely Platonism and Christianity united by an unbreakable bond.” Thus, the elimination of the question of God by positive atheism coincides with the reduction of reason to purely instrumental reason, to man’s tool to achieve domination over nature and political liberation.
However, if politics is the fulfillment of rationality, how can Marxism justify itself—in what sense is it true? Moreover, if there is no given, universal moral order—and thus no objective human rights, no idea of “justice”—what principles can direct political action? The criterion that proves the truth of Marxism and directs its political expression can only be the direction of history. Since positive atheism rules out a priori the possibility of justifying itself on the basis of eternally valid philosophical truths, it must always present itself as the inevitable result of a historical process. Accordingly, “the ultimate criterion of judgment about philosophies can only concern their progressive or reactionary character.” And since positive atheism does not recognize any universal moral order, it must rely on the assumption that the historical process is marching towards liberation. Then, the ensuing practical postulate is that whatever promotes the process of liberation is right, and whatever hinders it is wrong.
According to Del Noce, this “ethics of the direction of history” is the reason why Marx’s positive atheism is destined to drift toward totalitarianism and the falsification of language. Whereas in the traditional vision right and wrong are revealed to all human beings by their conscience (the locus in which the individual participates in the transcendent), the direction of history is not really an object of persuasion. Rather, it is typically “discovered” by intellectuals, by “gnostics” who are able to decipher the mechanism of historical development. By denying an ideal common ground recognizable by everybody, the Marxist outlook inevitably separates an intellectual and political elite (the Party, in Leninist terms) from the majority of the population which can only be the subject of propaganda. In order to reach the masses, the ethics of the direction of history must inevitably conceal itself behind a language that evokes traditional moral concepts that make no sense from a rigorous Marxist standpoint. For example, critics of Communism in the 20th century routinely observed that Communist propaganda would use words like “justice,” “peace” and “democracy” that could be interpreted morally by the masses, while party leaders and intellectuals upheld a historically materialist vision in which those same words were essentially meaningless (in fact, Marx himself had already mocked them as “Romantic Socialism”). A related feature of the ethics of the direction of history is its “peculiar unity of radical amoralism and most radical hyper-moralism.” Amoralism because ethical claims are just reflections of social conditions and have no permanent validity; hyper-moralism because everything is justified for the sake of the revolution.
Now, Del Noce thinks that this “unfolding” of positive atheism—into instrumental reason, an ethics of the direction of history and the totalitarian falsification of language—is a general modern philosophical pattern, which found its first expression in Marxism but has a broader significance. It does not need to be tied to Marx’s socio-economic analysis, nor to his particular interpretation of the direction of history (as a dialectical process driven by the struggle among classes, which will culminate in a total revolution that will usher in a completely new world, etc). In fact, Del Noce thinks that the technocratic and progressive secular culture that gradually became dominant among the Western intelligentsia after World War II is also a form of positive atheism. It is not Marxist, but is tied to Marxism by a complex relationship, because it developed during the Cold War as a response to Communism. It understood itself as a return to the world view of the Enlightenment, because it exalted scientific progress, individual autonomy, globalization, secularization, etc. However, it was an Enlightenment after Marx because it broadly accepted the Marxian critiques of metaphysics, of religion, of the family, of natural law and so on. It separated out the materialistic and relativistic side of Marxism and used it to undermine the dialectic and revolutionary side.
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