Metaphysics and the Sexual Revolution

The sexual revolution was an intentional assault on classical metaphysics, argues Catholic philosopher Augusto Del Noce. A metaphysician i...

In 1936, German psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich published a book titled Die Sexualität im Kulturkampf ("Sexuality in the Culture War"). When the book was translated into English in 1945, the title had changed to a phrase Reich coined: The Sexual Revolution. Although Reich did not live to see the sexual revolution come to fruition in America, he has become widely regarded as the movement's "midwife", and his writings as the movement's "roadmap". Many of Reich's most radical ideas at the time - such as homosexual marriage and legalized abortion - are now realities. The aim of his "culture war" was nothing less than the dismantling of what he saw as oppressive institutions of capitalist society: the family and the church.

The sexual revolution was an intentional assault on classical metaphysics, argues Catholic philosopher Augusto Del Noce. A metaphysician influenced by neo-Thomist philosophers like Jacques Maritain and Étienne Gilson, Del Noce used historical analysis of the origins and futures of modern philosophical movements to provide the contextual terrain for his own arguments. In a 1970 essay on eroticism, Del Noce traces the origins of the sexual revolution through Freud, Marx, and Reich, illuminating its radical objectives.

"The question of eroticism is first of all metaphysical," writes Del Noce. "Only a restoration of what for brevity I will call 'classical metaphysics' can truly dismantle the framework of judgments that make up eroticism." More specifically, by "classical metaphysics" Del Noce has in mind the "old Christian-Thomist framework."

How does the sexual revolution undermine this metaphysical framework? First, by assaulting the institution of the family:
What is the repressive social institution par excellence? To Reich it is the traditional monogamous family; and, from his standpoint, certainly he cannot be said to be wrong. Indeed, the idea of family is inseparable from the idea of tradition, from a heritage of truth that we must tradere, hand on. Thus, the abolition of every meta-empirical order of truth requires that the family be dissolved.
The chief weapon employed here is the sheer immediacy of so-called sexual freedom. The past, and the traditions that it imposes upon us, is oppressive. "The domain of free sexuality is the pure present, and this brings us back to the sub-human level, to animalism (think of Leibniz's mens momentanea)." The structures of society must be done away with via bursts of spontaneity, acquiescence to pure instinct. In Reich's view, man is most noble as a savage, and only total freedom from sexual repression can end human aggression and authoritarianism.

Of course, Reich's total war on tradition has not ever been fully realized, even in the achievements of the sexual revolution. The reason for this lies at the intersection of Reich's sexual philosophy and the political philosophy of Marxism. In contrast to Reich's vision of a primitive sexual utopia to which humanity must return, Hegelian influences upon Marxism prevail that the absolute only lies at the end of the movement of history. Thus, "the idea that values have an objective foundation forbids Marxism, at least in its revolutionary version, from becoming a vitalistic doctrine advocating unlimited sexual freedom. On the contrary, it is inclined to regard such freedom as the last stage of disintegration and degeneration of bourgeois society." Those who oppose the movement toward that final stage are often condemned as "on the wrong side of history."

Though Reich's philosophy is not fully realized, it still maintains remarkable political and cultural influence. "Reich was the precursor of the worst and most dangerous aspects of today's mores as well as of today's politics," writes Del Noce. "What today is called the left fights less and less in terms of class warfare, and more and more in terms of 'warfare against repression,' claiming that the struggle for the economic progress of the disadvantaged is included in this more general struggle, as if the two were inseparable."

The family is viewed by many leftist philosophers as the most unjust institution, for it is the greatest source of economic and societal privilege. If the family is done away with as an institution, the community (and/or the state) can raise children in fairness and equality. The outcome of such an effort is of course increased state power over the individual, who has now been isolated from the rights and protections afforded him by a state-recognized family structure.

Del Noce was writing in the 1970s. The effects of Reich's philosophy today are even more pronounced. Even in his day, Del Noce could observe: "today the average man, i.e., the normal man (meaning neither nostalgic nor neurotic) accepts without any moral reaction displays of sexuality that a few years ago were inconceivable."

The new sexual tolerance will tolerate anything except traditional modesty and chastity. This is true even among many Christians. "The demonic always creeps in by creating an opposition between certain truths and virtues that, when they are separated, become errors. In the case at hand, charity vs respect for the objective order of being."

Where Marxism faltered to carry the torch of Reich's sexual revolution, Surrealism picked up the slack. Del Noce writes: "It would be incorrect to regard Surrealism as a merely artistic phenomenon, instead of a comprehensive attitude toward life that aims at embodying the fullness of the revolutionary idea in its primary aspect, which is the will to mark a radical break with the past and the beginning of a new history. ... Surrealists were almost the only ones to realize a fundamental truth: the decisive battle against Christianity could be fought only at the level of the sexual revolution." Del Noce points to Surrealist theoreticians who saw their project as one of demythologization, the eradication of sexually repressive dogma and religious narratives. One of the most repressive doctrines is said to be that of original sin.

Of the three foundational estates of human life - the oeconomia, the ecclesia, and the politia - two are assaulted by the sexual revolution, and one gains to profit by their removal.

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