The working document for the upcoming Amazonian synod promotes the “most dangerous” form of socialism and is “absolutely unacceptable,” says a European philosopher.
In an interview with LifeSite at this year’s Roman Forum Summer Symposium in Gardone Riviera, Italy, Austrian philosopher Professor Thomas Stark said the liberation theology once condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Josef Ratzinger has “morphed” into “tribalism” and is now “all through” the synod’s working document.
“[Tribalism] is a new form of socialism that is unknown to most people,” Prof. Stark explained. “And because they are unaware of what it is really all about, they do not realize how dangerous it is.”
The Catholic philosopher said that tribalism is akin to socialism in that it is a “kind of collectivism,” has a “brainwashing effect,” and “suppresses individuality.” He indicated that the latter is something which should be abhorrent to young people and university students who want to be “a personality and not just a number.”
In tribalism, there is “no individual property,” there are “no traditional families” and “children are raised collectively,” added Stark, who has taught philosophy at the Benedict XVI Academy of Philosophy and Theology (Heiligenkreuz) and is a professor of philosophy at the University of St. Pölten in Austria.
He also seconded German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller and other Catholic prelates who have criticized the working document’s description of the Amazon as a “theological place” where new revelation occurs.
“As Western countries,” we are being told to “form and model our societies in accord with the tribal societies in the Amazon,” he said. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”
“It would be very dangerous to go down this tribalistic path, because it would destroy the rest of Christian culture,” he said.
Our interview with Professor Thomas Stark followed a lecture he delivered on “The Socialist Myth: Igor Shafarevich and Modern Nihilism.” Igor Shaferevich (1923-2017) was a Russian mathematician and dissident during the Soviet regime who wrote books and articles criticizing socialism, including The Socialist Phenomenon.
In the interview, we also discussed the strategies used by key proponents of cultural socialism, such as Italian Communist, Antonio Gramsci, and American socialist, Saul Alinsky, to advance this movement, and what traditionally minded Catholics can actually learn from them.
Here below is our interview with Professor Thomas Stark.
LifeSite: Professor Stark, what was the focus of your lecture, and why is it important for people to know about it?
Prof. Stark: The talk was about socialism. I focused on the fact that socialism is not something that just occurred in the 18th and 19thcentury, as most people believe. According to Igor Shafarevich, who wrote one of the most important books on the topic, The Socialist Phenomenon, socialism is a constant temptation, a constant problem within human history.
We have to recognize that socialist structures were already established in the early high cultures, for example, in Egypt or Mesopotamia or China or in Central America, where private property did not exist, and where children were raised by the State. Socialism is a problem as old as advanced human culture, and the topic is of utmost importance nowadays because we have a new uprising of socialism.
We can also find this uprising of socialism within the Church, and I am very concerned about the upcoming Synod on the Amazon.
Why is that?
Because in the working document [Instrumentum laboris] I find a huge influence of a certain type of liberation theology. The problem is that liberation theology, which was condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1986, under then-Prefect Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, has morphed into something else. In order to undergo that condemnation, liberation theology morphed into something different. The movement left behind the “conservative,” traditional Marxist path and advanced something else which the Brazilian philosopher Plinio Correa de Oliveira, in his well-known book Revolution and Counter Revolution, describes as “tribalism.” In his view, tribalism is the fourth and last stage in the development of socialism — and the most dangerous. One finds this idea of tribalism all over the working document. It is a new form of socialism that is unknown to most people. And because they are unaware of what it is really all about, they do not realize how dangerous it is.
How is “tribalism” socialist, and what form might that take in Western culture? And what do you see in the synod’s working document that points in this direction?
Well, tribalism is a sort of collectivism, and it has a brainwashing effect. It suppresses individuality, it suppresses the development of individual thought and individual creativity and brings all the members of the tribe into one line of thought. At the same time, in tribalism there is no individual property, nor are there traditional families. Tribes normally raise the children collectively; they don’t have the same understanding of marriage and the family; they behave promiscuously. This is what tribalism has in common with other forms of socialism.
How does that transfer to Europe or the United States? The problem is that the new kind of socialism tries to impose tribalistic structures also on developed countries. One finds this in the synod working document, where we are told that the Amazon is a “theological place” (n. 19), a region where new revelation occurs, and that we as Western countries in developed societies have to form and model our societies in accord with the tribal societies in the Amazon.
This is what this document tells us, and this is absolutely unacceptable. It would be very dangerous to go down this tribalistic path, because it would destroy the rest of Christian culture which has remained after the history of destruction that has gone on for the last 200 to 400 years, depending on if you start in the so-called Reformation times or in the Enlightenment.
Can you say more about socialism’s stance toward the individual?
One of the problems of socialism, as Shafarevich points out and proves in his work The Socialist Phenomenon, is that one of the main purposes of socialism is to destroy the individual. Socialism always tries to collectivize everything and bring all individuals into a certain collectivist line of thought, action, etc. Socialism destroys the possibility for the individual to develop his own creativity, to develop his own style of existence, because it’s all about uniformity. It’s all about a “mass-culture” — and this is a point where socialism is no different than fascism. It destroys personal development, creativity and style.
This should be repugnant to young people, who at least in the United States, especially at the university level, are becoming more and more sympathetic to socialism.
Exactly. Any student or young person who is on the way to developing his personality should require an environment that encourages the development of his personality and not one that suppresses it. This is what studying at a university, for example, is all about: encouraging one’s intellectual capacities, becoming a learned person, and developing one’s own style of thinking and behaving. It is about being a personality and not just a number.
In your lecture, you mentioned the role of Saul Alinsky in this movement. How does he figure in?
Saul Alinsky was one of the most influential socialists in the United States in the second half of the 20th century, and influenced many intellectuals and politicians, for example, Hillary Clinton. Saul Alinsky was a very important representative of what is called “cultural socialism.”
Cultural socialism is connected with the figure Antonio Gramsci, who was a well-known Italian communist. Some would regard him as the founder of cultural socialism. It is also connected with the Frankfurt school, which also operated in the United States in the 1930s. Saul Alinsky was the chief representative of cultural socialism in the United States in the second half of the 20thcentury.
Those people who are in favor of cultural socialism are the same ones who are in favor of abortion, euthanasia, and other legalized grave crimes. From this point, you can draw a line to tribalism and the Amazon because the tribal societies in the Amazon were very much influenced by all these evils. Infanticide, for example, plays a big role in their life. The respect for every human life is something you do not find in these tribal communities in the Amazon, and this is something that links the Amazonian tribal societies and cultural socialism, a sort of cultural socialism that, with ever increasing pressure, tries to adapt tribalistic forms of living to Western civilizations.
Cultural socialists try to transform our lifestyle, our political system and our way of life more and more in the direction of tribalism. And it is very unfortunate that there are forces within the Catholic Church that are in favor of this. The Catholic Church should be the first institution to fight against it.
What strategy did Antonio Gramsci use to advance cultural socialism?
Gramsci thought that the revolutionary spark would jump from the Soviet Union to Western Europe, and it didn’t. He tried to find out why. He discovered that classical Marxism concentrated too strictly on purely economic topics. He also discovered that the overthrow of a society cannot be started in the field of economics but must begin in the field of culture. He invented the term “civil society.” There may be roots in Hegel, but this is too difficult to explain here. He distinguished between civil society and the official political system, and he said if you want to get control of politics, what you have to do first is require what he called “cultural hegemony.” That means that you have to control the culture, that you have to control those parts of society that are not part of the official political system but the cultural system. This would include theater, the cinema, media, literature, the arts and even religion, as well as the whole education system. This is a key point.
If you are able to control this cultural system, i.e. civil society, and are able to control what people are thinking about, and if you can control which information they get and don’t get, if you have gained what Gramsci calls “cultural hegemony,” then political power falls into your hands like ripe fruit, with no further action. This is the whole idea behind cultural Marxism, and this is what the Frankfurt school took up, refined, and this is what Saul Alinsky also adopted from Antonio Gramsci.
What can traditionally minded Catholics learn from Gramsci?
Everyone who is traditionally minded, if he wants to win society back for the Catholic Church and for Christianity, and for the Social Kingship of Christ, should use the best strategies, if they are not against the natural law or the Ten Commandments. We should be very, very keen to find the best strategies, in a moral way of course. And there is very much in Gramsci that traditional Catholics can use. Let us get control of the media, the educational system, etc. We can’t accomplish this in a few weeks, but we should start now to fight back, to get back the universities, schools, theater, literature, music, and the media. We have to build up all the means of cultural communication and use them for spreading the Gospel and the Catholic Faith. We must be more professional than our enemies.
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