Fr. Alain Lorans, SSPX
Editor’s Note: The following is a conference given by Fr. Alain Lorans as part of a summer university course of The Society of Saint Pius X from August 12-16, 2017 on the subject, “To Serve Christianity Today.” In order to conserve the proper character of this conference, the oral style has been maintained.
In the course of history, the reaction to revolution was principally manifested at the political and social level, but we mustn’t forget that there is an equally important element of society that revolution wishes to sabotage—that of culture. “To serve Christianity today” the topic that we are proposing during this summer university course, implies that we are striving to defend a culture under attack, the Christian culture.
The cultural combat is not always well understood in conservative circles and sometimes in our own [traditional] circles, because one thinks that the importance rests in politics, social elements or economics; to most, culture appears “less serious,” as if it was only an attitude.
THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION OF GRAMSCI
It is important to rid ourselves of this false notion because if we don’t understand the importance of culture in the service of civilization, its enemies, who already understand this very well, will use it to their advantage. Here are a few examples: When Mao, in China, wanted to impose the communist regime, he didn’t content himself with using political or economic weapons. Indeed, he wanted to establish a regime with Marxist policies and economy, but he also wanted to wage a “cultural revolution.”
For him, it wasn’t sufficient to overthrow political structures—which is the program of all revolution and of all kinds of subversions—he demanded an additional change of spirit in order to introduce a revolution into the minds of the Chinese.
He knew that subversion wouldn’t be complete with merely the overthrow of exterior structures. This external horror must also change the nature of the people itself at its very depths. What happened was terrible: a number of persecutions under the form of “self-criticism” and “re-education” were aimed especially at the tenants of the culture. Maoproceeded to strip away the “junk” from China, that is to say the benchmarks, the chronicles, the roots of the identity of his country.
Mao’s revolution doesn’t directly concern us because it doesn’t apply to a culture that rests upon historically Christian territory, but we must say that all revolutions want to reach into people’s minds, because as long as the subversion hasn’t entered their minds, it is not complete.
This, then, defines cultural revolution. Closer to us geographically is the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci, a Marxist himself, who is at the origin of the cultural revolution and meta-politics—taken from the Greek meta: [after] that which goes above politics, which is culture, precisely. As with all Marxists, Gramsci’s principles rested on the idea that society has an economic infrastructure and an ideological superstructure, the “Bourgeois culture” which is only there to maintain the Bourgeois order and to make the economic and political domination of the Bourgeois acceptable to the proletarians.
He goes further: Culture is in the hands of the Bourgeois who present this as a system of “natural” values, which would only, according to him, be values intended to ensure Bourgeois hegemony in the name of so called “common sense.”
There aren’t, for Gramsci, “values” in themselves. It would therefore be of no avail to destroy the people’s roots, to work at cutting the people off from their identity; one must subvert even further, go to the heart, even into the minds of the people; one must make them understand that there is no nature, no essence, no “values” in themselves. One must break down and eradicate the idea that human nature exists independently of economic and social conditions. We are now staring integral revolution in the face.
Defiance is important. This was well perceived when Malraux founded the Houses of Youth and Culture (MJC) in France. The left claimed the group as “theirs” immediately, therefore, these MJC have become the subversive foyers of leftist culture. Some moderates believe themselves to be conservatives.
Really, they give themselves away by their default attitude which is marked by materialistic economics. They consider that the moment the quality of life increases, people are thrilled, satisfied. Surveys indicate the morale of the population by their purchasing capacity or the recovery of consumption. But “man liveth not by bread alone,” he also needs intellectual and, most importantly, spiritual nourishment.
Cultural revolution is a revolution in the full sense of the word: it does not content itself with political, economic and social subversion; it attacks the domain of values as well. That is where it reaches the heart of Christianity.
The revolutionaries qualify values as “Bourgeois” in order to disqualify them. They want to remove all pretention toward universality (for values can’t be imposed upon all) in the name of a pretend human nature present in every man. In our days, we aren’t being subjected to a type of Soviet, police or authoritarian persecution, but there indeed exists a subversion that searches to depose us of our heritage and further, of our very nature. And since the revolutionaries acknowledge the principle that one cannot destroy something without replacing it, they propose different values to us, other cultural references and even another type of humanity.
In his book, La crise de la conscience européenne (The Crisis of European Conscience), Paul Hazard says that every period has an ideal model of humanity 1 that can be seen, not only on a cultural but also a spiritual level. This idea is correct; we can examine this and expound upon it. In the Middle Ages, the ideal was represented by the knight, the defender of the widow and the orphan;
During the Renaissance, it was the condottiere [a mercenary soldier or leader], the humanist; in the 17th century, it is “the honest man;” in the 18th, the enlightened philosopher; in the 19th, the Bourgeoisie; in the 20th, the vigorous young elite: hedonist and consumerist; in the 21st, it is the worldly trans-humanist, above good and evil.
Every period thus shows what its ideal was. With La Varende [a French author], in the 20th century, you have again heroes who had a certain chivalrous ideal, where honor was paramount, but it is a species on its way to extinction.
REACT: A CULTURAL COUNTER-REVOLUTION?
So, how do we confront this subversion? Resign ourselves to the inevitable and do nothing? We find ourselves in a period of decadence. Our contemporaries aren’t ready to give their lives for a religious or patriotic cause because there are no longer any transcendental ideals capable of justifying so great a sacrifice. Truly, “heroes are worn out.”
Let us not say that this applies particularly to “those on the other side;” we also possess a certain lassitude. We are not immune to the pseudo-values that prevail today. We breathe the air of the times; we are bitten by this century. We are not sheltered from it; our Christian ideal dulls because we do not have the character of our ancestors. Already in the 19th century, Cardinal Pie admonished us: “Man no longer exists, because character no longer exists.”
In order to not let ourselves be contaminated by this overwhelming majority that smiles with pity when it sees us, it is indispensable to maintain an attitude of dissidence. One cannot reclaim Christian values for himself that are rejected and mocked today without making some waves. In other words, we must faithfully follow the Gospel that tells us: “You are in the world, but you are not of the world” (cf. Jn. 17: 14-18). We are here because we are physically in the world, but is the world integrally within us? Have we adopted these pseudo-values with their false ideal of humanity? Officially no, surreptitiously perhaps.
A true cultural counter-revolution consists foremost of knowing the difference and of firmly claiming this dissidence, which is a form of intellectual and spiritual courage. Within the counter-values of the times that we find in the television [the “boob tube”] there is nothing enthusiastic, nothing that edifies us. On the contrary, this draws us down in general, into mediocrity and sometimes worse.
We must not succumb to the sirens’ song and we must push away this invitation to our concupiscence. Is this really a great sacrifice? There are no police on “Mao Hill” who are coming to tell us that we have to read the little red book of president Mao. We aren’t familiar with this type of ideological persecution. What we have now is more insidious: we are stripped of our Christian heritage and uprooted from our cultural grounding in Christianity. Are we actively trying to reclaim these cultural values, to make them ours personally? We all, in short, agree with the spirit of the Crusades, but isn’t it often pure rhetoric and accompanied by frightening incapacity? If our will is paralyzed, if our spirit of decision making is frozen, it will serve to nothing.
What are we actually capable of doing? Shouting loud and proud, “God first served!” But then, when we must serve God on a daily basis in the family or at work, no one is willing! It is because we have a platonic conception of the Christian ideal. We have placed it among the archetypes, in the world of super-sensibility which never becomes a reality.
Alternatively, we can live the practice of our religion, and this ideal should manifest itself in the little things; this sacrifice that we have to make in order to reclaim our Christian values demonstrated in the little things, not by fads and trends.
RADICAL REACTION TO A RADICAL REVOLUTION
Let’s go further. The Marxist revolution is already a grave subversion, but cultural revolution is still more dangerous. We are not being directly menaced by Mao or Gramsci, but by their heirs, who are much subtler, who require from us a sharper or simply smarter spirit—certainly not a dull one in any case.
We should see these things for what they are. The world in which we live smothers us with chloroform; you are here in a stage of revival, so to speak; you are not in the hands of anesthesiologists. You are rebels; you make the difference as a Christian; you are “the salt of the earth,” “the light of the world.” You are in the recovery chamber to wake up, not to sleep.
The world in which we live attempts to anesthetize us with two very simple words: consume and enjoy. The world tells us: don’t analyze, don’t think, don’t pray, but ratherconsume, stuff yourself and please yourself ad nauseam. Behold the limitless horizon: consumerism and hedonism. The Christian alternative is “sacrifice yourself; give.”
You understand that it is not a question of culture as a consumer good delivered to us in the form of books, CD’s and DVD’s, but under the form of a cultural combat. The stakes are high, crucial; it is our soul, those of our families and our country that are on the line. Baudelaire gave, it seems to me, the best definition of civilization as understood by Christian culture.
Civilization is not found in technical progress nor in the sects of yesterday and today, “civilization” he tells us, “is the diminishing of the traces of original sin.” 2 A Christian culture which serves civilization, the Christian today, is he who works to diminish the effects of original sin.
Is that the case with this new genre of literature that offers comfort in soft sadomasochism? No, on the contrary, this rancid literature renders the wounds of original sin more acute, more loathsome; the wound does not scab over, does not heal, does not improve; it weakens it a little more, pulls the infection down further, toward animal concupiscence. It prevents us from accessing the specific difference we possess from animals which is our reason, a fortiori, the spiritual life.
The cultural challenge is well understood to be this: to go against the pseudo-values that literary and contemporary cinematic productions present as the ideal of humanity. This is not to say that literature must be cunning or moralistic. It must be complete in showing the struggle between the “old man” and “the new man” to show that there is truly a spiritual combat.
This was clearly manifested in the 17th century in El Cid by Corneille or in Phèdre by Racine. One sees here a culture that takes humanity in its entirety, not a utopian humanity, rather, a sinful humanity, but which raises itself up, punishes itself, which turns toward its spiritual ideal, and which is not content to say, “please yourself and die.”
Today, we have a subversive culture that pulls us downward, that complacently presents as much decadence as possible. The prototype being the “Cannes film festival” [international film festival held in Cannes, France] or anything that could be inverted or perverted and then projected on the big screen.
Decadence is complacence in decline. This decline, resulting from the weakness of human nature since original sin, can be recognized and avoided or people can submit to it. If recognized, this decline must be followed by a redemptive leap, a sursum corda. Accommodating the smug abasement of our societal decline is an unsustainable level of decadence.
Let’s be more precise concerning Baudelaire’s definition: what are the “traces of original sin”?They are concupiscence, unbridled sensuality, cowardice, spinelessness, sloth, ignorance, malice. It is what St. John calls the triple concupiscence: 3 concupiscence of the body, concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.
Faced with this, we try to be a little more human, a little less beast, and we must endow ourselves with a culture that really cultivates us—that doesn’t let us be idle, that doesn’t let the weeds grow—a culture that shakes us up as needed, that gathers us, that returns to us, that converts us and obliges us to grow so we can elevate ourselves. This is a culture worthy of its name.
The contrary is barbarism. It is what we call “savage” today. Today’s society of emasculated language doesn’t call a “spade a spade” anymore. It isn’t politically correct to call things by their name; the blind are the “non-seeing,” the deaf the “hard of hearing,” and when the “savages” steal, pillage, rape, we speak of “incivilities.”
In passing, it is very revealing that we are no longer allowed to use the right word, the exact term. We dream here about what Bossuet had to say to his student, the Great Dauphin who, by negligence, contented himself with a “head-in-the-clouds” attitude: “Today you fool yourself in the placement of your words; you don’t put the right word in the right place. Suppose in the case that you govern others, you don’t put the correct man in the correct place. Because your head is not in order, your government shall be disordered.” 4
True cultivated culture is not merely a fashion trend. Subversive culture renders one a little more beastly, a little more like an animal, a little more barbaric. The definition of Baudelaire is quite correct.
When there is no longer any will “to diminish the traces of original sin,” when one cultivates concupiscence, exacerbates sloth, renders ignorance and malice more infectious and corrupt, one creates barbarism, not civilization. One destroys Christianity. This revolution is neither political, nor economic, nor institutional; it is an extremely efficacious cultural revolution.
We are the witnesses and the victims of the omnipresent subculture of the media which is the vehicle for corrupt ideals. Adultery is promoted by the voice of posters as organizations spread them along the walls of the subway. Sensuality is proposed in all of its forms, in all of its false glory, for its primary message for humanity: “It isn’t wrong to treat yourself well!” This statement paraphrases Oscar Wilde: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”
The subversive know that they have an ally deep within each of us. We have been baptized; we have the effects of original sin; we have received grace; we also have the “old man” who draws us downward in this beastly culture. The slopes are meant to be slippery so that one cannot climb back up.
THE COPERNICAN REVOLUTION
We have seen in depth that subversion consists in the inversion of the natural order. To be precise: instead of affirming the primacy of the object, which is objectivity, one privileges the subject, the subjectivity. A typical thought process might unfold thus: “First of all, this is what I think, it is my opinion, who cares what the reality is, it’s what I want, what I think is what counts…”
Today, one gives passion primacy; it gets placed above our reason. May of 1968 [a period of country-wide strikes. Considered a cultural, social, and moral turning point in the history of France] began with the slogan “Imagination is power.”
The imagination is a sense, an internal sense that we have in common with animals but it is not the queen of our faculties. Certainly it is “the madman of the house” [St. Teresa of Avila]. The imagination of ‘68 is the fantasy that receives the power to govern institutions and manners. We dream about the rosy life with no responsibilities after the hippie revolution; now it has become the shameless sensual life without any clarity and without counter-revolution!
In order to combat this subversion, one must first identify it. In the military, the worst thing that could happen would be to failure in identifying the enemy, his strategy, his tactics. Here we aren’t faced with a potential or virtual enemy, but a very real enemy that hides and we have to learn its weaknesses in order to combat it.
In his great work, L’intelligence en peril de mort [Intelligence in Danger of Death] 5 , Marcel De Corte analyzes this revolution of minds which is the hallmark of the cultural revolution. After the Council the modernists said: we already changed the texts, now we have to overthrow the minds. We pass from words to ideas, from the written word to reason itself; it is an integral and radical subversion.
Marcel De Corte tells us that what characterizes our period is that we are no longer in the school of reality. What we would like is to project our ideas and our fantasies upon reality: reality must bend. It is what Kant called a “Copernican Revolution.”
The present day culture and its literature is built on this model: it is not what we truly hear, the observation of human nature with its strengths and miseries, but rather the projection of a fantasy, sometimes even a perversion of reality. They tell us: “It’s just like that; that’s how I feel.” The literature of today is subjectivist and self-absorbed. One exposes and spreads “self.” For Leon Daudet, it is the rampant and infectious ego trip. The modern man suffers because of himself; he must pamper his ego. This subject could go on for many pages, but it certainly isn’t thus that we can serve Christianity today.
Marcel De Corte gives us an interesting example, almost a diagnosable case with Chateaubriand. At the beginning of his Memoires d’Outre-Tombe [Memories from Overseas], he exposes the juvenile folly that he came to understand as the “love fantasy.”
He dreams of a woman who isn’t real, who doesn’t exist. He made her, he un-made her,changing the color of her eyes, her hair, taken from ideas from billboards that he saw here and there, collecting separate memories from women that he would notice in his entourage. He made therefore, an imaginary being, with whom he is madly in love, madly in the psychiatric sense of the word. He is so enamored with her that, seeing that she clearly doesn’t exist, and the divorce between his rich and fulfilling dream and the poor and intolerable reality, he desired to kill himself and he made the attempt. The aftermath is unknown since we do not have the sequel to his already extensive Memoires.
In the opinion of Marcel De Corte, the case of Chateaubriand has symbolic value because it represents the contemporary mentality very well. We bathe in a subjectivist culture which is no longer in the realm of reality, nor from nature—a nature that imposes itself because it is created by God. Modern man is a demiurge, a creator who makes his object; he cannot love what he is, he wants to love what he created, that which he dreams. He wants to fabricate his bubble, and make that bubble a reality. What would the apprentice sorcerers of transhumanism say today who are the makers of “virtual reality”!
The cultural counter-revolution cannot be—like Joseph de Maistre announced very justly— a contrary revolution, seeking to counter balance revolution, by becoming the exact opposite of revolution. It is more than just the will to rebel which we spoke about at the beginning. It essentially consists of conversion. The spirit must be converted, turned towards what is real which, for us Christians, is the order created by God of which we are constantly aware.
This attitude which is only the realistic attitude is deeply counter-revolutionary today. Is being a realist to be counter-revolutionary? No! Only a perfectly conscious understanding of revolutionary dangers can operate a real cultural counter-revolution. We can attack cultural revolution at its roots by reorienting the spirit towards reality—by submitting to objective truth. It is the antidote to Mao who said that he wanted to rid himself of the “junk” and to Gramsci who wanted to free people from a natural order which does not depend on us, and all the more from a supernatural order which imposes itself on us.
When Baudelaire said that in order to do civilized work, one must work to diminish the effects of original sin, a theologian could add that these effects can be summarized as a bending, a withdrawal, a stunting of oneself; this is why the effects of original sin which are concupiscence, cowardice and the rest…are sterile, sadly unfertile and savagely uneducated.
INTEGRAL RETURN TO REALITY
Still in L’intelligence en peril de mort, Marcel De Corte shows where intellectual fecundity is found, where we must search for a radical cultural counter-revolution. Our intelligence proceeds by concepts from which it forms judgments through rigorous reasoning. How is a concept born?
The realist philosopher responds: “In order for there to be a concept, there must first beconception. The concept is the wedding-fruit of the intelligence and reality. In order for this offspring to be born, the intelligence must have exchanges with reality. It is evident that the vigor of a child depends on the health of the father and the mother, and on the strength of their union. It is the intensity, the width, the depth, richness and quality of their relationship tied together by generative elements which will mark that which is conceived by their union, communicating to it the imprint of reality.” 6
The things of the intellectual life are to be considered with as much simplicity and naturalness as the things of biological life: the word “concept” goes back to the idea of conception, therefore of fertility. Intelligence is not fertile; it cannot conceive a rich and strong idea, unless it is rendered fertile by reality. It is not intelligence itself that is fertile. Self-fertilization may be a “pregnancy,” but it is not real fertility.
Intelligence is really in danger of death since it thinks that it is fertile by itself, making ideas by itself that are no more than idealized fantasies. This gives way to “love phantoms” as with Chateaubriand. But these make-believe loves could never engender anything other than shadows. The realist cultural counter-revolution, is to admit that we are fertile by reality.
Let us go further: I am fertile by nature, by the essence of things, by the nature that God willed by the natural order with the natural law, the natural morals for, despite Gramsci and his successors, there is a natural law. For example, marriage between one man and one woman—which is not “bourgeois” or “macho,” which is not ideological, socio-cultural conditioning.
And there is also a supernatural law: we are wounded, lessened by the effects of original sin; we know that it is due to concupiscence. This supernatural law is willed by Him who created us and who more admirably re-created us—mirabilius reformasti—by Christ our Redeemer, who removes from us the “old man” and who makes the “new man” live within us. “All of the rest is only literature,” vain literature, as Peguy proclaimed.
Let us give the last word to Fr. Calmel. Commenting on the words of Phèdre [queen of Athens], taken with devastating and incestuous passion for Hippolyta [her stepson], she wishes to cast away her veils, signs of the dignity of a woman, of step-mother and queen she says, “Woe, that these veils weigh upon me!”
Fr. Calmel states that it is not only her veils that weigh upon her, it is the acceptance of human nature, it is the necessity of waging combat, of domesticating the animal, and of making sure that rationality and, more importantly, spirituality triumphs.
“Woe, that these vain adornments, these veils weigh upon me” 7 groaned the Racine heroine [Jean-Baptiste Racine was the author of the tragedy Phèdre] to the paradox of passion and rage. This terrible verse raises the question of decency very precisely.
If the human being succumbs, no longer stands firm, no longer restrains himself… and that is what happens from one day to another, to the one who cuts himself off from God: then,inevitably, the veils become a burden.
But if the human being agrees to be such, with the struggle, the effort, the tears and the prayers that this consent requires for his own dignity: then, naturally, the veils are sweet to him like a sacred burden. They are the sign of his ever-visible nobility and condition of his ever-possible salvation.” 8
Do not deliver yourself from the fight with this name: resignation. One resigns to the human condition if one does not want to be redeemed anymore, if one wishes to roll himself up in concupiscence. If the reason doesn’t want to be mistress anymore, one wallows in passion. To serve Christianity today is to proclaim a difference, affirm an ? urgency.
It is to be a rebel. It requires energy and enthusiasm; we are not made to be mediocre. Do not say that we are fatigued, that we long to be at rest without having worked, without having been wounded. To retreat from this conflict would be the same as retreating from battle. The cultural counter-revolution involves our whole conception of humanity, of Christianity. It is a vast battlefield that opens wide before us.
Translated from the French by Associate Editor Jane Carver.
1 See Paul Hazard, La crise de la conscience européenne, 1680-1715. 3rd part, Ch. 7, Vers un nouveau modèle d’humanité, Paris, 1931.
2 Charles Baudelaire, Mon cœur mis à nu : journal intime (1887), no. LVIII: “Theory of true civilization. It is not in gas, neither in vapor, neither in turning tables. It is in the diminishing of the stain of original sin.”
3 I Jn. 2:16: “Because all that is in the world, the concupiscence of the body, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, comes not from the Father, but the world.”
4 See Bossuet, Letter to Pope Innocent XI on the education of the Great Dauphin (March 8, 1679).
5 See Marcel De Corte, L’intelligence en péril de mort, edition established and edited in the notes by Jean-Claude Absil, L’Homme Nouveau ed., 2017, pp. 231-234.
6 Marcel De Corte, op. cit., pp. 24-25.
7 Jean Racine, Phèdre, I, 3.
8 R.-Th. Calmel O.P., Ecole chrétienne renouvelée, Ch. XXVIII, Vigueur et netteté, Téqui, 1990, P. 179.