Postmodernity and the radical agenda of the global ethic

The cultural revolution found its balance in postmodernity. Postmodernity destabilizes or deconstructs, first of all, modernity, the cultural synthesis that has prevailed in the West since the treaties of Westphalia (1648). To the extent that postmodernity also deconstructs the abuses of modernity - that is, rationalism, institutionalism, formalism, authoritarianism, Marxism and liberal pessimism, it has a providential character. But postmodernity also advances Western apostasy further than modernity. In postmodernity as in modernity, not everything is black or white.

The upheaval of May 1968, its rejection of morality and authority, its radical exaltation of individual freedom and the fast secularization process that followed precipitated the transition of Western societies to the non-repressive civilization advocated by Herbert Marcuse, the postmodern father of the Western cultural revolution. Postmodernity implies a destabilization of our rational or theological apprehension of reality, of the anthropological structure given by God to man and woman, of the order of the universe as established by God. The basic tenet of postmodernity is that every reality is a social construct, that truth and reality have no stable and objective content – that in fact that they do not exist. Reality would be a text to be interpreted. It is indifferent to the postmodern culture that the text be interpreted in this or that manner: all interpretations would be equal in value. If there is no “given”, then social, political, juridical, spiritual norms and structures can be deconstructed and reconstructed at will, following the social transformations of the moment. Postmodernity exalts the arbitrary sovereignty of the individual and of his or her right to choose. The global postmodern ethic celebrates differences, the diversity of choices, cultural diversity, cultural liberty, sexual diversity (different sexual orientations). This “celebration” is in fact that of the “liberation” of man and woman from the conditions of existence in which God has placed them.

But the concept of free will contradicts the normative character of the postmodern values and in particular of the right to choose, the supreme value of the new culture. Post-modern radicalism postulates that the individual, in order to exercise his right to choose, must be able to free himself from all normative frameworks – whether they be semantic (clear definitions), ontological (being, the given), political (sovereignty of the state), moral (transcendent norms), social (taboos, what is forbidden), cultural (traditions) or religious (dogma, doctrine of the Church). Such an alleged “liberation” becomes an imperative of the new ethic. It goes through the destabilization and the deconstruction (two key words of postmodernity) of clear definitions, the content of language, traditions, being, institutions, objective knowledge, reason, truth, legitimate hierarchies, authority, nature, growth, identity (personal, genetic, national, cultural, religious…), of all that is considered universal, and as a consequence of Judeo-Christian values and divine revelation.

When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, Western culture by and large still recognized the existence of a “natural law”, of an order “given” to the universe (and therefore of a “giver”): “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity” (article 1). The Universal Declaration hence speaks of the inherent human dignity of all members of the human family. If it is inherent, human dignity needs to be recognized, and human rights must be declared, not fabricated ex nihilo. In 1948, the concept of universality related to the recognition of the existence of these rights. Universality had a transcendent dimension and therefore, moral implications.

Universal human rights became radically autonomous from any objective and transcendent moral framework. The purely immanent principle of the right to choose is the product of that divorce. Postmodernity claims the right to exercise one’s freedom against the law of nature, against traditions and against divine revelation. It re-establishes the rule of “law” and democracy on the right to choose, in which it includes the right, in the name of a new ethic, to make intrinsically evil choices: abortion, homosexuality, “free love”, euthanasia, assisted suicide, rejection of any form of legitimate authority or hierarchy, mandatory “toleration” of all opinions, a spirit of disobedience manifesting itself in multifarious forms. The right to choose so interpreted has become the fundamental norm governing the interpretation of all human rights and the main reference of the new global ethic. It supersedes and “transcends” the traditional concept of universality. It positions itself at a meta level. It imposes itself and claims for itself a globally normative authority.

The absence of clear definitions is the dominant feature of all the words and expressions of the new global language - of all postmodern paradigms. The experts who forged the new concepts explicitly refused to define them clearly, claiming that definitions set limits on one’s possibility to choose one’s interpretation and contradict the norm of the right to choose. As a consequence, the new concepts have no stable or single content: they are processes of constant change, enlarging themselves as often as the values of society change, as often as possibilities for new choices emerge. Social engineers say that the new paradigms are “holistic” because they would be inclusive of all possible choices.

Let us give a couple of examples: reproductive health and gender. Reproductive health, the key concept of the 1994 Cairo conference, is “defined” in paragraph 7.2 of the Cairo document. The pseudo-definition is one paragraph long, fuzzy, deprived of clear substance, ambivalent, all-encompassing. The absence of clarity is strategic and manipulative. The goal is to allow the coexistence of the most contradictory interpretations: maternity, contraception or abortion; voluntary sterilization or in-vitro fertilization; sexual relations within or outside marriage, at any age, under any circumstance, as long as one abides by the triple precept of the new ethic: the partners’ consent; their health security; and respect for the woman’s right to choose. Reproductive health is the Trojan horse of the abortion lobby and of the global sexual revolution. In spite of its eminently incoherent character, reproductive health paradoxically became one of the most applied norms of the new global ethic.

Gender, the key concept of the 1995 Beijing conference, fully integrates the concept of reproductive health. It is “defined” as the changeable social roles of men and women, as opposed to their unchangeable reproductive functions. The agenda hiding behind this vague “definition” is the deconstruction of the anthropological structure of man and woman, of their complementarity, of femininity and masculinity. The role of the woman as a mother and spouse and her very nature as a woman would be nothing more than a social construct: “one is not born a woman, one becomes a woman,” said Simone de Beauvoir. The deconstruction of the human person as man and woman leads to an a-sexual society, to a “neutral” society, without masculinity and femininity, which however places the libido at the heart of the law. The deconstruction process eventually leads to a society without love. The gender concept is the Trojan horse of the Western feminist revolution in its most radical aspects - a revolution that has already successfully spread to the four corners of the world. Gender is at the very heart of global development priorities and in particular of the Millennium Development Goals.

There is a direct nexus between gender deconstructionism and the “sexual orientation” ideology (bisexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism, heterosexuality…). The global ethic puts all these “choices” on the same level. The Cairo conference introduced the concept of family under all its forms: this allegedly holistic concept includes traditional families, reconstituted families, and “families” made up of same sex “parents”. A majority of Western nations seem to engage always further on the path of such a “diversity”.

In postmodernity, the individual becomes the “free” creator of his own destiny and of a new social order. He can choose to be homosexual today and bisexual tomorrow (sexual orientation). Children can choose their own opinion, irrespective of the values they receive from parents (children rights). Treated as equal “citizens”, they participate in the political decisions that affect their lives (Youth Parliaments). Students choose their own curriculum at school, educate each other, and teachers become mere “facilitators” (peer education, education for all, lifeskills education). Women play the social roles of men (gender equity, unisex society). NGOs make global policy, and governments conform to their values (good governance). Women’s groups “clarify” the doctrine of the Church and democratize the Church (clarification of values, participatory democracy). The euthanasia lobby becomes a staunch advocate of “human dignity”. Reproductive health means the right not to reproduce (“safe” abortion, universal access to the “widest range of contraceptives”). We are all equal citizens with equal rights, bound together by contractual relations without love. The world is upside down. What the global ethic deconstructs is the very anthropological structure of the human person.

The postmodern ethic of choice boasts of eliminating hierarchies. Yet by globally imposing the “transcendence” of the arbitrary choice, it engenders a new hierarchy of values. It places pleasure above love, health and well-being above the sacredness of life, the participation of special interests groups in governance above democratic representation, women’s rights above motherhood, the empowerment of the selfish individual above any form of legitimate authority, ethics above morality, the right to choose above the eternal law written in the human heart, democracy and humanism above divine revelation - in a nutshell, immanence above transcendence, man above God, the “world” above “heaven”.

The new hierarchies express a form a domination over consciences, what pope Benedict XVI, prior to his election, called a dictatorship of relativism. The expression may seem paradoxical: dictatorship means that there is a top-down imposition, while relativism implies the denial of absolutes and reacts against anything it considers as “top-down”, such as truth, revelation, reality, morality. In a dictatorship of relativism, a radical deconstruction of our humanity and of our faith is somehow being imposed on us in “non-threatening” ways - through cultural transformation. Relativism wears a mask: it is domineering and destructive.

In the past, what the West called “the enemy” (such as Marxism-Leninism or bloody dictatorships) used to be clearly identifiable, single, external to Western democracies, aggressive, centralized, ideological, regional. That “enemy” used top-down, brutal methods, such as power-grab by force, a repressive political regime, imprisonment and killing. It resulted in national or regional totalitarian regimes. In the postmodern world, the enemy is fuzzy, hidden, legions, internal to institutions, “friendly”, diffuse, incoherent, decentralized, subtle, quiet, global. Its strategies are soft, bottom-up, cultural, informal, internal. The end result of the global dictatorship of relativism is the deconstruction of man and nature and the cultural propagation of apostasy in the world and in particular in developing countries.

Like the ideological systems of the past, the global ethic will end up deconstructing itself. Replete with inner contradictions, it is not sustainable. Christians should not assume, however, that the emerging global civilization will come back by itself to common sense and traditional values: the new culture must be evangelized.