Deadly Architects: An Interview with Donald De Marco and Benjamin Wiker, authors of Architects of the Culture of Death
IgnatiusInsight.com: Architects of the Culture of Death is a series of biographical vignettes that outline and chronicle the disturbing and often disgusting lives of architects of the Culture of Death. In some ways it resembles Paul Johnson’s fascinating book, Intellectuals. Was that book an inspiration at all and is the comparison a valid one?
Donald De Marco: I did not read Johnson's book until after I had completed my series of Architects. Johnson's book, which I enjoyed, seems to reflect an animus against "intellectuals." He tends to give intellectualism a bad name. I am more concerned about distinguishing between good intellectuals from the bad ones. John Paul II is a good intellectual, whereas the Architects are not. What Johnson means by "intellectual" is the secular thinker who has "filled the vacuum left by the decline of the cleric and assumed the functions of moral mentor and critic of mankind." I did read James Gills' book, False Prophets, but found that a bit intemperate and much too emotional in tone (and I do not agree with his inclusion of Mark Twain). I tried to make Architects of the Culture of Death more philosophical, but without ignoring either biography or history.
Benjamin Wiker: I read Johnson’s book some years ago, and was really intrigued and amused by it. The general idea of examining how the private lives of "intellectuals" often inform, malform, and even contradict their public philosophy I found to be quite illuminating. I’m sure that when I originally formulated the idea of Architects of the Culture of Death, Johnson’s biographical approach was somewhere in the background.
IgnatiusInsight.com: The introduction states that the focus on persons, rather than on accounts of ideas, was due to the fact that "biographies make clear that ideas have consequences only because they are created, embraced, and lived out in persons." Has our culture lost sight of the connection between people and ideas? Why is that the case?
Wiker: I think it has. We are so used to hearing about the various "isms"—Marxism, existentialism, nihilism, socialism, capitalism, and so on—as if they were great, impersonal historical forces that sweep human beings along, that we forget that such "isms" gained their power only through thinking and acting persons. This is especially important to remember when we, who are fighting against the culture of death, confront that most powerful and pernicious "ism," majoritism, the belief that because 51% of the people believe something is morally acceptable, then it can no longer be considered morally reprehensible.
In Architects, we have tried to break apart the notion that the culture of death is some kind of inevitable historical force that has overtaken us, by taking the reader back to the point in which the pernicious ideas that now dominate our culture were hatched in the minds of thinking and acting persons. When we realize that the acceptance of something like abortion wasn’t historically inevitable, but was the result of a concerted effort of a relatively small number of human beings, then reforming the deformed culture becomes a possibility—if only we think clearly and act courageously as architects of a culture of life.
De Marco: Richard Weaver wrote a famous book called, Ideas Have Consequences. The book's title is the re-affirmation of a truism. I find that much of teaching has to do with restating the obvious. Of course, ideas have consequences ("More powerful than armies is an idea when its time has come," said Alexander Dumas). Dostoevsky talked about how university students, for example, are so easily infected by incomplete ideas that float on the wind. Architects is a sustained attempt to get the reader to test, evaluate, and meditate on ideas. We should understand philosophy, not mindlessly react to it. When St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the "primacy of the intellect," all he means is that we should know before we act.
IgnatiusInsight.com: There is a lot of fascinating and often shocking information in the book about the twenty-three men and women you write about. What do you think will surprise readers the most? What main insight do you hope readers will garner from reading the book?
De Marco: My hope is that by exposing the ideas of our Architects to the light of reason, readers will see how empty, distorted, and untenable those ideas are. My second hope is that they will better appreciate how rich, reasonable, and practical are the personalistic ideas of thinkers such as John Paul II, Jacques Maritain, and others. And a third hope is that the book will inspire and guide readers to work for the Culture of Life.
Wiker: I think that readers will be most shocked to find how different the actual lives of some of these thinkers are from their public images. Margaret Sanger, for instance, is presented by Planned Parenthood as a paragon of respectability, charity and intellectual honesty. In reality, she was extremely promiscuous, an ardent promoter of eugenics, and formed her view of existence according to her rather sordid private passions. Or, to take another example, Alfred Kinsey, who has long been presented by the intelligentsia and media as a disinterested scientist just trying to state the facts about sex. Again, when we view his private life, which delves beyond sordid into the macabre, we find a truly twisted individual who used science to promote his own perversities.
In nearly all of the "architects," we find that the originators of the various aspects of the culture of death—from sexual libertinism, abortion, to infanticide, euthanasia, and eugenics—knew what they were about, clearly saw the conclusions, and worked toward them quite deliberately. We see around us now the dread result of their efforts. What readers should begin to see, more and more clearly with each "architect," is that the culture of death really did come about as a kind of conspiracy that is now coming to full fruition.
IgnatiusInsight.com: The three "Will Worshippers" (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Rand) are notable for their unrelenting arrogance, nastiness, and hatred for other people. Did the ideologies of these people seem to flow from their repulsive personalities, or did the embrace of false beliefs eventually corrode their personalities?
De Marco: I strongly believe that there are virtues we need in order to think well. We are people, chock full of faults and imperfections and blocks. We do not approach thinking with a clear and open attitude toward the truth we seek to understand. We need humility to keep pride at a distance, modesty to serve the truth, docility to enable us to learn, and temperance to do justice to what we see. We need to be virtuous people before we can become reliable and judicious thinkers.
The biographical evidence indicates that our trio of "Will Worshippers" did not possess the kind of virtues that are needed to be clear and objective thinkers. When Chesterton referred to pride as the "falsification of fact by the introduction of self," he was indicating how important humility is in the life of an honest thinker. Our egos can easily muddy up the otherwise clear landscape of our thought. "When the blood burns," said Hamlet, "how the prodigal soul lends the tongue vows."
IgnatiusInsight.com: Some Christians tend to blame the 1960s for most, if not all, of the current troubles in society. What is wrong with this perspective? In hindsight, did the ’60s reflect the culmination of a logical train of events and ideas?
Wiker: If we could use an architectural image, a well-built house doesn’t crumble in a day, even though, to those who see its roof suddenly cave in, it appears as rather a sudden event. As should be clear from reading the architects, the rot had already been eating away at the foundations of western culture from some time, especially among the intelligentsia. By the 1960s the ideas of the architects of the culture of death had spread out among a greater mass of people, a critical mass we might say, enough to cause what appeared to be a sudden collapse of our culture. Deadly Architects Part 2