The Catholic Thing
Modern Scoundrels Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Tuesday, 12 January 2010

In 1907, St. Pius X asserted in the encyclical Pascendi: “It is pride which fills Modernists with that self-assurance by which they consider themselves and pose as the rule for all. It is pride which puffs them up with that vainglory which allows them to regard themselves as the sole possessors of knowledge, and makes them say, elated and inflated with presumption, We are not as the rest of men, and which, lest they should seem as other men, leads them to embrace and to devise novelties even of the most absurd kind. . . . It is owing to their pride that they seek to be the reformers of others while they forget to reform themselves.”

This is the kind of remark that, of course, embarrasses a certain kind of Catholic, especially since Vatican II. In 2007, on the centenary of Pascendi, many of them not only deplored such sentiments, they labored to make it appear that the encyclical's very premises were absurd. But are they?

Modernists come in a variety of kinds, to be sure, and Catholics know that we are all sinners. Still, the evidence is in that departing from ancient philosophical and theological wisdom has, as Pius X knew, serious consequences.

A case in point: the Hungarian leftist and intellectual Arthur Koestler (1905-1983) has been much in the news lately thanks to the publication of Michael Scammell’s monumental 700-page biography, Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth Century Skeptic.

Koestler, who wrote thirty books in his lifetime, is best remembered for repudiating his Communist Party membership in The God That Failed, a collection of essays that he helped edit, and for describing the horrors of Stalin’s purges in his 1940 novel Darkness at Noon. So far so good. But he shed his Communist faith, and adopted a different modernist one. Later in life, in such works as Beyond Reductionism and The Ghost in the Machine, he disputed the claims of scientific materialists that man was nothing more than a bundle of atomsby appealing to parapsychology.

This shift was not wholly for the better. Koestler also had a dark side that dabbling in the paranormal did not restrain. He was a nasty, miserable, cruel man who mistreated his mother, refused even to meet his illegitimate daughter, and was accused of rape by a friend’s wife. Koestler admitted that growing up he was “admired for my brains and detested for my character,” and wrote to the woman who was to be his second wife, “without an element of initial rape there is no delight.” A narcissist to the end, he did not object to his young and healthy third wife’s committing suicide together with him.

No one should be surprised by these revelations. Many high-minded modernists, who publicly lectured the human race on how to manage its affairs, have privately been lowlifes who believed they were exempt from the usual rules of civility. Here are a few more examples of secular titans whose personal lives consisted of lies, hatred, selfishness, and sexual perversion:

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) virtually invented the radical modern critique of existing societies, blaming everything on social influences and exonerating individuals, especially himself. He therefore sought to alter human behavior by creating a social contract giving the state a claim to represent the General Will. Rousseau’s totalitarian state would, in the name of humanitarianism, coerce citizens to submit to a new order that promised to regenerate mankind and eliminate perceived injustices, miseries, and disorders.

Rousseau believed he was a compassionate servant of the people directing mankind toward a higher state of being. “I feel too superior to hate,” he declared. “I love myself too much to hate anybody.” But in fact, he was a self-centered scoundrel who treated people like dirt. He condemned his five illegitimate children at birth to the dreaded Paris orphanage system in which the life expectancy for two-thirds of the inmates was less than a year. I. W. Allen has described Rousseau as a “masochist, exhibitionist, neurasthenic, hypochondriac, onanist. . . .incipient paranoiac, narcissistic introvert. . . .a kleptomaniac, infantilist, irritable, and miserly.”

Karl Marx (1818-1883), was a heavy drinking, bad tempered, disorderly slob who browbeat family, colleagues, and followers (he also had an affair with the housemaid). A rabid anti-Semite, he declared that if the world was to be saved, it must emancipate “itself from hucksterism and money, and thus from the real and practical Judaism.” “Marx,” Mikhail Bakunin observed, “does not believe in God, but he believes much in himself and makes everyone serve himself. His heart is not full of love, but of bitterness, and he has very little sympathy for the human race.” To judge by results, leaders of Marxist regimes seem to have followed the master’s life as much as his ideology.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), a philosopher and intellectual aristocrat, who made himself publicly notorious as an anti-nuclear crusader, was in private a dedicated lecher who despised and pitied average people and felt above the rules of society, except when he found them useful.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), the super egoist, who, when not overindulging in alcohol and barbiturates, had long-term companion Simone de Beauvoir serve as his sexual procuress. Sartre and Beauvoir loudly pursued Nazi collaborators after World War II, but during the Nazi occupation they themselves got along fine with the authorities and lived very well indeed. Their books continued to be published and their plays produced.

These modernists may have loved mankind in the abstract, but in reality despised actual persons. Was Pius X wrong in observing that “they seek to be the reformers of others while they forget to reform themselves”? Koestler and his heartless confreres were guilty of the same sin that brought down Satan, and Adam and Evepride.

George J. Marlin is the General Editor of
The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton and one of the editors of The Quotable Chesterton, both published by Ignatius Press.

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Comments (8)Add Comment
written by John Dunkle, January 13, 2010
I've always used that word for a bad Catholic. Am I wrong?
written by Sandra Jones, January 13, 2010
For a further exploration of this topic, I recommend the book by Dr. E. Michael Jones, "Degenerate Moderns" wherein he explores the lives of many well-known people who had, and continue to have, great influence on modern culture.
written by Jacob, January 13, 2010
Wonderful point!

Is there anyway to make it so people like my old teachers don't talk about these men like they're saints?
written by Ray Hunkins, January 13, 2010
A brief, synthesized, stroll through the history of modernism. Well done and worth reading. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Thanks for an interesting piece.
Humani Generis
written by William H. Phelan, January 13, 2010
In 1950, Pius XII, knowing that Modernism would prevail after his pontificate, wrote Humani Generis in which he condemned the evolution of ideas which destroy the Faith because they appear so logical and reasonable. Pascendi and Lamentabile (1907) focused on Catholic Modernists whose fruits we are enjoying today. John Paul II embaced many ideas condemned by Pius Xii. Both were just declared Venerable, i.e., worthy of veneration.
Rogues gallery
written by Joseph, January 13, 2010
Throw in that cokehead, Freud, and you have a pretty good list. Marx was the worst of the bunch, not only because he was a lazy hypocrite who sponged for years off of Engels, but for birthing the godless communist thugs, namely China, that today rule the most populous nation on earth. And one must not exclude the madman, Nietzsche, who left a toxic reservoir that would be tapped again and again, most notably by the fascists.

Good piece, George.
written by DKM, January 13, 2010
While the point of the comment is edifying, and reminiscent of Paul Johnson's book Intellectuals, in the end is it really relevant that these men may have been personally reprehensible? Isn't it far more important whether the arguments they make are true or false? No one is a Marxist, or accepts Rousseau's state of nature, due to the moral character of the author. If their arguments are true, their vices should not matter; if false, their sanctity cannot save their arguments.
To Joseph and DKM
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., January 14, 2010
DKM, I accept the logic what you assert, but I must ask how you how many "philosophers" who have led rotten lives AND had a positive inflence on mankind.
To Joseph: I agree with what you say about Nietzsche, but he does pose a problem in this context, since he seems to have been a generally decent person who was taken advantage of by others, notably Cosima Wagner. This truly tortured soul seems, even though he insisted otherwise, to have wanted to belive in God.

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