From Marx to Ratzinger. The Turning Point Manifesto
It’s not just the Courtyard of the Gentiles. In the borderland between faith and lack of faith, the season of conversions has returned. And of “a new alliance,” with Benedict XVI as guiding light
by Sandro Magister
ROME, November 16, 2012 – While one after another come the editions of the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” organized by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council for culture, other noteworthy things are happening in the borderland between faith and lack of faith.
They make less news. They are hardly spectacular. But they are incisive and engaging. They do not limit themselves to displaying the opinions of the most famous spokesmen of the culture of the time, revered and unchallenged. They put seriously into play the positions of each one, they activate real paths of seeking, they are not afraid of the word “conversion.”
Proof? On TV 2000, the channel owned by the Italian bishops, a large and still growing audiences tuning into a program entitled “La svolta [Turning point],” which in each episode presents a convert having come to the Christian faith from the most varied of backgrounds.
In the Catholic Church, famous converts played a role of the greatest importance between the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. But then silence fell upon conversions. They became almost a taboo to be hidden. The program “La svolta” marks a real resumption of attention. The converts interviewed for it are the Italians Pietro Barcellona, a philosopher of law; Giovanni Lindo Ferretti, a singer-songwriter; Cristina Alfano, a lyrical singer; Guido Chiesa, a director; Claudia Koll, an actress; the Frenchmen Jean-Claude Guillebaud, a journalist; Fabrice Hadjadj, a philosopher; François Taillandier, a writer; Patrick Kéchichian, a literary critic; Claire Gibault, an orchestra conductor; the German Gabriele Kuby, a sociologist; the Englishman Alister McGrath, a theologian; the Japanese Etsuro Sotoo, a sculptor; the Russian Tatiana Goritcheva.
One of these converts, Pietro Barcellona, is also the author, together with three other post-Marxist thinkers, of a manifesto on “the anthropological emergency” that has met with great astonishment.
And this is the second noteworthy fact. The other three authors of the manifesto are the professors Giuseppe Vacca, an historian; Mario Tronti, a philosopher and political scientist; and Paolo Sorbi, a sociologist. The last of these is Catholic, the other two are not. All four were activists in the Partito comunista, and today are part of the Partito democratico, the main party of the Italian left. Vacca is the director of the Istituto Gramsci. Tronti is president of the Centro per la riforma dello Stato, and was the leading Italian theoretician of operaismo, but also has always shown strong interest in the political theology of Carl Schmitt and frequented the intellectual cenacle of the Catholic magazine “Bailamme” and the Camaldolese monastery of Monte Giove.
All four have been called “Ratzingerian Marxists.”
Their manifesto is, in effect, an explicit declaration of appreciation of the vision of Pope Benedict XVI.
“The current interpretation according to which this is a ‘conservative’ pontificate constitutes a complete overturning of the pope theologian. Central, in Joseph Ratzinger, is the necessity of the public dimension of the experience of faith. Instead of contenting themselves with commonplaces, the cultures of the left should if anything raise themselves to this level and accept the encounter on the terrain of ‘indispensable principles.’ Any experiment in the transformation of reality cannot do without the spiritual element present in every human being. There is a very close connection between transcendence and revolution.”
Tronti said this during an October 31 interview in the newspaper of the Italian episcopal conference, “Avvenire,” which in recent weeks has been dedicating a page to each of the four authors of the manifesto, presented in conjunction with a Catholic intellectual.
But it must be said that the four chose “Avvenire” partly in order to make public their manifesto, a little less than a year ago, on October 16, 2011.
The manifesto – which this year was republished in a book with fourteen commentaries by as many authors – takes the form of an open letter addressed to the left.
It is entitled: “Emergenza antropologica. Per una nuova alleanza tra credenti e non credenti.”
And this is its beginning:
“The manipulation of life, originating in the developments of technology and of the violence inherent in the processes of globalization in the absence of a new international order, puts us in the presence of an unprecedented anthropological emergency. This appears to us to be the most serious manifestation and at the same time the deepest root of the crisis of democracy. It sprouts challenges that demand a new alliance between men and women, believers and nonbelievers, religions and politics.”
In the introduction to the book, the four authors acknowledge that “the most criticized passage of our letter is the one that deals with the ‘freedom and dignity of the human person from the moment of conception.'”
And here is how they respond to the criticisms:
“Our letter is imbued with a single purpose: that of contributing to the affirmation of a shared humanity. What could be the ‘point of union’ between believers and nonbelievers in defining the value of life? It seems to us that we are able to say that an unborn life represents a value in itself from the moment of conception, because of the responsibility that it confers upon every individual of the community to welcome it, raise it, educate it, and accompany it with love and care to its end. Those who accept this framework will have no trouble in recognizing that, whether it is a matter of the zygote, of the embryo, or of a life already formed, there can be no difference of value in the manner of behaving toward it.”
The “Ratzingerian Marxists” charge the left in Italy and the West with having given in to “falsely libertarian cultures, for which there exists no right other than the right of the individual.”
In order to rebuild the foundations of the human community, the four identify therefore the decisive interlocutor with whom the left should engage not as some “borderline” theologian, but as Benedict XVI, the highest and most authoritative expression of the Catholic vision, in particular on “two fundamental themes of his magisterium: the rejection of ethical relativism and the concept of non-negotiable values.”
To this end, the authors of the manifesto have already announced that they will organize in 2013 a major conference precisely on the anthropological vision of Benedict XVI, between believers and nonbelievers.
The manifesto of the four “Ratzingerian Marxists”:
The interview-debates with the authors of the manifesto, in “Avvenire”:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.