Augusto Del Noce, interpreter of our times

Below we present some extracts from Augusto Del Noce’s presentations at the 1989 Meeting which took place a few months before his death. A video of his intervention is available on the Meeting’s YouTube channel.

By Simona Angela Gallo

Twenty years ago, on December 30, 1989, Augusto del Noce, one of the greatest Italian intellectuals of the post-war years died in Rome. The centennial of his birth, celebrated in 2010 (, is an occasion to rediscover the philosopher’s thought, which anticipated issues of great contemporary importance. Even today, his thought provides an answer to the contemporary crisis through an assessment of modernity and the roots of ideology and nihilism found in the dominant thought and in the ideal of the self-made man. His sole appearance at the Meeting in August 1989 took place a few months before his death. As Massimo Borghesi wrote in “he was one of the most acute intellectuals and interpreters of our history in post-war Italy” and as he stated at a Milan Cultural Center conference “[he was] a great interpreter of contemporary times, philosopher, thinker, and even a journalist for several news agencies… he was one of the very few Catholic thinkers, maybe the only one, able to challenge secular thought.” Del Noce spoke at the Meeting twice.

The first occasion was a meeting with the readers of Il Sabato, a weekly magazine with which he collaborated and of which then-director Giuseppe Frangi said he was “one of the fathers.” It was August 26 and, in a short intervention, Del Noce touched upon a core problem of the contemporary world: Western secularism and the position of Catholics in front of this reality.

“What do the adversaries of Catholicism think? That today we have arrived at the historical moment of its suicide. That it to say, Catholicism in contemporary society cannot be lived in a way that corresponds to Christian values because times have changed. Catholicism may have been good for an agrarian society, but today our society is different and it is impossible to live according to the Christian model. This idea had already been pronounced by Gramsci in 1919; Catholics are compelled to engage in politics, but this involvement in historical and political reality leads to their religious suicide.

Now, we must lower ourselves to the level of our adversaries in order to provide an answer. That is, we want to show that the interpretation of the present and recent history, which cannot be adequately explained through communist or secular models, leads us to rediscover Catholic values. For example, let’s take the communist model. It could seem like the safest model to interpret present history, let’s say, from the First World War to today. You know how many Catholics had been persuaded by this position. Thus, the phenomenon of catho-communism, not at all extinguished today even if it has changed form, was born; this phenomenon grew from youth circles to revive, let’s face it, even theologians. But what is Marxism or communism today? We are forced to take the side not only of Gramsci and Togliatti, but even of Stalin, because communism would have ended if it wasn’t for Stalin, and we have to reproach communists for their ingratitude toward him.

On the other hand, we can see what is left of secular thought today. When I was young, people talked about Benedetto Croce, of the religion of freedom, and now we certainly have to appreciate the value of Croce, but we cannot consider him as a guide to interpret the contemporary world. Let’s think about the Party of Action that has had a great influence in today’s political culture as well as in Catholic campaigns. The Party’s reading of present history seems to me completely passé. After all, what is a mistake of the common culture of Catholics – I will especially talk about the political culture and only the political side of Il Sabato-? To always look at an enemy from the past rather than from the present; for example, in Catholic journalism, people still talk about anti-fascism, but, oh dear, fascism is a past that has to become an object of history. Then, people talk about anti-communism, and even here we are in the past. Today, instead, we have Western secularism.”

The second occasion was August 27. The great philosopher was awarded the annual prize reserved for important personalities in the Catholic world. Del Noce uses this occasion to present a portrait of Communion and Liberation. Below are the statement of President of the Meeting, Antonio Smurro, on the reasons for the award and Del Noce’s reception speech.

Antonio Smurro: “Again this year, as in 1988, the Meeting intends to conclude with the awarding of a prize to a person who particularly distinguished himself for his witness and intellectual and charitable work in defense of man and his truth. Today, we want to confer this recognition on two people who, in different but decisive fields for the truth of the Christian experience, culture and charity, have offered us in all these years a great example of dedication to the cause of man and human dignity. They are Professor Augusto del Noce and brother Ettore Boschini. Let me read the reasons.

The work of Augusto del Noce has rightfully entered the class of our century’s great philosophical masterpieces because of the originality and richness of perspectives it has disclosed. Faithful to the Hegelian maxim according to which “philosophy is its own time raised to the level of thought”, Del Noce has investigated with incomparable insight the reasons for the failure of the ideologies of social and political liberation. The many deaths and the unusual forms of subservience that the modern revolutionary impulse has disseminated throughout contemporary history are undesirable effects perfectly coherent with the atheistic premise according to which men can transform the world as they like, ignoring the original moral and intellectual order that an Other has imprinted in their hearts and in reality. Furthermore, starting from the post-World War II era, Augusto del Noce has offered an unsurpassable contribution to the growth of the social and political conscience of Italian Catholics, reminding them of the irreducibly creative character of their identity, even in their contribution to shaping the public sphere. Lastly, we cannot forget the affection he has demonstrated to our Meeting and its growth in these ten years.”

Augusto Del Noce: “I will not talk much about myself but rather about how, at least for me, the historical task of your, our movement, takes shape.

This movement was born, or at least takes shape, in 1969, during the years of students’ protests and it has a relationship with these protests because the movement contests what exists, while other protest groups were contesting only superficial aspects of existence. The Movement contested that “Republic of Letters,” to use a phrase from the 1700s, that still had real dominion over minds and that produced the secularization and de-Christianization that happed in these post-war years. This power of the lords of thought had not been strongly fought by other forces of Catholic inspiration. Let’s consider the relationship with the Christian Democratic Party: the Christian Democratic Party had great leaders but it was formed as a response to fascism and consolidated its power as a party in the fight against communism.

In the meantime though, another opponent of Catholicism and Christianity was growing, one that could have not been predicted by grown-up men in the 1950s, one that we can call the religion of opulent and consumerist society. Today, it is the most powerful and dangerous adversary, even more so than communism. It was necessary to have a new formation, suitable for this fight, a particular ability to communicate with the youth. Fr. Giussani, his collaborators, and friends had this capability: they were truly able to touch the souls of young people, as this Meeting and the success of these events that have been going on for 10 years show.

This success does not find any comparison in the events organized by other movements or parties. We cannot but be proud of this result. The problem is to become always more aware of this historical task, of this task to which you have been called by history and by providence, a task you are fulfilling, a relatively new task compared to the recent Catholic tradition, one that cannot be confused with other duties performed by other forms of education. This does not have to be confused with a reincorporation of the Movement into politics, like the media tend to do today. Even recently, I read in newspapers that CL, born as a religious order, is about to become a political party or subject to specific interest group. Now, there is nothing true in this. The Movement, being born to guide young people in today’s world, cannot avoid politics, but it is in a way above politics in its aspects of ideal formation and it does not have the characteristics of a political party, simply because it does not attempt to be one. Logically, a party has to worry about results and success; the Movement, on the other hand, is about moral and religious formation. I would say that in CL, as opposed to other movements, there is the intuition of a present reality, an awareness of the adversaries that Catholicism encounters in the present reality, as well as a certain perception that CL is not to be confused with other Catholic movements that pretend to be modern but that in reality do not satisfy the desires of today’s youth. I am alluding to the movements of a somehow modernist character that want to be post-conciliar but that somehow, in the name of this post-Vatican II spirit, want to throw away all the preceding tradition. This Movement, which is accused of being traditionalist – and in a way it is, but in the sense that John Paul II intended – is open to that famous meaning of history about which much has been said, and which many times the critics of CL do not possess.”