Deadly Architects: An Interview with Donald De Marco and Benjamin Wiker | IgnatiusInsight.comDeadly 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.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Schopenhauer sought to escape Nature, Nietzsche believed that the Christian God is evil, and Ayn Rand believed that only a select few will be able to be individuals. Would it be accurate to say that all of these are variations on ancient gnostic themes? Do modern atheistic systems reflect a sort of secular gnosticism?

Donald De Marco: I think they do. In the absence of any belief in God, a passionate person will create a caricature of God. We must give credit to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Rand for being both passionate and creative. Unfortunately, what they worshipped, very much like the gnostics of old, did not transcend themselves. And this explains a great deal about why these three were so bitterly unhappy. They were pursuing an illusion, but with great passion and force. I cannot begin to understand the intensity of their frustrations, because an illusion offers us not nourishment and leaves our passionate quest unsatisfied. They were continually disappointed by their own convictions. It was as if they tried to quench their thirst by consuming more salt. This is not a formula for peace.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Darwin and Darwinian evolution have been, of course, very controversial for many decades. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions and incorrect notions about Darwin and his beliefs that exist today? How seriously is Darwinian evolution taken today in the scientific community?

Benjamin Wiker: I think there are two very serious misconceptions about Darwinism today. First, that Darwinism is a well-established theory, with no considerable intellectual difficulties. The second, one more directly related to Architects, concerns the essential moral implications of Darwinism. Generally, historians and scientists alike have tried to distance Darwin’s biology from the eugenics movement—an understandable move, given the ugliness of the eugenic programs of Nazi Germany. If we read Darwin, however, we find that he himself understood eugenics to be the obvious inference from his biological theory of evolution through natural selection. Natural weeds out the unfit; so should we, or at least keep the unfit from breeding. Further, he also understood quite clearly that his evolutionary account of morality, which destroyed the permanency of human nature, provided the most radical moral relativism possible. As for the scientific community, it generally accepts Darwinism without question, which means that it generally hasn’t studied the theoretical and evidential problems facing Darwinism. Happily, more and more scientists have found the courage to look at Darwinism with a clearer, more critical eye.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How did Marx exploit the religious impulses of his followers and how did he distort Christian doctrine for his own anti-Christian ends?

De Marco: Marxism is a kind of religion and as such, appeals to our religious instincts. Marx speaks of paradise (but on earth), total justice for all (but in the distant future), and doing away with sin (though the sinners are the capitalists). In this regard, Marx is drawing on people's religious instincts. But he does not offer a way of love, and therefore, omits that which is most important to religion. Rather, he appeals to our weaknesses: our pride, envy, anger, and hope. Marx, who condemned exploitation, was himself, the great exploiter of people. He appealed to our pride in telling us that we are not sinners, to our envy for the riches that others possessed, to our anger against the ruling class, and to our hope for a Utopia on earth. Marx is a False Messiah who offers a religion that draws upon our religious impulse, but is poisoned by the addition of deadly sins.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How is it that people such Margaret Mead, Margaret Sanger, and Alfred Kinsey, all of whom were sexual deviants and inveterate liars, continue to enjoy a high level of respect, at least in popular culture? Is this simply due to lack of knowledge, an unwillingness to assess the data truthfully, or a purposeful distortion for ideological ends?

Wiker: All of the above! We do find that, for example, Planned Parenthood "fails" to present the facts about Margaret Sanger’s private life, and her truly strange and pernicious views about sexuality and eugenics. The same goes for Kinsey. His work is always presented by the sex education establishment as the very epitome of disinterested scientific research. But on the other end, sad to say, I think a large number of people have come to accept the same goals that Mead, Sanger, and Kinsey sought to establish, so that their "ideology" appears inviting rather than distorted.

IgnatiusInsight.com: You note that John Paul II describes Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud as the "Masters of Suspicion." What does he mean by that and why did he pinpoint those particular men?

De Marco: John Paul borrows the phrase "Masters of Suspicion" from Paul Ricoeur, a prominent philosopher at the University of Paris. We begin to understand the meaning of this simple yet telling phrase when we realize that Marx, NIetzsche, and Freud depict man in such a way that that by following their lead, our lives would become self-contradictory. Freud wanted to free the sexual instinct from the constraints of the super-ego; Marx urged a revolution against the ruling class so that people could satisfy their desired for material poassessions; Nietzsche advocated the emergence of the "superman," too proud to be held back by moral conventions. Freud appealed to "lust," Marx to "envy," Nietzsche to "pride." By following the path of vice, we put our heart at odds with itself. Therefore, we should be most suspicious of advice that so utterly untrustworhy in the practical order, since it leads the heart of man to implode upon itself. There is a striking correlation between these Masters of Suspicion and the First Letter of St. John (15-16) which warns against the "lust of the flesh" (Freud), "lust of the eyes" (Marx), and the "pride of life" (Nietzsche).

IgnatiusInsight.com: Many of the architects of the Culture of Death were raised in homes where Unitarianism, Episcopalianism, or some form of Congregationalism was practiced. What influence, if any, did this religious background have on people such as Darwin, Kinsey, Mead, and others?

Wiker: For Darwin, his family’s Unitarianism certainly helped to lead him to take more seriously the claims of materialism in general and evolution in particular. (We note here, that contrary to the popular account, theories of evolution arose long before Darwin—in fact, we find them in ancient Greek and Roman Epicurean thought. In the first half of the 19th century, decades before Darwin released his version of evolution, evolutionary theory was associated with the radical left.) Interestingly enough, Darwin’s wife was a more conservative Unitarian, and feared for her husband’s soul all their married life.


Donald De Marco, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at St. Jerome's College in Ontario. He is also the author of several books, including The Heart of Virtue.

Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in Science and Theology at Franciscan University and a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute, focusing on Intelligent Design. He has contrbuted to various Catholic publications and writes regularly for Crisis magazine, and is the author of Moral Darwinism (InterVarsity). Visit him online at www.benjaminwiker.com.



Architects of the Culture of Death
by Donald De Marco and Benjamin Wiker

 The “Culture of Death” has become a popular phrase, and is much bandied about in academic circles. Yet, for most people, its meaning remains vague and remote. DeMarco and Wiker have given the Culture of Death high definition and frightening immediacy. They have exposed its roots by introducing its “architects.” In a scholarly, yet reader-friendly delineation of the mindsets of twenty-three influential thinkers, such as Ayn Rand, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Sanger, Jack Kevorkian, and Peter Singer, they make clear the aberrant thought and malevolent intentions that have shaped the Culture of Death.

Still, this is not a book without hope. If the Culture of Death rests on a fragmented view of the person and an eclipse of God, hope for the “Culture of Life” rests on an understanding and restoration of the human being as a person, and the rediscovery of a benevolent God. The “Personalism” of John Paul II is an illuminating thread that runs through Architects, serving as a hopeful antidote.

“An action-packed, riveting and educational exposé that reveals little-known facts that are shocking and incredible. You will not want to put this book down...” — Judie Brown, President, American Life League