The need for God is a characteristic of our time. The difficulties and the uncertainties of daily life; the dangers that impinge both on individuals and the entire human species; the struggles and conflicts that lurk everywhere; the outbursts of violence; the moral and civil disorder—all make human beings feel the need for an assistance that comes from on high. The need for God is the need for a world that is different from the one that displays itself in its worst aspects—for a world which, because it is created and governed by an omnipotent and perfect Being, cannot be oriented toward the denigration and destruction of man. If God exists, the world is not that chaotic disorder that appears at first glance—that blind chance which picks up fortune and disgrace as equal passengers—that inconclusive play of force or instincts without aim or that fatal destiny wherein man can be only prey. There has to be a universal order, a design whereby man is permitted to survive and to perfect himself —a meaning and a value of which man can make of himself the interpreter and the advocate. In such a world, man can expect in every circumstance the help of God, who gives him the strength and the courage to overcome adversities. He can also cultivate a faith in a better life which awaits him after death.

But if these are the conditions of the need for God (and indeed of every authentic religious faith), then what happens when one believes that the chaotic disorder, the violent clash of forces, and the meaningless play of chance are the very substance of the world? The answer is obvious. The need for God is substituted by the need for the Devil, and religious theology is exchanged for the divinization of the Devil. In the former theology the Devil is simply a fallen angel who tempts man to sin with seductive allurements, but whose action is limited by the divine order of the world. If, however, there is no divine order or author of it, the Devil becomes the symbol or the personification of the disorder, of the substance of the world.

This is the path cut by a group of French philosophers, psychiatrists, and belletrists who inspired the “global debate” of 1968 and influenced large numbers of young people—even outside of France. Four authors have principally influenced this group. The first is Nietzsche, who with his declaration that “God is dead” exiled religion and traditional metaphysics. The second is Freud, who by asserting the primacy of instinct in human life denied the claims of reason. The third is Heidegger, who had announced the birth of a new cosmic epoch as revealed by a new language. The fourth is Marx, as the apostle of a world revolution.

But the specific task that these “pathfinders” have assumed has been to combat all the values and the institutions on which contemporary society is based. Those institutions that wish to impose order, rationality, and peace on the world have no justification, because the world is a chaos of violent forces. Madness and crime better express its nature. The powers that do battle with them have been and are only useless and cruel expedients. Such are the themes that emerge from the writings of Michel Foucault—the most important representative of the group in question. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (who is a psychiatrist) cut the same path. They point toward schizophrenia—insofar as it is an escape from the order of things and from the rule of language—as the thrust toward a revolution aimed at changing human nature radically, albeit in an imprecise sense.

In fact, the destruction of man is the ultimate aspiration of this philosophic path. This being, man, who wishes to seek the truth with reason—who is free and responsible for his choices—is only a fictitious creation in a world of chaotic forces. According to Foucault, man is altogether a mistaken linguistic expression—a rift of language that will be healed by his disappearance. One cannot avoid asking whom these thinkers are addressing and encouraging to struggle against the power that supports those institutions which are destined for the repression of invincible forces. If men are merely mistakes of nature, devoid of any autonomous power and of serious will, they are unable even to receive such an invitation. They can only abandon themselves without defense to the unpredictable play of diabolical chaos—which is the true reality of the world. On the other hand, are not those powers against which war is declared in the name of this chaos, themselves (as is everything else) manifestations of it? And are they not as such irreducible and invincible? If the truth (every truth) is solely a tool of these powers—if the theory which struggles against them renounces the truth, what kind of validity or meaning can it claim? The obscure, metaphysical, mystificatory language which these philosophers love to use hardly succeeds in hiding the puerile contradictions of their theories.

Yet there has been no dearth of listeners to these philosophers whose ideas have been the ultimate justification of all the critical or decadent features of our epoch; the rejection of every moral and civil norm as repressive of instincts; the permissiveness that grows in daily behavior and education; the weakness of juridical and political institutions that are supposed to defend citizens; the recourse, in political and social struggles, to the violence that ignores or destroy’s human life. And the true legitimate offspring of those theories has been the terrorism that possesses in various countries seemingly different motives, but which remains committed to the destruction of the present world for a future “better” world. But better for whom?

The defense of man which today is the most important and urgent task of all has nothing to gain and everything to lose by turning to theories that view the world as the regime of the Devil. Only reason and liberty with all their limits can make of the world a home worthy of man by utilizing the order that nature discloses and the experience of the victories and defeats that history records.

This essay from Nicola Abbagnano’s La sagezza della vita (1985) was translated by Nino Langiulli, a professor of philosophy at St. Francis College in Brooklyn.