Fall-Winter 2019

The Emperor’s (New) New Clothes: The Logic of the New “Gender Ideology”

Margaret H. McCarthy

Over thirty years ago, the political philosopher Augusto Del Noce said that “today’s nihilism is no longer tragic.”1 It is, rather “gay,” in both the older sense, because it suppresses the Augustinian inquietum with a “sequence of superficial pleasures,” and the newer sense, because “its symbol is homosexuality . . . even when it retains the man-woman relation.” Gay nihilism, says Del Noce, is a “not seeing” sexual difference “as sign of the other.” Now, with the new chapter of that same nihilism in full swing, Del Noce’s assessment is all the more trenchant. The current understanding of “gender” represents a deeper and more comprehensive form of this nihilism, because of the level at which it suppresses the drama of the human heart. “Gender” would keep us from seeing sexual difference altogether by eliminating any residual evidence that there might still be a reality other than our own wills, a reality that might suggest we are not in fact Zarathustra, “alone with pure sky and open sea, free once more.”2 In addition to hiding from view the objective direction of our desire behind the cloak of “orientation,” it would prevent us from seeing what we are—a man or a woman—or, indeed, that we are anything at all. Taking the “new clothes” of the famous Emperor a little further, the cloak of “gender” would render invisible all the naked evidence.


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1. Augusto Del Noce, “Lettera a Rodolfo Quadrelli” (unpublished letter, 1984), http://www.tempi.it/del-noce-parlava-nichilismo-gaio-simbolo-omosessualita#.VsIn1fkrLIU (translation mine).

2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: The Viking Press, 1968), 272.