During a conversation, someone reportedly told Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: “You are little known.”
With that quickness of mind that he never lacked, the Catholic leader replied: “In fact, I have the reputation of being unknown.”
Indeed, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s public life was a rollercoaster alternating between long periods of silence and ostracism and moments of ferocious smear campaigns via the media. He faced both silence and slander.
However, time is a gentleman. Over twenty-five years after his death, we see the blanket of silence gradually lifting as academic studies on his life and work multiply. Today no one can write a history of twentieth-century Catholicism without mentioning Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira and the Tradition, Family, Property (TFP) movement he founded.
The TFP’s Documentation Service has collected no less than 173 books and academic theses from the last ten years dedicated to or significantly mentioning the Brazilian leader. These studies are mainly from Brazilian universities. However, publications from American and European academic centers are also increasing.
A short time ago, we broke the news of the 2021 book by Prof. Benjamin Cowan of the University of California in San Diego. The work titled Moral Majorities across the Americas: Brazil, the United States and the Creation of the Religious Right explains the role of the Brazilian leader in creating the international religious right.1
Using previously unpublished documents, Cowan shows the central role of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in the traditionalist reaction during the Second Vatican Council. This role has long been overlooked by scholars who usually highlight the action of other figures.
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According to Cowan, however, the group of TFP members present in Rome at that time “played a main, and in a certain sense pioneering, role in the politics of traditionalist Catholicism, nationally and transnationally, during and after the Council.” The new academic research is now revealing the importance of this role.
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira particularly stands out in the doctrinal field, where he appears as a master of contemporary Counter-revolutionary thought. In his profound study of the concept of Revolution, Karol Kasprowicz at Poland’s University of Lublin cites the Brazilian leader numerous times, counting him among the “classical thinkers” in the field.2
In Yves Chiron’s book Histoire des Traditionalistes (Tallandier, Paris 2022), an entire chapter is dedicated to him. “The figure of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira stands out among the precursors of traditionalism,” affirms the author. In addition, he mentions the book In Defense of Catholic Action, published in 1943 by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira when he was president of Catholic Action in Sao Paulo. This work, according to Chiron, is the first “denunciation of the progressive errors that were spreading in Catholic Action and society.”
Another recent study is Zivilisationismus und rechte Untergangsvorstellungen in Polen, Deutschland und Österreich by Jos Stübner (Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, 2021). The author reports on the action of some European TFPs inspired by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, especially in fighting against the so-called LGBT agenda. Monica Cornejo Valle of the Universidad Complutense of Madrid published a similar report about the TFPs’ actions in Poland and Spain. The study was recently published in London under the title We Don’t Want Rainbow Terror: Religious and Far-Right Sexual Politics in Poland and Spain (Palgrave MacMillan, United Kingdom, 2022). Cornejo Valle says, “the international network inspired by the TFP… is the most effective anti-LGBTQ organization.”
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Neil Datta reaches the same conclusion in the study Modern Day Crusaders in Europe. Tradition, Family and Property: Analysis of a Transnational, Ultra-conservative, Catholic-inspired Influence Network. The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, a powerful Brussels-based lobby group, produced the study. The group counts on the support of thirty Members of the European Parliament and is linked to the International Planned Parenthood Federation. According to the study, the TFPs have become one of the leading forces to counter the LGBTQ agenda in Europe: “They manage to influence European centers of power.”
Anyone familiar with the work of the Brazilian thinker knows the expression “false right,” used to describe a certain type of pseudo-Counter-Revolutionary reaction which actually misleads the good toward positions and attitudes that end up favoring the Revolutionary process. Luis Herrán Ávila from the University of New Mexico wrote an interesting study on the subject. It is titled The False Rights: Conflict and Convergence in Mexico’s Post-Cristero Right after the Second Vatican Council (Cambridge University Press, March 2022). The author recognizes the perfectly balanced position of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira regarding the traditionalist and Counter-Revolutionary fight. He pointed out that the Brazilian thinker did not fall into sedevacantism or the right-wing trap of adopting a pro-Nazi or esoteric stand.
Another important study is that of Prof. Georg Wink from the University of Copenhagen. The book is titled Brazil, Land of the Past: The Ideological Roots of the New Right (Bibliotopía 2021, Cuernavaca, México). With a wealth of documentation, the author shows how the conservative reaction sweeping Brazil—and usually attributed to other figures—is actually a consequence of the decades-long work of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira and the TFP. Also noteworthy is Erika Helgen’s work Religious Conflict in Brazil, published in 2020 by Yale University, which contains numerous references to the action of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.
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The Modern Memory of the Military-Religious Orders—Engaging the Crusades (Routledge, London & New York 2022) deserves mention. The author, Luiz Felipe Anchieta Guerra, describes the role of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in the “rise of political medievalism, that is, the use of medieval symbolism in the political field.” He claims this phenomenon is a characteristic of the new world right.
From the United States, we can mention The Rise of the Catholic Alt-Right by Dominic Wetzel of Kingsborough College in New York (2020). The essay traces the birth of the traditionalist Catholic right that rose from obscurity in the United States. He concludes that this development would not have been possible without the decisive contribution of the American TFP.
We close this necessarily short sampling by mentioning the study by Giselle Zanotto titled Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: A Scholar of Reaction, Activist of Conservatism and Crusader of Counterrevolution (Universidade Estadual de Maringá 2019). Zanotto explains that Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s thought and action are difficult to classify according to rigid academic criteria. It is better considered as a vast and profound reaction against the Revolutionary process in all its aspects. Hence comes her qualification of “Crusader of the Counter-Revolution.”
Those closing words of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s philosophical self-portrait are coming true: “I am certain that the principles to which I have dedicated my life are as up-to-date today as ever and that they indicate the path the world will follow in the coming centuries. The skeptics will smile, but the smiles of skeptics were never able to hinder the victorious march of those with Faith.”
Updated September 8, 2022.
- The role of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in the creation of the international religious right
- Karol Kasprowicz, Reflections on Historiography and Theory of Revolution, University of Lublin 2020.