As a tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of Revolution and Counter-Revolution — the bedside book of TFP members worldwide — the American TFP is happy to publish this first English translation of a May 13, 1945 Legionário article by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.
In this article titled “Reflections on Ten Years of Struggle Against Nazism,” the founder of the Brazilian TFP and inspirer of the other TFPs worldwide condemns Nazism calling it “the most terrible machine of perdition and mystification the devil ever concocted in the course of history.” Written a week after the end of World War II, this article was a fitting conclusion to the approximately 2,500 articles against Nazism and Fascism that Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira and his team of writers published in the pages of Legionario starting in 1933.
In this article, Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira also provided an extensive analysis of the tremendous moral crisis attacking the Catholic Church and destroying Christian Civilization. Although written 14 years before Revolution and Counter-Revolution (first published in 1959), this Legionário analysis is an excellent synopsis of the latter.
⚜ † ⚜
Legionário could not fail to mark the end of World War II and the crushing of totalitarian powers with an issue devoted almost entirely to this great development. Indeed, the final demise of totalitarianism marks, for us, the end of a long and painful campaign that obliged us to make extreme sacrifices in order to enlighten public opinion on the great danger that threatened the Church. In this regard, the life of Legionário from 1933 to 1942 was a true via crucis during which we were spared no trial. From 1942 to 1945, while less ostensive and direct, the struggle continued in a veiled fashion. The end of the war brings this whole past to a close and opens up a future with radically different problems. Let us take advantage of these fleeting moments in which the corpses are still warm, tears still have not dried up, the earth still has not absorbed the blood of combatants, fires are still smoking and the barrels of machine guns still have not cooled to fix in a still lively picture the remembrance of these years of confusion and upheaval. This is the propitious moment for this task. Historic experience is much more substantial when collected from a recent and palpitating past than from the dry and wilted herbariums of compendia and archives.
* * *
For example, it will be very difficult for history to understand as well as we do the agitated, sunset-like and indecisive era in which totalitarian parties broke out all over the world. One would have had to live in 1920 or in 1925 to understand the tremendous ideological chaos in which humanity found itself.
Christendom resembled an immense building in the final stages of demolition. Nothing was left undone to destroy it. Silent and methodical specialists took its supporting beams away and its doors and windows from their frames. This task, which they accomplished with the silence, cunning and agility of conspirators, progressed with inexorable coldness and not a second lost. Workers took turns day and night so that the task would not stop even as men slept, worked, or enjoyed themselves.
Farther on, monsters in human likeness assaulted the aging walls of Christendom with the delirious and impetuous furor with which one would attack, not a stone building but a building in living flesh, a great body. It was an escalation of rabid multitudes entering through doors and windows, sacking defenseless relics and abandoned treasures, shattering stain glass windows, profaning altars, destroying statues or overthrowing centuries-old towers, immense walls and hitherto impregnable ramparts with one great thunder of dynamite. And some distance away, to the applause of marauders and vagabonds, other workers attempted, with materials stolen from the House of God, to build the proud City of the Devil in extravagant and sensual lines.
All this is but an allegory. And yet no allegory, image or description could portray the confusion of those “post war” days.
* * *
The conversion of the West was not a superficial phenomenon. The seed of supernatural life entered the very core of their souls and gradually formed the once rude, lascivious and superstitious mentality of barbarian tribes in the likeness of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the supernatural society – the Church – extended Her hierarchical fabric upon all of Europe; and gradually, from the mists of Scotland to the slopes of the Vesuvius, there flourished dioceses, monasteries, cathedrals, convents or parishes, and around them, the flock of Christ.
This religious sprouting was reflected in civil society. The prince, the artisan, the philosopher, the warrior, the minstrel was Christian not only inside the temple at the time of prayer. He reigned, produced, thought, waged war and sung as a Christian. His kingdom was a Christian kingdom, his work a Christian work; his thought a Christian thought; his war a Christian war; and his chant a Christian chant. The whole civil life, organized and founded upon the Law of God, was ordered according to the will of God and to the natural order established by Him when creating the universe, the world, and man. A temporal society was thus established under the sign of Christ, according to the law of Christ, and in conformance with the order and proper nature of each thing that God created.
* * *
All this is far from being an empty rhetoric. Let us give the example of a clock. A clockmaker intends to put together an instrument to mark time. For this end, he makes a plan that requires putting together several pieces, each working according to its own nature and configuration, for the end intended by the watchmaker. In the case of the clock, each part does its work according to the nature and configuration set by the watchmaker. If it works according to that nature and configuration, it will have done everything its maker intended and everything necessary, on its part, for the good functioning of the clock.
Now then, the family is the human instrument willed by God to perpetuate the species. So also in the family home: if each member acts rightly according to his intention and role, he will have done everything necessary for the family to function well. And if all members act with the same rectitude, family life will have attained its proper perfection just as a clock attains perfection when all its parts work perfectly.
What is said of a clock or family can be equally said of civil society. Its proper grandeur as a civil society results from the fact that each element that composes it, classes, associations and persons, act uprightly according to their own nature and configuration. In this way, and only in this way, will civil society attain is grandeur.
The Commandments are the expression of God’s will to men. They teach man to act as God wants. God, infinitely wise and good, could not want us to act in discrepancy or opposition with the nature that He gave us. Therefore, the Commandments teach us to act according to our own nature. And thus they contain the fundamental rules that must be observed to attain the grandeur of civil society as such.
Glory and temporal well-being are the natural reward of civil society. However, it also has a higher reward in this world. Saint Augustine explains that men can be rewarded or punished by their good or bad actions in the next life, but that nations receive punishments or rewards in this life because a nation as such does not cross the threshold of eternity. In heaven, there will be no Greeks, Trojans, Romans or Egyptians. There will neither be Greece, Troy, Rome, or Egypt. Thus, Troy, Greece or any other nation must receive its reward in this world. God helps the grandeur of faithful peoples not only through the natural play of secondary causes but with a multitude of special and at times miraculous graces, which can be seen in the history of such peoples.
* * *
This explains why, under the influx of all the natural and supernatural energies accumulated in the treasure chest of Christian nations, in the early Middle Ages a Christian civil society slowly emerged from chaos and barbarianism: Christendom.
Indecisive and subtle at first, its beauty was more promise than reality but affirmed itself to the degree that, as centuries of Christian life went by, baptized Europe “grew up in grace and sanctity.” From these human energies vivified by grace were born kingdoms, noble lineages, courteous customs and just laws, guilds and chivalry, Scholastics and universities, the Gothic style and the songs of minstrels.
Admirers of the Middle Ages express themselves poorly when they say that at that time the world attained the apex of its development. There was still much progress to be made in the line that medieval civilization was moving. The grand and delicate charm of the Middle Ages stems not so much from what it has achieved as from the scintillating veracity and profound harmony of the principles upon which it built. No one possessed as it did the profound knowledge of the natural order of things; no one had such a keen sense of the insufficiency of the natural — even when developed to its proper fullness — and of the necessity of the supernatural; no one shone as it did in the sun of supernatural influence with greater clarity or the candor of greater sincerity.
It was made of men who fought and suffered to attain this ideal, and who often retreated or faltered along the way; but men who always remained faithful to their ideal even when they drove away from it by their acts. And hence there was a profound consonance among all institutions, customs and traditions born at that age, not only with the contingent and transitory circumstances of the time they were born but with the general requirements of the human soul, “naturaliter christiana” and the spiritual tendencies peculiar to the peoples of the West.
* * *
Here we touch on a point of fundamental importance. Each people has its own collective mentality and regional problems. There is a huge difference between an Indian and a Swede, a Spaniard and a Chinese. There is an Indian, Swede, Chinese or Spanish national mentality that remains whole through time for as long as the nation exists. Men, like rivers, can run to eternity. But nations, like rivers, always remain the same in the essential features of their temperament. In addition to these psychological circumstances there are problems peculiar to the geographic situation of each region: India, Sweden, China or Spain. These problems – at least the more profound and noteworthy – also are invariable.
Every Christian civilization will have to be entirely Christian, Catholic, and universal, but has to accept, respect, develop and stimulate the characteristics of each region and each people.
Christian society, we said, is one that lives according to its own natural order. For this reason, it must fully respect the particular characteristics of each people or region; respect and develop, for these characteristics are gifts of God, and all the gifts of God deserve to be developed.
* * *
In the centuries of Christian civilization, each people had distinctive and well-defined characteristics. In Christian civilization the nation’s soul, in all its universal and human aspirations, and in all its national and local aspirations, met a full and orderly expansion. Hence the enormous variety of forms of government and social or economic organization, artistic expressions and intellectual production found in the various nations of medieval Europe.
The expansion of a nation’s tendencies brings its people great physical well-being. The nation’s mentality inspires the formation of symbols, customs and arts in which it expresses, defines and affirms, contemplates and solidifies itself. These symbols are a patrimony of the nation and an essential condition for its survival and spiritual progress. They have an indefinable and profound consonance with the nation’s mentality, a consonance which is natural and true rather than merely fictitious and conventional. For this reason, as a rule, each people elaborates only one art, one culture, and advances in it for as long as it exists. A people’s greatest treasure is the possession of its own culture, that is, the possession of its own mentality.
* * *
A Christian civilization can be admired only by souls who, while outside the Church, tend toward Catholicism; it can only be admired and lived by souls who, inside the Church, live from Catholicism. For souls that are beginning to abandon the Church or to blaspheme against Her from the outside, Christian civilization is highly boring and even hateful in its stellar superiority. Christian civilization fully existed only as long as Europe was sincerely and profoundly Catholic.
And the great tragedy of the Western world was precisely the sixteenth century break with Catholicism, which wrested Protestant souls from the bosom of the Church.
This is not the moment to make an analysis of Protestantism. It literally was the realization of the French Revolution in the religious sphere, just as the Revolution of 1789 was Protestantism applied to the civil sphere. Born from pride and lasciviousness, Protestantism now denied implicitly, now explicitly, in radice, everything that meant authority, order, and ascesis. Wherever it could, it proclaimed the abolition of all ecclesiastical hierarchy, completely leveling clerics and laity and abolishing hierarchy itself. Wherever it was unable to go that far because people still had some fragments of Christian sense, it preserved the priesthood but rejected the episcopate and papal supremacy, or admitted episcopacy but denied the Pope.
Nevertheless, if one analyses in depth the situation of a Protestant bishop or minister before his faithful, one sees that his post is more vain appearance than reality, and that even among Episcopalians a bishop essentially differs little or nothing from any individual faithful; this, in the order of government and the sacraments. In doctrinal matters, Protestant free examination is the affirmation of anarchism in the life of the intellect. Understood according to the exegesis of the “Comité de Salut Public,” the motto of 1789, “liberté, égalité, fraternité” could perfectly be the great motto of the religious revolution of the sixteenth century.
* * *
In his masterly encyclical, Parvenu à la Vingt-Cinquième Année, Leo XIII shows that Protestantism was nothing but a stage. From its principles derived much more profound upheavals than those operated under the personal and direct breath of its authors. From the sixteenth century to this time, now in a more, now in a less explicit way, the history of the world is nothing but the history of the unfolding of the principles that constitute the most profound substratum of Protestantism. The Counter-Reformation managed to keep Catholic peoples unscathed by the Protestant heresy. Prevented from openly attacking in the terrain of dogma, the Protestant mentality nevertheless manifested itself through a thousand philosophical, scientific, literary and artistic tendencies, thus infiltrating in Catholic societies the basic errors from which Protestantism itself originated.
In the so-called modern times much continued to be done by Catholic peoples in the line of Christian civilization. But much has also been done under the sign of disorder. The general decay in customs clearly indicated an inner simmering of sensuality in the West, which at first was expressed in a sentimental and allegoric way but later started breaking down all barriers until it reached the great explosion of concupiscence of 1789, the “civic orgies” of 1792, and the complete paganization of modern customs. The continuing decay of the family gradually annihilated social classes. In the Middle Ages, the aristocracy, bourgeoisie and people were vigorous, cohesive and perfectly defined social bodies each conscious of its dignity (and each boasting, note well, of their centuries-old lineages of coal miners or artisans with the same pride as an aristocrat would remember the Visigoth princes from whom he descended). In modern times, social classes have lost the notion of their role. The nobility tended to become bourgeois-like. The bourgeoisie tended to imitate the nobility, the common people to overthrow the nobility and the bourgeoisie, and so on. Royal absolutism, which seemed to be a consolidation of the principle of authority, was nothing but a revolutionary principle: the omnipotence of the State vis-à-vis the laws of God and of the Church.
* * *
Active in philosophy, the arts, culture, politics and social life, the psychological forces that had caused the Protestant explosion in other countries and at the same time their complete transformation, gradually provoked in Catholic countries a profound change in civil life and generated a state of contradiction that became chronic and habitual. Everything in these countries was changed under the breath of pride and modern sensuality, with the sole exception of religious beliefs.
The disconnection between people’s beliefs and lifestyle became ever more profound. Everything gradually became paganized by the work of these masses and elites who nevertheless continued not being pagan. In religious matters, they professed convictions ever more dissonant from everything else they thought, felt or did in other fields. During modern times, Christian institutions, customs, and traditions gradually lost their vitality. They gradually tended to turn into lifeless relics, merely formal habits, vestiges of a mummified past. Around the end of the eighteenth century, under the appearance of a Christian society, there existed in fact a social reality that already tended to paganism with all the strength of its dynamism. The French Revolution, which spread throughout the Catholic world, was an explosion of this new reality that threw all the wreckage of the past up in the air.
One will never entirely understand the Revolution of 1789 as long as one does not recognize that it was more profound and important in the ideological terrain than in the political one. In France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, the transfer of power to liberals and the advent of new forms of state organization symbolized at the same time the triumph of new forms of living, thinking, feeling, dressing, new standards of social life, and the appearance of a new ideal of human perfection. Everything changed looks and substance, and all transformations were done in the sense of better satisfying pride and sensuality. Pride, by the right everyone was given to organize his own thinking without any respect for the laws of logic and common sense; by suppressing or downgrading to a minimum all posts, degrees, treatment, categories and distinctions that could contain or express authority; and sensuality, through the ever more daring transgression of the principles of morals, the abolition of traditions and customs that safeguarded modesty and avoided excessive familiarity, through a thousand reforms that gave in social life preeminence to the body over the soul, to imagination and sentiment over the spirit, to imagination and sentiment over reason, and the installation of a thousand means destined to weaken the will and diminish the effort of the mind to study.
* * *
It is an error to suppose that the French Revolution came to a close with Napoleon or Louis XVIII. Indeed, it has lingered through the years and its more immediate fruits never stopped being produced until 1925 or 1926 in Europe and until 1935 or 1936 in Brazil. Let us thus make a comparison between Europe in 1789 and in 1925. What transformations did it see in the topics we are interested in throughout those 140 years? Purely negative ones.
As far as Religion is concerned, Christian masses became revolutionary and elites went from deism to indifferentism or atheism. In philosophical matters, from Cartesianism, people turned to evolutionist materialism. Politics changed from a State organized à la Rousseau to a nihilistic denial of any State. In social matters, the bourgeoisie destroyed the aristocracy in the name of equality; and for its part, armed with the same principle, the common people hastened to strangle the bourgeoisie. Education was changed from the old-school pedagogic authoritarianism to socialist egalitarianism and to the convenient, easy teaching of the new school. In artistic and literary matters, a rigid and formalist classicism gave way to the convulsions of romanticism and then to the extravagance of modern artistic systems.
In human matters, the gaunt, wasting, sentimental and disheveled heroes and heroines of romanticism made room for sports fans with a utilitarian mentality and the highly “vitamin-powered” elegance of the “Yankee” type. Everything became more convenient, accessible, and people sought in things much more the pleasure of “comfy enjoyment” than that of beauty. Beauty enchants the soul, but “enjoyment” delights the body. From elegant Louis XVI-style chairs to heavy, leather-covered modern day lazy boys, what a difference from the standpoint of beauty! But in turn, how much more comfortable the body feels lying on those smooth leathers and caressed by the flexibility of those springs! These changes are quite appropriate to the new modern homes without a drawing room (for the sake of economizing) but with exceedingly comfortable kitchens, pantries and bathrooms. To save on the drawing room in order to spend in the bathroom! The decrepitude of golden living rooms and the apogee of bathrooms! What a topic for meditation!
* * *
In 1918, a wind of the revolutionary mentality swept over Europe with singular violence. Czarism came crashing down with a roar and communism was implanted in Russia. The whole intellectual and social life broke away even more from the past. In the West, hegemony gradually switched from traditional Europe to the leveling United States.
Amid all this crumbling, which increasingly beckoned the impending end of Christian civilization as such, a salutary reaction took place. Many people finally realized to what abysses the world was headed and what guides were leading it to the abyss. As Pius XI wrote, a universal breeze of the Holy Ghost oriented wayward minds toward the Church. In the middle of the hecatomb of Christian civilization, the Church of God was beginning to flourish anew, producing sprouts that undeniably attested to her eternal vigor. The Catholic movement was organizing all over Europe. Myriads of young men, disgusted with the direction of things, opened their eyes to the revealed truth and longed with all their hearts for the triumph of Christian civilization. Catholic social works, Catholic press, Catholic radio, Catholic political action were triumphing everywhere. Thus, in Germany, Austria, Spain, France, Brazil, Holland, Belgium, electoral gains by Catholic candidates were increasingly outstanding. And the more the Communist danger grew, the more ardent Catholic reaction was. God attracts certain souls to heaven by making them see hell. This was the medicine He used with the Western world by allowing the torments Communism imposed on Russia, Mexico and later in Spain, to appear in all their hideousness. There is no greater torment for a people than to be despoiled every day of a tradition, a habit, or a symbol. It is a terrible quartering of the soul, to which all Christian peoples were gradually exposed.
* * *
Whenever the devil is about to lose a match, his great weapon is confusion. And this time he used it once again. History may tell, one day, in what caves the tenebrous plan was plotted. But the fact is that in order to fulfill the longings of the masses thirsting for Christian civilization, there appeared a party in Germany, soon copied in other places, which proposed to implant a new Christian world. At first sight, nothing could be nicer than Nazism, a mystic-heroic movement that advocated the traditions of Christian and medieval Germany against the demagogic and corrupting dissolution of Bolshevik propaganda.
The merely negative terms of the national-socialist doctrine corresponded in many points to the livelier feelings of Christian consciences, indignant with the weakening of the principle of authority, order, morals and law.
However, if one looked at the positive side of this ideology, which the Machiavellian machine of Nazi propaganda revealed to the “initiates” only little by little, what a terrible disappointment! It is a confused ideology impregnated with evolutionism and historic materialism, saturated with philosophical and theological pagan influences, with a radical and characteristically socialist political and economic program, and intolerable racist prejudices. In a word, behind Nazi’s anticommunist growls it was communism itself that it intended to install: a crafty communism with a Christian mask. A communism one thousand times worse because it mobilized against the Church all the Satanic weapons of astuteness instead of the feckless weapons of brute force. A communism that began by enthralling people’s minds with some truths, working them up to a delirium on the pretext of showing enthusiasm for those truths, and then luring them to the most terrible errors. A communism, therefore, that meant not the obliteration of the evil but that of the good; the most terrible machine of perdition and mystification the devil ever concocted in the course of history.
* * *
Such is the weight of truth, so hard the burden of the good that unfortunately many people, albeit sincere Catholics allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by the maneuver. They lacked that hunger and thirst for justice which is the root of holy intransigence. They lacked that appetite for full-fledged Catholicism that would lead them to reject as an impurity any alliance with revolutionary leavens of the times. Things very markedly Catholic, exclusively Catholic, hurt their eyes as the sun hurts those of nocturnal birds. They preferred pale, diluted, indirect forms of Catholic radiation, like owls prefer moonlight. And they gave themselves body and soul to these tendencies of a clearly anti-Catholic character. In Italy, as in Germany and other places, a cohort of naïve and incautious, though well-intentioned people let themselves be enthralled and swept away by a bunch of crooks and adventurers of every ilk. And God alone knows with what furor and wrath countless threats were hurled at brothers in the Faith who indulged the luxury of being more lucid, perspicacious and vigorous in defense of the Faith.
* * *
The great dream, the terrible construction erected by the architects of pseudo-Christian totalitarian systems, is now torn to bits. No one today would dare sustain the legitimacy of its position, the cause of so much bloodshed, tears and sweat over the last few years of war. When the concentration camps are exposed to public visitation and people realize the terrible machine of hatred that totalitarianism was, it is to be expected that the last scales will finally fall off voluntarily blinded eyes and the ruins and remnants of this whole past will be removed from the last minds which fanaticism still keeps in a position of mad obstinacy.
But as we have said, a great lesson arises from this still warm past. It is useless to want to do the work of God without the Church, against the Church, without the Hierarchy, or against it. “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it” (Ps 126:1). The world cannot be saved by diluted forms of Christianity or by systems representing a convenient or slothful stage on the way to the restoration of Christendom. Our leitmotiv must be that outside the Church there is no salvation for the temporal order of the West. What we must desire is a Roman, Catholic and Apostolic civilization, absolutely and in detail. The bankruptcy of middle of the road political, social and cultural ideals is patent. One does not stop on the way back to God: to stop is to turn back and play the game of confusion. We only want one thing: complete Catholicism.
This is the great truth that the failure of totalitarianism reveals. Let us recall it on this memorable occasion, not to rekindle disagreements with our Catholic brethren but to declare that, except for this great lesson that contains the essence of the whole tragic experience of the last few years, so rich in teachings, we forget everything and only want to look to the future. From the past we bring neither complaints nor resentments, but only the conviction of the victory of this thesis, which must remain: Catholics will win by unfurling the Catholic standard entirely and not by hiding it in the folds of equivocal political doctrines.
* * *
So here we have before us the great and gaping problem of communism. Once again, our duty requires us to fight with more acuity than ever this hydra that represents, as much as Nazism, the quintessence of the spirit of the Revolution. Catholics must unite facing the common adversary, forget all qualms and resentments and, in consonance with the teaching of Pius XI, accept the loyal collaboration of all worthy men sincerely committed to the struggle against Red totalitarianism. But the secret of the Church’s victory consists precisely in our renouncing intermediary ideals and, united with all those who offer their cooperation, overcome the Bolshevik hydra with the only weapon that will crush it — the Cross, which represents the Church of God and the most ancient and legitimate traditions of Christian civilization. “In hoc signo vinces,” said a Voice to Constantine at a moment when the outcome of battle appeared uncertain. That Voice has not gone silent for fifteen centuries, and today its message to the world is the same.