The Insidious Question

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The Insidious Question by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Insidious Question

Somebody asked me if I were a man of the right. Enthusiastically and euphorically I answered, “Yes.” On answering, I was already waiting for the concise and venomous little question that would come next: “Of the extreme right, then?” The poor fellow who formulated the question thought he was clever, as if clever and insidious were synonymous. “Read my next article,” I retorted. And with this, I was clever and insidious. Clever, because I gained a reader for the monotonous commentary that follows. And insidious, because his curiosity will lead him to read this monotonous tract from beginning to end.

Within the strange vocabulary that is being forged as part of the political jargon of our days, multiple, confused, and even contradictory meanings are being artificially tacked onto the word “extreme” just like so many others. It is impossible for me to answer this little pseudo-clever question before making clear what these different meanings are.

The bulk of national opinion is comfortably and indolently centrist. It is precisely among the centrists that the word “extreme” appears opalescent, multicolored and changeable.

This whole confusion is the result of a cross-eyed vision of a simple matter. I will present it in a brief outline.

1. The intellectual work of a scientist consists in acquiring and defining for himself basic truths that in the rigor of logic merit all of his assent. Starting off from these truths he goes constructing conclusions always according to the rigor of logic. Every new conclusion is a new victory of science. And the glory of the scientist’s labor consists in following the ways of logic right to the ultimate conclusion that is legitimately deducible from the initial truths. In this noble course, the extremes of glory are for those who reach the extremes of the process.

2. This intellectual process comes from the very nature of the human mind, and holds for anything which it ponders. Granted man’s fallibility, it is well for him to check the successive stages of his intellectual journey against the data of experience. However, when this is not possible, man should not renounce his search for the ultimate peak of his thought. For if he be eagle-eyed, a man can logically work his way far beyond matters subject to tests by experimentation. If this were not so, what would become of philosophy and theology?

So, the man who reaches the ultimate consequences of the initial truths that he knows in the course of the cadenced and firm march of his logical process, merits at least respect. The march of his spirit is like that of the body. It is healthy, beautiful and noble when it heads directly for its final point. It is sickly, clumsy and unmanly when it hesitates, wavers, and loses itself in the errors and labyrinths of doubt.

While they may admit these principles of common sense as valid for all the dominions of thought, the centralists do make one exception. The more languorous and comfortable these centrists are, the more inclined they are to make an exception when it comes to minds that are given to political or socio-economic reflection. These centrists may marvel at the physicist or mathematician who reaches the ultimate consequences of the initial truths that he knows. However, they consider the same search is not licit for a political thinker. So, if he acts like the scientist and reaches the ultimate consequences of his thought, the centrist immediately labels him an extremist.

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There is more. Another contradiction climbs right on top of this first contradiction of the languorous and comfortable centrist. The political thinker or socio-economic theorist who has thus been branded an extremist is forthwith suspected of aiming at imposing a dictatorship by means of violence. Therefore, he is a criminal, at least potentially.

In this way, according to a certain kind of centrist, consistency may be the path of glory for some but for others, it is the path to crime.

Consequently, I comment for my part, if in any field, one goes from consistency to consistency to reach the apex of truth, then from inconsistency to inconsistency one reaches the depth of absurdity.

There you have it. Here appears an absolutely arbitrary dichotomy for the most comfortable and languorous of the centrists.

These centrists think immediately of violence, concentration camps and genocide when they are in the presence of an entirely consistent rightist. However, when they are in the presence of an entirely consistent leftist, a communist for example, the centrists I am talking about make a distinction. If he is a communist who only dedicates himself to studies and the doctrinal and peaceful dissemination of his convictions, they consider him an irreproachable citizen worthy of respect and, perhaps, even friendship.

When they look at him, no one thinks of the Lubianca prison, or the concentration camps in Siberia, or hospitals of neuro-psychiatric torture, or even of the Iron Curtain. For all practical purposes, such centrists do not feel a peaceful communist to be an extremist. A leftist for them is an extremist only when he assaults, kidnaps, and robs.

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In short, it is a double standard. When it heads right, consistency is considered as leading necessarily to crime. When it heads left, it is considered to be perfectly distinguishable from crime, to which it may lead only “per accidens.”

Now it falls to me to answer whether I am a man of the right. I am, purely and simply. However, I claim for myself with the greatest force, the force of logic, the right to reach the ultimate and highest doctrinal consequences of the principles that I profess, without anyone branding me as an advocate of violence that I have never justified, never encouraged, and never practiced.

And I say this squarely facing the little man of the insidious question and the comfortable and languid centrists of whom he is a specimen, affirming, furthermore: As a man in full consonance with all divine and human laws and all the requirements of logic, I am indeed one hundred percent a man of the right.

Of the extreme right? This little word “extreme”—that sounds for many almost like a four letter word—I leave disdainfully rolling on the ground.

Asserting my authenticity and my integrity as far as the right is concerned, I question the authenticity and integrity of the little man and his like as far as the center is concerned. If the center is by definition equidistance between the two extremes, what right do they have to call themselves centrists in spite of being so illogically and aggressively contrary to the rightists, and so affably respectful of the non-violent leftists?

It seems to me that in defining myself, I define them. Or rather, facing my definition, they define themselves. Centrists they are not.

What might they be? Let them say it with the same frankness with which I have just said what I am.

For my part, I see them as genuine but bashful and disguised leftists.


The preceding article was originally published in the Folha de S.Paulo, on September 26, 1979. It has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. –Ed.


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