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Revolution and Counter-Revolution


Chapter III: Characteristics of This Crisis


However profound the factors that diversify this crisis from country to country, it always has five major characteristics.

1. It is Universal
This crisis is universal. There is no people that is not affected by it to a greater or lesser degree.

2. It is One
This crisis is one. It is not a range of crises developing side by side, independently in each country, interrelated because of certain analogies of varying relevance.

When a fire breaks out in a forest, one cannot regard it as a thousand autonomous and parallel fires of a thousand trees in close proximity. The unity of the phenomenon of combustion acts on the living unity that is the forest. Moreover, the great force of expansion of the flames results from the heat in which the innumerable flames of the different trees intermingle and multiply. Indeed, everything helps to make the forest fire a single fact, totally encompassing the thousand partial fires, however different from one another in their accidents.

Western Christendom constituted a single whole that transcended the several Christian countries without absorbing them. A crisis occurred within this living unity, eventually affecting the whole through the combined and even fused heat of the ever more numerous local crises that across the centuries have never ceased to intertwine and augment one another. Consequently, Christendom, as a family of officially Catholic states, has long ceased to exist. The Western and Christian peoples are mere remnants of it. And now they are all agonizing under the action of this same evil.

3. It is Total
In any given country, this crisis develops in such a profound level of problems that it spreads or unfolds, by the very order of things, in all powers of the soul, all fields of culture, and, in the end, all realms of human action.

4. It is Dominant
Considered superficially, the events of our days seem a chaotic and inextricable tangle. From many points of view, they are indeed.

However, one can discern profoundly consistent and vigorous resultants of this conjunction of so many disorderly forces when considering them from the standpoint of the great crisis we are analyzing.

Indeed, under the impulse of these forces in delirium, the Western nations are being gradually driven toward a state of affairs which is taking the same form in all of them and is diametrically opposed to Christian civilization.

Thus, this crisis is like a queen whom all the forces of chaos serve as efficient and docile vassals.

5. It is Processive
This crisis is not a spectacular, isolated episode. It constitutes, on the contrary, a critical process already five centuries old. It is a long chain of causes and effects that, having originated at a certain moment with great intensity in the deepest recesses of the soul and the culture of Western man, has been producing successive convulsions since the fifteenth century. The words of Pius XII about a subtle and mysterious enemy of the Church can fittingly be applied to this process:

It is to be found everywhere and among everyone; it can be both violent and astute. In these last centuries, it has attempted to disintegrate the intellectual, moral, and social unity in the mysterious organism of Christ. It has sought nature without grace, reason without faith, freedom without authority, and, at times, authority without freedom. It is an "enemy" that has become more and more apparent with an absence of scruples that still surprises: Christ yes; the Church no! Afterwards: God yes; Christ no! Finally the impious shout: God is dead and, even, God never existed! And behold now the attempt to build the structure of the world on foundations which we do not hesitate to indicate as the main causes of the threat that hangs over humanity: economy without God, law without God, politics without God.3

This process should not be viewed as an altogether fortuitous sequence of causes and effects that has taken place unexpectedly. Already at its inception, this crisis was strong enough to carry out all its potentialities. It is still strong enough to cause, by means of supreme upheavals, the ultimate destructions that are its logical outcome.

Influenced and conditioned in different ways by all sorts of extrinsic factors (cultural, social, economic, ethnic, geographic, and others), it follows paths that are sinuous at times. It nonetheless never ceases to progress toward its tragic end.

A. The Decay of the Middle Ages
In the Introduction, we outlined the main features of this process. It would not be amiss to add some details.

In the fourteenth century, a transformation of mentality began to take place in Christian Europe; in the course of the fifteenth century, it became ever more apparent. The thirst for earthly pleasures became a burning desire. Diversions became more and more frequent and sumptuous, increasingly engrossing men. In dress, manners, language, literature, and art, the growing yearning for a life filled with delights of fancy and the senses produced progressive manifestations of sensuality and softness. Little by little, the seriousness and austerity of former times lost their value. The whole trend was toward gaiety, affability, and festiveness. Hearts began to shy away from the love of sacrifice, from true devotion to the Cross, and from the aspiration to sanctity and eternal life. Chivalry, formerly one of the highest expressions of Christian austerity, became amorous and sentimental. The literature of love invaded all countries. Excesses of luxury and the consequent eagerness for gain spread throughout all social classes.

Penetrating intellectual circles, this moral climate produced clear manifestations of pride, such as a taste for ostentatious and vain disputes, for inconsistent tricks of argument, and for fatuous exhibitions of learning. It praised old philosophical tendencies over which Scholasticism had triumphed. As the former zeal for the integrity of the Faith waned, these tendencies reappeared in new guises. The absolutism of legists, who adorned themselves with a conceited knowledge of Roman law, was favorably received by ambitious princes. And, all the while, in great and small alike, there was a fading of the will of yore to keep the royal power within its proper bounds as in the days of Saint Louis of France and Saint Ferdinand of Castile.

B. The Pseudo-Reformation and the Renaissance
This new state of soul contained a powerful although more or less unacknowledged desire for an order of things fundamentally different from that which had reached its heights in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

An exaggerated and often delirious admiration for antiquity served as a means for the expression of this desire. In order to avoid direct confrontations with the old medieval tradition, humanism and the Renaissance frequently sought to relegate the Church, the supernatural, and the moral values of religion to a secondary plane. At the same time, the human type inspired by the pagan moralists was introduced by these movements as an ideal in Europe. This human type and the culture and civilization consistent with it were truly the precursors of the greedy, sensual, secularist, and pragmatic man of our days and of the materialistic culture and civilization into which we are sinking deeper and deeper. Efforts to effect a Christian Renaissance did not manage to crush in the germinal stage the factors that led to the gradual triumph of neopaganism.

In some parts of Europe, this neopaganism developed without leading to formal apostasy. It found significant resistance. Even when it became established within souls, it did not dare ask them - at least in the beginning - to formally break with the Faith.

However, in other countries, it openly attacked the Church. Pride and sensuality, whose satisfaction is the pleasure of pagan life, gave rise to Protestantism.

Pride begot the spirit of doubt, free examination, and naturalistic interpretation of Scripture. It produced insurrection against ecclesiastical authority, expressed in all sects by the denial of the monarchical character of the Universal Church, that is to say, by a revolt against the Papacy. Some of the more radical sects also denied what could be called the higher aristocracy of the Church, namely, the bishops, her princes. Others even denied the hierarchical character of the priesthood itself by reducing it to a mere delegation of the people, lauded as the only true holder of priestly power.

On the moral plane, the triumph of sensuality in Protestantism was affirmed by the suppression of ecclesiastical celibacy and by the introduction of divorce.

C. The French Revolution
The profound action of humanism and the Renaissance among Catholics spread unceasingly throughout France in a growing chain of consequences.

Favored by the weakening of piety in the faithful caused by Jansenism and the other leavens sixteenth-century Protestantism had unfortunately left in the Most Christian Kingdom, this action gave rise in the eighteenth century to a nearly universal dissolution of customs, a frivolous and superficial way of considering things, and a deification of earthly life that paved the way for the gradual victory of irreligion.

Doubts about the Church, the denial of the divinity of Christ, deism, and incipient atheism marked the stages of this apostasy.

The French Revolution was the heir of Renaissance neopaganism and of Protestantism, with which it had a profound affinity. It carried out a work in every respect symmetrical to that of the Pseudo-Reformation. The Constitutional Church it attempted to set up before sinking into deism and atheism was an adaptation of the Church of France to the spirit of Protestantism. The political work of the French Revolution was but the transposition to the sphere of the State of the "reform" the more radical Protestant sects had adopted in the matter of ecclesiastical organization:

- the revolt against the King corresponding to the revolt against the Pope;

- the revolt of the common people against the nobles, to the revolt of the ecclesiastical "common people," the faithful, against the "aristocracy" of the Church, the clergy;

- the affirmation of popular sovereignty, to the government of certain sects by the faithful in varying degree.

D. Communism
Some sects arising from Protestantism transposed their religious tendencies directly to the political field, thus preparing the way for the republican spirit. In the seventeenth century, Saint Francis de Sales warned the Duke of Savoy against these republican tendencies.4 Other sects went even further, adopting principles that, if not communist in the full sense of the word today, were at least precommunist.

Out of the French Revolution came the communist movement of Babeuf. Later, the nineteenth-century schools of utopian communism and the so-called scientific communism of Marx burst forth from the increasingly ardent spirit of the Revolution.

And what could be more logical? The normal fruit of deism is atheism. Sensuality, revolting against the fragile obstacles of divorce, tends of itself toward free love. Pride, enemy of all superiority, finally had to attack the last inequality, that of wealth. Drunk with dreams of a one-world republic, of the suppression of all ecclesiastical or civil authority, of the abolition of any Church, and of the abolition of the State itself after a transitional dictatorship of the workers, the revolutionary process now brings us the twentieth-century neobarbarian, its most recent and extreme product.

E. Monarchy, Republic, and Religion
To avoid any misunderstanding, it is necessary to emphasize that this exposition does not contain the assertion that the republic is necessarily a revolutionary regime. When speaking of the various forms of government, Leo XIII made it quite clear that "each of them is good, as long as it moves honestly toward its end, namely, the common good, for which social authority is constituted,"5

We do label as revolutionary the hostility professed against monarchy and aristocracy on the principle that they arc essentially incompatible with human dignity and the normal order of things. This error was condemned by Saint Pius X in the apostolic letter Notre charge apostolique, of August 25, 1910. In this letter, the great and holy Pontiff censures the thesis of Le Sillon, that "only democracy will inaugurate the reign of perfect justice," and he says: "Is this not an injury to the other forms of government, which are thus reduced to the category of impotent governments, acceptable only for lack of something better?"6

If one fails to consider this error, which is deeply rooted in the process under study, one cannot completely explain how it is that monarchy, classified by Pope Pius VI as the best form of government in thesis ("praestantioris monorchici regiminis forma"7), has been the object in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of a hostile worldwide movement that has overthrown the most venerable thrones and dynasties. From our perspective, the mass production of republics all over the world is a typical fruit of the Revolution and a capital aspect of it.

A person cannot be termed a revolutionary for preferring, in view of concrete and local reasons, that his country be a democracy instead of an aristocracy or a monarchy, provided the rights of legitimate authority be respected. But, yes, he can be termed a revolutionary if, led by the Revolution´s egalitarian spirit, he hates monarchy or aristocracy in principle and classifies them as essentially unjust or inhuman.

From this antimonarchical and antiaristocratic hatred are born the demagogic democracies, which combat tradition, persecute the elites, degrade the general tone of life, and create an ambience of vulgarity that constitutes, as it were, the dominant note of the culture and civilization--supposing the concepts of civilization and culture can be realized in such conditions.

How different from this revolutionary democracy is the democracy described by Pius XII:

History bears witness to the fact that, wherever true democracy reigns, the life of the people is as it were permeated with sound traditions, which it is illicit to destroy. The primary representatives of these traditions are first of all the leading classes, that is, the groups of men and women or the associations that set the tone, as we say, for the village or the city, for the region or the entire country. Whence the existence and influence, among all civilized peoples, of aristocratic institutions, aristocratic in the highest sense of the word, like certain academies of widespread and well?deserved fame. And the nobility is also in that number.8

As can be seen, the spirit of revolutionary democracy is quite different from the spirit that must animate a democracy according to the doctrine of the Church.

F. Revolution, Counter-Revolution, and Dictatorship
These considerations on the position of the Revolution and of Catholic thought concerning forms of government may lead some readers to inquire whether dictatorship is a revolutionary or a counter-revolutionary factor.

To provide a clear answer to this question - to which many confused and even tendentious replies have been given - it is necessary to make a distinction between certain elements indiscriminately linked in the idea of dictatorship as public opinion conceives of it. Mistaking dictatorship in thesis for what it has been in practice in our century, the public sees dictatorship as a state of affairs in which a leader endowed with unlimited powers governs a country. For its good, say some. For its harm, say others. But in either case, such a state of affairs is still a dictatorship.

Now, this concept involves two distinct elements:

- the omnipotence of the State;

- the concentration of state power in the hands of a single person.

The public mind seems to focus on the second element. Nevertheless, the first is the basic element, at least if we see dictatorship as a state of affairs in which the public authority, having suspended the juridical order, disposes of all rights at its good pleasure. It is entirely evident that a dictatorship may be exercised by a king. (A royal dictatorship, that is, the suspension of the whole juridical order and the unrestricted exercise of public power by the king, is not to be confused with the Ancien Regime, in which these guarantees existed to a considerable degree, nor, much less, with the organic medieval monarchy.) It is also entirely evident that a dictatorship may be exercised by a popular chief, a hereditary aristocracy, a clan of bankers, or even by the masses.

In itself, a dictatorship exercised by a chief or a group of persons is neither revolutionary nor counter-revolutionary. It will be either one or the other depending on the circumstances that gave rise to it and the work it does. This is the case whether it is in the hands of one man or in the hands of a group.

There are circumstances that demand, for the sake of the salus populi, a suspension of individual rights and a greater exercise of public power. A dictatorship, therefore, can be legitimate in certain cases.

A counter-revolutionary dictatorship - a dictatorship completely oriented by the desire for order - must have three essential requisites:

It must suspend rights to protect order, not to subvert it. By order we do not mean mere material tranquility, but the disposition of things according to their end and in accordance with the respective scale of values. This is, then, a suspension of rights that is more apparent than real, the sacrifice of juridical guarantees that evil elements had abused to the detriment of order itself and of the common good. This sacrifice is entirely directed toward the protection of the true rights of the good.

By definition, this suspension is temporary. It must prepare circumstances for a return to order and normality as soon as possible. A dictatorship, to the degree it is good, proceeds to put an end to its very reason for being. The intervention of public authority in the various sectors of the national life must be undertaken in such a way that, as soon as possible, each sector may live with the necessary autonomy. Thus, each family should be allowed to do everything it is capable of doing by its nature, being supported by higher social groups only in a subsidiary way in what is beyond its sphere of action. These groups, in turn, should only receive the help of their municipality in what exceeds their normal capacity, and so on up the line in the relations between the municipality and the region or between the region and the country.

The essential end of a legitimate dictatorship nowadays must be the Counter-Revolution. This does not mean a dictatorship is normally necessary for the defeat of the Revolution. But, in certain circumstances, it may be.

In contrast, a revolutionary dictatorship aims to perpetuate itself. It violates authentic rights and penetrates all spheres of society to destroy them. It carries out this destruction by sundering family life, harming the genuine elites, subverting the social hierarchy, fomenting utopian ideas and disorderly ambitions in the multitudes, extinguishing the real life of the social groups, and subjecting everything to the State. In short, it favors the work of the Revolution. A typical example of such a dictatorship was Hitlerism.

For this reason, a revolutionary dictatorship is fundamentally anti-Catholic. In fact, in a truly Catholic ambience, there can be no climate for such a situation.

This is not to say that a revolutionary dictatorship in one or another country has not sought to favor the Church. But this is merely a question of a political attitude that is transformed into open or veiled persecution as soon as the ecclesiastical authority begins to hinder the pace of the Revolution.

Introducing Historical Insight on the Contemporary Crisis

Revolution and Counter-Revolution
by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Originally published as Revolução e Contra-Revolução, in Catolicismo, April 1959 (Parts I and II) and January 1977 (Part III)

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