Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Afflictions of the Third Family
“Folha de S. Paulo”, October, 23th 1968
We live in complete chaos.
"What a banal way to start an article!" some might think upon reading this opening sentence.
In fact, it is banal, most banal. And I present this idea, in itself so banal, even trite, in its most elementary form to emphasize, even to the extreme, just how banal it is. By so doing, I can make my readers (even the most optimistic ones) feel how it is a certain, evident and indisputable fact that we live in this chaos. In this case, as in many others, the banality of the fact is equivalent to proof.
This sensation of chaos assails us everywhere in our daily lives. We see people at every moment whose actions today contradict those of yesterday, and will also contradict those of tomorrow. At times, in a single conversation, and often even in the same sentence, our interlocutors express convictions that are logically at odds with one another. It is increasingly rare to find persons all of whose thoughts, words and actions consistently follow several fundamental principles.
Evaluating this scenario, people can be classified into three principal families of souls:
a) People of the first family—the least numerous—understand, admire and praise coherence. Because of this, they abhor this illogical atmosphere and impute to it the worst fruits of the present and the future.
b) Those of the second family close their eyes to the fact, but when it confronts them they find a way to justify it: Such contradictions, according to them, act as necessary breaches in the ideological equilibrium from other times. They are the normal effect of turmoil that ferments in periods of transition. Since they are normal, they do not cause disasters except on the surface layer of reality and should be viewed, in final analysis, with a benign and amused indulgence. This family of souls was even more numerous some years ago, but, seeing that the so-called turmoil teeming with contradictions is taking on the mark of a farandole with a devilish tone and sinister consequences, those who continue to maintain this smiling and benign unconcern are diminishing in number.
c) Even more numerous are those persons who make up the third group or family of souls. They subsist on the chaotic contradiction of our days, living in a confused daze. What is more, to live any differently seems impossible to them. If the contradiction does at times frighten them, it is because it clashes in the depths of their souls with coherence. They would like to prolong, against the winds and seas, their agonizing world resulting from the "equilibrium" of contradictory ideas, which "regulate" themselves in an amazing coexistence. For this family of souls, ideas are formulated to float in the air, lacking any relationship with reality. Not the least risk exists, in their opinion, that this "balance" of contradictions will someday explode to the detriment of the serene and good order of the facts.
This family of souls considers this intrinsically unbalanced situation to be the quintessence of balance. And as experience plainly proves the nonviability of this equilibrium, a member from this family finds himself facing an option that terrorizes him: on one hand, chaos that tears like a hurricane through his house and life; on the other, a coherence that seems to function on a logical plane, but that is unyielding, uncaring, rigid and, in a word, inhuman.
Dismayed before such an option, the people of this family of souls come to a standstill. And so they remain, their arms crossed, in the obstinate hope that something will stop the chaos without implanting the reign of coherence.
* * *
Let us now look at some examples in this third family of souls.
Many are the homes wherein immoral television shows or foolish, and sensual books paint with fascinating colors a most promiscuous image of life. In such a home, the certainty is nourished that these images have only platonic effects. Later, if a son or daughter goes astray, everyone pleads that "they don't understand why" and that "the world today is in chaos."
Many a proprietor proclaims the most radically egalitarian ideals before his children or employees, professing that all class superiority is an insult to human dignity. (This does not stop him, nonetheless, from transacting large business deals and amassing lavish profits...) Yet if his son or daughter becomes a communist, he is astonished. If his well-paid employee begins to cause trouble, he is disconcerted. He does not understand that he is reaping the bitter fruits of the chaos and disorder he himself planted.
However, in this same family where the television programs and immoral books have found acceptance, the father and mother at times (to maintain a balance based on contradiction) preach some Christian principles of morality or order. They might, for example, speak about the legitimacy of property, denounce communism, or uphold respect for certain moral traditions. In the same factory where the owner proclaims himself to be in the socialist vanguard, anticommunist propaganda may abound.
But if a son or a worker suddenly raises the standard of the TFP, the surprise and, later, the ill will would be enormous. Who would imagine that this "equilibrium" could allow for a coherent option? That these principles of order could renounce the platonic world of ideals to engender militants who want to introduce them into the concrete order of the facts? How can everyday living accept the presence of coherent, logical persons who take seriously that which was taught them about the foundations of social order and of Christian civilization?
Thus, in short, a comfortable and affable disorder in ideals is professed by this family of souls. It is a disorder that stems from living on a totally platonic sphere, between fragments of both good and bad, of error and truth. Some, within this ambience, opt for the integrity of disorder; others, for that of order. Because of this, this family of souls is sinking in lamentations and fear.
* * *
This family of soul's situation rouses problems of the highest level. Doesn't the destruction of this equilibrium of contradictions figure importantly in a march toward a one-sided and exaggerated situation, in short, toward radicalization?
If the answer is affirmative, isn't incoherence the opposite of radicalization?
In these questions the third family of souls is writhing and fretting today.