Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira


False Alternative










Legionário, No. 723, June 16, 1946

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At least from a certain point of view, one can sum up in a few lines the whole struggle of the Church against liberals in the last century. Wary of the excesses of public power, they so diminished the power of authority that they made it powerless not only to contain illegalities but even to maintain public order. The Church teaches that this is evil. Nobody has the right to do evil. Thus, any political constitution that deprives the State of the power to repress evil promptly and entirely is wrong on its very basis. With tragic eloquence, the facts proved the teaching of the Church right. Just read political letters of most Western nations in the last century and the early decades of this century. All of them tied up the public power, so that, unable to contain the rising tide of anarchy, it had no choice but to watch the slow and inevitable wreck of social order. Well analyzed, this error derives from the idea that it is not possible to organize the State so well that it represses evil without at the same time sacrificing people’s freedom to do good. Faced with this initial statement, preferring anarchy to despotism, liberals let public interests slide down the ramp of liberalism and the dissolution of all social life.

This point, which is the real nerve of the issues raised between Catholics and liberals, has never been taken seriously. Many thought that faced with an ‘inevitable’ alternative between excessive freedom and the abuse of authority, a liberal supported the former and the Church the latter.

However, the Church contests the scientific value of the anarchy-despotism alternative. Since God so wonderfully arranges the universal order as far as inanimate and irrational beings are concerned, it would be monstrous to imagine that He did so imperfectly with man. Man has qualities in a potential state that enable him to establish human society even more perfectly than that observed among irrational beings, bees or ants. Otherwise, man would not be God’s masterpiece.

That said, human society’s normal condition cannot be found in these tragic alternatives: either moving toward anarchy or moaning under the weight of despotism. The possibility of organizing human society stably, lastingly, and normally, attaining a balance and not tending toward either of these extremes has to exist and does exist.

It is precisely for this reason that the Church condemns liberals who prefer the path of anarchy. She refuses to choose between the two ways of perdition. Avoiding the abysses opening up on one side and the other, she points to humanity the right path, which tends toward neither anarchy nor despotism. This path is the Christian order.

* * *

Liberals sought to deceive the Church for many decades. The liberal monster had a thousand faces to suit all tastes. One face smiled at the Church, trying to attract and fascinate her naive children. Another looked at the Church with an apprehensive and frowning smirk to paralyze fearful Catholics. Yet another looked at the Church with the same suspicion, boredom, and peevishness with which the prodigal son looked around his father’s house when bidding farewell. These are maneuvers to discourage a reaction from authentic Catholics, who feared a mass apostasy of their liberal Catholic brethren. Yet, that does not complete the description of the hydra. With a thousand other heads and aspects—anti-clericalism, free thought, anarchism—it drove an assault of churches, carried out profanations of tabernacles and images, murdered priests and consecrated virgins, kings, and heads of State. From 1789 to this day, that mob of nihilists, oil workers, Carbonarians and bandits has not ceased to operate here or there.

In the liberal camp, such disparate attitudes had to correspond to a great diversity of tendencies in the Catholic field in terms of how to face the hydra and fight it.

Rare were those who perceived all its faces. Of these, even rarer were those who understood that these multiple faces did not portray an inner hesitation in the great hydra’s tendencies, that every smile was a lie, and that every blasphemy was true. Despite its seeming uncertainties and contradictions, liberalism was logical, inflexible, and unchanging in its march toward anarchy and atheism.

So many faces had to speak many different languages. In the field of pure doctrine, not everything that liberalism proposed was necessarily condemnable as such.

Thus, one could agree with some liberal claims without implicitly professing doctrine condemned by the Church.

What should one do? Agree with what was possible and then try to tame the beast? Or strongly attack it straight away and without hesitation?

They tried a little of everything. In the end, considering the evolution of Europe in the 19th century, only one truth stands out clearly. Despite all attempts at Catholic collaboration, the liberal movement took over Europe and fulfilled its essential objectives. It de-Christianized and secularized Europe, dissolved the family and the State, and dragged the contemporary world down a path that took it only two steps away from anarchy.

The sudden feeling of terror at this anarchy was the driving force leading to the opposite reaction: Fascism and Nazism.

* * *

Faced with the false “despotism-anarchy” alternative, totalitarians of all stripes preferred despotism to react against anarchy.

Did they get it right? Of course not. Because they once again failed to free themselves from the wrong alternative. They stuck to it, and fleeing liberalism, they slipped from the peak of the dilemma to the bottom of the abyss. They did not understand that it was not a question of choosing between two precipices but looking for the Way that does not lead to chasms but Heaven.

Accordingly, instead of taking us to Christian Civilization, the reaction against anarchy has led us to another disaster: the Moloch State.

Let this be said so we clearly understand that liberalism and despotism have a common root. What despotism? Political colors do not matter. Whether a flag is brown, red, or black, it is always despotism. If this despotism is mild, benign, and soft like the rosy despotism the Labor government seeks to establish in England, it will still be despotism.

Socialism today, like Nazism yesterday and liberalism the day before yesterday, puts on a thousand faces. One of them smiles at the Church, the other threatens her, yet another speaks against her.

The attitude of Catholics throughout the world but especially in Europe to counter this new socialism, as they countered liberalism in the past, can only be resolute, frank, inflexible, and fearless combat.

Socialism is not a wild animal that you can tame. An apocalyptic monster, it combines the falsehood of the fox with the violence of the tiger. Let us not forget this, lest the facts end up teaching it to us in a brutal way.

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