Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
How ‘Peaceful Coexistence’ Enables Russia to Invade Other Nations
A Lesson on Private Property and
the Natural Law
This lecture in Buenos Aires on November 6, 1964 was originally titled, “The Freedom of the Church in the Communist State.”
Reverend Fathers, military authorities, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure and privilege to speak to this audience, and I say so not just out of kindness. Indeed, it is truly satisfying for a speaker to communicate with his listeners and realize that everyone stands for the same ideals, has the same mindset, and cares about the same problems.
That is a pleasure, particularly when there is a growing perception in Brazil, Argentina, and other Latin American countries that they face the same issues. More than in other historical epochs, one can say that everything unites us, and nothing separates us.
Therefore, I am gladly addressing tonight what I see as a basic issue in today’s life. Today we are facing such an accumulation of problems that it is no small thing to say that this one is basic.
Imagine that you are in the Kremlin. Top leaders of international communism hold a meeting and ask themselves a vital question. They managed to dominate Russia and the unfortunate countries handed over to them by an ill-fated policy of the victorious Allies of the Second World War. They managed to conquer a swath of Asia. Although not very conspicuously, they extend their domination over the whole of North Africa. They set foot in Cuba and can even take over nearby Bolivia—would God that I am wrong. The communists have, so to speak, pincer-like arms growing everywhere to dominate the world.
However, they cannot control the world all at once and are obliged to move gradually through a process. Of course, they want to dominate the world immediately. Why don’t they do it? It is because they have obstacles.
What might these obstacles be? What is the primary difficulty that obliges them to do only gradually what they would like to do immediately?
The fundamental question for communist strategists must be to weaken that primary obstacle and make it eventually crumble from one moment to the next so they can spread throughout the West and the non-communist world like a torrent of barbarians.
That is a fundamental question also for us. Because all other issues lose their meaning and importance if we look at the foundations of our still vaguely Christian civilization-- if you can call it so – and pose the communism v Christian civilization alternative.
How important are education, health, finance, and industrial development compared to the big problem, the great alternative, communism or non-communism?
This alternative obviously supersedes all the rest. Therefore, for the communists and for us, the big question is to know what that obstacle is, realize its importance and strengthen it while the communists try to weaken it.
Therefore, this is a fundamental, vital question at the strategic level.
I have mentioned, in recent lectures, the real difficulty communists are facing. The real barrier against international communism is the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Looking at the issue according to earthly realities, the real barrier on the natural plane is the profound adhesion many souls give the Roman Catholic Church, with the unpredictable reactions and the natural and supernatural strength that arises when she is persecuted.
In this regard, I remember two episodes I read in the Osservatore Romano many years ago, which show the true nature of that obstacle. When talking about obstacles, we immediately think of weapons or economic sanctions. Do not think, ladies and gentlemen, that this is primarily about weapons. Instead, the two episodes I read about in the Osservatore Romano are symptoms of the situation in Russia.
The first episode took place among a poor population mystified by communist propaganda, in a Catholic village, perhaps in Ukraine, the most Catholic part of Soviet Russia. A parish priest bribed by the Soviets was saying Mass in a crowded church. In the sermon, he turns to the people and says, “My dear faithful, I must tell you that until now, I have made a mockery of my whole life to earn money. I do not believe in the Catholic Church as the Church of God. I do not even believe there is a God. It was a scam for me to earn a living. God does not exist, nor do I believe in Him. Nobody believes in Him in the clergy or episcopate. You, who believe it, are fools.” He came down from the pulpit in his full vestments, stopped the Mass, and left. The audience was appalled. Do you know what the peasants filling the church did? They all got up, sang the Creed to the end, and dispersed.
Here you see a psychological resistance, a capacity to counter a spiritual atomic bomb of the worst kind. It indicates a force that you cannot subdue by weapons, a force that becomes contagious, and not only contagious but winning, dominating, and multiplying. A small episode like this beckons something like a force of nature that begins to show.
The Soviets, who know history very well and are aware of the ultimate causes of the great failures of the revolutions that preceded communism, are very keen to analyze such occurrences.
Another event I read about in the Osservatore Romano is the story of two boys in a village where communists were planning to close the local church, desecrate the Blessed Sacrament, and forbid all worship. The two boys overheard a conversation between two communists planning to attack the church during the night. The boys decide to wait inside the church to defend the Blessed Sacrament in their pristine devotion. They spend the whole night there alone. When morning arrives, they hear the communists forcing the door and entering. Then, presumably-- there were no witnesses—they climb the altar and cover the tabernacle with their bodies. The communists enter and order them to leave. They say, “We would rather die lest you desecrate Our Lord.” The communists shoot and kill those innocent victims on the altar.
Episodes like that are not negligible. Here it is not just about two boys who die or some peasants singing the Creed. These are symptoms, and good sociologists know the importance of symptoms just as doctors know a patient’s symptoms. While an isolated fact has a slight meaning in some situations, there are other situations when an episode does have a telltale value.
In this specific case, it is clearly something symptomatic that repeats itself in the history of the Church over the ages and which communists see as posing a great danger.
A great danger in what sense?
You could say, “But there were such symptoms in Russia, and yet they dominated religion and put an end to everything. So why do they intervene with so many brutal measures? Prof. Plinio, are you not exaggerating the importance of these symptoms? Granted, they are symptoms; but what is their practical importance?”
That is easy to answer. The practical importance of such symptoms is not found at the moment of domination or initial resistance. It appears later, and I can summarize it with something from the memoirs of Napoleon, which made a deep impression on me. On the island of Saint Helena - where Divine Providence very deservedly thrown him – Napoleon had evening conversations with his last faithful friends. The latter wrote down what he said along with the memories he dictated. One of those companions, a very open and aggressive anticlerical, asked Napoleon: “Your Majesty, why did you make the mistake of re-establishing the Catholic religion? Why did you allow parish priests to resume their old work of evangelization? The clergy did nothing for you when the Austrians, Russians and Prussians invaded French territory, and you fell. That was your reward.”
Napoleon gave him this profound answer: “We verified that French Catholics clandestinely reorganized after an initial moment of disorganization and bewilderment. Their clandestine resistance was such that either we had to massacre a good part of the population or the clandestine resistance would continue.” It was not armed resistance but perseverance in prayer, frequenting the sacraments, and a hostile attitude toward the atheist State imposed by the French Revolution.
Napoleon went on: “At the Directory, we found the police had evidence of numerous clandestine seminaries run and taught by clandestine priests. These priests were energetic and very intransigent. These intransigent and combative priests formed a new and combative clergy for France. As their resistance was perpetuating itself, it was better to restore the freedom of the Church and interfere in the appointment of seminary professors and directors, as well as bishops, and to place easygoing and accomodating clergy in those positions. Then the Church would lose more ground than with direct persecution.”
This formula made me believe more in Napoleon’s intelligence than everything I read about his battles, reforms, and public works. There is something Machiavellian about it. When you cannot break down obstacles and remove them, you have to go around them, and the communists know it.
So it seems that they are carrying out a comprehensive maneuver for the following purposes: How to get people accustomed to things so that resistance to communism vanishes from among the five hundred million Catholics worldwide? How to run politics and pose problems and situations to have those five hundred million Catholics stop reacting? How to make the influence Catholics have on other churches, including non-Christian ones drag a vast segment of this God-believing world under an officially atheistic State? Once they get used to accepting life in an atheistic State by dint of sensitivity, habit, and the force of routine and repetition, it will be much easier to push them to accept atheism. They will have allowed their institutions and government to be placed under the yoke of atheists. The atheists will have gone a long way toward the final and violent offensive by attaining domination.
Fledgling signs of a mutation in communism are beginning to appear everywhere.
Communists have launched a new buzzword, “coexistence.” As usually happens with their things, it has something rogue about it; it contains bad seeds, error, and confusion.
Indeed, things that coexist are things that exist together and at the same time. Therefore, even the most contrary things coexist. For example, there is a momentary coexistence between a murderer and his victim before the latter is killed. Both ‘coexist’ in a state of struggle and reaction but coexist. Thus, in the natural sense of the word, coexistence does not depend on the will of the parties. There is coexistence, whether they coexist with disgust or pleasure.
Now, “peaceful coexistence” has a special meaning. It is the coexistence of contrary parties that remain opposed and do not hide they are. But since one lacks enough strength to eliminate the other, they try to continue fighting in a self-contained or moderate fashion that does not seem too radical. Under some standpoints, and in some cases, they even can collaborate.
Coexistence supporters claim it is possible to establish coexistence between the Church and communists. They say that if Catholics remain adamant against communism, there is a danger of a world war leading to a nuclear catastrophe. Differences in political, economic, and social regimes are not the only cause of war but can create rivalries that can easily lead to war.
Since nuclear war would destroy humanity – and destruction is the worst of all evils – both communists and Catholics would be interested in coexisting to avoid war.
Such coexistence would happen on several planes—first, an international coexistence between capitalist and communist powers. Hence you establish diplomatic, cultural, and business relations with Russia and its satellite countries, cultural exchange, tourism, etc.
Then would come another form of coexistence: between Catholics and communists in communist-dominated countries. Here is the crux of the matter. For example, in Poland—a massively and heroically Catholic nation—the communists cannot do what they did in Russia, where they closed churches and severely curtailed freedom of worship. They did not want to do so in Poland. They allowed worship but demanded that Catholics accept the communist regime as a fait accompli and not revolt. Catholics had to take a limitation of their activities and apostolate to avoid creating difficulties that could lead to revolution. A revolution could lead to war, and war could lead to an atomic catastrophe. Catholics would have to behave like happy children, sitting on their hands but free to pray and receive the sacraments.
As you can see, this form of coexistence highly resembles that between a lion and a sheep. The lion looks at the sheep with a terrible look as if wanting to devour it. But it lets the poor thing live a little while so it does not look too disgruntled or terrified. Let it remain delighted and easygoing until the lion pounces. So is peaceful coexistence.
What is the result of this proposal, which the Russians make indirectly rather than officially? They do not speak officially of coexistence but implement it in Poland and start a bit in Russia. With their smile, which we know too well, some famous Christian Democrat leftists propose the same thing. And they present it with the superiority of someone who found an elegant formula that only silly or ‘retarded’ minds cannot understand. They behave condescendingly as experienced chemists handle and play with explosives to show that coexistence poses no danger. They sport a little smile with a look of pity for poor people like us who believe that coexistence is dangerous.
Accordingly, a diffuse idea of coexistence pops up here and there, becomes more assertive in some circles, and spreads. Coexistence hangs in the air as a possibility, something not clearly defined, which may be lawful or not, but that is a moot point because it is vitally needed. Indeed, someone may ask, “What do you want? A nuclear catastrophe? You must be crazy!” And the argument is over.
We thus have, for many years now, a Catholic opinion used to seeing the problem arise without being entirely resolved.
What should Catholics do, for example, when Russia attacks another country? The path of duty is no longer clear in their minds. You cannot propose heroism to them because you run into this question: Is it reasonable or obligatory to be heroic in this situation if coexistence is possible? To his old father, mother, wife, or children, someone may say: “Think about it: do you have the right to advise these people to resist and thus turn them into martyrs? Is it lawful to expose them to the temptation of martyrdom? Martyrdom is a temptation. Is it lawful for humanity to expose itself to the risk of atomic attack with an attitude of resistance or negativism?”
Now, people’s moral fiber breaks down when a situation calls for taking a heroic position, and they are perplexed and hesitant. At the moment of danger, very many people will evidently lack the psychological means to resist. In other words, when the ghost of coexistence is allowed to hover in the air, you have an ongoing, first-rate maneuver of psychological warfare they will take advantage of when Russia invades another nation.
Let us say, for example, that Italy is invaded (God forbid because there is the papacy, center of our hearts) or that the communists win an election there—something which, as you know, is not far from happening. After the election, we have a communist government and regime that eliminates (legally, if not in fact) private property and the institution of the family. Yet, we also have coexistence, with freedom for the Church. Catholics can travel there, enter churches, and leave. They return to their countries saying, “Oh! It is not so bad in Italy. Naturally, they had to tighten their belts; property owners are gone, and the family is legally over, but the Church is still there, and that is the essential thing!”
What is the result of this living example? Five hundred million Catholics lose their primary reasons for resisting. With that, in my opinion, the great barrier or difficulty the communists face to dominate the world will have collapsed to the ground.
Therefore, it seems vital for us to ask whether and to what extent this resistance is legitimate, necessary, and indispensable; and to what extent coexistence is legitimate, necessary, or indispensable.
I find it appropriate to give some reflections on this problem tonight.
As you can see, Soviet expansion worldwide is truly one of the biggest problems – if not the biggest – we are facing.
The first thing I find essential to emphasize is that the institutions of private property and the family are not a privilege to those who are part of them. The family is not a personal privilege of its members. True, there is a personal interest of a husband in his wife and vice versa; parents have a right over their children; the children have a right to be protected by their parents; these are personal rights.
However, this does not mean that the family is an institution that functions as a privilege for those who constitute it. It does confer benefits and advantages, but it is an institution of Natural Law derived from the profound order of things. Attempting to suppress the family is so shocking to anyone with a Catholic sense that it is easy to see there will never be a coexistence based on the de facto suppression of the family. One cannot even remotely conceive of an order of things in which coexistence is possible while at the same time the family is suppressed and the legitimate possibility of perpetuating the human species no longer exists.
That is so obvious that I think we can set this problem aside and raise another hypothesis.
Is coexistence possible if the communists suppress the family but allow private property to continue?
Suppose it is impossible to prevent a communist State from abolishing private property. If the Church has freedom of worship and teaching; if she can teach Catholic doctrine in its entirety, speak out against atheism and communism, and defend the family and private property, coexistence evidently should be accepted.
The question is what conditions the communists will demand to implement that coexistence. Suppose they would allow the Church to preach dogma but prevent her from rejecting communist doctrine or attacking communism or atheism. She may say that God exists but cannot refute communism by proving that atheism is false. She can tell the truth but not fight error.
Besides, the communists might say, “let her teach Catholic doctrine but not talk about private property. At most, she can say that, in theory, the regime of private property would be better, but since the facts do not allow it, one can suppress or leave it out because the Church prepares souls for heaven and not earth. The Church has nothing to do with economic regimes or private property. Her sole task is to lead souls to heaven. So Catholics must accept the communist economic and social regime without remorse or regret.”
What is the authentic Catholic position facing this hypothesis, which is likely a first step to consolidate an illegitimate order of things and start a great persecution?
As Pope Leo XIII aptly said, the family, like private property, is an institution of Natural Law. This has been consistent church teaching, and all popes have always said it, but Leo XIII did so with a clear, admirable, and masterly exposition.
What is the origin of private property? What is private property in essence?
Private property is a moral principle. It is an institution that flows from a moral principle. And this moral principle is directly linked to human nature.
What is this moral principle, and how is it demonstrated?
There is in all of nature a principle that relates to all living beings. It is the principle of the correlation between the needs of a living being and the means it has to satisfy them.
Take, for example, a bird. A bird is light, and so it can fly. Flying enables it to flee from its enemies. A bird is hungry; it has a beak with which it takes food and nourishes itself; it has feathers to protect its body against the cold. There is in every living being a natural correlation between its anatomy, physiology, and needs.
This correlation also exists in man. He is a being endowed with intelligence and will. Somehow infinitely superior to animals, he not only has instincts but knows what suits him. He also has a will that drives him to do what suits him. So, it is natural for man to use his body, intellect and will to satisfy his personal needs by employing the resources available to his intellect and will.
Man has the right to satisfy his needs with his body, intellect and will because his intelligence belongs to him and so do his will and body (one cannot speak of rights when it comes to animals). Therefore, he has the right to use it to satisfy his individual needs. He is free by nature, and that is why slavery is illegitimate. Slavery denies man the right to dispose of himself, which is in human nature, and that is why all of us oppose slavery. Whoever denies this right proclaims himself a partisan of slavery.
What is the consequence of this right? Take, for example, a fisherman on a beach. He knows there are fish in the sea; he takes a boat he made, goes to the sea, catches the fish, and eats them. Did he exercise a right? Yes. What right is that? It is the right of appropriation.
Fish were made for man. A man is hungry and wants fish. He catches a fish and eats it. The moment he takes the fish, he appropriates it like he does a fruit hanging from a tree, which he picks and eats. What right does he have to do so? If the tree has no owner, he has the right to appropriate it. For example, in my country [Brazil], five million square kilometers belong either to the government or to no one and have not been occupied. If a person enters a plot of land there and settles down, he practices an act of rightful appropriation because the earth is as virgin as it was at the time of Adam and Eve. This earth was made for humanity, for real people. If a person goes there, he has the right to appropriate it. That is appropriation.
Since man has the right to appropriate the things he needs, says Leo XIII, by his intelligence, he sees that his needs are recurrent, so he has the right to provide for the stable satisfaction of his needs rationally. Whence, after appropriating the fruit, he also appropriates the tree. By the same mechanism, he acquires ownership of an instrument of production. A man realizes he can catch fish with a rod or line; he adapts a stick, makes a line, and becomes the owner of the rod and line and the fish he catches.
In other words, these properties derive directly from the availability of goods that have not been appropriated; this availability is related to man’s ability to dispose of himself. At the root of everything is man’s right to dispose of his personality.
Therefore, individual property is not a privilege contrary to the common good or that could oppose it. Evidently, it must adapt to the common good and has a social function that must be coordinated with the common good. This adaptation or coordination is a function of property but not the same thing as property. Property cannot be abolished because that would suppress man’s right over himself. It is a natural right and cannot be eliminated.
That is why two Commandments of God’s Law (even if one would entirely suffice) deal with private property by forbidding stealing and coveting one neighbor’s goods.
What is the reason for that? It is because the Decalogue is not a set of arbitrary laws. The Decalogue is the set of fundamental principles of the Natural Order revealed by God. Because of that, God imposed two Commandments that are eternal and absolutely cannot be eliminated. These two Commandments are part of God’s Law and, therefore, no Catholic can fail to see any order based on the suppression of property as absolutely and profoundly unlawful. That suppression is a violation of the Natural Order and two Commandments of the Law of God.
Can the Church dispense with teaching two Commandments of the Law of God? She cannot. God did not say to the Church: “Teach My Gospel more or less as long as it does not get too uncomfortable,” as would a somewhat Christian-democrat God if you know what I mean... (laughs). The Church’s mission is to teach the entire Law, and therefore she cannot dispense with it or accept a pact to silence part of the Law. The Law is a whole; the Law is a set. No part of it can be ignored without mutilating the whole. It is like a person’s face. You cannot say, “well, so-and-so is my friend, and I don’t want to kill him. But his face is very nice, so I will gouge his eyes out.” That is absurd; it is the creation of a monster.
The Law of God minus some of its fundamental elements is monstrous. It is not simply diminished but disfigured, like a countenance in which something indispensable is turned inside out or withdrawn. Therefore, one cannot do it.
However, there is a deeper, practical reason. If the principle I stated-- repeating Leo XIII-- is true, then private property restarts at every moment. When a man works, his salary does not belong to the State but naturally belongs to him. When a man fishes, the catch does not naturally belong to the State but to the fisherman, and so on. In a communist State, people are continuously using robbed or stolen goods because property cannot be suppressed and is reborn at every moment. How can you receive or sell something you know is stolen? Here is a concrete, most lively, and delicate problem of conscience that you cannot ignore.
It seems to me there is something even more important: They say that private property does not concern eternal salvation and that the Church’s mission is to prepare souls for the glory of God. But how do you prepare souls for the glory of God? You do it by making them know and love God on this earth. That must be true knowledge and true love. One must truly love the true God as He truly is. When, at the end of his earthly journey, a person reaches the point where God wanted him to live, he will be judged by the true love and true knowledge he had of the true God.
How do you get to know God? One of the best ways to know God is through His Law. The prophets loved God’s Law. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught it with divine authority and marvelous examples. He gave the Church the mission to teach the Law so that men might know God. Just as a king is known by the laws he makes, so God is known by the laws He made. A person with the Law of God imprinted in his soul is a symbol.
How can you deface the Laws of God? Can you not teach it or teach a mutilated version of it, give it to understand that good is evil and evil is good, that private property is unnecessary, common property is legitimate, and later strive to convey an accurate idea of God?
Justice is one of God’s infinite virtues. How can you have an idea of a just God if you have no idea of justice? How can you have an idea of justice if you do not have the notion of “mine” and “yours”? Is not the notion of “mine,” “yours,” and “theirs” the very foundation of the idea of justice? How can you remove “mine” and “yours” without uprooting the idea of justice from its foundations and destroying it? How can you seek to teach people what God is like and to love Him if you do not teach them what justice is? God is not simply just; He is Justice itself. When such a soul reaches eternity, he cannot reproach us, saying, “I found the righteous God but not the God I expected. In my life, I could not love the true God because you mentioned His name and taught His words but did not give me His laws. I lived and died with God’s name in my mouth but without the truth about God in my heart because that fundamental notion was absent.” “To whom much has been given, much will be asked.” This terrible reproach could be leveled at Catholics who accept facts of this nature.
To summarize, I will quickly mention another very profound circumstance.
A fully coherent regime like the Russian one teaches its line of coherence implicitly and explicitly with great force. All its institutions and habits speak of common property. All life is based on collective ownership. This penetrates people’s pores, looks absolutely natural, and begins to feel like second nature. They do not even realize that this is not right. How can the Church form souls if it is not free to say that there must be private property and to explain to what extent it is an injustice not to have private property? How can the Church form souls deeply accustomed to an order of things based on injustice, which molds their mentality through today’s multiple types of pressure?
Therefore, as you can see, ladies and gentlemen, there is a violation of fundamental elements of justice. People are owed the truth, and anything is better than denying it to them.
You may say to me, “but professor, what will happen then? Are you pushing us toward an atomic bomb? It is very nice to say all this in peacetime tranquility or in a city like Buenos Aires or São Paulo, which probably will not be the target of nuclear weapons. But imagine a city like New York, London, or Paris, that a nuclear bomb will most likely hit. Do you think people can accept that?”
The most important thing is not that they accept it but that they are told and take personal responsibility.
There is something else. In my opinion, the most direct way to arrive at a nuclear attack would be to accept such a pact to avoid it. The reason is that, while people often are punished for their sins on this earth, they also have eternal punishment. Here they are also rewarded for their virtues, but their main reward is eternal.
However, Saint Augustine tells us that is not the case with nations. No nation will exist in heaven or hell. Nations are moral beings, and moral beings do not go beyond the limits of time. So, when a nation sins grievously, its punishment comes on this earth. If a nation does an act of virtue, it will receive its reward on this earth. Joseph De Maistre gave a beautiful exposition on this issue in which he shows, for example, the earthly happiness of missionary nations. He shows that great missionary nations while remaining true to their missionary spirit, are the great dominating nations on earth. How true this is of the Spanish and Portuguese nations from which we come!
Accordingly, the sin of imposing such a [coexistence] formula on Catholics and the sin they collectively committed by accepting it would not just be an individual but a collective and national sin. And that sin would have to be paid for on this earth. No one could be surprised if that payment on earth were precisely a nuclear catastrophe. Because, instead of trusting God, placing our hope in Him, and asking Him to save us from nuclear catastrophe, we trusted the word of Russians, handed over power to them, and opened the gates of our countries to them. Instead of making a pact with the thrice-holy and infinitely faithful God, asking Him to descend with His Angels visibly or invisibly to save us, we placed our trust in the powers of darkness, saying, “here are our hands, handcuff them; here are the keys to our homes, governments and institutions: keep it all. We trust in you; you will do us no harm.”
Could such sin not be the cause of an atomic deluge? Would God’s mercy subject the world to nuclear catastrophe if that huge sin did not happen? One could at least hope not. While there are reasons for mercy while this sin is committed – mercy is infinite – there are many reasons to be afraid of justice!
Now, imagine a people who dare to say: “I do not know how God will operate. I do not know how He will save us. But I say NO, that is not legitimate! I trust in God and in Our Lady who assists me, in the angels and patroness saints of nations who defend me. I say NO! Let the world fall on me. I will be faithful and say NO unto death! I will do like Saint Cecilia the martyr, with her neck severely cut but still alive, whom Catholics saw raise three fingers to indicate the Blessed Trinity. That was her profession of faith at the gates of death.
As nations, we could be prostrated to the ground and seemingly annihilated. But we would say NO and raise our three fingers to proclaim, “the Blessed Trinity exists, Our Lady exists, and they will help us!”
I say heaven and earth could pass, but God would not abandon those nations. I am not afraid of nuclear bombs as far as they are concerned: I fear cowardice. That is why I wish my beloved Brazil and your likewise beloved Argentina a destiny of heroism, fidelity, and confidence in Providence.