Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira


Medieval Paternalism


Progressivist Neo-Slavery





"Catolicismo" N. 177 - September 1965 (*)

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What should be thought of the quotes below?

"Whereas the interest in and tendency toward maximum productivity continue to be dominant and absolute, private property has ceased to be a projection of the individual, a kind of necessary support of his individuality in the world of things, to become - this is something Christians especially should keep in mind - a negative conditioner of his individuality. In fact one may affirm, as authoritative lawyers of certainly not anti-Christian inspiration have, that today it is no longer the proprietor who owns the property but the property that possesses the proprietor."

Whoever professes this strange philosophy does not just reduce man to the condition of a wage earner nor even the slave of another man; instead, he makes him the slave of a bureaucratic and mechanical production system - a system endowed with a power similar to that which an owner has over his possessions.

"Let us consider the field of penal law. On one hand, today we are witnessing a profound change in the way of measuring the gravity of certain infractions. On the other hand, we are seeing a growing increase, that may appear censurable of prosecution of actions that were considered criminally irrelevant in the past.

"The most serious offenses are no longer crimes committed against the individual or his property, but those that touch upon social values in any way. Consequently the need is felt to sanction penally every behavior which manifests an attempt not so much against an individual or the social order, understood in the old meaning of the absence of clashes between individuals, but rather as an attempt against the attainment of that purposefulness that has now past from the individual and society to the State. Every crime indeed is a crime in-as-much as it is a political crime."

Anyone who thinks like this believes that individuals do not have rights of their own and that the State is the exclusive holder of all rights. ...


"Man's physical health ... is no longer merely a very personal asset of the individual, but rather an asset of the collectivity, so much so that its well-being is guaranteed by the Constitution."

In the perspective of the previous texts one sees well where this one can lead. For if, indeed, the individual has no rights, the State's right over the public health absolutely supersedes any shadow of right the individual may have over his own health. Consequently, this principle could lead forthwith to slavery.

Who holds these opinions so terribly imbued with the spirit of the slave state? Some fanatic adherent of the despotic monarchy that ruled the Orient in the past? Or is it some cruel feudal lord as depicted by some popular history book influenced by fairytale fantasy?

No. They belong to one of those progressivist Catholics who live to malign, by labeling them as tyrannical, the best and most persistent Christian traditions of the Middle Ages. They are the opinions of Mr. Gian Paolo Meucci, judge and professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Florence, Italy, who contributes to newspapers and magazines like Il Popolo, L'Italia and Testimonianze. Prof. Meucci wrote, the chapter "Verso lo Stato di domani" (Toward the State of tomorrow), for the controversial book Dialogo alla Prova (Dialogue put to Test) (Mario Gozzini, ed., Mezzo Secolo, Vallechi Editore, Florence, 1964), on which Italian Catholics and communists collaborated.

Thus so many progressivists who decrying what they call medieval paternalism as a system incompatible with human dignity end up carrying their idolatry of the state to the point of advocating the reestablishment of a slavery typical of peoples prior to the time of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Regarding medieval paternalism, this is what Leo XIII said about workers in industry and commerce: "History attests what excellent results were brought about by the artificers' guilds of olden times. They were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art, as numerous monuments remain to bear witness. Such unions should be suited to the requirements of this our age - an age of wider education, of different habits, and of far more numerous requirements in daily life. It is gratifying to know that there are actually in existence not a few associations of this nature, consisting either of workmen alone, or of workmen and employers together, but it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient. We have spoken of them more than once, yet it will be well to explain here how notably they are needed, to show that they exist of their own right, and what should be their organization and their mode of action." (Encyclical Rerum Novarum). 

As one can see, this great pontiff thought that medieval guilds should still exist in our days, although with the necessary adaptations.

We feel much more at ease in the company of that great pope in his praise of those medieval bodies, which guarantee the rights of both employers and employees, than in the wake of the advocates of contemporary totalitarian slavery. 

(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. Ed. American TFP.

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