Plinio Corręa de Oliveira
TFP - Tradition
Folha de S. Paulo, 12th March 1969 (*)
When we speak of tradition, many people think of England, the Queen the House of Lords, Rolls Royces, top hats and British distinction and poise…
All of these impressions, considered as a whole, cause divergent reactions in people's minds.
Very many see tradition under different hues as time goes by, depending on the varying impressions current lifestyles successively cause upon them. At times, the hustle and bustle of huge modern cities fascinate them. They feel enthused about today's colossal organizations, mammoth planning and technology all of which are turning science fiction into reality. At those moments, tradition looks like a sad backwardness to many of our contemporaries.
In the midst of the whirlwind that is overthrowing all hierarchies and blowing away all clothing, tradition feels like stifling yoke. But when the triumphant vulgarity of an increasingly egalitarian world, the noisy, frantic, and hurly-burly rhythm of daily life, and the instability threatening all institutions, all rights and all situations cause neurosis, anguish and stress in millions of our contemporaries, then tradition appears to them as an elevated rest for the soul, good sense, good breeding, good order and, in a word, the art of living wisely.
The question then is what to make of tradition? What should we think of those moments of excessive longing and the long days of inordinate distaste so similar to the bouts of hunger and loss of appetite of some patients?
There are many who don’t know how to resolve the fleeting and subtle spiritual dilemma that at times tears their souls in regard to this question. And because of this, they flee from the topic. Undoubtedly, this flight produces a wall of silence about this matter. In general, however, this silence does not mean indifference. On the contrary, it is a result of both perplexity and hypersensitivity. The subject is too painful. Isn’t it better, then, to duck it and have a drink?
The crimson standards with the golden rampant lion that the TFPs raise in so many cities all over the world, invite us not to be disheartened and weakly shirk the issue, but to resolve it and thus acquire an internal peace that only the truth gives entirely and that all the drinks in the world cannot provide.
Why does our standard cause reactions far more lively than the emblem of any party or association? Why does it stir up sympathies and antipathies of all kinds, ranging from people kissing it filled with admiration, gazing at it as if singing a hymn of praise, to hateful attempts to rip it and hurl it to the ground? To a great extent, I believe it is precisely because it raises that problem.
What then, does this standard mean? That the past should have stood still? That everything of the present should be accepted?
The TFP standard does not flee from the problem. It denies it. It denies that tradition is only the past and therefore does not fit into the present. True tradition, in principle, is neither for the past as such nor for the present as such. It presupposes two principles: (a) that every authentic and living order of things has in itself a continuous impulse toward improvement and perfection; (b) that, therefore, true progress is not to break but to go on to the heights.
In short, tradition is the sum of the past plus a present that is akin to it. Today should not be the denial of yesterday, but rather its harmonious continuation.
In more concrete terms, our Christian tradition is an incomparable value that must rule the present. It acts, for example, so that equality may not be understood as the sweeping away of the elites and as an apotheosis of vulgarity; so that liberty may not serve as a pretext for chaos and depravity; so that dynamism does not become frenzy; so that technology does not enslave man. In a word, it aims to prevent progress from becoming inhuman, unbearable, and hateful.
Therefore, tradition does not mean to stifle progress, but to protect it from going absurdly far astray as to become organized barbarity. That barbarity against which another barbarity arises, disheveled and furious: that of Marcusianism. (**)
(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. American TFP.
(**) Herbert Marcuse — a philosopher and social theorist born in Berlin in 1898 who held that man must give free rein to his instincts, behaving as he pleases whatever the circumstances.