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Reason & Myths

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

We have seen that as a people develops, the law it elaborates is a kind of unfolding of its initial convictions-myths. The members of this people do not demand a rational foundation for those myths; they unanimously accepted that ensemble as evident without need of demonstration.

It is very interesting to ask how, a-rationally, those convictions became firmly and unanimously established in their spirit.

Historic vocation of the Greeks

As a side note, let me stress that before the Greeks, the world had not known philosophy as such. The ordered, methodic, logical questioning about man, his nature and his goals, analyzing them as a system did not exist before the Greeks.

Aristotle and Plato

Plato and Aristotle discussing philosophy
We know that God gave revelation to the Jews. I would say that He gave the gift of philosophy to the Greeks. This opinion is confirmed in St. Paul when he says, "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom" (1Cor 1:22). St. Paul was writing in the Greek language to Greeks, therefore, the expression “seek after wisdom” is synonymous with philosophia, which literally means “the friend of wisdom” (philo = the friend of and sophia = wisdom). Thus, St. Paul is referring to the Greeks love for philosophy. Even without this text of Scripture, we know from history that the Greeks received the gift of philosophy, but it is good to have this indirect confirmation in the words of St. Paul inspired by the Holy Ghost. The Jews, who had revelation, did not have philosophy.

With the Greeks, for the first time man began to order the great questions about life and man. Today it seems incredible to us that, until then, man had ignored those questions, which became elementary after the Greeks. This is because God had not yet given that gift to mankind. This gift is not a supernatural gift, but a natural gift, like the musical sense He gave the Italians.

The absence of that philosophical tool explains why the peoples of Antiquity had so many fables and legends that were believed almost without reflection.

Since we belong to a civilization that directly or indirectly maintains the cultural legacy of Rome and Greece, for us to reason is the first step of thinking. To reason is to think. But this is not common to our decadent human nature stained by original sin.

This also explains why there were almost no ideological wars among the ancient peoples. Among the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, etc., there are only brief episodes of disputes between classes, and even when they occurred, they were not based on a philosophy, like Marxism.

Abandoning the legacy of reasoning

rock concert

Sensations, not reason, direct rock concert-goers
To the degree that man decays, his capacity to reason diminishes. The man of the 18th century was more philosophical than the man of the 19th century, and the latter was much more philosophical than the man of the 20th century. With each passing century, man reasons less due to a laziness to think and discipline our mind. It is more or less like a man who learned to walk upright and then returns to crawl like a child. This represents the decay of our epoch.

We counter-revolutionaries must reason and invite all to reason. The reluctance to think is the invasion of this revolutionary virus, which is the virus of neo-paganism.

St. Paul defines faith as a rationabile obsequium (Rom 12:1), a gift given to the reason in order to enlighten and direct it. Therefore, it supposes the normal operation of reason.

When the Revolution tells us not to reason about what we see and suggests to us that it is enough to have only a fleeting glimpse of reality, it is leading us to neo-paganism. Paganism did not reason, properly speaking, but rather thrived on these fleeting glances that everyone unanimously shared.

Flaws in myths and reason & the infallibility of the Church

The belief in a myth can be more profound that reasoning itself. We see this, for example, with the partisans of Brahmanism. Regardless of what they think, the myth is wrong. Those who follow it can often see that its fables are unreasonable; nonetheless, they choose to escape from reality and surrender to the fantasy. This escape has an explanation.

If it were not for faith, reason can often disappoint a man. For example, I know that reason is a means to know the truth, but then I see that I have erred in many points of my thinking. At times reason informs me of the truth, at other times it does not; still other times it tells me a lie. Thus, how can I trust reason?

Hindu man shares food with rats

A Hindu man shares food with "sacred" rats: a flaw of Brahmanism/Hinduism
The answer to this question is that there is an authority established by God to teach me the truth; with it I can check whether my thinking is correct or not. By doing this, my reason is at peace. When I reach a conclusion in accordance with that authority, I am on the right path; when my conclusion clashes with that authority, I am wrong. But I am at peace - even when I am wrong - because I know that the Church objectively studied that topic, came to the correct conclusion, and is there to correct me.

Naturalism tells us that the main goal of reason is to understand the deepest aspect of reality. I believe there is something more essential. The primary goal of a man conceived in original sin is not to plumb the deepest aspects of reality, but to be correct. His first concern is to not be in error; then, if he is on the right path, he can go deeper. If he is wrong, to go deeper only makes his situation worse.

So, we must have the habit of verifying everything we think with the teachings of the Church. We should even check the things we feel that are in our subconscious. What passes by the test, we may keep; what fails should be discarded. The true Catholic cannot have zones in his soul that are not approved by the Magisterium of the Church. This order and cleanliness is a necessity.

Unanimity of belief in the origin of a society

After this excursus on reason and the role of the Greeks, I return to the original question about how the convictions-myths of a people are formed.

It is my opinion that an organic society cannot develop unless there is a consensus on some basic affirmations. I am not saying that those affirmations are always true. We have seen the case of the Romans who believed in the myth of their god Quirinus. The myth was wrong, but that unanimity of belief in it was indispensable for the formation of their society.

To be organic, a society should not have internal quarrels; all its members should work together to draw from that original deposit all the fruit they can. Its development comes from the inter-collaboration of all. This movement generates customs that are peacefully accepted by all.

Fortress of Faith, Catholic civilization

The fortress of Faith defending Christian Civilization from heretics and errors
When a society lacks this and is turned toward internal quarrels, as we see in the modern democracies, an organic society becomes impossible. These divergences are diseases that kill an organic society; society becomes inorganic.

Someone could object: “So, are you saying that either we must have the type of unanimity proper to the primitive peoples to build an organic society or our society will be sick?”

I answer: No, I am saying that if you have a society based on reason and enlightened by Faith, things will develop correctly. The opinions held by all guided by a rational truth that is directed by the divine and infallible Magisterium of the Church creates the ideal conditions for an organic society.

I do not defend the equation that consensus equals organic society, and since organic society equals perfection, then all society based on consensus equals a perfect society.

Consensus is not equal to perfection. It is the possession of the truth that is equal to perfection. Man only has the possession of the truth when his reason is ordered to the principles of philosophy enlightened by the Faith. In the other things, he is fallible. But when this happens, we have a consensus that lies within the context of Catholic Civilization.

Within this context each man is unique; each one sees one aspect of the truth in a special and excellent way. Altogether, this creates a harmonic convivium, a fruit that gives the best idea of truth one can have.

I believe that with this we draw near the most profound characteristic of organity society.

Posted February 20, 2012

Tradition in Action


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Prof. Plinio
Organic Society was a theme dear to the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. He addressed this topic on countless occasions during his life - at times in lectures for the formation of his disciples, at times in meetings with friends who gathered to study the social aspects and history of Christendom, at times just in passing.

Atila S. Guimarães selected excerpts of these lectures and conversations from the transcripts of tapes and his own personal notes. He translated and adapted them into articles for the TIA website. In these texts fidelity to the original ideas and words is kept as much as possible.

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