You may have heard of an ultra-conservative Catholic group called Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), which has been involved in various efforts to oppose the initiatives of the Francis papacy. As Christopher White from Crux recently reported, Alexander Tschugguel, the man who stole the famous “Pachamama” statues from the Roman Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina during the Amazon synod, credits the ideas of TFP for changing his life when he was a teenager, most notably the influence of TFP founder Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s book Revolution and Counterrevolution.
TFP has a history going back many decades to its roots in Brazil. Although it is now a bit more of a cluster of related movements than a cohesive movement in itself, its influence is steadily growing outside its country of origin, and all Catholics who seek to defend the living Church should take note. Daniele Palmer’s recent article for Where Peter Is provides an excellent entry-point for investigations into its long and controversial history. It is important, however, to understand not only the history and influence of TFP but also the way TFP-adherents think and speak. Their rhetoric may sound benign, but it is connected to a specific ideology and it is beginning to appear more often in Catholic media.
Consider this video from LifeSite on the reaction to Tschugguel’s stunt among some young traditionalist Catholics. The narration for the video begins as follows:
The splash heard around the world may well go down in history as THE moment the counter-revolution started.
Doesn’t this sound rather pretentious and bombastic? Almost absurdly so? And what exactly does the narrator mean by “counter-revolution”? This, as we shall see, is a term strongly associated with TFP. Although I can’t say for certain that the creator of the video intended to echo the rhetoric of TFP, it is surely possible given the subject of the story and LifeSite’s favourable coverage of TFP in the past.
I expect that in the future—especially in far-right Catholic media—we will continue to hear more about “revolution” and “counter-revolution” in the context of an alleged battle of world-historical proportions in which the Church plays the pivotal role. We will also continue to see endless petitions and declarations of resistance, which have been among the favourite tactics of TFP in the past, as well as public events providing a TFP-based counter-perspective on events occurring in the Church.
To help encourage an understanding of TFP and its dangers, I will provide a primer on TFP in three parts, looking at the key ideas of TFP founder Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (1908-1995), as represented in his most famous text, Revolution and Counter-Revolution (published in 1959, with additions made in 1977 and 1992). Part One will address the Revolution, Part Two the Counter-Revolution, and Part Three the battle between these two historical forces. All references to Corrêa de Oliveira’s ideas are taken from the online edition of Revolution and Counter-Revolution published by the American TFP in 2002, which is available here.
To avoid any misunderstandings, I should state my opinion of Revolution and Counter-Revolution at the outset: Corrêa de Oliveira offers a simplistic vision of European history and the Church, and the solutions to the problems he identifies are equally simplistic, while also distorting Catholic teaching. The totalizing dichotomy of Revolution versus Counter-Revolution, which in his formulation penetrates all human affairs, turns the reactionary style into something close to a religion in itself. The result is that the counter-revolutionary movement embodied in TFP and related groups is dangerously prone to ideological purity mania, apocalypticism, scandalous antagonism toward the living Church, and unhealthy forms of authoritarian organization.
It its broad outlines, Corrêa de Oliveira’s vision of the Revolution in history will be familiar to many Catholics and conservatives and seem relatively uncontroversial. He defines Revolution very simply as “a movement that aims to destroy a legitimate power or order and replace it with an illegitimate power or state of things” (31) and that “the order of things being destroyed is medieval Christendom” (32). The Revolution seeks to replace what is left of the legacy of Christendom with a state of things based upon “absolute equality” and “complete liberty” (34). His vision idealizes the medieval era, certainly, but this sentiment is not uncommon among conservative Catholics, and his characterization of the goals of the Revolution is nothing unusual.
He identifies three Revolutions in history (84). The First Revolution is that of the Renaissance and the Reformation (or “Pseudo-Reformation” as he calls it). The Second Revolution is the French Revolution. The Third Revolution is the Communist Revolution, which is still in progress—though in a much different form since the fall of communism in Europe. There is also occurring, at the same time, an “aborning” Fourth Revolution (100) which aims to create a new collectivist tribalism into which any remaining traces of individualism will disappear (101).
Once again, this framework is not unusual on the political right, even if Corrêa de Oliveira’s version is lacking in subtlety. What makes it different, though—and ideologically dangerous—is Corrêa de Oliveira’s totalizing perspective regarding the significance of these events. He writes that the Revolution, taken as a whole, is One, Total, Dominant, and Processive (15-16). Consider the first two of these characteristics. The Revolution is One in that all of the three major Revolutions that comprise it are integrally connected through time and thus have the same sources and ends. It is Total in that it encompasses all space, and permeates every aspect of human life. Corrêa de Oliveira writes, “In any given country, this crisis develops in such a profound level of problems that it spreads or unfolds, by the very order of things, in all powers of the soul, all fields of culture, and, in the end, all realms of human action” (15). There is no escaping the Revolution, except perhaps through extraordinary measures of defense. Corrêa de Oliveira sees the Revolution as an immediate and monstrously powerful threat, which as we shall see provokes him into recommending a similarly integrated response.
The Revolution, according to Corrêa de Oliveira, sinks into human society by steps, or what he describes as the Three Depths of the Revolution: the Revolution in the Tendencies, the Revolution in the Ideas, and the Revolution in the Facts. In other words, bad tendencies manifest as ideas, which then become social and political facts. It is the Revolution in the Tendencies which he stresses, however, describing it as “the most powerful driving force of the Revolution” (25). These tendencies are, simply, unnatural passions: “These disordered tendencies develop like itches and vices; the more they are satisfied, the more intense they become. The tendencies produce moral crises, erroneous doctrines, and then revolutions. Each of them, in turn, exacerbates the tendencies.” He pays no attention to political, institutional, cultural, environmental or economic influences that might also lead to social conditions that foster revolutionary sentiment. The Revolution is entirely rooted in a lack of moral discipline, and particularly an inability to restrain the passions of pride and sensuality (34). Even the slightest tendency toward moral indiscipline can become a causative part of a world-historical revolutionary process. At the same time, although the Revolution is caused by disordered tendencies, it is also steered and encouraged by various groups or sects, and “The master sect […] around which all the others are organized as mere auxiliaries—sometimes consciously and other times not—is Freemasonry […]” (30). Thus there are also shadowy groups of conspirators who take advantage of this gradual loosing of the disordered tendencies and encourage it.
The way these depths of the Revolution are manifested in society are through what Corrêa de Oliveira refers to as Culture, Arts, and Ambiences. His use of these terms is a little cryptic, but they can be roughly interpreted as follows:
- The Revolution in Culture refers to manifestations of the Revolution as ideas in the realm of knowledge (academia, for example).
- The Revolution in Arts refers to the same in the realm of art and fashion (music, movies, visual art, clothing, etc.).
- The Revolution in Ambiences is a combination of the previous two, and refers to the presence of the Revolution in moods and atmospheres (social gatherings, festivals, family life, friendships, etc.).
The Revolution in the Ambiences is the most interesting of these, since it seems to imply a depth to the penetration of the Revolution that goes into the realm of things that are felt rather than known. There is a Revolutionary style that one can sense even in its most subtle manifestations, as expressed in “tendencies,” once one is attuned to it.
In the next part of this primer I will look at the characteristics of the Counter-Revolution, as defined by Corrêa de Oliveira. As we shall see, the Counter-Revolution is the mirror-image of the Revolution—an equally totalizing movement that is expressed, in a large part, in a particular reactionary style.
The Three Revolutions: the “Pseudo-Reformation,” the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution
The Revolution (as a totality)
The Revolution is One, Total, Dominant, and Processive
The Three Depths of the Revolution: in the Tendencies, in the Ideas, and in the Facts
The Revolution in Culture, Arts, and Ambiences
Corrêa de Oliveira, Plinio. Revolution and Counter-Revolution. Hanover, PA: The American TFP, 2002. First published 1959 (Parts I and II) and January 1977 (Part III). https://www.tfp.org/revolution-and-counter-revolution/
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (center) in São Miguel Auditorium in São Paulo (cropped). By P.P. Pyres. Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike 4.0 International license.