Plinio Corręa de Oliveira
The “Good Fellow”
Folha de S.Paulo, Nov 7, 1971 (*)
A few days ago I encountered a young man who eagerly shook my hand in recognition. Did I say “young?” Perhaps I exaggerate, for he was about 35 years old. With a pleasant face and an athletic build, he was quite popular in his circles, for he was amusing and radiated optimism. In short, he is what is commonly called a “good fellow.”
The two of us sat alone in the waiting room of a doctor’s office with nothing in particular to discuss when we both glanced at the newspaper lying on the table. A bold headline announced Communist China’s admission to the United Nations and the expulsion of Taiwan from that same global body.
Our good fellow smiled and glanced in my direction, expecting to see his satisfaction mirrored in my countenance. I addressed him nonchalantly, “I gather that pleases you.”
His smile broadened. “The blow dealt old Chiang Kai-shek was, perhaps, a bit strong, I’ll admit, but I believe that everything will come out well in the end.”
When asked why, he explained: “Until now, the Western world has dealt rather ineptly with the Communist bloc. The Communists have a questionable philosophy and a way of life that is not to my taste, for I was raised in a different ambience. But whether you agree with them or not, that is simply the way they are — and they do have the atomic bomb.
“We had better learn to live together, lest we bring the bomb down on all our heads. What we should have been doing from the beginning was persuading them to open up by means of well-studied concessions. This would have helped them understand that we are brothers, and among brothers everything can be worked out. Before long, they would have been favorably disposed to sign a general agreement.”
I kept as straight a face as possible, for I wanted to see just how far our naďve friend was willing to go. In a conciliatory tone, I mused, “But the West also has the atomic bomb. Why aren’t the Communists also afraid of us? Why aren’t they also willing to make concessions? Negotiation should be a two-way street, don’t you think?”
The good fellow had a ready answer. “The Western world is civilized and rich,” he explained, as though the two were synonymous. “The Communist world is barbaric and poor,” he continued, forging another dubious link. “Barbarians don’t know how to concede. Concessions must begin with our side — the civilized side. We must make multiple and generous concessions. These great concessions will produce a thaw in the Communist soul. That thaw, in turn, will lead to negotiations and, ultimately, world peace,” he concluded triumphantly.
With continued impartiality, I asked him, “But do you have any reason to believe that these negotiations, bought at the price of so many great concessions, will actually lead to something worthwhile? Isn’t it possible that these barbarians, as you describe them, will ultimately demand the impossible?”
Our good fellow had the answer on the tip of his tongue. “Dr. Plinio, we must trust in the common sense and goodness of heart that all men possess. Without this trust, our world would be a hell. It is more generous to believe that the Communists will, ultimately, be moved by so many concessions. You seem to be somewhat skeptical about the value of concessions, but everything in life is negotiable and capable of compromise. Two parties can’t quarrel, after all, if one party refuses to do so.”
From his altered tone, I deduced that my reservations, however mildly expressed, had shaken his customary self-assurance. I continued our discussion with amenity. “Is it really true, my good fellow, that everything is negotiable? Should we give in if the neo-barbarians try to prevent us from practicing our religion, for example? Should we accept it if they wish to destroy the natural order, in particular, its foundation in the rights to family and private property? Should we allow them to expand their concentration camps across the world? Should we also accept the general poverty that the Communist regime has brought about in Cuba?”
By now, the poor fellow’s face was flushed. He stammered his reply, as though his beliefs had been dealt a body blow. “You are a professor and much older than I. Frankly, I don’t know how to answer your arguments, but Nixon, the greatest man of our century, follows precisely the path I have been advocating. If you analyze his actions, you will see that they are justified by the hope that our Communist adversary will be moved by generous concessions into signing a great accord. Surely, you wouldn’t presume to understand diplomacy better than the greatest man of our century?”
Unaccustomed to being challenged, however agreeably, my acquaintance had abandoned his feeble quest of logic for the refuge of authority, resting his argument entirely on the thin reed of President Richard Nixon’s purported infallibility.
I continued mildly, “But the one you describe as ‘the greatest man of our century’ did not always hold such views. In fact, in previous campaigns, he ran as a militant anti-Communist.”
“You’re right,” my companion conceded, “but after being defeated, he came to see the error of his ways. The American people showed him a better path. He embraced it, and now we see him leading the way to accommodation. You don’t think that Nixon is really displeased with the U.N. vote, do you? It relieved him of responsibility for the many concessions he wanted but did not dare to make. While some may claim that the vote robbed his trip to Peking and Moscow of its objective, I believe that the opposite is true. Thanks to the U.N. vote, Nixon will be able to make even greater concessions than he had planned. Than we will see a general thaw.”
As our optimist had regained his self-assurance, I asked him in a confidential tone, “Tell me, my good fellow, what concessions would these be?”
Beaming like a prophet of optimism he declared, “Dr. Plinio, the world is headed toward convergence. Peace does not exist between those who are different, but between those who are alike. If we take steps towards the Communist world, they will take steps toward ours, and we will meet somewhere in the middle — a certain advanced socialism, with a minimized and changeable family structure. It will be a world of universal peace, built upon the renunciation of all doctrines, all ideologies, and all rigid systems.” A sudden hardness came over him as he affirmed ruthlessly, “everyone will have to accept it or be crushed.”
At last, it was my turn. And I said to the good fellow: I have listened to you patiently and at length. You are devoted to dialogue, are you not? Permit me, then, to speak for a few moments now.”
The good fellow felt insulted by my arguments against Nixon and against himself. Silenced for the moment, he smoked nervously, pretending to pay more attention to the smoke he exhaled than to my words.
“A human society is a living organism, whose health depends on its adherence to imperative and subtle rules. In order that we might discover these rules, philosophers, theologians, sociologists, and economists have dedicated their lives to pursuing them. Divided into diverse schools, they have launched a polemic that constitutes one of the highest achievements of the human mind. From among these schools, it behooves us to follow the one that teaches the natural order created by God — otherwise our society will fail and, ultimately, perish.
“Let’s recall, once again, the comparison of society with a living organism. What if a mortally ill man were to think as you do and reject all doctrines? Placed between two physicians who disagreed on the diagnosis of his malady, he would tell each of them to get lost, since they are only men of theory. Seeking a ‘practical’ solution, he would mix the remedies of one with those of the other and drink them. He would commit suicide.
“Does it not seem to you that holding the physician in contempt is a mark of ignorance, more applicable to the barbarian than to a civilized man?”
The good fellow was livid with rage. “Dr. Plinio, there is absolutely no accord possible with you or with your TFP. The only remedy is to silence you. I do not care for such doctrinal and reasoned thinking. It is positively medieval. We live in the new age of the practical man who resolves everything by experience.”
“My dear fellow, this is precisely what the shaman thinks of the scientist. You are heralding the age of the witchdoctor. Please pardon my frankness, but honesty compels me to go further. You are inaugurating the era of the barbarian, for to declare logic outdated and thought obsolete is to establish among man an incomprehensible way of life, torn by dark, endless struggles played out to a savage drumbeat of hatred, resentment, and envy.
“You call the Communists barbarians — and so they are — but look in the mirror. The barbarians on the other side think erroneously, but you and your kind believe that one should not think at all. Who is more barbarian?”
I then remained silent, and so did our good fellow. At that very moment, a quite elderly lady emerged from the doctor’s office, supporting herself on a delicate and attractive cane. The physician accompanying her said, “It’s a question of one’s school of medicine. My colleague follows one school and I another. It is up to you to choose.”
“I will think about it and pray about it,” she replied. “All my life I have always thought and prayed before making important decisions, and that has always served me well.”
The physician smiled knowingly. “It is because of this that you are so fit for your age.”
I glanced a last time at our erstwhile good fellow. He continued to chain smoke uncontrollably and was nervously chewing a fingernail. “Poor barbarian,” I mused.
(*) Crusade, Jul-Augt 2000.