Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Warriors of the Virgin:
TFP without Secrets
4. Standardization in thought and action to break the TFP members’ personality?
From what one gathers reading Warriors of the Virgin, TFP obliges its adherents to have uniform ideas and ways of dressing and behaving even in the most common daily tasks to force them to reject their whole past and to break their individual personality (cf. WV pp. 19, 21, 36, 37, 81, 145, 146, 171 etc.).
This raises three different questions:
A. Whether TFP imposes standardization of ideas;
B. Whether it imposes standardization in the way of dressing of its members and volunteers;
C. Whether there is such thing as a TFP behavior properly speaking, if it is imposed, and if it breaks individual personalities.
A. Whether TFP imposes uniform thinking
More than one relativist can find it strange that TFP has a cohesive and logical body of principles which has been consistently enriched and developed through the years but has remained unaltered in its essential lines.
It may seem even stranger that this solid and vast ensemble of principles is accepted by such a large number of people from all walks of life, ages and conditions, without the continuous occurrence of contradictions, contestation and dissidence.
For a person stuck in modern relativism and permissiveness, that phenomenon could only be explained by imposing “brainwashing” to change the thinking of new adepts and then subjecting them to a dictatorial intellectual discipline to prevent their “washed brains” from straying from the “orthodox” line.
Any Protestant fanatic of the sixteenth century and many even today, facing the majestic and monumental uniformity in Faith that characterizes the Catholic Church, would certainly think the same.
* * *
But is there an intellectual dictatorship in TFP?
First of all, it is necessary to keep in mind that TFP is a school of thought, and not a small one at that.
What characterizes schools of thought is precisely the fact that their followers share not only great general principles but also a whole series of lesser principles, secondary by nature but still important, such as operational principles.
In this common patrimony, in this fundamental order, it is proper for well-established schools of thought to have great variety and freedom in the application of general principles.
It would not be far-fetched to make an analogy, naturally within due proportions, with the classical principle whereby the Church admits, in her maternal bosom, legitimate differences among various schools of thought: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas – unity where necessary; freedom in what is doubtful; and charity, that is, love of God, in all things.
What is necessary in the TFP school of thought? First of all, a complete and enthusiastic adhesion to the doctrine of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church as expressed in the teachings of the Roman Pontiffs and the ecclesiastical Magisterium in general (giving each document, according to its nature, the full adhesion prescribed by Canon Law).
Next, adhesion to a series of basic theoretical principles, or theoretical-practical principles, deduced strictly according to logic, from Catholic doctrine or from an analysis of reality – present or historic – according to a carefully elaborated TFP methodology and criteria whose foundations are largely expounded in the already mentioned essay, Revolution and Counter-Revolution.
Finally, adhesion to a series of operational principles gradually built up through an attentive analysis of many decades of practical action in common. The foundations for such principles are also laid out in Revolution and Counter-Revolution (Part II, Chaps. V to XI).
All these principles form an ensemble which is the fundamental patrimony of the TFP school of thought. Thanks be to God, there has been great cohesiveness around them, so that the persons who have left the Society out of doctrinal discrepancies could be counted on the fingers of a hand.
* * *
This great unity of goals, methods of thought and action does not at all mean that TFP imposes ideas by force.
The existence of a wholesome and ample freedom in the TFP school of thought is easy to demonstrate. For without the necessary degree of liberty, no school of thought can really be fecund. On the contrary, it becomes repetitive and boring in its productions, the ranks of its adepts thin out, its readership disappears and it withers and ends up dying.
Now then, more than 20 books or essays published by the Brazilian TFP (see list at the end of this work) attest to TFP’s vitality, fecundity and dynamism as a school of thought. That includes voluminous and scholarly collections of Legionário from 1933 to 1947, and Catolicismo from 1951 to this day.
In its books, as well as on the pages of those journals, TFP has dealt and deals with the most varied topics – religious, philosophical, sociological, artistic, psychological, historical, economic etc. – always within the general lines above but with an ample freedom of application and development.
Not to mention the very considerable intellectual production of TFPs from 14 other countries, which, without prejudice to their full autonomy, are based on the same principles as the Brazilian TFP and belong to the same school of thought. All of them publish newspapers and magazines and many have published books (see list at the end of this volume).
Besides, anyone a bit familiar with TFP internal ambiences – and Mr. JAP boasts that he is – knows how great is the freedom that exists within the entity for anyone to study whatever he wants, how he wants and when he wants it with nothing artificial or forced about it. Typically, the intellectual initiatives that arise in various sectors of TFP are received with good will and met with all the encouragement of its directors.
Mr. JAP was surprised at the intellectual respect he found within TFP walls. He acknowledges that he was not used to being treated with such consideration. Yet that does not prevent him from seeing even that kindness as an “allurement technique.”37
It is a rule of the TFP board of directors never to launch a public campaign or an important initiative without assembling its members and volunteers – even the very young – and expound its reasons and goals, hear everyone’s questions, clarify doubts and respond to possible objections.
In all regular meetings, everyone in attendance – even the youngest – is allowed to speak; and everyone can freely ponder, ask or object whatever he wishes.
At these meetings, whoever the lecturer may be, there is never a less-than-polite word, never is a thesis expounded without abundant arguments or documentation, never an affirmation made without all those present having the time, ambience and occasion to examine the issue and counter-argue at will. Never is an objection or difficulty resolved without all due regard and fraternal affection.
While Mr. JAP recognizes that this is so when a novice approaches the Society, he claims it is only an artifice to attract him into TFP’s claws. As for those already in those claws, Warriors of the Virgin maliciously insinuates they are treated very differently. In TFP meetings, everyone is said to be intimidated and terrorized, passively listening to the most abstruse statements without uttering even a single doubt.
Nothing could be more contrary to reality; and Mr. JAP is perfectly aware of it.
Incidentally, it would never be possible to obtain the cohesion of those turbulent, agitated, restless and often aggressive 20th century youths without affection and logic, and above all, without a profound spirit of Faith.
Given the Brazilian temperament, this is especially true in our country (cf. Chap. II, 3).
No other is the “secret” of the enthusiastic adherence the TFP stirs up among the young.
B. Whether TFP imposes standardization in dress
If TFP did have a common way of dressing, in no way that could be seen as a result of "brainwashing" or imaginary abuses of the principle of authority. But for the sake of the truth it must be said that TFP has no such uniformity.
For a long time, TFP members and volunteers have usually worn suit and tie, as was customary for every man or boy leaving home to work, study or frequent any social ambience. This habit still exists in many places in Brazil today and remains widespread in many countries like the United States and Britain.
This custom came from the early decades of the century, but in Brazil it has gradually fallen into disuse from the mid '60s. And men’s fashions that followed – to speak only of men – had a sharp note of extravagance.
That extravagance was particularly noticeable in fashions for young men, strongly influenced by styles that emerged late in the decade with hyppism and resulted from a revolutionary modern tendency to generalize extravagance to all life’s domains.
As a reaction, a spontaneous tendency arose in TFP to preserve as much as possible the custom of wearing a suit and tie. It was not an imposition as Mr. JAP claims (WV cf. p. 177); nor was it any official decision by the entity but merely the result of a tacit consensus, thus preserving a custom which everyone saw as appropriate given the context just described.
Already in the mid-70s, young men in Brazil had almost completely given up wearing suit and tie. And the fact that TFP young men wore it had began to cause as great a puzzlement as would an old man who were to walk the streets with the cane and bowler hat he had worn when young ...
For an entity that usually addresses the public at large, it is not well to be at variance with current customs. "When in Rome, do as the Romans,” says the old proverb, which, with due nuances, should be taken into account.
Moreover, certain media outlets opposed to the entity began to present the suit and tie as elements inseparable from the figure of a TFP member or volunteer; a sort of a uniform, something which never corresponded to reality.
For these reasons – and not as a disguise to act in an underhanded fashion, as Mr. JAP maliciously claims (WV cf. p. 177) – in 1975 the entity’s directors deemed it appropriate to recommend to its younger members to pick, among clothing styles usually worn by youths of their generation, those they could adopt without prejudice to the composure and dignity that has always characterized the attire of TFP members and volunteers.
Did that mean the entity compromised on principles? Was that recommendation an opportunistic concession to sartorial laxity? – No, for although wearing suit and tie was preferable to what came later, the TFP had never presented it as an ideal. It was highly objectionable from many standpoints38. If those in TFP adopted it back then, it was for the same reason that young men from later generations adopted other dress modes. That is because people usually should dress as their contemporaries in the same social condition. Except, of course, when immoral or extravagant fashions seriously offend common sense, becoming incompatible with human dignity.
Today, most TFP young men prefer to wear windbreakers or jackets and only seldom will don a suit and tie as do most people who have reached a certain age. Nevertheless, to maintain the note of composure and dignity characteristic of TFP, both the older and younger people wear a very broad range of designs and colors.
Yet that does not prevent Mr. JAP, in his permanent and poorly disguised ill-will toward all things TFP, from seeing the costumes of its members and volunteers as a “uniform” (WV, p. 11).
C. Whether there is a TFP behavior properly speaking; whether it is imposed and breaks individual personalities
It is undeniable that there is a characteristically TFP way of being and behaving. In fact, that way of being is so unmistakable that only Mr. JAP could imagine that the clothing adopted by young volunteers of the Society from the mid-70s could enable them to act incognito without being immediately identified as TFP...
In this regard, it is well to remember that the emergence of a specific human type is not a TFP peculiarity. It is the natural product of a vibrant and organically formed society. The various kinds of professional activities, for example, are likely to engender characteristic human types: priests, soldiers, doctors, artists are often easily identifiable even when not wearing any visible sign of their profession.
Interaction in certain human groups tends to distill a common way of being and behaving, reflected at times with a particularly strong note in minute details such as the way they write, speak or walk down the street.
It is common, for example, for a rookie journalist entering a newspaper or magazine staff room to gradually assimilate the style of the older ones and by that mechanism - which can have something of mimicry but is very legitimate and traditional – establish, after a while, a style proper to that newspaper39.
That influence is felt very strongly also in the language of everyday conversation. For example, no family home, workplace or human group exists in which the intense experiences of its members fail to gradually coin a series of expressions that everyone understands with a certain sense and that a newcomer will probably not understand the first time around. This forms a characteristic jargon of that social or professional group.
* * *
Such standardization in human groups not always takes place naturally; at times, styles are molded artificially.
In this regard, we contest the general principle underlying certain of Mr. JAP’s criticisms, that every uniformization, standardization or stylization necessarily compresses and distorts the personality.
This principle, which smacks of Freudianism, denies all norms of cleanliness, composure, good breeding, and leads to anarchy in mentalities and customs.
Undoubtedly, artificial molding can stereotype a person and make him lose his legitimate peculiarities. This is to a great extent, what television does nowadays. But not every molding necessarily stereotypes, and at times it is a powerful means to develop one’s personality. Far from stymieing it, it allows all its potential to develop.
At times this molding is taken to the point not only of modifying some exterior aspects but a person’s whole approach to life and his whole mentality; and it is obtained in a context of rigid discipline and constant teaching.
Does that amount to “brainwashing”? Not at all, as can be seen in contact with religious men or women, the military and many others who go through similar molding and yet display a marked personality. This is elementary common sense.
Social scientists David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe Jr. have made interesting considerations along this line.
According to them, severe indoctrination and discipline imposed on a group of people in a regime of internment (often presented as the main characteristics of “brainwashing”) do not in fact turn people into mere “robots” but are adopted by institutions that require individuals to have a great personal capacity for decision-making such as Armed Forces academies and Catholic convents: …. (BROMLEY & SHUPE JR., Strange Gods – The Great American Cult Scare, Beacon Press, Boston, 1981, pp. 97-98).
Classical religious formation for seminarians strove to mould their whole way of being so they would acquire the maintien (bearing, posture, way of presenting himself in society) more fitting a priest.
The Council of Trent (1545-1563) already enunciated the general principle that should govern a cleric’s maintien: "It is absolutely fitting that clerics called to be the Lord’s inheritance dispose their life and customs in such a way that their dress, gestures, walk, conversation and everything in their conduct display nothing but gravitas, temperance and religiousness” (Sess. XII, Chap. 1, De Ref.).
General principles of behavior were not only taught in seminaries but practical life as well. In the last century, the classical manual, Politesse et Convenances Ecclésiastiques, by Sulpician Fr. L. Branchereau (Vic et Amat, Libraires-Editeurs, Paris, 12th ed., 572 pp., with a preface by Msgr. Félix Dupanloup, Bishop of Orleans, dated 3-22-1872) was very much in vogue.
At a time in which, so to speak the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice set the tone for other seminaries in Europe and around the world, that manual containing the whole Sulpician mentality and way of being spread all over church circles. The manual even tells how to balance one’s head upon the shoulders, carry an umbrella, step on the ground with greater or lesser force when walking, and modulate the voice in conversation. Everything is dealt with in minute detail with the goal that every seminarian work on his exterior aspect to make it as close as possible to the standard considered ideal for an ecclesiastic. Some commercial or industrial corporations also hold courses to form their employees and at times descend into minute details. And this is done not only to help the company’s image with the public but for the effectiveness of the work itself. Even today there are many career improvement courses at all levels, from executives to public relations personnel, secretaries, salesmen etc. And the normal effect of these courses is to mould persons so they acquire the way of being proper to their profession or even their company. Does that “depersonalize” a professional? The opposite is normally what happens.
* * *
What happens or has happened in TFP along this line?
In 1976, some persons did consider preparing a kind of “ordo” or general directory for TFP members or volunteers with norms on maintien, behavior, personal treatment etc. so the entity’s image they convey to the public would correspond to the elevated ideals of the association.
A first draft of that directory was written and, as an experiment, some points began to be adopted by certain groups in TFP. However, that was not artificial or arbitrarily imposed. Much of it was a compilation and ordination of customs which had been organically adopted in TFP through the years. And since they were customs, they would gradually suffer the influence of changing circumstances.
Unfortunately, given the great development the entity experience over the last decade, and due to its many and ever-growing social activities, it was not possible to complete that directory, let alone extend its application to the entire TFP. For some, it remained as an ideal to be attained at the opportune moment and with Our Lady’s help, always in an organic and customary fashion. For others, fell into oblivion.
* * *
Mr. JAP claims that members and volunteers have become depersonalized and turned into robots (cf. WV pp. 19 e 197).
“Depersonalize”: an elastic expression that can lend itself to confusion.
According to Catholic doctrine and the experience of many centuries of wisdom, influence from a person with exemplary personality and behavior is essentially beneficial, as “verba movent, exempla trahunt” (words move, examples drag). Depending on the case, that influence can reflect not only on this or that aspect of the influenced personality, but even mould it as a whole. This is what Our Lord did with the Apostles and these with the faithful they attracted to the nascent Church. The example of the Martyrs gave rise to other Martyrs; that of the Apostles, to other apostles. And so one sees the immense trail of good examples succeeding one another in the Church through the ages. When the Church raises a saint to the honor of the altars, she presents him as an example for all men through all centuries.
For persons called to the state of evangelical perfection, fidelity to the founder of their respective religious institutes must mould their whole personality. In this regard, an extremely authoritative biographer of Blessed Miguel Rua, the first successor to the glorious founder of the Salesian Congregation, St. John Bosco, affirms that Dom Rua "was known as a personification of Dom Bosco" (Memorias biográficas del Reverendo Padre D. Miguel Rua, primer sucesor de Don Bosco, por el Sac. J.B. Francesia, salesiano, Tip. Salesiana del Colegio Pio IX, Buenos Aires, 1911, p. 120)40.
Did St. John Bosco “depersonalize” Blessed Miguel Rua? On an even higher level, did the Divine Savior “depersonalize” so many saints and glorious faithful who made the perfect imitation of Him the ideal of their lives?
Anyone who claimed that would show ignorance of the very essence of Christian perfection. The latter seeks to have the individual faithful conform himself in everything with the Commandments and the evangelical counsels. This in no way destroys any of his personal characteristics but on the contrary, confirms, purifies, rectifies and elevates them.
The wholesome effect of Morals and Christian civilization on all peoples through all centuries is undeniable and proven by experience.
If anyone were to delve even deeper into this matter, already so obvious, it would be well to recommend reading the above-mentioned book, Servitudo ex caritate, by Atila Sinke Guimarães (Artpress, São Paulo, 1985, pp. 184 to 210).
Incidentally, it is public and notorious that TFP members and volunteers easily stand out for their presence wherever they are. Is it a lack of personality to mark so much an ambience? On the contrary, isn’t the courage and gallantry with which TFP men face adverse pressure without retreating or becoming discouraged the symptom of a robust and well-built personality?
Still according to Mr. JAP, TFP reduces its own to a kind of inhibition and prevents each one’s potentialities from developing (cf. WV p. 200). Yet, wherever they go they behave uninhibitedly, expound their ideas clearly, know how to defend them with logical arguments and in a courteous but firm manner. In their contacts with leading personalities in the most varied fields of human activity, public or private, they have been fulfilling delicate missions, often times asking embarrassing questions to socialist leaders visiting the country41. Yet Mr. JAP deems them incapable!
37. "People were cultured and courteous, there was intellectual respect. I did not find that kindness in my religious and social circle..... In the organization, any stupidity I uttered was discussed with attention and even received with kindness. I later found that that too was part of allurement techniques,” he told Folha de S. Paulo, 6-29-85.
38. Cf. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Indumentária, Hierarquia e Igualitarismo, [“Dress, Hierarchy and Egalitarianism”] in Catolicismo, n. 133, January 1962.
39. In the early 20th century, OESP itself (the newspaper where Mr. JAP works) was accused precisely of depersonalizing its writers:
"The first impulse of a writer who joins it as a staff member is an irrepressible exasperation of his personal pride....
"Taking advantage of that pleasant swooning of the soul in which his colleagues wallow, the staff secretary general craftily obtains, without anyone perceiving it, a complete capitulation of their personal responsibility facing the irresponsibility of collective criteria – simbolyzed by the autocratic power the secretary holds in his despotic hands. Personalities merge and disappear swallowed by that central vortex that absorbs all isolated efforts; some stop producing, hurt in their natural stimulation to mental work; others produce only according to the all-powerful secretary’s inflexible orientation, and therefore with an absolute breakdown in their intellectual independence. Plinio Barreto is the only exception I have known so far....
“In addition to complete accommodation to the personal tastes and inclinations of the top secretary, writers for O Estado strive to imitate the writing style of Mr. Júlio de Mesquita. There is no servile or sycophantic intention here: an irrepressible and spontaneous impulse of admiration leads them to behave thus..... Soon enough they will be writing like he does, in short sentences, nervous and vibrant locutions. If in the course of a momentous discussion, some mishap prevents the director from leaving his mark, he is replaced and yet the other writers have so assimilated his style that only highly experienced professionals will notice – and even then with difficulty! – that the man at the rudder has been replaced” (J. Alberto de Souza, Amadeu Amaral - Urzes, névoas, espumas, ed. d’O São Paulo Imparcial, São Paulo, 1918, pp. 15, 16, 21 and 23).
40. In his work, Fr. Francesia – who worked with Blessed Miguel Rua for 60 years and with St. John Bosco for about 40 – recalls some episodes that enable us to gauge to what point Dom Rua sought to imitate the virtues and assimilate the spirit of his Founder:
"When Don Bosco offered us some work and we were too busy and unable to take it to the end, he would always call on Dom Rua certain he would be helped. Many times I heard these words from the mouth of Don Bosco: 'be assured that Dom Rua will do everything, and like a dream.’ That did not surprise me because I knew very well that Dom Rua was faithful interpreter of Dom Bosco’s thoughts ..... He foresaw what he had to do and proposed the means for its execution, seeking to adapt, in practice, to the thought of Dom Bosco ..... The humble Dom Rua worked in silence, almost as if he did not exist. Dom Bosco gave him directions and he worked in earnest to fulfill the wishes of his father .....
“In 1883 Dom Bosco triumphantly visited France.... It boggles the human mind to describe the enthusiasm Dom Bosco aroused in Paris ..... Thousands of visitors slowly parade, many of them content to speak only to 'Dom Bosco’s Secretary,’ as Dom Rua was called in those days. Many cried after having spoken to him: 'He is a faithful copy of Don Bosco; he looks like him even in his gestures’ .....
“On December 8, l885 [Dom Bosco] named Dom Miguel Rua as his Vicar General: 'From now on he will replace me in the government of the whole Pius Society; and he will be able to do everything that I can, with full powers.’ At first glance, it seems that the new post would place Dom Rua in closer contact with Dom Bosco to exchange ideas with him more often and confer matters with him. But in fact, the new Vicar would not change any proceedings from any point of view.... Actually, up until that moment Dom Rua had made every effort to interpret the thoughts of Dom Bosco even in their smallest details and then put them carefully into practice ..... It was no small consolation for Dom Bosco to watch how his children addressed his new Vicar, especially when they uttered phrases like: 'He is another Dom Bosco, he inherited much of his spirit'.....
"Dom Bosco having died, Dom Rua did not want to introduce any modification around himself..... Just as in France the King’s death was announced with the words: 'the King is dead, long live the king', so also we could have exclaimed, 'Dom Bosco is dead, long live Dom Bosco,’ since for us, Dom Rua was Dom Bosco” (pp. 131-133, 134-136, 141-143, 159-161).
41. Cf. Catolicismo, no 390, June 1983, p. 6; no 397, January 1984, p. 6; no 398, February 1984, p. 8; no 417, September 1985, p. 2.
Guerreiros da Virgem - A Réplica da Autenticidade, A TFP sem segredos, December 1985, Chap. V, n. 4, A, B, C, pages 131-146.