Olavo de Carvalho

Philosophy and Self-Awareness

Philosophy, with Socrates, emerged as a critical analysis of collective knowledge in the light of the unity, integrity and self-transparency of individual consciousness. Not, therefore, of any individual conscience, but of one that fought for that unity, integrity and self-transparency and that, with a great deal of hardship, was at the same time digging up and erecting them until lifting them above the murky confusion of passions and self-deceptions; confusion that, in part at least, arises from the passive, disorderly and uncritical absorption of collective beliefs.

It is this struggle that gives the philosopher, together and inseparably, the authority and the cognitive tools to analyze, judge and, if necessary, condemn the established beliefs. And it becomes possible and necessary only because of the double and self-conflicting constitution of the individual conscience itself. On one hand, this awareness is formed following various currents of influence, genetic and environmental, which pull it in every direction and awaken multiple mutually contradictory demands. On the other hand, it tends to the unity due to the continuity of the bodily existence, as well as the need for decisions and choices that call for the unity of an active subject equipped with self-remembering, perseverance in actions and the ability to respond towards other players around it.

A second layer of conflicting demands arises from the fact that the individual does not only have to develop as an activesubject, but must find or accept a place in society, almost always sacrificing part of his sense of internal unity to the demands of the social role and to the feeling of group identity that sustains and protects, but also limits and distorts their individuality.

No human being would be able to rise to the status of a critic independent of collective beliefs if the only forces at play in the process of self-discovery – or self-constitution – of his individual conscience were his own individuating impulse and the demands and pressures of the social environment. On one hand, that impulse is not a causa sui but depends on stimuli and cognitive means – including language – that come from the social environment itself. On the other hand, this environment is based, in part, on inherent needs to the very biological constitution of the individual being. Any evolutionary conflict that may arise between these two forces therefore takes place within the framework of an inseparable symbiotic unity. In the very act of asserting his sovereignty, the individual relies on the social context and implicitly confesses his dependence on it. This is clearlyrevealed in cases of congenital or acquired maladaptation, in which the individual, when turning against the human environment around him, is expelled to a lower social level where he enjoys even less freedom of movement than that granted to his better adapted peers.

This, evidently, is not the case with Socrates. His inner independence is real and, instead of restricting, it expands his freedom of movement, opening up the space for him to exercise a sui generis social role, in many ways superior to that of other members of society, of which some admire him to the extent of veneration, others envy and fear him to the point of wanting to kill him.

The achievement of this inner independence – and even to a certain extent an outside one – would not be possible in a framework delimited exclusively by the biological and social factors of the symbiotic competition between individual and society, a competition that unfolds within the existing social standards and, ultimately, reaffirms the primacy of society.

The independence that Socrates achieves, exercises and demonstrates is clearly supported by the interference of a third element, superior and independent both of himself and of the social environment, irreducible, therefore, be it to the natural constitution of individuality, or to the set of availablesocio-cultural data.

It is this element that Socrates calls his daimon, the spirit that guides him through the demands of life, imposing choices and behaviors that transcend both the impulses of his mere individuality and the rules and precepts of the society around him.

Therefore, what bases and defines the philosopher’s activity is not the mere criticism of society, nor the use of the faculty as an instrument of this criticism at a natural and social time of “reason”, but rather the appeal to a higher authority qualified to guide and judge both the individual and the society.

By submitting consciously and voluntarily to the dictates of this superior instance, the philosopher becomes an emissary of it, but not the perfect and unique incarnation of its authority, which he recognizes is also spread at the bottom of the current social order, as degraded and confused that thisorder is. Hence the apparent paradox that the most independent of Athenian citizens bow obediently to the sentence of the court that condemns him, thus refusing to assert in the field of empirical social reality an independence equivalent to that which he had demonstrated in the field of personal thought and ethics.

Socrates is a spokesman for “unwritten laws” that transcend the existing social order, but not a prophet-legislator charged with changing that order to the standard set by those laws. His function is to remind men of the existence of the transcendent order, not to implement it in the world by the force of authority.

This will remain, over the centuries, the mission of philosophers and the very definition of their way of being.


Olavo de Carvalho
Preparatory text for the class of the 30th of June, 2012.
Translation by Daniel Bertorelli

[3/3] UNDER THE COMMAND OF A CORPSE

Olavo de Carvalho explains why Liberation Theology is alive and well in Latin America.

Olavo de Carvalho
July 19, 2016
Part 3

Whoever reads the writings by Gutierrez, Boff, and Betto will easily find out their multiple inconsistencies and contradictions. Those flaws reveal that their thought is not the result of serious theoretical effort, but of an intention to keep the theologians from Rome busy with complex refutations, while the network of activists spread its tentacles all over Latin America, reaching, above all, poor communities that were completely deprived of any interest or ability to follow those lofty debates.

Brazilian cowboys have a name for that trick: they call it “piranha’s bullock.”  When they need to cross a river infested with piranhas, they first drive a bullock into the river a few feet downstream so as to keep those carnivore fish busy with devouring it while they take the rest of the herd across the river in safety.

The theology of Gutierrez, Boff, and Betto is so futile and empty from an intellectual point of view, whereas their political activism is so intense, well thought out, and efficient, that we can only explain the trio’s more pretentious writings as a bullock sent to be devoured by the Vatican piranhas.

A brief examination of a typical sample of the style of one of those authors will suffice to make it obvious that there is no serious and honest intellectual effort in the liberation theology, but only gibberish that is more apt to deceive an uneducated or semi-educated audience than persuade well-trained theologians.

Is the style the man himself? Yes, but that can be good or bad. It can be good when analysis reveals, behind syntax and figures of speech, a living insight into aspects of human experience which are obscure and hardly speakable. Through analysis they thus come to light out of the nebulosity where they lay and become docile objects for meditation and action, being transfigured from factors of slavery into instruments of freedom. It can be bad when there is nothing to be found underneath the verbal fabric except a perverse intention to build a “second reality” out of mere words, transporting the reader from the real world into a puppet show where everything and everybody move under the command of the author, who is raised to the heights of a little demiurge, a creator of “another possible world.”

In order to demonstrate that, I will ask the reader to have the kindness to go through an exposition by Mr. Leonardo Boff, a man who is a counsellor of rulers and of a Pope (according to some) as well as, and above all, an eminent spokesman of a “liberation theology” where neither theology nor liberation can be found,

Poverty is not confined to its main and dramatic aspect, the material one, but it unfolds into political poverty through exclusion from social participation, cultural poverty through marginalization of the production processes of symbolic goods . . . .

Pauperization generates massification of human beings. The people cease to exist as a coordinated group of communities that develop their conscience, preserve and deepen their identity, and work for a collective plan. They become a conglomerate of stray individuals deprived of their roots, an army of inexpensive and manipulable labor, according to the plan for unlimited and inhuman amassing of wealth.

That situation brings about a highly authoritarian political template . . . A minimum of cohesion can be achieved only through authoritarian forms of government, which stifle the threatening cries which come from poverty.

The excerpt is from the book And the Church Became People[i]. All that is described above really happened. Those are facts, and they are historically well-documented facts, which would leave us no other choice but to say a definitive “Amen” to Mr Boff, unless, of course, we had the horrible idea of raising the following question: Where and when did that happen?

The second paragraph tells us about something that happened in Europe in the first decades of the nineteenth century: multitudes of peasants were reduced to misery through the deprivation of their few possessions, thus having to leave their land and go to the city to make up “a conglomerate of stray individuals deprived of their roots,” a reserve of inexpensive labor to be used to fuel the prosperity of the new capitalists.  Karl Marx, in pages that have become classic, describes the formation of the urban proletariat out of the wreckage of the old peasantry at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

However, that phenomenon happened where the things that Boff describes in his next paragraph—“political poverty through exclusion from social participation, cultural poverty through marginalization of the production processes of symbolic goods”— not only never happened, but could never have happened. On the contrary, the migration of peasants to urban areas coincided with the advent of general elections, which not only invited but forced the participation of the masses in a kind of politics that was completely unknown to them when they lived on the countryside, isolated from the big urban centers. It also coincided with the creation of mandatory schooling, which removed the children of the proletarians from their local cultures and integrated them into the great urban culture of reason, science, and technology, which was essentially the same culture of the upper classes, those wicked capitalists. One can certainly bewail the dissolution of the old local cultures, but that was caused not by the exclusion, but rather by the inclusion of the masses into the urban political and cultural life.

The “exclusion from social participation” and the “marginalization from the processes of symbolic goods” did happen, but hundreds of thousands of miles away from Europe, in African, Asian, and Latin American countries, which would be later called “the Third World” precisely because no Industrial Revolution ever took place in them, neither therefore the integration of the masses into politics or urban culture. Mr Boff creates the fictitious unity of a hideous straw man out of selections he made from heterogeneous and incompatible historical processes, which occurred in places far away from one another. But Mr Boff’s historical Frankenstein has at least one thing substantially real about it: the hatred that he would like his readers to feel towards it in their souls.

But the monster’s physiognomy would not be complete without a third feature, which Mr. Boff fetches in another place,

That situation brings about a highly authoritarian political template . . . .  A minimum of cohesion can be achieved only through authoritarian forms of government, which stifle the threatening cries coming from poverty.

It is true that authoritarian governments emerged to control the famished masses, but they neither appeared in the Europe of the Industrial Revolution, nor in the United States of that same period, where democratic institutions triumphed along with nascent capitalism. Rather, and on the contrary, they came on the historical scene in countries that either were underdeveloped, or impoverished by war, in those nations that envied the prosperity of industrialized countries, but did not have a creative and puissant capitalist class, and then decided to become industrialized in a hurry and under coercion by means of the state bureaucracy, from above, so to speak, through massive government investment and planned economy. That was the formula adopted by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and, obviously, by all those socialist nations that are so dear to Mr Boff’s heart. For the same reasons and to a lesser extent, the formula was adopted in Brazil by both President Vargas during his dictatorship (1930-45) and the military government, from 1964 to 1985.

In short, if it were possible to put together all the evils that happened in the most distant countries, in the most different times, and in the most heterogeneous regimes, we would then have the ideal monster towards which Mr Boff would like to direct the hatred of his audience. Mr Boff trusts that his readers will not notice his artificial superimposition of historical events and that, impressed by the total sum of evils, will believe they are really caught up in the claws of a monster and draw the logical conclusion they need to be liberated by Mr Boff.

This is what the Boffian “liberation theology” is all about, and nothing else. His superimposition technique is, rigorously speaking, both Mr Boff’s only dialectical and stylistic procedure and the quintessential summary of his, let’s say, thought. We can find that technique in practically every page he has written, and it is pointless to look for something different.

A few lines below the paragraphs quoted above we can find another example, in the passage in which he makes use of the figure of St. Francis of Assisi as the prototype of the revolutionary man who Mr. Boff himself intends to be. My readers, so kind and generous, will do me another favor and read this other brief paragraph,

Such attitude [St. Francis’ rejection of the goods of this world] corresponds to that of the revolutionary man and not that of reformers and agents of the current system. Reformers reproduce the system, only introducing ways of rectifying the abuses by means of reforms. . . . What [Francis] did represents a radical criticism against the dominant forces of the day . . . He did not simply made an option for the poor, but for the poorest among the poor, the lepers, whom he called, lovingly, ‘my brothers in Christ.’

Here Francis appears as a revolutionary who, instead of being a servant of the system, seeks to destroy and replace it for something completely different. I will not even discuss the historical untruth of those words, which is all too obvious. St. Francis never turned against the hierarchical system of the Church, but, on the contrary, he turned his mendicant order into the most docile and efficient instrument of Papal authority. If we employ Mr Boff’s own terms, St. Francis rigorously corresponds to the definition of “reformer,” and not to that of “revolutionary.”  But that is not the point. What is truly amazing is that, according to Mr Boff, there is a clear case of protest against social hierarchy going on when Francis approaches not only the poor, but “the poorest among the poor,” that is, the lepers. But since when does leprosy choose its victims according to their social class?  Were not the king of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV, and the king of Germany, Henry VII, son of the great emperor Frederick II and Constance of Aragon, lepers either?  Would Francis refuse to kiss a leper from a wealthy family? By artificially superimposing the idea of morbid deformity onto that of economic inferiority, Mr Boff turns the least anti-social of all gestures of Christian charity into a symbol of revolutionary hatred, and the reader, stunned by the composite image, does not even realize he has been fooled once again, and ends up buying as pure Catholic theology the old Marxist distinction between reform and revolution. Once his magic trick is dismantled through analysis, Mr Boff’s “liberation theology” reveals itself as nothing more than a technique for making people stupid.

This sample is enough to show that seriously discussing the theoretical content of liberation theology has only served the purpose of diverting the attention of the Roman Curia and conservative theologians away from the true nature of the liberation movement, which thrived and grew stronger as a political power in the exact measure as its intellectual pretensions were dismantled.

Intellectually and theologically, liberation theology has been dead for three decades. But it was never meant to be an intellectual and theological movement. It was and still is a political movement adorned with artificial theological pretexts of unmatched frivolity, which were driven into the waters of Rome as a “piranha’s bullock.” The herd crossed the river, took over the whole territory, and there are no land-dwelling piranhas that can pose a threat to it.

Granted, liberation theology is dead, but its corpse, raised to the top of the chain of command, rests all its weight upon an entire subcontinent, oppressing it, choking it, and blocking all of its movements. Today, Latin America is governed by a cadaver.

Translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota


[i] Boff, Leonardo, op. cit,  p. 167.

[2/3] UNDER THE COMMAND OF A CORPSE

Olavo de Carvalho explains why Liberation Theology is alive and well in Latin America.

Olavo de Carvalho
July 19, 2016
Part 2

If the child and even its name came ready-made from the KGB, that does not mean that its adoptive parents, Gutierrez, Boff, and Betto have no merit whatsoever in spreading it throughout the world. On the contrary, they played a crucial part in the victories won by liberation theology and in the mystery of its survival.

The three of them, but mainly the two Brazilians, have always acted on two different levels at once. On the one hand, they produced artificial theological arguments for the consumption of the clergy, the intellectuals, and the Roman Curia. On the other hand, they spread sermons and popular speeches and intensely devoted themselves to the creation of a network of activists which would become well-known as “basic ecclesial communities”[i] and would make up the seed of the Workers’ Party, which has been governing Brazil since 2002.

In his book And the Church Became People (E a Igreja se Fez Povo)[ii], Boff confesses that the whole thing was a “bold plan,” hatched according to the strategy of the slow and subtle “war of position” advocated by the founder of the Italian Communist Party, Antonio Gramsci. The strategy consisted in gradually infiltrating all the decisive positions in seminaries and lay universities, in religious orders, in the Catholic media, and in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, without making much noise, until the time was ripe for the great revolution to come into view.

John Paul I, soon after the 1978 conclave that elected him pope, had a meeting with twenty Latin American cardinals, and he became astonished at the fact that most of them overtly supported liberation theology. On that occasion, they informed him that there were more than 100 thousand “basic ecclesial communities” spreading out revolutionary propaganda in Latin America. Until then John Paul I had known liberation theology as a theoretical speculation only. He was far from thinking that it could have been transformed into a political force of such dimensions.

In 1984, when Cardinal Ratzinger began to dismantle liberation theology’s theoretical arguments, four years had already passed since those “basic ecclesial communities” were transfigured into a mass political party, the Brazilian Workers’ Party, whose members and activists definitively do not know anything about any theological speculation, but can swear that Jesus Christ was a socialist because that is what the party leaders tell them to believe.

In other words, liberation theology’s feigned theological argumentation had already done its job of being food for debate and undermining the Church’s authority, and was functionally replaced by overt preaching of socialism, where the apparently scholarly effort to bring Christianity and Marxism together yielded the right of way to the peddling of cheap clichés and slogans in which the mass of activists neither looked for nor could find any rational argumentation, but only those symbols that expressed and reinforced their sense of belonging to a group and their fighting spirit.

The success of this second enterprise was proportional to the failure of the trio in the field of theology. In the United States or in Europe, an opinion-maker who aspires to be a political leader may not survive his own discredit, but in Latin America, and especially in Brazil, the mass of activists is leagues away from any intellectual concern and will continue to find their leader credible as long as he is backed up by his party and has enough political support.

And in the case of Boff and Betto, they received nothing less than formidable support. When the guerrillas which the Latin American Organization for Solidarity (OLAS, founded in 1966 by Fidel Castro) had spread throughout the subcontinent failed miserably, left-wing activists took refuge in non-military leftist organizations, which were putting into practice Antonio Gramsci’s ideas about “cultural revolution” and “war of position.” Gramsci’s strategy made use of massive infiltration of communist agents in all institutions of civil society, especially in the educational system and the media, to spread punctual, isolated, non-labelled, communist proposals so as to produce, little by little, an overall effect which could not be identified as communist propaganda, but through which the Party, or similar organization, could end up mentally controlling society with “the omnipresent and invisible power of a divine commandment, of a categorical imperative” (sic).[iii]

No other instrument could better serve that purpose than the “basic ecclesial communities,” where communist proposals could be sold with the Christianity label. In Brazil, the overwhelming growth of those organizations resulted, in 1980, in the foundation of the Workers’ Party, which initially presented itself as an innocent pro-labor union movement of the Christian left, and which only gradually revealed its strong ties with the Cuban government and various guerilla and drug-trafficking organizations.  The greatest leader of the Party, President Luís Inácio “Lula”da Silva, has always acknowledged Boff and Betto as the masterminds of both his organization and of himself.

Born in the bosom of the Latin American communism by means of the “basic ecclesial communities,” the Party would not take long to return the favor by establishing, in 1990, an organization under the anodyne denomination of Foro de São Paulo (São Paulo Forum) whose purpose was to unify the many leftists currents in Latin America and become the strategic headquarters for the communist movement in the subcontinent.

According to Frei Betto’s own testimony, the decision of founding the São Paulo Forum was made in a meeting between Lula, Fidel Castro, and Frei Betto himself, in Havana. For seventeen years the São Paulo Forum had grown in secret, having a membership of nearly 200 organizations, and mixing together legally established political parties, kidnapping groups as the Chilean MIR, and drug-trafficking gangs as the FARC— which denied having anything to do with drug trafficking, but traded, every year, 200 tons of Colombian cocaine for weapons that Brazilian drug-dealer Fernandinho Beira-Mar smuggled from Lebanon.

When Lula was elected president of Brazil in 2002, the São Paulo Forum had already become the largest and most powerful political organization that had ever been at work in the whole Latin American territory. Its very existence, however, was totally unknown to the Brazilian people and cynically denied when a researcher would blow the whistle about it.

The general concealment of the São Paulo Forum, an operation to which the entire Brazilian mainstream media contributed for seventeen years with exemplary obstinacy, is one of the most curious and depressing episodes of the history of the press in the world. From that episode one can have an idea of the power that the pool of left-wing parties associated with the Workers’ Party exerts over the entire class of opinion-makers in Brazil. But the curtain of obsequious silence extended far beyond Brazilian national borders: in 2001 during a panel discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., two “experts in Latin America,” Kenneth Maxwell and Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, openly denied the existence of the São Paulo Forum.

For many years, based upon extensive documentation gathered by Brazilian attorney José Carlos Graça Wagner, I denounced the São Paulo Forum’s activities. But I was the only columnist of a major Brazilian newspaper to do it, and all kinds of pressure and threats were made against me to prevent me from doing so. I even published online all the minutes of the Forum’s general assemblies since its foundation, but even in face of such irrefutable proofs the slavish self-censorship of the Brazilian journalistic class did not yield even an inch in its obstinacy in denying the facts.

The media blockade reached its peak of intensity when, in 2005, Mr Lula, already President of Brazil, made a detailed confession about the existence and the activities of the São Paulo Forum. His speech was published on the Presidency of the Republic’s official website, but even so, the mainstream media in full force insisted on pretending that they did not know anything about it.

Finally, in 2007, the Workers’ Party itself, feeling that the cloak of protective secrecy was no longer necessary, came to trumpet the feats of the São Paulo Forum to the four corners of the earth, as they had always been obvious, banal, and well-known. Only then the newspapers allowed themselves to speak about it.

Why could the secret be revealed at that point? Because, in Brazil, all the ideological opposition had already been eliminated, and what remained as “politics” was only electoral vying for offices and denunciation of corruption scandals coming from within the left itself; whereas, on a subcontinental scale, twelve countries were already ruled by parties that belonged to the São Paulo Forum. The “basic ecclesial communities” had risen to power. At that point who would be concerned with theological debates or ethereal objections made twenty years earlier by a cardinal who took the literal sense of the writings of liberation theologians in a serious manner, but barely scratched the political surface of the problem?

The Workers’ Party, throughout its twelve years in power, managed to expel all the conservative opposition from the political scene while it shared the political arena with some of its more radical allies and a soft center-left opposition, governing the country by means of bribery, murder of inconvenient people, and systematic appropriation of funds of state companies to finance the growth of the Party. The rise of kleptocracy culminated in the Petrobrás case, where the siphoning of funds from state companies reached the level of billions of dollars, becoming, according to the international media, the largest case of business corruption of all times. This succession of scandals brought about some discomfort within the left itself and also constant complaining in the media, which led the Workers’ Party’s intelligentsia to rally in full force to defend their party.  Mr Betto and Mr Boff have been busy with this kind of activity for more than a decade, and theology, in their business, is only an occasional supplier of figures of speech which they design to adorn the Party’s propaganda. Liberation theology, at last, embraced its true calling

[To be continued]

Translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota


[i] The mass of activists, as distinguished from their leadership, is called, in communist technical language, “base.” Not by coincidence liberation theology uses that word to name its “basic ecclesial communities.” The flock had to become “base” so that the shepherds could become political commissars.

[ii] Boff, Leonardo. E a Igreja se Fez Povo. Eclesiogênese: A Igreja que Nasce do Povo (São Paulo: Círculo do Livro, 1988.),  especially chapters XII and XIII.

[iii] Olavo de Carvalho, A Nova Era e a Revolução Cultural: Fritjof Capra & Antonio Gramsci, 4th ed. (Campinas: Vide Editorial, 2014).