Olavo de Carvalho

The Health of Language and Social Disease

International Conference
Planetary Articulation: The Life, Thought, and Influence of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
1-4 June 2002 • Allerton Park Conference Center, Monticello, Illinois, USA

Olavo de Carvalho

Dear friends,

This conference was organized with the objective of discussing projects for the translation of Rosenstock’s work into several languages. In the case of my own personal project, it is not a project anymore, but a reality. Here is the Brazilian edition of Rosenstock-Huessy’s The Origin of Speech. This copy reached my hands from printing just a few days ago. Many other copies are now being distributed to Brazilian bookshops and libraries.

To understand the orientation I took in this translation, we need to examine some details on the general guidelines of this editorial collection, and of the pedagogical use I intend for the translation. Also, we need to understand the Brazilian cultural scenario into which this book will make an entrance.

In the first place, this translation is not my work only, but a collective work done by my philosophy students in City University Center of Rio de Janeiro (Centro Universitário da Cidade), the institution where I teach. This translation served to give my students the first feel of Rosenstock’s work, and also as an occasion to make them aware of the current state of the Portuguese language, seen in the light of his teaching; in such a light we could measure the accuracy of Rosenstock’s observations on the intimate relationship between grammar and society.

It was not only a pedagogical activity, but also an effort of truly investigative work, for there is still in Brazilian society very little discussion on the transformations suffered by our language in the last decades, and of the social crisis these transformations express. I can say this coordinated activity with my students was the first serious attempt to examine this question in Brazilian academe, and this attempt would have been impossible without the help from Rosenstock’s ideas.

Created as the result of a court revolution in the XIVth century, Portugal was the first nation-state in Europe, while the Portuguese language was the last Roman language to emerge in History. It seems the result from this strange combination of the first with the last was such that, when Portuguese finally reached the state of a stabilized literary language with the great classics of the 16th and 17th centuries, the new language was closer to Latin than any other European language of the time, and it remained so until the 20th. century.

We can say that the only substantial difference separating it from Latin is the supression of Latin declensions, efficiently substituted by a rich stock of prepositions. The most startling similarity is that the rich system of Latin verbal tenses remained practically the same in modern Portuguese, while it suffered drastic suppressions and modifications in other Roman languages. For instance, Latin’s more-than-perfect tense, which signifies a remote past as viewed from a more recent past, is designated in French by the composed form: “Il avait aimé”, English’s past perfect, he had loved. In Portuguese, the contracted form of the Latin more-than-perfect tense remained intact, while at the same time the composed form – which is equally Latin in spirit – was also adopted, so Portuguese-speaking people from Portugal, Brazil and Africa have at their disposal two forms of the more-than-perfect, two ways of viewing the remote past from the standpoint of a more recent past. The contracted form (“amara”, “louvara”, he had loved, he had praised) is used in a pure narrative and casual way, while the composed one – tinha amado, tinha louvado –, inasmuch as it breaks the unity of the idea between the pure meaning of the main verb and the temporal reference given by the auxiliary one “ter” (to have), serves explicitly to stress the anteriority of the time one is refering to. A more precise idea of what this means in the practical use can be obtained by the following difference: a novelist or a journalist that simply reports the previous background of an event can at ease make use of the contracted form – “Ele fizera isto ou aquilo”, he had done so and so – while an attorney at bar, who needs to stress the precise temporal sequence in order to obtain criminal proof will surely choose the composed time: “Ele tinha feito isto ou aquilo”, he had already done so and so.

So fine a distinction (as many others of similar importance) can be found not only in the indicative mode but also in the subjunctive one.

The richness of the verbal system that Portuguese brought forth and developed from Latin allowed for the construct of very extensive sentences gathering together simultaneously several temporal dimensions, and a great variety of logical relationships, harmonically. – without loss of either unity nor clarity.

Rosenstock-Huessy says that the great pedagogical virtue of Latin is that every sentence exhibits in a transparent way all the fabric of social relationships existing in the context of speaker and audience. Much of this transparency was maintained in Portuguese, and that permited the development of two social phenomena of great importance: first, Portuguese is the only language in which an almost literal translation of scholastic authors, such as St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scott, sounds very natural and requires little adaptation. Due to this, the fine terminology of scholastic thought could be absorbed and integrated in a more modern philosophical language, in the work of the greatest Brazilian philosopher, Mario Ferreira dos Santos, opening to the Portuguese language the perspective of becoming a wonderfully proper language for philosophy. Second, the juridical tradition of Portuguese comes directly from Roman Law, and thanks to these properties of our language it kept great precision, together with nuances that took form in two outstanding pieces of Brazilian Law: the Brazilian Civil Code of Francisco Campos and the Philosophy of Law by Miguel Reale.

Thus, at first it would seem that a translation of Rosenstock into Portuguese was to find the best possible conditions to illustrate – through gramatical relationships – the structure of human society. However, what we found was precisely the opposite, for in Brazil the Portuguese language, in the last five decades, suffered a process of deterioriation and decomposition comparable only to the one Karl Kraus, Eric Voegelin and Rosenstock himself saw taking place in the German language during the thirties. The difference being that the richness and the efficacy of the German language could be maintained by German authors in exile, while the losses suffered by Portuguese language in Brazil, if not altogether irreparable, will take many decades to be corrected.

To begin with, two verbal persons simply disappeared from use, first in popular intercourse, then in literary usage, and finally in grammar compendiums. Those gramatical persons are – or were – precisely the ones Rosenstock would consider essential to the clarifying of social relations, and the very forming of human consciousness itself. They are the second persons, singular and plural – tu and vós – corresponding to the English you. They were substituted by verbal compromises using the third person, derived from old respectful forms of treatment having lost all respectful content in modern usage.

Now, how is it possible to speak with a person without saying you? How to distinguish the property of one or the other, if we only have the possessive pronouns of the third person? The difficulties in the construction of certain sentences of modern Portuguese are astounding, what makes the learning of the language so hard a task that even the literate classes would tend to write and speak in an obscure and incorrect way. Please note I am speaking but of one of the many losses Brazilian Portuguese suffered in the last fifty years. I am not aware of a similar occurrence in any other language in the world, being at a loss to imagine any other language losing two verbal persons in so short a time. But thanks to this and other phenomena of similar kind, the distance between spoken and written language in Brazil deepened to such an extent that the former became exceedingly confused and obscure, while the second often manages to sound artificial to the risk of being ridiculously pompous. Such situation scarcely makes it easy the circulation of ideas, for on the one hand people close themselves in simplified slogans that do not demand thought, while intellectuals get trapped in an empty and excessively intricate speech presumaby designed to give themselves an impression of thinking. During the last decades, intellectual decadence in Brazil has been so deep and extensive that gathering documents about that process in the several fields of mental activity – I was led to compose two volumes of a work called significantly “The Collective Imbecile”, and have since gathered material for three more volumes. The state of gradual loss of intellectual consciousness among Brazilian literate classes is so serious that if I was to fully describe it here to you, I might be justly accused of making negative propaganda of my country abroad.

My own written work – twelve volumes up to now – is but a hugely exhausting effort to restore the nobility and communicability of the language, using on the one hand the constructions inherited from the classics, and on the other hand the popular arrangements that – born from the decomposition of the language – could be used in some way as a sort of vaccine against it.

In my classes I have the habit of explaining to my students the state of the language and my reasons for writing as I do. The work on the translation of Rosenstock is part of this effort to make a reflection on both the disease of the language and the possibilities of a cure.

The first time the name of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy was mentioned before a Brazilian audience was in 1946, in a brilliant essay on European Revolutions written by Austrian born Brazilian literary critic Otto Maria Carpeaux. Carpeaux was, like Rosenstock-Huessy himself, a Jew converted to Christianity. Fleeing from the nazi invaders of his native country, he came to Brazil in 1939, mastered Portuguese with astounding speed and in a few years became the dean of Brazilian literary criticism.

He wrote many books and press articles and introduced a whole generation of Brazilian students to many authors they had never heard of. But that generation passed away before it was able to transmit to the next anything but a tiny piece of its rich human and intellectual experience. Carpeaux was forgotten, and so was his essay to make Brazilians read Rosenstock-Huessy. My own generation seemed interested in nothing more than Marxism. This kind of oblivion signals the phenomenon that Rosenstock-Huessy himself calls decadence: the older generation fails to transmit to the new one a set of values and a meaning of life. Decadence entails revolution.

Americans and other foreigners do not seem at all aware a revolution is taking place in Brazil. Many, misinformed by the media, believe that what is going on in Brazil is a simple democratic battle against corruption and poverty. But the campaigns against corruption never lessened corruption, having rather increased it, for they were simply used by the political left to destroy their adversaries, and not for a moral cleansing of the country. The fight against poverty is also more of a legitimizing slogan than a reality, for in no other country or epoch were so many people so rapidly removed from poverty by the mere spontaneous progress of economy. For instance, in the sixties more than fifty percent of our children had no schools. Today this number fell to two percent. People under the poverty line – a number that three decades ago reached forty percent of the population – today are but eight percent. So much progress and prosperity do not justify a general revolt against social dereliction. And yet, this revolt is much greater today than three decades ago. If it was not created by the increase in poverty, one can only find its roots in cultural and psychological causes. But then we might ask a Rosenstockian question: if the language is in decomposition to the point that even the word you disapears from it, can we not also expect that the whole society has great difficulty in becoming conscious of its own state and lives therefore in a state of hallucination and self-deceit, to the point of no longer being able to name its own evils?

What is taking place in Brazil is a crisis of/in articulation. Wherever one looks, informal, inarticulate language proliferates in a hallucinating flowering of word plays of very short duration, untranslatable dialects that very soon are forgotten and are not understood by anyone. On the other hand, formal and articulate language holds on to repetitive schema and stereotypes that move further and further away from the possiblity of expressing reality. From this comes the general complaint againt hunger, precisely in the moment when poverty is fast receding. “Miséria” became only the conventional name of a diffuse evil whose nature no one can express. That is why, actually, the country’s region where there is the greatest rebellion and revolutionary spirit, especially in the rural areas, is the one with the most prosperous agriculture, and less incidence of poverty. Foreigners sometimes cannot imagine how cheap food is in Brazil. When I remember that one of the promises of Roosevelt’s New Deal was to ensure that every American family had the guarantee to eat a chicken a week, and notice on the other hand that in Brazil even the poorest family can eat a chicken a day, I know exactly why this sounds untruthful abroad, for everyone hears about the social agitation in Brazil, and hear the Brazilian intellectuals themselves say that it is caused by desperate poverty. People hear about, for instance, the rising criminality rates, and associate it with extreme poverty, for that is the easiest association to make, but the fact is that there is no criminality in the poorest regions of the country, and on the places where, on the contrary, criminality peaked, the quality of living of the population has increased significantly in the past decades. People hear, for example, of the slums. But the word that designates them in Portuguese, favelas, means a house made of cardboard, because in the past freed slaves having found refuge there lived in houses made of cardboard. In these regions simply there are no more houses made of cardboard. There are houses made of brick and mortar, often with a satellite dish on top. The prosperity of the small construction industry inside the favelas was so great that a friend of mine – civil engineer and constructor –, a Brazilian of Canadian origin called Donald Stewart Jr., made a study suggesting that the model of real estate negotiations on the favelas served as a model for the rest of the country. And it was precisely in the middle of this prosperity boom in the favelas that the development of criminality and drug-dealing activities found their customers and market share. Regardless of that, the association between poverty and criminality seems to have taken over the minds and hearts of Brazilians to the point they do not see the peculiar characteristics of what is happening. People who cannot speak cannot think. The whole situation is a great hallucination, and I do not see another way to try to understand it and remedy it except through the Rosenstockian science of language.

Rosenstock saw his philosophy of language not only as a theory, but as a remedy for the suffering of society. More than ever, Brazilians need to learn how to speak, so they can tell each other what they are really going through in the experience of life. This dialogue is not the easiest task at the moment. All one hears are angered insults on the one hand, and abstract formalities on the other. When we thought of translating Rosenstock, our hope was that this helped us to heal our own speech, and that, once healed, we could maybe spread around a little health.

It would have been very dificult to express the fine print of Rosenstock’s considerations on the diseases of speech in a language that is very ill itself. To translate The Origin of Speech, we had once too often to do violence to modern Portuguese usage in Brazil, including the reintroduction of the two lost verbal persons, in such a way that the translation work in itself became an exercise on the therapy of language, and therefore the reconquering of consciousness. Every individual that took part in this work was transformed and stengthened by it. I have the impression that the same, in a smaller scale, will happen to the readers. For instance, in the universities where there reigns a strict strucuturalist and Saussurean dogmatism, or else a Marxist one, certain affirmations made by Rosenstock, in themselves obvious and undeniable, will have the effect of an electric shock on a catatonic patient. The affirmation, for instance, of the anteriority of formal and solemn language over the informality of everyday urban language will suddenly show to many that they have been studying linguistics with the wrong material. In Brazil there is a dogmatic belief that grammar is an instrument of domination invented by the rich classes to oppress the poor, and owing to that each new decomposition of language is celebrated as a huge progress, no one realizing that this phenomenon corresponds to a loss of the expressive ability and the widening of the abyss between the classes, which makes it even more difficult for people of poorer origin to have access to the creations of higher culture. Rosenstock’s book will help to build a bridge between those on the lower and those on the upper end of society.

One other aspect of this translation relates to the general editorial collection it is inserted into. Each book in this collection was chosen for the fact they had two characteristics. Firstly, it had to be a truly precious and rare piece of work. It is a collection on hidden treasures. Secondly, it had to be a piece of work that helped to rescue and salvage the Brazilian spirit. To enlarge the effect of each of these books, I added to each of them footnotes and comments that compared them to the other works in the collection, creating thus a dialogue between philosophers that, on most cases, never met. In such notes I try to articulate a debate and an understanding among these thinkers, as if they composed the staff of a single university, in which the readers would be the students. I did this because, substantially, the universe of readers of the collection is the same as the students and audience of my courses and conferences. I have a few thousand ex-students spread all over Brazil, that follow with interest and often passion the activities of our circle of studies. It is my hope they would come to form the nucleus of a future Brazilian intellectual elite, in which – I pray – the heritage of the past centuries will be salvaged as a continuous line to help to build the future. Each work in this collection is integrated in this effort to unite different times through language. In my notes Rosenstock dialogues, for example, with the Basque philosopher Xavier Zubiri, the German Eric Voegelin, the Romanian Constantin Noica, and with other authors he never heard of and in which work we always find a wonderful convergence of an incredibly rich and varied human experience.

Our edition of Rosenstock is not, therefore, an isolated editorial product, but an organic component of a vast pedagogical effort directed to a very specific public, a public conscious of itself as having a unity and playing a historical role in the Brazil of the future.

Rosenstock himself never separated his scientific work from his effort in social and pedagogical causes. I believe that in this sense, we have worked in a line to which he would give his approval.

Thank you very much.

Study Before You Speak

The shortest way to the destruction of democracy is fostering criminality through culture and subsequently trying to control it by disarming the civil population. The Brazilian left has consistently walked this double road for at least five decades, and they have always known exactly what the result would be: social chaos, followed by a toughening of the regime if the left is in power, or by insurrectional agitation if it is not.

This is an old, classic, immutable strategy, but the pretexts used to legitimize it according to momentary convenience have been varied enough so as to disorient the spectators, who devote themselves to animated and sometimes fierce discussions about the pretexts and never grasp the unity of the project behind them. More often than not, as is the case in Brazil, they do not even realize that there is a relationship between those two concomitant paths.

Mentally cowardly people will sell off their mothers to avoid running the risk of being labeled “conspiracy theorists.” They debase themselves to the point of defending tooth and nail the “theory of pure coincidences,” according to which actions are performed without authors.

Imagine then the fear these people have of acknowledging something that is already patently obvious to the rest of the world: that communism did not die in 1990 but is today stronger than ever, especially in Latin America. Thirteen years ago, when Jean-François Revel published his last book, La Grande Parade [Last Exit to Utopia], no one in Europe or in the United States disputed him on that point, but in Brazil it remains an arcane secret.

There are even those who deny that Dilma or Lula[1] are communists, but they do so because they do not know exactly what a communist is and imagine, as in general do the classic liberals, that it is simply a matter of ideals and ideologies. In reality, someone is a communist not because he believes in this or that, but rather because he occupies a position in an organization which acts as a part of or heir to the communist revolutionary tradition, with all the plethora of ideological varieties and contradictions there included.

The unity of the communist movement, especially since Antonio Gramsci, the American New Left, and the restructuring of communist parties after the collapse of the USSR, is rather of a strategic than of an ideological kind.

In fact, this movement, whose extinction the fall of the Soviet Union seemed to herald as imminent and inevitable, was only able to prosper and grow formidably since the beginning of the 90s precisely because it relinquished all homogeneous doctrinal self-definition and refined the technique of articulating in a strategic unity of action the most diversified currents and dissidents, whose collaboration was impossible up to that point. Convictions, therefore, whether sincere or feigned, do not play the least part in that.

In order for an individual to talk with some propriety about the communist movement, he must have previously studied the following:

  • The Marxist classics: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong.
  • The most important Marxist philosophers: Lukács, Korsch, Gramsci, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Lefebvre, Althusser.
  • Leszek Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism.
  • A few good books on the history and sociology of the revolutionary movement in general, such as James H. Billington’s Fire in the Minds of Men, Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium, and Eric Voegelin’s The New Science of Politics.
  • Good books on the history of communist regimes, written from a non-apologetic point of view.
  • The works of the most celebrated critics of Marxism, such as Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, Raymond Aron, Roger Scruton, Nicolai Berdyaev, and many others.
  • Books on the strategy and tactics of communists for taking hold of power, on the underground activities of the communist movement in the West, and especially on communist “active measures” (disinformation, agents of influence), as those by Anatoliy Golitsyn, Christopher Andrew, John Earl Haynes, Ladislav Bittman, Diana West, etc.
  • The largest possible amount of witness accounts from former communist agents or militants who describe their experiences in the service of the movement or communist governments, as those by Arthur Koestler, Jan Valtin, Ion Mihai Pacepa, Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz.
  • The extremely valuable accounts on the human condition in socialist societies, such as those by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Vladimir Bukovsky, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Richard Wurmbrand.

This is a reading program that can be completed in four or five years by a decent student. I know no one, either on the right or the left in Brazil, no one, absolutely no one who has completed a similar course of study. There are so many people who want to voice their opinions on the topic, usually putting on airs of sapience, and nobody, or almost nobody, who is willing to make the necessary effort in order to provide their words with some substance.

No honest leftist can do so without abjuring his belief for good. No right-winger can do it without recognizing he was a presumptuous fool, a dunce, and in many instances a useful idiot−oftentimes rather more useful and more idiotic than the leftist driven herd.

The left thrives on the exploitation of ignorance, their own or others’. Wherever they exercise their hegemony, the commandment prevails of never reading the works of adversaries and critics, but rather of spreading deformed and caricatured versions of their ideas and biographies, so the militant youth will hate them in the illusion of knowing them. Universities that profess to teach courses on Marxism push this precept to the limits of sheer and naked mind control.

The right, well, the right likes to cultivate its own forms of self-deception, about which I have talked at length in this newspaper. Maybe I will come back to the subject in another article.

Olavo de Carvalho
Diário do Comércio, August 13, 2013
Translation by Pedro Cava

[1] Translator’s note: former presidents of Brazil, belonging to the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT).

What Does It Mean to Be a Socialist?

Socialism has killed over 100 million dissidents and spread terror, misery, and famine over one quarter of the Earth. All of the earthquakes, hurricanes, epidemics, tyrannies, and wars of the last four centuries combined have not produced such devastating effects. That is a sheer and simple fact, accessible to anyone who can look into The Black Book of Communism and do some elementary calculations.

Since, however, what determines our beliefs are not facts but rather interpretations, the devout socialist always has recourse to the subterfuge of explaining away that formidable succession of calamities as the effect of fortuitous events independent from the essence of socialist doctrines, which could then maintain, immune to all the misery of its accomplishments, the beauty and dignity of a superior ideal.

To what extent is this claim intellectually respectable and morally acceptable?

The socialist ideal is, in essence, the diminishment or elimination of differences in economic power by means of political power. But no one can effectively arbitrate the differences between the more powerful and the less powerful who is not himself more powerful than both: socialism therefore must gather a power sufficient not only to impose itself on the poor, but also to successfully face the whole of the rich. Thus it cannot level the differences in economic power without producing even deeper differences in level of political power. Moreover, given that the structure of political power cannot float in thin air, but rather that it costs a lot of money, it is not conceivable that the political power might subjugate economic power without absorbing it into itself, taking the riches from the rich and managing it directly. Hence under socialism, precisely contrary to what happens in capitalism, there is no difference between political power and control over wealth: the higher an individual and a group’s position in the political hierarchy, the larger the wealth at their utter and immediate disposal. There shall be no class richer than that of the rulers. Then will the economic differences not only have necessarily increased, but rather, after being consolidated in the unified political and economic powers, they will have become impossibly unsurmountable, except by the complete destruction of the socialist system. And even destruction will not solve the problem, because, there existing no wealthy class outside of the nomenklatura, they will keep the economic power in their hands, merely swapping their means of legal legitimacy and now calling themselves the bourgeoisie. The socialist experience, when it is not crystallized in a bureaucratic oligarchy, dissolves into wild capitalism. Tertium non datur.[1] Socialism thus consists in the promise of obtaining a certain result by those means which necessarily produce the inverse result.

One needs only understand this to immediately realize the emergence of a bureaucratic elite endowed with tyrannical political power and opulent riches is no accident, but rather the logical and inevitable consequence of the very principle of the socialist idea.

This line of reasoning is accessible to any person with average intelligence, but given a certain propensity of weaker minds towards believing rather in desires than in reason, one could yet forgive those poor creatures who give into the temptation of “taking a gamble” on the lottery of reality, betting on chance against logical necessity.

Even if that is incredibly sleazy, still it is human. It is humanlike stupidity to insist on learning from one’s own experience when we have been gifted with logical reasoning, precisely so we could reduce the amount of experience needed for learning.

What is not human at all is rejecting at one and the same time the lesson from logics that shows us the contradictions of a project and the lesson from experience which, so it could rediscover what logic had already taught it, caused the deaths of 100 million people.

No intellectually sane human being has the right to cling so obstinately to an idea so as to demand that humanity sacrifice, on the altar of its promises, not only its rational intelligence, but its very instinct of survival.

Such incapacity or refusal to learn denounces, in the mind of the socialist, the voluntary and perverse debasement of intelligence to a subhuman level, the conscious abdication of that basic capacity for discerning which is the very condition of humanness in the human being. Being a socialist means refusing out of pride to take up the responsibilities of a human consciousness.

Olavo de Carvalho
Jornal da Tarde, October 28, 1999
Translation by Pedro Cava

[1] Translator’s note: from the Latin, “[a] third is not given,” there is no third option.