About Intelligence and Government
by Leonardo Castellani
Originally published in Nueva Política, Buenos Aires, N° 14, August 1941.
Taken from Seis Ensayos y Tres Cartas, Biblioteca Dictio – Vol. 20 pp 25 -
Thought and action:
Were we to stop here, the doctrine of the Aquinian would have been left perilously truncated and could suggest a slippery political rationalism similar to that of Voltaire, Condorcet and Auguste Comte. It is now necessary to demarcate the privileges of the will and the realm of the “practical man”, that is, of the doer. Briefly:
The idea that should rule society is not the technical or systematical idea or — worse yet — the idea which is detached from reality; what Bergson calls “conceptual minds”, but the vitalized idea, the profound idea, the idea immanently rooted in love, which will be all the more fruitful and real, the more ascendancy it attains over all that in man is not spirit. In sum, the intellect that should rule society is not the intellect of present day’s ‘intellectuals’, but the Knowledge, the Sapience, the Wisdom which ranges from the humble common sense — at the bottom — passing through sanity — in the middle — up to the creating vision or intuition. The well-known juridical and political axiom that custom, which has no value whatsoever in speculative disciplines, is a capital factor in the government of human matters, which are not pure form, but form and matter, motor and machine: you have to be an innovator in science but a traditionalist in politics. As soon as a better form is found, it should be adopted in what is speculative; not so in politics: from which it should be concluded that in the famous Galileo Galilei Roman controversy, Galileo was right, but so was the Roman Inquisition, one-half each as the Brazilian said, and neither of them knew that axiom of Saint Thomas: “Ea quae sunt artis, habent efficaciam ex sola ratione; et ideo ubicumque melioratio occurrit est mutandum quod prius tenebatur. Sed leges habent maximum virtutem ex consuetudine, ut Philosophus dixit in II Polit, et ideo non sunt de facile mutandae…” [“matters of craftsmanship have their efficacy from the sole reason, and that is why wherever an improvement takes place one has to change what was before. But laws have their primordial strength from custom, as the Philosopher said in II Politics, and that is why they should not be so easily changed...”]. Here is the revisionist urge of all utopians sensibly braked, and not braked by a stolid conservatism which refuses to change the old for it being older, but by the profound distinction noted above between the intimate, essential and vital ideas and the easy conceptual frameworks which form what can be referred to as the verbal surface of the spirit, and which Saint Thomas compares with the fluid reasoning of the drunken,. of the common men, and of children — and also of the demagogued peoples such as today´s porteños —, which do not really represent the actual sentiment of the human being who proffers them: “etsi ore proferant quod hoc est faciendum, tamen interius sentunt quod hoc non est faciendum …” [“Although they may say that this has to be done, deeply inside they feel that this should not be done…”].
We should not change hastily. This does not rule out progress. But progress in laws should be carried out, according to Saint Thomas, not by manipulating codes made from plants that are planted and can be changed from one day to the next — as has been with our holy Yankeeoid Constitution — but rather by the profound and gradual displacements which historical events produce in our ways of seeing and feeling social reality. From there that custom, second nature, often prevails over the law, as is in Roman law, since custom at times represents the accepted and established law before the improvised and vacuous law, which is on paper and in the whim of a man and nothing more. From there also that any written law ceases where it opposes nature or a Divine mandate. Saint Thomas specifies incisively these boundaries of the law when he speaks about religious obedience, the most rigorous one existing. It is true that the religious person must obey the hierarchical mandate blindly, “perinde ac cadaver” as they say Loyola said; but no man is exempt from guiding his life with his own lights nor can he ever act if his intellect does not picture his action aligned with reason. No vote in the world can exempt a man from having his own conscience because being man consists precisely in that. (Concerning this, I recall a somewhat brutish phrase in a sermon of my uncle’s, which was very much criticized, but the phrase contains a truth: “As Jesus Christ himself said in a parable, God did not come down to Earth to make capons. If to make eunuchs is what God came to Earth for, it would have been better if He had stayed where he was” said the barbarian of my uncle.) “Subditus non habet judicare de praecepto praelati, sed de impletione praecepti utique quia ad ipsum spectat. Unusquisque enim tenetur actus suos examinare ad scientiam quam a Deo habet, sive adquisita, sive infusa: omnis enim homo debet secundum rationem agere”. [“The subject is not to reason about the prelate’s precept, but about complying with the precept he is because it concerns him. Each individual is obligated to examine his own acts under the light of the knowledge which God gave him, whether natural or acquired or infused. This is because every man is obligated to act according to reason”.]
In the same article in which this axiom can be found, Saint Thomas explains that if a grave or a minor sin is clearly involved in a superior’s mandate, to obey it is a sin: “consciencia enim ligabit; praecepto praelati in contrarium existente” [“ conscience obligates him first when against it exists a precept of the prelate”]. Saint Ignatius “blindly” refers rather to that superficial and mutable everyday and conceptual reason which we gathered above, not to an illumined intuition of the obedient soul, directed to God like a searchlight in the night, and with the light of faith seeing much further away than the temporal and the routinary.
The “perinde ac cadaver” is a mystical metaphor which seems to have been invented on purpose to humble busybodies. Real obedience can never do away with conscience. There are instances where the subject has to tell his superior “we are both here risking our souls”, and say it with the same energy with which Saint Paul told Saint Peter, “in faciem ei restiti” [“I withstood him to the face”] as the impetuous Tarsensian said.
In his notable inquiry on contemporary chaos titled Ends and Means, Aldous Huxley examines with an attempt of impartiality and with great talent but with a penury of information and of metaphysical light, the philosophical problem of the forms of government under the light of the constitutions of two religious orders, the Benedictines and the Jesuits where it can be seen, in a more limpid form the two extreme valid solutions to the liberty-authority dualism. Huxley resolves leaning over excessively towards the benedictine “liberty” or “democracy”, to the point of denying the validity of the other form — licit to us —; in which he flagrantly contradicts history itself and the obvious facts, since the Society of Jesus would have not subsisted as it has for four fruitful centuries if what he says about the top lieutenant, Saint Ignatius, to wit: “He was without doubt wrong in adopting the most elevated militarism. “Liberality” has no value when the subject is not a responsible being. A corpse has no malice, nor is it ambitious, nor lascivious, but not for that is it endowed with “liberality”. A Jesuit novice is invited in many ways to mold his conduct to the conduct of a cadaver [?]. He has to consent to his superior moving him as he would move a corpse [heavy to move, for Christ’s sake]. So much passive obedience is incompatible with true liberality. If we believe in the value of “liberality”, we must avoid the most rigid militarism and imagine an organization system which results, aside from efficacious, educational in a high sense. The constitutional monarchy of the benedictine is of a greater educational value than Loyola’s totalitarianism. When the members of the communities reach a certain degree of responsibleness the pure democracy of the Quakers will result to be even more perfect than “benedictism”.
The portrait of Jesuitic obedience that Huxley paints thusly (total passivity, abdicative of personality) even though false is not absurd or fictitious. It represents the corruption of the virtue of obedience, corruption which is not impossible. The temptation of abdicating from moral conscience and becoming an automaton without fear and without risk and a plant with legs as inhuman as it may seem is a fact. Does not what physicians call genital adipose syndrome represent that same temptation in the biological order? Conscience is, after all, a burden, in accordance with what Campoamor — exaggeratedly [exaggerated in his time without a doubt, but now becoming realistic with these democratic governments of bribery and fraud, in which having a conscience becomes a real martyrdom ever more] — said:
“From the inferno in the most deep
saw no more atrocious sentence
than sojourning on this planet
encumbered with a conscience”
This temptation of dead or inert obedience is rarer than its opposite and carries the penalty in its bosom; that is why the ancient ascetics do not insist on it and put all their force in combating disobedience, which gives Huxley cause for calumniating Catholicism for not having taught — as Buddhism, says he — that intelligence is a duty and stupidity can be a sin (the theologian’s culpable ignorance). But all virtue, Aristotle already taught, walks always between two vices which represent their excess and their deficiency. So, the terrible criticism Huxley makes of those who believe they are saints because they use good ends (?) to an ultimate end which they cannot see whether it is bad or good — criticism applied by Huxley to the case of the British empire and its colonization — is absolutely accurate and his doctrine is purely and simply Thomistic. As regards his reproach of Catholicism, Huxley forgets that there right at his side he has the people of Catholic France, who responds to him with its vulgar proverb: “La bétise c’est un péché”. That, the French peasant does not need to learn it from Buddha.
I will never forget, speaking of this — and I don’t think making it public today will do any harm — what my uncle the priest said to me on returning from Europe where he had toured comparing not less than eleven Jesuit provinces concerning the terrible attack Unamuno had carried out against the Spanish Jesuits all his life: “What fails or can fail in some province of the Jesuits today — the canon told me — at any rate is that the superiors have become “owners” [of the command, of the positions, of the working instruments, etc.] meaning to say they have appropriated in a certain way the disposition of the “common” goods, inciting their subjects with their example to “become economically independent”, to put it this way. Then obedience-virtue becomes difficult, and the two extremes of obedience-vice — insubordination and servility — grow, with which everything loses vigor … But this is a defect of the person, not of the institute” ended the old man who deep inside did not love the Jesuits poorly.
That’s how my uncle used to tell me. I do not quite understand it in its entirety, for which reason I do nothing but study Saint Thomas furiously since then.