Sapientiam Autem Non Vincit Malitia - Eagle photo: Donald Mathis


The Revolutionary Mentality

Olavo de Carvalho
Translated by Tiago Tondineli from "A mentalidade revolucionária", Diario do Comercio, August 13th , 2007


Since word got out that I am writing a book called "The Revolutionary Mind", I have received many requests for a preliminary explanation of such phenomenon.

The revolutionary mind is a perfectly identifiable and continuous historical phenomenon, whose developments over five centuries may be traced in countless documents. This is the subject of an investigation that has occupied me for several years now. It is not exactly a "book", as I have presented some of the results from my studies in classes, conferences and articles, and I am not sure if one day I will be able to reduce this huge material to a specific printed format. "The revolutionary mind" is the name of the subject, and not necessarily of one, or two or three books.

I have never worried much about the editorial format of what I have to say. I investigate the issues that interest me and, when I arrive at some conclusions that seem reasonable to me, I pass them on, orally or in writing, as the occasion permits. To render my conclusions in a book format is a nuisance that, if I could, I would leave for an assistant to take care of. As I have no assistant, I am postponing this work while I can.

The revolutionary mind is not essentially a political phenomenon, but a spiritual and psychological one, though its field of expression and its fundamental instrument is political action.

To make things easier, I use the expressions "revolutionary mind" and "revolutionary mentality" in order to distinguish between the concrete historical phenomenon, with its varied manifestations, and the essential and permanent characteristic that enables one to grasp its unity throughout time.

The "revolutionary mentality" is the permanent or transitory state of spirit in which an individual or a group believes himself capable of remodeling the whole society if not human nature in general through political action. As an agent or bearer of a better future, he considers himself to be above all judgment by present or past humanity, being accountable only to the "court of History". But the court of History is, by definition, the very future society that this individual or group claims to represent in the present. So, as future society is only able to bear witness or to judge through this same representative, it is clear that he thus becomes not only the sole sovereign judge of his own acts, but the judge of all past, present and future humanity. Able to accuse and to condemn all laws, institutions, beliefs, values, traditions, actions and works of all epochs without being subject, in his turn, to the judgment of any of them, he lies so much above historical humanity that it would not be inaccurate to call him Superman.

As the self-glorification of Superman, the revolutionary mentality is totalitarian and genocidal in itself, independently from its ideological content in different circumstances and occasions.

By refusing himself to be accountable to anything except a hypothetical future of his own invention, and firmly disposed to destroy by cunning or by force every obstacle to the remodeling of the world to his own image and likeness, the revolutionary is the worst enemy of the human species, compared to whom the worst tyrants and conquerors of Antiquity impress us by the modesty of their aims and by a notable circumspection in the use of their means.

The advent of the revolutionary to the foreground of historical scene a phenomenon whose origins can be traced to around the XV th century, and which manifests itself with all clarity at the end of the XVIII th century inaugurates the era of totalitarianism, world wars, and permanent genocide. Over a period of two centuries, revolutionary movements, the wars they undertook and the slaughter of civilian populations necessary to consolidate their grip on power have killed much more people than the sum of all wars, epidemics, earthquakes, and natural disasters of any kind since the beginning of world history.

The revolutionary movement is the worst scourge to befall upon the human species since its advent on Earth.

The expansion of genocidal violence and the imposition of ever more suffocating restrictions to human liberty have followed pari passu the dissemination of the revolutionary mentality among ever growing segments of the population. This way, entire masses attribute to themselves the role of avenging judges, appointed by the court of the future, and grant to themselves the right to practice infinitely bigger crimes than all those which the revolutionary promise purports to end.

Even if we do not take into account deliberate killings and consider revolutionary performance only from the economic point of view, no other social or natural cause has ever generated so much misery and brought about so many deaths due to malnutrition as the revolutionary regimes in Russia, China, North Korea, and several African countries.

Whatever the future of the human species and whatever personal conceptions we may have about it, the revolutionary mentality must be radically expelled from the repertoire of admitted social and cultural possibilities before, by so much forcing the birth of a supposedly better world, it turns it into a gigantic abortion, rendering the millennia-old journey of the human species on Earth a meaningless history crowned with a bloody ending.

Although the different revolutionary ideologies are, all of them, in greater or lesser degree, menacing and wicked, their evil does not rest so much in their specific content or in the strategies to bring it about, as in the very fact of them being revolutionary in the sense defined here.

Socialism and Nazism are not revolutionary because they propose supremacy of a social class or of a race, but because they turn these goals into principles for a radical remodeling not only of the political order, but of all human life. The evil that they foreshadow becomes universally threatening because they do not present themselves as local answers to momentary situations, but as universal commandments instilled with the authority to remake the world according the mold of a hypothetical future perfection. The Ku-Klux-Klan is as racist as Nazism, but it is not revolutionary because is does not have any worldwide project. For this reason, it would be ridiculous to compare it, in terms of its dangerousness, to the Nazi movement. The KKK is a simply a police problem.

That is why it must be stressed that the meaning here given to the term "revolution" is at once more encompassing and more precise than the one generally attributed to it by historiography and by the current social sciences. Many socio-political processes usually called "revolutions" are not actually "revolutionary", because they do not partake of the revolutionary mentality, they do not aim at the total remodeling of society, culture and the human species, but work only to modify local and momentary situations, ideally for the better. For example, the political rebellion to severe ties between a country and another is not necessarily revolutionary, and neither is the mere overthrow of a tyrannical regime with the goal of bringing a nation to the level of freedoms already enjoyed by neighboring peoples. Even though such undertakings may employ large scale warfare resources and may cause spectacular transformation, they are not revolutions because they do not aspire to anything other than the correction of immediate evils or even the return to a previous situation.

What truly characterizes the revolutionary movement is that it imposes the authority of a hypothetical future on the judgment of all the human species, present or past. By its very nature, the revolution is totalitarian and universally expansive: there is not a single aspect of human life that it does not intend to submit to its power, there is no region of the world where it does not wish to extend the tentacles of its influence.

So, according to this definition, if on one hand the concept of "revolution" must exclude several politico-military movements of vast proportions, it must, on the other hand, include several apparently peaceful movements of a purely intellectual and cultural nature, whose evolution over time may turn them into political powers aimed at universally imposing new patterns of thought and conduct through bureaucratic, judicial and police means. In this sense, the Hungarian rebellion of 1956 or the overthrow of the Brazilian President Joao Goulart in 1964 were not, in any way, revolutions. Neither was the American Independence, a special case that I will have to deal with in another article. But there is no question that Darwinism and the set of pseudo-religious phenomena known as New Age are indeed revolutionary movements. All these distinctions will later be subject of separate explanations and are mentioned here only as a sample.

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Among the confusions that this study allows to elucidate is the one that dominates the concepts of the political "Left" and "Right". This confusion stems from the fact that these two words are used to designate two orders of entirely different phenomena. On one hand, the Left is the revolution in general and the Right is the counter-revolution. There seemed to be no doubt about this when these terms were used to designate the two wings of the États Généraux in revolutionary France . But later developments led the revolutionary movement itself to appropriate both terms, and to use them to designate its own internal subdivisions. The Girondins , who sat to the left of the king, became the "right-wing" of the revolution, in the same way that, once the king was decapitated, supporters of the Ancien Régime were banned from public life and had no right to their own political denomination. This retreat of what is admissible as "right-wing" by labeling as such one of the wings of the Left itself, became later a habitual device of the revolutionary process. At the same time, the remaining genuine counter-revolutionaries were often forced to ally themselves with the revolutionary "Right" and to assimilate themselves to it in order to preserve some means of action in the aftermath of the victorious revolution. To complicate things even more, once counter-revolution was excluded from the repertoire of politically admissible ideas, counter-revolutionary resentment continued to exist as a psycho-social phenomenon, and was many times used by the revolutionary Left as a pretext and a rhetorical appeal to win for its cause sectors of the population who, though deeply conservative and traditionalist, revolted against the revolutionary "Right" dominant at that moment. The appeal of the Brazilian Landless Workers' Movement (MST) to rural nostalgia or the pseudo-traditionalist rhetoric employed here and there by Fascism make us forget the strictly revolutionary disposition of these movements. Mao Zedong himself was for some time considered to be a traditionalist land reformer. It is needless to add that, in the internal disputes in the revolutionary movement, the warring factions often accuse each other of being a "right-winger" (or "reactionary"). As with the Nazi rhetoric that intended to destroy at once "reaction" and "Communism", the Communist side employed a double and successive discourse which first treated the Nazis as primitive and anarchic revolutionaries and then as members of the "reaction" devoted to "saving Capitalism" against the proletarian revolution.

The terms "Left" and "Right" only have a meaning when used in their original sense of revolution and counter-revolution respectively. All their other combinations and meanings are occasional arrangements that do not have any descriptive power, but retain casual usefulness as symbols of the unity of a political movement and as demonizing signs of its objects of hatred.

In the U.S., the term "Right" is used to describe both conservatives in a strict sense, who are viscerally anti-revolutionary, and globalist Republicans, the "right-wing" of world revolution. But much worse is the confusion reigning in Brazil, where the counter-revolutionary Right does not have political existence and the word "right-winger" is used by the ruling (leftist) party to designate any opposition it encounters, even within leftist parties, whereas the leftist opposition uses it to label the ruling party itself.

It is clear for me that it is only possible to return some objective descriptive power to these terms if we take, as a delimiting line, the revolutionary movement as a whole, and oppose to it the counter-revolutionary Right, even where it does not have political expression and is only a cultural phenomenon.

The essence of the counter-revolutionary or conservative mentality is the aversion to any project of encompassing transformation, the obstinate refusal to intervening in society as a whole, the quasi-religious respect to regional, spontaneous and long-term political processes, the denial of all authority to the spokesmen of the hypothetical future.

In this sense, the author of these lines is strictly conservative. Among other motives, because he believes that only the conservative viewpoint can provide a realistic view of the historical process, as it is based on past experience and not in conjectures about the future. All revolutionary historiography is fraudulent from its foundation, because it interprets and distorts the past according to a mold of a hypothetical and indefinable future. It is not a coincidence that the greatest historians of all time have always been conservative.

If, considered in itself and in the values it fights for, the counter-revolutionary mentality must be appropriately called "conservative", it is obvious that, from the point of view of its relations with the enemy, it is strictly "reactionary". To be reactionary is to react in the most inflexible and hostile fashion to the devilish ambition of dominating the world.