Chapter VIII – The Intelligence, the Will, and the Sensibility in the Determination of Human Acts

May 23, 2019



 The Intelligence, the Will, and the Sensibility in the Determination of Human Acts

The previous considerations call for an explication on the role of the intelligence, the will, and the sensibility in the relations between error and passion.

Plunder of a church during the French Revolution. Painting by Victor-Henri Juglar.

It could seem that we are affirming that every error is conceived by the intelligence to justify some disorderly passion. Thus, a moralist who affirms a liberal maxim would always be moved by a liberal tendency.

That is not what we think. The moralist may arrive at a liberal conclusion solely through weakness of the intelligence affected by Original Sin. In such a case would there necessarily be some moral fault of another nature, carelessness, for instance? This is a question beyond the scope of our study.

What we do affirm is that, historically, this Revolution had its ultimate origin in an extremely violent ferment of the passions. And we are far from denying the great role of doctrinal errors in this process.

Boissy d’Anglas saluting the head of deputy Féraud, 1st prairal An III (20th of May 1795), by Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard, taken by Rama.

Authors of great worth — de Maistre, de Bonald, Donoso Cortes, and so many others — have written numerous studies on these errors and the way each was derived from the other, from the fifteenth to the sixteenth century, and so on till the twentieth century. Therefore, it is not our intention to insist on this matter here.

It does seem to us, however, particularly opportune to focus on the importance of the passional factors and their influence in strictly ideological aspects of the revolutionary process in which we find ourselves. For, as we see it, little heed is paid to this point. On account of this, people do not see the Revolution in its entirety and consequently adopt inadequate counter-revolutionary methods.

We will now add something about the way in which passions can influence ideas.

1. Fallen Nature, Grace, and Free Will

By the mere powers of his nature, man can know many truths and practice various virtues. However, without the aid of grace, it is impossible for him to perdure in the knowledge and practice of all the Commandments.1

This means that in every fallen man there is always a weakness of the intelligence and a first tendency, prior to any reasoning, that incites him to rebel against the Law.2

2. The Germ of the Revolution

This fundamental tendency to rebel can, at a certain moment, receive the consent of the free will. Fallen man sins thus, violating one or more of the Commandments. But his rebellion can go further and reach the point of a more or less unconfessed hatred for the very moral order as a whole. This hatred, which is essentially revolutionary, can generate doctrinal errors and even lead to the conscious and explicit profession of principles contrary to Moral Law and revealed doctrine as such, which constitutes a sin against the Holy Ghost.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni

When this hatred began to direct the deepest tendencies of Western history, the Revolution began. Its process unfolds today, and its doctrinal errors bear the vigorous imprint of this hatred, which is the most active cause of the great apostasy of our days. By its nature, this hatred cannot be reduced simply to a doctrinal system: It is disorderly passion exacerbated to an extremely high degree.

Cardinal Josef Mindszenty, Archbishop-Prince of Esztergom and Primate-Regent of Hungary, Servant of God, pictured here at his 1949 "show trial", 1892 – 1975. Cardinal Mindszenty was imprisoned by the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party. After the war, he opposed Communism and it’s persecution in Hungary. As a result, Cardinal Mindszenty was tortured and given a life sentence in a 1949 show trial that generated worldwide condemnation. After eight years in prison, he was freed in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and granted political asylum by the United States embassy in Budapest, where Cardinal Mindszenty lived for the next fifteen years. He was finally allowed to leave the country in 1971. He died in exile in 1975 in Vienna, Austria.

Cardinal Josef Mindszenty, Archbishop-Prince of Esztergom and Primate-Regent of Hungary, Servant of God, pictured here at his 1949 “show trial”, 1892 – 1975. Cardinal Mindszenty opposed Communism and it’s persecution in Hungary, & s a result, he was tortured and given a life sentence.

Such an affirmation, which applies to this particular Revolution, does not imply that there is always a disordered passion at the root of every error. Nor does it deny that frequently it was an error that unleashed in a given soul, or even in a given social group, the disorder of the passions. We merely affirm that the revolutionary process, considered as a whole and also in its principal episodes, had as its most active and profound germ the unruliness of the passions.

3. Revolution and Bad Faith

One could pose the following objection: If the passions are so important in the revolutionary process, it would seem that its victims are always, at least to some degree, in bad faith. If Protestantism, for instance, is a child of the Revolution, is every Protestant in bad faith? Does this not run contrary to the doctrine of the Church, which admits there may be souls of good faith in other religions?

It is obvious that a person who has complete good faith and is endowed with a fundamentally counter-revolutionary spirit may be caught in the webs of revolutionary sophisms (be they of a religious, philosophical, political, or any other nature) through invincible ignorance. In such persons there is no culpability.

Mutatis mutandis, the same can be said of those who accept the doctrine of the Revolution on one or another restricted point through an involuntary lapse of the intelligence.

But if someone, moved by the disorderly passions inherent to the Revolution, shares in its spirit, the answer must be otherwise.

A revolutionary in these conditions may have become convinced that the Revolution’s subversive maxims are excellent. He will not therefore be insincere, but he will be guilty of the error into which he has fallen.

Also, a revolutionary may have come to profess a doctrine of which he is not convinced or is only partially convinced. In this case, he will be partially or totally insincere.

In this respect, it seems to us almost unnecessary to stress that when we affirm that the doctrines of Marx were implicit in the denials of the Pseudo-Reformation and the French Revolution, we do not mean the adepts of these two movements were consciously Marxist before the Marxist doctrine was put into writing and were hypocritically concealing their opinions.

The orderly arrangement of the powers of the soul and, therefore, an increase in the lucidity of the intelligence illuminated by grace and guided by the Magisterium of the Church are proper to Christian virtue. This is why every saint is a model of balance and impartiality. The objectivity of his judgments and the firm orientation of his will toward good are not even slightly weakened by the venomous breath of the disorderly passions.

On the contrary, to the degree a man declines in virtue and surrenders to the yoke of these passions, his objectivity diminishes in everything connected to them. This objectivity becomes particularly disturbed in the judgments a man makes of himself.

In each concrete case, it is a secret of God to what degree a slow-marching revolutionary of the sixteenth or of the eighteenth century, his vision beclouded by the spirit of the Revolution, realized the profound sense and the ultimate consequences of its doctrine.

In any event, the hypothesis that all were conscious Marxists is to be utterly excluded.


1 See Part I, Chapter 7,2, D.

2 Donoso Cortes’s important development on this truth is very pertinent to the present work. See his “Ensayo sobre el Catolicismo, el Liberalismo y el Socialism,” in Obras Completas (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1946), vol. 2, p. 377.

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution (York, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), Part I, Chap VIII, p. 55-59.


Perhaps none of his works, however, has had such a profound impact as the essay, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, translated into the world’s major languages.


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