What is Organic Society?
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
In his book De Ecclesia [About the Church], Cardinal Louis Billot, the greatest theologian during the pontificate of St. Pius X, addresses the topic of the organic State. He properly notes that to define the human body as an ensemble of cells is folly, but to define it as an ensemble of organs is a great truth. Indeed, the human body is not just constituted of cells, but of cells that are part of organs. What properly makes up the human body are organs.
Analogously, to say that human society is principally constituted of individuals is a similar absurdity. Society is composed primarily and essentially of families. These, in turn, are formed by human persons. The family is the primary matter of society. Before all else, in human society we encounter persons living in a family. Only secondarily does the individual appear.
Members and organs that compose a healthy society
The social body, like the human body, is diversified. It has a head that thinks and commands - the Church, universities and political corps; it has arms that provide for its sustenance and well-being - farms in the countryside and guilds in the cities; it has legs to move - in the past, horse and oxen ranchers and today, transportation associations. It has institutions to care for the sick and provide protection for the people - hospitals, fire departments, police and guard units; it has schools and art institutes to instruct the people and raise the general cultural level.
In a healthy Catholic organic society, the life of the regions is expressed through different dignified customs and dress.
Above, a Tyrolean band marches through downtown Vienna.
Below, Hungarian dancers in their typical dress
These institutions are normally called intermediary societies. Like the members of the human body, they are primarily turned to the external life of society and have an important role to play in it. The healthier, stronger and the more independent these parts are, the less intrusive is the State.
These institutions that provide for the external needs of society rely on the health of the internal organs of the social body. The organs that provide life for these members are the family, the region, and the nation.
Nation is understood here as the harmonic assemblage of regions sharing a similar mentality, psychology, ethnic background, language, customs, and religion. A region is a social, cultural and geographical unit that has the same customs, history, and ethnic background, and is under the influence of the same leadership. Normally a region is the perimeter of influence of a cluster of families with strong personalities. This confirms the importance of the family as the mother-cell of society.
Organic Society follows Natural Law
Organic society is a social body that is according to nature and follows Natural Law.
In discussions about how a society should be, many people expect to find a precise plan to execute in the future. I believe the Catholic spirit is different.
Above, Polish youth in traditional costumes
Below, a young woman from Andalusia ridding a horse
We should study to see how other peoples who followed Natural Law - the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Japanese among others - or were inspired by the Catholic Church - the Germans, French, British, Spanish, Italians, etc. - lived in the past. Analyzing their lives, we should distinguish the historic conditions that contributed to the birth of these various peoples and the common principles that inspired them.
By drawing together an ensemble of natural principles and paying attention to the special graces that strengthened them, we would have conditions to begin to inspire the birth of a new organic society by applying such principles to the particular conditions we face today. With the help of special graces to fructify our work, we have a perspective before us that could lead to a new Catholic society.
This work of inspiration is fundamentally different from a planning committee. In a plan there is an extrinsic reality conceived as a model that must necessarily be followed. Someone reaches theoretical conclusions, systematizes them, and then tries to impose them on the entire society. For example, Socialists, Communists, Nazis and the like are all artificial planners.
The organic society of the future will sprout from the good seed of these principles sowed in the ground where Divine Providence finds receptiveness for them to grow. We should pay attention to where this receptiveness exists and help those peoples as much as we can, fortifying them in their good tendencies and helping them avoid falling into the many current abuses and errors, as well as into the mistakes and pitfalls of the past.
These are some general observations that can help us in our study of organic society.
Posted January 11, 2007
Organic Society was a theme dear to the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. He addressed this topic on countless occasions during his life - at times in lectures for the formation of his disciples, at times in meetings with friends who gathered to study the social aspects and history of Christendom, at times just in passing.
Atila S. Guimarães selected excerpts of these lectures and conversations from the trancripts of tapes and his own personal notes. He translated and adapted them into articles for the TIA website. In these texts fidelity to the original ideas and words is kept as much as possible.
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