“It is Forbidden to Forbid” : Really...?

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milestone in the moral crisis of modern man was the so-called Sorbonne Revolution, which, with its mottos of extreme radicalism, advocated a profound change in society, acting especially on the tendencies of the human being. Unbridled promiscuity, disorder, and eruptions of violence announced the arrival of a new historical era, in which instincts would be liberated after centuries of “slavery”. After the deification of reason in the French Revolution in 1789, it was now time to give “power to the imagination”, as another student slogan proclaimed.

A police shock trooper confronts a manifestation on Boulevard Saint-GermainAccording to some optimistic spirits, the ideas of May ’68 would not attain
the express objectives of the slogans


Slogans imbued with the concise French spirit

The instrument of propaganda was graffiti on the walls of the occupied universities, which became stamped with slogans imbued with the concise French spirit. These expressed the ultimate goal of the movement which began with demands for improvements in the universities.

The most famous slogan was “It is forbidden to forbid”. It conveyed the idea that all prohibitions were prohibited, but with the ironic addendum that “Liberty begins with a prohibition.” This contradictory phrase preached a prohibition so as to bring about the most complete libertinism. It was “forbidden to forbid” any sort of impulse from being satisfied, any form of sin, any liberation of the disordered instincts. Its objective, implied in the very phrase, was to forbid the practice of virtue, in an attitude of complete intolerance toward the good.

Other catch phrases included: “If there were a God, it would be necessary to kill Him”, “Neither God nor master”, “The sacred, this is the enemy”…

A successful cultural revolution

A new human type arose, a new mentality; in sum, a new world. It was a successful cultural revolution, with a surprising degree of radicalism, penetration and capacity for contagion; it would act on the tendencies of modern man, reaching the extremes that we see today. It was a transformation of society, expelling God from among men. Anarchy triumphed. A world emerged in which everyone could do as they pleased, except good… A new historical era was born which might be called the “civilization of instincts”, were it possible to give it the name of civilization.

According to some optimistic spirits, the ideas of May 1968 would not attain the express objectives of the slogans painted on the walls of the University of Paris, because they were too radical. They were mistaken. The action of contagion exercised by this revolution in fact changed the world. As Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira warned in his essay Revolution and Counterrevolution, “The explosion of these extremisms raises a standard and creates a fixed focal point, the very radicalism of which fascinates the moderates, and toward which they slowly advance.”1

The protagonists were youths, still relatively well-dressed and clean-cut. At that time drugs were not widespread, a minority used blue jeans and sneakers in the streets, and Bermuda shorts were not in general use. However, they provoked profound transformations which penetrated into all the capillaries of social life, like the seawater which seems to diminish when it meets the shore, but which is backed by the enormous power of the ocean.

New human types then arose in society, as “symbol-models” for the men of that decade: slovenly, with long unkempt hair, worn out clothes, and questionable hygiene. They foretold still greater alterations which would soon follow.

These were changes in ways of feeling, acting and living, provoking a profound social and cultural metamorphosis. The hippie model appeared, by which every moral norm came to be contested. Music, clothing and gestures suited to the new model were introduced as a secular pseudo-liturgy, with severe sanctions against dissidents.

Herbert Marcuse, considered to be the ideologue of this metamorphosis, gave free reign to his thinking in his “new revolutionary dimension”, proposing a complete change. He nonchalantly affirms the need for the disintegration of man’s system of life: “One can rightfully speak of a cultural revolution, for the protest is directed toward the whole cultural establishment, including the morality of present society.”2

Clash between the sacred and the unsacred

This transformation in habitual ways of feeling and living has been developing with greater intensity in recent years, modifying the habits of the West. It is the “liberation of the instincts”, it is modern relativism which denies the existence of good and evil, of truth and error, of the beautiful and the ugly.

This phenomenon has penetrated vast sectors of society, undermining the institution of the family. Fashions are rapidly moving from extravagance to nudism. Courtesy, good manners and respect in human relationships are disappearing. Newer generations relate to the anarchic, chaotic and aggressive world, where vulgarity takes the place of ceremony. Education seems to have for its sole goal the propagation of the spirit of “liberty” proclaimed by the slogans of Sorbonne.

The appearance of electronic means of communication further aggravates the situation. The torrent of novelties, impressions and sensations often solicits the disappearance of reasoning. Addressing those responsible for social communication, John Paul II affirmed: “The modern technologies increase to a remarkable extent the speed, quantity and accessibility of communication, but they above all do not favour that delicate exchange which takes place between mind and mind, between heart and heart, and which should characterize any communication at the service of solidarity and love.”3

The target of so many solicitations, men need to choose between the path leading to the sacred or letting themselves be trampled by the reigning secularism. In former times – Benedict XVI says –, such a situation would be unthinkable, “there was still respect for God’s image, whereas without this respect man makes himself absolute and is allowed to do anything – and then really becomes a destroyer.”4

In our sad days, the world finds itself in this clash between the sacred and unsacred. Which will prevail? 

by Fr. Fernando Gioia, EP. 


1 CORRÊA DE OLIVEIRA, Plinio. Revolução e Contra-Revolução. 5.ed. São Paulo: Retornarei, 2002, p.47-48.

2 MARCUSE, Herbert. La rebelión de París. In: La sociedad carnívora. Buenos Aires: Galerna, 1969, p.67.

3 ST. JOHN PAUL II. Apostolic Letter The Rapid Development, n.13.

4 BENEDICT XVI. Light of the World. The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times. Vatican City: LEV, 2010, p.54.

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