Rocco Buttiglione is a prestigious Catholic intellectual who in 2004 was deprived of a post in the European Union Commission because of his faith and “conservative” views. In a recent article for L’Osservatore Romano he explains that education demands a series of restrictions as well as a formation in authentic freedom in order to seek truth.
In the article titled, “There is no freedom without prohibitions,” Buttiglione, who is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, explains that amidst the debate over the “educational emergency” in society, Pope Benedict XVI’s statement that “proper education consists of formation in the correct use of freedom” must be remembered.
Buttiglione notes that the first step in this education is to discard the present-day bias that “in order to educate in freedom, one simply needs to remove all ties and abandon young people to the simple, natural development of their passions.” This, he explains, is the “pròton psèudos (the ‘original error’) of modern education.”
Saying that this way of seeing things ignores the tendency to evil and the concupiscence that entered man through original sin, Buttiglione writes, “The emancipating and permissive pedagogy of our times has voluntarily ignored this anthropological structure of the human being. The intention was to create a liberated man,” however the effects are far from the intended results.
After contrasting “the freedom of man” and “the freedom of instinct,” Buttiglione remarks that to find freedom it is necessary “to subordinate immediate desires to the judgment of reason."
He goes on to warn of the current-day tendency to make spontaneity into an idol and explained the need to truly adhere “to goodness in order to seek truth.”
To achieve this, he continues, two fundamental factors are necessary in the education process that “today are systematically ignored:” asceticism and the experience of authority.
Asceticism, Buttiglione explains, “is the capacity to say 'no,' to resist the violence with which an impulse demands to be satisfied immediately without reflecting on whether or not it corresponds to the truth or to the true good of the person. Contemporary permissiveness has defamed asceticism by calling it ‘repression.’ Certain asceticism implies the effort to repress, but it also implies the capacity to give a new form to the energy that comes from instinct, corresponding to the truth of the person. Without asceticism there is no education of the person.”
Writing later about the experience of authority, the Italian intellectual says that it consists of “the presence of values in a person who bears witness to them and makes them directly and easily perceivable for others.
“Authority is the guide in the path towards the experience of values. Without asceticism and without authority there is no educational experience. Authority transmits the experience of values so that it can be tried in the life of the disciple. The disciple will not repeat this experience in a servile fashion as it has been fulfilled in the life of the master.” Instead, the disciple “will confront it with his own personal experience and filter it through it, reliving it and making it his own.”
Buttiglione then denounces today’s “permissive society for offering young people different ways of gaining immediate satisfaction of their own instincts, while consequently making it more difficult to form a free personality, capable of establishing an appropriate relationship with truth.”
“Traditional education was an invitation to fight to control one’s own passions, to seek the truth, to guide one’s passions according to the truth and towards the truth.”
By promoting “obedience” to one’s own passions, he explains, one prevents “the forming of a responsible and free personality, in order to create a mass of people that can be more easily manipulated by whomever is in power. This is the problem with education in our times.”
“The purpose of many modern ‘deconstructionist’ tendencies is the deconstruction of the self and the abolition of a conscious personality. In order to rebuild education we need to begin again on the basis of authorized testimonies—should not parents and teachers be the first in this—that are capable of unambiguously pointing the way towards an asceticism that makes us capable of the truth, that allows us to journey towards its discovery,” he concluded.