It is proper for everything that has a sound and healthy existence to tend continually toward perfection. This natural tendency should also manifest itself in the social classes.(1)
Perfection has degrees, as we have noted. From this perspective, a social class is a group of families that has achieved a degree of perfection proper to its level.
It is natural for parents—be they workers, bourgeois, or nobles—to desire to provide their children with the same standard of living they themselves enjoy. This continuity is just but insufficient. As much as possible, parents should desire to bequeath a higher standard of living to their children. This does not necessitate that a laborer’s son become a lawyer. The condition of workers may be greatly perfected and their cultural level appreciably augmented in the course of generations without their ceasing to be workers.
Another area capable of perfection is that of virtue. For example, there can be progress in conjugal love, in maternal and paternal love, and in so many other virtues. Such moral progress is necessarily accompanied sooner or later by artistic and cultural progress. This does not necessarily imply a change of social status, but a perfecting of the class as a whole.
A result of this perfecting in the lower classes within Christian civilization was the appearance of popular art that produced true masterpieces by artisans and peasants. This art was not learned in a school of fine arts, but conceived and executed as an expression of elevated qualities of soul.
This is not to say that it would be illicit for a person to rise from one class to another. This can be healthy and good when someone appears with special talents that justify, and even demand, such a rise. But this should be an exception rather than the rule, even while avidly supported.(2)
A person who proves to be an exception to the rule should not be rejected by the upper classes as a subversive element that will upset the social equilibrium. If someone with great talent appears, the doors of the upper classes should be open to him. Someone who rises like this is not spearheading a revolution, but rather participating in genuine progress. In fact, if he refines himself to the level of his new class, his children will already by born into that class.
Part of the process toward perfection, this must take place in all classes, but especially in upper class families, since they should provide an example for the rest of society.
The journey through the various degrees of perfection constitutes the harmonic and authentic progress of society. Herein resides the central thesis of Christian civilization: The entire society walks toward a common ideal, realized in its own way by each class.
(1) We understand class in its social sense as defined in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary: “a: one group of a usually society-wide grouping of people according to social status, political or economic similarities, or interests or ways of life in common; b: social rank, especially: high social rank; c: an economic or social rank above that of the proletariat.”
(2) This exceptionality, contrary to the prevailing myth, is observed in American society, as sociologist Paul Mott affirms: “The most obvious fact about mobility in our society is that the son is very likely to have the same occupational position as his father, or to be one rank above or below him. Movement from one extreme of the occupational status to the other is very unlikely.” (Paul Mott, The Organization of Society [Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965], p. 204).
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History (York, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), American Appendix, pp. 191-192.
Nobility.org Editorial comment: —
Here we see how Christianity indeed offers a true solution to the Social Question that has afflicted mankind for the last 200 years–ever since Industrialization and Revolution revamped the social landscape–if men will only avail themselves of it.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
All social classes are called to perfection and can strive to attain it. This quest for excellence, this seeking to improve the lot of one’s family, this pursuit of perfection can and should permeate all social classes.
Two roads open up for the individual who properly lives this pursuit of perfection: (a) perfection within his class; (b) ascent from his class to a higher one. Both are legitimate. The first is the more common, but the second is what prevents a hierarchical society from degenerating into the closed caste system so prevalent in pagan societies.
This invitation to ever higher forms of excellence, this virtuous path open to all of us, is what led Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira to affirm in a lecture about his book Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites: “Nobility is a virtue that assumes different names depending on the class in which it is found. When we find it among kings, we call it ‘majesty;’ When we find it among the nobles and aristocrats of a nation we give it its proper name, ‘nobility;’ and when we find it among the common people we call it ‘dignity.’”