Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s Speech for the Launching of his book: Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII
Distinguished Chairman, Mr. Morton Blackwell,
Imperial and Royal Highness, Archduchess Monica of Austria,
Your Grace, Duke of Maqueda, illustrious writer of the preface to the Spanish edition of the book that brings us together today,
reverend and beloved Priests,
Sir Roberto de Mattei and my lord Marquis Coda Nunziante, representatives of the dynamic Roman association Lepanto,
illustrious seminar participants, or better still, dear friends with whom I share so many aspirations and ideals.
Allow me to begin by greeting you, who have gathered here from so many places to reflect upon and experience a great event, namely, the launching of a book that addresses a crucial subject which has influenced the thought of the world’s great nations and the paths they have chosen for at least two centuries.
In many ways, the launching of a book is like the birth of a child. The difference is that healthy, ordinary children are continuously born. Thus, not every birth is likely to stir many hearts and souls, much less change the course of people and civilizations.
The importance of the launching of a book is proportional to the scope of the book’s theme. If the theme is great, the book undoubtedly will move souls, perhaps even civilizations, even if the book is not great.
If the book is truly great, it will stir the finest souls and civilizations. If it is merely mediocre it can still play an important role by moving mediocre people.
Seldom in history have mediocre people governed the main ideas, customs and civilizations so easily as today. In this apogee of mediocrity, which is assured by the media promoting (and even glorifying) so many mediocre people, a mediocre book’s potential for success and fame has never been greater.
Perhaps, it is a mediocre book that is here brought before a far-from-mediocre public. Perhaps its author, or the way he develops its theme is mediocre as well. Nonetheless, if the theme is not mediocre, neither is the book, since significant themes always have far reaching repercussions when brought before a noteworthy public.
Thus I begin my reflections perfectly tranquil. Your character and intelligent critique will provide for the book, despite its author’s inadequacy. The doors to mediocrity are therefore barred.
Ladies and gentlemen, our theme is central to the thought and actions of mankind. It is well known. It is always old, always new and always inexhaustible. It is the theme of elites.
Contemplating the inequalities that exist in all ages of history and human societies, three questions come to mind:
1. Is the existence of elites just?
2. Are elites useful for the religious, moral, political and cultural common good of peoples and civilizations?
3. Precisely, what constitutes an elite?
We must answer these questions first.
Inside everyone, there are diverse and conflicting tendencies. One such tendency leads those who strive to be upright and reasonable to seek perfection.
They believe that this perfection will bring happiness. Thus motivated, husband and wife strive to treat each other perfectly, in hopes of establishing a perfect home – a heaven on earth. They try to treat their children perfectly and expect harmonious, happy and significant progeny.
Inspired by this tendency, a professional acts the same way in his profession, as does the lady or gentleman in their social realm, and a thousand other kinds of people in a thousand other situations, all hoping to reach the pinnacle of happiness. Most people so insatiably hunger for happiness that they will follow the same impulse Mitterrand professed during his honeymoon with power, “To want for oneself everything, now and forever.”
From a certain vantage, this ambitious ascent seems like the march towards progress as it is currently understood, that is acquiring in the least possible time and effort, all that is needed, useful and convenient. Securing the possession of the goods thus gained forever, constituted the life goal of the pleasure-seeking man born in the joys and hopes of the Belle Epoque.
Not even two unprecedented world wars, whose finale in Hiroshima and Nagasaki foretold worse perils, destroyed this dream.
Even in the 1950s, most evolved peoples (and we regret having to say “evolved” due to the many errors, illusions and deceptions this word represents as a standard and talisman) expressed this dream in a chorus of joy and hope.
Those predicting problems, crises and anxieties which contradicted these facile and felicitous “Belle Epochian” prophesies were often subject to a roar of revolutionary dissonance.
During this epoch, a main element of “progress,” often connoting “evolution,” was social equality. However, an evident and universal fact of life defied this universal joy and revolutionary roar: inequality.
What is the correlation between the chorus and the clamor? In other words, is inequality a factor in man’s progress and happiness? Is it a friendly force to be protected and encouraged, or a hostile one to be suppressed?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the central problem from which, amid the post-World War II chaos, the august voice of Pius XII arose in fourteen immortal allocutions to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility and the notable analogous teachings of Benedict XV to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility in his allocution “Nella Recente Anniversaria,” of January 5, 1920, which justice demands that we mention.
Earlier, many diverse thinkers had sporadically considered equality and its relation to the common good. The protagonists and leaders of the Enlightenment passionately examined the problem. Their false solutions convulsed the entire civilized world from the end of the eighteenth century until today. No revolution has been separated from it, nor has the motivation or outcome of any war escaped its influence. Equality is part of the amorphous trilogy Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, whose definition is so controversial that even pontifical texts are dissonant in its interpretation.1
Rather than reopening the controversy of that infamous trilogy, we will analyze its second catchword: “equality,” not from a purely philosophical view, but from the viewpoint of the contemporary “man in the street,” who constitutes the “sovereign” majority and decisive voice to all modern representative regimes.
Contemporary man must judge this great theme. In doing so, he has an advantage over his forefathers, namely he has Pope Pius XII’s memorable allocutions to guide him. It is with special consideration, that I offer you some of the reflections on this theme, found in my book.
Our theme is marked by two symmetrical boundaries: (1) there must be limits to inequality, and (2) there must be limits to equality.
In a nutshell, the limits of inequality are found in human nature. Man, being intelligent and free by nature, has a common dignity that makes him king of the universe. From this perspective, all men are equal, and anything that infringes in any way upon his fundamental and innate dignity, or his natural and radical equality, belittles, offends and mutilates it.
Thus, every man is equal in the right to life and the fruits of his labor. He is equally entitled to constitute a family and exercise authority over it. He deserves a salary sufficient to provide that family dignified, secure housing, an adequate, healthy diet, resources to guarantee their children a proper education and so on. Obviously, the children should only be allowed to work when they are old enough to have acquired the rudiments of education.
Thus, in what all men are entitled by the simple fact of being human, they are equal.
Besides these basic qualities, being human, men are also endowed with innumerable other qualities that vary ad infinitum. According to the natural order, this legitimate equality is the foundation for legitimate inequalities, too numerous and diverse to be listed. Moreover, through our efforts and life’s circumstances, we can embellish these natural inequalities.
But, are these inequalities legitimate? Do they promote the common good?
Initially, they seem illegitimate. By nature, man rejects everything that makes him suffer. Pain is merely a symptom of the contradiction between the demands of man’s nature and the environment in which he lives.
Because of Original Sin, inequalities make inferiors suffer. Thus, man’s tendency is to continually clamor against everyone and everything superior to him. Consequently, the burden of inequalities continually weighs virtually everyone down. The great goal of progress and evolution, and the ideal of man’s ascending march is the suppression of these inequalities. Marx, Lenin and Stalin never sought a more radical end.
Seen in this light, elites are man’s worst enemy, a gang of criminals bent on hoarding the material and spiritual goods that belong to all. Since these arguments are the heart of all opposition to inequality, we must analyze them further.
Undoubtedly, elites and inequalities are derived from the natural order and have a function that serves the common good. Their very existence demands that they be willing to sacrifice for the fulfillment of this function. It is unimaginable that God created the natural order solely to benefit pleasure-seeking people, whose existence creates unhappiness and misery for everyone else.
Rather, if progress and “evolution” are ascending marches, they incur the sacrifices ascensions demand. To uplift mankind requires painful effort which most of humanity resists.
This vast ascension must be accomplished on a national, regional and even family level. Its motivation are those individuals or small groups specially endowed in nature and grace, with such a desire to improve themselves and their surroundings, that they become the driving forces of individual improvement and social progress. In a word, they are the yeast, society the dough.
To imagine that yeast is the enemy of dough because it is distinct and raises it, acting as a driving force and stimulus to elevate and increase it, is to combat progress, eviscerate evolution, paralyze life and impose boredom on everyone.
The Divine Master taught the same. Establishing the ecclesiastical mission, he said,
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing anymore but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men. You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13-16).
To favor temporal elites who are neither light nor salt, preferring to blend in rather than allow their superiority to shine is to favor the advance of darkness, not light. Thus elites are not only expedient, but necessary for the common good, despite the impression superficial spirits create in their regard.
Initially, the life of an elite would seem to be a constant delight. A great scientist, renowned orator, famous economist or anyone who successfully applies his talent to a difficult field, stands out in the crowd and receives greater remuneration than colleagues of lesser intellectual or moral achievement.
They also tend to form more illustrious social groups, and consequently have more abundant economic resources. This could lead outsiders to think, “These people are living the good life.”
In fact, they are workers par excellence. They are the greatest intellects applied to the broadest efforts. Working more, they produce more. Producing more, they receive more. In sum, they are benefactors par excellence. Therefore, it is only natural that they form a social class above the others. This greatly benefits society.
The “social scale” thus formed could be better termed a social “staircase.” Since, by nature, man belongs to a family, these staircases are not comprised solely of notable individuals, but of families. Thus, different families, joined in greatness, mediocrity or obscurity, make up the various “steps” of this “staircase.” As the Roman marriage ceremony says, “Ubi tu Gaius ego Gaia.” (Where you are Gaius I am Gaia.)
This natural solidarity is projected through generations. The glory of a meritorious man passes to his descendants with the family name. The bearer of an illustrious name carries the splendors of that name as long as his lineage endures, perhaps for centuries.
Just as the memory of a good deed disappears with time, a name linked to multiple famous deeds through a succession of generations justly immortalizes a clan.
Founding a city is a great act. Thus it is a special honor to belong to a family whose ancestors were part of a city’s first generations. It is a privilege to carry a name whose courage and decisive deeds established the stability which gives the city decades, even centuries, of prosperity and prestige. Moreover, for a family to project that prestige and prosperity throughout millennia is more than simply great, it is glorious.
Consider the resplendent and enduring glory of Rome. To belong to a founding family of Rome that preserved its identity throughout the ages, contributing to its formation as a world capital, is a glory which, like some wines, only improves with age.
Old names, old cities, old deeds, old lineages, old grandeurs! The word “old” grows in brilliance! Throughout the recently ended era of modernity it was inanely scorned. But, it is once again fascinating people as the strange and insecure dawn of post-modernity rises in our day.
How vain an objection to the hereditary transmission of glories and titles now seems!
The opponents of Tradition will cede that a general or diplomat who saved his country from ruin merits a sign of honor and national gratitude, but never that the good deeds of a father demonstrates qualities in the son. Thus, for a son to inherit honors merited by his father is unjust favoritism. Moreover, it allows useless people to hide behind their paternal name.
They purport that these decadent vestiges of bygone glory can never compare to today’s truly great men who possess an unparalleled capacity to work. Thus, it is entirely normal for an illustrious father than to have an obscure and impoverished son.
But this manner of thinking fundamentally violates the institution of the family! A good father is driven by a noble instinct to leave his son a situation proportional to his own. Thus, a father who consecrates his life to the common good expects the public to provide his son a situation equal to what he could have earned for him had he not given his life to the nation.
Gratitude is a virtue that normally passes from father to son. If a dedicated nurse cares for a wealthy man in his old age, justice demands that he leave her son a proportional legacy. Since great men are really the nurses of a Nation, does not the country owe them and their descendants a legacy in gratitude for their sacrifices?
The illustrious writer Joseph de Maistre (who lived from 1753 to 1821) once received a letter from a French aristocrat who lamented her dull life, which she attributed to a custom by which ladies rarely wrote books. That was considered an elevated task reserved for men.
The writer wittily replied that she was mistaken. Ladies, he explained, are called to bear children which is far nobler than bringing forth a book.
This gentle answer undeniably holds a measure of truth. By cooperating with her husband, their marriage bears fruits and forms an abundant family. Thus, together with her husband, the wife deserves the merits his works receive.
Together, their untiring attention can provide their children an authentically Christian formation. This in turn, they will transmit to their immediate and distant descendants. Thus, the couple will yield one of the greatest works possible, a large, virtuous and lasting family. Therefore, the wife and children share the life, merits and rewards, the father deserves. This applies not only to families of high social standing, but even to the simplest families.
Since the French Revolution, with imbecilic joy and absurd hope the world has witnessed the mass destruction of “dynasties” great and small; of czars and mujiks, of aristocrats, bourgeois and laborers in the Christian West. This systematic destruction, from the Middle Ages through Modem Times, has been so merciless that many have no idea what we have lost.
During that period of history, the family’s strength endowed it with a strong cohesion, which in turn inspired most family members to work in the same profession. As a result, some professions, like that of watchmaker, customarily became the privilege of certain families in their respective regions.
The industrial and commercial success of these professions depended upon factors only possible with the family’s cohesion. Unlike today, commercial warfare was deemed dishonorable and replaced with collaboration. Ties of marriage and family were used to unite various branches of the industrial or commercial structures, enabling them to become a vast unity.
An illustrious contemporary writer, being addressed as “Monsieur de…” by someone who thought he was a noble, quickly corrected him, “I am not a noble. But, I can tell you that from Charlemagne to this day every generation of my family has provided privates to the nation’s military.”
Dynasties of kings, lords great and small, magistrates, bourgeois, peasants, soldiers and sailors… France of the time could almost be defined as an ensemble of dynasties, showing how the institution of the family can project its light into the humblest recesses.
Who could remain indifferent to the beauty and vitality of such an order? Who can deny the sublimity of a society in which everything is elite, or at least, elites are found among every social sector?
This panorama clarifies Pius XII’s concept of people and masses found in this famous text:
The people and a shapeless multitude (or, as it is called, “the masses”) are two distinct concepts.
The people lives and moves by its own life-energy; the masses are inert of themselves and can only be moved from outside.
The people lives by the fullness of life in the men who compose it, each of whom, at his proper place and in his own way, is a person conscious of his own responsibility and of his own views. The masses, on the contrary, wait for the impulse from outside, an easy plaything in the hands of anyone who exploits its instincts and impressions; ready to follow, in turn, today this way, tomorrow another.
From the exuberant life of a true people, an abundant rich life is diffused in the state and all its organs, instilling into them, with a vigor that is always renewing itself, the consciousness of their own responsibility, the true instinct for the common good.
The elementary power of the masses, deftly managed and employed, the state also can utilize; in the ambitious hands of one or several who have been artificially brought together for selfish aims, the state itself, with the support of the masses, reduced to the minimum status of a mere machine, can impose its whims on the better part of the real people; the common interest remains seriously, and for a long time, injured by this process, and the injury is very often hard to heal.
Hence follows clearly another conclusion: the masses, as we have defined them, are the capital enemy of true democracy and of its ideal of liberty and equality.
In a people worthy of the name, the citizen feels within himself the consciousness of his personality, of his duties and rights, of his own freedom joined to respect for the freedom and dignity of others. In a people worthy of the name, all inequalities based not on whim but on the nature of things, inequalities of culture, possessions, social standing, without, of course, prejudice to justice and mutual charity, do not constitute any obstacle to the existence and the prevalence of a true spirit of union and fraternity.
On the contrary, far from impairing civil equality in any way, they give it its true meaning; namely, that before the state everyone has the right to live honorably his own personal life in the place and under the conditions in which the designs and dispositions of Providence have placed him.
Against this picture of the democratic ideal of liberty and equality in a people’s government by honest and far seeing men, what a spectacle is that of a democratic state left to the whims of the masses!
Liberty, from being a moral duty of the individual, becomes a tyrannous claim to give free rein to a person’s impulses and appetites to the detriment of others. Equality degenerates to a mechanical leveling, a colorless uniformity; the sense of true honor, of personal activity, of respect for tradition and dignity, in a word all that gives life its worth, gradually fades away and disappears. And the only survivors are, on one hand, the victims deluded by the specious mirage of democracy, naively taken for the genuine spirit of democracy, with its liberty and equality; and on the other, the more or less numerous exploiters, who have known how to use the power of money and of organization in order to secure a privileged position above the others, and have gained power.2
This society of “dynasties,” made up of distinct social or socio-economic bodies is conducive to the people propelling the State, instead of being propelled by it. Thus, we are drawn to the question first posed by French royalists to the electorate regarding the popular monarchist restoration movement after the Second World War, “Le Roi? Pourquoi pas?” (The king? Why not?)
Remembering this past, whose vestiges still remain in Switzerland and elsewhere, a similar question comes to mind, “Social elites? Why not?”
* * *
Nothing affirmed here implies that social or sociopolitical elites should be rigorously restored to their past position. It simply affirms that the general path of all modern nations (particularly the United States) from 1789 until today has promoted the radical negation of all elites and their systematic persecution and suppression (real or apparent), in order to establish a current or future regime preponderantly of the masses.
This is epidemic for various reasons. The first is a phenomenon of international mimicry. When a nation holds the pinnacle of power, lesser nations tend to solve their problems by imitating it.
Since the end of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, the United States has been the world’s leader, and its influence is increasing. The bloodless beheading of elites in the United States, though less extensive than leftist propaganda suggests, gave this great nation’s history a false face. It alludes to a country more radically egalitarian than its authentic history attests. This false, but wide-spread belief guided the entire western world.
Thus we see the importance of our goal for Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII – A Theme Illuminating American Social History, which is, in part, to prove that the United States has never been a ferociously egalitarian mass-nation adverse to the wholesome ideal of a people-nation. It demonstrates the remarkable present growth in the number of Americans seeking to order their nation increasingly as one of elites.
* * *
Despite all of this, the word elite is still meaningless in certain sectors inside and outside America. To many it sounds like bigotry that honors and even flatters those on top, while disparaging those below. These same people believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ was the omnipotent adversary of pain. Since elites make inferiors suffer, their existence is anti-Christian and class struggle is at the core of a Christian concept of social relations.
But, the Gospel teaches precisely the opposite. It preaches collaboration among harmoniously unequal social classes.
Before finishing this talk, which has grown excessively long due to the spiritual delight of being with you, we must remember the great, supreme truth, which should enlighten this evening’s meditation on the physical and spiritual good of elites. Let us not underestimate the true importance of this good, considered principally in spiritual terms.
The Gospel clearly shows us how much our pains of body and soul move the mercy of Our Divine Savior. This is evidenced by the phenomenal miracles He so often performed to alleviate such pains.
But this was not the greatest gift He gave us. Who does not understand that Christ is our Redeemer and that He willed to suffer the cruelest pains to redeem us, does not understand Christ’s mission.
Even at the height of His Passion, Our Lord could have instantly ended His bitter pains by a mere act of His Divine Will. At any time during His Passion, He could have ordered His wounds to heal, His precious Blood to stop pouring forth. He could have commanded His lacerations to stop scarring His Divine Body. He could have even ordained a jubilant victory to halt the persecution bringing about His death.
However, He did not will this. He wanted to be dragged along the Via Dolorosa to the heights of Calvary. He wanted to see His Most Holy Mother engulfed in the deepest sorrow and finally He wanted to cry out, in a voice to be heard until the consummation of the centuries, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Thus we understand that, by calling each of us to suffer a small portion of His Passion, He clarified the unparalleled role of the Cross in the life of man, the history of the world and His own glorification.
Nor should we imagine that by inviting us to suffer the pains of life, He wished to dispense us from pronouncing in the anguish of death our own “consumatum est.”
Without an understanding and love of the Cross, without each of us passing through our own Via Crucis, we will not have fulfilled Providence’s design, and on our deathbed we will not be able to make our own the sublime prayer of Saint Paul, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished my course. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8)
Elites, perfect family organization, intense family love, these are all excellent qualities, but without a love of the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ at their root, they will avail nothing. With this love we will obtain everything, even as we are weighed down with the holy burden of purity and other heroic virtues, unceasing attacks and mockeries of the enemies of the Faith and the betrayals of false friends.
The great foundation, indeed the greatest foundation, of Christian Civilization is that each and every soul cultivates a generous love that embraces the Holy Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
May Mary help us to exercise this love and we shall re-conquer for her Divine Son the Kingdom of God, which today flickers so faintly in the hearts of men.
1. Of Pius VI, in the decretal letter of March 10, 1791, and on citing the encyclical Inescrutabile Divinae Sapientiae in the Secret Consistory of June 17, 1793; Pius IX in the encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum of December 8, 1849; Leo XIII in the encyclical Humanum genus of April 20, 1884; Saint Pius X in the Apostolic Letter Notre Charge Apostolique of August 25, 1910; Benedict XV in the allocution given on the occasion of the promulgation of the decree on the heroism of the virtues of Blessed Marcelinus Champagnat, July 11, 1920; Paul VI in the allocution during his visit to Frascati, September 1, 1963; John Paul II in the sermon of the Mass at Le Bourget Airport, in Paris, June 1, 1980, and on the occasion of the beatification of Guillaume Repin and his companions, February 20, 1984.
2. Discorsi e Radio messaggi di Sua Santita Pio XII, Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, vol. 6, pp. 239- 240.