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The Important Mission of Nobility Today – Interview with Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

August 25, 2010

Catolicismo magazine, no. 511, July 1993 (

CATOLICISMO: Why have you chosen the nobility as the theme for your most recent book?

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: It seems to me that at present, the attitude of public opinion toward the nobility is much less marked by the errors of the French Revolution than it still was a short while ago.

Indeed, as time goes by, we can see that the errors of the 1789 Revolution are “growing old” and losing their relevance. This does not mean their relevance has become small, but only that it is smaller than it has been and tends to decay more and more.

At the moment of this historic transition, it is interesting to deal with the question of the nobility, which stood at the very heart of all cogitations, agitations and almost every crime perpetrated by the French Revolution.

CATOLICISMO: What role do you attribute to the nobility today?

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: It is not properly speaking a question of attributing a role to the nobility but to recognizing that role in the objective panorama of contemporary reality. The nobility still exists; its titles are still in use; its personalities remain pretty much the object of special consideration. And, in line with what I have just said, in many places the prestige of the nobility is on the rise.

What is the role of the nobility nowadays? It is no longer the role it played in the old days, participating in some way in State government by ruling territories in feudal times or by having a preponderant participation in activities of capital importance in the State and in society.

In times of old, the nobility, as an eminently military class, contributed its members for the recruitment and formation of military officers in each country. Almost all officers were nobles. Also, some high state functions such as those of diplomats and magistrates were exercised by nobles, making the nobility a very powerful class.

It so happens that at that time, public opinion, still not “massified” by the media and the numerous effects the Industrial Revolution caused in the whole world, had a profound notion of the importance and respectability of each of the tasks carried out by the nobility. And for this reason, it had a very special respect for that social class.

With the French Revolution, all that changed. Countless people came to accept the false revolutionary dogma that in human relationships, absolute equality among all men is the supreme norm of justice. As a result, the egalitarian pressure of the Revolution had immediate and often violent effects on the State and on society, along with gradual effects produced more by propaganda than by force.

Thus, in a considerable number of countries, political egalitarianism caused the eruption of violent coups d’état which replaced monarchies with republics and consequently abolished the political functions of the nobility.

In other countries, however, egalitarianism slowly eroded the specific political powers of monarchs and aristocrats with their consequent reduction to merely representative figures. Such is the case, today, with the King of Sweden and the House of Lords in the United Kingdom.

CATOLICISMO: And what about the social sphere?

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: That political decadence naturally entailed some social diminution for the nobility. For the exercise of power constitutes, as such, a source of social prestige.

But in this field, the most important transformations were due to scientific and economic factors. The accelerated progress of science that began at the end of the 18th century and continued more or less to this day, gave rise to new technologies applicable to the most variable domains of human existence. Consequently, techniques employed in cattle raising, agricultural and industrial production, as well as the appearance of new means of communication and transportation etc. deeply influenced social customs. Not only customs but the very structures of society as well; for a people can deem the emergence of a new method to produce a certain item or a new system to eradicate an illness more important than a military victory.

Thus, the invention of the airplane by Santos Dumont or of the telephone by Graham Bell (let me say, in passing, that he would have remained on the roll of unknown inventors were it not for the prestige received from the manifestation of admiration and surprise at his invention by Emperor Pedro II) were more important to the United States and to the world than many famous battles of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Add to this the appearance of often highly profitable professions, perhaps more and more risky, such as those of a strictly financial nature, and you will have a picture of the formidable dislocation that took place: from an economy based strictly on mostly rural land holdings to one that was preponderantly urban, financial, industrial and commercial. And you will see that professional activities which used to confer riches and prestige have now taken a second place to the advantage of the new ones, billeted in first place.

The end result of it all was that the nobility, with its inestimable trove of principles, traditions, lifestyles and ways of being, in many places lost a good portion of its influence. That lack was cruelly felt by other social classes, now living under the clumsy and at times caricatural influence of the newly rich.

Pius XII calls on the nobility to gather together all the means that it still has (and which are far from negligible) to counter that harmful effect. The Pontiff expects the nobility to do so for its own religious, moral and cultural preservation, for its own benefit and for the benefit of all the other social classes, from the more modest workers to the heights of the world of new nabobs.

CATOLICISMO: Can the Americas be deemed a continent where genuine traditional elites have been formed?

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: Undoubtedly. And many of those elites have made it to our days, from the poetic snows of Canada, still a monarchy, to more southern nations on the continent.

CATOLICISMO: Was the long preparation for your book caused by the need to research many sources?

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: The preparation was actually not that long. It began in 1989 and a pilot edition came out in December 1991. I resumed writing in February 1992 and the work has just been published in Portugal.

CATOLICISMO: In addition to the Portuguese edition, will translations of the work be published in other countries?

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: An Italian edition has been published by Milan’s Marzorati publishing house. A Spanish edition will soon be launched by Fernando III, el Santo publishers of Madrid. Other editions are being readied in Canada, France and the United States.


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