Foreword by Morton C. Blackwell

November 1, 2010


by Morton C. Blackwell

Morton C. Blackwell, President and Founder of the Leadership Institute

About a decade ago I dined one evening with two friends and a guest at Old Europe, a Washington, D.C.  restaurant. The guest was a prince, member of a well-known European royal family.

As the prince, then in his early twenties, discussed at our request the many coats of arms of European royalty which adorned the restaurant walls, the elderly German proprietor made his customary round of the tables and introduced himself.

We took the opportunity to introduce our young guest.

The old gentleman was staggered. He actually came very close to dropping to one knee as he said how honored he was to have this young man in his establishment. He left our table and soon returned with an ancient, crumbling guest register, obviously not in current use. He humbly asked our guest to sign it so he could have a record of the visit.

It was an odd sight, this reverence for high nobility in the capital of the United States.

Not that Americans are not interested in royalty and nobility. Supermarket tabloid sales prove they are.

But our country from its founding has officially outlawed hereditary privilege. Although the United Sates has frequently been allied to monarchies, Americans abroad or at home are often uneasy in the presence of foreign nobility. Should we bow or curtsy? Should we address Queen Elizabeth as “Your Majesty”?

A few years later I was among a group of Americans hosted one evening by the current Duke of Wellington at his country home near London. None of us probably would have considered addressing him as “My Lord,” the usual salutation appropriate in Britain for a member of the House of Lords.

The Duke’s aide suggested we should address him as “Duke” rather than as “Your Grace,” the specific form by which dukes are customarily addressed. We Americans appreciated the advice.

For very clear historical reasons, most Americans are uncomfortable with the whole idea of nobility. One friend of mine, a graduate of Harvard, only half in jest says that the French Revolution is an example of the failure of half measures.

So what possible relevance could a book favorable to the nobility and analogous elites have in the United States today?

As it happens, a great deal of relevance.

Originally, this book was written primarily for Catholics. Its author is my friend of a dozen years, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, founder of the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. Like all the works of the author, it is written elegantly, on a high level, from a devout Catholic viewpoint.

Originally, this book was written primarily for Catholics. Its author is my friend of a dozen years, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, founder of the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. Like all the works of the author, it is written elegantly, on a high level, from a devout Catholic viewpoint.

Its clear purpose is to strike at the heart of the deadly leveling tendencies of modern times by making an unassailable case for the legitimacy of elites in human society. What better way to do this among Catholics than to nail it down with the words of modern popes?

Many Catholics will no doubt be surprised at how emphatic the popes have been on this subject.

Many Protestants and others, reading papal documents for perhaps the first time, will be much taken by the clear reasoning of Pius XII and the other pontiffs whose writings and speeches are here well organized and presented.

One does not have to accept papal infallibility to appreciate a case persuasively made. Using theological, moral, and prudential arguments, this book will convince many readers, whatever their faith, that good elites are legitimate, desirable and, yes, necessary.

In Europe, hereditary nobility is not an abstract concept. It is an everyday reality. Such people exist in large numbers, even in countries where they now have no special legal status. Ever conscious of their heritage, European nobility live, work, raise their families and, usually, worship God.

In our era, much of society professes to deplore their existence. But men and women of the noble class and analogous elites are nevertheless objects of much public attention and even admiration.

Measured as a percentage of any population, their importance would be small. But they can and often do lead. Many of them have significant resources and moral authority. Much of the public, not only expatriate restaurateurs, sees them as role models.

What are the duties and responsibilities of such people, born to high status? And how should people not of such status relate to them? These are major topics considered in this book.

From the outset, the author intended that a section of the book would discuss elites in the United States.

On the face of it, our country could seem to be based on the idea that elites are illegitimate. Certainly the example of the United States led many people in other countries to reject the concept of elites.

Yet, as the section on our country in this book demonstrates, the United States has never been without an elite. Political, business and cultural elites have led our society in every period of our history. By and large, this elite has benefited everyone. And quite often these leaders have sprung from the same families over many generations.

the United States has never been without an elite. Political, business and cultural elites have led our society in every period of our history. By and large, this elite has benefited everyone.

Every local community of long duration in our country has its generally recognized “leading families.” Especially in the South the histories of family achievements are known and passed down as rich legacies to each succeeding generation. As described in this book, prestigious patriotic societies abound which are based on hereditary descent from American military veterans.

Ferocious egalitarianism has always been alien to American culture. Its early proponent, Thomas Paine, left for what he thought was the greener pasture of revolutionary France. (He barely escaped the guillotine there.)

A clearer understanding of the reality of American elites and their value to our society would go a long way toward rolling back the presumption of many people that there is no legitimate role for elites in our country. This understanding may waken in many people of high status their sense of responsibility to act, may I say, in a more noble way.

Moreover, a better understanding of how so much that is admirable in the United States came to be may alter the common and mistaken view in foreign countries that the relative success of the United States proves all elites elsewhere must be eliminated.

The moral and economic bankruptcy of the communist empire, and its collapse, show what happens when a society turns against tradition, family, and property.

And the dramatic decline in traditional family values has caused most of the disastrous social problems which now beset especially the most prosperous countries, including our own.

I was pleased but a bit surprised when Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira asked me to write this Foreword. How often is any Episcopalian, let alone one married to a Southern Baptist, asked to write for a book on papal allocutions?

But my wife and I have been friends of the Societies for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property for many years. Readers of this book may find it useful to know more about the TFP and how it came to associate with a wide range of conservatives in the United States.

Like me, many American conservatives began their political activity in the upsurge for Barry Goldwater. I was his youngest delegate at the 1964 Republican National Convention.

In those day, conservative interest in the public policy process was focused mainly on anti-communism and economics.

Although Senator Goldwater inspired millions with his principled stands on these issues, he lost the presidential election badly. Americans were not ready to have three presidents in a single year. And liberal elites had convinced many voters that they could deliver something for nothing, that government itself could create a Great Society.

After the 1964 election, a friend told me we should abandon the word conservative in politics. He thought our views had been so repudiated at the polls that never again in our lifetime could “conservatives” succeed in the public policy process.

But my friend was wrong.

The liberals went too far. They waked a sleeping giant.

Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima Statue carried by TFP members in ceremonial habit.

By the early 1980s, a conservative president, Ronald Reagan, had appointed my friend to head a Federal agency and had appointed me to serve on the White House Staff.

Here is what happened: The liberal elites had politicized traditional values.

In all of 1964 Barry Goldwater probably never was asked his views on abortion. Nor was he asked if he favored bank robbery. Traditional values embedded in our laws were considered settled issues.

Then, with great rapidity in the 1970s, administrative actions, legislation, and especially Federal court decisions by liberal judges overturned generations of custom and law regarding values held dear by millions of Americans.

A powerful movement sprang up and created a new winning majority in American politics, based on conservative principles in both the area of economics and the area of traditional morality.

The story of how that movement grew in numbers and in leadership skills is outside the scope of the present volume. But in this growth process, American conservative leaders came to know the American TFP.

In 1975, about forty leaders of American conservative activity gathered at the Dulles Marriott Hotel near Washington, D.C. The men and women there were veterans of the Goldwater campaign. Each of us had demonstrated to the others both a dedication to conservative principles and an ability to lead. We met to discuss how to beat the liberals.

At the meeting I pointed out that, since the French Revolution, the Left everywhere has been international in scope and interest while conservatives in every country had tended to limit their concerns to national affairs.

I asked if anyone present, for example, knew of a single Canadian leader who shared our general views on economics and social issues. After all, I said, we share a language and one of the longest international borders in the world.

Not one of us knew a potential ally in Canada. In fact, few of us had any friends active in the public policy process in any foreign country.

In the next few years, American conservative leaders deliberately reached out to find like-minded people in other countries.

Frankly, the pickings were slim. In the area of traditional values particularly, we found that those who shared our beliefs were hopelessly ineffective. They had not a clue about how to organize or communicate. What is worse, they believed that being right, in the sense of being correct, was sufficient. They considered it beneath their dignity to study how to win.

Then, in 1979, a number of my friends and I met representatives of the new American TFP. From them we received materials about their long-established sister organization in Brazil.

What a pleasant surprise. Here, for the first time, we encountered a foreign group solidly committed to our core values but which had developed impressive skills in organization and communication. Their materials actually looked good and were readable. They knew how to recruit and organize people. They had identified and earned the trust of a strong base of contributors.

My wife and I vacationed in 1981 in Brazil, largely to learn more about the TFP.

What we saw impressed us even more: a busy, well organized headquarters; a network of local centers across the country; a superb, well-used library; lots of young people systematically being taught conservative values and organizational skills; and their founder, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, a remarkably wise man then in his seventies.

“To stand athwart history and shout, ‘Stop!’”

Brazil is often compared to the United States. But the countries are quite different in history, religious composition, and culture. So it was to be expected that a large, successful, indigenous conservative organization in Brazil would be unlike conservative organizations in our country.

Indeed their operations are unlike anything I had seen or ever expected to see.

Intensely Catholic, their members receive Communion every day. Although a secular group, in some ways they could be likened to a medieval religious order. They stand opposed to much that has occurred in modern times, which they consider to have commenced at the end of the Middle Ages, a not unreasonable view. They intend to save Western civilization or to die trying.

Since my visit to Brazil, I have taken opportunities to meet national TFP leaders in my travels to half a dozen countries on four continents. Everywhere they are cultured, smart, and working hard in the public policy process for the improvement of their own nations. Many leaders of the American conservative movement, having had similar experiences, share my view of the TFP.

William F. Buckley, Jr. once described the mission of his conservative magazine, National Review, as “To stand athwart history and shout, ‘Stop!’” Much the same could be said about the TFP.

And just as Buckley’s intellectual prowess helped to fuse various conservative elements in the United States into a winning majority here, TFP activity has achieved much against great odds in a number of countries.

If the TFP in the United States still seems small, American conservatives active for traditional values find them time and again to be effective allies and good friends.

The case for nobility and analogous elites is the part of the case against revolution most difficult to be made in the United States, given our history. So perhaps the case made in this book can best be made by a foreign friend of our country.

More than two hundred years ago, a friend of the British colonies, Edmund Burke, strove mightily against the revolutionary rupture of our ties with Great Britain.

In his 1774 Speech on American Taxation, Burke reviewed the confluence of ignorance and arrogance which led Parliament to impose unprecedented revenue taxes on the American colonies. “Leave America, if she has a taxable matter in her, to tax herself…. Leave the Americans as they anciently stood…” Burke urged.

In his 1775 Speech on the Conciliation with the Colonies, Burke discussed the origins and nature of Americans, and then said Americans were acute, inquisitive, dexterous, prompt in attack, ready in defense, full of resources. In other countries, the people, more simple, and of less mercurial cast, judge of an ill principle in government only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate the evil, and judge of the pressure of the grievance by the badness of the principle. They augur misgovernment at a distance, and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.

Burke’s eloquent warning went unheeded. Soon many Americans with every reason to adhere to their traditional government were swept by revolutionary fervor.

Not until the drafting of the Constitution of the United States did American leaders, virtually all of them deeply committed Christians, soberly reflect on how best to apply the accumulated wisdom of history to achieve ordered liberty in self-government. By then, all possibility of a formal, hereditary elite was lost in the United States.

A clearer understanding of the reality of American elites and their value to our society would go a long way toward rolling back the presumption of many people that there is no legitimate role for elites in our country.

Burke had previously written, “An attempt towards a compulsory equality in all circumstances and an exact practical definition of supreme rights in every case, is the most dangerous and chimerical of all enterprises.” He became the intellectual leader of resistance to the French Revolution of 1789.

In the English-speaking world, Burke still provides a moral and political foundation for dedicated conservatives. Except for his Reflections, his work unfortunately has never been widely available elsewhere.

By the way, Burke, a communicant of the Church of England, strongly supported political emancipation of the then-disadvantaged British Catholics.

Our twentieth century dealt fatal setbacks to what has been called Whig theory of history. That nineteenth-century view that civilization inexorably progresses upward in all respects owed nothing to the Old Whig, Edmund Burke. He died fearing the imminent triumph of the ideologues of the French Revolution. He directed that he be buried secretly, lest his bones be disturbed by triumphant revolutionaries.

Yet Burke achieved more than he knew. As Dr. Russell Kirk, I believe, once pointed out, Burke’s headstone, if he had one, would still lie undisturbed in its churchyard, in no small measure because of the counter-revolution in thought he fathered.

Modern technology made possible the consummately destructive, anti-religious regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, against which Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira has fought all his life.

How satisfying it would be to those who gave their lives fighting those twin tyrannies if they had lived to our time. Those of us who have fought and lived to see the humiliation of the communist idea may take a little justifiable pride in what we have helped to achieve.

But while socialism and “liberation theology” may be in retreat, much damage has been done. Somehow we must splice together the roots of our civilization and reclaim much lost ground. That is why Professor Corrêa de Oliveira wrote this book.

No society functions without elites. We must systematically develop new, healthy leadership, encourage those who do their duty well, and replace the corrupt elites now poisoning our culture.

If those in a position to do so accept their responsibility and lead, much can be accomplished.

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