Elitism

March 24, 2011

Folha de São Paulo, December 28, 1977

by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

In more than one progressivist-inspired publication I have run into the adjective, “elitist,” needless to say employed in a strongly pejorative sense. Indeed, from the psychological standpoint, progressivism is an amalgamation of all kinds of mediocrity, triviality and even vulgarity. As a consequence, it is viscerally averse to any form of selection and any kind of elite.

On employing that adjective—so questionable from the linguistic standpoint—the more typical progressivists insinuate that every participant in an elite is by definition an egoistic, unproductive and mediocre snob all enveloped in vanity and capable only of joining other “elitists” to form parasitic cliques in cahoots to suck the fruits of their neighbors’ labor.

In light of this concept (what light!) the “elitists” supposedly gather in small minorities which then victimize the public at large.

Starting from their pejorative concept of “elite,” progressivists operate a sleight-of-hand whereby they end up presenting all elites as “elitist.” In so doing, they label all select minorities as genuine bloodsuckers of the great majority of authentic hard workers. They thus put together, in the eyes of the public, an ideally provocative overall picture to spark class struggle.

Who could deny the existence of “elites” which correspond precisely to the progressivist concept? Who could claim they do not deserve the rejection of every sensible man? But are these “elites” really elites?

They have abandoned their true mentality, forsaken their mission, and have succumbed to gangrene and putrefaction.

Can anyone, to give an example of what a star is, present an opaque celestial body that gives off no light? That would be like asking whether, to give an idea of what a man is, one could show a cadaver in putrefaction.

Yet, that is what progressivists do with elites. Starting from their pejorative concept of “elite,” progressivists operate a sleight-of-hand whereby they end up presenting all elites as “elitist.” In so doing, they label all select minorities as genuine bloodsuckers of the great majority of authentic hard workers.

They thus put together, in the eyes of the public, an ideally provocative overall picture to spark class struggle. That is precisely what communist propaganda needs: on the one hand, an immense majority of workers and, on the other, several minorities which (maliciously amalgamated with the vain, lazy, mediocre and feckless “elitists” mentioned above) stand out for any legitimate reason: cultural level, talent, education, selflessness in serving the country or in doing charity work, etc.

The outcome of the clash between these minorities and the masses that the Communists seek to stir up can only be the swallowing of the “elitist” mouse by the Communist cat…

The outcome of the clash between these minorities and the masses that the Communists seek to stir up can only be the swallowing of the “elitist” mouse by the Communist cat…

Needless to say, the “anti-elitist” panorama that progressivists present to foster Communist propaganda is false in nearly all its aspects. But the falsity of two of them stands out at first sight. The first is that every elite is necessarily “elitist” in the pejorative sense of the word. We have already seen how arbitrary and unjust this statement is. The other is to claim that there are no elites in the public at large and particularly in the multitude of workers.

It is a gross error to imagine that elites are made up only by minorities extrinsic to the crowd, which by definition is a huge flock of mediocre persons some of whom may even be disadvantaged from the intellectual, cultural or moral standpoint. Thus, a country would be necessarily divided into two categories separated by an abyss: the paradigmatic and the erroneous—the supermen and the submen.

In this regard, it seems to me indispensable to recall a truth that not all historians and sociologists emphasize as they should.

Thus, a country would be necessarily divided into two categories separated by an abyss: the paradigmatic and the erroneous—the supermen and the submen.

It is generally admitted that every people have the government they deserve. The corollary is that every people also have the elites (in the authentic sense, not the pejorative one) they deserve. The appearance of elites, their perfect characterization and the full radiation of their beneficial action are largely influenced by maintaining their connection with the population as a whole. No elites remain intact and lively without being often enriched with values from the general population.

A proper interpretation and the communicative consensus of the crowds provide a great contribution for an elite to assume entirely the physiognomy that it should have. And people’s receptivity is indispensable for the elites to influence.

 

There is more. When the elite-people relationship is correct, inspiration for the elites comes extremely often from the people. To give only one example from a thousand, it would suffice to recall musical masterpieces by brilliant composers inspired from the simplest popular songs.

The role of the population in the formation of a country’s soul, and thus of its culture, great men, and action in history, is so important that even in functions normally seen as a privilege and role of aristocracies—of blood and others—the people fulfill a particularly grand mission.

In Brazil, the classic black lady from Bahia, the baiana, with her tasty dishes and folklore, in many ways more closely resembles the Brazil of old than many descendants from empire captains, baron counselors or colonels of the national guard.

Indeed, in a certain sense, popular classes are conservative par excellence, more so than the upper classes. Thus, in Europe, for example, the old garbs, dances, chants and ways of being—in short, typical regional manners—were maintained much more by the ‘little people’ (in the countryside) than by the leading classes in large cities. In Brazil, the classic black lady from Bahia, the baiana, with her tasty dishes and folklore, in many ways more closely resembles the Brazil of old than many descendants from empire captains, baron counselors or colonels of the national guard.

If the elites decay, it is hard for them not to drag the people. If the people decay, to me it seems impossible they will not drag the elites.

It is timely to distinguish here between just any people and a great people, or between a people on the rise, at their apogee, and a people in stagnation or decadence. He who were to affirm that, a people on the rise or at their zenith actually constitutes, as a whole, in the universal ensemble of peoples, an enormous elite within which there rise, almost by distillation, smaller and more quintessential elites, would not twist the meaning of the word. This is because general grandeur is born from the harmonious conjugation between the elite-people (or elite-majority) and the elite-minority.

Winston Churchill with fiancée Lady Clementine Hozier shortly before their marriage in 1908.

Last week I wrote for this paper about Winston Churchill and his wife. England would perhaps not have won the war without the leadership of that great man whose feminine version was his illustrious wife. But on the other hand, if the United Kingdom did not have a true legion of elite figures placed from top to bottom in its political, social, economic and military hierarchy, in the various commands of the armed effort as well as in civil resistance, it would have lost the war. And, after all, what good would have done that whole constellation of high, medium and small elites if the English people were not a great people? In other words, a people with a necessarily high number of average and even under average men, but few mediocre ones? Many were heroes on the battlefield. But many others were “mini-heroes” in civilian life ready to sacrifice themselves in the rearguard by keeping their neighbors in high spirits both in the somber moments when they could hear from their bomb shelters the Luftwaffe destroying their cities, or in the melancholy hours when they saw their domestic budgets mercilessly corroded by war rationing.

If instead of all those elites and heroes with so many different statures and profiles Britain had had, from Buckingham Palace down to the bottom of her coal mines, not great nor average but mediocre men, not heroic but pusillanimous men, today she would be no more than an historic souvenir.

In the final analysis, the elite-people antithesis that progressivists seek to inculcate by painting reality as if there was an abyss and a black and gaping solution of continuity is a sham. That solution of continuity exists only when the people and the elites are more or less moribund and become disjointed, with small artificial stringers on one side and large anonymous masses on the other.

These considerations are becoming too lengthy. Let me close them by quoting a brilliant text by Pius XII on people and masses:

“The State does not contain in itself and does not mechanically bring together in a given territory a shapeless mass of individuals. It is, and should in practice be, the organic and organizing unity of a real people.

If instead of all those elites and heroes with so many different statures and profiles Britain had had, from Buckingham palace down to the bottom of her coal mines, not great nor average but mediocre men, not heroic but pusillanimous men, today she would be no more than an historic souvenir.

“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 that 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 their instincts and impressions; ready to follow in turn, today this flag, 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 of 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”  (Radio message of Christmas 1944, in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santità Pio XII, vol. VI, pp. 238-239).

A people is nothing but a healthy and magnificent gear of elites, the highest shining in gold and silver, the more modest in beautiful and noble bronze.

Let the reader attentively consider what the much regretted Pontiff says about a true people. He will see that, from top to bottom, a people is nothing but a healthy and magnificent gear of elites, the highest shining in gold and silver, the more modest in beautiful and noble bronze.

The unsympathetic elite-people antithesis, contained in the painful “elitist” adjective of the progressivist vocabulary, is thus destroyed.

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